Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Nov

Nov
19
2020

Pitt Researchers to Join NSF Materials Center Studying Two-Dimensional Metals

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Nov. 19, 2020) — The Nanoionics and Electronics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has received $557,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its work investigating a new type of two-dimensional material. The six-year funding will enable Pitt researchers to explore atomically thin metals, also known as two-dimensional (2D) metals.  The project is part of the National Science Foundation's Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC), at the Penn State University Center for Nanoscale Science. At Pitt, the project, “Two-dimensional Polar Metals and Heterostructures,” is led by Associate Professor, Susan Fullerton, and Visiting Research Assistant Professor Ke Xu, both in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Our collaborators at Penn State have invented a novel way to confine metals into 2D sheets using graphene - a single atomic layer of carbon atoms,” explained Fullerton.  “Here at Pitt, we will use ions to control charge in these 2D metals, which we expect to reveal all sorts of new and unique properties owing to their extreme confinement.” The group will work with researchers at Penn State, led by Joshua Robinson, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Jun Zhu, Professor of Physics. Together, they will pioneer new methods of encasing 2D metals in graphene, which will enhance its optical properties and make it useful for applications in biosensing and quantum devices. "Tuning the charge with ions provides a possible pathway to strongly tune electron oscillations in the 2D metals - something that is very difficult to do with conventional approaches," explained Xu. "We aim to develop new, nonlinear optical materials in this collaboration, which could benefit the development of ultrafast switches, optical computers, and sensors."
Maggie Pavlick
Nov
9
2020

ChemE Student Taylor Daniels Receives AIChE Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Nov. 9, 2020) — Taylor Daniels, a senior studying chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received the prestigious 2019-2020 Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship. The $1,000 scholarship is awarded to 15 AIChE student members annually based on their academic achievement and involvement in student chapter activities. “I am so honored to have received the 2020 Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship from AIChE and am excited to attend my first AIChE Annual Student Conference this month to virtually receive my award,” said Daniels. “I hope to continue my involvement in AIChE as I begin my career by continuing to attend conferences, building my professional network through AIChE, and also taking advantage of training and continuing education credits.” Daniels joined Pitt AIChE in her sophomore year and became the chapter’s Vice President of Internal Affairs in 2019. “My involvement in Pitt AIChE has allowed me to build my network among undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty and staff within the Chemical Engineering Department,” noted Daniels. “Being VP of Internal Affairs last year, I was able to grow my leadership skills and also utilize my knowledge and experience from other leadership positions on Pitt’s campus to help AIChE succeed throughout the year.” In addition to her work with Pitt AIChE, Daniels was involved in several other student organizations, including the Society of Women Engineers, Omega Chi Epsilon Chemical Engineering Honor Society, and the Sigma Tau Delta sorority. In the summer 2019 semester, Daniels worked in the Lubrizol Process Intensification Lab with Goetz Veser, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. She completed a co-op rotation with Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. and an internship with Williams, a midstream natural gas company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After she graduates this semester, Daniels will start her career with Williams in their Engineering Development Program, where she will rotate through three year-long positions, beginning with a facility engineering role within the Ohio River Supply Hub Technical Services Organization. “I’m so impressed and proud of Taylor’s accomplishments in her time at Pitt and know she is headed for great success in her career,” said Taryn Bayles, vice chair of undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and Pitt AIChE faculty advisor. “She continues to be an excellent representative for the Swanson School, and this recognition is well-deserved.” The award will be presented virtually at the AIChE Annual Student Conference on Sunday, Nov. 15.
Maggie Pavlick
Nov
2
2020

