Summer Research Program — Penn State University - Department of Chemistry

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Eberly College of Science Department of Chemistry

Summer Research Program

You are here: Home Undergrad Summer Research Program

Main Content


Summer Undergraduate Research Programs

Overview of the 2014 Summer Undergraduate Research Programs in the Department of Chemistry.


Life Science bridgeThe Department of Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program gives undergraduate students opportunities to participate in frontier chemistry research at a major research facility.

The National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program focuses on energy-related research. You can perform research with the listed participating faculty on any of the topics of the program: we match your interests with those of current faculty. 

The 3M Fellowship program provides funding for students to conduct research in any research group in the department, including the participants listed on this site. We encourage you to consider the projects listed here and on the general research pages found on the chemistry web site.

Students work closely with a Penn State faculty member, together with graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the research group.

Applications for summer 2014 are now closed. 

Use the menu bar on the left to find out more about the summer undergraduate research program.

Prospective Students

Summer Undergraduate Research Program

The Penn State Department of Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program hosts undergraduate students with support from both the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry and the 3M Foundation. 

These summer positions are open to undergraduate students who are majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering etc. and have an interest in research in chemistry.  The NSF REU program is specifically focused on energy and environment related research.

REU programThe Summer Undergraduate Research Program gives visiting undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in frontier research at a major research facility. 

Students will work closely with a Penn State faculty member, together with graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the research group. By participating, students will experience the challenge and excitement of a career in research (and perhaps the occasional frustrations too). In addition students will be able to acquire valuable skills, participate in seminars and join in a variety of extra-curricular activities.

Direct research experience is one of the most effective ways to prepare undergraduates for careers in mathematics, science and engineering. The National Science Foundation and 3M Foundation provide support for summer undergraduate research programs to attract talented students into research careers and to help meet the nation's need for mathematicians, scientists and engineers for the future.

An important goal of the summer undergraduate research program is to provide an opportunity to do research to students who would not normally have the chance to do so. This especially includes women, members of minority and the disabled, groups who are currently significantly underrepresented in the materials science community and whose talents will be an important contribution to the nation's scientific resources for the future.

Penn State is one of the largest land-grant universities, with approximately 45,000 undergraduates and graduate students at the University Park campus during the academic year. The Chemistry Department at Penn State University was recently ranked among the top 10 departments in the 2010 NRC rankings. The chemistry department is a major research facility with 37 faculty and more than 200 graduate students.

Penn State encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact the staff at (814) 865-8859 in advance of your participation or visit.

Participating Faculty & Research Projects

List of participating faculty & possible research projects

Our goal with the proposed research projects is to enrich students’ education by integrating research and education in active and collaborative research, and through individual mentoring and support networks. 

The below descriptions are examples of possible research projects within the NSF REU program. Research projects are based on three main energy topics: Molecular Mimics of Photosynthetic Systems, Nanomaterials for Energy Applications, and Li Ion Batteries and Polymeric Materials for Solar CellsNew projects for 2013 are also listed below.

Students applying to the 3M Fellowship program may indicate interest in any of the below projects or research groups in the department of chemistry (from the main chemistry web site

Research Topic: Nanomaterials for Energy Applications

1. Project Title: Nanoscale Rectifying Junctions for Photocatalysis and Photoelectrochemistry

Faculty Mentors: Thomas E. Mallouk and Raymond E. Schaak

Project Description: There is growing interest in the development of nanoscale rectifiers with electronic properties. For this reason it is of utmost importance to investigate the electrical and photoelectrical properties of the rectifiers. The goal of this collaborative project is to develop nanoscale rectifiers based on thin layers of oxide and oxynitride materials, and to understand the dynamics of charge separation within them at a fundamental level.

Students will learn to structurally and electrically characterize oxide-oxide junctions, and photosensitized junctions. They will learn proper sample preparation, and how to conduct AFM, electrochemical and photoelectrochemical techniques. Students interested in performing computational calculations have additional opportunities to perform electronic structure modeling using VASP or Gaussian 03, and will use graphical interface GaussView 5, iMol, or VMD to build the molecular structures, retrieve and view the results.


2. Project Title: Photocatalytic Materials

Faculty Mentor: Raymond Schaak

Project Description:  Using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is a powerful approach for clean fuel generation. However, most of the metal oxide photoanode materials that support photocatalytic water splitting do not effectively absorb incident solar radiation because their bandgap energies are too large, falling outside of the maximum output region of the solar spectrum. The goal of this project is to develop and exploit alternative low-temperature chemical routes to metal oxynitrides in an effort to expand the library of available metal oxynitride semiconductors with visible-wavelength bandgaps and discover new photocatalytic materials.

