Northwestern Undergraduates: Plan now for a Summer 2018 internship at Argonne National Laboratory through DOE’s Summer Undergrad Lab Inhip (SULI) programterns

In 2017, Northwestern undergraduate students worked on the projects you can read about on this blog at Argonne National Laboratory.  The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program is one route to working at Argonne (or another national lab) over the summer.   (Although other routes are possible to summer internships at the lab, this is the best one for undergraduates.) The deadline for summer 2018 will be in Dec/Jan so now is the time to start thinking about applying!  Watch this space for the deadline when it is announced.

Participation in the SULI Program is a great way to get a taste of research and life at the national laboratories.  You’ll meet national laboratory researchers and many other undergraduates carrying out research in many disciplines.   Please apply to the SULI program through this DOE website link:

Argonne PIs have provided descriptions below about projects that will likely be available in 2018.  Many other projects will also be available.  As you complete your SULI application, you’ll be asked about your research interests. Please feel free to mention the topics in one of the projects below if they meet your research interests.  Please let NAISE know if you’ve applied (naise_summer(at)

Some details: SULI students can live on-site at the lab.  You must be a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident at the time of application.


Fe and S cycles’ role in contaminant mobility

Research in the Biogeochemical Process Group at Argonne National Laboratory is investigating the interplay between the Fe and S cycles and their roles in controlling contaminant mobility, carbon and nutrient cycling, and greenhouse gas emissions. The project’s long-term vision is to integrate their findings into multiscale modeling approaches to understand and predict relevant environmental processes. The program integrates two unique strengths—(1) the Advanced Photon Source (APS) for synchrotron-based interrogation of systems, and (2) next-generation DNA sequencing and bioinformatics approaches for microbial community and metabolic pathway analysis—with biogeochemistry and microbial ecology.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

We apply a wide range of computational approaches within the DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) to answer questions about complex biological systems, including: (i) how microbes and plants degrade or produce specific metabolites; (ii) how microbes, plants, and fungi interact within an environment (e.g. human gut, soil, bioreactor) to display a specific phenotype; and (iii) how microbial genomes evolve in response to stress, stimuli, and selection. Students in the Henry lab will learn to apply tools like (meta)genome assembly, genome annotation, RNA-seq read alignment, contig binning, and metabolic modeling to answer these questions. Students with programming skills can also contribute to the KBase platform by integrating new apps, visualizations, and algorithms.


The goal of the project is to significantly improve the understanding and prediction of thermodynamic stability/metastability of “imperfect” (e.g., highly defective, non-stoichiometric, or doped) oxide material phases, via innovative theory (i.e., embedded uncertainty), advanced experiments at APS, and “intelligent” software (i.e., able to learn and quickly solve new problems). We envision building the knowledge and capabilities that will allow, over the next decade, the prediction of thermodynamic properties of imperfect materials, with impact on materials design, synthesis, and smart manufacturing. Furthermore, we expect this methodology to accelerate the development of the material genome and next generation computers. We focus on high-k dielectric materials for complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS), which are of particular importance for creating Dynamic Memory Allocation (DRAM) devices. Many CMOS properties strongly depend on material defects such as vacancies, interstitials, defect clusters that occur during synthesis, and thermal treatment. Inclusion of other chemical elements (e.g., dopants) in CMOS can significantly change physical properties such as thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity, and magnetism. Our approach is original and is based on calculating the free energy of each phase as function of temperature and composition (oxygen and dopant content) using atomistic (quantum mechanical, ab-initio Molecular Dynamics), meso-scale (reactive force fields and kinetic Monte Carlo), and continuum (phase diagram calculation) methods. Uncertainty evaluation is embedded in this multi-scale methodology via Bayesian analysis. We validate the models and computer simulations using high-temperature experiments at APS. Furthermore, we develop a machine learning (ML) open code to perform supervised and unsupervised computations on Mira (Aurora when available) for calculations/simulations, and on Athena for big data analytics. The intelligent software assists the development of interatomic potentials and force fields, performs analysis of massive sets of CMOS phases and defect structures, evaluates uncertainty of phase diagrams, and guides the experimental characterization measurements.

Chemical/Environmental Engineering

Bio-manufacturing of Porous Carbon as Catalyst Supports from Organic Waste Streams

Porous carbon materials, like activated carbon (AC), have demonstrated unmatched efficiency in applications such as filtration, catalysis, and energy storage. The problem is that conventional AC is produced from supply limited coal or coconut shells using multistage manufacturing processes that are energy intensive, polluting, and result in sub-par performance. In fact, an estimated 4 million metric tones of AC will be produced in 2025, requiring the harvesting and shipping of significant feedstock from around the world. We have been developing a biomanufacturing process to produce high performance, low cost porous carbon materials from low or negative value waste streams. High performance biocarbon manufacturing process (Patent App. No. PCT/US 2017-043304) has been scaled up from bench- to pilot-scale. The performance, cost, and life-cycle impact of AC and its end-uses are primarily determined by how it is fabricated.

