Electrical and Computer Engineering REU

Research Experiences for Undergraduates – or REU – brings students from around the world into the research laboratories of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering each summer. These students work with a faculty member and their research group to tackle an innovative research project. Students admitted to the program receive a competitive monthly research stipend as well as arranged on-campus housing and a travel allowance. 

When to Apply

  • The online application will open in late November, with a deadline in late January.


Domestic and international students are invited to apply. The program is designed for students who are juniors in the spring before their REU summer. Students should be majoring in ECE or a related discipline relevant to their area of research interest.

Dates and Stipend

  • Applicants will be notified of decisions no later than February 15
  • Dates: May 20 through July 28, 2018
  • Stipend: $500/wk plus $30/day on-campus dining allowance
  • Travel Reimbursement: Up to $400 domestic travel, up to $800 international travel
  • Housing: Shared rooms at the JB Duke Hotel  on Duke Campus

Research Opportunities

The following projects were available in 2017. Questions about any of the projects or the REU program in general should be directed to Amy Kostrewa (amy.kostrewa@duke.edu).

Modeling the Impact of Increasing Autonomy on Core Cognitive Abilities in Unmanned System Operation

Activities for this project will include assisting in the running of experiments to determine how drone operators who are trained to operate them at two different levels of control, automation-assisted teleoperation condition, as opposed to a supervisory control condition. This will entail working with a motion capture system, as well as statistical data analysis to determine overall outcomes. Java experience is a plus.

Faculty contact: Dr. Missy Cummings (mary.cummings@duke.edu)

Deriving Design Requirements for Human-Robot Intent Displays Through Machine Learning Analysis

There is an increasing need to understand how such systems should be designed to promote effective communication between one or more humans working with or around autonomous systems. This is especially true for safety critical settings like factory workers engaged in tasks with or near robots. This project will apply machine learning techniques to existing data sets anchored in human-robot manufacturing.

Faculty contact: Dr. Missy Cummings (mary.cummings@duke.edu)

Electrochemical Conversion of Carbon Dioxide to Liquid Fuel

An emissions-free energy system is necessary to address the crisis of global climate change. Recycling atmospheric carbon dioxide into chemical fuels would allow more widespread use of renewable energy resources, and using these fuels would result in net-zero emissions. To enable such a system, the Nanomaterials and Thin Films Laboratory is currently developing technology for electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon-based fuels. The undergraduate student will be expected to use a variety of electrochemical (electrolysis, voltammetry and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) and physical-chemical (chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy) techniques for synthesis and characterization. The student will gain knowledge in fundamental and experimental analytical chemistry and will improve her/his laboratory skills.

Faculty contact: Dr. Jeffrey Glass (jeff.glass@duke.edu); Lab contact: Dr. Matthew Kirley (matt.kirley@duke.edu)

Materials and Device Characterization of Organic Solar Cells Deposited by Resonant-Infrared Matrix-Assisted Pulsed Laser Evaporation (RIR-MAPLE)

RIR-MAPLE is an organic-based thin-film deposition technique appropriate for polymeric optical coatings (such as anti-reflective coatings) and organic optoelectronic devices (such as solar cells). RIR-MAPLE is expected to improve the device performance of organic solar cells due to nanoscale domains of donor and acceptor materials that enhance charge separation of photogenerated excitons.

In this project, the student will investigate the materials properties and device performance of organic solar cells deposited by RIR-MAPLE using atomic force microscopy, UV-visible absorption spectroscopy, photoluminescence spectroscopy, external quantum efficiency and solar cell fill factor measurements.

Faculty contact: Dr. Adrienne D. Stiff-Roberts (astiff@ee.duke.edu)

Improving Morphology and Contact Interfaces for Printed Nanomaterial-Based Electronics

Many new electronic applications can be made possible with more affordable and readily customizable circuits.  These circuits do not necessarily need to exhibit the high performance achieved with silicon-based CMOS chips, but they do need to offer diverse functionality and moderate performance at a low fabrication cost.  Printing electronics is a viable approach for enabling this new electronics era.  For decades, organic materials have been studied for their use in printed electronics, but they suffer from compatibility issues for many applications and considerable performance limitations.  A more recent option has been to use nanomaterials printed into thin films.  Nanomaterials offer superior electronic properties to bulk materials, including organic polymers, and are able to be dispersed into a variety of inks for printability.  Further, nanomaterials are robust to extreme environments and highly compatible with a nearly endless variety of integration schemes.  Entirely new applications, from highly sensitive biomedical diagnostics to sensors for harsh environments, can be enabled with a printed nanomaterial-based electronics technology. 

