Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering

Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Summer 2021

Energy Solutions

Mentored research experiences for undergraduate students

Participate in one of ten ten-week-long energy research projects.

Engage in hands-on experiments in state-of-the-art facilities with faculty mentors.

Develop research skills and problem-solving abilities. 

Get support from graduate student mentors and fellow participants.

Grow your professional and peer network.

Discover innovative solutions to society’s energy challenges.

Program Overview

The CSU Mechanical Engineering Department will host ten undergraduate participants each summer over the next three years, offering each cohort a 10-week intensive summer research program that includes professional development. To achieve our REU Site goal, we will pursue the following objectives:

1. Expand REU student opportunities for learning and improving their capacities in Energy Research through mentored, high-quality research experiences in a themed area.

2. Improve REU student understanding of a broad range of advanced energy technologies and state-of-the-art techniques through educational colloquies.

3. Improve REU student interpersonal skills and self-confidence to increase success in pursuing graduate studies and careers in STEM through directed career and professional development opportunities.

Program Impact

REU participants will include a significant number of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, and who might otherwise lack high-quality research opportunities. 

The CSU Mechanical Engineering REU Site will:

1. Expand the US workforce in the area of Energy, which is of critical importance to all industries.

2. Generate research results that can lead to discoveries and innovation in Energy and help solve real-world problems.

3. Offer a diverse group of student participants an immersive environment conducive to high-level collaborations and exchanges. 

Program Outline

Undergraduate students will spend 10 weeks pursuing individualized energy research projects.

The program will kick off with a weekend at the CSU Mountain Campus, where REU students and mentors will participate in team-building activities. 

Week 1: students will be introduced to CSU’s Principles of Community, given a tour of the campus and lab facilities, trained on laboratory safety and protocols, and oriented to CSU library resources.

Weeks 2-9: and after research projects are underway, Energy technology and professional development colloquies will be given by ME faculty and graduate students. Visits to local Energy laboratories and companies will be spread out over the program to enhance the REU experience while maximizing research productivity.

Weekly, REU group meetings will give the participants a chance to explain their projects and address questions from their peers.

The program will conclude with an IGNITE Event at which REU students will present their research to faculty mentors and graduate students.


Time spent on research-related activities


Time spent on professional development-related activities


Time spent on foundational seminars

Training will include:

Principles of Community discussion

Laboratory safety practices

Lab notebook record keeping

Informal REU research meetings

Intellectual property and ethics issue discussions

Technical writing and presentation skill building

Resume-writing and interview skill building

Career panel discussion

Research Projects

Project #1: Emissions and Fluorescent Properties of Bioaerosols – Professor Shantanu Jathar
Project goal: To study the size, number, and fluorescent behavior of natural biological particles

Research significance: Bioaerosols that include viruses, bacterial, pollen, and spores are small particles of biological origin. Bioaerosols have wide ranging effects from being linked to respiratory diseases to the formation and properties of ice clouds. This research team has recently developed a fluorescent portable optical particle spectrometer (F-POPS) that can measure size, number, and fluorescence of bioaerosols. When deployed in a network, these allow for scalable measurements of the emissions and concentrations of bioaerosols, precursors to understanding their impacts on air quality, human health, and climate.

Student benefits: The REU students will program a time-resolution, data acquisition system to perform real-time analysis of scattered and fluoresced data for single particles measured using the F-POPS. They will characterize the custom F-POPS instrument for several different bioaerosols at different concentrations and environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, relative humidity), and will deploy the F-POPS in a pilot study to sample ambient bioaerosols.
Project #2: Lightweight Metal Matrix Composite Materials – Professor Kaka Ma
Project goal: To investigate the fundamental mechanisms that can enable lightweight advanced materials for improving the energy efficiency.

Research significance: Lightweight materials are essential for boosting the fuel economy of modern vehicles, since it takes less energy to accelerate a lighter object than a heavier one. A 10% reduction in vehicle weight can lead to a 6-8% fuel economy increase. It is essential to develop advanced lightweight materials with the ability to retain strength and other properties at higher temperatures, such as metal matrix composites (MMCs), to enable high-efficiency engines. One critical fundamental gap in developing such MMCs is a full understanding of the role of location-specific microstructure. Small-scale mechanical testing, nanoindentation and nano-scratch testing are required to elucidate the effect of local microstructural features (e.g., matrix grain size, reinforcement particles, and interface) on the location-specific properties such as hardness, elastic modulus, and deformation behavior.