‘Zooming’ to the Finish Line

Chemical & Petroleum

UPDATE (Nov. 17, 2020) — The Pitt Chem-E-Car team competed virtually at the AIChE Annual Student Conference’s International Chem-E-Car Competition on Nov. 15. After noticing the fuel cell was malfunctioning in October’s regional competition, the team had to redesign the car around a different propulsion mechanism—a lead acid battery—just 24 hours before the competition. With their new design approved, the team completed their runs, bringing home the Sportsman Award for their perseverance and the First Place Chem-E-Car Video Award. “I am incredibly proud of the team—they faced so many challenges and obstacles this year, with limited time to work on the car due to COVID-19,” remarked the team’s advisor Taryn Bayles, vice chair of undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “I am most impressed with their determination to completely redesign their car less than 24 hours before the competition.” ### PITTSBURGH (Nov. 2, 2020) — Preparing for a car race without knowing how far you have to go is a difficult test of skill. It’s even more demanding when you have to compete virtually. A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering met that challenge in October when their model car – propelled by a chemical mix of their own creation – finished fourth in the regional leg of the Chem-E-Car Competition, qualifying them for the international finals on Nov. 15. The annual Chem-E-Car Competition, sponsored by AIChE, the global association of chemical engineers, requires student teams to create a small car with chemical propulsion and stopping mechanisms that allow it to travel a specified distance and carry a payload (0-500 mL of water). While team members construct the vehicle ahead of time, they only find out the specific requirements for distance and payload an hour before the competition. This year, the cars needed to travel 45 feet and carry 0 mL of water—and for the first time, they had to do so remotely. The team’s car, named “Hydro-Man,” was propelled by a hydrogen fuel cell. The car itself looks like an open, clear box sitting atop its chassis and four wheels. The team used an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen, which is stored in a balloon until the car is ready to be powered. To stop, the car has a “chemical circuit breaker,” a magnesium ribbon that breaks the electrical current and stops the car. The team calculated the precise amount of each material to ensure the car traveled the necessary distance and stopped as close to the finish line as possible. The calculations also had to account for the empty payload the car would carry for this competition. Prior to COVID-19 quarantines and in-person labs, the team would use the spring semester to design and build the car for the fall competition. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the competition to be held virtually, leaving teams to set up and record their submission themselves. A team’s 20-30 members would typically have a whole semester to work together in the lab designing the cars. This year, the team had one week in a lab that could only safely accommodate 8-10 members at a time. Team member Clay Countess, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, praised Taryn Bayles, the team’s faculty advisor, for her commitment to the competition. “Dr. Bayles had to be there with us in the lab the whole time we were building,” he said. “I’m proud of what we did. We were very happy with how we managed to pull this off.” Prior to the competition, all teams had to complete safety training and testing and submit an engineering documentation package. Teams also had to produce a poster detailing the research they conducted for the creation of their car, then pass the safety inspection to ensure that their car will compete safely. This year, Joaquin Rodriguez, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pitt, served as the safety inspector, inspecting the car on video and submitting the findings to the judges. “We had to do a month’s work in five days,” said Nick Hages, team member and senior majoring in chemical engineering. “After that, we had a month to prepare for the virtual competition, and the team members who couldn’t physically be in the lab prepared for the other elements of the competition, like the poster competition.” On competition day, the team had to set up their start and stop lines, as well as a designated work station where members could work with the chemicals and prepare the car. “Luckily a few of us had gone to competitions before, so we knew how things were usually set up,” said Hages. “All in all, this was the best we could hope for,” added Countess. The in-person members of the team, with majors in Chemical Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering, included Clay Countess, Nick Hages, Kevin Padgett, Mor Shimshi, Matt Petrosky, Todd Ackerman, Zach Sokoloff, Anthony Hill and Sarah Borger. Shiva Yagobian was the team’s designated remote member, in charge of checking camera angles to get a clear recording of the car’s run. This is the second year in a row that the team has qualified for the International Competition, finishing 12th overall and winning the Chem-E-Car Poster Competition last year. Pitt’s team will join around 40 other teams to compete at the AIChE Annual Meeting, which will take place virtually on Nov. 15. “I’m so proud of what the team has accomplished, especially under such challenging conditions,” said Bayles, vice chair of undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “Their hard work paid off, and I look forward to seeing them succeed again at the International Competition.”
Maggie Pavlick

