Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) is the largest in the school of engineering in terms of students and faculty. The department has core strengths in the traditional areas of bioengineering, manufacturing, microsystems technology, smart structures and materials, computational fluid and solid dynamics, and energy systems research. Key focus is reflective of national trends, which are vying toward the microscale and nanoscale systems level.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science houses ABET-accredited mechanical engineering, engineering science, materials science and other engineering programs that provide the solid fundamentals, critical thinking, and inventive spark that fire up our graduates as they design the future. The department graduates approximately 90 mechanical and materials science engineers each year, with virtually 100% of them being placed in excellent careers with industry and research facilities around the globe.

The department houses faculty who are world-renowned academicians and accessible teachers, individuals of substance who seek to inspire and encourage their students to succeed. The department also has access to more than 20 laboratory facilities that enhance the learning process through first-rate technology and hands-on experience.

That experience is integrated into every aspect of the department. Events such as the SAE Formula Car Program add to students' real-world knowledge; each year, students construct their own vehicle and compete with students from other universities nationwide and internationally on the strength of their design and racing. The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science also is involved in the Cooperative Education (Co-Op) Program, bringing students together with industry for three terms of professional work.

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Katherine Hornbostel featured on WTAE for her breastfeeding device


Swanson School professor Katherine Hornbostel was featured on WTAE for her Pump2Baby invention. Watch the video on WTAE's website. University of Pittsburgh mechanical engineering professor Dr. Katherine Hornbostel developed a device to help other breastfeeding moms after her twin boys struggled to nurse. "When they came, I put a lot of pressure on myself to nurse them exclusively and to make sure I made enough milk for both of them," Hornbostel said. "That led to a lot of stress and a lot of sleepless nights." Because her boys weren't latching on very well, she was pumping almost exclusively. "I was hooked up to a big breast pump, sitting down every two to three hours around the clock, every day, for 30 minutes at a time," Hornbostel said. A few years later, while a grad student at MIT, Hornbostel invented the Pump to Baby Bottle. Read the full transcript from WTAE here.


Bringing MomTech to Life: MEMS Professor Katherine Hornbostel Designs a Gadget To Help Moms Breastfeed

All SSoE News, MEMS

Read coverage by Anya Sostek at the Post-Gazette here. PITTSBURGH (May 15, 2018) … Breast milk has many known health benefits, but breastfeeding is not always an option for moms, and many turn to pumping as an alternative. Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, wanted to make this often cumbersome process easier. She decided to tackle the antiquated design of modern breast pumps and create a clever attachment that would make pumping more like nursing. Hornbostel found herself in this parenting world after giving birth to twins during her doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and decided to participate in their Breast Pump Hackathon six months into motherhood. “‘Mom-tech’ is really behind the curve, and there is a lot of room for innovation,” said Hornbostel. “The hackathon put me into the mindset of creating new products for mothers, and two years later, I found myself filing my first ‘mom-tech’ patent for Pump2Baby.” “Whether it is difficulty latching, giving birth to multiples, returning to work, or a host of other common issues, many women struggle with nursing and start pumping to produce breast milk,” explained Hornbostel. “I wanted to create something to ease frustration with the pumping process.” Pump2Baby is a breast pump accessory that connects to any Medela breast pump. The user begins hands-free pumping with a pumping bra, and once some milk has accumulated in the bottle, the baby can suck it out through tubing to a nipple.  A special valve in the bottom of each bottle prevents milk from leaking until the baby starts sucking. Between pumping, cleaning, and feeding, the current process can take an hour for each feeding session. With around 8 feedings a day for newborns, pumping quickly becomes a full-time job for moms. Hornbostel’s Pump2Baby design saves time and stress by allowing moms to pump and bottle-feed simultaneously. “Many women, myself included, get burned out on pumping milk around the clock. I think the hardest part for me was that I could not take care of my twin infants when I was constantly attached to that pump,” said Hornbostel. “If I had Pump2Baby back when my boys were newborns, I almost certainly would have stuck with pumping longer because I could have actually fed them while pumping milk.” In addition to its time saving features, Pump2Baby also returns another benefit of breastfeeding- the mother’s bonding experience with her child. The ability to pump and feed at the same time means the user can now hold their baby while pumping which simulates the bond moms create while breastfeeding. “There are human factors to the production of milk,” explains Hornbostel. “Some women struggle to produce milk because the process of pumping is too mechanical. Holding your child and connecting with them often helps encourage production.” Hornbostel believes that this product is going to change the way we approach “mom-tech” and hopes it will spur future innovations. She calculates that this product could save the user a total of 180 hours over six months if they exclusively pump. These precious hours mean more time spent with your little one or better yet...more sleep. ###


