Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Apr

Apr
6
2018

Eleven Pitt Students Awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

University of Pittsburgh News Release PITTSBURGH – Eleven University of Pittsburgh students and four alumni were awarded the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Eleven Pitt students and four alumni also received honorable mentions. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. The fellowship program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The support accorded NSF Graduate Research Fellows nurtures their ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Among this year's Pitt cohort, eight undergraduate and graduate students were awarded fellowships, joined by two Swanson School alumni now in graduate school. Four undergraduate and graduate students and one alumnus received honorable mentions. Mary Besterfield-Sacre, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, attributed this year's increase in winners from engineering to a strategically focused mentor-mentee program. “The program diversity among this year’s Swanson School NSF fellows is thanks in great part to Bioengineering Professor Pat Loughlin for working with each department to identify strong candidates and faculty mentors to help them build winning portfolios,” Dr. Besterfield-Sacre said. “The NSF Graduate Research Program is incredibly competitive and we’re especially proud that undergraduates make up half of our fellows.” Current Pitt students who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship are seniors from: - Swanson School of Engineering: Abraham Charles Cullom (civil and environmental engineering), Vani Hiremath Sundaram (mechanical engineering and material science), Adam Lewis Smoulder (bioengineering) and Henry Phalen (bioengineering); and graduate students Megan Routzong (bioengineering), Monica Fei Liu (bioengineering), Angelica Janina Herrera (bioengineering) and Sarah Hemler (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: Graduate students Brett Baribault Bankson (psychology), Stefanie Lee Sequeira (psychology) and Alaina Nicole McDonnell (chemistry). Current Pitt students who received honorable mentions are from: - Swanson School of Engineering: seniors Anthony Joseph O’Brian (chemical and petroleum engineering), Anthony Louis Mercader (mechanical engineering and material science), Zachary Smith (electrical and computer engineering); and graduate student Maria Kathleen Jantz (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: graduate students Amy Ryan (chemistry), Kathryn Mae Rothenhoefer (neuroscience), Andrea Marie Fetters (biological sciences), Mariah Denhart, (biological sciences), Timothy Stephen Coleman (statistics), Hope Elizabeth Anne Brooks (biological sciences), Mary Elizabeth Rouse Braza (geology and environmental science). Alumni who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include Thomas Robert Werkmeister (engineering science) and Luke Drnach (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, and Julianne Griffith (psychology and sociology) and Aleza Wallace (psychology) from the Dietrich School. Alumni who received honorable mentions include Corey Williams (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, Sarah Elise Post (biological sciences), Hannah Katherine Dollish (neuroscience and Slavik studies) and Krista Bullard (chemistry), the latter three from the Dietrich School. Visit https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do for a full list of fellows and honorable mentions and to learn more about the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. # # #
Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Apr
4
2018

Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Presents Victor Bertolina with 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 4, 2018) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is Victor Bertolina, BSCE ’71, President of SAI Consulting Engineers, Inc. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. Gerald D. Holder, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the final time before his return to the faculty this fall. “After graduating from Pitt in 1971 and earning his commission in the United States Army, Vic worked at the West Virginia Department of Highways and later PennDOT and the city of Pittsburgh as a Bridge Engineer,” said Dean Holder. “This was the springboard to his now 40-plus year career at SAI Consulting Engineers. We applaud Vic for his accomplishments in the field of engineering, and for helping to build bridges that connect us.” About Victor Bertolina Victor Bertolina graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1971 and then received a commission in 1971 in the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. He worked for the West Virginia Department of Highways as a Civil Engineer Trainee from January to June 1972 before entering Officer Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Ga. In September 1972 he was hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and performed a variety of duties including bridge inspection, bridge design, and review of construction documents and inspection reports. Mr. Bertolina left PennDOT in March 1978 to serve as a bridge engineer for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Engineering and Construction. In 1977 Mr. Bertolina registered as a professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and subsequently as a P.E. in West Virginia, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Kansas. He joined SAI Consulting Engineers, Inc. in June 1979 as a project engineer in the structure department performing bridge inspections, bridge analysis, and bridge design before becoming manager of SAI’s Structure Department. Mr. Bertolina later served SAI as Vice President, Engineering and today as President where he is responsible for the management of all functions and personnel engaged in structure design, highway design, construction inspection, in-depth bridge inspection, and structural analysis. Mr. Bertolina has been involved with several notable bridge projects in the Pittsburgh region, including the Liberty Bridge, Fleming Park Bridge, Clairton-Glassport Bridge, Wabash HOV Bridge, and the rehabilitation of the 6th, 7th, and 9th Street Bridges.During his military career he was a member of the United States Army Reserve 420th Combat Engineers, rose to rank of Captain, and held the position of Company Executive Officer. Mr. Bertolina has been a member of the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania’s International Bridge Conference Committee for more than 25 years. His community involvement includes being a long-term member of the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Visiting Committee, and a past parish council member and Sunday School Teacher at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. He lives in Squirrel Hill with Harriet, his wife of 45 years. ###