Oct

Oct
27
2020

Let’s (Not) Stick Together

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 27, 2020) — If you’ve ever had a cold, you know that too much mucus can be an annoyance, but mucus plays a very important role in the body. The respiratory system creates mucus as part of the immune system, meant to trap inhaled bacteria, viruses, and dirt so they can be removed before causing infection. However, for people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (CF), the mucus that their bodies produce is thicker and stickier, leading to an increased risk from infection and decreased ability to breathe over time. New research led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering examines the properties of the mucus of CF patients and the role it plays in a pathogens’ ability to survive. The new information could have important implications for CF treatment. [Related: Learn how the new INHALE Lab will help CF patients avoid water-borne pathogens] The researchers examined nonmucoid (PANT) and mucoid (PASL) strains of P. aeruginosa, a common pathogen that infects the lungs. P. aeruginosa adapts to the host environment mutating from a non-mucoid phenotype (PANT) to a mucoid phenotype (PASL). This mutation in P. aeruginosa creates a protective film of mucus around the bacteria thereby forming a more hydrated and slimy biofilm in the mucus. “Think of the cells like grains of rice. PANT cells are like basmati rice, while PASL cells are like sushi rice: coated in such a way that they stick together when they’re compressed,” explained Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, whose lab led the study. Niepa also has appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “We can measure how investigational drugs can alter the sticky nature of the coating that pathogens such as P. aeruginosa create upon mutation.” This mutation gives the mucus unique properties that contribute to increased antibiotic resistance. It also shields them against phagocytic cells, which help the immune system clear out dead or harmful cells by ingesting them. In order to study these properties, the researchers used pendant drop elastometry to compress and expand the biofilm that the cells formed. They also assessed the transcriptional profile of the cells to correlate the film's mechanics to cell physiology. “This is the first time that the pendant drop elastometry technique has been used to study the mechanics of these cells. We demonstrate that these techniques can be used to investigate the efficacy of mucolytic drugs—drugs that are used to break down the film of mucus that the cells are making,” noted Niepa. “This technique could be powerful for investigating those agents, to see if they have the anticipated effect.” The paper, “Material properties of interfacial films of mucoid and nonmucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates,” (DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2020.10.010) was published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia. It was authored by Sricharani Rao Balmuri, Nicholas G. Waters, and Tagbo H.R. Niepa from Pitt, and Jonas Hegemann and Jan Kierfeld from the Universität Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany.
Maggie Pavlick
Oct
21
2020

Pitt Engineering Alumnus Dedicates Major Gift Toward Undergraduate Tuition Support

