Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Jul

Jul
10
2017

How do you build a metal nanoparticle?

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 10, 2017) … Although scientists have for decades been able to synthesize nanoparticles in the lab, the process is mostly trial and error, and how the formation actually takes place is obscure. However, a study recently published in Nature Communications by chemical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering explains how metal nanoparticles form. “Thermodynamic Stability of Ligand-Protected Metal Nanoclusters” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15988) was co-authored by Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and PhD candidate Michael G. Taylor. The research, completed in Mpourmpakis’ Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.), is funded through a National Science Foundation CAREER award and bridges previous research focused on designing nanoparticles for catalytic applications.“Even though there is extensive research into metal nanoparticle synthesis, there really isn’t a rational explanation why a nanoparticle is formed,” Dr. Mpourmpakis said. “We wanted to investigate not just the catalytic applications of nanoparticles, but to make a step further and understand nanoparticle stability and formation. This new thermodynamic stability theory explains why ligand-protected metal nanoclusters are stabilized at specific sizes.”A ligand is a molecule that binds to metal atoms to form metal cores that are stabilized by a shell of ligands, and so understanding how they contribute to nanoparticle stabilization is essential to any process of nanoparticle application. Dr. Mpourmpakis explained that previous theories describing why nanoclusters stabilized at specific sizes were based on empirical electron counting rules – the number of electrons that form a closed shell electronic structure, but show limitations since there have been metal nanoclusters experimentally synthesized that do not necessarily follow these rules. “The novelty of our contribution is that we revealed that for experimentally synthesizable nanoclusters there has to be a fine balance between the average bond strength of the nanocluster’s metal core, and the binding strength of the ligands to the metal core,” he said. “We could then relate this to the structural and compositional characteristic of the nanoclusters, like size, number of metal atoms, and number of ligands.“Now that we have a more complete understanding of this stability, we can better tailor the nanoparticle morphologies and in turn properties, to applications from biolabeling of individual cells and targeted drug delivery to catalytic reactions, thereby creating more efficient and sustainable production processes.” ### Image above: Structure of a ligand-protected Au25 nanocluster (credit: C.A.N.E.LA.)

Jun

Jun
22
2017

Christopher Wilmer Wins AIChE Young Investigator Award for Modeling and Simulation

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 22, 2017) … The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) selected Christopher Wilmer , assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, as its 2017 recipient of the Young Investigator Award for Modeling and Simulation. The AIChE Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum (CoMSEF) presents the award annually to one individual who received his/her highest degree within the past seven years. “In the three years since Chris came to Pitt, I have watched him pursue research topics with the potential to have a profound impact on energy, the environment, and society as a whole,” said Steven Little , the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt. “By reaching so high, he has been able to accomplish so much during the very early stages of what promises to be an extraordinary career. The CoMSEF Young Investigator Award is one of the most prestigious honors in chemical engineering simulation and modeling, and truly reflects the breadth and depth of Chris’ career over such a short period.” The AIChE CoMSEF Young Investigator Award for Modeling and Simulation accepts applicants throughout academia, industry, or government laboratories. According to AIChE, the award recognizes “outstanding research in computational molecular science and engineering, encompassing both methods and applications." In addition to the award, Dr. Wilmer will receive a plaque, honorarium, and invitation to give a talk within the CoMSEF Plenary session at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., this October. Dr. Wilmer is the fifth recipient of this award since its establishment in 2013. About Dr. Wilmer Dr. Wilmer’s research focuses on the use of large-scale molecular simulations to help find promising materials for energy and environmental applications. He is the principal investigator of the Hypothetical Materials Lab at Pitt and leads his team in solving energy and environmental challenges with complex, hypothetical nanostructures called “molecular machines.” He earned his bachelor’s degree in applied science from the University of Toronto’s Engineering Science—Nanoengineering program, and his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Northwestern under the mentorship of Prof. Randall Q. Snurr. While at Northwestern, Dr. Wilmer took an interest in developing new technologies through entrepreneurship and co-founded NuMat Technologies, which designs porous materials that could be used to make better natural gas fuel tanks for vehicles. In 2012, the company won the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, while Dr. Wilmer was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Energy.” He has authored more than 20 publications and holds more than 500 article citations. For more information visit Dr. Wilmer’s website at www.wilmerlab.com . ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
16
2017

ChemE Department Appoints Two New Vice Chairs

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (June 16, 2017) … In response to increasing enrollment and curricular evolution, two Vice Chair positions for faculty have been established in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Taryn Bayles will become the Vice Chair for Undergraduate Education, and Robert Parker will become the Vice Chair for Graduate Education.“Taryn’s and Bob’s shared commitment to our students is very moving to me, and I am quite impressed with the visions that they set forth,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “They have the Department’s full support in achieving those visions, and I could not be more excited to serve alongside them.”Joseph McCarthy, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, will leave his current role in the Department as Vice Chair for Education to become the University of Pittsburgh Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies on August 1, 2017.As Vice Chair for Undergraduate Education, Dr. Bayles will be responsible for the academic experience of students through the Pillars program, a National Science Foundation-funded grant designed to reform the undergraduate Chemical Engineering curriculum at Pitt. Her focus will be on increasing diversity, inclusion, and student satisfaction.Dr. Parker served as the Department’s graduate program coordinator from 2006 – 2012. He will be responsible for building the graduate program quality and diversity, with a focus on engaging the post-graduate community.About Dr. BaylesPrior to joining Pitt, Dr. Bayles was the Undergraduate Program Director in Chemical, Biochemical and Environmental Engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Under her leadership, the program enrollment more than quadrupled and the percentage of female and underrepresented minority students increased. She has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on $6.6 million in NSF awards that focus on support and mentoring for undergraduate students, outreach, and hands-on design experiences. She has developed and led more than 100 workshops with more than 5,000 participants for K-12 students, K-12 teachers, college students, and faculty members.   Dr. Bayles was awarded the University System of Maryland Regents Award for Collaboration in Public Service and the University System of Maryland Regents Award for Excellence in Mentoring. These are the highest awards given for faculty achievement in the University of Maryland system. To increase diversity at Pitt, she will draw upon her experience with the Meyerhoff program, in which she developed and led engineering workshops for the summer bridge program and received the Mentor of the Year Award. Since joining Pitt, Dr. Bayles has incorporated a hands-on design project in the CHE 0100 course, which was to design, build, test, and analyze a hemodialysis system. She serves as the faculty advisor of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) student chapter and the ChemE Car team. Dr. Bayles also serves as Chair of the Education Division of AIChE and the Publications Board of Chemical Engineering Education.About Dr. ParkerDr. Parker joined the University of Pittsburgh faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and was promoted to Professor in 2014. His research program focuses on systems medicine and the use of mathematical models in the design of clinical decision support systems. He has been recognized for excellence in education through awards such as the Carnegie Science Center Excellence in Higher Education Award, the David L. Himmelblau Award from the Computing and Systems Technology (CAST) Division of AIChE, and most recently the 2017 Swanson School of Engineering Outstanding Educator Award. His commitment to a collaborative future in graduate education formed the basis of two funded Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) training programs, as well as the Systems Medicine Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. In addition to developing graduate-level training programs to support PhD students, Dr. Parker will lead graduate admissions, manage PhD timelines including qualifying examinations, support graduate recruiting, work with the Swanson School Office of Diversity to continue building a diverse graduate program, serve as the faculty advisor of the Department's Graduate Student Association, and manage faculty teaching assignments. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
8
2017

