Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Join With Us In Celebrating Our 2020 Graduating Class! 


The Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering was established in 1910, making it the first department for petroleum engineering in the world. Today, our department has over 40 expert faculty (tenure/tenure-stream/joint/adjunct), a host of dedicated staff, more than 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and learning centers, and education programs that enrich with strong fundamentals and hands-on experience.

Chemical engineering is concerned with processes in which matter and energy undergo change. The range of concerns is so broad that the chemical engineering graduate is prepared for a variety of interesting and challenging employment opportunities.

Chemical engineers with strong background in sciences are found in management, design, operations, and research. Chemical engineers are employed in almost all industries, including food, polymers, chemicals, pharmaceutical, petroleum, medical, materials, and electronics. Since solutions to energy, environmental, and food problems must surely involve chemical changes, there will be continued demands for chemical engineers in the future.

Read our latest newsletter below



Jun
25
2020

Making a Sustainable Impact Throughout Pitt and Our Communities

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

"MCSI remains committed to addressing global sustainability issues, connecting our domestic and international pursuits to create synergies locally, nationally, and internationally. We hope you enjoy this summary of the past year’s impacts, and we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about the report's contents and MCSI's programs."

Jun
22
2020

Like Oil and Water

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 22, 2020) — In the petroleum industry, the ability to separate oil and water is critical. Oily wastewater from drilling and processing crude oil is the biggest waste stream in the oil and gas industry, which produces three times as much waste as it does product. Lei Li, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has received $110,000 from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund (PRF) for his work developing 3D-printed membranes that will aid in oil-water separation. The development could help convert the oily wastewater into purified, usable water. “The ideal case for a membrane that serves this purpose is a material that is oleophobic and hydrophilic—in other words, one that hates oil but loves water,” said Li.  “What’s new about this work is its focus on surface and in-pore topography: The texture of the surface of the material and even the texture inside of the pores of the material have a profound effect on the membrane’s effectiveness.” Current fluorinated hydrophilic and oleophobic membranes have been shown to be effective in the short-term but lose their properties in the long-term. Li’s method will instead rely on water as a thermodynamically stable material and will engineer the surface topography inside the membrane’s pores so that the water and oil remain separated. “Previously, such features were fabricated by nanolithography methods, which are slow and expensive. In this project, we propose to take advantage of two-photon polymerization 3D-printing technique,” explained Li. “Compared to traditional manufacturing technology, this provides a reasonably fast, single-step process to fabricate complicated structures.” Additionally, the high resolution that two-photon polymerization 3D-printing enables will allow the researchers to make the membrane’s pore size down to a few hundred nanometers, which is critical in separating oil-water emulsions. The grant will last for two years, beginning Sept. 1, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
15
2020

Building a Circular Chemical Economy

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2020) … Carbon dioxide is essential to plant and animal life, but in excess it negatively impacts the environment by absorbing and radiating heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. But what if we could recycle carbon dioxide by converting it into useful fuels and chemicals? The University of Pittsburgh’s James McKone is tackling this idea and was selected as a Beckman Young Investigator (BYI) by the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation for this work. “Over the last several decades, the cost of renewable electricity has dramatically decreased to the point where building a new solar or wind farm is, in many cases, more economical than continuing to run a coal-fired power plant,” said McKone, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “This is incredibly exciting because it means we can start to imagine what it would look like to power our whole society with carbon-free resources,” he said. Consider chemical manufacturing – the industry that produces most of the stuff that we use every day. The dangerous by-products and waste created by this industry adds to the massive global pollution problem - from the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean, and from backyards to beaches. According to McKone, simply improving renewable electricity is not enough to mitigate our climate impact if we do not also rethink the way we make things like plastic, steel, and textiles. He received funding from the BYI program to develop new catalysts and chemical reactors that can recycle carbon dioxide and other chemical wastes back into useful fuels and raw materials. “We ultimately want to build a circular chemical economy—a sustainable approach to chemical manufacturing where every molecule that comes out of a smokestack or a tailpipe is captured and reused hundreds or thousands of times instead of being discarded as waste,” said McKone. His team will make two major adaptations to current industrial catalysts. Rather than heat, they will use electricity to drive chemical reactions so that they can use renewable resources as the main energy input. They will also mimic the behavior of biological enzymes to improve the efficiency of chemical reactions by designing specific catalytic units, called active sites, to perform each individual step of the complex chemical reactions. “Getting these catalysts to work is an incredible challenge,” said McKone. “To meet that challenge, we are developing new experimental capabilities that will allow us to measure and manipulate catalyst materials with atomic-scale precision.” The BYI program provides research support to the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences. It challenges researchers to pursue innovative and high-risk projects that seek to make significant scientific advancements and open up new avenues of research in science. McKone is only the second Pitt professor selected for this award in the history of the BYI program. The first was Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Alex Deiters, professor of chemistry at Pitt, is a third BYI who received the award during his tenure at North Carolina State University. # # #

