Monterrey Initiative PhD Research Projects


Purdue University 

Monterrey Initiative PhD Research Projects



A) Food Security

B) Energy

C) Biosensors and Medical Devices

D) Nanomaterials, Composites

E) Bio-engineering 

-Information (Doctorados)-

A) Food Security                                                                                                                                  

1. Towards an in-line Monitoring of Pathogenic Bacteria on Food Surface via non-contact Optical Metrology, (Professor Arun K. Bhunia, Molecular Food Microbiology,; Professor Euwon Bae, School of Mechanical Engineering,

To address global food safety and food security, there is a great need to provide fast and accurate interrogation technology that can be readily employed as an in-line monitoring method. We propose to investigate the feasibility of using non-invasive and non-contact optical and thermal metrologies to provide the presence of micro-organisms on the food surface. First elastic light scatter (ELS) method will be investigated on the food surface. Since all the light will scatter off from both bacteria and food surface it is critical to address the signal to noise ratio (SNR) with given wavelength of interrogating laser. Multispectral laser with 405 nm, 635 nm, and 904 nm will be integrated into a hemispherical array of photodiodes and the correlation will be sought between the controls and artificially inoculated bacterial samples on food surface. Second method is using infrared thermography. Since all living organisms employ respiration for survival and metabolize substrates for energy, the resulting temperature gradient between the organisms and the background could be used as a foot print for microbial detection. We will employ a micro bolometer type infrared detector to provide thermal imaging of a bacteria and their temperature contrast which can be used to provide a warning sign of the presence of living organisms. At least two graduate students, one working in developing instrumentation with engineering emphasis and one with microbiology knowledge in pathogen detection from various food matrices would be essential.


2. Wireless Sensors for Food Security (Professor Dimitrios Peroulis, Electrical and Computer Engineering, dperouli@purdue.eduand Professor Ernesto E. Marinero, School of Materials and Chemical Engineering,

This study will focus on basic and applied research on low-power, inexpensive, wireless sensors for food security, bio-medical, and industrial applications. No commercial sensors exist today that simultaneously satisfy all requirements for such applications. Unique technologies such as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), wireless communications and/or powering, ultra-low-power communication, and cost-effective manufacturing and packaging may need to be employed to successfully implement and rapidly lead to commercialization of these sensors. The student in this program will likely receive training in most of the aforementioned areas and will work under the supervision of appropriate faculty at Purdue University.


3. Food Safety through Packaging Integrity for Powdered Materials and Products (Professor Teresa Carvajal, Agricultural and Biological Engineering,

The function of packaging is to protect the food in the package in order to maintain its quality, stability and overall integrity.  The package should protect from exchange of chemicals, gases and moisture that can trigger physical, chemical and microbiological changes.  Of particular importance to my group’s expertise focuses on the physical changes to powdered materials and products that cause caking, agglomeration and phase transformations.  This would include not only exchange with the environment but also the potential toxicity that could arise from migration of nanoparticles embedded in the packaging film; how the film mechanical response and surface interactions (interfaces) are affected with environmental conditions.

B) Energy


4. Nanomaterials Synthesis and Characterization for Energy Storage (Professor Ernesto E. Marinero, School of Materials and Chemical Engineering,

This project will focus on basic and applied research on nanostructured materials for energy storage. We aim to develop an energy storage device having energy density characteristics comparable to those of gasoline. The reversible Li-O2 reaction is the fundamental electrochemical reaction providing said unprecedented energy storage capacity. Due to the reactivity of Li, the attainment of such battery device requires new materials and synthesis processes for the key device components: the cathode, the electrolyte and the anode. We will utilize thin film growth techniques (such as sputtering, pulsed laser deposition and atomic layer deposition) to manipulate the stoichiometry and microstructure of these materials.  The research products of our work will be integrated into battery test modules to benchmark our materials performance with respect to the state-of-the-art components. This work will be conducted in collaboration with the Battery Innovation Center and its industrial affiliates. Participant  students in this program will benefit both from advanced materials research at Purdue University and exposure to industrial research and device commercialization.


