Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Mar

Mar
8
2017

Five Pitt engineering faculty set university and school record by receiving competitive NSF CAREER awards in first months of 2017

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 8, 2017) … The National Science Foundation CAREER award is the organization’s most coveted and competitive research prize for junior faculty, and in the first few months of 2017, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has been awarded five CAREER grants totaling more than $2.5 million in research funding. The CAREER program “recognizes faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” The five awards – three in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and one each in Civil and Environmental and Electrical and Computer – are the most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. The three Chemical and Petroleum Engineering CAREER awards also represent the most received by a single department within the Swanson School. The faculty applied for the awards during the NSF’s 2016 solicitation period.“This is a tremendous accomplishment for our faculty, and will greatly assist them in establishing their research at this early stage of their academic careers,” noted Gerald D. Holder, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering and Distinguished Service Professor at Pitt. “This is the first time that five individuals at the Swanson School received CAREER awards in one year, which speaks to the caliber of their research.” David Vorp, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, added, “Research funding at the federal level grows tighter and more competitive each year, and so we’re very proud that these five outstanding faculty members developed such strong proposals. Most importantly, the CAREER awards include a community engagement component which is critical to inspiring future STEM careers in children and young adults.” The award recipients include: Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering John Keith, Inaugural R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy and Assistant Professor ($500,000)Title: SusChEM: Unlocking local solvation environments for energetically efficient hydrogenations with quantum chemistry (#1653392)Summary: This project will address the production of carbon-neutral liquid fuels via electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol.  Its focus will integrate high-level electronic structure theory, molecular dynamics, and machine learning to understand how interactions between solvent molecules, salts, and co-solutes regulate CO2 reduction from greenhouse gas into fuels. The graduate and undergraduate students in Dr. Keith's lab group will also develop educational modules to engage and excite students in the Pittsburgh Public School District about opportunities in STEM fields, with an emphasis on renewable energy and computational chemistry. Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, Assistant Professor ($500,000)Title: Designing synthesizable, ligand-protected bimetallic nanoparticles and modernizing engineering curriculum through computational nanoscience (#1652694)Summary: Although scientists can chemically synthesize metal nanoparticles (NPs) of different shapes and sizes, understanding of NP growth mechanisms affecting their final morphology and associated properties is limited. With the potential for NPs to impact fields from energy to medicine and the environment, determining with computer simulations the NP growth mechanisms and morphologies that can be synthesized in the lab is critical to advance NP application. Because this is a relatively new field, traditional core courses in science and engineering lack examples from the nanotechnology arena. In addition to improving the research, the award will enable Dr. Mpourmpakis and his lab group to modernize the traditional course of Chemical Thermodynamics by introducing animation material based on cutting-edge nanotechnology examples, and developing a nanoscale-inspired interactive computer game. Christopher Wilmer, Assistant Professor ($500,000)Title: Fundamental limits of physical adsorption in porous materials (#1653375)Summary: The development of new porous materials is critical to improving important gas storage and separations applications, and will have a positive impact on reducing greenhouse gases. This includes the deployment of methane and/or hydrogen gases as alternative fuels, development of new filters for removing trace gaseous contaminants from air, and separation of carbon dioxide from flue gas to mitigate greenhouse emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Dr. Wilmer’s grant will enable his lab to utilize computational methods to probe the limits of material performance for physical adsorption to porous materials. Although past computational screening has suggested physical limits of adsorption capacity for metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), this project will explore the novel use of so-called “pseudomaterials,” which represent all potential atomistic arrangements of matter in a porous material. As part of community outreach, Dr. Wilmer’s research group will develop educational movies on the fundamental science of gas adsorption, including those relevant to carbon capture to mitigate climate change. Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringKyle J. Bibby, Assistant Professor ($500,000)Title: Quantitative viral metagenomics for water quality assessment (#1653356)Summary: U.S. beaches and waterways often are closed to human contact when tests indicate an increase in E. coli, usually after heavy rains overwhelm sewage systems. However, the concentration of these common bacteria is not a reliable indicator of viruses in the water, which present a greater danger of causing illness in humans. Dr. Bibby’s research will focus on developing new DNA sequencing methods to directly measure viral loads in water and better indicate potential threats to human health. Dr. Bibby’s group, which previously studied persistence of the Ebola virus in the environment and has worked to develop novel indicators of viral contamination, will utilize quantitative viral metagenomics for viral water quality assessment. The CAREER Award includes an outreach component that allows Dr. Bibby to engage with students at the Pittsburgh Public School’s Science & Technology Academy (SciTech) next to the Swanson School, leading to development of a hands-on educational module for high school students to characterize microbial water quality. Dr. Bibby will also utilize the research to expand the H2Oh! interactive exhibit he developed with the Carnegie Science Center, enabling children to better understand the impact of water quality on everyday life. Department of Electrical & Computer EngineeringErvin Sejdić, Assistant Professor and 2016 PECASE Recipient ($549,139)Title: Advanced data analytics and high-resolution cervical auscultation can accurately predict dysphagia (#1652203)Summary: Dysphagia, or swallowing disorders, affects nearly one in 25 adults, especially the elderly and those who have suffered a stroke or neurological disease, and results in approximately 150,000 hospitalizations annually. A patient’s risk for dysphagia is diagnosed first by screening, and may require an endoscopy or fluoroscopy for further evaluation. However, some patients who aspirate do so silently, causing doctors to misdiagnose. Dr. Sejdić will utilize high-resolution vibration and sound recordings to develop a new screening technology to help doctors diagnose dysphagia and patients to learn how to properly swallow while eating or drinking. Dr. Sejdić and his lab group will also collaborate with speech language pathologists to develop an online learning module to further education and outreach throughout the U.S. ###

