Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering was established in 1910, making it the first department for petroleum engineering in the world. Today, our department has over 40 expert faculty (tenure/tenure-stream/joint/adjunct), a host of dedicated staff, more than 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and learning centers, and education programs that enrich with strong fundamentals and hands-on experience.

Chemical engineering is concerned with processes in which matter and energy undergo change. The range of concerns is so broad that the chemical engineering graduate is prepared for a variety of interesting and challenging employment opportunities.

Chemical engineers with strong background in sciences are found in management, design, operations, and research. Chemical engineers are employed in almost all industries, including food, polymers, chemicals, pharmaceutical, petroleum, medical, materials, and electronics. Since solutions to energy, environmental, and food problems must surely involve chemical changes, there will be continued demands for chemical engineers in the future.

Jun
24
2015

Materials that Compute

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 24, 2015) … Moving closer to the possibility of "materials that compute" and wearing your computer on your sleeve, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have designed a responsive hybrid material that is fueled by an oscillatory chemical reaction and can perform computations based on changes in the environment or movement, and potentially even respond to human vital signs. The material system is sufficiently small and flexible that it could ultimately be integrated into a fabric or introduced as an inset into a shoe.      Anna C. Balazs, PhD , Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Steven P. Levitan, PhD , John A. Jurenko Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, integrated models for self-oscillating polymer gels and piezoelectric micro-electric-mechanical systems to devise a new reactive material system capable of performing computations without external energy inputs, amplification or computer mediation. Their research, " Achieving synchronization with active hybrid materials: Coupling self-oscillating gels and piezoelectric (PZ) films ," appeared online June 24, 2015 in the journal Scientific Reports , published by Nature (DOI: 10.1038/srep11577). The studies combine Dr. Balazs' research in Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gels, a substance that oscillates in the absence of external stimuli, and Dr. Levitan's expertise in computational modeling and oscillator-based computing systems. By working with Dr. Victor V. Yashin, Research Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and lead author on the paper, the researchers developed design rules for creating a hybrid "BZ-PZ" material. "The BZ reaction drives the periodic oxidation and reduction of a metal catalyst that is anchored to the gel; this, in turn, makes the gel swell and shrink. We put a thin piezoelectric (PZ) cantilever over the gel so that when the PZ is bent by the oscillating gel, it generates an electric potential (voltage). Conversely, an electric potential applied to the PZ cantilever causes it to bend," said Dr. Balazs. "So, when a single BZ-PZ unit is wired to another such unit, the expansion of the oscillating BZ gel in the first unit deflects the piezoelectric cantilever, which produces an electrical voltage. The generated voltage in turn causes a deflection of the cantilever in the second unit; this deflection imposes a force on the underlying BZ gel that modifies its oscillations. The resulting "see-saw-like" oscillation permits communication and an exchange of information between the units. Multiple BZ-PZ units can be connected in serial or parallel, allowing more complicated patterns of oscillation to be generated and stored in the system. In effect, these different oscillatory patterns form a type of "memory", allowing the material to be used for computation. Dr. Levitan adds, however, the computations would not be general purpose, but rather specific to pattern-matching and recognition, or other non-Boolean operations.   "Imagine a group of organ pipes, and each is a different chord. When you introduce a new chord, one resonates with that particular pattern," Dr. Levitan said. "Similarly, let's say you have an array of oscillators and they each have an oscillating pattern.  Each set of oscillators would reflect a particular pattern. Then you introduce a new external input pattern, say from a touch or a heartbeat. The materials themselves recognize the pattern and respond accordingly, thereby performing the actual computing." Developing so-called "materials that compute" addresses limitations inherent to the systems currently used by researchers to perform either chemical computing or oscillator-based computing. Chemical computing systems are limited by both the lack of an internal power system and the rate of diffusion as the chemical waves spread throughout the system, enabling only local coupling. Further, oscillator-based computing has not been translated into a potentially wearable material. The hybrid BZ-PZ model, which has never been proposed previously, solves these problems and points to the potential of designing synthetic material systems that are self-powered. Drs. Balazs and Levitan note that the current BZ-PZ gel model oscillates in periods of tens of seconds, which would allow for simple non-Boolean operations or pattern recognition of patterns like human movement. The next step for Drs. Balazs and Levitan is to add an input layer for the pattern recognition, something that has been accomplished in other technologies but will be applied to self-oscillating gels and piezoelectric films for the first time. The research is funded by a five-year National Science FoundationIntegrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) grant, which focuses on complex and pressing scientific problems that lie at the intersection of traditional disciplines.  ###
Paul Kovach
May
13
2015

