Civil and Environmental Engineering REU

Each summer, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University hosts undergraduate students from around the country in our research laboratories. 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 award that provides a monthly research stipend.

When to Apply

Apply online before February 1, 2016.


All applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents. The program is designed for student who are enrolled as juniors during the semester preceding the internship period, but exceptional sophomores will also be considered. Students do not have to be majoring in civil and environmental engineering.

Dates and Stipend

  • Awards will be announced no later than April 1, 2016.
  • Dates for the summer 2016 REU were: Sunday, May 28, 2016, to Saturday, July 30, 2016
  • Stipend: $4,500
  • Travel: up to $500

Research Opportunities for 2016

The following projects are offered in 2016. Questions about any of the projects or the REU program in general should be directed to Ruby Nell Carpenter, 919-660-5200 or


Advisor: Professor Wilkins Aquino

1. Computational Techniques for Characterization of Tumors from Ultrasound Data

This project involves the development of computational inverse problem techniques to characterize the mechanical properties of tumors. The student will have the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers in computational mechanics and biomedicine from Duke University and the Mayo Clinic. The project entails finite element modeling of propagating waves excited and detected using ultrasound. Furthermore, the student will be trained in using in-house optimization algorithms and software that, combined with finite element models, help in the quantification of the mechanical properties of tumor.

Advisor: Professor John Dolbow

1. Computational Studies of Fragmentation

This project concerns the study of large-scale fragmentation using computer simulation based on the finite-element method. The student researcher will be trained in running a research code on the 128-cpu cluster FastBreak. The study will involve conducting simulations of high-speed impact and looking at statistical measures of fragment distributions, to understand the role between material properties, flaw distributions, strain rates and fragment size. Opportunities for small-scale experiments on glass and computer-graphics visualization are also possible in this project.

2. Fundamental Studies of Wave-Energy Conversion Systems

This project will involve the use of emerging finite-element technologies to simulate the response of model wave-energy conversion systems. The undergraduate researcher will be tasked with developing simple models of conversion-systems and simulating their response to breaking waves, using coupled Eulerian-Lagrangian methods. Simulations will be performed on the 128-cpu cluster FastBreak that is located in Pratt, and the Fellow will be tasked with validating the simulation results against small-scale experiments in Pratt's wave tank.

Advisor: Professor Helen Hsu-Kim

The Hsu-Kim group specializes in aquatic geochemistry ( Recent and on-going research by our group involves problems related to trace element geochemistry and bioavailability, environmental health, and the implications of nanotechnology. While we are open to hosting an REU student in any of these projects, specific topics include:

1. Energy and Environment: Coal Ash Disposal and Resource Recovery

Coal combustion products (CCPs) are the solid wastes generated at coal-fired power plants and represent one of the largest industrial waste streams in the U.S., with more than 130 million tons generated annually. CCPs are typically enriched in elements such as selenium, arsenic and mercury that have the potential to bioaccumulate in biota and impart harmful effects on ecosystems and humans. CCPs are also enriched in other elements, including rare earth elements, that are highly valued for a wide variety of uses such as personal electronics and other new technologies. In this research we are identifying environmental risks of current CCP disposal practices and also investigating the potential to use of CCPs for resource recovery.

2. Mercury Biogeochemistry and Remediation of Contaminated Sites

Mercury is a neurotoxin that widely contaminates aquatic ecosystems. Mercury is a particularly potent in the form of methyl mercury, a highly bioaccumulative form of the metal. Methyl mercury is produced in the environment by anaerobic microorganisms that are abundant in benthic settings such as the sediments of lakes, rivers, and estuaries. This objective of this work is to understand the processes that enhance the production of methylmercury in the environment

Advisor: Professor Guglielmo Scovazzi

1. Computational Finite Element Methods (FEMs) for Rapid Design and Analysis

The PI (Guglielmo Scovazzi) proposes the development with a summer student of computational Finite Element Methods (FEMs) for rapid design and analysis, based on the Variational Multiscale (VMS) method. The primary target of this research is computational solid dynamics, with some extensions to fluid/structure interaction problems. This work aims at developing new advanced finite element methods (a class of computational methods of wide use in engineering design and analysis). The student will be expected to first gain familiarity with an advanced finite element software program, ATHENA-VMS, developed by the PI and collaborators, and then to study the performance of a number of approaches to fast and accurate computations, with applications to impacted and plasticized materials. In a second stage of the project the summer student will develop with the PI a number of new approaches within the VMS computational paradigm, using the experience gained in the first part of the project. Skills on mechanics and computation are recommended. Depending on the quality of the research outcomes, journal publication may be considered. This REU opportunity is aimed at students that want to develop deeper insight in computational/numerical methods for engineering in general, and the finite element method in particular.

2. Computational Finite Element Methods (FEMs) for the Modeling and Simulation of Subsurface Flows

The PI (Guglielmo Scovazzi) proposes the development with a summer student of computational Finite Element Methods (FEMs) for the modeling and simulation of subsurface flows (porous media transport). The project involves the analysis and testing of existing Discontinuous Galerkin (DG) algorithms and, in a second stage, the preliminary exploration of new ideas in the context of multi scale discontinuous Galerkin methods. The student will learn initially by reading a number of papers on the subject and having regular technical meetings with the PI. In the second stage of the project the summer student will develop with the PI new computational algorithms aimed at reducing the computational cost of standard DG formulation. Sound skills in numerical methods and the related mathematics will be required in this phase. Later on, some of the most promising algorithms will be implemented in simple MATLAB functions, to start a preliminary testing campaign. This work, if successful, may lead to journal publication.