Feb

Feb
14
2017

A Better Way to Swallow

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (February 14, 2017) … Dysphagia, or swallowing disorders, affects nearly one in 25 adults, especially the elderly and those who have suffered a stroke or neurological disease, and results in approximately 150,000 hospitalizations annually. A patient’s risk for dysphagia is first diagnosed by screening, and may require an endoscopy or fluoroscopy for further evaluation. However, some patients who aspirate do so silently, causing doctors to misdiagnose. To develop an improved screening method for dysphagia, the National Science Foundation awarded a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering a CAREER Award through the NSF’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems. Ervin Sejdić, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, received a five-year, $549,139 award to further research using high-resolution vibration and sound recordings that would help doctors diagnose dysphagia and assist patients in improving how to properly swallow while eating or drinking. The CAREER program is the NSF’s most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify outstanding research, teaching, and their integration.  Dr. Sejdić, who began this research while a postdoctoral associate at the University of Toronto and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Canada's largest children's rehabilitation hospital, explained that an improved, non-invasive method to detect dysphagia could help to reduce patient risk and hospitalization. “By using modern data analytics we can compare and contrast the sound and vibrations of normal swallowing against patients with dysphagia,” Dr. Sejdić explained. “This allows us to understand how the airway normally protects itself during swallowing to avoid aspiration, and how this is affected during dysphagia, without the need for surgery or intubation.”According to Dr. Sejdić, patients with silent dysphagia may pass a traditional screening, which increases the potential for choking and suffocation. Analyzing the sounds and vibrations from the neck would not only reduce the incidence of silent aspiration, but also the need for conservative recommendations that limit eating and drinking for individuals with neurological disabilities such as multiple sclerosis or ALS. In addition to developing the technology, the award will allow Dr. Sejdić to collaborate with speech language pathologists to develop an online learning module to further education and outreach throughout the U.S. He would also like to utilize the data analysis to design a mobile device that would help patients while eating, but notes that possibility is several years in the future. "Endoscopy and fluoroscopy are still the gold standard for detecting dysphagia,” Dr. Sejdić said. “For now we’re not looking at replacing them but rather enhancing and improving the screening process.” ### About Dr. Sejdić Dr. Sejdić’s research interests include biomedical signal processing, gait analysis, swallowing difficulties, advanced information systems in medicine, rehabilitation engineering, assistive technologies, and anticipatory medical devices. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Sejdić specialized in wireless communications, while his PhD project focused on signal processing. These two areas would influence his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering cross-appointed at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, where he focused on rehabilitation engineering and biomedical instrumentation. He was also a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School cross-appointed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he focused on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular monitoring of older diabetic adults. Dr. Sejdić has co-authored over 130 publications and is the co-holder of several patents. In 2016, he was one of four Pitt faculty and 105 researchers nationwide to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Jan

Jan
30
2017

Swanson School well-represented among recipients of 2017 Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds from the Innovation Institute

