Summer Research Experience Program

2018–2019 projects

2018–2019 applications are now closed.

1. Membrane design by artificial neural network

Supervisors: Zhiyuan Xiong, Prof Dan Li

Nanoporous membranes are widely used in various applications including energy storage and separation technology. This is because the nano-scaled pore structure enables the regulation of molecules/ions in a precise fashion and the large surface area of the material allows for more storage of ions. However, the conventional fabrication process of these membranes is based on a trial-and-error method, where the efficiency of development for better performance is limited.

Machine learning is a vital field of research to achieve artificial intelligence due to the rapid development of modern computation and fast electronics. Here in this project, we attempt to guide the design/fabrication process by artificial intelligence. Artificial neural network, as one of the “black-boxed” machine learning algorithm, is ideal for this topic. This is because no explicit form of mathematical equation is required for this study, given the difficulty of finding a universal equation for membrane design under current theoretical frameworks.

Students who are involved in this project will apply and optimize the developed artificial neural network model in investigating the membrane design process. They are also encouraged to develop their own model and/or investigate the fundamental relation between the model and experiments. Their work on this “black-boxed” machine learning algorithm can be applied to other fields in their future research and it will also be inspirational for the “white-boxed” algorithm being developed in our group.

2. Electromechanical response of graphene-based smart fluids

Supervisors: Dr Hualin Zhan, Prof Dan Li

Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has drawn considerable interest owing to its distinctive physical, mechanical and electrical properties. One of our group’s interests is related to colloidal assembly and application of graphene dispersions. This project aims to investigate the basic electrochemical properties of graphene-based fluids. We will first investigate how colloidal forces are related to the electromechanical response of graphene network through in situ rheo-electrical measurements, and then explores the response properties of graphene fluid-based strain sensors. During this project, the student will get basic synthetic skills and deep colloidal/rheological knowledge of two-dimensional (2D) materials and learn their newest developments in flexible/wearable devices.

3. Fabrication of graphene films by blade casting

Supervisors: Yang Cao, Prof George Franks and Prof Dan Li

Graphene films hold great promise for many emerging applications such as supercapacitors, water desalination, mineral extraction and bioseparation. This project will explore the use of cost-effective blade casting to fabricate reduced graphene oxide (rGO) films. This project will investigate various factors affecting blade casting processability of GO colloids, including reduction temperature, amount of reduction agent, pH, and concentration of GO. The project will involve the use of a number of chemical, colloidal and electrical characterization techniques to understand the processing-structure-property-performance relationship of graphene-based films.

Prof George Franks’ Group

4. Making polymers using immobilised enzymes

Supervisors: Dr Mitchell Nothling, Prof Greg Qiao

Enzymes are nature’s catalysts, and they speed up the very reactions that make life possible. Enzymes are also widely employed in modern industry; from laundry detergents to food, and beverage production, as well as in biofuel synthesis and pharmaceutical discovery. However, the widespread application of enzymes in industry is hampered by their high cost, and limited stability under process conditions. This project will explore the immobilisation of enzymes to a variety of solid surfaces (such as glass vials, alumina beads, etc.), and the effectiveness of these surfaces to catalyse a polymerisation reaction. This novel technique is at the cutting-edge of polymer chemistry and industrial biotechnology, with the potential to significantly improve the stability and recyclability of enzyme catalysts. The student will learn a wide array of advanced laboratory techniques, including synthesis and characterization, with the potential to contribute their findings to a major scientific journal.

Prof Greg Qiao’s Group

5. Chemical synthesis via ultrasound

Supervisors: Stephanie Allison, Prof Greg Qiao

Ultrasound refers to sound waves with a frequency greater than 20 000 Hz and is used in a diverse range of applications, from medical imaging to echolocation, and even chemical synthesis. Our lab has recently demonstrated that high frequency ultrasound can be used to synthesise polymers. In this project, a student will investigate the use of ultrasound to initiate chemical reactions and form gels that can be used for biomedical applications. The student will learn a range of characterization techniques and gain lab experience working on an exciting project with potential industrial applications.

Prof Greg Qiao’s Group

6. Synthetic red blood cells from naturally-derived materials

Supervisors: Dr Joseph J. Richardson, Dr Gyeongwon Yun, Yiyuan Han, Prof Frank Caruso

Our lab has developed a variety of methods for creating hybrid materials with unique functionalities. However, to date it has been challenging to selectively transport oxygen in synthetic drug delivery vehicles. In this project, you will work with one of our cutting-edge materials to engineer novel oxygen carrying-nanoparticles. This project could have significant impact for life-saving medical technologies.

Prof Frank Caruso’s Group

7. Electrodialysis with bipolar membranes

Supervisors: Dr George Chen, Prof Sandra Kentish

Figure 1: Simplified schematics of an EDBM process for the production of NaOH and HCl from NaCl. (BPM: bipolar membrane, CEM: cation exchange membrane, and AEM: anion exchange membrane)

Electrodialysis with bipolar membranes (EDBM) is an emerging technology that has great potential in pollution control, resource recovery and chemical processing. Bipolar membranes, a special form of ion exchange membrane composed of an anion exchange layer and a cation exchange layer, can split water into H+ and OH- ions in an energy efficient manner under the influence of a potential gradient. One typical application is to convert saline (mineral or organic) solutions into acids and bases (Figure 1).

While laboratory scale studies of various applications of EDBM have been reported in the literature, pilot scale studies of these processes are needed to demonstrate practicality and reliability beyond bench scale experiments. This project involves a pilot scale study of EDBM for converting industrial wastewater that is rich in sodium chloride into sodium hydroxide and hydrochloride acid as in-plant cleaning chemicals. This could lead to lower wastewater salinity and a reduced cost of wastewater treatment. During this project, the student will acquire hands-on experience in membrane characterisation, commissioning and operation of a pilot scale electrodialysis unit, as well as advanced analytical techniques such as inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry and ion chromatography.

Prof Sandra Kentish’s Group

8. Incineration chemistry of chemical warfare agents

Supervisors: Dr Gabriel da Silva

The threat of chemical weapons (CW) attacks is a persistent one, despite being internationally outlawed. Huge stockpiles of nerve agents and other CWs remain in existence, and their safe and complete destruction is an ongoing concern. To aid in the destruction of CWs and in the investigation of suspected CW usage we need to understand how they decompose in incinerators and the residual products of their combustion.

This is a computational project, which will use quantum chemical and statistical mechanical methods to predict the mechanism and energetics of CW decomposition reactions. Training will be provided to use the university high performance computing cluster and appropriate molecular modelling and quantum chemistry software packages.

Dr Gabriel da Silva’s Group

Eligibility and how to apply