Stanford University

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

2011 Summer Undergraduate Research Program


The Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering is pleased to invite applications for its 2011 undergraduate research program, through funding provided by Stanford’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. The program is geared primarily to support full-time research appointments over the 2011 summer session; however, alternative proposals will be considered, subject to funding availability.  The research awards will be based on a competitive application process.  Interested students should submit their application and statement of interest, following the guidelines given below, before March 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm.  Decisions regarding awards will be announced by April 15st via e-mail. 


Research Theme:  The theme of the undergraduate research program is “Engineering for Sustainability”, which can be broadly interpreted within all program areas of civil & environmental engineering and related fields (e.g., architecture, earth sciences, etc.). 


Support:  The 2011 summer program provides a full-time stipend of up to $5,600 ($560 per week) for the 10 week summer session, plus $500 towards research project expenses (supplies, travel, etc.). 


Requirements and Restrictions: 

Š       Eligibility is limited to Stanford undergraduates who are working under the supervision of an academic council faculty member affiliated with the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. Co-terminal master's degree students are eligible only if the bachelor's degree will not be conferred before the end of the research appointment.

Š       Students receiving full summer stipends may not register for more than 5 credits of coursework, nor may they work for more than 10 hours per week in addition to their research appointment. 

Š       Students are prohibited from receiving both credit and salary for any single research activity.  This does not, however, preclude students from working on a research project during the summer and then expanding it into a senior thesis during the following academic year.

Š       Students are expected to participate in organized program activities throughout the summer (provided research is on campus), provide a final 3-page summary report on their project, complete an on-line evaluation, present the results of their research orally in early fall quarter at a CEE VPUE conference, and fill out a CEE evaluation form.


Application:  Prior to submitting an application, students should identify and contact a CEE faculty member who is agreeable to supervise a summer research project.  Students are encouraged to reference the CEE faculty web pages to learn more about the specific research interests and opportunities of the faculty.  Faculty who have indicated an interest in advising summer projects are listed below. You may also apply for projects with faculty that are not listed here.


Applications should include the following:

[1] student applicant information (name, gender, ethnicity (not required, but requested), major, expected graduation date, local address, e-mail address),

[2] faculty research supervisor name and e-mail address,

[3] brief (500 word max.) statement of your research topic and plans,

[4] copy of your transcript (an unofficial transcript is fine),

[5] resume or summary of relevant experience. 

If your application is to request financial support for other than a full-time stipend during the 2011 summer session, your plans should be clearly stated, including proposed dates of appointment and level of support. 


Applications should be submitted either in hardcopy or e-mail <> to Susie Stone (Yang & Yamazaki Envvironment & Energy Bldg. Room 301) before 5 PM on Tuesday March 15.   Applications received after this date may still be considered, pending availability of funding.


Questions about the program should be directed to Susie Stone <> or Professor Alexandria Boehm <>.


CEE Summer Undergraduate Research Projects:  Students are encouraged to reference the CEE faculty web pages to learn more about the specific research interests and opportunities of the faculty.  The following are some examples of faculty who have indicated project topics that they may have available this summer:


Sustainable Natural Environment - Environmental and Water Studies:                 


Faculty:  Jeffrey Koseff



Environmental Fluid Mechanics: Laboratory Investigations of Interactions Between Physical and Biological Systems. Students interested in environmental fluid mechanics are invited to apply to work in the laboratory on projects to investigate turbulence and internal wave dynamics in stratified flows, transport and mixing in estuarine systems, phytoplankton dynamics in estuarine systems, coral reef and kelp-forest hydrodynamics, chemical sensing in the marine environment, and coastal upwelling processes.


Faculty: Jenna Davis


Faculty Website:


Impact of rural water supply improvements in Nampula, Mozambique

The Government of Mozambique is installing deep boreholes with handpumps in several hundred rural communities of Nampula Province. Our team will be researching the impacts of this intervention, and will design and carry out a baseline survey in Nampula this summer. We would like an undergraduate RA to work with us on design and coding of the follow-up survey, training of the Mozambican field teams, and support of the in-country survey activites. Fieldwork in Nampula will be required as part of this position. It may be possible for the RA to continue working with the project during the 2011-2012 academic year. Desired skills include an interest in water supply in developing countries; prior experience in a developing country; Portuguese language, statistical analysis and/or GIS.


