Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Feb

Feb
14
2019

A New Wrinkle on Vascular Implants

Chemical & Petroleum

Joe Pugar has always been fascinated with the elegant structures, systems and mechanics of nature.  From the tensile strength of spider silk to the energy conversion ability of photosynthesis, he has been intrigued at adapting the genius of natural design to engineering challenges. That’s what attracted him as a sophomore student in chemical engineering to a summer research project in the lab of Sachin Velankar at the Swanson School of Engineering. The project was a collaboration between Valenkar, professor of chemical engineering, and Luka Pocivavsek, at the time a cardiovascular surgical resident at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, who is now at the University of Chicago. Pocivavsek had the initial idea of developing a vascular implant that mimics the natural surface “wrinkling” that occurs in real blood vessels to keep blood from clotting on the interior vessel walls. What Pugar couldn’t have imagined then is that within three years he would be taking this research out of the university in a startup company called Aruga Technologies with him spearheading the effort as CEO. Read the full article from Pitt's Innovation Institute.
Michael C. Yeomans Marketing and Special Events Manager, Innovation Institute

Jan

Jan
25
2019

Penn State Chemical Engineering features Pitt Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton in its "Alumni Spotlight"

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

Our latest Alumni Spotlight features Susan Fullerton, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Fullerton earned her bachelor of science and PhD in chemical engineering at Penn State (2002 and 2009, respectively) and currently leads a research group that seeks to establish a fundamental understanding of ion-electron transport at the molecular level to design next-generation electronic devices at the limit of scaling for memory, logic, and energy storage. Among her most recent recognitions include the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2019 Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences, and the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Early Career (CAREER) award. Read the full spotlight here.

Jan
22
2019

New method uses ultraviolet light to control fluid flow and organize particles

Chemical & Petroleum

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (January 22, 2019) ... A new, simple, and inexpensive method that uses ultraviolet light to control particle motion and assembly within liquids could improve drug delivery, chemical sensors, and fluid pumps. The method encourages particles—from plastic microbeads, to bacterial spores, to pollutants—to gather and organize at a specific location within a liquid and, if desired, to move to new locations. A paper describing the new method appears in the journal Angewandte Chemie ("Organization of Particle Islands Via Light‐Powered Fluid Pumping," DOI: 10.1002/anie.201811568.) “Many applications related to sensors, drug delivery, and nanotechnology require the precise control of the flow of fluids,” said Ayusman Sen, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Penn State and senior author of the paper. “Researchers have developed a number of strategies to do so, including nanomotors and fluid pumps, but prior to this study we did not have an easy way to gather particles at a particular location so that they can perform a useful function and then move them to a new location so they can perform the function again. “Say for example you want to build a sensor to detect particles of a pollutant, or bacterial spores in a water sample,” said Sen. “With this new method, we can simply add nanoparticles of gold or titanium dioxide and shine a light to encourage the pollutant particles or spores to gather. By concentrating them in one spot, they become easier to detect. And because light is so easy to manipulate, we have a high degree of control.” Just as pollutant particles could be gathered at a particular location, the method could be used to gather silica or polymer beads that carry a payload, like antibodies or drugs, at particular locations within a fluid. The new method first involves adding a small amount of titanium dioxide or gold nanoparticles to a liquid, like water, that also contains larger particles of interest, like pollutants or beads carrying a payload. Shining a light at a specific point in the liquid heats up the tiny metal nanoparticles, and the heat is then transferred to the fluid. The warmer liquid then rises at the point of light —just as warm air rises in a chilly room—and cooler water rushes in to fill the space that the warm water just left, bringing the larger particles with it. “This causes the larger particles to collect at the point of UV light, where they form closely packed, well-organized structures called colloidal crystals,” said Benjamin Tansi, graduate student in chemistry at Penn State and first author of the paper. “Changing the intensity of the light or the amount of titanium dioxide or gold particles alters how quickly this process occurs.” When the light is removed, the larger particles randomly diffuse through the liquid. But if the light is instead relocated, the larger particles move toward the new point of light, mostly maintaining their structure as they move. This dynamic assembly, disassembly, and movement of organized particles may have important implications for sensing and drug delivery. Using the new method, the researchers gather particles of interest into an organized structure at the point of light (left). When the light is moved to a new location (right), the particles move toward the new point of light, as depicted in this video. Credit: Sen Lab, Penn State “This process is most efficient when gold nanoparticles are used, but we wanted to find an alternative that was less expensive and more accessible,” said Tansi. “We were pleased to find that this method also works with titanium dioxide, an inexpensive and harmless nanoparticle used in cosmetics and as a food additive.” In addition to water, the researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of this method in hexadecane, an organic liquid. “Particles usually don’t assemble very well in salty or non-aqueous environments because everything sticks together,” said Sen. “But here we show that particles can assemble using this method in hexadecane, which suggests we may be able to apply this technique in, for example, biological fluids. To our knowledge this is the first demonstration of light-driven fluid pumping in an organic medium.” Members of the research team at the University of Pittsburgh led by Anna Balazs used mathematical models to describe the dynamics of the system. In addition to describing how particles move in the system, the models confirm that only a minor change in temperature—less than a degree Celsius—from the ultraviolet light is required to induce the fluid flow. The research team is currently testing the limits of this method, for example if particles can move uphill toward the light source or if the method can be used to sort particles by size. “We knew that heating gold nanoparticles in suspension could create a fluid flow,” said Tansi, “but prior to this study no one had looked to see if these kinds of thermally-driven fluid flows could be used to do anything useful. Because ultraviolet light and titanium dioxide are so easy to control, we think this method could be harnessed in various technologies in the future. For example, a fluid pump that relies on this method could potentially replace the bulky and more expensive traditional pumps that require a power source or that rely on magnetics or mechanical movement to function.” In addition to Sen, Tansi, and Balazs, the research team includes Matthew Peris at Penn State and Oleg Shklyaev at the University of Pittsburgh. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-CCI Award Number 1740630). ### Originally published by Penn State University. Reposted with permission.
Gail McCormick, Penn State University
Jan
18
2019