5. Control of Solid-State Thermionic Energy Conversion in Nitride

Metal/Semiconductor Superlattices, (Professor Timothy D. Sands, School of Materials Engineering, tsands@purdue.eduand Professor Ernesto E. Marinero, School of Materials and Chemical Engineering,

Theoretical analyses of cross-plane electronic transport in metal/semiconductor superlattices show that a barrier height of several kT is ideal for creating strong asymmetry in the differential conductivity with respect to the Fermi level.  This asymmetry combined with the large density of conduction electrons is predicted to yield values of the thermoelectric power factor that are comparable to or larger than those of the best thermoelectric materials.  Combined with phonon scattering at interfaces in the superlattice, an optimally designed metal/semiconductor superlattice has the potential to exhibit a thermoelectric figure-of-merit, ZT, above 2, a level that would open the door to new applications, especially at moderate to high operating temperatures.  At Purdue, we have developed the first true metal/semiconductor superlattices, where the metal layer is ZrN, HfN, WN, TiN or an alloy, and the semiconductor is (Al,Sc)N.  Although some cross-plane I-V-T measurements suggest thermionic behavior (conductance increasing with temperature), this result is not reproducible.  Recently, we have determined that the primary obstacle is lack of control over the carrier concentration in the semiconductor layer, which can exceed 1 x E20/cc. At this level, the barriers are transparent to tunneling, and the temperature dependence associated with thermionic behavior is lost.  The proposed research will be focused on controlling the carrier concentration in ultrathin (Al,Sc)N by minimizing incorporated oxygen (a donor) and by compensation doping with an acceptor dopant such as Mn or Mg.  The goal is to gain control of doping and barrier height so that the power factor can be tuned to yield high values of ZT.


6. Development of an Adaptable, Technically Driven Plan for Economic, Safe and Sustainable Nuevo Leon Natural Gas Assessment, Harvesting and Applications, (Professor Joe F. Pekny, School of Chemical Engineering,

This engineering Ph. D. project will deeply assess hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling technology to develop a sophisticated policy for natural gas development in Nuevo Leon.  The project will include an internship with one or more companies engaged in practical applications; an assessment of policy and technical challenges; and the specification of an adaptable plan to be most successful from a combined economic, safety, and sustainability perspective.


7. Thermoelectric Materials Optimization for High Temperature Direct Conversion of Heat into Electricity (Professor Ali Shakouri, Birck Nanotechnology Center,

The project focuses on thermoelectric material optimization for high temperature direct conversion of heat into electricity. The applications are in waste heat recovery and in topping cycle applications. The focus is to optimize thermoelectric material for high temperature operation. Electron and heat transport can be modified using embedded nanoparticles and multilayers. Another important factor is stable metallization with low contact resistance and good diffusion barriers at high temperatures. The project will involve both theory (electron and heat transport in nanostructured materials) as well as experimental characterization of thermal and electrical transport as well as energy conversion efficiency.

We could add a component of high temperature material development if we could engage Tim Sands. His nitride multilayer material will be a great candidate to do some fundamental studies.

C) Biosensors and Medical Devices

8. Biosensor Development, Monitoring and Prevention for Neglected Tropical Diseases  (Professor Lia Stanciu, School of Materials Engineering,; and Professor Richard Kuhn, Biological Sciences, kuhnr@purdue.eduandProfessor Ernesto E. Marinero, School of Materials and Chemical Engineering,

Over the past 20-25 years, the concern for public health has been heightened. Sensing and biosensing have thus become ubiquitous technologies in modern society. Dengue, Chagas and Leishmanais  are neglected tropical diseases (NTD) that affect hundreds o millions of people worldwide, especially in developing countries.

The goal of this project is to develop novel biosensing platforms for the facile and rapid field detection of NTD, this includes the technology for wireless transmission of data from remote areas to be employed for early stages of disease outbreak, its prevention and cure. The principal investigators of this multidisciplinary research program will work with students working in the project in biosensor development (Stanciu), remote disease monitoring (Marinero) and the biological and genetic aspect of NTDs (Kuhn).