Student benefits: REU students will learn advanced materials science, specifically the fundamental microstructure-mechanical property relationships, for high-efficiency engines. The students will be trained on how to fabricate MMCs via powder metallurgy techniques and test their thermo-mechanical properties at micro- and nano- scales.
Project #3: Future Fuels for Advanced Internal Combustion Engines – Professor Anthony Marchese
Project goal: To quantify flame propagation rates and end-gas autoignition of advanced, bio-derived fuels at engine-relevant temperatures and pressures using a laser-ignited rapid compression machine system.

Research significance: Increasing the efficiency of internal combustion engines and developing fuels that can be derived from renewable sources represent key opportunities to combat the civilization scale challenge of climate change from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The development of high-efficiency spark ignited engines is limited by the phenomenon of engine knock, which occurs when the fuel/air mixture ignites uncontrollably upstream of the propagating spark-ignited flame in the engine cylinder. At CSU, a rapid compression machine and laser ignition system is utilized for fundamental combustion studies necessary to characterize chemical reactivity, flame speed, and knock propensity of fuels at elevated pressures and temperatures.

Student benefits: REU students will perform experiments in the RCM, analyze the results, and compare the results to computational models.
Project #4: High Efficiency, Heavy Duty Natural Gas Engines – Professor Dan Olsen
Project goal: To increase the peak torque efficiency of a 15-liter Natural Gas (NG) engine by 5.0 efficiency points (13% relative change) from 39 to 44%.

Research significance: Two compelling reasons to use NG as a substitute for diesel fuel are to reduce particulate matter emissions and fuel costs. NG engines, however, are typically less efficient than diesel engines, especially in the on-road medium and heavy-duty engine markets. One way to accelerate market penetration is to increase NG engine efficiency. Engine knock and misfire are barriers to pathways leading to higher efficiency NG engines. This research focuses on enabling technologies for the development of high-efficiency stoichiometric engines with cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and 3-way catalysts. A combined experimental and computational approach utilizing: (1) a rapid compression machine (RCM) and laser ignition system that enables measurement of flame speed and End Gas Auto-Ignition (EGAI), (2) a variable compression ratio Cooperative Fuel Research (CFR) engine to examine knock propensity, EGR limits, emissions tradeoffs, and the relationship between EGAI heat release fraction and knock intensity, and a Cummins single cylinder 2.5 liter engine to develop advanced control algorithms under realistic operating conditions.

Student benefits: Students will gain hands-on experience working with a state-of-the-art, highly instrumented natural gas engine, operating an engine test cell, and analyzing and interpreting resultant data.
Project #5: Sustainability Assessment by Integration of Emission Testing - Professor Jason Quinn
Project goal: To investigate the impact of the limitations of not including the timing of emissions in life cycle accounting of energy systems.

Research significance: Greenhouse gas accounting is currently limited because it does not consider the temporal resolution of emissions. This study is focused on advancing assessment tools used to make decisions regarding energy technologies. The work will develop a tool set that can be used to transparently understand the impacts of emissions including temporal resolution. The primary product of this work is the development of a time value of emissions sustainability toolset that can be integrated into future life-cycle modeling and coupled with a social cost of carbon in economic modeling. The computer-based simulation and a laboratory manual will be developed to support student exploration at the high school level.

Student benefits: REU students will learn sustainability modeling techniques, which are dynamic in nature and can be applied to any technology. The students will be exposed to cutting edge sustainability modeling and well versed in life cycle assessment.
Project #6: Fabrication and Optimization of Photovoltaic Devices – Professor Walajabad Sampath
Project goal: To study the effects of variation in processing conditions and composition on thin-film CdSeTe/CdTe solar cells.

Research significance: Thin film CdTe based photovoltaics have demonstrated lowest cost of electricity for utility scale energy generation. The technology is recognized to be an important contributor to the global need for sustainable renewable energy and has proven industrial scalability. This research group has demonstrated a conversion efficiency above 20% with short-circuit current density (Jsc) of over 28 mA/cm2. This is the highest device efficiency demonstrated by any academic group for this family of materials. The technology is recognized to be an important contributor to the global need for sustainable renewable energy and has proven industrial scalability. A mutual optimization of the CdSexTe1-x/CdTe absorber layer with MgxZn1-xO is required to achieve further improvement in device efficiency.

Student benefit: REU students will 1) fabricate thin-film semiconductor devices using industrially relevant methods, 2) operate vacuum systems with robotics and automation, 3) perform electrical characterization on photovoltaic devices, 4) and understand the effect of subtle experimental changes on photovoltaic device performance.
Project #7: Turbulent Flame Stability and Emissions – Professor Bret Windom
Project goal: To identify the processes which control flame ignition, lean blowout limits and soot emissions encountered in liquid fueled turbine engines.