Water, sanitation, & child health in Tanzania

Stanford researchers have been working in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, with a sample of 1200 households to evaluate a number of questions related to the impacts of improved water supply services; the relationship between fecal indicator bacteria, diarrhea-causing pathogens, and health outcomes; and the effects of sharing water quality and hand contamination information on the perceptions, behaviors, and health of study households. Data collection will be completed during the spring of 2011, so fieldwork in country is not part of this RA position. Instead, we would like an undergraduate RA to assist with data cleaning and analysis at Stanford. Desired skills include an interest in water, sanitation and health; data management, statistical analysis, graphics, and/or GIS skills. Facility with SPSS a plus.


Estimating the caloric cost of water fetching

The Government of Mozambique is installing deep boreholes with handpumps in several hundred rural communities of Nampula Province. Our team will be researching the impacts of this intervention, and one dimension of this research is estimating the caloric expenditure associated with different types of water supply services. We would like an undergraduate RA to work with us on the design and implementation of a controlled field experiment in which two dozen Mozambican women are instrumented with equipment that monitors their caloric expenditure during physical activity. Fieldwork in Nampula will be required as part of this position. Desired skills include an interest in water supply in developing countries; prior experience in a developing country; Portuguese language, data management and statistical analysis. Facility with SPSS a plus.


Faculty:  David L. Freyberg


Faculty website:


Searsville Dam and Reservoir—Sediment Accumulation and Management and Sediment-Reservoir-Wetland Interactions. The goal of this multi-faceted research project is to better understand the hydrologic interactions between Stanford’s Searsville Reservoir, its inflowing streams, and the large sediment deposit that has been trapped in the reservoir.  The context is the need to make management decisions about the 114-year-old dam and its rapidly diminishing reservoir.  Opportunities include field work designing, installing, and obtaining data from field instrumentation; analyzing field data to develop a water balance for the system; laboratory analysis of sediment core samples collected from the site; GIS analysis of accumulated sediment over time; assisting a Ph.D. student in implementing a mathematical model of flow through the system; literature review of reservoir sediment processes; and other similar projects.  You will be working as part of a team of students and faculty and have considerable latitude to choose a project of greatest interest to you.



Faculty: Alexandria Boehm



Coastal Water Quality: Microbial Source Tracking At the California Coast

Miles of Californian coastline is declared impaired due to high levels of fecal indicator bacteria. These organisms do not cause illness in humans, but correlate to elevated illness rates in swimmers. The State of California has funded a large multi-university study to develop source tracking methods to determine the source of fecal pollution along the State’s shorelines. A student interested in field work and strong interests in water quality in natural systems is encouraged to apply for a position to assist with this project. Student will work with Prof. Boehm as well as several graduate students and post docs on this project. A laboratory class (chemistry or biology) is required for this position.


Faculty: Richard Luthy, Craig Criddle, and Alexandria Boehm



Re-Inventing America's Urban Water Infrastructure. Positions are open to CEE majors and underrepresented students are particularly encouraged to participate.


Cities are facing a mounting water crisis from climate change, population expansion,

ecosystem demands and deteriorating infrastructure that threatens economic development, social

welfare, and environmental sustainability (See figure below). Without relatively large investments this crisis will only deepen through the 21st century. Students will work on new strategies for water/wastewater treatment and distribution that will eliminate the need for imported water, recover resources from wastewater, and generate rather than consume energy in the operation of urban water infrastructure while simultaneously enhancing urban aquatic ecosystems. Knowledge of basic environmental engineering (CEE 70) is a plus.