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

PITTSBURGH (October 21, 2020) …  An eight-figure donation from an anonymous graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering and spouse to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering in their estate planning to provide financial aid to undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Pitt EXCEL Program. Announced today by Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and US Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II, the donors' bequest will provide tuition support for underprivileged or underrepresented engineering students who are residents of the United States of America and in need of financial aid. “I am extremely grateful for this gift, which supports the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts to tackle one of society’s greatest challenges—the inequity of opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Put into action, this commitment will help students from underrepresented groups access a world-class Pitt education and—in doing so—help elevate the entire field of engineering.” “Our dedication as engineers is to create new knowledge that benefits the human condition, and that includes educating the next generation of engineers. Our students’ success informs our mission, and I am honored and humbled that our donors are vested in helping to expand the diversity of engineering students at Pitt,” Martin noted. “Often the most successful engineers are those who have the greatest need or who lack access, and support such as this is critical to expanding our outreach and strengthening the role of engineers in society.” A Gift to Prepare the Workforce of the Future Martin noted that the gift is timely because it was made shortly after Chancellor Gallagher’s call this past summer to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all, especially for the University’s future students. The gift – and the donors’ passion for the Swanson School – show that there is untapped potential as well as significant interest in addressing unmet need for students who represent a demographic shift in the American workforce.  “By 2050, when the U.S. will have a minority-majority population, two-thirds of the American workforce will require a post-secondary education,” Martin explained. “We are already reimagining how we deliver engineering education and research, and generosity such as this will lessen the financial burden that students will face to prepare for that future workforce.” A Half-Century of IMPACT on Engineering Equity In 1969 the late Dr. Karl Lewis (1/15/1936-3/5/2019) founded the IMPACT Program at the University of Pittsburgh to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from the field of engineering. The six-week program prepared incoming first year students through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. Many Pitt alumni today still note the role that Lewis and IMPACT had on their personal and professional lives.  Under Lewis’ leadership, IMPACT sparked the creation of two award-winning initiatives within the Swanson School’s Office of Diversity: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors. Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. “Dr. Lewis, like so many of his generation, started a movement that grew beyond one person’s idea,” said Yvette Wisher, Director of Pitt EXCEL. “Anyone who talks to today’s EXCEL students can hear the passion of Dr. Lewis and see how exceptional these young people will be as engineers and individuals. They and the hundreds of students who preceded them are the reason why Pitt EXCEL is game-changer for so many.”  Since its inception, Pitt EXCEL has helped more than 1,500 students earn their engineering degrees and become leaders and change agents in their communities. Ms. Wisher says the most important concept she teaches students who are enrolled in the program is to give back however they can once they graduate—through mentorship, volunteerism, philanthropy, or advocacy.  Supporting the Change Agents of Tomorrow “Pitt EXCEL is a home - but more importantly, a family. The strong familial bonds within Pitt EXCEL are what attracted me to Swanson as a graduating high school senior, what kept me going throughout my time in undergrad and what keeps me energized to this very day as a PhD student,” explained Isaiah M. Spencer Williams, BSCE ’19 and currently a pre-doctoral student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Pitt EXCEL is a family where iron sharpens iron and where we push each other to be the best that we can be every day. Beyond that, it is a space where you are not only holistically nurtured and supported but are also groomed to pave the way for and invest into those who are coming behind you.  “Pitt EXCEL, and by extension, Dr. Lewis' legacy and movement are the reasons why I am the leader and change agent that I am today. This generous gift will ensure a bright future for underrepresented engineering students in the Pitt EXCEL Program, and will help to continue the outstanding development of the change agents of tomorrow.”  Setting a Foundation for Community Support “Next year marks the 51st anniversary of IMPACT/EXCEL as well as the 175th year of engineering at Pitt and the 50th anniversary of Benedum Hall,” Dean Martin said. “The Swanson School of Engineering represents 28,000 alumni around the world, who in many ways are life-long students of engineering beyond the walls of Benedum, but who share pride in being Pitt Engineers. “The key to our future success is working together as a global community to find within ourselves how we can best support tomorrow’s students,” Martin concluded. “We should all celebrate this as a foundational cornerstone gift for greater engagement.” ###

Oct
12
2020

Modeling the World’s Refineries

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 12, 2020) — Petroleum refining is the third-largest global source of stationary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and accounts for about 40 percent of emissions from the gas and oil supply chain, according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook. The refining industry has had to adjust to keep up with changing market demands and increasing environmental regulations. However, not every type of crude oil has an equal impact, and those who use and sell petroleum products are not aware of the environmental footprint each refining process has. New research in the journal Nature Climate Change uses engineering-based refinery modeling on crude oils to assess and track the lifecycle climate impacts of the oil and gas industry. The authors, including Mohammad Masnadi, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, provide guidance on refining choices that will lessen the environmental impact of the industry and recommend future investments in emissions mitigation technologies. “This paper helps to define a detailed baseline of current global refining emissions at a crude and country level, as well as an investigation of the drivers of these emissions and mitigation potential using a transparent, open-source tool. This provides a scientific basis for transparently tracking emissions reduction progress from this sector,” said Masnadi. “Our work can help policy makers quantitatively to design better energy and environmental strategies and provide insights for investors and risk assessors in their future decision making process in a carbon-constrained world.” The researchers modeled 93 percent of the world’s oil as it flows to 153 refineries across the world, finding that global refining emissions could potentially be reduced by 11 to 58 percent by targeting the primary emission sources.The research will, for the first time, estimate GHG emissions of oil refinery operations using a granular, engineering-based, bottom-up approach. “Understanding the refining climate impact of individual marketable crude oil networks is instrumental in guiding climate-sensitive refining choices and informing policies that incentivize investment in emissions mitigation technologies,” explained Masnadi. “For example, the different types and amounts of energy consumed in different refineries and regions can help decision makers prioritize the focus of improvements to achieve the biggest emissions reductions at the lowest cost.” The paper, “Carbon intensity of global crude oil refining and mitigation potential,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0775-3) was led by the University of Calgary’s Liang Jing and co-authored by the Aramco Research Center’s Hassan M. El-Houjeiri and Jean-Christophe Monfort; Stanford University’s Adam R. Brandt; Pitt’s Mohammad S. Masnadi; Brown University’s Deborah Gordan; and the University of Calgary’s Joule A. Bergerson.
Maggie Pavlick