Fairmont Brine Processing wins Fourth Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest

Chemical & Petroleum

Note: quotations from Shale Gas Innovation news release Photo (l to r): Brian Kalt, General Manager of FBP, and Carl Irwin of the WV TransTech Energy Research & Business Development Program PITTSBURGH (May 13, 2015) … Fairmont Brine Processing, led by President and CEO Dave Moniot BSChE '91, was one of four winners of the Fourth Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest, presented by the Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center. Fairmont Brine Processing, which developed an evaporation and crystallization process that fully treats wastewater and extracts reusable byproducts, received a $25,000 prize during the award ceremony at Southpointe, Washington County, on Tuesday, May 12. The award for Fairmont Brine Processing, based in Fairmont, WV, was made possible through a grant provided to the SGICC from the Benedum Foundation . Brian Kalt, General Manager commented, "We are humbled to be recognized by the Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center. Winning this award validates the industry's necessity for an environmentally responsible alternative to deep well injection. Fairmont Brine Processing has executed another major step in the commercialization of our  patented evaporation & crystallization process, and we are looking forward to developing new opportunities with E&P companies as they seek a long term solution for the wastewater  produced in the natural resource extraction process." "This is a very significant award for both Fairmont Brine and Venture Engineering because it really showcases our business and the panel of judges were comprised of industry insiders such as Consol Energy, Range, EQT, XTO (Exxon) and others," Mr. Moniot said.  "There were 14 strong entries this year, and so we're honored to be one of the four winners. Michael Makowski, Manager of New Technology Initiatives at PPG Industries, a sponsor company and judge noted, "This event always uncovers creative new technologies that can positively impact the oil and gas industry. As a technology scout there is no better opportunity to see high caliber innovations on display at a single event focused on adding value to this important growth area."  The sponsors for this year's contest were: Ben Franklin Technology Partners , AquaTech , Chevron Technology Ventures , CONSOL Energy , EQT , First National Bank , GE Oil & Gas , INABATA America Corporation , Little Pine Resources , Marcellus Shale Coalition , PPG Industries , Praxair , Range Resources , Shell , Steptoe & Johnson PLLC , Williams , and XTO Energy . About Fairmont Brine Processing Fairmont Brine Processing, LLC is a closely held, multi-disciplined service provider to the oil & natural gas industry.  As the premiere environmentally responsible solution to the deep well injection of fluid produced from oil & natural gas operations, Fairmont Brine provides services to Exploration & Production companies throughout the Appalachian Basin ranging from the management of flowback and produced fluid created during the resource extraction process, recycle for re-use to aide in future drilling and hydraulic-fracturing operations and the production of sodium chloride rock salt and distilled water. About the SGICC The Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center supports and commercializes early-stage technologies that enhance responsible stewardship of the environment while properly utilizing this energy asset. ###
Paul Kovach
May
13
2015