Royal Society of Chemistry Journal Names ChemE’s John Keith One of Materials Chemistry’s “Rising Stars”

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (June 8, 2017) … The Journal of Materials Chemistry A, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, included University of Pittsburgh researcher John Keith in its list of Emerging Investigators in 2017. The journal’s themed issue highlighted “rising stars” of materials chemistry research recommended by experts in the field.Dr. Keith, assistant professor and the inaugural Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, was included in the journal for his work on “Computational investigation of CO2 electroreduction on tin oxide and predictions of Ti, V, Nb and Zr dopants for improved catalysis” (DOI: 10.1039/C7TA00405B).The paper outlines the work of Dr. Keith and his team on improving the performance of tin electrocatalysts for CO2 reduction. By using computational quantum chemistry modeling, the researchers studied reaction mechanisms on partially-reduced tin oxide surfaces and which elemental dopant additives can be added to make the CO2 conversion more energy efficient.“Some of the dopants we modeled were already known to improve CO2 conversion energy efficiencies, and since our models could predict those cases we’re confident the other dopants we predicted as improving efficiencies are very promising for future work,” said Dr. Keith. “Our work demonstrates how we can modify tin-based oxide materials to make them better at converting CO2 into useful chemicals and fuels.”As Principal Investigator and Founder of the Keith Lab in Computational Chemistry at Pitt, Dr. Keith studies atomic scale reaction mechanisms to understand how to design better catalysts whether the goal is a commodity chemical made from CO2 or an anticorrosion coating for the US Navy.Joining Dr. Keith on the study were PhD students Karthikeyan Saravanan and Yasemin Basdogan as well as James Dean, a former undergraduate researcher that was supported by Pitt’s NSF-sponsored Particle-based Functional Materials Research Experience for Undergraduates program.About Dr. KeithJohn Keith is a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Energy and affiliated with Pitt’s Center for Energy as its R. K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy. After obtaining his PhD from Caltech, he was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ulm and then an Associate Research Scholar at Princeton University. He began his appointment at Pitt in September 2013. His group uses first-principles based computational chemistry modeling to study chemical reaction mechanisms and design materials and catalysts for energy storage and conversion. Current research activities focus on atomic scale mechanisms for CO2 conversion, computer-aided design of molecular chelants, and tuning oxide materials for catalysis via doping. In 2017, Dr. Keith received a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.About Journal of Materials Chemistry AThe Journal of Materials Chemistry A publishes research related to “high impact applications, properties, and synthesis of exciting new materials for energy and sustainability.” The journal has an impact factor of 8.262, and there are 48 issues per year in addition to its themed collections. The Royal Society of Chemistry has more than 54,000 members internationally and publishes 43 peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Materials Chemistry A and its two sister publications: Journal of Materials Chemistry B and Journal of Materials Chemistry C. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

May

May
30
2017

Carborane research by ChemE researcher Giannis Mpourmpakis lands cover of Catalysis Science & Technology

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 30, 2017) … Research at the University of Pittsburgh into a more energy-efficient catalytic process to produce olefins, the building blocks for polymer production, was recently featured on the inside front cover of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Catalysis Science & Technology (21 May 2017, Issue 10). The team’s investigations could impact potential applications in diverse technology areas from green energy and sustainable chemistry to materials engineering and catalysis. “Carboranes: the strongest Brønsted acids in alcohol dehydration” (DOI: 10.1039/C7CY00458C) was authored by Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering. PhD candidate Pavlo Kostetskyy and undergraduate student Nicholas A. Zervoudis, part of Mpourmpakis’ Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.), are co-authors. Pitt’s Center for Simulation and Modeling provided computational support. “Carboranes are one of the strongest known acids, but little is known about how these molecular catalysts can dehydrate biomass-derived alcohols,” Dr. Mpourmpakis explained. “Our computational research not only detailed the mechanism under which alcohols dehydrate on these catalysts, but most importantly we developed linear relationships between the energy input needed to observe dehydration of alcohols and the alcohol characteristics.” According to the paper, “these obtained relationships are especially relevant to the field of solid acid catalysis, a widely studied area with a vast range of industrial applications, including the formation of olefins (polymer building blocks) from biomass-derived alcohols as well as fuels and chemicals from sugars and polyols.” The group’s research focused on primary, secondary and tertiary alcohols, and revealed the slope of linear relationships depending on the reaction mechanism. “This research is important because now experimentalists have a way to identify the reaction followed when different alcohols dehydrate,” Mpourmpakis said. “Because this process involves biomass-based production of polymers, we can potentially create a more sustainable and energy-efficient process.” ### Image above: Inside front cover of Catalysis Science & Technology. Catal. Sci. Technol., 2017, 7, 1974-1974 - Reproduced by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.

May
17
2017

NSF Grant Provides Research Opportunities for Undergraduates at Pitt

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (May 17, 2017) … According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), research experience is one of the most effective avenues for attracting students to and retaining them in science and engineering, as well as to preparing them for careers in these fields. Thanks to NSF, an engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will once again be able to better prepare undergraduates for academia, research, and industry. The NSF awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant to provide undergraduate students with research opportunities in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The three-year, $425,000 grant will fund a 10-week summer research program for students and provide them with a stipend and financial assistance for food, housing, and travel.Principal Investigator Joseph McCarthy, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will lead the REU program. Dr. McCarthy co-authored the grant proposal “REU Site: Enhancing Knowledge Integration Through Undergraduate Research – Particle-based Functional Materials for Energy, Sustainability, and Biomedicine.” Co-Principal Investigator Taryn M. Bayles, also a professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will assist with the REU program.As a Particle-based Functional Materials (PFM) REU grant, the student research will comprise computational and experimental studies of materials that fulfill a specific function either because of their particulate nature or the influence of particles on structure. The program will admit 12 students each year beginning in 2017 and take place between May and August. “The impact of this program for these young students cannot be overstated,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “My own story goes all the way back to 1998 when I came to the University of Pittsburgh as an undergraduate student that applied to the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering through an REU program. That experience is likely a major part of why I went to graduate school in the first place.”The PFM REU program is in its third round of funding and is the second funded grant for the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering to help provide research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students focused on this topic. For more than a decade, this REU program combined with a similar program called the PFM Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowships have provided both undergraduate and graduate students with research opportunities at Pitt. By the end of this funding cycle, these combined programs will have sponsored over 100 students to pursue their research goals.In addition to working with Pitt graduate students and faculty, undergraduate students accepted in the REU program will work in teams on a “cross-training” internship. They will complete a mini-project in a different area of particle-based functional materials. They can also attend weekly seminars on topics such as laboratory safety, research integrity and oral presentation skills. Students will have the opportunity to participate in social, recreational and cultural activities. The program will include an Ethics Forum in the middle of the ten weeks and will conclude with a Research Symposium.Dr. McCarthy is recognized for his impact on undergraduate engineering education. He is the primary architect of the Pillars curriculum in Chemical Engineering, an award winning block-scheduled curriculum for chemical engineering undergraduates that is the first fully integrated engineering curriculum. Additionally, he oversees both of Pitt’s undergraduate and graduate programs in chemical and petroleum engineering, and is the recipient of a Carnegie Science Award for Higher Education (2008), the Swanson School of Engineering Outstanding Educator award (2012), and the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award (2015). For more information visit: http://granular.che.pitt.edu/PFM/PFM-REU/ ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
May
10
2017

