NSF Center for the Mechanical Control of Chemistry

CMCC REU Program

Welcome to the application for the Center for Mechanical Control of Chemistry (CMCC) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) program.  In this REU program, undergraduate students will carry out fundamental research as a full member of a research group at one of the affiliated center locations.  In addition to research, students will participate in professional development and science communication in collaboration with the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

APPLICATION WINDOW: January 15 - March 12, 2021

PROGRAM DATES: June 1 - August 6, 2021*

* A virtual option is also being planned to support activities pending the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.


In mechanochemistry, the application of mechanical force can help drive reactions at lower temperatures and without the use of solvents, making it a green approach to chemical synthesis. A key challenge, however, is the lack of understanding of how precise forces can be applied to chemical systems to obtain specific products. The NSF Center for the Mechanical Control of Chemistry (CMCC) is working to establish a fundamental understanding of mechanochemistry, by applying new instrumental, chemical, and theoretical approaches to enable the robust mechanical control of chemical reactions, with an emphasis on surfaces and interfaces, where force/stress is transmitted, and where synergistic catalytic effects can occur. In our program, students will explore the use of mechanical forces on a set of well-defined, mechanochemically-active organic and inorganic systems, namely pericyclic reactions and perovskite syntheses.

The cross-cutting nature of mechanochemistry blends chemistry, materials science, engineering, and physics, and lends itself to a unique research experience for students. Our diverse team of faculty has a strong record of supporting integrative, interdisciplinary, collaborative research activities, and in fostering an inclusive and supportive climate that welcomes and supports everyone. Our team values diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we seek to boost the success of young researchers who themselves will promote inclusion in STEM disciplines.

As the CMCC spans five institutions (Texas A&M University, the Advanced Science Research Center of CUNY, the University of California at Merced, and the University of Pennsylvania) participation in our REU program will not only allow students to gain experience in team-based research, but will also afford them the opportunity for professional development in science communications, entrepreneurship and innovation, STEM policy, and STEM history. Students in the CMCC REU will interact across our multi-institutional center via team based projects, and will receive personal mentoring from multiple faculty and graduate students. REU students will also participate in our summer Center retreat.

Students in our REU Program will receive the following support:

  1. a stipend of $4,000
  2. housing at their REU site
  3. a travel allowance (for travel to/from the REU site, and to attend a national STEM meeting)
  4. a $500 debit card to be used toward meals


This is a competitive program open to undergraduates in chemistry, physics, materials science, chemical engineering, and mechanical engineering majors (or closely related fields) enrolled in 4-year U.S. colleges and universities who have completed at least their first year of study with a 3.0 GPA or better. Students should be either U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Students should have completed a minimum of one semester of Introductory Chemistry (although, project depending, two may be preferred). Students should not be in their final year of study (i.e. graduating) before the REU program begins. We particularly encourage applications from members of traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM, including members of racial and ethnic minority groups, women, and veterans.


To complete the application on the next page, you will need to provide:

  1. Contact Information (name, address, e-mail, etc.)
  2. Academic and Professional History
    • Up-to-date Resume
    • Unofficial Transcripts
  3. Personal Statement describing, at a minimum:
  4. Top two (2) choices for preferred project topic (See project details below.)
  5. Top two (2) choices for preferred research site (See research site details below.)
  6. Two (2) professional or academic references (names and e-mails) who will submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf (A separate e-mail will be sent with instructions for references to upload letters.)
    Both letters must be received by the closing of this solicitation to be eligible for this program.



    The four (4) research topics available to REU students in this program are as follows:

      Project 1:
      Mechanically Driving Reactions on 2D Materials and Self-Assembled Monlayers (PIs: Batteas, Braunschweig, Carpick, Felts, Martini, Rappe)

      Participating Sites: TAMU, CUNY (experimental); UC Merced, UPenn (computational)

      To foster our understanding of how the precise application of mechanical force influences reactions, students in this project will investigate reactions on 2D nanomaterials, such as graphene, where detailed knowledge of the positions of the atoms, coupled with applying forces with techniques, such as atomic force microscopy, allow us to study how applied forces influence radial and pericyclic additions on surfaces. Combined with density functional theory (DFT) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, a holistic picture of how force drives reactions on 2D interfaces is revealed, allowing students to gain experience in both experimental and theoretical aspects of mechanochemistry.

      REU Project 1 Image

      Project 2:
      Mechanoselectivity in Nucleophilic Reactions (PIs: Batteas, Felts, Braunschweig, Rappe)

      Participating Sites: CUNY, TAMU (experimental); UPenn (computational)

      Substitution and elimination reactions are the most common chemical transformations and have an important role in the fabrication of pharmaceuticals and advanced materials, however, solvent waste, poor-selectivity and low-yields associated with these reaction result in a high-environmental cost. To explore how force can be used to increase yields, decrease solvent use, and alter selectivity, we will study nucleophilic reactions under applied force. We will combine experimental organic chemistry with reactor design and density-functional theory to study how force drives reactivity and selectivity in an effort to develop new rules that anticipate product distributions in these essential reactions.

      REU Project 2 Image

      Project 3:
      Mechanochemical Synthesis of Perovskites (PIs: Rappe, Carpick, Freedman, Batteas)

      Participating Sites: UPenn, Northwestern (experimental); UPenn (computational)

      The simplicity of the chemical formula of perovskites, ABX3, belies their astonishing diversity of structures and properties. Many minerals, formed under high pressures beneath the earth’s surface, take the perovskite structure, highlighting the potential for mechanochemical synthesis of perovskite materials. In this project, we will combine nanoscale atomic force microscopy and electron microscopy experiments with density-functional theory to study and understand how novel phases of perovskites can be formed by the application of high compressive pressures and shear. We will focus on studying novel bismuth-based phases, where we have discovered new phases, such as BiVO3, under pressure. These new materials may demonstrate unusual magnetic transitions.

      REU Project 3 Image

      Project 4:
      Advanced Toolset Development for Controlled Mechanochemistry (PIs: Batteas, Felts, Rappe, Martini)

      Participating Sites: TAMU (experimental); UPenn, UC Merced (computational)

      Conceptually, the principle of mechanochemistry is simple: applying forces on reactants to make them look like the desired product will enhance reaction rates, while forces that impede reactants from taking the form of the product retards reaction rates. Although conceptually straightforward, significant challenges remain to experimentally control how the application of macroscale force imparts forces at the atomic scale, and to further predict how these forces drive reactions computationally. This project advances the state-of-the-art of experimental and computational toolsets used to predict and drive mechanochemical reactions, including developing reactors with integrated force control, exploring the application of force in ab initio density functional theory, and atomic scale interfacial reactivity in molecular dynamics.

      REU Project 4 Image