In this project, an aerosol jet printer will be used to improve the morphology of various nanomaterial inks, thus increasing their usefulness in printed electronics.  The most critical interface to the printed thin films of nanomaterials is at the electrical contacts; as such, another aspect of this project will be to explore the impact of different metallic nanostructures on the resultant electrical contact properties to nanomaterial thin films.  Inks containing carbon nanotubes (CNTs), graphene, or other 2D crystals (e.g., MoS2, WSe2) will be developed in collaboration with Chemistry groups at Duke.  The student involved in this project will be trained to operate the aerosol jet printer and will study how various printing conditions impact the alignment, thickness, width, conductivity, and transparency of nanomaterial thin films.  The printing process requires training and customization of several key steps, including printing conditions, film curing, and integration sequence.  Characterization of printed electronic devices from the nanomaterial thin films with various contact interfaces will also be carried out by the student to determine the impact of the different printed morphologies on the performance of resultant devices.  The student will also be expected to take part in discussions where results will be analyzed and new ideas potentially formulated for inclusion in the project.

An ideal candidate for this project would have some previous knowledge and experience in solid-state physics including carrier transport in semiconductors, previous knowledge and/or interest in electronics, and be competent in operating complex tools.  They should also be self-motivated and maintain a strong work ethic in terms of commitment and follow-through.  A collaborative, team player is a must.

Faculty contact: Dr. Aaron Franklin (aaron.franklin@duke.edu)

Wireless Microcontroller Services Provisioning for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE Contest

We’re at the start of a multi-year effort to compete in the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, where the challenge is to map a huge area of ocean at high accuracy in 24 hours. The long term plan is to develop a highly redundant multi-copter drone to transport, drop, and recover custom deep-submersible sonar pods built using off-the-shelf parts. At present, we have two courses of students developing hardware and software toward this goal, but that’s just scratching the surface.

The challenge we’re looking for REU student(s) to address has to do with the sonar pod. Because of the incredible water pressure at the depths were visiting, we cannot have wires or ports to access the pod’s electronics, so all communication is wireless. At present, that means that once we seal a pod, we cannot update its software or perform diagnostics. We would like student(s) to develop a standalone wireless embedded system capable of assessing battery condition, reprogramming the firmware of connected modules, and performing diagnostics. This system would likely be based on the ESP8266 series of microcontrollers, programmable via Arduino. 

Faculty contacts: Dr. Tyler Bletsch (tyler.bletsch@duke.edu) and Dr. Martin Brooke (martin.brooke@duke.edu)

Fluorescent Imaging of Neural Activity in Live Animals

Our lab is focused on using novel optical and protein tools to understand how the brain works. Recent developments in optogenetic technology has allowed researcher to record from hundreds to thousands of neurons in awake-behaving animals. For example, our have published on voltage sensors that read the spiking activity of live animals (Gong et. al. Science, 2015). We are also currently improving the fluorescent microscopes in our lab to record more neurons from deeper brain structures faster. These tools will help us better understand how collections of neurons fire and wire together to support complex behaviors. We are able to investigate these connections between neural activity and behavior in a variety of model organisms such as mice, flies, and fish.

For this position, our lab is looking for a student to help us construct new microscopy modalities that probe the brain with higher spatial and temporal resolution. Tasks will involve advanced optical engineering, signal processing, and live animal imaging experiments. These tasks will generate training in physics, data science, and sufficient biology to bring experiments into publication.

Faculty contact: Dr. Yiyang Gong (yiyang.gong@duke.edu)
Neurotoolbox lab: http://neurotoolbox.pratt.duke.edu/

Student-Proposed REU Project

Prospective Duke ECE REU students are invited to propose a project to work on under the advisement of one of our Duke ECE faculty members. On the application form, in addition to uploading your resume and statement of interest, please use a format similar to the project descriptions above to upload a proposal including the following:

  • The name of the faculty member(s) you propose to work with
  • The description of a project that can be completed within or reach a reasonable stopping point at the end of a nine-week period
  • An explanation of an expected product or outcome from the project
  • A list of any necessary supplies or materials

Staff contact: Amy Kostrewa (amy.kostrewa@duke.edu)