RET Research Projects

The following are examples of research projects that RET participants may be involved with during the program. This is not intended to be a complete list. Projects vary from year to year depending on participant interest and faculty availability. 


Dr. Madan Bhattacharyya Lab: Engineering of soybean for synthesis of pyrrolnitrin to improve resistance against Fusarium virguliforme that causes SDS in soybean: We will transfer the construct to Agrobacterium rhizogenes, which will be used to generate composite soybean plants that are chimera of transgenic roots and non-transgenic shoots. During the summer, we will mostly work on the inoculation of soybean seedlings, generation, and characterization of composite plants by both molecular analysis (DNA, RNA, protein) and evaluation of resistance against F. virguliforme. .

Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering 

Dr. Michelle Soupir Lab: The goal of this study is to assess the impacts of integrating livestock systems into corn/soybean ratations and informing design of woodchip dioreactors to treat multiple contaminants.  This will be achieved through a multi-scale study designed to address the following objectives: i) Quantify the impact of hydraulic residence time, tempurature, and limestone amendment on the removal of nitrate, phosphorous, and bacteria by woodchip bioreactors ii) assess the impacts of poultry litter and swine manure application on soy yield and water quality


Dr. George Kraus Lab: The aim of this project is to explore the transformations of TAL, a pyrone produced through biocatalysis.  The teacher will help to design new transformations of TAL and will learn practical organic chemistry laboratory techniques.  Their goal will be to expand the TAL platform and hopefully synthesize a specialty chemical.  The teacher will participate in twice-weekly group meetings.

Dr. Javier Vela Lab: Perovskite-based solar cells have high power conversion efficiencies that increased from 4% to 15% in the last four years (they are expected to reach 20% in 2014-2015). Perovskites provide wide absorption profiles, high absorption coefficients and long carrier diffusion lengths at relatively low cost. However, there problems that restrict the commercial application of these materials: Perovskites are sensitive to humidity and decompose when exposed to moisture. In order to improve their stability, the solar cell device could be sealed by polymers, or blended with hydrophobic polymers.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Dr. Eric Cochran Lab:  The teacher/undergraduate pair will be charged with the investigation of a potential hard segment, e.g., L-lactic acid or acrylated isosorbide. The teacher will learn new synthetic chemistry skills, and achieve an appreciation of the challenges and dedication required to successfully master a polymer synthesis. The teacher will learn about thermal and rheological analyses used to characterize the properties (glass transition and crystallization) of a “hard segment”. In the final weeks of the internship the pair will design the chemical steps needed to integrate the hard segment polymer into poly(soybean oil) chain architecture to yield a thermoplastic elastomer.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Tessonnier Lab: The teacher will have the opportunity to synthesize carbon-based heterogeneous catalysts bearing desired Brønsted acid or base functionalities and he/she will test them for significant carbohydrate isomerization and dehydration reactions. In this project, the participant will learn about the effect of temperature and pH on the chemistry of sugars. Specifically, he/she will co-carbonize carbohydrates and desired organic molecular active sites at 200-300 °C in hot pressurized water; the obtained carbon-based nanocatalysts will be tested for the low temperature (< 150 °C) conversion of biomass-derived glucose to renewable chemicals in liquid water.

Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering 

Dr. Shauna Hallmark Lab: The objectives of this research is to i) evaluate driver behavior at mainline and stop-controlled approaches for intersections with and without ICWS ii) develop an assessment of the traffic volume range and limits where the system is nearly continuously activated and is likely to lose its effectiveness

Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology 

 Dr. Amy Toth Lab: This project focuses on the epigenetic effects of maternal behavior on developing offspring. To do this we will be behaviorally manipulating wasp nests, and quantifying gene expression of adult wasps that experienced our treatment as developing larvae. The RET will assist us in setting up the experiement, which will be conducted both in the lab and in the field. He will also help collect behavioral data of wasps interacting with larvae on the nest. If we collect samples for gene expression analysis before the end of the teachers time, we may also have him/her assist in qRT-PCR.

Genetics, Development and Cell Biology

Dr. Martin Spalding Lab: This work will center around developing TALENs.  This is the latest in engineered nuclease mediated recombination technology. The teacher will learn what recombination is, why it is useful, how to induce it, how to control it in a living cell, what a TALEN is and how to engineer these proteins.  The goal is to design a TALEN pair, assemble parts from a library to form a complete TALEN pair and then test for activity in a yeast based assay.  This work will support on-going research in the lab that is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of TALEN technology in soybean.

Materials Science and Engineering

Dr. Ludovico Cademartiri Lab: The teacher will participate in the development of a plant growth platform that allows for the growth of root systems in controlled droplets. The structural and chemical characteristics of these droplets can be controlled. He/she will work with us to improve the design of the setup in order to allow for the growth of plants for periods longer than 1 week, thereby avoiding excessive evaporation of the droplets and consequent deleterious accumulation of nutrient concentrations.

Mechanical Engineering 

Dr. Mark Wright Lab: The research project will consist of gaining experience in a thermochemical laboratory.   The project will focus on converting lignocellulosic biomass into fuels and chemicals via a process called fast pyrolysis.  We will operate a lab-scale pyrolysis reactor to convert biomass, such as red oak, into a liquid (bio-oil), solid (biochar), and gas product.  These products will be analyzed in our lab to understand their chemical and elemental composition. The mentee will gain an understanding of the process and broader significance of pyrolysis.  Along with this understanding, the mentee will get hands on experience with the operation of lab-scale reactors and analytical equipment.