Research significance: Over 90% of our transportation devices are powered by liquid fuels in which the energy conversion process commences with the injection of the liquid fuel requiring fuel atomization and vaporization prior to mixing with air and combusting. Inadequate understanding of combustion/emission-formation processes and inadequate capability to accurately simulate them are key challenges towards the development of new more efficient and less polluting advanced engine/fuel combinations. This research will target these deficiencies by executing experiments with an existing combustion test facility on both traditional and novel bioderived jet fuels and surrogates and will explore advanced combustion concepts including steam injection and novel ignition strategies.

Student benefits: Students will utilize a combination of light scattering and fluorescence imaging techniques to explore the impact of fuel droplet-flame interactions on flame ignition and extinction and use laser induced incandescence measurements to quantify soot formation. REU students will obtain a solid understanding of flame stability concepts and combustion experimentation and be able propose fuel composition and/or combustion strategies that will reduce soot and GHG emissions compared to current petroleum derived jet fuels.
Project #8: Air Quality Emissions Monitoring with Mobile Sensors – Professor Azer Yalin
Project goal: To develop sensor and analytics technologies for scalable monitoring of air quality including detection of industrial and agricultural emissions.

Research significance: The natural gas industry emits a significant amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The use of mobile sensor platforms on drones provides a scalable (high throughput) approach to rapidly quantifying emissions from many sites. This research focuses on the development of (1) sensitive trace-gas laser sensors having small size and low power for mobile deployment, and (2) analytical methods to infer the mass flow of the emitted species based on measured downwind concentrations.

Student benefits: REU students will operate and deploy laser sensors for air quality measurements. They will learn the basic theory of optical sensing (laser absorption), sensor design for trace-gas detection, and key issues in air quality emissions.
Project #9: Manufacturing of Polymer-Matrix Thermal Devices – Professor Mostafa Yourdkhani
Project goal: To study the fundamental principles of multifunctional material design for use in advanced manufacturing of thermal devices.

Research significance: This research group has recently developed a novel technique for rapid, energy-efficient manufacturing of thermoset polymers based on frontal polymerization (FP), which is quite promising for advanced manufacturing of thermal devices. Using this technique, freeform printing, moldless manufacturing, and micropatterning of thermosets were demonstrated. Addition of functional nanomaterials, such as graphene, boron nitrite and quantum dots, to the FP resin allows for creating multifunctional material systems for use in advanced manufacturing (3D printing, casting, role-to-role processing) of thermal devices. However, development of these manufacturing techniques and devices requires systematic studies to understand optimal device architecture with manufacturability in mind, the effect of nanoparticles on the rheological, thermal, and electrical properties and chemical reactivity of the resin system, and structural fidelity during manufacturing and operation of the device.

Student benefits: REU students will prepare the resin system containing functional materials and characterize their thermal and thermochemical properties. They will use finite element analysis (FEA) software to design and optimize the device architecture, and they will use advanced manufacturing techniques to fabricate the device and evaluate its performance.
Project #10: In-Pipe Robots for Inspecting Live Gas Pipelines – Professor Jianguo Zhao
Project goal: To design and develop an in-pipe robot that can inspect gas pipelines without disrupting the normal gas services.

Research significance: Natural gas pipelines leak, which produces significant deleterious environmental (global warming) and economical (waste of gas) consequences. Therefore, it is important that leaks be promptly detected. “In-pipe robots”, robots that can locomote inside pipelines, have recently emerged as an effective method for leak detection. Existing in-pipe robots, however, cannot allow normal gas flow, thereby needing to stop normal services for effective detection, which increases the associated costs since services should be temporarily substituted by external tanks. To address this problem, REU students for this project will develop a new type of in-pipe robot that can work on live pipelines (i.e., without disrupting services). The overall architecture of the robot is composed of two collapsible ends connected by a compliant spine.

Student benefits: The REU students will use solid modeling software to design the robot, perform engineering analysis to select motors to drive the robot, assemble the designed robot, and test the functionality of the robot. They will also learn how to develop an embedded system with microcontrollers (e.g., Arduino) and various sensors (e.g., encoders, cameras) to control the robot.


Powerhouse Energy Campus

Powerhouse Energy Campus. In 1992, CSU renovated a decommissioned coal-fired power plant and built the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. Today, the 100,000 square-foot Platinum LEED building is one of the most extensive free-standing energy facilities at any university.

The campus is a collaborative ecosystem of researchers, faculty, staff, students, and companies. It received local, national, and global recognition of its interdisciplinary approach, and groundbreaking work on engine technology, electric grids, biofuels, energy access in the developing world, and energy focused entrepreneurship.

