Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Bioengineering combines hands-on experience with the solid fundamentals that students need to advance themselves in research, medicine, and industry. The Department has a long-standing and unique relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh as well as neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Our faculty are shared with these organizations, offering our graduate and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art facilities and a wide array of research opportunities. We currently have 187 graduate students who are advised by some 100 different faculty advisers, pursuing graduate research across 17 Departments and five Schools. Our undergraduate class-size of approximately 50 students per year ensures close student-faculty interactions in the classroom and the laboratory.

The main engineering building is located next to the Medical Center in Oakland, an elegant university neighborhood with museums, parks, and great restaurants. Beautiful new facilities have also been built, a short shuttle ride from the main campus, along the Monongahela River, replacing the steel mills that once were there. Our department is growing rapidly, both in numbers of students and faculty, and in the funding and diversity of our research. The Pittsburgh bioengineering community is a vibrant and stimulating alliance of diverse components for which our department forms an essential and central connection.

Nov
14
2018

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo Presents Plenary Lecture at the Motor Learning and Motor Control Symposium

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (November 14, 2018) … Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, presented a plenary lecture at the 2018 Advances in Motor Learning and Motor Control symposium. The annual meeting provides a forum for presenting research advancements in the areas of human motor behavior, imaging, motor neurophysiology, and computational modeling. Torres-Oviedo runs the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering where she investigates the ability of the human motor system to adapt walking patterns and learn new movements upon sustained changes in the environment. Torres-Oviedo’s plenary talk for the MLMC symposium was titled “Sensorimotor adaptation through the lens of feedback-generated muscle activity.” The research investigates how muscle activity is rapidly modified in response to external perturbations, and it is the thesis work of Pablo Iturralde, a bioengineering PhD candidate in the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory. “Consider, for example, the muscle responses of a person who suddenly stepped on an icy patch without noticing,” said Torres-Oviedo. “We study these reactions in our laboratory by recording and analyzing muscle activity to unexpected transitions in foot speed.” The group’s work showed that walking on the altered environment for a long time (i.e., taking ~900 steps on the patch of ice) modifies the calibration of one’s motor system. “As a result of this adaptation, individuals adopt the perturbed situation as their new normal and transitioning back to the previous environment causes subjects to react as if it was novel to them,” explained Torres-Oviedo. “From an engineering perspective, we can model this motor behavior as a dynamical system (i.e., a history-dependent system) in which the parameters are recalibrated through the process of sensorimotor adaptation.” During their research, the group also discovered that age may play a role in this adaptation. Iturralde explained, “Interestingly, we found that this adaptation effect is reduced with healthy aging, suggesting that the greater incidence of falls in older individuals might be due to their inability to adjust motor patterns upon environmental transitions.” Torres-Oviedo was one of three plenary lectures during the MLMC symposium, which was held on November 2, 2018 as a satellite event for the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, CA. ###

Nov
12
2018

CampBioE Continues to Reach Diverse Audiences and Help Undergraduates Gain a New Educational Perspective