Students will learn advanced inorganic synthetic techniques, both molecular and solid-state, and include training and hands-on experience with powder XRD, TEM, SEM, TGA/DSC, and UV-Vis (including diffuse reflectance).


3. Project Title: Transport and Charge Transfer in Room Temperature Ionic Liquids

Faculty Mentor: Mark Maroncelli

Project Description: Room temperature ionic liquids are molten salts that are comprised of bulky and asymmetric ions such that they remain liquid at or near room temperature. Recent recognition that such materials can be tailor-made to possess a range of desirable properties has lead to myriad explorations into their potential uses spanning virtually all areas of chemistry. Among the most promising energy-related uses of ionic liquids are as “solvent-less” electrolytes in dye-sensitized solar cells, batteries, and supercapacitors. Our research involves fundamental studies of electron transfer and molecule and change transport in ionic liquids that underpins these applications. We focus on using ultrafast electronic spectroscopy, NMR measurements, and computer simulations to study intramolecular and bimolecular electron transfer and solute diffusion in ionic liquids with the goal of understanding how these processes differ in ionic liquid versus conventional solvents and how to model them in the former solvents.

Students interested in these experiments will use steady-state and picosecond time-resolved measurements of fluorescence measurements, as well as pulsed field gradient NMR spectroscopy techniques. For students interested in computational research, Smoluchowski-equation modeling the data generated by the quenching experiments using in-house code or participation in molecular dynamics simulations related to these experiments is also available.


4. Project Title: Pathway to More Efficient Quantum Dot Solar Cells

Faculty Mentors: John B. Asbury and Raymond E. Schaak

Project Description: A central problem in the development of solar power as an alternative energy supply is the ability to fabricate solar cells inexpensively and with high throughput.  Solar cells composed of colloidal quantum dots are attractive alternatives to current silicon cells because they can be produced much less expensively using high throughput processing. This REU project will work toward understanding how interactions of organic ligands with the surfaces of inorganic quantum dots influence the density of defects at the surfaces in an effort to develop more efficient colloidal quantum dot solar cells.

Students working on this project will synthesize colloidal quantum dots and characterize these using TEM, XRD, FTIR, UV-Vis, and TGA/DSC. In a second project an REU student will use time-resolved infrared spectroscopy in conjunction with transient photocurrent measurements to characterize the defects in the quantum dots.


Research Topic: Li Ion Batteries and Polymeric Materials for Solar Cells

REU 2010 - Project 65. Project Title: Fabrication of Polymer Nanostructures

Faculty Mentor: Michael Hickner

Project Description: Creating very small objects and studying their unique structure and properties is an important area of nanotechnology. Many fabrication methods have been devised for creating nanoscale objects, however, most of these techniques, such as lithography, require large, expensive machinery and many processing steps. Shown in the figure to the right is an example of a disordered polymer that shows good alignment after thermal annealing due to the arrangement of the block copolymer phases. In this project students will use block copolymer directed assembly methods to create aligned polymeric nanoscale structures.

Students will process block copolymers using a variety of techniques such as spin casting and zone annealing. The properties of the polymeric nanostructures will then be examined by atomic force microscopy and infrared spectroscopy, and their conductivity will be evaluated to determine what anisotropy exists in their transport properties due to the structure of the aligned phases.

6. Project Title: Design and Synthesis of Polymers for Energy Applications

Faculty Mentor: Harry Allcock

Project Description: The Allcock research group has developed new fuel cell membranes based on the polyphosphazene platform and a broad range of polymers that are good solvents for salts are under investigation as advanced electrolytes in rechargeable lithium batteries and dye-based solar cells. The advantages of these polymers for energy-related applications are resistance to combustion and chemical/electrochemical decomposition and transparency to radiation throughout the visible region and near ultraviolet. Research in the group revolves around the development of new synthesis methods to optimize materials properties and an understanding of structure-property relationships.

Students will learn to synthesize polymers and characterize them by techniques such as NMR, GPC, DSC, and TGA.  They will also learn how to fabricate membranes and evaluate their conductivity by electrical impedance spectroscopy.


Research Topic: Molecular Mimics of Photosynthetic Systems

7. Project Title:  Artificial Peptide Substituted Ru Complexes for Photoinduced Electron Transfer and Catalysis

REU 2010 - Project 1 Faculty Mentor: Mary Beth Williams

Project Description: Construction of molecular materials capable of harnessing solar energy for use in chemical reactions is a key step to realize artificial photosynthesis. Exploring methods by which multifunctional, inorganic structures can be self-assembled to create redox, catalytic and photoactive structures is an important aspect of this goal. The purpose of this collaborative project is to synthesize, model, and study artificial-peptide linked dimetallic Ru-M structures to understand how charge separation occurs following photoexcitation.