Arrested Methanogenesis for Volatile Fatty Acid Production

Huge quantities of high organic strength wastewater and organic solid waste are produced and disposed of in the US each year (EPA, 2016). We have been developing a new high rate arrested anaerobic digestion (AD) processes for transforming organic waste supplanting starch, sucrose or glucose currently used as feedstock into VFAs and alcohols. We will design and construct a high rate sequencing batch reactor (SBR) and fluidized anaerobic membrane bioreactor (FAnMBR) technologies to produce and separate VFAs and alcohols from the fermenters to facilitate high product yield, minimize the toxicity of VFAs, reduce mass transfer limitations and ensure the health, stability, and productivity of AD communities. This research will specifically determine the links between organic wastewater characteristics, microbe community structure and the design and operation of high rate arrested AD system at the bench-scale. Specific research targets include the isolation and integration of highly diverse microbial functionalities within high rate arrested AD fermenters for high strength organic wastewater treatment coupled to renewable chemical production.

Ecosystem, Environment, Water Resources

Ecosystem services of bioenergy

The Fairbury Project studies sustainable ways to produce bioenergy and evaluates the dual provision of biomass (as a commodity crop) and ecosystem services (environmental benefits) through the integration of short rotation shrub willow buffers into a Midwest row cropping system. The project started in 2009 on a 16 acre agricultural corn field in Fairbury, IL. The field site is close to the Indian Creek which sits at the headwaters of the Vermillion River, considered impaired by the Illinois EPA. The strategic placement of the willow buffers on the landscape was designed to improve land use efficiency by providing farmers and landowners with an alternative land management strategy. In this case, the placement of the willow buffers were to target areas on the field that would have the greatest impact on nutrient reduction while mitigating conflicts with grain production by targeting areas that are underproductive as well. In order to assess the success of the use of willow buffers in a traditional row-cropping system on biomass production and ecosystem service provision, many field and crop based parameters are continually or annually measured. These parameters include assessing crop impact on water quality (water collection, ion exchange resins), water quantity (soil moisture, transpiration and water table elevation), nutrient uptake and storage (vegetation collection), biomass production (vegetation collection and allometric measurements), soil health (chemical & physical parameters), greenhouse gas flux (gas sample collections), and habitat provision (soil microbiology and macroinvertebrates including pollinators).

Student involvement:
As part of The Fairbury Project, students will work alongside Argonne staff and fellow interns doing an array of tasks in the field, lab, and office. Students are expected to travel to the field once or more a week under various weather conditions for data and sample collection. In the lab students may be involved in sample processing and analysis including ion exchange resin extraction, water quality testing (UV spectroscopy), greenhouse gas analysis (gas chromatographer), aboveground vegetation processing, and root analysis. In the office, students will be tasked with processing and analyzing data using software including but not limited to excel, R, DNDC, and ArcGIS. Additional tasks may include literature reviews and method development. Students will work both collectively with their fellow interns and staff as well as independently on various assigned tasks.

Qualified candidates:
Candidates must meet the general requirements for SULI. Additional requirements include but are not limited to previous experience or general interests related to water, soil, greenhouse gases, biodiversity, bioenergy production, environmental engineering, environmental sciences, and agriculture. Candidates should have a flexible schedule over the 10 weeks of the internship and must be available for the full 10 weeks. Field days start at 6am, therefore qualified candidates are required to have some form of transportation to the lab on field days (transportation from the lab to the field site will be provided), if not living on site.

Water Resources- Fuel production

Water resource is a critical component in energy production. Water resource availability varies by region throughout the United States. Population growth, energy development, and increased production increase pressure on water demand. This project evaluates potential of using ground water resource and municipal wastewater for fuel production in the United States. It will examine various level of water quality and estimate the water available for use from both historical production and future production perspective. Factors affecting regional resource use, feedstock production, and technology deployment and their trade-offs will be analyzed.

Water Resources- Crop production

Agriculture crop production requires water. However, not all of the crop production requires irrigation and the irrigation needs for the same crop varies from region to region. This project will analyze the amount of fresh water used for irrigation by different crops and irrigation technology surveyed in last few years in the United States. Spatial and temporal analysis will be conducted to calculate amount of irrigation water applied to produce a unit of grains and other products. The dataset will be compared with historical irrigation data to identify potential issues related to production of food, fiber, and fuel.

Students present their summer’s work at Argonne

This morning the students delivered compelling presentations about their research in a diverse set of areas that have been highlighted on this blog.  They did an excellent job communicating the complexities of their work to an audience made up of technical experts in a range of disciplines.  This event truly showcased their talents as researchers and communicators.   

Fun and informative science communication workshop

Students are gearing up to present their work at a seminar this week and Michelle Paulsen and Byron Stewart Northwestern’s Ready Set Go (RSG) program that trains students in science communication visited Argonne to work with NAISE undergraduate researchers.

Students considered key elements of presentation preparation including knowing your audience, avoiding jargon, and framing the problem. They worked through some improvisations such as explaining to a partner, who posed as a time traveler, how and why to get through airport security.  This exercise relates to  explaining your research to a non-expert. They considered how to be persuasive as they convinced their cohorts to join them at a favorite lunch spot. And they practiced delivering their presentations one. word. at. a. time. They also received feedback on their upcoming presentations. We’re grateful to RSG for the visit and great insights and looking forward to student presentations this week at Argonne and early September at Northwestern. Students have the opportunity to showcase their valuable contributions and build bridges to collaborations between Argonne and Northwestern.

Northwestern undergraduate students start their summer of research at Argonne National Laboratory

This summer, 12 Northwestern University undergraduates will contribute to research projects across six Argonne divisions through the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering (NAISE). Their projects span topics including synthetic biology, machine learning, environmental sensing, energy storage, and materials synthesis and characterization.

Students will use this blog to write about new experimental and modeling techniques they learn, new scientific insights, and their overall experience at Argonne this summer.