9. Natural Biopolymeric Films for Safe Water Decontamination  (Professor Lia Stanciu, School of Materials Engineering,

The goal of this project is to synthesize and characterize self-assembled catalyst nanoparticles loaded on renewable cellulose films with enhanced biocompatibility, and to demonstrate the potential of these structures for the safe and sustainable decontamination of wastewater. While nanoparticles have shown significant promise for environmental applications in water decontamination, there are growing concerns over the potential nanotoxicity impact of these particles. This project addresses this issue by developing novel synthetic approaches to assemble photocatalytic nanoparticles into biocompatible films, and demonstrate their uses in environmental remediation. The proposed approach will facilitate removal of the particles after the remediation action is completed, and eliminate potential toxicity risks associated with the presence of these particles in the environment.


10. Nanomaterial-enabled Amperometric Biosensing  (Professor Timothy S. Fisher, Mechanical Engineering,

We seek to implement next-generation platforms for advanced-throughput, in vitro physiology. These will be based on micro-electromechanical systems developed for biological applications (bioMEMS). Using an existing and expanding set of techniques to measure physiologically relevant analytes we will adapt bioMEMS microfabrication techniques to create platforms for in vitro physiology that utilize the nanopetal sensor as a basis. We will utilize existing protocols and also develop new technologies for enzyme integration in bioMEMS devices. Our focus for biosensor development is based on electroanalytically coupled oxidase enzyme approaches with sensitive and selective amperometric responses. We will exploit bottom-up approaches to grow nanomaterials on substrates amenable to commercial manufacturing scales as platforms for highly controlled and efficient biosensors when functionalized. Without an interface and data processing/acquisition systems, a microfabricated biosensor chip is an expensive but esoteric work of craftsmanship and ingenuity. In order to bridge the gap between promise and delivery for advanced throughput functionality we need standardized approaches for lab-on-a-chip operation. We will therefore seek to develop a standard interface for bioMEMS and to develop software and computing approaches to support these efforts. Ultimately this will produce the needed instrumentation for long-term operation of nanopetal-based bioMEMS.


11. Prefabricated Pharmaceutical Dosage Forms,  (Professor Rodolfo Pinal, Industrial and Physical Pharmacy,

This will be a new paradigm for the manufacture of pharmaceutical dosage forms, based on the 3D assembly of prefabricated working components according to an a priori design or blueprint. Inspired on the approach for building 3D integrated circuits (3D IC), this new technology is termed 3D Integrated Pharmaceuticals (3D IP).  The basic working part of 3D IP products is a polymer film, laminate or smart membrane, used to perform a specific predetermined pharmaceutical function. Drug nanoparticles and proteins are stabilized into functional/smart films. Other desirable pharmaceutical performance attributes of the dosage form (e.g., taste masking, solubilizing agent, absorption enhancer, pH control, bioadhesive layer, ID/anticounterfeiting layer, etc.) are included by integrating additional functional layers into the 3D stack design. The prefabricated 3D IP dosage forms can be made to look and feel as traditional tablets or caplets, as small tablets (minitabs) for elderly patients, or they can be shaped as taste masked sprinkles for children. The core concept of 3D stacking of functional layers will be enhanced through the application of advanced manufacturing methods. Nanolithography and advanced printing technologies will be implemented for engineering smart responsive/triggered working components. Web based methods such as roll-to-roll printing will be used as the basis for the production of highly effective, low cost pharmaceutical dosage forms.  The technology will open the creation of inventories of  re-usable working parts to an industry where such a concept is lacking: once a solubilizing or an absorption promoting laminate for example, is developed, it will be possible to use it time and again as a working component for the design and assembly of any new product that requires it. Dosage forms built from prefabricated functional parts represent a paradigm shift on dosage form design and manufacture, enabling unprecedented levels of control and flexibility for customizing end product performance of small molecules and biopharmaceuticals.


12. Ultrasensitive Mesoscopic Magnetic Sensors,  (Professor Ernesto E. Marinero, Schools of Chemical and Materials Engineering,

This project will develop ultrasensitive magnetic sensors based on nanoscale materials for biomedical applications. Of particular interest is the use of arrays of these sensors to study brain physiology and metabolism for the development of new diagnostics and therapies.