Following two decades as Dean, Gerald Holder to return to faculty at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (May 10, 2017) ... Marking the culmination of more than two decades of dynamic leadership, Gerald D. Holder, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has announced his intention to step down from his position to return to the faculty in the fall of 2018.Holder, Distinguished Service Professor of chemical engineering, has been dean of the Swanson School since 1996 and a member of its faculty since 1979.“Two words come to mind when I look back on Jerry’s incredible career as dean of our Swanson School of Engineering: tremendous growth,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “Under Jerry’s leadership, our Swanson School has seen record enrollment levels and total giving to the school has topped $250 million. “The school has also expanded academically to support new knowledge in areas like energy and sustainability — and also new partnerships, including a joint engineering program with China’s Sichuan University. And while I will certainly miss Jerry’s many contributions as dean, I am grateful that he will remain an active faculty member and continue to strengthen our Swanson School’s bright future,” Gallagher said.       “Through a focus on innovation and excellence, Dean Holder has led a transformation of the Swanson School of Engineering into a leader in engineering research and education,” said Patricia E. Beeson, provost and senior vice chancellor. Beeson added, "From the establishment of the now top-ranked Department of Bioengineering to the integrated first-year curriculum that has become a national model, the Swanson School has been a change maker. And with nearly three-quarters of the faculty hired while he has been dean, the culture of success that he has established will remain long after he steps down.” The University plans to announce the search process for his successor in the coming months. Holder’s Many Accomplishments In his 21 years as dean, Holder has overseen school growth as well as increases in research awards and philanthropic gifts. Enrollment has doubled to nearly 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and the number of PhDs has increased threefold. Holder also has emphasized programs to nourish diversity and engagement — for example, in 2012 the Swanson School had the highest percentage in the nation of engineering doctoral degrees awarded to women. Co-curricular programs also have prospered during Holder’s tenure. The school’s cooperative education program, which places students in paid positions in industry during their undergraduate studies, has increased to approximately 300 active employers. International education or study abroad has also become a hallmark of a Pitt engineering education, with 46 percent participation in 2015 versus a 4.6 percent national average for engineering and a 22.6 percent national average for STEM fields. The school’s annual sponsored research has tripled during Holder’s years as dean, totaling a cumulative $400 million. Alumnus John A. Swanson’s landmark $43 million naming gift came in 2007, the largest-ever gift by an individual to the University at the time.University-wide initiatives developed during Holder’s tenure as dean include the Gertrude E. and John M. Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering; the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, founded with support of alumnus John C. “Jack” Mascaro; and the Center for Energy.Holder is likewise held in high regard by his peers. "As a dean of long standing, many of us refer to Dean Holder as `the Dean of deans,’ not just because of his years of service but also because of the respect that we have for his leadership, mentorship and impact on the engineering profession,” said James H. Garrett Jr., dean of the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.“He is an accomplished academician, an exceptional academic leader and a tremendous human being.” Holder, a noted expert on natural gas hydrates and author of more than 100 journal articles, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Kalamazoo College and bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. He was a faculty member in chemical engineering at Columbia University prior to joining the Pitt engineering faculty in 1979. He served as chair of the chemical engineering department from 1987 to 1995 before being named dean of engineering.Among many professional accomplishments, he was named an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2003. In 2008 he was named an American Institute of Chemical Engineers Fellow and was awarded the William Metcalf Award from the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania for lifetime achievement in engineering. In 2015 he was elected chair of the American Society of Engineering Educators’ (ASEE) Engineering Deans Council, the leadership organization of engineering deans in the U.S., for a two-year term. The council has approximately 350 members, representing more than 90 percent of all U.S. engineering deans and is tasked by ASEE to advocate for engineering education, research and engagement throughout the U.S., especially among the public at large and in U.S. public policy. ###
Author: Kimberly Barlow, University Communications
May
10
2017

ChemE’s Taryn Bayles Named American Institute of Chemical Engineers Fellow

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

PITTSBURGH, PA (May 10, 2017) … The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has elected Taryn Bayles, professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, as a Fellow. Fellow is the highest grade of membership with AIChE. It requires 25 years of excellence in chemical engineering practice, at least 10 years of membership and participation with AIChE, and Senior Membership at the time of election. “This is a tremendous accolade for Taryn, and our department couldn’t be more proud,” noted Steven R. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Taryn is one of the nation’s most noted experts in engineering education, and literally wrote the book (with a co-author) on engaging high school students in engineering. Her contributions to the department are exceeded only by the passion for engineering that she encourages in our student body.”Dr. Bayles is the fourth professor at the University of Pittsburgh to become an AIChE Fellow, including Karl Johnson, George Klinzing, and Dean Gerald Holder.The AIChE limits the number of Fellows at any time to five percent of the sum of Fellows, Senior Members, and Members. Fellows must be nominated by a member of AIChE, and the grade of Fellow is intended to honor and reward AIChE members for their accomplishments and service.About Dr. BaylesTaryn M. Bayles is a non-tenure stream (NTS) Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and serves as the Chair of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Education Division. She has spent part of her career working in industry with Exxon, Westinghouse, and Phillips Petroleum. Her industrial experience has included process engineering, computer modeling and control, process design and testing, and engineering management. She has also spent over 20 years teaching Chemical Engineering at the University of Nevada Reno, University of Pittsburgh, University of Maryland College Park, and University of Maryland Baltimore County.Dr. Bayles research focuses on Engineering Education and Outreach to increase awareness of and interest in pursuing engineering as a career, as well as to understand what factors help students be successful once they have chosen engineering as a major. She is the co-author of the INSPIRES (INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering & Science) curriculum, which introduce high school students to engineering design through hands-on experiences and inquiry-based learning with real world engineering design challenges. This curriculum targets the International Technology and Engineering Education Association Standards as well as National Next Generation Science Standards and aligns with the Framework for K-12 Science Education. About AIChEThe American Institute of Chemical Engineers is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals with more than 50,000 members from over 100 countries. AIChE has the breadth of resources and expertise from core process industries to emerging areas, such as translational medicine. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
May
4
2017

