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.

Aug
9
2016

Researchers Propose New Treatment to Prevent Kidney Stones

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 9, 2016) ... A natural citrus fruit extract has been found to dissolve calcium oxalate crystals, the most common component of human kidney stones, in a finding that could lead to significantly improving kidney stone treatment, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Houston, and Litholink Corporation. In a study published Aug. 8 in the journal Nature, the researchers offer the first evidence that the compound hydroxycitrate (HCA) effectively inhibits calcium oxalate crystal growth and, under certain conditions, is able to dissolve the crystals. HCA shows “promise as a potential therapy to prevent kidney stones,” the researchers wrote. Kidney stones are small mineral pellets that form in the kidneys and may be found throughout the urinary tract. Frequently painful but harmless, the National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 300,000 patients visit emergency rooms for kidney stones each year. Though it’s the most frequent urinary tract ailment, little has changed in preventative treatments for kidney stones in the past 30 years. Most patients at risk for kidney stones are instructed to drink water, reduce the amount of foods high in oxalates such as leafy green vegetables and nuts in their diet, and take citrate (CA) in the form of a potassium citrate supplement to slow crystal growth. HCA, which is chemically similar to potassium citrate, is found in several tropical plants including garcinia cambogia, commonly known as Malabar tamarind. The researchers found that the HCA inhibits growth of the crystals by binding to them and that even in very small concentrations it can actually dissolve those crystals. “We were very excited to identify a molecular-level mechanism under which calcium oxalate grows and degrades in its natural environment,” said Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Eventually, this will help us control the crystal’s life cycle.” Mpourmpakis was joined in the research by Jeff Rimer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston, and John Asplin, nephrologist at Litholink Corporation. Graduate students Michael G. Taylor of Pitt, Jihae Chung of Houston, and researcher Ignacio Granja of Litholink Corporation also contributed to the study. At Pitt, Mpourmpakis and Taylor applied density functional theory, a highly accurate computational method used to study the structure and properties of materials, to discover how HCA and CA bind to calcium and to calcium oxalate crystals. They found that HCA formed a stronger bond with crystal surfaces, inducing a strain that appears to be relieved by the release of calcium and oxalate, thus dissolving the crystal. Chung and Rimer studied interactions between the crystals CA and HCA under realistic growth conditions, allowing the researchers to record crystal growth in real time with near-molecular resolution. Chung noted that the images recorded the crystal actually shrinking when exposed even to supersaturated concentrations of calcium oxalate. Asplin and Granja tested HCA in human subjects, allowing researchers to determine that HCA is excreted through urine, a requirement for the supplement to work as a treatment. Although this research established the groundwork to design an effective drug, the authors believe that more work is still needed, including additional human studies, to address the long-term safety and dosage. “But our initial findings are very promising,” Rimer said. “If it works in vivo, similar to our trials in the laboratory, HCA has the potential to reduce the incidence rate of people with chronic kidney stone disease.” ### Image above and below: Morphology changes of calcium oxalate monohydrate (kidney stone) crystals using different growth inhibitors. (Courtesy Mpourmpakis Lab Group)
Author: John Fedele, Senior Associate Director of News, University Communications
jfedele@pitt.edu
Jul
28
2016

Chemical engineering faculty at Pitt and CMU receive $550,000 in NSF funding to design metal nanoparticles that capture carbon dioxide