MEMS Undergraduate Wins National Center for Women & Information Technology Collegiate Award

MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 9, 2018) … Joanna Rivero, a senior mechanical engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is one of four recipients of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Collegiate Award. Though careers in technology are on the rise, the number of women in the field is small. NCWIT is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in computing starting from K-12 and continuing through their professional careers. This award recognizes technical projects that demonstrate a high level of creativity and potential societal impact. Rivero received the award for her work with thermoelectric generators (TEG). She explained, “There is an urgent need to find a renewable and sustainable source of energy as an alternative to the fossil fuels that we heavily depend upon. TEGs are a potential alternative that use heat to produce energy through a thermal gradient formed between two dissimilar conductors.” Diagram of a TEG showing an optimized leg (right) and the constant (left) in a per slice basis. Rivero works as a student researcher for Dr. Matthew Barry, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, and their project combines multiphysics and multi-method algorithms to develop mathematical models to optimize TEG power systems. Barry and Rivero’s work builds upon established methods that determine an optimized leg shape profile of a TEG for an accurate prediction of performance. Their research, however, is unique in its execution. “Our model gives an accurate geometric prediction that uses both numerical and analytical methods, which has never been done before,” said Rivero. “This thermal-electric coupled solution algorithm allows for the simultaneous resolution of temperature and current and, therefore, power within the TEG.” The result of the optimized leg shape for a TEG with the materials used. “Both algorithms take the cross-sectional area of each TEG leg in slices. One leg is optimized while the other is kept constant, which allows the geometric properties to be solved in relation to one leg,” explained Rivero. “We used this method because it results in more accurate performance predictions by taking into account the intermediate temperatures between each slice. The methods used showed an increase in performance for both efficiency and power output when compared to conventional modeling.” In addition to the $10,000 prize, recipients of the NCWIT Collegiate Award are also given a scholarship to attend the organization’s Summit on Women in IT from May 15-17 in Grapevine, Texas. In the fall, Rivero will continue her studies as a PhD student in the Swanson School and looks forward to taking advantage of more opportunities as she continues to grow at Pitt. She said, “I had no clue I would end up in this field. Dr. Barry’s work is heavily dependent on computing and technology, and what began as a requirement to work in his group turned into a passion of mine after I realized the huge impact technology brings to advancing and aiding research.” ###


Bioengineering alumna Alexandra Delazio part of team developing Disney's "Force Jacket"

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Virtual reality is a gateway to powerful experiences. Strap on a pair of VR goggles, look around, and the scene you see will adjust, in real time, to match your gaze. But the technology is a visual one. Virtual reality doesn’t include touch, although there are controllers that provide “hand presence,” allowing you to manipulate objects in the virtual world, or shoot a simulated gun. So while VR today could simulate a Westworld-like setting, you’re not going to be actually feeling the hug of a cowboy-robot on your body while using any of the major platforms—at least not for a while. The Force Jacket, a garment from Disney Research, aims to address that gap. Made out of a converted life jacket, the prototype uses embedded airbags that inflate, deflate, or even vibrate to literally give its wearer a feeling of being touched. When coupled with VR software, the setup can simulate something bizarre—a snake slithering on you—or more pedestrian: getting hit by a snowball. In brief, the sensation of touch you feel on your actual body can match what you see in a virtual one. (The device is the result of a research project, so these lifejacket-garments aren’t exactly on sale on Amazon. It’s also not the first research to focus on incorporating haptics into VR.) “If you’ve experienced virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s largely based in this immersive visual world,” says Alexandra Delazio, the lead researcher on the jacket project and currently a research engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, where she works on technology for people with disabilities. “The real world is not just visual—it’s full of force and pressure-based interaction.” The goal of the jacket is to bring that sense of touch to the virtual world, or maybe even offer a way for someone far away to give you a hug. Read the full story at Popular Science.


A world of opportunities

MEMS, Diversity

From The Pitt News When Irene Mena got her U.S. citizenship Feb. 28 at the Pittsburgh Courthouse, her colleague and friend Dan Budny brought her a cake adorned with an American flag and the words “Congratulations Irene!” written under it. She ate a piece and then drove right back to her office in Benedum Hall. “After that, it was like, ‘Well, okay, back to work,’” she laughed. This relaxed attitude has governed Mena’s entire life. It’s what’s kept her passionate about teaching, performing arts and science and ensured she stays focused on her work as an assistant professor in Pitt’s mechanical engineering and materials science department. It’s also enabled her to undergo major life changes without phasing her confidence. Read the full article by Brian Gentry at The Pitt News.
Brian Gentry, Staff Writer, The Pitt News

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