Systems biology specialist Jason Shoemaker joins Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 13, 2015) … The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering has tapped systems biology and virus researcher Jason E. Shoemaker as a new assistant professor. Dr. Shoemaker will join the Swanson School in fall 2015. "Part of Jason's research experience was under one of the pioneers of systems biology, Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, and so we are indeed fortunate to recruit him to Pitt," noted Dr. Steve Little, associate professor, CNG Faculty Fellow and department chair. "Systems biology and computational modeling are advancing our understanding of complex environments, especially those related to disease and drug delivery, and so Jason brings a dynamic perspective to our department's research in those areas." "I am incredibly excited to join the Swanson School of Engineering," Dr. Shoemaker said. "Pitt's tradition of being a leader in medicine makes it the perfect environment to reach across disciplines and explore how engineering tools can be applied to better understand the origins of disease. My lab will develop and apply mathematical approaches to determine drivers of disease and to design new treatments."  Dr. Shoemaker earned his bachelor of science in chemical engineering from the University of Florida, and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California - Santa Barbara. He currently is a project assistant professor and computations group team leader at the University of Tokyo, where he is head of the systems biology research unit within the Kawaoka virology unit. Prior to the University of Tokyo he was a research associate with the Japan Science and Technology's ERATO Infection-Induced Host Responses Project, and visiting researcher at the Systems Biology Institute under the direction of Dr. Kitano. He has published two patents in Japan and published several journal articles and book chapters. He is a native of West Palm Beach, Florida. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and our industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Our commitment to the future of the chemical process industry drives the development of educational and research programs. The Department has a tradition of excellence in education and research, evidenced by recent national awards including numerous NSF CAREER Awards, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, an NIH Director's New Innovator Award, and the DOE Hydrogen Program R&D Award, among others. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty has a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. ChE departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. The vibrant research culture within the Department includes active collaboration with the adjacent University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Center for Simulation and Modeling, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering and the U.S. DOE-affiliated Institute for Advanced Energy Solutions.   ###  
Paul Kovach
May
6
2015

Royal Society of Chemistry recognizes Pitt’s Anna Balazs

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 6, 2015) … Noted researcher Anna C. Balazs, PhD , Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and the Robert v. d. Luft Professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering, was named the 2015 recipient of the S. F. Boys-A. Rahman Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) Faraday Division. The award recognizes Dr. Balazs for the development of new theoretical and computational approaches to enable the understanding of polymeric materials, and includes a £2000 prize, medal, and up to four invited lectures at UK universities between September 2015 and May 2016. Selection criteria include originality of research, impact of research, quality of publications, professional standing, and collaborations. The award is named after Samuel Francis Boys (1911-1972), a British theoretical chemist; and Aneesur Rahman (1927-1987), an Indian computational physicist and pioneer in computer simulations. "Anna's research in computational design of chemo- responsive gels and nanocomposites is truly groundbreaking and is well-deserving of this award," said Steven R. Little, PhD , associate professor, CNG Faculty Fellow and Chair of the Swanson School's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. "Her expertise in this field is internationally recognized and respected, and the Department and I congratulate her on this latest accomplishment." About Dr. Balazs Anna Balazs joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1987. Prior to Pitt, she held a postdoctoral position in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Balazs' research involves theoretical and computational modeling of the thermodynamic and kinetic behavior of polymer blends and composites. She is also investigating the properties of polymers at surfaces and interfaces. Her awards and recognitions include the ACS Langmuir Lecture Award (2014); Greater Pittsburgh Women Chemists Committee Award for Excellence in the Chemical Sciences (2014); Fellow, Materials Research Society (2014); South Dakota School of Mines' Mines Medal (2013); Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2010); Donaldson Lecturer, University of Minnesota (2007); Honoree, "Women in the Material World," Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania (2006); Maurice Huggins Award of the Gordon Research Conference for outstanding contributions to Polymer Science (2003); Visiting Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford University (2000 - 2001; 2007- 2008); Special Creativity Award, National Science Foundation, (1999-2001); Fellow, American Physical Society (1993); and Invited Participant, National Academy of Sciences' 6th Annual Frontiers of Science Symposium (November 3-5, 1994). About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and our industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Our commitment to the future of the chemical process industry drives the development of educational and research programs. The Department has a tradition of excellence in education and research, evidenced by recent national awards including numerous NSF CAREER Awards, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, an NIH Director's New Innovator Award, and the DOE Hydrogen Program R&D Award, among others. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty has a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. ChE departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. The vibrant research culture within the Department includes active collaboration with the adjacent University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Center for Simulation and Modeling, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering and the U.S. DOE-affiliated Institute for Advanced Energy Solutions. ###  
Paul Kovach
May
5
2015

Toward a Squishier Robot: Pitt engineers design synthetic gel that changes shape and moves via its own internal energy