Tenure-Stream Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering with a Focus in Regenerative Medicine

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering (www.engineering.pitt.edu/Departments/Chemical-Petroleum) invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering or a closely related discipline.  This is a tenure-stream faculty position at the rank of assistant professor in the research area of regenerative medicine including focus areas of tissue engineering, organ engineering, organ/ disease on a chip, biomaterials, medical devices, synthetic biology, and immunotherapy. The candidate should have a strong interest in the translation of their research through the generation and licensing of intellectual property. This unique position will be supported by two personalized mentoring teams. One comprising a group of physicians focused on clinical need in the candidate’s topic areas, and a second group of experts in technology transfer in the medical space. The laboratories for the successful candidate will be within the highly collaborative and clinically-focused McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In addition, the candidate must be committed to contributing to the high quality education of a diverse student body at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and collaborations with Carnegie Mellon University.  The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs. The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (www.mirm.pitt.edu), Musculoskeletal Research Center (www.pitt.edu/~msrc), Center for Neuroscience (cnup.neurobio.pitt.edu), Drug Discovery Institute (www.upddi.pitt.edu), Vascular Medicine Institute (www.vmi.pitt.edu), and the Cancer Institute (www.upci.upmc.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities. Interested individuals should send the following as a single PDF attachments via email to che@pitt.edu (include REGENERATIVE MEDICINE CHEME POSITION in the subject line): (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement and (5) list of four references (names and complete contact information).  Applications will be reviewed beginning February 1, 2019. The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. One of the major strategic goals of The University of Pittsburgh is to “Embrace Diversity and Inclusion”; therefore, the candidate should be committed to high quality teaching and research for a diverse student body and to assisting our department in enhancing diversity in all forms. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vet/Disabled employer.