Apr
3
2018

Building a Reputation: Pitt ASCE Student Chapter Wins Third Distinguished Chapter Award in Three Years

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 3, 2018) … Civil and environmental engineering students from the University of Pittsburgh Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) have sustained their reputation for another year as the most outstanding chapter in Region 2 of the professional society. The chapter has won the award for the past three years.“Not only did the club do an excellent job of enhancing civil engineering students’ experiences at Pitt, but they also grew by about 20 percent, furthering their impact now more than ever,” says Anthony Iannacchione, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty advisor to the student chapter.The Pitt ASCE student chapter contains about 170 members from the undergraduate civil and environmental engineering program at Pitt. They interact regularly with other student and professional chapters from ASCE Region 2, which includes Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and parts of northern Virginia. Judges select the regional winner of the Distinguished Chapter Award based primarily on activities recorded in the Student Chapter’s Annual Report.“Of all the challenges and obstacles we overcame this year, the greatest was the student-run career fair for civil engineering undergraduates,” says Chaz Donnelly, 2017-18 president of Pitt ASCE. “We brought representatives from 22 civil engineering companies to the campus so students could meet them and learn about internships and employment opportunities.”In 2017, the Pitt chapter also hosted the Region 2 student assembly, which included seven universities, five speakers, and a “Bridges of Pittsburgh” Dinner Cruise. The boat tour featured Pitt Professor John Oyler explaining the history of the surrounding bridges as the boat traveled under them along the city’s three rivers.The chapter members logged an impressive amount of hours doing volunteer work throughout the year on projects such as making holiday cards to send to hospitals throughout the region, the Toys for Tots charity toy drive, and joining more than 3,000 Pitt students to volunteer throughout Pittsburgh during Pitt Make a Difference Day. At the Middle School Engineering Day, members showed local middle school students how to build balsa wood bridges and demonstrated how forces work. They also had a newspaper tower competition and brought samples of concrete and steel to provide students with a hands-on way of learning about different kinds of building materials.Last year, the chapter also received awards for their performance at the Ohio Valley Student Conference hosted by Ohio State University. The competition brought together civil engineering students from 13 universities throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Pitt ASCE won first place overall in the surveying and environmental review paper categories.For more information about Pitt ASCE, visit: http://pittasce.weebly.com/ ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Mar