Jun
9
2020

Predicting Unpredictable Reactions

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 9, 2020) — Computational catalysis, a field that simulates and accelerates the discovery of catalysts for chemical production, has largely been limited to simulations of idealized catalyst structures that do not necessarily represent structures under realistic reaction conditions. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Catalysis and Catalytic Processes (Department of Energy) at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, advances the field of computational catalysis by paving the way for the simulation of realistic catalysts under reaction conditions. The work, published in ACS Catalysis, was authored by Raffaele Cheula, PhD student in the Maestri group; Matteo Maestri, full professor of chemical engineering at Politecnico di Milano; and Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical engineering at Pitt. “With our work, one can see, for example, how metal nanoparticles that are commonly used as catalysts can change morphology in a reactive environment and affect catalytic behavior. As a result, we can now simulate nanoparticle ensembles, which can advance any field of nanoparticles application, like nanomedicine, energy, the environment and more,” says Mpourmpakis. “Although our application is focused on catalysis, it has the potential to advance nanoscale simulations as a whole.” In order to model catalysis in reaction conditions, the researchers had to account for the dynamic character of the catalyst, which is likely to change throughout the reaction. To accomplish this, the researchers simulated how the catalysts change structure, how probable this change is, and how that probability affects the reactions taking place on the surface of the catalysts. “Catalysis is behind most of the important processes in our daily lives: from the production of chemicals and fuels to the abatement of pollutants,” says Maestri. “Our work paves the way towards the fundamental analysis of the structure-activity relation in catalysis. This is paramount in any effort in the quest of engineering chemical transformation at the molecular level by achieving a detailed mechanistic understanding of the catalyst functionality. Thanks to Raffaele’s stay at Pitt, we were able to combine the expertise in microkinetic and multiscale modeling of my group with the expertise in nanomaterials simulations and computational catalysis of Yanni’s group.” Lead author Raffaele Cheula, a PhD student in the Maestri Lab, worked for a year in the Mpourmpakis Lab at Pitt on this research. “It has been very nice to be involved in this collaboration between Yanni and Matteo” says Cheula. “The combination of my research experiences at Pitt and at PoliMi has been very important for the finalization of this work. It was a challenging topic and I am very happy with this result”. The work is funded by National Science Foundation and the European Research Council, and with computational support from the Center for Research Computing at Pitt and CINECA in Bologna, Italy. The paper, “Modeling Morphology and Catalytic Activity of Nanoparticle Ensembles Under Reaction Conditions,” was published in ACS Catalysis and featured on the cover of the print edition.
Maggie Pavlick
May
27
2020