Jan
10
2019

Pitt’s Susan Fullerton recognized with James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching Chemical Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 10, 2019) … Marking her ability to inspire students through novel demonstrations of complex subjects as well as her mentoring of women and underrepresented minorities, the University of Pittsburgh’s Susan Fullerton was awarded the 2018 James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum  Engineering. Dr. Fullerton, an assistant professor at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, was recognized at the end of the fall semester.The Pommersheim Award was established by the Department and James M. Pommersheim '70 to recognize departmental faculty in the areas of lecturing, teaching, research methodology, and research mentorship of students. Dr. Pommersheim, formerly Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University, received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in chemical engineering from Pitt.“Susan’s accomplishments in teaching over such a short period of time speak to the heart of the Pommersheim award. Her imaginative use of hands-on experiments and demonstrations create a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among our students and generate her impressive teaching scores to match,” noted Steven Little, department chair and professor. “Also, Susan’s presentations on the “imposter syndrome” and achieving work-life balance have generated tremendous campus interest.  She has candidly shared her own experiences to help our students understand that feeling like an imposter is normal, and can drive further successes.”In addition to her commitment to the University classroom, Dr. Fullerton will extend her teaching passion to area K-12 students thanks to a coveted National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which recognizes exemplary young faculty and encourages outreach to children and underrepresented students. The CAREER Award will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, as well as an outreach program to inspire curiosity and engagement of K-12 and underrepresented students in materials for next-generation electronics. Specifically, Dr. Fullerton has developed an activity where students can watch the polymer electrolytes used in her NSF study crystallize in real-time using an inexpensive camera attached to a smart phone or iPad. The CAREER award will allow Dr. Fullerton to provide this microscope to classrooms so that the teachers can continue exploring with their students. ### About Susan FullertonDr. Fullerton and her research group use the interplay between ions and electrons to design next-generation electronic devices at the limit of scaling for memory, logic and energy storage. In addition to the NSF Career award, she has also been awarded the AAAS Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in Chemical Sciences (2018), and an ORAU Ralph E. Powe Jr. Faculty Award (2016). Prior to joining Pitt in fall 2015, Fullerton was a Research Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She earned her bachelor of science and PhD degrees in chemical engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.

Jan
8
2019

Pitt Engineers Identify Novel, Affordable CO2 Capture Materials for Coal Power Plants

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 8, 2019) … A computational modeling method developed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering may help to fast-track the identification and design of new carbon capture and storage materials for use by the nation’s coal-fired power plants. The hypothetical mixed matrix membranes would provide a more economical solution than current methods, with a predicted cost of less than $50 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed. The research group - led by Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, in collaboration with co-investigator Jan Steckel, research scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Pittsburgh-based AECOM - published its findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy & Environmental Science (“High-throughput computational prediction of the cost of carbon capture using mixed matrix membranes,” DOI: 10.1039/C8EE02582G). “Polymer membranes have been used for decades to filter and purify materials, but are limited in their use for carbon capture and storage,” noted Dr. Wilmer, who leads the Hypothetical Materials Lab at the Swanson School. “Mixed matrix membranes, which are polymeric membranes with small, inorganic particles dispersed in the material, show extreme promise because of their separation and permeability properties. However, the number of potential polymers and inorganic particles is significant, and so finding the best combination for carbon capture can be daunting.”According to Dr. Wilmer, the researchers built upon their extensive research in metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which are highly porous crystalline materials created via the self-assembly of inorganic metal with organic linkers. These MOFs, which can store a higher volume of gases than traditional tanks, are highly versatile and can be made from a variety of materials and custom designed with specific properties. Dr. Wilmer and his group explored existing databases of hypothetical and real MOFs for their research, resulting in more than one million potential mixed matrix membranes. They then compared the predicted gas permeation of each material with published data, and evaluated them based on a three-stage capture process. Variables such as flow rate, capture fraction, pressure and temperature conditions were optimized as a function of membrane properties with the goal of identifying specific mixed matrix membranes that would yield an affordable carbon capture cost.  The potential implications for the Wilmer group’s research are tremendous. Although coal-generated power plants in the U.S. alone currently represent only 30 percent of nation’s energy portfolio, in 2017 they contributed the largest share of 1,207 million metric tons of CO2, or 69 percent of the total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions by the entire U.S. electric power sector. (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)“Our computational modeling of both hypothetical and real MOFs resulted in a new database of more than a million mixed matrix membranes with corresponding CO 2 capture performance and associated costs,” Dr. Wilmer said. “Further techno-economic analyses yielded 1,153 mixed matrix membranes with a carbon capture cost of less than $50 per ton removed. Thus, the potential exists for creating an economically affordable and efficient means of CO2 capture at coal power plants throughout the world and effectively tackling a significant source of fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” ### This technical effort was performed in support of the National Energy Technology Laboratory's ongoing research under RES contract DE-FE0004000. Funding was provided in part from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF award CBET-1653375).DisclaimerThis project was funded by the Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, an agency of the United States Government, through a support contract with AECOM. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, nor AECOM, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Jan
2
2019

