Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Career Advising & Research Opportunities

The following information is provided for chemical engineering undergraduate students to assist them in finding a ready source of career advice and research opportunities available from the faculty. All students should feel free to approach the faculty directly. Should you need assistance with arranging a meeting, please contact the Academic Administrator at 624-9646 or by email.


Mohammad M. Ataai

Professor

Research:

Analysis of Acid formation in Metabolically Engineered E. coli and B. subtilis

Alteration of cellular metabolism is emerging as an important research area in biotechnology and bioengineering. Mapping metabolic fluxes and theoretically investigating the optimal routing of fluxes are critical for defining what cellular systems are impacted by altering expression of one or several genes of enzymes of metabolic pathways. Additionally, pool and enzyme measurements could be used to solidify conclusions on how flux regulation is altered in response to genetic modification (s) or manipulation of culture environment.

For example, we have noted that when B. subtilis metabolizes glucose and citrate, glycolytic flux markedly decreases, acid production becomes undetectable, oxygen consumption significantly declines, and recombinant protein productivity per cell increases several-fold. As discussed next, we have identified possible genetic changes (deletion of pyruvate kinase) that may be responsible for the enhanced productivity under dual feeding of glucose plus citrate. Pyruvate kinase (PYK) was identified as one of the possible target genes based on a combination of metabolic flux, pools, and enzymatic analysis. Moreover, we have recently completed the construction of B. subtilis cells with this new genetic background. The undergraduate researcher will be involved in characterizing the growth and acid formation in mutant cultures under different growth conditions. He/she will learn and apply many basic biochemical tools for performing the growth experiments and for the analysis of culture productivity. 

Career Advice:

Professor Ataai will be happy to advise students who are interested in: 1) careers in pharmaceutical and/or biotechnology industries; and 2) graduate studies focusing in biotechnology and engineering.


Eric J. Beckman

George M. and Eva M. Bevier Professor of Engineering

Research:

Mr. Beckman's research is in the area of green chemistry and also tissue engineering. He will typically look for students to conduct research in the synthesis and characterization of new materials to be used in tissue engineering, and also in projects that involve the synthesis of products in ways that generate reduced amounts of waste or use less energy than conventional methods. The over-riding theme in his group is molecular design, and hence students conducting research in his group will employ a combination of engineering and chemistry skills.

Career Advice :

Students may contact Professor Beckman regarding different types of industrial careers that are available to BS chemical engineers, and about the polymer industry and smaller companies in particular. He would also welcome questions from students on dual ChE-chemistry or ChE-biology majors (the advantages and disadvantages). Finally, Professor Beckman would be happy to discuss the how and why of working outside of the United States after or before graduation, in particular in Europe.


Robert M. Enick 

Bayer Professor

Research:

Undergraduates will assist graduate students during investigations of high pressure phase behavior. Specific technologies include the design and synthesis of novel CO2-soluble compounds, including polymers, coatings, surfactants, dispersants, chelating agents, binders, nanoparticle precursors and thickeners. After making these compounds, their solubility in CO2 will be determined with a state-of-the-art high pressure phase behavior apparatus. In some cases further evaluations will be conducted, such as high pressure viscosity measurements and the formation of metal nanoparticles.

Career Advice:

A list of resources that will assist you in finding full-time employment upon graduation will be made available.


William J. Federspiel

W. K. Whiteford Professor

Research:

Professor Federspiel's laboratory is developing next generation artificial lung devices for treatment of patients with respiratory failure. The artificial lungs under development are composed of bundles of hollow fiber membranes fabricated into various modules and catheters that can be perfused with blood intracorporeally or extracorporeally. The hollow fiber membranes are manifolded to gas pathways that allow oxygen gas to flow through the insides of the hollow fibers, thus driving the diffusion of oxygen into the bloodstream and of carbon dioxide outside of the blood stream. Artificial lung devices are traditionally mass transfer limited due to diffusional boundary layers that arise on the fiber surfaces. The undergraduate student will join in on-going laboratory research focused on improving the design and coatings used in artificial lung devices to enhance their gas exchange performance and ability to provide effective respiratory support. Specific potential projects include research and development on 1) a balloon pulsated respiratory catheter, 2) a self-pumping extracorporeal emergency respiratory support lung, 3) biohybrid microfabricated artificial lung modules, 4) hollow fibers with bioactive and mechanically active coatings, and 5) aspects of control and monitoring consoles for artificial lungs.