Water, Water, Nowhere

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 4, 2017) … Hydrogen powered fuel cell cars, developed by almost every major car manufacturer, are ideal zero-emissions vehicles because they produce only water as exhaust. However, their reliability is limited because the fuel cell relies upon a membrane that only functions in when enough water is present, limiting the vehicle’s operating conditions.   Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have found that the unusual properties of graphane – a two-dimensional polymer of carbon and hydrogen – could form a type of anhydrous “bucket brigade” that transports protons without the need for water, potentially leading to the development of more efficient hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles and other energy systems. The principal investigator is Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, and graduate research assistant Abhishek Bagusetty is the lead author. Their work, “Facile Anhydrous Proton Transport on Hydroxyl Functionalized Graphane” (DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.186101), was published this week in Physical Review Letters. Computational modeling techniques coupled with the high performance computational infrastructure at the University’s Center for Research Computing enabled them to design this potentially groundbreaking material. Hydrogen fuels cells are like a battery that can be recharged with hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen enters one side of the fuel cell, where it is broken down into protons (hydrogen ions) and electrons, while oxygen enters the other side and is ultimately chemically combined with the protons and electrons to produce water, releasing a great deal of energy. At the heart of the fuel cell is a proton exchange membrane (PEM). These membranes mostly rely on water to aid in the conduction of protons across the membranes. Everything works well unless the temperature gets too high or the humidity drops, which depletes the membrane of water and stops the protons from migrating across the membrane. Dr. Johnson explains that for this reason, there is keen interest in developing new membrane materials that can operate at very low water levels–or even in the complete absence of water (anhydrously). “PEMs in today’s hydrogen fuel cells are made of a polymer called Nafion, which only conducts protons when it has the right amount of water on it,” says Dr. Johnson. “Too little water, the membrane dries out and protons stop moving. Too much and the membrane “floods” and stops operating, similar to how you could flood a carbureted engine with too much gasoline,” he added. Dr. Johnson and his team focused on graphane because when functionalized with hydroxyl groups it creates a more stable, insulating membrane to conduct protons. “Our computational modeling showed that because of graphane’s unique structure, it is well suited to rapidly conduct protons across the membrane and electrons across the circuit under anhydrous conditions,” Dr. Johnson said. “This would enable hydrogen fuel cell cars to be a more practical alternative vehicle.” About the Johnson Research GroupThe Johnson Research Group at the University of Pittsburgh uses atomistic modeling to tackle fundamental problems over a wide range of subject areas in chemical engineering, including the molecular design of nanoporous sorbents for the capture of carbon dioxide, the development of catalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels, the transport of gases and liquids through carbon nanotube membranes, the study of chemical reaction mechanisms, the development of CO2-soluble polymers and CO2 thickeners, and the study of hydrogen storage with complex hydrides.   About Dr. JohnsonKarl Johnson is a member of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute. He received his bachelor and master of science degrees in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, and PhD in chemical engineering with a minor in computer science from Cornell University. ### Illustration above and below: In computer simulations at Pitt, graphane provides a water-free "bucket brigade" to rapidly conduct protons across the membrane and electrons across the circuit. (Credit: A. Bagusetty/University of Pittsburgh; Rick Henkel)

Apr

Apr
25
2017

The ‘Can’-Do Spirit

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (April 25, 2017) … A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh won $10,000 and second place at Princeton University’s TigerLaunch Finals competition for entrepreneurship. The team founded the company Aeronics, which designs and develops improved methods of storing oxygen in lightweight, low-pressure tanks.One of Aeronics’ innovations, Medipod, is about the size of a soda can and contains a porous lining to increase internal surface area. Because gases concentrate on surfaces, Medipod can store more oxygen while decreasing the tanks internal pressure. The technology is particularly appealing for people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and currently lug around large oxygen tanks on a daily basis.The Aeronics team comprises Pitt students Alec Kaija, Blake Dube and Mark Spitz. Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, is an adviser to the team. Aeronics qualified for participation in the TigerLaunch national competition after presenting at the TigerLaunch X NYC competition at New York University. A total of 18 teams, selected from three regional competitions, received invitations to the finals.Last December, Aeronics took first place at Pitt Blast Furnace’s Demo Day. Like TigerLaunch, Demo Day provides student startups the opportunity to pitch their ideas and win cash prizes. The Aeronics team also won several other competitions supported by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute including the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, the Michael G. Wells Competition and the Kuzneski Innovation Cup.Dube, CEO of Aeronics, worked with Dr. Wilmer in the Wilmer Lab investigating theoretical limits of oxygen storage in porous materials while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Spitz, who serves as COO, is majoring in exercise science in the School of Education. Both students will graduate this May and begin working full-time at Aeronics. Kaija, currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will continue to develop Aeronics technology while completing his studies. ### Image above (from left to right): Spitz, Dube and Kaija at the TigerLaunch Finals.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Apr
10
2017

Pitt Names Senior Vice Chancellor for Research

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH—Rob A. Rutenbar has been named the University of Pittsburgh’s senior vice chancellor for research. In this newly established position, he will lead the University’s strategic vision for research and innovation, enhancing existing technological partnerships. “I am delighted to welcome Rob to the University of Pittsburgh as our inaugural senior vice chancellor for research,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “His experience as a researcher, innovator, collaborator and entrepreneur — both inside and outside of the university — make Rob uniquely qualified to support our faculty’s research and innovation efforts and to champion Pitt research on a local, national and global scale.” Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson said Rutenbar is exceptionally well-suited for the role. “His administrative, entrepreneurial and research experiences align well with our vision for a leader who drives excellence and will serve as a champion for the University of Pittsburgh,” she said. “Rob’s experiences and expertise in both the academic world and the private sector make him the perfect individual to fully integrate and expand upon Pitt’s University-level research and medical school endeavors,” said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and the John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. “In the coming years, we hope to be an internationally recognized model for how the various divisions of an educational institution can communicate and work together. Rob Rutenbar is precisely the type of professional needed to accomplish that goal.” Working with other senior University officials, the senior vice chancellor for research is responsible for establishing and implementing a long-term plan for research infrastructure. The position manages the University’s Center for Research Computing, Economic Partnerships, the Innovation Institute, the Office of Export Controls, the Office of Research, the Research Conduct and Compliance Office and the Radiation Safety Office. Additionally, Rutenbar will have an active role with the University's Swanson School of Engineering. “Dr. Rutenbar is an internationally=acclaimed scholar in computer engineering, and we are most excited that he is joining the faculty of our Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering here in the Swanson School of Engineering," saidAlan George, chair of the Swanson School's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We are looking forward to his contributions to and collaboration with our ECE research programs." Rutenbar brings nearly 40 years of experience in innovation and technology to Pitt. His research focuses on three broad categories: tools for a wide variety of integrated circuit design issues, methods for managing the statistics of nanoscale chip design and custom computer architectures for perceptual and data analytics problems. Rutenbar currently serves as the Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering and heads the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this role, he oversees a department composed of 70 faculty members and more than 2,400 students that is currently ranked as the No. 5 computer science program in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Prior to assuming that position in 2010, Rutenbar was a faculty member within Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for 25 years. As an entrepreneur, Rutenbar founded the tech firms Neolinear Inc. and Voci Technologies, Inc. in 1998 and 2006, respectively. He was the founding director for the Center for Circuit and System Solutions, a multi-university consortium that focused on next-generation chip design challenges. The recipient of 14 U.S. patent grants, his endeavors have been funded by such notable entities as AT&T, Google, IBM, the National Science Foundation and the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance. Rutenbar is the author of eight books and 175 published research articles. In recognition of his career accomplishments, Rutenbar was elected a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has twice won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ coveted Donald O. Pedersen Best Paper Award. He was recognized with distinguished alumnus awards from both the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. In 2002, Rutenbar was named Carnegie Mellon’s Stephen J. Jatras Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering, an endowed professorship position he held until leaving that university in 2010. Rutenbar earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Wayne State University in 1978. He earned master’s and doctorate degrees in computer, information and control engineering at the University of Michigan in 1979 and 1984, respectively. Rutenbar will join Pitt’s senior leadership team in July. ###
Anthony Moore, University Communications
Apr
3
2017