A Catalytic Flying Carpet

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 2, 2019) … The “magic carpet” featured in tales from "One Thousand and One Nights” to Disney’s “Aladdin” captures the imagination not only because it can fly, but because it can also wave, flap, and alter its shape to serve its riders. With that inspiration, and the assistance of catalytic chemical reactions in solutions, a team from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has designed a two-dimensional, shape-changing sheet that moves autonomously in a reactant-filled fluid. The article, “Designing self-propelled, chemically-active sheets: Wrappers, flappers and creepers,” was published recently in the AAAS journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1745). Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, the John A. Swanson Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. Lead author is Abhrajit Laskar, and co-author is Oleg E. Shklyaev, both post-doctoral associates.“It’s long been a challenge in chemistry to create a non-living object that moves on its own within an environment, which in turn alters the object’s shape, allowing it to carry out brand new tasks, like trapping other objects,” Dr. Balazs explained. “Researchers previously have made chemically active patches on a surface that could generate fluid flow, but the flow didn’t influence the location or shape of the patch. And in our own lab we’ve modeled spherical and rectangular particles that can move autonomously within a fluid-filled microchamber. But now we have this integrated system that utilizes a chemical reaction to activate the fluid motion that simultaneously transports a flexible object and “sculpts” its shape, and it all happens autonomously.”The group accomplished this feat of self-propulsion and reconfiguration by introducing a coating of catalysts on the flexible sheet, which is roughly the width of a human hair. The addition of reactants to the surrounding fluid initiates both the carpet’s motion and the changes of its form. “To best of our knowledge, this is the first time these catalytic chemical reactions have been applied to 2D sheets to generate flows that transform these sheets into mobile, 3D objects,” Dr. Balazs said. Further, by placing different catalysts on specific areas of the sheet and controlling the amount and type of reactants in the fluid, the group created a useful cascade of catalytic reactions where one catalyst breaks down an associated chemical, which then becomes a reactant for the next of the set of catalytic reactions. Adding different reactants and designing appropriate configurations of the sheet allows for a variety of actions – in this study, enwrapping an object, making a flapping motion, and tumbling over obstacles on a surface. “A microfluidic device that contains these active sheets can now perform vital functions, such as shuttling cargo, grabbing a soft, delicate object, or even creeping along to clean a surface,” Dr. Shklyaev said. “These flexible micro-machines simply convert chemical energy into spontaneous reconfiguration and movement, which enables them to accomplish a repertoire of useful jobs.”Dr. Laskar added that if the sheet is cut into the shape of a four-petal flower and placed on the surface of a microfluidic device, the chemistry of the petals can be “programmed” to open and close individually, creating gates that perform logic operations, as well as generate particular fluid flows to transport particles throughout the device.“For example, like a catcher’s mitt you can use the petals of the flower to trap a microscopic ball and hold it for a finite time, then initiate a new chemical reaction on a different set of petals so that the ball moves between them in a chemically-directed game of catch,” Dr. Laskar explained. “This level of spatial and temporal control allows for staged reactions and analyses that you otherwise couldn’t perform with non-deformable materials.” The group also experimented with the placement of the catalyst on different parts of the sheet to create specific motions. In one experiment, placing the catalyst on just the body of the sheet, rather than the head and tail, triggered a creeping movement eerily similar to the movement of an inchworm. In another realization, when obstacles were placed in front of the coated sheet, it would tumble over the obstacle and continue moving, allowing it to traverse a bumpy terrain. “This research gives us further insight into how chemistry can drive autonomous, spontaneous actuation and locomotion in microfluidic devices,” Dr. Balazs said. “Our next task is to explore microfabrication by using the interaction and self-organization of multiple sheets to bring them together into specific architectures designed to perform complex, coordinated functions. Also, by experimenting with different stimuli such as heat and light, we can design mobile, 3D micro-machines that adapt their shape and action to changes in the environment. This level of responsive behavior is vital to creating the next generation of soft robotic devices.” ###