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (January 30, 2017) ... The University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute has awarded $140,000 to four Pitt Innovator teams to help them move their discoveries towards commercialization, where they can make a positive impact on society. The Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds were established to provide support for promising early-stage Pitt innovations to assist in reducing the technical and/or market risk associated with the innovations and make them more attractive to investors or potential licensees. One of the paths for identifying funding opportunities is through a request for proposal program that was launched in November of 2016 and recently culminated in these awards. “We are thrilled to be able to provide these funds to entrepreneurial Pitt faculty and graduate students to help expedite their commercialization journey,” said Marc Malandro, Founding Director of the Innovation Institute. “Often the most difficult hurdle to climb for commercializing University research is providing so-called ‘gap’ funding that can bridge the space between a promising idea and a marketable product.” The teams were selected by a panel of judges from a pool of two dozen applicants that was narrowed into a group of 10 finalists. The judges included several members of the region’s innovation and entrepreneurship community. They included: Nehal Bhojak – Director of Innovation, Idea Foundry Malcolm Handelsman – President, Pittsburgh Chapter, Keiretsu Forum Jim Jordan – President, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Andy Kuzneski – President, Kuzneski Financial Group Rich Lunak – President & CEO, InnovationWorks Mike Stubler — Managing Director, Draper Triangle Ventures “There were an impressive array of technologies presented by the finalists for the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds. The business applications ranged from novel technologies for cancer therapy and biosensors for congestive heart failure to next generation LED displays and water desalination solutions.  The projects demonstrate not only the breadth of the University of Pittsburgh’s research prowess, but also the excellent coaching and preparation the innovators received from Pitt’s Innovation Institute,” Lunak said. Two awards of $35,000 each were made for innovations with a one-to-one matching partner: Thermoresponsive Hydrogel for Orbital Volume Augmentation Morgan Fedorchak, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Chemical Engineering and Clinical and Translational Science and Jenny Yu, Assistant Professor and Vice Chair, Clinical Operations Department of Ophthalmology, have discovered a non-degradable hydrogel material that can be injected into the orbit of the eye following ocular trauma or as a treatment for genetic eye disorders. The material can also be used to administer anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medications. The funding will be used to provide proof-of-concept studies. Data from the successful completion of the studies will better position the innovation for application to the Department of Defense for funding to explore the therapeutic potential of the technology. Matching funds will come from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Military Medicine Research, whose mission is to address combat-related injuries. Body Explorer: Autonomous Simulated Patient Douglas Nelson Jr. doctoral candidate in the Department of Bioengineering, John O’Donnell, Professor & Chair Department of Nurse Anesthesia, and Joseph Samosky, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering have developed a mannequin medical simulator with projected augmented reality for training medical professionals in anatomy, physiology and clinical procedures. The team has previously participated in the Coulter Translational Partners II program and the Idea Foundry’s Science Accelerator to advance prototype development and usability testing. The new funding will assist in improving the user interface and expanding the BodyExplorer curriculum modules. Click here to see a video describing their invention. Idea Foundry is providing 1:1 matching cash support, in addition to $25,000 of additional in-kind support to assist in securing additional investment. Two projects received $35,000 awards without a matching requirement. Nano-LED Technology for Microdisplays Hong Koo Kim, Bell of PA/Bell Atlantic Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and doctoral student Daud Hasan Emon have developed nano LED structures that have lower energy costs and longer battery life than existing LED technology. Applications include mobile device displays and other micro-display devices. The new funding will support the advancement of prototypes to demonstrate the breadth of the optimal applications. Reactive Extraction of Water: Desalination Without Membranes or Distillation Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor of Chemical Engineering, has developed a chemical method for desalinating water that requires less energy than the longstanding existing methods such as reverse osmosis or flash distillation. The award will fund testing to validate the technology. Malandro said the Innovation Institute is working with those teams not chosen in this funding round to receive other education and funding opportunities to advance their discoveries. The Pitt Ventures Gear Program is an NSF I-Corps Site participant that provides an initial grant of $3,000 for teams to conduct customer discovery and value proposition activities. At the conclusion of each six-week First Gear cohort, teams pitch their ideas for the opportunity to receive from $5,000 to $20,000 from the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds program. The teams are also eligible to apply for a second round of NSF funding of up to $50,000 from the national I-Corps program. The next First Gear cohort begins February 14, 2017. Applications are due February 1. Click here to learn more and apply. ###
Mike Yeomans, Marketing & Special Events Manager, Innovation Institute