When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum

Cleaning products are flying off grocery shelves. Hand sanitizers can be hard to find. In the age of COVID-19, consumers want products that will clean, disinfect and keep them safe. But one look at the list of ingredients on the back of your favorite cleaner may leave you wishing you had paid more attention in chemistry class. “When you read a label, the names seem like a different language, and so people just see gibberish,” said Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “As a chemical engineer, I see a structure.” “Most of the things we use day-to-day that are chemicals were invented before most of us were born,” said Beckman, who also is co-director of science and technology at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “People don’t really think about them. Until now. We asked Beckman to explain some of the ingredients in cleaning products and how to choose the right one for the right job. Sodium Hypochlorite You’ll find it in: Clorox Bleach What it does: “Chlorine bleach is a blunt object—it crushes everything in its path,” said Beckman. “It chops up molecules—it destroys mold and germs, but if you drip it on your clothing, it’ll destroy the dye molecules, too.” Keep in mind: Because it’s a volatile molecule, you shouldn’t use it in strong concentrations in a closed space without ventilation. For surfaces, dilute with water according to the package’s recommendations and spray on the solution. Rinse with water after a few minutes. Never, ever mix it with other chemicals, especially ammonia. Sodium Percarbonate You’ll find it in: OxiClean What it does: These milder forms of bleach work the same way as chlorine bleach to disinfect, but they won’t ruin your clothes. Because these brands are gentler, Beckman says, they just need a little extra time to work. Keep in mind: Make sure to let the cleanser sit on surfaces 10 minutes to sanitize before wiping off. Tetra-alkyl Ammonium Halides (like alkyl ammonium chlorides, alkyl ammonium saccharinates or alkyl ammonium sulfonates) You’ll find it in: Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner What it does: “Most antibacterial cleansers use this class of compounds—tetra-alkyl ammonium halides. It’s in Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles, and a wide variety of products,” said Beckman. “What they do is worm their way into cell membranes and make them fall apart. They’ve been tested against a wide range of bacteria and viruses.” Keep in mind: These molecules aren’t volatile, so they don’t leave a strong smell in the air, and they are relatively safe, cheap and effective. Hydrochloric Acid You’ll find it in: Lysol Heavy Duty Toilet Bowl Cleaner What it does: A very concentrated, strong acid, this ingredient will obliterate rust stains and bacteria—as well as your skin, if you’re not careful. “If you want to clean bricks, it’s a good option, but it’s probably overkill for most toilets.” Keep in mind: In a lab, chemists would work with this acid under a ventilation hood, wearing lab gloves and eye protection, Beckman notes. Make sure you wear gloves, and don’t use it in an unventilated space. Ethanol and Isopropanol You’ll find it in: hand sanitizers What it does: Ethanol or isopropanol, also known as rubbing alcohol, dehydrates the cell and disrupts the cell membrane, so it kills cells that rely on water—like most bacteria and viruses. When used as a hand sanitizer, it dries out your skin cells, too, which is why it’s usually combined with other moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin from feeling dry. Beckman says 60 percent alcohol or higher is strong enough to be effective. Keep in mind: Alcohol is very flammable, especially in the concentrations used for disinfecting, so keep it away from open flames. Acetic Acid You’ll find it in:  distilled white vinegar What it does: When used with water, the mild acid in vinegar helps loosen dirt and oil from the surface. A favorite among DIY cleaners, vinegar is very gentle. Keep in mind: Because it’s so gentle, vinegar shouldn’t be relied upon for disinfecting. “Vinegar is one of the safest and smelliest options, but it is one with a high risk—we just don’t know that it’s effective against bacteria and viruses,” said Beckman. “When it comes to killing the virus, the gentler the compound is, the less effective it probably is.” Citric Acid You’ll find it in: Method All-Purpose Surface Cleaner What it does: In food, citric acid is in the coating that gives Sour Patch Kids their sour flavor. When used in a cleanser, however, the mild acid helps water clean away grime and grease, much like vinegar does. “Citric acid and vinegar are both acids, but citric acid is also a mild reducing agent, meaning it can do chemistry that acetic acid (vinegar) cannot,” said Beckman. “Reducing agents like citric acid can actually ‘denature,’ or unravel, proteins—including proteins that make viruses function.” Keep in mind: While it’s not quite as potent as some other ingredients when it comes to disinfecting, it still has an effect, making it a great, gentle option for day-to-day cleanup.
Maggie Pavlick

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