Sustainable Built Environment – Structures and Construction :                      


Faculty: Sarah Billington and Craig Criddle


Faculty websites:


Biobased Recyclable Construction Materials. Biobased composites are made from a bacterially produced polymer combined with natural fibers to provide an alternative to many traditional construction materials, such as engineered wood and wallboard.  These composites can be biodegraded anaerobically to produce more polymer at the end of their useful service life resulting in a fully recyclable construction material.  Summer students will have the opportunity to fabricate, analyze, perform mechanical and environmental tests, and develop models for a variety of biobased materials.  Different focus areas may include; (1) optimizing strength and thermal resistivity properties for biobased structural assemblies, (2) characterizing creep and thermal resistance behavior, (3) assessing sorption and dimensional stability, (4) assisting with anaerobic biodegradation and imaging experiments, and (5) analyzing process technology methods for life-cycle assessments.  This project is in collaboration with Prof. Sarah Billington, Prof. Craig Criddle and PhD students Aaron Michel, Wil Srubar, Cecily Ryan and Sabbie Miller.


Characterization of Highly Ductile Cement-based Composites for Durable, Seismic-resistant Structures.  Ductile cement-based composites are damage-tolerant materials that experience fine, multiple cracking in tension and little to no spalling in compression. Several projects are underway examining the application of these materials to seismic-resistant construction. Students will assist with the design, fabrication and testing of small-scale reinforced composite specimens, analysis of results and modeling to predict performance in structural applications. This student will work with both Prof. Billington and PhD student Daniel Moreno-Luna.


Faculty: Kincho Law

E-mail contact:


Advanced computing principles and techniques for structural engineering analysis and design. Students interested in the applications of computing, sensing, and design to study and simulate large-scale systems are encouraged to apply.


Faculty: John Barton

E-mail contact:


Shelter. The past few years have shown the marked weaknesses of sheltering those left homeless by natural disasters. Current pre-fabricated shelters do take into account cultural differences that may exist between locations with a need, and are not able to withstand inclement weather or long term use. Thus students will research current options, challenge the underlying assumptions and develop and build a prototype new shelter for rapid and long-term deployment.


Campus Gateways. The campus architect's office is currently looking at what gateways would look like and do. Would they be traditional markers? Might there instead be an iTunes app that provides key data? Is it both or something else? Students will work with a variety of sources to research options and develop drawings and prototypes for possible implementation.


Faculty: Eduardo Miranda and Helmut Krawinkler



Collapse capacity of steel structures during earthquakes. The project involves small-scale testing of a steel structure using a special testing technique called “hybrid simulation” in which a portion of the structure is physically tested using computer controlled actuators and other portions of the structure and tested analytically with computer models. Work involves assembly of the test structure, installing instrumentation, testing and data post-processing and interpretation.


Faculty: Michael Lepech and Anne Kiremidjian



Corrosion Resistant Concrete Elements Using Bendable Concrete. Rusting of steel in reinforced concrete combined with poor concrete durability are the primary sources of deterioration for civil engineering infrastructure worldwide including bridges, piers, seawalls, dams, and other structures  (See Figure 1).  Departments of Transportation and builders around the world are working heavily to try to prevent this deterioration from happening to create more durable and sustainable infrastructure. New bendable concrete materials (Figure 2) are now being developed that can drastically change the ways in which concrete structures age and deteriorate over time, allowing structures that are constructed primarily of recycled industrial waste products to last hundreds of years.  Such durability reduces the amount of material and energy needed over decades to build and maintain our infrastructure systems, resulting in significant savings of basic materials, energy resources, and emissions over time. This summer research project would entail two summer undergraduate students in:


(1)       Engaging in laboratory fabrication and standardized testing of simple reinforced concrete and bendable concrete specimens exposed to accelerated corrosion conditions

(2)       Quantifying and modeling the reduction in environmental impacts and economic savings over time


Courses that should already be completed (which will be used in the research) are Physics 41 and Chemistry 31X or 31B.  These courses will be used as a basis to model both the mechanical and chemical interactions taking place due to the corrosion Redox reactions in both conventional and bendable concrete.



Faculty: Michael Lepech and B. Schwegler



Valuing Natural Ecosystems Using Integrated Economics and Engineering Approaches. Companies currently have little incentive to incorporate environmental considerations into infrastructure development or management decisions beyond those that are either regulated by the government or subject to public perception. This lack of incentive exists due in part to the absence of: i) a clear understanding of the connections between project ecological impacts and how these impacts damage firm/project assets; and ii) the ability to include the effects of project ecological impacts in operational decisions. In response, we apply the concept of ecosystem service monetization as a novel approach to capitalize the relationship between industry and the natural environment.