Sep

Sep
30
2020

For COVID-19, immune system can be ‘a hero or a villain’

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 30, 2020) — When a person contracts COVID-19, or any other respiratory virus, the immune system springs into action. Body aches and fever are two signs the body is trying to slow the infection and fight off the virus. The problem is that sometimes, the body doesn’t know when to stop. “In respiratory infection, the immune response can be the hero and the villain.” said University of Pittsburgh researcher Jason Shoemaker. “A reasonable immune response should control the infection while protecting our body, but aggressive immune responses can often lead to increased tissue damage or even death during infection.” An overly aggressive immune response can make recovery from COVID-19 riskier and cause long-lasting damage, such as diminished lung capacity and increased tissue damage, or even death. Why are some bodies able to fight off the virus without causing damage to healthy tissue when others cannot? Shoemaker, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and his team are determined to find out. The team includes Pitt researchers Penelope Morel, MD, professor of immunology, and James Faeder, PhD, associate professor of computational and systems biology. “It is clear that increased disease severity leads to permanent damage of the lung tissue, which in very extreme cases has necessitated lung transplantation,” said Morel. Nearly six months after contracting COVID-19, Pitt undergrad Madeleine Biache said she has sustained lung damage and a cough. Read the Pittwire story. “Even patients with relatively mild disease may take months to fully recover and may experience symptoms such as reduced lung function, chronic fatigue, clotting disorders and more,” she continued. “Thus, it is important to understand how the healing process may be dysregulated in COVID-19 patients.” Using agent-based modeling, they are learning how the virus behaves by mapping the body’s immune response. “Agent-based modeling is a modeling method more akin to video game design than most models in engineering,” explained Shoemaker. “It is based on choice: in this situation, based on what we know, what action would the cell be most likely to take?” By following the virus’s path through the body, the team is creating a detailed simulation that can uncover the biomarkers and signs that may predict an overly aggressive immune response. That would allow doctors to treat those patients accordingly. “Our modeling can help doctors determine when to use the drugs we already have on the market: We want an immune response that is strong enough to clear the virus, but we want to be able to suppress the immune system if necessary before it begins to cause damage,” explained Shoemaker. “The timing of drug intervention is one of the most difficult parts in treating disease, but engineering is great at working with that kind of precise timing.” Shoemaker recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for this work. From mapping the virus’s actions in individual cells to understanding the effects on the lungs as a whole, each member of the team is working to piece together this puzzle, creating a comprehensive model that ideally will predict how the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, infects the lungs, and the damage it leaves behind. In addition to the Pitt team’s modelling work, the group is collaborating with an international team led by Indiana University researcher Paul Macklin, PhD, associate professor of intelligent systems engineering, to create larger-scale models that could inform pharmaceutical interventions. The initial agent-based model has been developed in close collaboration with James Glazier, PhD, professor of physics, also at Indiana University. “Our work will enable us to identify the best means of controlling the infection by either regulating the immune system itself or by identifying new human proteins to consider for drug targeting,” said Shoemaker. “This virus is going to be with us for some time, so it’s important that we understand how to help our bodies react to it in the best possible way.” # # #

Sep
28
2020

Four Pitt Engineering Researchers Receive NSF CAREER Awards in 2020 Funding Cycle