Students working on this project will learn: advanced inorganic synthesis, including complete characterization by a host of techniques (mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy, electrochemistry, etc.), and/or computational methods.



8. Project Title: Using “Drug Store” Reagents and Carbon Dioxide to Prepare Unnatural Amino Acids for use in Artificial Photosystems

Faculty Mentor: Scott T. Phillips

REU 2010 - Research Project 2Project Description: The Williams group in the Department of Chemistry at Penn State is synthesizing unnatural photosystems for harvesting energy from the sun.  These photosystems incorporate unnatural amino acids as diverse structural building blocks—the amino acids are critical for modulating the activity of the photosystems.  In the Phillips group, we are devising new strategies for synthesizing the unnatural amino acids used in these photosystems.  Our ultimate goal is to reduce the cost of the building blocks to reduce the expense of the photosystems. Our synthetic strategy (shown on the left) uses exceedingly inexpensive reagents such as hydrogen peroxide and carbon dioxide. We will determine the efficacy of this synthetic strategy and evaluate the range of compatible substrates.

Students involved in this project will learn advance organic synthesis techniques, including purification of the products with flash chromatography, preparative reverse-phase HPLC, or another suitable technique, characterization by 1H and 13C NMR spectroscopy, IR spectroscopy, and mass spectroscopy.


New Research Topics


1. Project Title: Computational Modeling of Aggregation Phenomena in Petrochemical Mixtures

Faculty Mentor: Will Noid

Project Description: Petrochemical mixtures provide a vital source of energy and chemical feedstocks, yet the molecular interactions and structures governing their phase behavior remain poorly understand. Students working on this research project will employ state-of-the-art computational modeling techniques to investigate the aggregation phenomena of petrochemical mixtures. 


2. Project Title: Physical Properties of Aged Mineral Dust Aerosol

Faculty Mentor: Miriam Freedman

Project Description: Some of the biggest challenges in modeling climate stem from large uncertainties in quantifying the interaction of aerosol particles with radiation. Mineral dust aerosol, the second largest emission by mass, is particularly difficult to model due to its varied shape and long residence time in the atmosphere.  Students working on this project will characterize changes in the physical properties of model mineral dust aerosol upon aging using spectroscopic techniques and microscopy.


3. Project Title: Symmetry Enforced Unidirectional Electron Transfer

Faculty Mentor: Benjamin Lear

Project Description: Proton transport plays a critical role in many areas of science and technology -- from understanding the proper functioning of cellular metabolism to the design of efficient fuel cells for an alternative energy economy.  We are engaged in studying ultrafast ground-state transport of protons -- both in bulk solutions and on surfaces -- using dynamic steady-state Raman microscopy.  This project involves minimal synthesis, but much instrumentation work.  Students will learn the intricacies of Raman and IR spectroscopy and will develop an appreciation for how dynamics affect bandshapes in these two spectroscopies.

4. Project Title: Molecular Catalysts for CO2 Conversion

Faculty Mentor: Alexander Radosevich

Project Description: Petrochemicals are a valuable source of chemical feedstocks and fuels, but the global resource is finite and non-renewable. Consequently, there is growing interest in developing new technologies for exploiting renewable carbon resources like atmospheric carbon dioxide and plant biomass. The goal of this research project is to develop robust and inexpensive molecular electrocatalysts for the conversion of COand biomass polyols into high-energy, high-value outputs.

Students interested in this project will receive training in molecular inorganic synthesis and a full complement of characterization techniques including NMR, EPR, x-ray crystallography, and voltammetry.


5. Project Title: Cyanobacteria Conversion of Fatty Acids to Fuel

Faculty Mentors: Marty Bollinger, Squire Booker, Carsten Krebs

Project Description: Cyanobacteria are robust, rapidly growing, environmentally diverse, genetically manipulable, and, most importantly, photosynthetic organisms. They are capable of converting CO2 and sunlight into energy-rich biomolecules, including fatty acids. A two-step pathway recently reported by Schirmer and co-workers (Science, 2010, 329, 559-562) also allows these bacteria to convert fatty acids to formate and fuel alkanes. The potential to genetically engineer them to to make large quantities of fungible fuels via photosynthetically generated fatty acids has attracted a flurry of scientific, intellectual-property, and investment activity. These efforts would be facilitated by an understanding of the structure and function of the alkane-producing enzyme, aldehyde decarbonylase. This project will employ biochemical, kinetic, and spectroscopic approaches to determine the nature of the dimetal cofactor of this fascinating enzyme and the mechanism by which it catalyzes its novel reaction.