The valuation of natural ecosystems (Figure 1) consists of four parts: i) lifecycle assessment (LCA) to quantify project ecosystem impacts; ii) fundamental biophysics and biochemistry study to characterize the component processes of ecosystem services; iii) functional thermodynamic substitutability to assign a monetary value to such services; and iv) representation of ecosystem services value within international financial accounting norms.


This summer research project would entail one summer undergraduate students in:


(1)       Identifying and quantifying the environmental impacts associated with development of Disney’s new Shanghai Themepark

(2)       Modeling the biochemical effects of environmental impacts on the Shanghai ecosystem

(3)       Identifying functionally substitutable thermodynamic processes for valuation


Courses that should already be completed (which will be used in the research) are Physics 41 and Chemistry 31X or 31B.  Basic courses in biology are also desired.  These courses will be used as a basis to model the biochemical interactions taking place within the natural ecosystem.


Figure 1. Natural Ecosystem Valuation


Faculty: John Kunz

E-mail: kunz@ 

Impact of energy retrofit in Silicon Valley

Joint-Venture Silicon Valley Network provides analysis and action on issues affecting the economy and quality of life of the local region, and it has a significant interest in sustainability. The organization brings together established and emerging leaders - from business, government, academia, labor and the broader community - to spotlight issues and work toward innovative solutions. It asked to work with Stanford students to assess the predicted and ultimately the measured impacts of energy retrofit projects on the existing local building stock, starting with a sample project of three buildings in the Valley.  The students will create Building Information Model of the three buildings in the project, make and conduct measurements for a baseline energy audit, analyze the model from the perspectives of energy performance, potential and scheduled occupancy, and occupant comfort factors, identify the cost-potential value business case of the project, recommend instrumentation to place in the project that will allow ongoing assessment of project effectiveness, and set up a data reporting system for the occupants to report the project performance once it is commissioned. The three buildings will include no, some and significant retrofit effort, providing a basis for comparison both in analysis and later in measurement.


The project needs 2 students; it could easily accommodate 4.


Faculty: Raymond Levitt



The Climate Policy Database


The Climate Policy Database is a novel platform to identify, classify, and describe the global diversity of ongoing public sector efforts to mitigate GHG emissions and global climate change.  VPUE student researcher(s) will focus on populating the database.


NATURE OF RESEARCH. This project involves secondary research from mostly online resources -- supplemented by primary personal communication and policy readings -- to identify relevant policies, public sector organizations, and evaluations and neatly distill key information about them into an established standardized format. The definition of relevant "policies" is rather broad and ranges from formal codified law to voluntary initiatives to subsidy regimes, and so on, across all economic sectors that deal with energy supply, energy demand, or agriculture/land-use. An individual student researcher would likely focus on a single geography at the provincial or national level -- for example, a collection of US/Indian/Chinese states/provinces, or a single nation such as Brazil, Japan, Canada, etc.). The exact focus area could be suited to the student's experience or interest.


If there is interest, the student would also have the opportunity to author a brief analysis piece focusing on a specific topic relevant to her and which would be informed by her own policy identification and distillation efforts -- this could provide the background for later undergrad thesis work, independent study, etc.


PREREQUISITES. There are no hard prerequisites for the work apart from curiosity and a willingness to quickly get up to speed on any area that might benefit from it (such as finance, energy technology, etc). This project would be a good fit for a student who reads The Economist in her spare time and has an interest in energy or climate.  In terms of background, most of the policy "distillation" is factual in nature, though some elements will require a degree of analyst judgment. A detail-oriented person who can quickly find, evaluate, and extract key points from large amounts of information will likely thrive in this work. Basic familiarity with domestic or international policymaking, economics, business or legal concepts would be useful, as would familiarity with various strategies to mitigate GHG emission or energy supply and demand. If the student wished to focus on international policy, reading ability of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, or Turkish would be useful but certainly not required.