A tour of the Valpo Solar Energy Research Facility

Research Opportunities

Students research engineering questions and make new discoveries.

A significant component of studying at Valparaiso University’s College of Engineering is the collaboration with knowledgeable faculty. Students have the opportunity to be mentored by and work along side renowned experts on research. Students can participate in undergraduate research during the academic year for credit or during the summer as a paid internship through sponsored grants. This research can also be presented at the University’s Undergraduate Research Celebration and, often, at professional conferences.

The Silhavy Corridor Improvement Project

By Matthew Berning ’14, Douglas Coeur ’14, Jon Sherrick; Civil Engineering

The City of Valparaiso, Indiana is considering various alternatives to improve safety and efficiency at the existing signalized intersection at Silhavy Road and LaPorte Avenue. One of these alternatives is to construct a multi-lane roundabout. However, a large amount of space is required for the construction of a multi-lane roundabout. In an already heavily developed area, space is a major constraint. The city is also proposing improvements along Silhavy Road north and south of the intersection to enhance traffic flow in the area. The first goal of this research project was to determine if an appropriately sized roundabout would fit into the available space. The second objective was to study improvements in traffic conditions in the area due to the proposed roundabout at Silhavy Road and LaPorte Avenue and capacity enhancement measures along the Silhavy Road corridor. A two-lane roundabout that will fit into the available space and handle the traffic demand was designed. Using traffic simulation software, the delay was measured for both the current signalized intersection and for the proposed two-lane roundabout. The results showed a significant reduction in delay at the intersection as a result of the roundabout. This benefit is in addition to the safer conditions of a roundabout over a signalized intersection.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Nezamuddin

Developing a Numerical Water Quality Model for Brewster Lake

Kasey Marley, Sarah Brunsvold ’14; Civil Engineering

The purpose of this research study was to develop an advanced two-dimensional “process-oriented” numerical water quality model for Brewster Lake that incorporates the physical, chemical, and biological interactions that occur within the lake. The study included measuring and obtaining the basic physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the lake to develop the model and appropriate initial and boundary conditions. Two rounds of measurements, one in the beginning of June and one at the end of July 2013, of the physical and chemical variables were conducted and were used to develop and calibrate the model. A hydrodynamic analysis of the lake’s watershed was completed using a mass balance approach over water. A set of “process-oriented” water quality mathematical equations that incorporates the water chemical and biological interactions was developed. The finite element solution will result in predicted values for the lake’s water quality parameters as a function of time and varying environmental conditions. It is anticipated that the results of this computer modeling will aid the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute staff in decision-making related to the management and planning of Brewster Lake and its watershed.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Zuhdi Aljobeh

Iron Enhanced Rain Gardens for Dissolved Phosphorus Removal

Excess phosphorus in a water body can be detrimental to the health of the water body and the aquatic life it contains. Thus, watershed management plans typically target phosphorus for removal from stormwater runoff. Other contaminants, such as sediment and dissolved metals, may also be targeted for removal. Due to their ability to retain sediment and dissolved metals from stormwater, rain gardens have increased in popularity throughout the United States and the world. Unfortunately, rain gardens often increase the amount of dissolved phosphorus in the water that they treat. As mentioned previously, this is not desirable as phosphorus is typically targeted for removal. This research project investigates a new rain garden design that incorporates a proven technology, iron-enhanced sand filtration, in an attempt to improve the performance of rain gardens with respect to dissolved phosphorus removal.

For more information click here.

Faculty Sponsor: Professors Pete Weiss and Zuhdi Aljobeh

A Signal Distribution Network for Sequential Quantum-dot Cellular Automata Devices

Quantum-dot Cellular Automata (QCA) is an emerging nanoscale computer architecture that offer many benefits over traditional transistor-based computer architectures, such as reduced power consumption, increased speed, and reduced surface area.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Doug Tougaw

Signal Distribution

Simulation and Verification of Proposed Five Input Majority Logic Gates Using Quantum-dot Cellular Automata

Taylor Baldwin ’14; Electrical and Computer Engineering

Several proposed designs for five-input majority logic gates have been introduced in quantum-dot cellular automata (QCA) literature, and this project seeks to analyze these designs. QCA are an alternative to transistors, because they take advantage of quantum effects to propagate a binary signal. The purpose of this research is to run simulations of two of these majority gates to verify their operational accuracy. A five input majority logic gate is especially useful within larger-scale QCA, because it would help to minimize the overall number of cells needed for a specific QCA circuit. Our simulation runs a full-basis calculation for each possible fixed logic input (a 0 or 1) for all 32 cases present in each of the two circuits. This test is not redundant to the simulations within the literature, because the proposed designs under test were simulated using approximations, like the intercellular hartree approximation. The results of our simulations verified the correct operation of one of these proposed five-input majority logic designs, however; because of symmetrical interference within the cells, one of the designs was in reality rendered in operative. The findings of this research will be submitted to the Journal of Microelectronics in April of 2014.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Jeff Will, Professor Doug Tougaw