Mar
22
2018

The New Standards of Sustainability

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2018) … In 1948, Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the insecticide properties of organochlorine dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT. Many heralded it as a “miracle chemical” capable of protecting people from disease-carrying insects. Twenty-four years later, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, established by President Richard Nixon, banned DDT for threatening the environment, especially birds of prey, and human health.“DDT is interesting because it effectively eradicated serious diseases like typhus and malaria but was banned after later realizing its adverse impacts,” says Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “There are many examples of new technologies that aren’t so ‘green’ when you consider the entire product life cycle such as compact fluorescent lights that rely on toxic mercury for energy-efficiency gains, solar panels made with finite and rare metals, or electric cars charged by electricity generated from coal.”At the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Gilbertson’s research group takes a “systems approach” to new technologies to determine their impact on the environment from production to disposal. Last December, her research team published a review (DOI: 10.1039/c7en00766c) in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science: Nano featuring some of the ways nanotechnology might enhance agriculture sustainability, so long as designers and developers of these innovative solutions see the forest for the trees.“In sustainable engineering, our goal is to consider lasting effects when designing new technologies rather than narrowly focusing on the intended benefit,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “In agriculture, the potential exposure to new materials will almost always be high, so focusing design on reducing the inherent hazard, for example, would have a big impact.”The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts a 34 percent increase in world population and about a 70 percent required increase in food production by 2050. The increased demand for food will affect the entire supply chain including farmers, manufacturers, processors, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. Each individual stakeholder only provides a snapshot of new technology’s impact on the environment, but taking a systems approach forces you to account for the full picture.“A cost-benefit analysis is a common approach to quantify the usefulness of a new technology. Sustainable engineers evaluate new technologies similarly except we don’t only use dollars. We include other metrics like energy consumption or emissions to the environment. Accounting for all the various stakeholders, including their incentives and tradeoffs, allows us to define a design space where there’s a benefit to using emerging technologies,” says Dr. Gilbertson.Another paper (DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b03600) recently published by Dr. Gilbertson and her team appears in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and shows how a sustainability metric called “atom conversion efficiency” could accurately depict the environmental impact of chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen, for example, is a potent fertilizer. It can contaminate drinking water, deplete oxygen supplies in bodies of water, and create massive dead zones in water bodies like the Gulf of Mexico.“Nitrogen is a primary macronutrient in fertilizers, but only about 50 percent actually reaches the crop, meaning the other half is released to the environment. Nanotechnology could be used to increase the amount of nutrient that reaches the crop, simultaneously decreasing the adverse impacts on the environment,” explains Dr. Gilbertson.Using corn as the model crop, Dr. Gilbertson’s paper outlines how atom conversion efficiency tracks nitrogen through its entire agricultural life-cycle, from raw form to how much nitrogen ends up in a corn kernel. Keeping nitrogen on the farm protects the environment and reduces embedded energy loss—or the massive amounts of energy consumed during the production of fertilizer. “Atom conversion efficiency identifies the greatest inefficiencies in a fertilizer system, and thus, scientists and engineers can use it to inform technology development to improve these particular areas of impact,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize farming with nano-enabled fertilizers, crop growth regulators, pesticides, packaging materials, and sensors to monitor plant vitals. However, it’s important to take a systems approach to determine which new technologies will have the most desirable impact on the environment before they leave the lab.”If the only metric is controlling disease-carrying insect populations, then DDT is a “miracle chemical.” That designation quickly disappears when considering the entire life-cycle, including DDT’s adverse environmental impacts and potential to cause cancer in humans. Unfortunately, it had already been in use for three decades before the EPA banned it. Dr. Gilbertson is trying to make sure those same mistakes aren’t repeated in nano-agriculture. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
19
2018