ChemE Professor Christopher Wilmer Joins Foresight Institute’s Inaugural Class of Fellows

Chemical & Petroleum

PALO ALTO, CA (April 3, 2017) … The Foresight Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting future technologies, has announced that Christopher Wilmer will be part of its inaugural class of fellows. The 10 inductees are all working on technologies with massive potential for the future, including space technology, human longevity and the interface between human minds and computers.The Foresight Institute selected Dr. Wilmer, assistant professor chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, for his work with nanostructures called “molecular machines.” As principal investigator of the Hypothetical Materials Lab at Pitt, Dr. Wilmer leads his team in the design of complex, hypothetical molecular machines capable of solving problems in fields such as energy and the environment.The Foresight Fellowship lasts for one year and provides support in the form of personal attention, exposure to new opportunities and mentorship from leaders in related fields. The Foresight Institute also invites fellows to attend special events to further connect with mentors and other fellows.“There’s nothing new in the world… is an adage that has met its match,” said Steve Burgess, president of Foresight Institute. “The Foresight Fellows are up to the challenge and we look forward to what they bring forth. The Foresight Fellowship Program is itself new, and we’re excited about working with this talented group and the prospects they bring to possible technological breakthrough for a better world for everyone.”About the Foresight InstituteSince 1993, Foresight Institute has been rewarding those who are making strides in the field of nanotechnology with the Feynman Prize. In 2016, a former Feynman Prize winner, Sir James Fraser Stoddart, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with molecular machines. Foresight Institute recognizes that providing a strong network and knowledge base for new fellows will accelerate their missions and reflect Foresight’s goals to further support those making important strides in key fields. The early identification and support of big research ideas is where Foresight Institute creates the most impact.About Dr. WilmerDr. Wilmer’s research focuses on the use of large-scale molecular simulations to help find promising materials for energy and environmental applications. He earned his bachelor’s degree in applied science from the University of Toronto’s Engineering Science—Nanoengineering program, and his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Northwestern under the mentorship of Prof. Randall Q. Snurr. While at Northwestern he took an interest in developing new technologies through entrepreneurship and co-founded NuMat Technologies, which designs porous materials that could be used to make better natural gas fuel tanks for vehicles. In 2012 the company won the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, while Dr. Wilmer was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Energy.” He has authored more than 20 publications and holds more than 500 article citations. For more information visit Dr. Wilmer’s website at www.wilmerlab.com. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Apr
3
2017

MCSI Seed Grants Fund New Round of Sustainability Research

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH, PA (April 3, 2017) … The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) has announced the recipients of 2017-2018 MCSI seed grant funding. The annual seed grant program engages a core team of researchers who are passionate about sustainability. Seed grants support graduate student and post-doctoral fellows on one-year research projects. The University of Pittsburgh projects and faculty members to receive funding include:• “Protein lithograph: a sustainable technology for sub-5-nm nanomanufacturing.” Mostafa Bedewy, Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial Engineering.• “High efficiency refrigeration and cooling through additive manufactured magnetocaloric devices.” Markus Chmielus, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.• “Toward machine learning blueprints for greener chelants.” John Keith, Assistant Professor, Inaugural Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.• “H2P: HydroPonics to Pyrolysis: An enclosed system for the phytoremediation and destruction of perfectly persistent emerging contaminants in our water.” Carla Ng, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; David Sanchez, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.MCSI developed the research seed grant program to provide faculty with funding support to allow students to participate in high-quality research, teaching, outreach and creative endeavors. The goals of the grants are: (1) seed funding to develop ideas to the point where external funding can be obtained; (2) awards to support scholarship in areas where external funding is extremely limited; (3) resources to introduce curricular innovations into the classroom; or (4) tools or techniques to encourage community outreach and education. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Mar

Mar
27
2017

Pitt ChemE Students Turn Class Project into $5,000 InnoCentive Award

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (March 27, 2017) … InnoCentive, a crowdsourcing platform for problem-solving and innovation, awarded $5,000 to a team of students from the University of Pittsburgh for designing a solution for shipping polymers that expand too much when they’re cold and become too sticky when they’re hot. The students solved the problem for a chemical engineering class at the Swanson School and submitted their proposal to the InnoCentive Challenge Center after receiving an “A” on the assignment.Hydrogenated styrene diene block copolymer is used to make cosmetics and tough synthetic rubbers. An anonymous company submitted a challenge to the crowdsourcing website InnoCentive to see if anyone could find a way to improve its method of baling the polymers for shipment. The company had been using heat to compress the polymers and save space on the trucks; however, the heat also caused the polymer to stick to the surface of the conveyor system that led to the baler. The four Pitt students devised a solution that involved adding a vertical conveyor to the baling process. This particular type of spiral-shaped conveyor, commonly used in the food industry, looks like a giant metal spring. It can simultaneously heat the polymer while transporting it to the entrance of a top-loading baler. It also moves the polymer with vibration, preventing any chance of the compressed rubber sticking to the surface.“When we came up with this solution, we knew it was right,” said Devin Ulam, an undergraduate student and member of the Pitt team. “The vertical conveyor only takes up a little bit of space, and the polymer crumb is heated at the last moment before it enters the baler, so there is no risk of clogging.”The other team members were Travis La Fleur, Stephen Provencher and Timothy Shearer. All four students are majoring in chemical engineering at Pitt and enrolled in “Taking Products to Market – Next Step in Chemical Product Design” (ChE314) in the fall of 2016.The course emphasizes entrepreneurial approaches to chemical engineering product development. Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, taught the course last fall and directed the Pitt team to the InnoCentive challenge to gain experience with real-world problem solving.“We are teaching engineers in this course to consider the values and needs of the customer throughout the design process,” said Wilmer. “These students did an excellent job of finding a solution that didn’t make any drastic changes to the company’s product or processes. It will be very easy to implement their solution, and I think that is why they deserved to win the award.” InnoCentive is a network of more than 375,000 problem solvers. The platform connects corporations, government organizations and nonprofit companies with experts in the fields of computer science, math, chemistry, life sciences, physical sciences and business. When an organization submits a “challenge problem” to InnoCentive, the competition is open to the InnoCentive community. The organization that submitted the challenge ultimately determines the winning solution. ### Image Above: (from left to right) Devin Ulam, Timothy Shearer, Travis La Fleur and Stephen Provencher.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
22
2017