Engineering Computer Games: A Parallel Learning Opportunity for Undergraduate Engineering and Primary (K-5) Students

College of Engineering is developing resources to provide primary students, still in their educational formative years, with opportunities to learn more about engineering. One of these resources is a library of engineering games targeted to the primary student population. The games are designed by sophomore students in our College of Engineering.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Mark Budnik

Video Game

A Camera-Based System to Control the Position of an Object Using Computer

The goal of this research is to design, build, and experimentally validate a vision-based control system. The system will use real-time computer vision algorithms to locate a small ball positioned on a mobile platform. The ball position information relative to the edges of the platform will be fed back to a real-time controller that will adjust the angular position of the platform to retain the ball near its center position.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Shahin Nudehi

(undergraduate research)
A Tiny Portal with Even Smaller Ideas

Under the direction of the electrical and computer engineering faculty at Valparaiso, the students research nanotechnology topics, focusing on the basic scientific and mathematic principles. These topics are then broken into smaller segments, with the focus on developing material that is comprehendible by all ages.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Mark Budnik

tiny portal

Solar Undergraduate Research

Talented Valparaiso University undergraduate engineering students are part of what the editors of Scientific American in the May 2011 issue called one of the seven radical energy solutions that could transform how society uses energy: solar thermal electro-chemistry. Students and faculty perform this work in an exclusively undergraduate environment in Valpo’s new solar energy research and educational centerpiece, the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility.  Currently, students are participating in a $2.3 million Department of Energy ARPAe project to produce magnesium using sunlight and a National Science Foundation funded project to produce hydrogen using sunlight.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Scott Duncan

Solar Research

Development of a Solar Rotary-Kiln Reactor for the Reduction of Metal Oxide Particles

Ali AlNuaimi, Adam Berry, Courtney Brandt, Jesse Fosheim ’14, Eric Loria, Jonathan Ogland-Hand ’14, Andrew Schrader; Mechanical and Electrical Engineering

A solar rotary-kiln reactor has been fabricated for the reduction of metal oxide particles at ~1650 K as part of a solar thermal decoupled water electrolysis process for the production of hydrogen. Particle motion is controlled through the reactor’s angular speed of rotation. At rotational speeds greater than 65 rpm, the internal walls of the reactor are fully covered with particles. Simultaneously, mixing elements generate a particle cloud in the reactor in order to increase the absorption of incident solar radiation. A model of the reactor that solves the energy conservation equation and includes the kinetics of the metal oxide reduction suggests that peak thermal efficiencies of 47 percent are possible for the reduction of hematite to magnetite. In parallel, the solid state kinetics for the reduction of cobalt oxide (a promising alternative to iron oxide) in a low oxygen partial pressure atmosphere has been determined. Reduction follows the shrinking core model and is initially limited by the rate of oxygen diffusion in the gas phase and later limited by the chemical kinetics at the shrinking reactive interface. Regression of the model to isothermal and non-isothermal thermogravimetric analyzer data yielded the temperature-dependent reaction rate parameters.

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Luke Venstrom

Human Movement Research Laboratory

Valparaiso University investigators have partnered with Anthony C. Levenda, MD, an orthopedic surgeon from Lakeshore Bone and Joint Institute, and Luis Prato, PT OCS SCS CSCS, a physical therapist from Incremedical. Their expertise and backgrounds will significantly influence the protocol development for the studies and will also help to ensure subject safety throughout the process. With support from the faculty investigators and these partners, undergraduate engineering and kinesiology students will collect and analyze neuro-musculoskeletal data from a variety of athletes from the NCAA sports teams on campus.


The Leitha and Willard Richardson Undergraduate Research Scholarship provides $500 to four undergraduate Engineering students annually to become involved in research in their area of interests from the start of their academic career until they graduate from Valparaiso University. The main motivation behind this scholarship is to encourage students to be involved with research in parallel with their academic work. Many studies show students who are involved with research are academically very successful since they can correlate the classroom topics to the real-world projects. These students more likely to pursue advanced or terminal degrees in their field of interest. Click here to apply for the scholarship.