Engineering Students Help to Improve Infrastructure in Panamanian Village

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

News Release from Pittwire Most Americans expect rooms to brighten with the flick of a switch and clean water to be available at the turn of a faucet, almost without a thought.However, many communities worldwide view these as more than simple amenities; to them, they are nearly impossible to obtain.That’s where innovative engineering comes into play — with the help of University of Pittsburgh students. The Pitt Humanities, Engineering and Design Club — or Pitt HEAD Club for short — is planning a June return to their work with the Emberá, an indigenous community in Panama’s Chagres National Park, where such amenities are scarce to nonexistent.In October 2017, the team installed about 30 solar panels for the community of 80 people, which will power a freezer to store the community’s freshly caught fish. In addition, new shower heads were installed in some homes to increase water pressure, and a pedestrian bridge was built for easier travel for the monthly journey by community members to the village’s water storage facility. “The project was a true engineering challenge and provided a great learning opportunity for all the students,” said Daniel Budny, associate professor of environmental engineering and the club’s academic adviser.Budny accompanied the six-student team in October to help with building the amenities, something he has been doing since the club’s inception in 2012.“Without him (Budny), nothing would have gotten done,” said team member and senior civil engineering student Nicholas McGinley. “He really pushed us to be successful and was blunt. He said we would have to get down there and we would have to improvise upon what we planned.”The club has been visiting Panama and other locations each semester for the past five years, helping to improve people's lives of people living by designing and installing such amenities as water storage tanks, water lines, community centers and garbage storage facilities, among others. Pitt HEAD Club members (from left to right) Nicholas McGinley, Stephen Anderjack and Robert Kountz work to construct a pedestrian bridge for the Emberá community members to more easily reach their water storage facility. The Team had to work in difficult terrain in the jungles of Chagres National Park, along with sweltering heat and limited technology. The recent mission to the Emberá was the team’s most arduous. The students had to navigate the Chagres River by canoe about 20 minutes round trip each day to reach the community. Along with that, the team didn't have cell phone or wifi access and worked in temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s with high humidity.While language barrier issues were also present, a translator was brought with the team to help communicate with the Emberá villagers.“I had never been in a rainforest before this, but you’re just sliding around on mud and you have a 50-pound bag of sand or a 25-foot beam on your shoulder,” said Robbie Kountz, a team member and senior civil and environmental engineering student. “Nothing really too dangerous though. And the people were amazing and happy to see all this coming together.”Along with that, two of the team’s larger solar panels were damaged during shipping. They had to be replaced as a result, but that did not deter the team from completing its mission. Within a few hours of the chest freezer installation, Emberá community members began storing that day’s fresh catch of corvina, a highly prized fish. About 30 solar panels were installed for the Emberá community during the Pitt HEAD Club's mission in October 2017. The panels collected energy from the sun to power the community's technology, including a freezer that stores freshly caught fish. “It’s really on-the-fly thinking at all times,” said Kountz. “You just can’t stop in your tracks. You have to keep improvising your plans.”While the Pitt HEAD Club funds its own missions and receives some support from local supply companies, it received help this year through a donation from John Swanson, the Swanson School’s namesake.“It was definitely great to know that the guy who this school is named after is a big supporter of what we do,” said McGinley. “It meant a lot.” About 30 bags were packed with batteries and tools needed to complete the mission. The solar panels and the mounts used to place them were designed by mechanical engineering students who did not fly down with the team. Pitt HEAD Club member Jon Abbey measures a support beam while working on a cover for the solar-powered freezer for fish storage. For their return to the village in June, the team members are working on getting more funding for a filtration system to improve the water quality, based on samples taken during this mission.Budny said while the mission serves to improve people’s lives in other parts of the world, it also serves to teach the students and others that engineering and other sciences can solve issues outside the lab.“Our work in many cases solves a lot of issues,” he said. “It shows students the humanitarian and social impact that engineering has on society.”The missions also give students a cultural experience. For some, this was their first time visiting Panama.“It was interesting seeing the different ways people lived,” said team member and senior civil engineering student Stephen Anderjack, one such first-time visitor. “It was really hot and humid, but it was a lot of fun.” ###

Mar
12
2018

Two Pitt Teams Finish in Top Three for Second Consecutive Year at Estimating Competition

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 12, 2018) … Two teams from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering finished in second and third at the 2018 Student Estimating Competition presented by the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP).“Last year our students came in first and third place at the inaugural competition, and they made a very competitive showing again this year,” said John T. Sebastian, professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Both performances speak to the caliber of our civil engineering students, and I expect to see our students continue to achieve at the top against their peers.”Nine teams participated in the competition including students from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania State University, and Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg.  As part of the competition, students received pre-job documents and attended a pre-bid meeting for a heavy-highway construction project. The teams spent the first day preparing bids and schedules. On the second day, they had 30 minutes to present their work and an explanation of how they arrived at their final bid to a panel of judges.The judges were employees from Mosites Construction Company; Swank Construction Company; Michael Facchiano Contracting, Inc.; Plum Contracting, Inc.; The Lane Construction Corporation; Brayman Construction Corporation; and Joseph B. Fay Co. Benedum Builders, the second place team, included Pitt students (left to right): Sam Byrns, Michael Donato, Mason Unger, Katey Paraskiewicz, and Hanna Rugh. Panther Estimators, the third place team, included Pitt students (left to right): Alexa Silverman, Benjamin Kottler, Matthew Lane, Nathan Irwin, and Dominic Matarazzo. Benedum Builders received $1,000 for finishing in second place. A team from the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown took the top spot. The Trumbull Corporation provided a job for the students to bid on, and Bill Woodford, retired Chief Estimator from Trumbull Corp., developed the structure of the competition. ### Photo credit: Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP)
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
1
2018