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (November 12, 2018) … Since 2007, the University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering has been addressing deficiencies in youth STEM education by offering CampBioE, an immersive summer program for middle and high school students. The program continues to grow and engage diverse groups of students interested in science and engineering. They have also developed a strategy to help Swanson School of Engineering undergraduates experience a new perspective in education. CampBioE implements a “near-peer” mentoring strategy where they integrate undergraduate bioengineering students as senior counselors and regional high school students as junior counselors. This group creates and implements 50 percent of the camp’s curriculum, allowing them to participate in education from the other side of the desk - in the role of educator. “We use this ‘near-peer’ strategy to help break the barrier to STEM,” said Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering and director of CampBioE. “We believe that communicating science through the lens of a junior or senior counselor makes it less intimidating for our campers than learning from a professor.” Donehue coordinating the Koronors Korner activity where students identify and extract parts of the body. Patricia Donehue, a junior biology student at Pitt, served as this year’s camp manager. Her previous participation as a senior counselor in the 2016 and 2017 programs gave her the knowledge and experience to help run the show. “We focus our curriculum on a theme that appeals to younger generations so that they are more eager to learn,” said Donehue. “Last year’s superhero theme was very successful, but this year, we developed activities dealing with forensics.” Throughout the week-long experience, students became scientific sleuths and used bioengineering to solve a mystery. “It was cool to take bioengineering concepts and apply them to something not typically associated with the discipline,” said Donehue. “We fabricated a criminal mystery that the students had to solve with science. At the end of the week, each of the campers accused a suspect and justified their choice with experimental results from throughout the week.” Students doing mechanical testing of biological tissue. The senior counselors prepared 10 new activities in the months prior to the students’ arrival. Some of this year’s favorites included, “Mannequin Overboard” where the students created helmets to see how well they could protect a fake mannequin brain from a fall; “Mind Over Bladder” where they learned about the extracellular matrix by examining a pig bladder; and “I Spy Something Red” where students were given pieces of red-stained clothing and had to figure out which sample contained blood. “The students had fun using their hard work to solve a mystery,” said Donehue. “Being a CampBioE counselor is challenging but very rewarding. Each year comes with its own set of obstacles, but when you see the impact camp has on the students, it is worth it to know that we perhaps helped mold a future scientist or engineer.” CampBioE is the signature outreach program of the Department of Bioengineering. In 2018 they hosted a total of 96 participants, and thanks to generous donations, they were able to provide 60 registration-free scholarships to underrepresented students and students from underserved school districts in the Pittsburgh Area. The 2019 program will be offered from July 8 - August 2. Registration can be found on their website at the beginning of next year. ###

Nov
6
2018

Bioengineering graduate student research on peripheral nerve repair wins first place at poster session

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (November 6, 2018) … Tyler Meder, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was awarded first place among more than 40 participants at a poster session during the 7th annual Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation. The symposium was hosted in Seattle on October 11-13, 2018. Meder works on peripheral nerve repair research in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering under the supervision of Bryan Brown, assistant professor of bioengineering. The peripheral nervous system connects the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, and damage to these nerves could disrupt the brain’s ability to communicate with muscles and organs, resulting in a loss of sensation or motor functions. According to Meder, “In the US, research shows that peripheral nerve injury (PNI) affects an estimated 20 million people,1 totaling nearly $150 billion yearly in health-care costs.2 “Surgical intervention becomes necessary in cases of PNI where the nerve is severed because of a slow or lacking regenerative response,” said Meder. “Therefore, creating a therapy to both increase the rate of regeneration as well as the extent of function regained is of great clinical interest.” The research team is working with a novel peripheral nerve-specific extracellular matrix (PNM) hydrogel that has been shown to increase regeneration of injured peripheral nerves. They will combine this technology with post-surgical therapy to observe how they may work together to synergistically improve recovery after nerve reconstruction. “Initial data from our study show that the nerve gel increases the rate of recovery and functional outcomes in a crush injury model,” said Meder. “We hope to further increase nerve recovery by applying an electrical stimulation therapy, which has been used clinically to increase nerve regeneration.” The Symposium on Regenerative Rehabilitation is a part of the educational efforts of the Alliance for Regenerative Rehabilitation Research and Training (AR3T) - a multi-institutional network of laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, Mayo Clinic, and the University of Texas at Austin.  AR3T is an NIH-funded resource center that helps to develop research collaborations, provides educational opportunities, and funds pilot projects and technology development projects that will benefit the research community. ### 1 Antfolk C, D’Alonzo M, Rosén B, Lundborg G, Sebelius F and Cipriani C 2013 Sensory feedback in upper limb prosthetics Expert Rev. Med. Devices 10 45–54. 2 Taylor CA, Braza D, Rice JB, Dillingham T. The incidence of peripheral nerve injury in extremity trauma. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2008;87(5):381-5.

