Undergraduate Research

2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience

Research opportunities in polymers, catalysis, enzyme engineering, and data science at the Center for Plastics Innovation (CPI). Experience in chemical conversion strategies and enabling cross-cutting tools to address the global problem of plastics waste.

Program Highlights


  • Research projects with graduate student, postdoc, and faculty mentorship
  • Research seminars
  • Professional development workshops
  • Industry and government lab site visits
  • Counseling on STEM academic careers
  • Interdisciplinary research symposium

Program Logistics


  • 10-week, full-time summer research experience
  • $6,000 stipend for each student
  • University housing supplement for external applicants
  • Application deadline: February 15, 2023

Pandemic Contingency: Please keep in mind that although we are planning for a fully in-person experience in 2023, we continue to monitor the status of the pandemic. We will follow campus and State of Delaware recommendations to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and local community. Applicants must be prepared to comply with University of Delaware COVID-19 requirements for campus visitors. Thank you for prioritizing public safety alongside us.

2023 Summer Research Projects

Synthesis of circular polyolefin-like polymers (Rowan Research Group, Univ. of Chicago, Chicago, IL)

Heterogeneous catalysis applications in plastics waste (Vlachos Research GroupUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Nanocrystals for heterogeneous catalysis (Hernández-PagánVlachos Research GroupsUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Discovery of plastic degradation enzymes from mealworms (BlennerSolomon Research GroupsUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Electro-reforming thermoplastic polymers (Rosenthal & Hernández-Pagán Research GroupsUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Solvent-less separation of polymers (Lee & Gorte Research GroupsUniv. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA)

Whole-cell enzymatic upcycling of plastic waste (Kunjapur Research GroupUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Biodegradation of oxidized plastics by mealworms (Blenner & Vlachos Research GroupsUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Intelligent data management system for plastics innovation (Fang Research GroupUniv. of Delaware, Newark, DE)

Interested in a project that’s not listed? Mention it in your application or contact Dr. Katie Herbert (herbertk@udel.edu) for more information.

Highlights from 2022 REU

Meet the Team:

Mike Axiotes | University of Delaware | Sophomore | Biochemistry

Joseph Castaneda | CUNY – City College of New York | Sophomore | Chemical Engineering

Lorenz Cushman | University of Utah | Junior | Material Science Engineering

Harrison Goehrig | Bucknell University | Sophomore | Chemical Engineering

Jack Granite | University of Delaware | Senior | Chemical Engineering

Daniel Nakamura | University of Rochester | Junior | Chemistry

Lauren Smith | Delaware State University | Sophomore | Enviromental Science

Research Topics

  • Breaking down plastics using chemical catalysis and enviornmental microbial communities from plastic enriched soils
  • Biocatalytic approaches to valorize products of polymer deconstruction
  • Upcycling plastics waste to reject per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances from water
  • Cutting cost and waste: support screening for Ni-based catalyts in polyethylene hydrogenolysis
  • Biodegradation of different plastics using microbes from mealworms
  • Upcycling of plastic waste via organo-catalyzed synthesis
  • Sustainable polymers: closing the loop for a circular economy
The materials being studied in the Korley lab have potential to impact the development of smart biomaterials, sensors, and more.

Industrial Site Visits

Several off-campus trips took students to regional industrial and national lab sites including Under Armour, ExxonMobil, NIST, and DOW.

Summer Workshop Series

Weekly workshops instructed students on effective literature search methods, developed their presentation skills in various settings, and introduced them to leaders in the scientific fields.

Research Symposium

Students presented their summer projects at the University of Delaware’s Undergraduate Research symposium, held virtually for the 2022 event. CPI REUs also presented their work at the annual CPI Retreat.