Engineering Research Center

The Engineering Research Center is the site of the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics (NGPV), a part of the US National Science Foundation Industry / University Cooperative Research Centers program. 

Mechanical Engineering faculty within NGPV conduct cutting-edge research with the goal of establishing photovoltaic electricity as a major source of energy in the US and the world.

Dedicated in 1963 on CSU’s Foothills Campus, the center also houses the Electric Propulsion and Plasma Engineering Laboratory, which has provided research, development, and testing since 1965. Current research includes ion extraction grids and hollow cathodes, the evaluation of plasma and ion beam interactions with materials for both aerospace and terrestrial applications, and depth expansion of CSU’s probe diagnostic abilities and knowledge. 

CSU Mountain Campus

The REU program will kickoff at the CSU Mountain Campus, located 60 miles from Fort Collins and nestled in a beautiful mountain valley at an elevation of 9,000 feet. REU students will form lasting relationships with cohorts and future research colleagues as they are challenged individually and as teams to obstacles and ropes courses.


Dr. Christian Puttlitz, Principal Investigator

Dr. Christian Puttlitz, PI, is a professor in and Head of the CSU Mechanical Engineering Department, and Director of the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Research Laboratory. As the REU Site PI and Program Director, Dr. Puttlitz will manage overall program operations, submit reports, and oversee recruitment and the assembly of faculty mentor / REU student teams. In addition, he will work with the external evaluator to improve program effectiveness. He considers REU student success critically important, and because of his role in the Department, can facilitate its success by appropriating the requisite resources.

Dr. Todd Bandhauer, Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Todd Bandhauer, Co-PI, is a professor in and the Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies, Director of the Research, End Market, and Commercialization Hub (REACH) CoLab, and Director of the Thermal Science Laboratory. As the REU Site Co-PI, he will serve as a faculty research mentor, conduct faculty and graduate students mentor training workshops, and will oversee all REU student activities (kickoff weekend, colloquies, field trips, and social functions).

Faculty Mentors

Participating mechanical engineering faculty have extensive experience mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, are available for research project discussion and consultation, have been chosen based on their specialized research labs programs, and are committed to developing undergraduate researchers into future STEM leaders.

Receive one-on-one support from faculty mentors during the summer program and a continued connection to ensure your growth and success. Click the professors and labs to learn more!



Research Areas

Faculty, Labs, and Research Areas

Peer Support

Graduate Student Mentors

Each REU student will have a graduate student mentor, The mentor and student will work closely to define the scope of the student’s research work, develop research tasks, and ensure the student understands the research.  The mentor will provide counseling as needed so the student can build on concepts learned in educational seminars and professional development seminars and activities. 

Once a week, a graduate student mentor from a lab will meet in an informal setting with REU students to discuss his/her student experiences, lessons learned, suggestions, real-life process for graduate school preparation and acceptance, etc.

Peer Networking

Once a week, the REU Site participants will meet informally as a group during lunch to network with each other, discuss their experiences, and share suggestions and ideas.

The REU site will facilitate a rotating system where each week the student is paired with another REU student to share his/her experiences, discuss research, lessons learned, etc. 

Group Meetings

REU students will participate in a series of group meetings where they can present their research (10-minute presentation plus 5-10 minute discussion) faculty mentors, graduate students, and each other. Students will give joint talks on REU student collaborations.

Social Activities

Opportunities to unwind and connect with mentors and fellow students

Meet Your Mentor Mixer

Day Hikes

Dormitory Suite Housing

Research Presentation

Poster Session

The capstone event of our program will be an IGNITE Event at which REU students will present their research to faculty mentors and graduate students.

Students will take the poster to their home institution and will be encouraged to present and display the poster for other students. One student will present their poster at the NSF REU National Symposium.   


REU students will continue collaborative work with mentors after the 10-week REU experience. Research mentors will maintain contact with REU students to help them prepare and present research results at regional and national engineering meetings and conferences.

The REU Site will invite students to be informal mentors to new participants or to speak to REU groups to share their experiences in science and their career planning.


  • Personal Statement
  • Unofficial College Transcript
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Two References
  • Online Application

Applications will be accepted December l - March 1. Students will be notified by March 15.

Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University is about using our knowledge of materials, energy, and health to solve society’s global engineering challenges.

Mechanical engineering at Colorado State University is about using our knowledge of materials, energy, and health to solve society’s global engineering challenges.


Programs and Information


Programs and Information


Faculty and Staff


Labs and Researchers