The Swanson School Presents Alumna Donna Blackmond with 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award for Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2017) … Collectively they are professors, researchers and authors; inventors, builders and producers; business leaders, entrepreneurs and industry pioneers. The 53rd annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet brought together honorees from each of the Swanson School of Engineering’s six departments and one overall honoree to represent the entire school. The banquet took place at the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall, and Gerald D. Holder, US Steel Dean of Engineering, presented the awards.This year’s recipient for the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering was Donna G. Blackmond, PhD, BSCHE ’80, MSCHE ’81, Professor of Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute.“Many of us here tonight, myself included, remember Donna as an outstanding student and researcher, and have followed her many accomplishments while making a major impact with her research,” said Dean Holder. “She is a pioneer of Reaction Progress Kinetic Analysis, and her research into prebiotic chemistry and asymmetric catalytic reactions is recognized worldwide.”About Donna BlackmondDonna G. Blackmond received BS and MS degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 and 1981, respectively. She received a PhD degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1984. Blackmond started her career as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 1984 and was promoted to associate professor in 1989. She has held professorships in chemical engineering and in organic, physical, and technical chemistry in the US, Germany and the UK, and she has worked in the pharmaceutical industry as an associate director at Merck & Co., Inc. In 2010 she moved from a joint research chair in chemistry and chemical engineering at Imperial College London to her present position as professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Blackmond’s research focuses on kinetic, mechanistic and reaction engineering studies of organic reactions for pharmaceutical applications, including asymmetric catalysis. She has been invited to give her short course on Kinetics of Organic Catalytic Reactions in academia (including Harvard, Berkeley, Zürich, Nagoya) and at major pharmaceutical companies around the world. Blackmond also carries out fundamental studies probing the origin of the single chirality of biological molecules. She was invited by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to speak at a Nobel Workshop “On the Origin of Life” in Stockholm (2006). In 2012 she was named a Simons Investigator in the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life. ### Photo Above: Dean Holder (left) with Donna Blackmond and ChemE Department Chair Steven Little.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
22
2017

Chemical Engineering PhD Candidate Natalie Austin Invited to 67th Nobel Laureate Meeting on Chemistry

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH, PA (March 22, 2017) … Natalie Austin, a PhD candidate in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will participate in the 67th Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany this June. Austin will join an elite group of 400 – 500 international undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, who qualified for attendance after a multistage selection process.Between 30 – 40 Nobel Laureates will also attend the meeting and interact with the next generation of scientists primed to make significant contributions to their fields. Each year the meeting focuses on one of the three natural sciences eligible for a Nobel Prize: chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine. This year’s topic of chemistry will be addressed and analyzed through lectures, discussion, master classes and panels.Austin, who works in the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELA) at Pitt, was one of two Pitt students selected to apply to the program. She qualified nationally as part of the Oak Ridge Associates Universities team and then passed through an international selection pool ranging from undergraduate to post-doctoral students below the age of 35.“Attending the meeting held at Lindau is important to me,” said Austin. “I will have the opportunity to meet with the most successful and respected researchers in my field and beyond. More so, I believe that the interactions and networking opportunities provided at Lindau will be enriching to me, as well as inspire and motivate me as I move towards completing my graduate education and research.”  Austin’s research at CANELA focuses on the computational design of bimetallic nanoparticles, which can absorb, activate and convert carbon dioxide into useful chemicals and fuels. Monometallic copper is commonly used as a catalyst for carbon dioxide conversion, but studies have shown enhanced activity on copper-based bimetallic catalysts. Austin is currently investigating both the physicochemical properties of the catalysts and the mechanism of carbon dioxide conversion to methanol, an alternative fuel source to gasoline in internal combustion engines.Austin received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering/bioengineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2013 and will defend her doctoral thesis in May 2018. After graduation, Austin said she would like to begin a career in energy and environmental research for the government or in an industrial setting. “I am personally very proud of Natalie and of what she has accomplished so far,” said Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt and principal investigator at CANELA. “Having participated in this meeting in the past, I know how competitive the selection process is and how beneficial this experience will be for her future career.” ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
20
2017

Penn biointerface researcher and entrepreneur Tagbo Niepa to join Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 20, 2017) … Further strengthening its focus on interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship, the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has hired Tagbo H.R. Niepa, PhD as assistant professor. Dr. Niepa, currently the Postdoctoral Fellow for Academic Diversity at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with Professors Daeyeon Lee and Kathleen Stebe, will join Pitt in July 2017.“Tagbo’s expertise in biofilms, microfluidics and interfacial science is an outstanding addition to our department,” said Steven R. Little, PhD, Department Chair and William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He is young researcher who is gaining a national reputation for his bacterial research, and his experience as an entrepreneur with his own successful startup will be a tremendous asset and inspiration to our students.”“Many lifesaving medical innovations have emerged from the University of Pittsburgh,” added Dr. Niepa. “I am very excited to join Pitt’s Department Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The multidisciplinary environment at Pitt is conducive for me to make unique contributions to diverse fields ranging from biomedical, to food and environmental sciences. "I envision developing microbial-based methods of oil recovery, and technologies having applications for biotechnology and personalized therapeutics. My hope is to share my vision of entrepreneurship as an alternative approach to disseminating research results with students as they explore opportunities outside of academia or industry.”Dr. Niepa currently focuses on interfacial phenomena associated with bacterial films and is developing artificial microniches to model microbiome dynamics as well as microbial communities relevant to antibiotic discovery. His research also seeks to understand how beneficial microbes could be used to better clean the environment after an oil spill and how pathogens could be prevented from causing disease. He earned an associate degree in food science at the Food Industry College (Ivory Coast) and worked at the Pasteur Institute as a research associate, before transferring to University of Dortmund (Germany) to study bioengineering. He later earned a BS in biomedical engineering and PhD in chemical engineering from Syracuse University. His doctoral research on the electrochemical control of bacterial persister cells revealed new means to control the electrophysiology of highly drug-tolerant bacterial cells and sensitize pathogenic persister and biofilm cells to antibiotics. His technology was tested successfully for safety on human cells and for efficacy in curing a rabbit model of sinusitis, and was awarded two U.S. patents and recognized by Syracuse University with the All-University Doctoral Prize. Dr. Niepa is a co-founder of Helios Innovative Technologies Inc. (now PurpleSun Inc.), a medical device company that develops automated sterilization systems to fight bacterial cross-contamination.About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe 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 (including three in Q1 2017), 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. chemical engineering 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. ###

Mar
14
2017

Pitt’s Bioengineering and Industrial Engineering programs move up in 2018 U.S. News and World Report Graduate School Rankings

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (March 14, 2017) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has moved up one slot among engineering programs in the 2018 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” which will be available on newsstands April 11. The Swanson School is tied 42nd overall among university engineering programs, and 21st among all Association of American Universities (AAU) members. Two of its programs, bioengineering and industrial engineering, made significant gains over 2017. Bioengineering jumped from 18th in the nation to 12th overall, and remains at 6th among public AAU university programs. Industrial moved from 23rd to 17th overall, and from 13th to 10th among AAU publics. Other department rankings include: Chemical engineering: 33rd overall, 18th among AAU publics Civil engineering: 60th overall, 27th among AAU publics Computer engineering: 43rd overall, 20th among AAU publics Electrical engineering: 55th overall, 26th among AAU publics Materials science: 43rd overall, 22nd among AAU publics Mechanical engineering: 57th overall, 26th among AAU publics Complete rankings and information about the process can be found online in the U.S. News Grad Compass. ###

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. ###

Mar
1
2017

NSF recognizes three Pitt junior chemical engineering faculty with prestigious CAREER awards