CEE Undergraduate Chaz Donnelly Wins American Bridge Leadership Award

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 1, 2018) … The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Pittsburgh Section presented Charles (Chaz) Donnelly, a senior civil engineering student at Pitt, the 2017-18 American Bridge Leadership Award. Donnelly was recognized for his impact on the Pittsburgh Section as well as his demonstrated leadership qualities in the civil engineering profession.“This is a highly competitive award open to all civil engineering students in the area covered by the Pittsburgh Section. Chaz is currently the president of our ASCE Student Chapter and, by all accounts, has been an outstanding leader,” said Anthony Iannacchione, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty advisor to ASCE Student Chapter. Dr. Iannacchione wrote Donnelly’s letter of nomination.As president of the Pitt ASCE student chapter, Donnelly has led the approximately 170 students since fall 2017. During this time, he expanded the chapter’s fundraising efforts and led the organization of the University of Pittsburgh’s Region 2 Assembly for ASCE members throughout Washington, D.C., parts of northern Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The assembly – which took place on November 4, 2017 – provided professional development opportunities and featured presentations on current engineering design practices from students, professors, and practitioners.ASCE has recognized the Pitt ASCE student chapter as a Ridgeway Finalist in both 2016 and 2017. There are approximately 350 ASCE student chapters nationwide, and only five chapters receive this recognition. In 2017, Pitt also received the ASCE Region 2 Distinguished Chapter Award.Donnelly is scheduled to graduate in December 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a concentration in geotechnical engineering. In addition to his coursework, he has had three co-op rotations with Massaro Construction Group. During this time, Donnelly managed subcontractor meetings, conducted follow-up meetings and assessments, developed and reviewed schedules, and resolved conflicts that arose from working with multiple contractors and stakeholders. In addition to his ASCE leadership, Donnelly is Vice President of the Pitt Space Ex/Astronomy Club. He has previously served as business manager for the American Society of Highway Engineers student chapter and membership chair, steel bridge captain, and technical paper captain for the Ohio Valley Student Conference. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Feb

Feb
7
2018

Master Builders’ Association Awards $15,000 to Pitt Civil Engineering Students

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (February 7, 2018) … The Master Builders’ Association of Western Pennsylvania, Inc. (MBA) and the Construction Advancement Program (CAP) honored three University of Pittsburgh students with $15,000 in scholarships at the MBA’s Annual Membership Reception. All three students belonged to the Swanson School’s undergraduate Civil Engineering Program and focus on Construction Management.The top prize of $10,000 went to Alexander Citerone, and second place went to Nicole Bell and Kate Lundy, who were in a statistical tie and split awards of $2,500 at the annual banquet on January 19 at the Duquesne Club in downtown Pittsburgh.“Construction Management encompasses a broad skill set capable of meeting modern challenges in building, and rebuilding, public and private infrastructure,” said John T. Sebastian, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. “These are some of the most remarkable students at the University, and we’re grateful for the MBA’s and CAP’s investment in their success.”Mr. Sebastian joined Pitt in 2015 as the inaugural McKamish Construction Management Director. In addition to developing an undergraduate concentration in Construction Management, the Directorship established the MS in Civil Engineering with a Construction Management Focus at Pitt, which emphasizes managerial decision-making in an engineering context. The MBA and CAP have awarded nearly $180,000 in annual scholarships to Pitt students since 1998. The scholarship program began through a collaboration between CAP and Pitt Engineering that identified Construction Management as a critical area of focus to improve the skills and marketability of Pitt graduates as well as the quality of engineers entering the workforce after graduation.About CAPThe Construction Advancement Program is a service organization established in 1961 via the collective bargaining agreements between the MBA and the various building trade unions. The primary function of CAP is to provide services benefiting all persons, management, and labor alike, who earn their living in union construction.About the MBASince 1886, MBA contractors have set the standard in Western PA for construction excellence by investing in a skilled workforce, implementing award-winning safety programs, and offering the best management expertise. For more information on the MBA, please call 412-922-3912 or visit www.mbawpa.org. ### Above image: Alexander Citerone (left) and Kate Lundy (right) at the Master Builders' Association Annual Membership Reception
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Feb
7
2018

Growing a more sustainable banana

Civil & Environmental

Read the full article at NPR. ...Disease threatens the Cavendish banana, too. A similar fungal strain to Panama disease, called Tropical Race 4, has decimated banana crops in recent years. So conventional banana cultivation relies on a mix of fungicides, herbicides and nematocides, says Carla Ng, an environmental engineer at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied pesticide runoff from banana farms. Ng says that the levels of pesticides that wind up in your banana are regulated to be within a safe range for consumption. But her research has found that pesticides sprayed on conventional banana crops can put surrounding ecosystems at risk. "Even when the fruit are perfectly well below [pesticide limits for humans], you can still reach peak concentrations in the environment that are above critical toxic thresholds," Ng says. She says pesticide runoff from bananas can wind up concentrating in waterways, threatening fish and other water dwellers.

