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: December 1, 2021-February 11, 2022

PROGRAM DATES: May 31- August 5, 2022*

* A virtual option may also be 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 cross-cutting nature of mechanochemistry blends chemistry, materials science, engineering, and physics, and thus 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. Participation in our REU program will allow students to gain experience in team-based research and afford them the opportunity for professional development in science communications, entrepreneurship and innovation, STEM policy, and STEM history. All of these aspects will support and foster collaboration across multiple research disciplines.

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 $5,000
  2. housing at their selected REU site*
  3. a travel allowance for travel to/from the REU site (if in person), and to attend a national STEM meeting
  4. a $500 debit card to be used toward meals

* A virtual option may also be planned to support activities pending impacts of COVID-19.


This is a competitive program open to undergraduates in chemistry, physics, materials science, chemical engineering, or mechanical engineering majors (or closely related fields) enrolled in 4-year U.S. colleges and universities who have completed at least their first year with a 3.0 GPA or better. Two letters of recommendation will also be required. 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. Students should be US citizens or permanent residents.


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:
    • Future academic and Professional Goals
    • Why you are interested in this program, specifically
    • How you envision this program will help you achieve your goals

      Personal Statement Writing Tips

  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 Surfaces (PIs: Batteas, Braunschweig, Carpick, Felts, Martini, Rappe)

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

      While mechanical forces between contacting surfaces can strongly influence chemical reactions at their interface, the mechanisms behind how this happens are not well understood.

      In this project, students will investigate well-defined reactions on surfaces that are driven by controlling the applied force between local probes and surfaces in the presence of the reactants. The surfaces to be studied include 2D nanomaterials such as graphene. Applying compressive and shear forces with techniques such as atomic force microscopy, polymer pen arrays, or microscale tribometry, will allow us to study how applied forces influence radical and pericyclic reactions on surfaces. Combined with density functional theory (DFT) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, a holistic picture of how force drives reactions at interfaces will be 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, MIT (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