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 28, 2016) … Building upon their previous research, engineering faculty at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering were awarded grants from the National Science Foundation to develop a novel computational framework that can custom design nanoparticles. In particular, the group is investigating bimetallic nanoparticles to more effectively control their adsorption properties for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The three-year grant, “Collaborative Research: Design of Optimal Bimetallic Nanoparticles,” is led by Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt and group leader of the Computer-Aided Nano Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.). Co-investigators are Götz Veser, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt and associate director of the University’s Center for Energy; and Chrysanthos Gounaris, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. The NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) awarded $350,395 to Pitt and $199,605 to CMU to support computational research and targeted experiments. “Bulk metals behave differently than their related nanoparticles, and our research has shown that bimetallic nanoparticles exhibit unique adsorption properties,” Dr. Mpourmpakis explained. “Our previous research focused on the size and shape of gold nanoparticles toward their catalytic behavior, and now we are investigating copper nanoparticles and their ability to adsorb and activate carbon dioxide.” The researchers will utilize Pitt’s Center for Simulation and Modeling to computationally identify bimetallic nanoparticles that maximize their performance for a given application. By optimizing the shape, size and metal composition of bimetallic nanoparticles through computer simulation, the researchers can reduce the need for expensive and time-consuming experiments in the lab, which are often based on extensive trial and error. “Because we know that copper-based bimetallics effectively adsorb CO2, we can now fine-tune the nanoparticle morphology to maximize adsorption,” Dr. Mpourmpakis said. “The benefit to the environment of being able to capture CO2 and potentially convert it to a useful chemical would be profound.” ### Image above and below: Capturing carbon dioxide via custom-designed bimetallic nanoparticles. Credit: Mpourmpakis C.A.N.E.LA. Lab Group

Jul
26
2016

U.S. Department of Defense funds $1.5 million Pitt study to identify and destroy hazardous chemicals

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 26, 2016) … The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the Dietrich School of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Chemistry and Temple UniversityDepartment of Chemistry will collaborate on research funded by a grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office (JSTO) within the United States Department of Defense. Pitt and Temple researchers will investigate the use of multifunctional metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) with plasmonic cores that can be used to detect and destroy chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals. The DTRA funds academic research to find solutions for effective and affordable threat reduction, concentrating on combating weapons of mass destruction. Pitt and Temple researchers will receive a grant for basic research worth $1.5 million over three years with the potential to be increased to $2.5 million over five years. Principal investigator J. Karl Johnson, Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will lead the study by modeling multifunctional MOFs at the atomic scale. The team will design new MOFs that facilitate selective transport of toxic chemicals to a plasmonic nanoparticle core within the MOF, where they can be detected and neutralized. “What we want to do is produce new hybrid materials that use light to detect chemical warfare agents,” said Johnson. “When you shine a light on plasmonic nanoparticles, electrons in the material are excited by the light. We can use these excited electrons to detect chemicals and carry out chemical reactions once the substances are identified.” Nathaniel Rosi, Professor of Chemistry at Pitt, Jill Millstone, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Pitt, and Eric Borguet, Professor of Chemistry at Temple, will join Johnson on the study. Rosi will lead research into the chemistry of the MOFs and work to design MOFs with stratified layers that direct the chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals to the plasmonic core. “The porous MOF contains gradients of functional layers that lead to the plasmonic core. The sponge that’s on your kitchen sink has pores, but they are uniform inside and out. The MOFs we are developing have multiple porous layers, and each layer has affinity for different molecules. It would be like having a sponge with a special layer for cleaning up water, another for oil and another for coffee or any other mess in the kitchen,” said Rosi. Another key component of the research will be finding the right substances to make up the plasmonic core. Gold and silver are traditionally used because they exhibit the appropriate oscillating behavior when light is shone on them. However, their expense limits widespread use. Millstone will lead the research into finding other materials to replace gold and silver. “About 99 percent of the plasmonic materials studied for these technologies have been made with either gold or silver,” said Millstone. “But, as promising as the plasmonic properties are, the expense is too high. Our work is to develop new materials from cheaper, earth abundant metals and metal combinations. Each component of this research is novel, and we are very excited to make significant contributions to our fields.” Borguet, in charge of the team at Temple, will direct the sensing and catalytic studies, deploying a suite of techniques to help optimize the response of the materials to specific target analytes. ###
Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
29
2016

Pitt researchers receive $1.54 million NIH grant to facilitate fabrication of vascular grafts with artificial stem cells