Oct
24
2018

Engineering Student Athletes: Madeline Hobbs

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Madeline Hobbs Sport: Soccer Position: Defense (multiple positions) Major: Bioengineering Class: Junior Hometown: Portsmouth, Rhode Island “You have to want to be both a student and an athlete. You have to want to get up and go to practice every day. You have to want to be on the team even when you aren’t playing. You have to want to come to class. You can’t just want to be an engineer and not go to office hours when you have trouble on a test. You have to want to do both, and you have to want to do both completely.” “Taking Long Shots” After tearing her ACL twice in high school, Madeline Hobbs figured her dream of playing college soccer had ended. However, amidst the feeling of loss, Hobbs found an opportunity to shadow the orthopedic surgeon who repaired her leg. The experience influenced her decision to major in bioengineering. “I was intrigued by the medical component,” she says. “I really enjoyed biology in high school. I liked the idea of being able to combine medicine and biology with the hands-on problem-solving of engineering.” Pitt wasn’t on Hobbs’ list of schools to apply to until she received a recruitment pamphlet in the mail. After some research and during a visit to campus, she met with the Women’s Soccer coach on a whim. “I didn’t think I would ever get to play at Pitt. I really applied to Pitt looking at academics, which is how I looked at all the schools I applied to: academics first, athletics second. I wanted to play here, but I definitely knew it was going to be a long shot,” says Hobbs. Hobbs joined the Women’s Soccer team as student manager during her first year, but halfway through the season the coach added her to the roster in recognition of her hard work. Hobbs still remembers the first time she stepped on the field: “You’re sitting on the bench when the coach calls your name to go warm up. You’re telling yourself to calm down, you might not even get in, but your heart is racing a million miles an hour on the sidelines. You get the call, tell yourself to be cool, and step on the field. It’s just an amazing feeling.” Noteworthy Dean's List Engineering Blue Gold Society Member Gilman International Scholarship Recipient Engineering Ambassador Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Diversity and Inclusion Officer CCChampions Volunteer A Typical Day 6:30 am: Wake up 7:00 - 9:00 am: Study 11:00 am: Class 12:00 pm: Class or lunch 1:00 pm: Class 3:00 - 5:00 pm: Practice 6:00 pm: Film/weights 7:00 pm: Class/study 11:00 pm:      Sleep Note: This is part two of a four-part series about student-athletes at the Swanson School of Engineering. Part three will appear on the SSOE website on October 31, 2018. Part One: https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/News/2018/Craig-Bair-Soccer-Profile/ ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Oct
22
2018

BioE Undergraduate Research Recognized at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (October 22, 2018) … Ellen Martin, a senior bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, received an award for her research presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting on October 3 in Philadelphia, PA. The conference paper, “Characterizing the Required Friction during Ladder Climbing”, details her work on improving ladder safety and was selected as the best student paper by the Safety Technical Group at the meeting. Martin works with Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering, in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Human Movement and Balance Laboratory where part of their research aims to create safer occupational environments by investigating the mechanics behind slips, trips, and falls. This diagram demonstrates the effect ladder angle has on center of mass (black circle) and foot angle. The increased horizontal distance between the center of mass and feet may explain the increased maximum RCOF at steeper ladder angles. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration1, falls from ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. “To help improve ladder safety, we investigated the risk of slipping by finding the amount of friction that a person requires to safely climb a ladder, known as the Required Coefficient of Friction (RCOF),” said Martin. “Ladders can be set up at different angles ranging from vertical to slanted so our group adjusted and measured the RCOF at various positions to determine which orientation was the safest for climbing.” RCOF is calculated as the friction force over normal force during climbing. Martin and the group measured these values by embedding force sensors into the ladder and using motion capture to find the orientation of the shoe. The orientation determined which part of the overall force was the friction force, where the shoe is parallel with the surface, and which part was the normal force, where the shoe is perpendicular with the surface. “A high RCOF value indicates that the subject requires a greater amount of friction force to stay stable, making the user more susceptible to slipping,” said Martin. “Based on our research, we determined that the RCOF was highest in the vertical configuration. This suggests that safety could be improved by making sure that a ladder is placed at an angle that keeps a person’s body over the ladder instead of hanging off of the ladder.” Beschorner has applied similar coefficient of friction assessment methods to his other work with gait and encouraged Martin to adapt it to climbing. He added, “Ms. Martin’s work is an important step for developing a mechanism-based model of slipping risk for ladder climbing. Such a model will enable us to develop new methods for assessing ladder rung traction, which is needed to select and design safer ladders.” ### 1 “According to the US Department of Labor’s...” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/portable_ladder_qc.html

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