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 1, 2017) … For the first time in a funding cycle, three researchers from one University of Pittsburgh department were recognized with the National Science Foundation’s most significant award in support of junior faculty. John Keith, Giannis Mpourmpakis and Christopher Wilmer, all assistant professors of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering received individual NSF CAREER awards, which “recognize 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 three professors received $500,000 each in funding for the five-year awards. “Receiving an NSF CAREER Award can be one of the most tremendous highlights for any junior faculty member, but it is a true honor for a university to receive three awards within one department,” noted Steven R. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “What’s more, these three researchers are focused on dynamic energy research, and these grants will not only benefit their labs, but also the students they teach and mentor. As an additional component, the grants will enable our students to engage in community outreach and encourage young adults to consider careers in STEM.” The Pitt Chemical and Petroleum Engineering CAREER Awards include: John A. Keith, Assistant Professor and Inaugural R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy  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. Dr. Keith’s graduate and undergraduate students will 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 ProfessorDesigning 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 students 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 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 to develop educational movies on the fundamental science of gas adsorption, including those relevant to carbon capture to mitigate climate change. ###

Feb

Feb
17
2017

Catalytic Conveyor Belt

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (February 17, 2017) … Capitalizing on previous studies in self-powered chemo-mechanical movement, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Penn State University’s Department of Chemistry have developed a novel method of transporting particles that utilizes chemical reactions to drive fluid flow within microfluidic devices. Their research, “Harnessing catalytic pumps for directional delivery of microparticles in microchambers,” was published today in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14384).The computational modeling research was led by Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt, with post-doctoral associates Oleg E. Shklyaev and Henry Shum. Experiments at Penn State were conducted by Ayusman Sen, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and graduate students S. Das, A. Altemose, I.Ortiz-Rivera and L. Valdez. Their combined theoretical and experimental findings could enable controllable transport of particles and cells, allowing highly sensitive chemical assays to be performed more rapidly and efficiently.“One of the critical challenges in transporting microparticles within devices is delivering the particle to a specific location,” Dr. Balazs explained. “Much like a conveyor belt in a factory, you want to move the particle within a closed system without any modification to its surface or damage to its structure.”Dr. Balazs noted that in addition to successfully delivering the particles, the other challenges the researchers faced were maintaining unidirectional flow from point A to point B within a closed chamber, and ensuring that a critical concentration of these particles could be delivered to sensors, which only operate above a critical threshold. The solution was to generate a gradient of a chemical reagent by introducing the reagent at one end of the chamber, point A. Enzymes on the surface of the chamber consumed the reagent so that it was completely depleted at the point B. Since the presence of the reagent increases the fluid density, a density gradient was established between points A and B, leading to convective flow that transported particles like a conveyor belt. “Previously, to generate spontaneous propulsion of microparticles, one needed to chemically modify the surface of these particles, thus altering their inherent properties,” Dr. Balazs said. “Moreover, modifying the particle’s surface does not necessarily allow you to direct its motion within the chamber. We were able to predicate through our computational models and demonstrate in the experiments performed at Penn State that the flow generated by the catalytic chemical reaction in the chamber could effectively transport particles to a particular sensor, and could permit control over the speed and direction of the particle transport, without having to use an external pump or any modification of the cargo.”“Utilizing catalytic reactions to drive fluids to controllably transport particulates in solution is a relatively new field, even though it’s what our bodies do at any given moment when converting food to fuel. Replicating it within a synthetic system however is very difficult,” Dr. Sen added. “In our lab, we were able to design a “machine” without the need for a mechanical device that could be used many times over simply by adding fuel to the chamber, while allowing the particle to remain a passive participant along for the ride.” ### Image above: Particles transported along a channel by chemically-driven fluid flow. The flow is generated by reagent entering at one end of the channel (A) and reacting at the enzyme covered surface. The cargo is deposited at position B, which can be controlled by varying the reaction rate. (Oleg E. Shklyaev and Henry Shum)

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
Jan
19
2017

Geosciences-Inspired Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (January 19, 2017) … The Mackenzie Dike Swarm, an ancient geological feature covering an area more than 300 miles wide and 1,900 miles long beneath Canada from the Arctic to the Great Lakes, is the largest dike swarm on Earth. Formed more than one billion years ago, the swarm’s geology discloses insights into major magmatic events and continental breakup. The Mackenzie Dike Swarm and the roughly 120 other known giant dike swarms located across the planet may also provide useful information about efficient extraction of oil and natural gas in today’s modern world. To explore how naturally-occurring dike swarms can lead to improved methods of oil and gas reservoir stimulation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences awarded a $310,000 award to Andrew Bunger, assistant professor in the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Dike swarms are the result of molten rock (magma) rising from depth and then driving cracks through the Earth’s crust. Dike swarms exhibit a self-organizing behavior that allows hundreds of individual dikes to fan out across large distances. Although petroleum engineers desire to achieve the same effect when creating hydraulic fractures for stimulation of oil and gas production, the industrial hydraulic fractures appear far more likely to localize to only one or two dominant strands. This localization leaves 30-40 percent of most reservoirs in an unproductive state, representing an inefficient use of resources and leading to unnecessary intensity of oil and gas development. In the study, “Self-Organization Mechanisms within Magma-Driven Dyke and Hydraulic Fracture Swarms,” Bunger will take a novel approach to understanding the mechanics of fluid-driven cracks, which he refers to as “geosciences-inspired engineering.” Like the growing field of biologically-inspired engineering, Bunger will be looking to processes in the natural world to better understand the constructed or engineered world. “I would like to challenge myself and the geoscience community to look at naturally occurring morphologies with the eye of an engineer,” says Bunger. “The first part of the study will involve developing a mechanical model to explain the behavior of the dike swarms. We are borrowing from a theoretical framework developed in biology called ‘swarm theory,’ which explains the self-organizing behavior of groups of animals.” Swarm theory, or swarm intelligence, refers to naturally and artificially occurring complex systems with no centralized control structure. The individual agents in the system exhibit simple or even random behavior, but collectively the group achieves emergent, or “intelligent,” behavior. “One of the hallmarks of self-organizing behavior within swarms was recognized by swarm theory’s earliest proponents, who were actually motivated by developing algorithms to simulate flocks and herds in computer animation,” Bunger explains. “They proposed that all swarming behavior can be tied to the presence of three basic forces. One of these leads to alignment of the members with each other – it is what makes a flocking bird fly in the same direction as its neighbors. A second force is associated with repulsion – it keeps birds within a flock from running into each other and knocking each other out of the air. The third force is attraction – an often instinctive desire of certain animals to be near other animals of their own species, typically for protection from predators.” “If you look at dike swarms,” Bunger continues, “They have been called ‘swarms’ for decades, but there has never been an effort to identify the mechanical origins of the three forces that are known to be present any place that swarming morphology is observed. When we view dikes in this way, we see that the alignment and repulsive forces have been recognized for years, although never placed in the broader context of their role in swarming. However, the origin of the attractive force is problematic. Why do all these dikes have any mechanical impetus to grow near each other? Because the mechanical origin of the attractive force has not been known, it is unclear why natural fluid-driven cracks – dikes – tend to exhibit swarming behavior while such an outcome is far less commonly observed in man-made fluid-driven cracks associated with hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas reservoirs.” “We will use computational models and analogue experiments, which use artificial materials to simulate the Earth’s processes, to develop a new theory of fluid-driven crack swarms,” says Bunger. “Through this advance, we would like to improve the stimulation methods used for oil and gas production. This will be a win-win for both industry and our society that depends upon the energy resources they produce. Industry will benefit from more efficient methods, and society will benefit from lower energy costs and a decreased environmental footprint associated with resource extraction.” In addition to a deeper understanding of the geological process that occur throughout Earth’s history, Bunger also sees his research impacting planetary research of Mars and Venus. Both rocky planets contain a large number of giant dike swarms. Understanding how the geometry of dike swarms relates to the conditions in the Earth’s crust at the time of emplacement will lead to a new method for ascertaining the little-known geological structure and history of Mars and Venus though analysis of the geometry of their many giant dike swarms. ### Photo above: Dr. Bunger in his Benedum Hall lab with the newly-installed compression frame he uses to simulate the high-stress environment deep inside the Earth.
Author: Matthew Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jan
17
2017