REU Attachments

Photos and forms for REU

Life as a Summer Undergraduate Researcher

Life as a Summer Undergraduate Researcher


DatesOld Main

The period of the program for the summer of 2014 are from May 22nd to August 1st.  It is expected that students will normally be working here at Penn State throughout this time. If these dates conflict with your school's academic schedule please let us know on your application form. It may be possible to arrange alternative dates in some cases.


Students will receive a stipend of $4,800 for the summer.

Travel Support

For out of state students we will be able to reimburse you for travel expenses to and from Penn State. The University Park campus is located in central Pennsylvania, in the town of State College. State College is about a three hour drive or bus ride from Pittsburgh, about four hours from Philadelphia, Washington DC or Baltimore and five hours from New York. Flights into State College are available through Detroit, Philadelphia, or Washington Dulles. For more information about traveling to State College, visit Penn State visitors' guide webpage.

Housing Arrangements

Visiting REU participants will be housed in apartments that are a short walk from the Department of Chemistry. Students will be responsible for making their own arrangements for meals. A number of restaurants are available both on and off campus. On campus meal plans are available. Convenience and grocery stores are also within easy reach should students want to use the apartment kitchens.

Please let us know if you will be staying in the housing provided.  Parking is an option but will be an extra charge.


The first full day on campus will be spent on an orientation tour of the chemistry department, research facilities, libraries, and Penn State campus. This includes recreation and cultural facilities, and other resource centers. You will meet your faculty advisor and the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in your research group. During the second day, we offer an introductory safety course and a workshop on utilizing library and electronic resources. Additional professional development workshops will continue throughout the summer.

Throughout the ten week period we will have a weekly seminar where faculty will describe their work or other exciting current developments in their field. There will be plenty of time for discussion and questions. There will also be picnics, outings and other recreational activities organized. The aim is to encourage the participating undergraduates to get to know the graduate students, postdocs and faculty on an informal level. This is one of the best ways of really getting a feel for what a career in chemistry is all about.


At the end of the summer students present their work at a symposium. Each student will present a short talk and poster about their research to an audience of students and faculty advisors. We will provide training and assistance in preparing both the poster and presentation. In 2013, nearly 100 students participating in undergraduate research across campus took part in the symposium, giving students broad exposure to research at Penn State and experience presenting their work in a professional meeting environment.

Lion shrineUniversity Park Campus

Residential Computing

PSU Library homepage

Food Services

Recreational Facilities

Student Parking

More Student Activities

Virtual tour of University Park

Maps and Visitors' Guide

State College and Centre County

Buses Around Campus and Town


Requirements to participate in the Summer 2014 REU program.


  • US citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States are eligible to apply
  • Preference is for students who are entering the junior or senior year in fall 2014
  • Students should have successfully completed core courses in science and math
  • Applicants must be majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering or a related majors 
  • For REU program applicants, students should have an interest in energy research in chemistry.
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.00


Application for the summer 2014 Summer Research Programs in Chemistry at Penn State.

The Summer 2014 application is now open.

The main criteria for selection will be the student's academic record and letters. We will also take into account the student's enthusiasm for chemistry, and interest in career goals related to chemistry research. The main aim to the selection process is to identify students who are well qualified, who have a keen interest in chemistry, and for the REU program energy-related research, and who want to find out whether a career in chemistry research is right for them. 


If you have read the requirements and are eligible to apply, there are two steps. Please:

1) create a friends of Penn State account at:

2) following the directions below, complete the on-line application (we recommend opening in a new window to keep the below instructions open)

  • the same application is used for the NSF REU and 3M programs
  • indicate two faculty members from whom we will request recommendations (please do not send these separately). We recommend that these letters be from your faculty advisor and a chemistry professor.
  • In your statement of research interests, Indicate your first, second and third choice of research project 
  • send an official transcript by regular mail to:

    Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program
    c/o The Department of Chemistry
    The Pennsylvania State University
    104 Chemistry Building
    University Park, PA 16802

  • The application will close on February 1st, 2014. Deadline for priority application consideration is January 5, 2014.
  • after submitting, you may log back in at any time to check the status of your application
If you have questions or comments about the application please contact us at

Contact Information

Contact information for the summer undergraduate research program:

MascotChemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program
c/o The Department of Chemistry
The Pennsylvania State University
104 Chemistry Building
University Park, PA 16802


Document Actions