Feb
5
2018

Data-driven dialogue

Civil & Environmental

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (February 5, 2018) ... It’s been a decade since the start of the Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania, and today more than 10,000 unconventional gas wells dot the state’s hills and valleys. The industry’s rapid development created economic opportunities for many, but also brought environmental concerns, and sometimes led to contentious conversations. A team of researchers studying water quality around hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract gas from rock deep underground, have found a blueprint to move those conversations forward. Shale Network for the past six years has fostered a dialogue about shale drilling between concerned citizens, watershed groups, government regulators and personnel from large energy companies by focusing on publicly available water quality data. An annual workshop hosted at the Penn State’s University Park campus gives people a chance to come together, learn about the latest water quality research and data, and talk about ways to move forward together. “I don’t believe that anyone else was able to bring such a diverse group of people together to discuss this extremely complex problem from their unique perspectives, with a common goal to jointly advance the understanding of this problem and rationally discuss possible ways forward,” noted Radisav Vidic, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and a Shale Network member. A shared interest in gathering, discussing and improving water quality data among diverse groups can lead to productive conversations that data alone cannot address, the scientists reported in “Engaging over data on fracking and water quality,” published in the journal Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6520). “We’ve been trying to figure out how to pull people together and look at numbers to understand impacts,” said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State. “That can lead to better decisions. “That’s really what Shale Network is all about,” said Brantley, who is lead investigator of the group. “We want to help everyone understand what the numbers — in this case water chemistry numbers — mean related to shale gas development.” For the past six years, Shale Network researchers have collected and published water quality data online. Their database contains more than a million pieces of data from 28,000 locations across the state, some never available before. The Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI) hosts the public database with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). “We have all these data points that are starting to be at our fingertips, and we have computational tools to work with the data,” Brantley said. “Yet, the numbers don’t mean anything unless you are working together. Not just with geologists or geochemists, but people who live in the area the data comes from. You need that collaboration to understand what the numbers mean. Local community members teach us about their landscapes and their needs.” Brantley said people know what is happening in their backyards. Watershed groups near Pittsburgh, for instance, know to look out for discharge from old coalmines, which wouldn’t be a factor in other parts of the state. The database has proven useful, but even more important has been the process of building it, the researchers said in the paper. Collaborations between diverse stakeholders have helped forge a social network with diverse perspectives and concerns. “We may have developed a blueprint for how to engage different stakeholders and develop a commonality of purpose even in something as controversial and complicated as unconventional gas extraction,” Vidic said. “Perhaps this blueprint can be applied for the same problem elsewhere in the world or for other complex problems.” Shale Network researchers act as honest brokers in discussions like those that take place at the group’s annual workshops. “We are not trying to prove fracking is bad,” Brantley said. “We are not trying to prove water quality is perfect. We are trying to look at what the water chemistry looks like in the areas where fracking is occurring and help all kinds of people talk about that together.” Co-authors include Kathryn Brasier, associate professor of rural sociology, Dave Yoxtheimer, EESI research assistant, and Tao Wen, a post-doctoral scholar, all at Penn State; Candie Wilderman, professor emerita at Dickinson College; and Jonathan Pollack, CUAHSI program manager. Founded in 2010 with NSF funding, the Shale Network is a collaborative effort between Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Dickinson College and CUAHSI to collect and analyze data on water quality in the Marcellus Shale drilling region. ###
Matt Carroll, Science Writer, Penn State Earth and Environmental Systems Institute