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 29, 2016) … The National Institutes of Health have awarded David Vorp, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research of the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, and colleagues with a grant worth more than $1.54 million to fund their study investigating artificial stem cells in the development of engineered vascular grafts. Some current regenerative medicine approaches use mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) harvested from the patient to help rebuild or repair damaged or diseased tissues. Dr. Vorp and his team have pioneered the use of MSCs in the development of tissue-engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs), which may be effective in small diameter arterial bypass procedures or arteriovenous access for dialysis. However, MSCs taken from patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as the elderly and diabetics, may be dysfunctional. Furthermore, the use of harvested cells that require extended culture expansion also runs the risk of cellular contamination or transformation, as well as high costs and substantial waiting time before a graft can be made and implanted. “Fully functional human MSCs secrete a host of biochemicals, including those that prevent blood clotting and those that ‘call’ into the TEVGs important cells from the host, such as inflammatory cells, smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells,” said Vorp. “We have found that MSCs from diabetics, for example, are relatively ineffective in yielding a successful TEVG compared to MSCs from non-diabetics.  Considering that diabetics make up a large proportion of patients who need bypass grafts, we needed to find an alternative means to achieve our goal for this significant population.”   To answer this challenge, the research team has developed artificial stem cells (artMSCs) that are created by encapsulating the veritable cocktail of biochemicals secreted by normally functioning MSCs in culture into biodegradable microspheres that are similar in size to actual MSCs. “By ‘tuning’ or adjusting the degradation rate of the microspheres, we can replicate the release of these biochemicals by real, fully-functional MSCs,” said Vorp. He and his colleagues will then seed the artMSCs into porous, tubular scaffolds and implant them in a rat model as they have done with MSCs in fabricating TEVGs. The study, entitled “Artificial Stem Cells for Vascular Tissue Engineering,” aims to accelerate the clinical translation of the team’s TEVG technology. This will be achieved, according to Vorp, “both by making the technology applicable to all patients – even those with dysfunctional MSCs – and by reducing the regulatory barriers associated with the need for culture-expanding cells to the numbers necessary to fabricate a TEVG.” Vorp is joined on this study by Pitt colleagues Steven Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering; William Wagner, Professor of Surgery and Director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; Morgan Fedorchak, Assistant Professor of Opthalmology; and Justin Weinbaum, Research Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. ###
Author: Matthew Cichowicz, Contributing Writer and Editor
Jun
20
2016

ACS awards petrochemical research grant to ChemE Assistant Professor Giannis Mpourmpakis

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 20, 2016) … Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, received a $110,000 grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for computer modeling research to investigate the conversion of ethane, propane, butane and other alkanes used in the petrochemical industry. The study, “Identifying Structure-Activity Relationships for the Dehydrogenation of Alkanes on Oxides,” will look to gain a fundamental understanding of the dehydrogenation of small hydrocarbons to olefins on metal oxides under experimental conditions. “Olefins are the building blocks for the production of chemicals and plastics,” said Mpourmpakis. “We can avoid the time and money it takes performing experiments in a traditional chemical lab through computer simulations and then design new catalysts, again, without the need to perform tedious experiments.” Pitt researchers will attempt to identify structure-activity relationships (SARs)—the relationships between a molecule’s three-dimensional structure and its catalytic activity—on metal oxides. Although much research has been done on the SARs on metals, the scientific community has little understanding of these relationships on metal oxides. At the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab at Pitt, Mpourmpakis and his team have been successful investigating the dehydration of simple alcohols on various metal oxides. Mpourmpakis’ previous study, “ Structure-activity relationships on metal-oxides: alcohol dehydration,” outlined a simple but powerful model to allow researchers to easily test different alcohols and metal-oxide catalysts according to their dehydration activity and appeared as a cover article of Catalysis Science & Technology published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. “We are building on our previous knowledge of alcohol dehydration on metal oxides and applying the understanding we have of in-silico experimentation to a different scientific problem: the alkane dehydrogenation,” said Mpourmpakis. The ACS will designate Mpourmpakis’ grant as a Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator (DNI) Grant. DNI grants promote the careers of young faculty by supporting research of high scientific caliber and enhancing the career opportunities of their undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral associates, through the research experience. ### Pictured above: Members of the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.) including Natalie Austin, Dr. Mpourmpakis, Pavlo Kostetskyy, Michael Taylor and Xi Peng.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

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