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (September 28, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering closed out the 2020 fiscal year with four faculty winning CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation. This brings the total to 15 CAREER awards received by Swanson School faculty since 2016. According to NSF, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is its most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. “I am incredibly proud of our young faculty for contributing to the Swanson School’s diverse research portfolio and achieving this important recognition in their early career,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Over the past few years, we have improved faculty resources for developing and applying for federal funding, and the number of CAREER recipients is a great indicator of our success.” The 2020 recipients include: Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineeringUncovering the Impact of Traditional and Novel Chronic Stimulation Modalities on Neural Excitability and Native Neuronal Network Function Dr. Kozai received a $437,144 CAREER award to improve the integration of the brain and technology in order to study long-standing questions in neurobiology and improve clinical applications of brain-computer interfaces. One of the challenges remaining with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Kozai has designed a wireless, light-activated electrodethat enables precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. The funding will enable him to further improve this technology. Sangyeop Lee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Machine Learning Enabled Study of Thermal Transport in Polycrystalline Materials from First Principles Dr. Lee’s $500,000 CAREER award will utilize machine learning to model thermal transport in polycrystalline materials. Developing materials with ultrahigh or ultralow thermal conductivity along a certain direction can enable new energy storage and conversion devices. However, grain boundaries - two-dimensional defects in crystal structures - exist in polycrystalline material and significantly affect thermal transport. Addressing the defects is currently not efficient - observing and experimenting with grain boundaries when creating materials can prove to be a lengthy and costly process. Machine learning may provide a more sustainable alternative. His research seeks to create a computer model that can predict the conductive properties of a material in real life, providing guidance to engineer defects for desired thermal properties. Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering Enabling Immunomodulatory Treatment of Influenza Infection using Multiscale Modeling When a person contracts a respiratory viral infection like COVID-19 or influenza, the immune system responds in a myriad of ways to eliminate the virus. Respiratory viral infections are so dangerous, however, because excessive immune responses may cause extreme lung inflammation. However, Dr. Shoemaker’s new modeling research may help doctors better predict and treat patients who are most at risk to that extreme response. His $547,494 CAREER Award will fund creation of computational models of the immune response to seasonal, deadly (avian) influenza viruses, which can help identify the best way to suppress immune activity and reduce tissue inflammation. Since this work targets the immune system and not the specific virus, the models are expected to impact many respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Scalable Ionic Gated 2D Synapse (IG-2DS) with Programmable Spatio-Temporal Dynamics for Spiking Neural Networks In science fiction stories from “I, Robot” to “Star Trek,” an android’s “positronic brain” enables it to function like a human, but with tremendously more processing power and speed. In reality, the opposite is true: a human brain - which today is still more proficient than CPUs at cognitive tasks like pattern recognition - needs only 20 watts of power to complete a task, while a supercomputer requires more than 50,000 times that amount of energy. Dr. Xiong’s $500,000 CAREER award will fund research in neuromorphic computer and artificial neural networks to replicate the spatio-temporal processes native to the brain, like short-term and long-term memory, in artificial spiking neural networks (SNN). This “dynamic synapse” that will dramatically improve energy efficiency, bandwidth and cognitive capabilities of SNNs. ###

Sep
16
2020

Projects Led by Pitt Chemical Engineers Receive more than $1 million in NSF Funding

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 16, 2020) — Two projects led by professors in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have recently received funding from the National Science Foundation. Lei Li, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is leading a project that will investigate the water wettability of floating graphene. Research over the past decade by Li and others has shown that water has the ability to “see through” atomic-thick layers of graphene, contributing to the “wetting transparency” effect. “This finding provides a unique opportunity for designing multi-functional devices, since it means that the wettability of an atomic-thick film can be tuned by selecting an appropriate supporting substrate,” said Li. “Because the substrate is liquid, one can control the wettability in real-time, a capability that would be very useful for water harvesting of moisture from the air and in droplet microfluidics devices.” The current project will use both experimental and computational methods to understand the mechanisms of wetting transparency of graphene on liquid substrates and demonstrate the real-time control of surface wettability. Li and his co-PIs Kenneth Jordan, Richard King Mellon Professor and Distinguished Professor of Computational Chemistry at Pitt and co-director of the Center for Simulation and Modeling; and Haitao Liu, professor of chemistry at Pitt, received $480,000 for the project titled, “Water wettability of floating graphene: Mechanism and Application.” The second project will develop technology to help enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy, like solar and wind power. James McKone, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo to develop a new generation of high-performance materials for liquid-phase energy storage systems like redox flow batteries, one of McKone’s areas of expertise. The project, “Collaborative Research: Designing Soluble Inorganic Nanomaterials for Flowable Energy Storage,” received $598,000 from the National Science Foundation, with $275,398 designated for Pitt. McKone’s team will investigate the molecular properties of soluble, earth-abundant nanomaterials for use in liquid-phase battery systems. These batteries are designed to store massive amounts of electricity from renewable energy sources and provide steady power to the grid. “Unlike the batteries we normally think of in phones and laptop computers, this technology uses liquid components that are low-cost, safe and long-lasting,” said McKone. “With continued development, this will make it possible to store all of the new wind and solar power that is coming available on the electric grid without adding a significant additional cost.” McKone is collaborating with Dr. Ellen Matson, Wilmot Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Rochester, and Dr. Timothy Cook, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo.
Maggie Pavlick