Sensors based on giant magnetoresistive materials such as the ones employed in the magnetic storage industry as well as high mobility 2D structures will be grown on flexible substrates to fabricate wearable arrays for the study of brain activity. Said devices will permit and extend brain physiology studies while the subject is performing normal activities outside the clinical setting that f-MRI studies currently require.


13. Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment,  (Professor Edward J. Delp, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering,

There is a health crisis in the world related to diet that is further exacerbated by our aging population and sedentary lifestyles. Six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, can be directly linked to diet. Dietary intake, the process of determining what someone eats during the course of a day, provides valuable insights for mounting intervention programs for prevention of many of the above chronic diseases. Measuring accurate dietary intake is considered to be an open research problem in the nutrition and health fields.

In the Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment (TADA) project at Purdue University, we are developing imaging based tools in order to automatically obtain accurate estimates of what foods a user consumes. A step towards dietary assessment using electronic handheld devices is to make use of the integrated digital camera in mobile telephone to take images of food. The goal is to develop tools that reduce user burden while providing accurate estimates of energy and nutrient intake. We have developed a novel food record method using a mobile device and the embedded camera. This is known as Mobile Device Food Record (mdFR). Images acquired before and after foods are eaten can be used to estimate the amount of food consumed.

D) Nanomaterials, Composites

14. Nanoparticle Synthesis and Applications  (Professor Alex Wei, Chemistry Department,

The following describes research programs in my group that could mutually benefit the research thrust areas of the Purdue University – Monterrey Research engagement:

A) Rust-resistant Fe nanoparticles: Iron is the most abundant, least expensive, and least toxic of the transition metals that support ferromagnetism. Crystalline (bcc) iron has over twice the magnetization of iron oxide (magnetite) and can form single-domain ferromagnets at sizes below 20 nm, but is vulnerable to rapid air oxidation. We have a program to produce core-shell nanoparticles with crystalline Fe cores and certain types of metal oxides that are strong barriers to environmental oxygen, acid, and water. The scalable production of corrosion-resistant Fe nanoparticles has many immediate applications in the magnetic industry and ferrofluids.

B) Surface-modified Au nanorods: We have spent several years optimizing the surface chemistry of NIR-active gold nanorods (GNRs) for biomedical applications. Stable GNR dispersions are used to produce local photothermal effects that can sensitize cancer cells to drug action or hyperthermia-induced apoptosis. We have recently overcome a major barrier in the scalable processing by converting CTAB-coated GNRs into citrate-stabilized GNRs, whose surfaces can be functionalized with the same level of reliability as standard Au nanoparticles. Recent applications include tumor targeting and synergistic effects with genotoxic drugs such as cisplatin in drug-resistant cancer cell lines.

C) Hybrid magnetic-plasmonic nanoparicles: The projects above feed a third line of research, in which magnetic  NPs are coated with an anisotropic layer of Au. This combines magnetomotive activity with strong NIR resonances, for use as “dynamic” contrast agents in biomedical imaging modalities such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and photoacoustic tomography (PAT). Functionalization of these hybrid M-P NPs also enables us to bridge nanoscale physics with the chemical potential of (supra)molecular materials, such as chemically controlled nano-mechanical actuators.

15. Additive Composites Manufacturing,  (Professor R. Byron Pipes, School of Materials Engineering,

This proposal focuses on the development of Additive composites manufacturing as a vehicle to accelerate the tool-less manufacturing concepts that will provide viable manufacturing processes for personalized products across the aerospace, automotive, medical and leisure products industries. Additive Composites Manufacturing is a process for making a three-dimensional object of virtually any shape from a digital model by the melting and consolidation of comingled reinforcing and polymer matrix fibers. By controlling the location of the melt and consolidation site, three-dimensional shapes can be formed that possess the extraordinary properties of high performance polymer composites. Further, the integration of embedded sensors in the structure during the process is both feasible and viable. Here the addition of electrically conductive elements and MEMS devices within the fiber array provides for placement in situ sensors with electrical continuity within the structure.


