Summer Research Program

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Summer Undergraduate Research Programs

Overview of the 2016 Summer Undergraduate Research Programs in the Department of Chemistry. Summer 2016 application will be open October 20, 2015


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 2016 will open October 20th, 2015. 

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. This program gives visiting undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in frontier research at a major research facility. The Chemistry Department at Penn State University was recently ranked among the top 10 departments and is a major research facility with 36 research faculty and more than 200 graduate students.

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.  

REU program

Direct research experience is one of the most effective ways to prepare undergraduates for careers in mathematics, science and engineering.  Come to Penn State Chemistry to:

  •  work closely with a faculty member, and the graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in their research group
  • get hands-on experience in the challenging and exciting work in chemistry research 
  • acquire valuable skills, participate in seminars, and join in a variety of extra-curricular activities.

One of our central goals is to provide the opportunity to do research to students who would not normally have the chance to do so. This especially includes women, first generation college students, members of minority groups, and the disabled, whose talents will make important contributions 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. 

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.

Possible Undergraduate Research Projects

List of types of available research projects

Your summer research project will enhance your educational experience by integrating research and education in active and collaborative research, and through individual mentoring and support networks. 

Below are examples of research projects within the Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research program. These change annually based on the interests of students and faculty. Please see also for the faculty research pages for more information.  Each summer, we have projects that emphasize synthesis, analysis, and computation, as well as combinations of these, in collaborative teams of scientists.  We encourage you to consider projects of interest but that also extend and enhance your learning.


1. Nanomaterials for Photocatalysis and Photoelectrochemistry

Project Description: Nanomaterials can have fundamentally different electronic and magnetic properties. Investigating the electrical, photo electrical, magnetic, and other properties of nanomaterials is a fundamentally interesting and new area.  For example, we have projects in which students use nanomaterials to catalyze the photo-driven splitting of water. Students will learn to characterize nanomaterials and nano material junctions, proper sample preparation, and how to conduct key techniques such as electron microscopy, AFM, electrochemical and photoelectrochemical techniques.  


2. Room Temperature Ionic Liquids

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. These research projects study electron transfer and molecule and change transport in ionic liquids.  Students 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.


3. New Materials for High Efficiency Solar Cells

Project Description: This project will involve synthesis of organo-halide perovskite materials as solution processed inorganic semiconductors for high efficiency solar cells.  Although the efficiency of perovskite solar cells is already approaching that of single-crystal silicon, their efficiency degrades over time by interaction with water and oxygen.  A combination of synthesis, time-resolved spectroscopy, and solar cell fabrication will be used to determine whether new types of organo-halide perovskite materials can overcome this degradation and lead to more efficient and stable solution processed solar cells. 


4. Phase Separation of Atmospheric Particles

Project Description: Characterizing the structure of atmospheric particles and investigating how these structures impact the properties of particles is important to understanding their effects on climate.  Undergraduate researchers examine the phase separation behavior of an organic aerosol composed of atmospherically relevant organic compounds and salts to determine the chemistry that leads to phase separation.  Such studies are particularly important for understanding new particle formation in the atmosphere and the formation of certain types of clouds.


5. Effects of Mixed Salts on Aqueous Interfaces

Project Description: From where the oceans meet the air to where ground water contacts the soil, there are numerous aqueous interfaces in the environment. Traditionally, chemists model the influence of ions on these systems one salt at a time. It is now becoming clear, however, that the presence of one type of cation or anion can strongly influence the behavior of all the others. Students working on this project employ advanced spectroscopies and microfluidic measurements to understand these effects.


6.  Strategies for low energy recycling of plastics

Project Description: We are developing new types of polymers that enable recycling of plastics at room temperature, as well as rapid conversion of plastics into inert small molecules once they reach the ocean (to minimize plastic waste). Students will learn and apply synthetic and characterization techniques to study the polymers and their decomposition. 


7. Computational Modeling of Aggregation Phenomena in Petrochemical Mixtures

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. 


8. Plasmon Enhanced Molecular Absorption for Solar Energy Harvesting

Project Description: Metallic nano structures that support collective excitations of the valence electrons, so-called plasmons, enable light to be localized and controlled well below the diffraction limit. Strong interactions between plasmons and molecules provide a unique opportunity to enhance photochemical processes such as light absorption and energy and charge transport at the nanoscale. Students employ classical and mixed quantum-classical high-performance computational tools to simulate and understand plasmon enhanced molecular absorption aimed at improving the performance of solar cells.


9. Symmetry Enforced Unidirectional Electron Transfer

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.  Students on this project engage in studying ultrafast ground-state transport of protons -- both in bulk solutions and on surfaces -- using dynamic steady-state Raman microscopy.  This project emphasizes work on state of the art instrumentation - students will learn the intricacies of Raman and IR spectroscopy and use these to understand how dynamics affect bandshapes in these two spectroscopies.

10. Molecular Catalysts for CO2 Conversion

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.


11. Cyanobacteria Conversion of Fatty Acids to Fuel

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 recently reported two-step pathway also allows these bacteria to convert fatty acids to formate and fuel alkanes. Students will help gain understanding of the structure and function of the alkane-producing enzyme, aldehyde decarbonylase, by 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.

12. New for 2015: Evaluating the Structure and Function of Intrinsically Disordered Proteins

Project Description: Despite what their name implies, intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) possess structures that can be defined at the atomic and molecular scale, using powerful spectroscopic and computational tools. In fact, persistent structural disorder appears to have functional advantages for proteins involved in regulating the biological process of gene transcription. Students working on this project combine nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy with titration calorimetry experiments to unravel the structure-function relationships that drive transcription. 


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 2016 are from May 25th to August 5th.  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 ten week summer research program.

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 2015, over 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.

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Requirements to participate in the Summer 2016 Undergraduate Research 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 2016
  • 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 or environment research in chemistry.
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.00


Application for the summer 2016 Summer Research Program in Chemistry at Penn State.

The Summer 2016 application is 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 central aim to the selection process is to identify students who are well qualified, who have a keen interest in chemistry, 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) complete the on-line application (we recommend opening in a new window to keep the below instructions open) following the directions below:

  • 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 topics
  • 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 15th, 2016. 
  • 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