Aug

Aug
20
2020

A Blueprint for Greener Catalysis

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 20, 2020) — Platinum, rhodium, and other precious metals are used as catalysts that make modern life possible, from the catalytic converters in cars to the production of many useful chemicals. These metals are stable and strong, but they are a very limited and expensive resource. Data scientists have estimated that all the platinum ever mined in the world amasses to just about 9,800 metric tons, a volume that would fit within just three standard semi-truck trailers. That is why researchers around the world, including John Keith at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, are looking to nature for ways to use far more earth-abundant metals (EAMs), like iron, instead. “Humans have developed portfolios of rare metals that work in industrial catalysis, but nature has its own portfolios of biological enzymes that use complex combinations of EAMs,” said Keith, who is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering. “When we decipher nature’s blueprints for catalysis based on EAMs, we can engineer new EAM-based catalysts to dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes needed for making materials, medicines, fuels and chemicals.” The U.S. Department of Energy brought together a team of international experts in catalysis, including Keith, to write an authoritative review to lay the groundwork for the discovery of cheaper, quicker and more sustainable catalysts. That review article was recently published in Science, one of the top-ranked scientific journals in the world. The article discusses the background, advances, and promising outlook of bio-inspired EAM catalysis. More research will be needed to better understand how industrial processes can be developed to run in less harsh conditions that EAM catalysts require. Keith is an expert in computational chemistry, which uses computer simulations of atoms rooted in the laws of quantum mechanics, and this field is considered a key to progress in EAM catalysis development. Researchers in the Keith Lab use computational chemistry to rapidly explore and deeply analyze hypothetical catalysts that otherwise are too slow or expensive to test in the lab. A recent research compilation featured in Interface, a quarterly magazine of The Electrochemical Society, described the lab’s approach for predicting novel electrocatalysts. “Catalyst development historically has been based on trial and error experimentation, and that becomes a problem when each trial can take months of time and cost huge sums of money,” said Keith. “When experimentation is teamed with state-of-the-art computational modeling, researchers can be thousands of times as productive. With that framework in place, we can focus on much harder questions like, how do we optimize the right ensemble cast of chemicals, materials, and reaction conditions for safer, more profitable, and more environmentally sustainable industrial processes?” The article, “Using nature’s blueprint to expand catalysis with Earth-abundant metals” (doi: 10.1126/science.abc3183), was led by R. Morris Bullock, director of the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and was coauthored by 18 researchers representing 18 institutions and laboratories. ### Graphic credit: Nathan Johnson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
11
2020