16. Cellulose Nanomaterials (Professor Jeffrey Youngblood, School of Materials Engineering,

Cellulose Nanomaterials (CN) are biologically derived nanocrystals and nanofibers as the base reinforcement of plants; CN have twice the strength of Kevlar and have a higher stiffness. We seek to process CN into a variety of structures and characterize their performance so that CN can be move towards commercial utilization.  We are seeking to produce CN fibers to replace fiberglass, films for microelectronics, plastic electronics, and solar power, laminates for high strength and toughness structural materials, and strength/stiffness additives for blending into polymers for packaging and general use.  Additional areas of interest are in growth block copolymers off of CN surfaces to direct the liquid crystalline assembly and use of CN as aerogels for a variety of applications.

We also investigate other sustainable nanocomposites, including use of nano-dispersed lignin as a flame retardant additive, but also polymerization of structured block copolymers of bioderived monomers such as lactic acid, itaconic acid, and lignin derived styrenics for use in such areas as thermoplastic elastomers and thermoset polyesters.


17. Creating Anti-bacterial Stainless Steel Surfaces  (Professor David Bahr, School of Materials Engineering,

Nisin, an antibacterial peptide, has great ability to destroy or inhibit gram-positive bacteria, many which are related to food borne illness (listeria) and in hospitals (MRSA).  However, it bonds poorly to many surfaces and is easily removed, meaning that to maintain it's anti-bacterial properties it would have to be re-applied to a surface very often.  It is possible to control the oxidation of stainless steels and titanium to create oxides on the order of 100's of nm in thickness with cracks in the oxides that are on the same size scale as nisin.  The student involved in this project will be working to develop an oxidation and bonding method to "store" nisin in the oxide cracks, where it will be released slowly (over the period of days rather than minutes).  These oxides will be applied to food processing materials in an effort to reduce or eliminate gram positive bacterial which can transfer to food products during cutting (for both meats and vegetables).    The student will develop a suitable process to treat stainless steel, characterize the oxide structure, measure the film and bonded nisin properties under wear conditions, and perform bacterial studies of these materials


18. Creating Ultra-elastic Nanoscale Metallic Foams, (Professor David Bahr, School of Materials Engineering,

Metallic foams, often used as structural components in lightweighting, suffer from the ability to support sufficient loading under contact.  Polymeric foams, in comparison, are highly elastic and are able to recover after loading.  This project will deposit a unique nanostructured metallic multilayer system on a supporting frame of an elastic foam; the nanostructured metal exhibits unique pseudo-elastic behavior which enables it to recover from strains greater than 20%.  The student working on this project will be developing an electrodeposition process for coating the nanostructured metallic film, performing electron microscopy to determine the structure, and carrying out nanoindentation and impact testing to evaluate the limits of elasticity for this new metallic system.  The end result will be a metallic system with high temperature resistance, good electrical conductivity, and a mechanical behavior which is unique in the arena of lightweight metals.  

E) Bio-engineering

19. Design of proteoglycan mimics to improve cartilage regeneration, Professor Alyssa Panitch, Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering,

The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides a spectrum of biophysical and biochemical clues that influence cell and tissue response.  Biophysical and biochemical clues come from the molecular composition of the ECM and come in the form of chemical, morphological, and mechanical cues.  Our laboratory has focused largely on the glycosaminoglycan (GAG), or long chain sugar biopolymers, and the role they instructive play in the ECM. The GAGs themselves can be chemically modified and used to form hydrogels for tissue engineering.  The modified GAGs can also be used to engineer mimetics of the proteoglycans found within the ECM.  Synthesis and evaluation of proteoglycan mimetics composes a large portion of the more recent effort in the Panitch laboratory.


We are currently interested in exploring the design and synthesis of Molecules to mimic the lubricating and protective function of lubricin, a Proteoglycan found near the surface of articular cartilage.  This project would entail Molecular synthesis, isolation of cartilage from bovine sources, and the Evaluation of the mechanical and biological activity of the synthesized Molecules.





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