Career advice:

Professor Federspiel will be happy to advise students who are interested in a professional career in medicine, either through a medical degree or a doctorate in a biomedical science or engineering. These discussions would also involve strategies and requisite steps for a chemical engineering student to apply to and gain admission to a medical school. Another area he could advise students on is an engineering position in a biomedically related company, including both large company environments and more entrepreneurial small company and start-up environments.


J. Karl Johnson

W.K. Whiteford Professor and Interim Department Chair

Research:

Professor Johnson's research group focuses on molecular thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. The group performs molecular modeling of fluid and solid systems to understand the basic molecular processes underlying macroscopic behavior. Specific possible projects include modeling of packing of nanotubes into bundles, modeling of gas adsorption into various closed and open nanotube bundles, and phase behavior of CO2/polymer mixtures. Students with exceptional computer programming and mathematical skills are encouraged to talk with Professor Johnson.

Career Advice:

Should a student get a business degree after getting a BS in chemical engineering? What is required to get into business school? What degrees are offered? How can this help you in your career? Professor Johnson will help students find answers to these and similar questions. He can also discuss how molecular modeling is used in industry and what job opportunities are available for someone who wants to do molecular modeling in the chemical or pharmaceutical industries.


 John N. Murphy

Research Professor

Research:

Opportunities exist to develop or evaluate new experiments, principally for use in the undergraduate training labs. Generally the focus is on devices/experiments that relate to workplace health and safety, such as an experimental setup to determine the limits of flammability of gas-air mixtures.

Career Advice:

Careers in the Federal service or in Corporate R&D settings; Careers with consulting firms;Career tracks related to workplace health and safety or environmental assessment; Benefits of, and opportunities provided through professional registration.


 Alan J. Russell

Distinguished University Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering

Research:

The Russell group works at the interface between biology, chemistry and materials. With a focus on tissue engineering, biomaterials and biologically inspired materials for defense needs we use biology to solve real world problems. Projects are available in many of the broad areas described and the laboratory has hosted over 40 undergraduates in the last decade.

Career advice:

Discussion of careers at the interface between engineering and medicine and careers in academe. Interest in entrepreneurship and leadership can also be explored.


Sachin Velankar

Associate Professor

Research:

Professor Velankars' groups perform research in polymer science and in fluid mechanics. Research topics include two-phase flow of polymers, structure of polymer blends, dynamics of drops, microfluidics, and interfacial tension-driven flows. All projects are heavily experimental. The experimental techniques include rheology, microscopy, flow visualization, electron microscopy and occasional polymer synthesis. Much effort is focused in building equipment. Knowledge of electronics or of computers is a great plus.

Career advice:

Students may contact Professor Velankar for advice on the following topics: Education, research and work abroad: Why go abroad, What opportunities are available, when, where. Graduate school: Whether to go to graduate school, when, which school.


Götz Veser

Professor

Research:

Research in Professor Veser's group revolves around the topic of 'process intensification', i.e. the development of miniaturized and/or multifunctional reactors which lead to new opportunities in reactor engineering. The group combines reactor engineering aspects with the development of novel materials for high-performance catalysts, employing the rapidly expanding methods of nanoscale materials design. In the studies, they typically combine experimental investigations with numerical simulations to gain a better understanding of how molecular-level processes influence the reactor behavior and can guide reactor design. Currently, the focus of their studies is on high-temperature catalytic processes, such as hydrogen formation from natural gas. Students interested in working in Professor Veser's research group should show a strong interest in kinetics, catalysis, materials synthesis and/or reactor design, and should be willing to take on rather broad projects. A general interest in energy and environment-related questions is also a plus.

Career advice:

Professor Veser will be happy to advice undergraduate students with regard to studies abroad, in particular in Europe (there is an ongoing exchange program with Germany). Professor Veser is also available for questions regarding graduate school, such as: why and which schools to attend, which research areas would be good fits for personal interests and academic standing. Generally, he would like to encourage students to stop by and ask questions.