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum

Figure at left: Time evolution of a rectangular SP-BZ gel in non-uniform light; time increases from (a) to (d). Both ends of the sample are exposed to light; the central circular region is not illuminated. PITTSBURGH (May 5, 2015) … For decades, robots have advanced the efficiency of human activity. Typically, however, robots are formed from bulky, stiff materials and require connections to external power sources; these features limit their dexterity and mobility. But what if a new material would allow for development of a "soft robot" that could reconfigure its own shape and move using its own internally generated power?   By developing a new computational model, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering have designed a synthetic polymer gel that can utilize internally generated chemical energy to undergo shape-shifting and self-sustained propulsion. Their research, " Designing Dual-functionalized Gels for Self-reconfiguration and Autonomous Motion " (DOI: 10.1038/srep09569), was published April 30th  in the journal Scientific Reports , published by Nature . The authors are Anna C. Balazs, PhD , the Swanson School's Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the Robert v. d. Luft Professor; and Olga Kuksenok, PhD , Research Associate Professor. "Movement is a fundamental biological behavior, exhibited by the simplest cell to human beings. It allows organisms to forage for food or flee from predators. But synthetic materials typically don't have the capability for spontaneous mechanical action or the ability to store and use their own energy, factors that enable directed motion" Dr. Balazs said. "Moreover in biology, directed movement involves some form of shape changes, such as the expansion and contraction of muscles. So we asked whether we could mimic these basic interconnected functions in a synthetic system so that it could simultaneously change its shape and move." As a simple example in nature, Drs. Balazs and Kuksenok use the single-celled organism euglena mutabilis, which processes energy to expand and contract its shape in order to move. To mimic the euglena's mobility, Drs. Balazs and Kuksenok looked to polymer gels containing spirobenzopyran (SP) since these materials can be morphed into different shapes with the use of light, and to Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gels, a material first fabricated in the late 1990s that not only undergoes periodic pulsations, but also can be driven to move in the presence of light. "The BZ gel encompasses an internalized chemical reaction so that when you supply reagents, this gel can undergo self-sustained motion," Dr. Kuksenok explains. "Although researchers have previously created polymer chains with both the SP and BZ functionality, this is the first time they were combined to explore the ability of "SP-BZ" gels to change shape and move in response to light." As Balazs and Kuksenok noted, these systems are distinctive because they not only undergo self-bending or folding, but also self-propelled motion. Namely, the material integrates the powerful attributes of each of the components-the ability of SP-functionalized gels to be "molded" with light and the autonomous mechanical actions of the BZ gels.  According to Dr. Balazs, there were unexpected results during their research. "Uniform light exposure won't work. We had to place the light at the right place in order for the gel to move. And if we change the pattern of the light, the gel displays a tumbling motion. "We also found that if we placed the SP in certain regions of the BZ gel and exposed this material to light, we could create new types of self-folding behavior." The next phase of the research will be to combine the patterning of the SP and BZ functionality in the gels with the patterning of the light to expand the polymer's repertoire of motion. Dr. Balazs adds that these SP-BZ gels could enable the creation of small-scale soft robotics for microfluidic devices that can help carry out multi-stage chemical reactions.   "Scientists are interested in designing biomimetic systems that are dissipative - they use energy to perform a function, much like our metabolism allows us to carry out different functions," she explained. "The next push in materials science is to mimic these internal metabolic processes in synthetic materials, and thereby, create man-made materials that take in energy, transform this energy and autonomously perform work, just as in biological systems." The benefit of using polymer gels instead of metals and alloys to build a robot is that it greatly reduces its mass, improves its potential range of motion and allows for a more "graceful" device.   "To put it simply, in order for a robot to be able to move more autonomously in a more biomimetic way, it's better if it's soft and squishy," Dr. Kuksenok says. "It's ability to grab and carry something isn't impeded by non-flexible, hard edges. You'd also like its energy source incorporated into the design so that it's not carrying that as extra baggage. The SP-BZ gel is pointing us in that direction."    Figure above (a-d) : Evolution of the SP-BZ gel in non-uniform light. Only the edges of the sample are exposed to light; the central circular region is not illuminated. The ends and all the edges of the sample undergo light-induced shrinking, which in turn causes the "folding" of the gel and the self-propelled downward motion of the sample. ###
Paul Kovach

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