“Geosciences-Inspired Engineering”

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH, PA (January 17, 2017) … The Mackenzie Dike Swarm, an ancient geological feature covering an area more than 300 miles wide and 1,900 miles long beneath Canada from the Arctic to the Great Lakes, is the largest dike swarm on Earth. Formed more than one billion years ago, the swarm’s geology discloses insights into major magmatic events and continental breakup. The Mackenzie Dike Swarm and the roughly 120 other known giant dike swarms located across the planet may also provide useful information about efficient extraction of oil and natural gas in today’s modern world. To explore how naturally-occurring dike swarms can lead to improved methods of oil and gas reservoir stimulation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences awarded a $310,000 award to Andrew Bunger, assistant professor in the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Dike swarms are the result of molten rock (magma) rising from depth and then driving cracks through the Earth’s crust. Dike swarms exhibit a self-organizing behavior that allows hundreds of individual dikes to fan out across large distances. Although petroleum engineers desire to achieve the same effect when creating hydraulic fractures for stimulation of oil and gas production, the industrial hydraulic fractures appear far more likely to localize to only one or two dominant strands. This localization leaves 30-40 percent of most reservoirs in an unproductive state, representing an inefficient use of resources and leading to unnecessary intensity of oil and gas development. In the study, “Self-Organization Mechanisms within Magma-Driven Dyke and Hydraulic Fracture Swarms,” Bunger will take a novel approach to understanding the mechanics of fluid-driven cracks, which he refers to as “geosciences-inspired engineering.” Like the growing field of biologically-inspired engineering, Bunger will be looking to processes in the natural world to better understand the constructed or engineered world.“I would like to challenge myself and the geoscience community to look at naturally occurring morphologies with the eye of an engineer,” says Bunger. “The first part of the study will involve developing a mechanical model to explain the behavior of the dike swarms. We are borrowing from a theoretical framework developed in biology called ‘swarm theory,’ which explains the self-organizing behavior of groups of animals.” Swarm theory, or swarm intelligence, refers to naturally and artificially occurring complex systems with no centralized control structure. The individual agents in the system exhibit simple or even random behavior, but collectively the group achieves emergent, or “intelligent,” behavior.“One of the hallmarks of self-organizing behavior within swarms was recognized by swarm theory’s earliest proponents, who were actually motivated by developing algorithms to simulate flocks and herds in computer animation,” Bunger explains. “They proposed that all swarming behavior can be tied to the presence of three basic forces. One of these leads to alignment of the members with each other – it is what makes a flocking bird fly in the same direction as its neighbors. A second force is associated with repulsion – it keeps birds within a flock from running into each other and knocking each other out of the air. The third force is attraction – an often instinctive desire of certain animals to be near other animals of their own species, typically for protection from predators.”“If you look at dike swarms,” Bunger continues, “They have been called ‘swarms’ for decades, but there has never been an effort to identify the mechanical origins of the three forces that are known to be present any place that swarming morphology is observed. When we view dikes in this way, we see that the alignment and repulsive forces have been recognized for years, although never placed in the broader context of their role in swarming. However, the origin of the attractive force is problematic. Why do all these dikes have any mechanical impetus to grow near each other? Because the mechanical origin of the attractive force has not been known, it is unclear why natural fluid-driven cracks – dikes – tend to exhibit swarming behavior while such an outcome is far less commonly observed in man-made fluid-driven cracks associated with hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas reservoirs.”“We will use computational models and analogue experiments, which use artificial materials to simulate the Earth’s processes, to develop a new theory of fluid-driven crack swarms,” says Bunger. “Through this advance, we would like to improve the stimulation methods used for oil and gas production. This will be a win-win for both industry and our society that depends upon the energy resources they produce. Industry will benefit from more efficient methods, and society will benefit from lower energy costs and a decreased environmental footprint associated with resource extraction.”In addition to a deeper understanding of the geological process that occur throughout Earth’s history, Bunger also sees his research impacting planetary research of Mars and Venus. Both rocky planets contain a large number of giant dike swarms. Understanding how the geometry of dike swarms relates to the conditions in the Earth’s crust at the time of emplacement will lead to a new method for ascertaining the little-known geological structure and history of Mars and Venus though analysis of the geometry of their many giant dike swarms. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jan
10
2017

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards four novel biomedical devices with $77,500 total Round-2 2016 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (January 10, 2017) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $77,500 to four research groups through its 2016 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new technology for treatment of diabetes, a medical device for emergency intubation, an innovative method for bone regeneration, and a novel approach for implementing vascular bypass grafts. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. CMI leadership evaluates proposals based on scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our fifth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: Intrapancreatic Lipid Nanoparticles to Treat DiabetesAward for further development and testing of use of lipid nanoparticle technology for the induction of α-to-β-cell transdifferentiation to treat diabetes. George Gittes, MDDepartment of Surgery University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Kathryn Whitehead, PhDDepartment of Chemical Engineering Carnegie Mellon University (Secondary appointment at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine) AWARD 2: The Esophocclude - Medical Device for temporary occlusion of the esophagus in patients requiring emergent intubationContinuation award for further refinement of the Esophocclude Medical Device using human cadaver testing to simulate emergency intubation.Philip Carullo, MDResident, PGY-1 Department of Anesthesiology University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Youngjae Chun, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Industrial Engineering Department of Bioengineering (Secondary) University of Pittsburgh AWARD 3: RegenMatrix - Collagen-mimetic Bioactive Hydrogels for Bone RegenerationContinuation award for fully automating the hydrogel fabrication process, for animal studies and for fine-tuning related innovations. Shilpa Sant, PhDAssistant Professor Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Department of Bioengineering University of Pittsburgh Akhil Patel, MS Graduate Student Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences University of Pittsburgh Yadong Wang, PhD Professor Department of Bioengineering University of Pittsburgh Sachin Velankar, PhDAssociate Professor Department of Chemical Engineering University of Pittsburgh Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD Associate Professor Department of Oral Biology University of Pittsburgh AWARD 4: TopoGraft 2.0 - Anti-platelet surfaces for bypass grafts and artificial hearts using topo-graphic surface actuationContinuation award for in-vivo validating of results and developing a new approach for topographic actuation of the inner lumen of synthetic bypass grafts. Sachin Velankar, PhD Department of Chemical Engineering University of Pittsburgh Luka Pocivavsak, MD, PhD Department of Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Edith Tzeng, MD Department of Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Robert Kormos, MD Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center About the Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation at the Swanson School of Engineering is a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2011 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 50 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $900,000 since inception. ###
Author: Yash P. Mokashi, Fellow, Center for Medical Innovation