Jan

Jan
31
2018

Pitt “Inventor Labs” Look to Inspire the Next Generation of Green Engineers

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (January 31, 2018) … A new grant awarded to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering will encourage collaboration between university engineering students and K-12 students across the region. The funding will support the creation of Inventor Labs that strengthen community ties by providing hands-on learning spaces in underserved schools and communities in the region.“Our goal is to engage students from a young age through the time they start applying to colleges by giving them opportunities to interact with science and technology,” says David Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental engineering and Assistant Director at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. “This is the third consecutive year Pitt received the award, and it will help us continue to grow the large network of University resources we share with our community neighbors.”The $35,000 grant comes from Constellation, an Exelon company—a provider of power, natural gas, and renewable energy headquartered in Baltimore—as part of its E2 Energy to Educate program. Dr. Sanchez is the director of the Energy to Educate program at Pitt and coordinates University efforts to engage K-12 students, teachers, and communities with concepts in clean energy solutions and sustainability.“The Community Engagement Center and the Manufacturing Assistance Center Makerspace are two existing programs at the University of Pittsburgh we are leveraging in particular to help achieve our goal of strengthening our community presence and creating opportunities for students to learn about energy and sustainable engineering,” Dr. Sanchez says.The heart of the project is student participation and the development of student-made, energy technology prototypes. Through a series of “Design-Build” challenges, students will learn about sustainability issues surrounding electric cars, wind and water turbines, and waste-heat and wastewater.“The Design-Build challenges are based on engineering concepts linked to Pittsburgh themes like self-driving car initiatives and an abundance of dams and rivers,” adds Dr. Sanchez.Dr. Sanchez plans to help a total of 60 student teams this year learn about engineering design, embedded systems, programming, and energy devices. Students will be able to showcase their creations at their schools, enter them in tech competitions, and implement them in their communities.“The students will be building electric cars powered by Lithium-ion batteries, small-scale wind turbines, and solar panels to power water treatment pumps,” says Dr. Sanchez. “The really interesting thing is the students will get feedback on their prototypes from engineers currently working in the energy field.”Last year alone, the award funding helped Pitt directly impact more than 1,500 students from universities, charter schools, middle schools, and outreach programs. The “Teach the Teacher” program, a two-day workshop at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, indirectly impacted an additional 1,300 students by instructing teachers from the region how to integrate sustainable engineering concepts into their classrooms.The award also supported collaboration with Swanson School student clubs and local pre-college students. Dr. Sanchez participated in The Society of Women Engineers’ “Girls Engineering in Middle School” day and taught them how to build electrical circuits out of clay. He also helped high school and middle school students build wind turbines at The National Society of Black Engineers “A Walk for Education,” their largest service and outreach program. Constellation also served as one of the sponsors for the Design EXPO showcasing more than 90 projects from 400 Pitt engineering students.“In the same way we strive to find sustainable solutions to engineering challenges, we want to use this funding to create a sustainable impact on the community. Enhancing the personal and technical formation of each of these students in the realm of energy and sustainable engineering is not only a joy to be a part of but an opportunity to build long term community equity,” says Dr. Sanchez. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jan
7
2018

Road to Success

Civil & Environmental

Professor Mark Magalotti comments on how improved vehicle efficiency has impacted infrastructure funding. View the video and transcript here.
Full Measure
Jan
3
2018

CEE's Andy Bunger Collaborates with LSU Faculty in Gulf Research Grant

Civil & Environmental

12-07-17 LSU Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering faculty Wesley Williams and Mileva Radonjic received more than $7.5 million of the total $10.8 million awarded today by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to projects that address systemic risk in offshore oil and gas operations.Williams, a professional in residence, received $4,910,000 for his project, “Experiments on Multiphase Flow of Live Muds in a Full-Scale Wellbore With Distributed Sensing for Kick and Gas-in-Riser Detection/Mitigation.” The research is being conducted in cooperation with Texas A&M University and Weatherford.Radonjic, an associate professor, received $2,614,000 for her project, “Mitigating Risks to Hydrocarbon Release Through Integrative Advanced Materials for Wellbore Plugging and Remediation.” The work is being conducted in cooperation with LSU Petroleum Engineering Assistant Professor Ipsita Gupta, Andrew Bunger from the University of Pittsburgh, Raissa Feron from the University of Texas at Austin and Malin Torsater from SINTEF, a research company in Norway. Read the full article here.
Joshua Duplechain, Director of Communications, LSU