Investigating a Thermal Challenge for MOFs

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH(Aug. 11, 2020) — To the naked eye, metal organic frameworks (MOFs) look a little like sand. But if you zoom in, you will see that each grain looks and acts more like a sponge—and serves a similar purpose. MOFs are used to absorb and hold gases, which is useful when trying to filter toxic gases out of the air or as a way to store fuel for natural gas- or hydrogen gas-powered engines. New research led by an interdisciplinary team across six universities examines heat transfer in MOFs and the role it plays when MOFs are used for storing fuel. Corresponding author Christopher Wilmer, William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, coauthored the work with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Northwestern University, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. The findings were recently published in Nature Communications. “One of the challenges with using MOFs for fuel tanks in cars is that you have to be able to fill up in a few minutes or less,” explains Wilmer. “Unfortunately, when you quickly fill these MOF-based tanks with hydrogen or natural gas they get very hot. It’s not so much a risk of explosion—though there is one—but the fact that they can’t store much gas when they’re hot. The whole premise of using them to store a lot of gaseous fuel only works at room temperature. For other industrial applications you face a similar problem - whenever gases are loaded quickly the MOFs become hot and no longer work effectively.” In other words, for MOFs to be useful for these applications, they would need to be kept cool. This research looked at thermal transport in MOFs, to explore how quickly they can shed excess heat, and the group found some surprising results. “When you take these porous materials, which to begin with are thermally insulating, and you fill them with gas, it appears that they become even more insulating. This is surprising because usually, empty pockets like those in insulation or double-paned windows provide good thermal insulation,” explains Wilmer. “By taking porous materials and filling them, thereby removing those gaps, you would expect the thermal transport to improve, making it more thermally conductive. The opposite happens; they become more insulating.” To reach their conclusion, researchers conducted two simultaneous experiments using two different methods and MOFs synthesized in two different labs. Both groups observed the same trend: that the MOFs become more insulated when filled with adsorbates. Their experimental findings were also validated by atomistic simulations at Pitt in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. “Our work indicates potential challenges ahead for the use of MOFs outside of research labs, but that is a necessary step in the process,” says Alan McGaughey, professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “As these materials advance toward broad, real-world usage, researchers will need to continue investigating once-overlooked properties of these materials, like thermal transport, and find the best way to use them to fit our needs.” The paper, “Observation of Reduced Thermal Conductivity in a Metal-Organic Framework,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17822-0) was published in Nature Communications. Coauthors include Hasan Babaei (Pitt), Mallory E. DeCoster (UVA), Minyoung Jeong (CMU), Zeinab M. Hassan (KIT), Timur Islamoglu (Northwestern), Helmut Baumgart (Old Dominion), Alan J. H. McGaughey (CMU), Redel Engelbert (KIT), Omar K. Farha (Northwestern), Patrick E. Hopkins (UVA), Jonathan A. Malen (CMU), and Christopher E. Wilmer. ### AcknowledgementsH.B. and C.E.W. gratefully acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), awards CBET-1804011 and OAC-1931436, and also thank the Center for Research Computing (CRC) at the University of Pittsburgh for providing computational resources. J.A.M. gratefully acknowledges support from the Army Research Office, grant W911NF-17-1-0397. A.J.H.M. gratefully acknowledges support from the NSF, award DMR-1507325. O.K.F. gratefully acknowledges support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, HDTRA1‐18‐1‐0003. P.E.H. appreciates support from the Army Research Office, Grant. No. W911NF-16-1-0320. Financial support by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the COORNET Priority Program (SPP 1928) is gratefully acknowledged by E.R. and He.B. (Helmut Baumgart). Z.M.H. acknowledges financial support from the Egyptian Mission Foundation. We would also like to thank Ran Cao for collecting additional PXRD data for this study.
Maggie Pavlick, Senior Communications Writer
Aug
5
2020

Sustainable Chemistry at the Quantum Level

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 5, 2020) … Developing catalysts for sustainable fuel and chemical production requires a kind of Goldilocks Effect – some catalysts are too ineffective while others are too uneconomical. Catalyst testing also takes a lot of time and resources. New breakthroughs in computational quantum chemistry, however, hold promise for discovering catalysts that are “just right” and thousands of times faster than standard approaches. University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor John A. Keith and his lab group at the Swanson School of Engineering are using new quantum chemistry computing procedures to categorize hypothetical electrocatalysts that are “too slow” or “too expensive”, far more thoroughly and quickly than was considered possible a few years ago. Keith is also the Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The Keith Group’s research compilation, “Computational Quantum Chemical Explorations of Chemical/Material Space for Efficient Electrocatalysts (DOI: 10.1149.2/2.F09202IF),” was featured this month in Interface, a quarterly magazine of The Electrochemical Society. “For decades, catalyst development was the result of trial and error – years-long development and testing in the lab, giving us a basic understanding of how catalytic processes work. Today, computational modeling provides us with new insight into these reactions at the molecular level,” Keith explained. “Most exciting however is computational quantum chemistry, which can simulate the structures and dynamics of many atoms at a time. Coupled with the growing field of machine learning, we can more quickly and precisely predict and simulate catalytic models.” In the article, Keith explained a three-pronged approach for predicting novel electrocatalysts: 1) analyzing hypothetical reaction paths; 2) predicting ideal electrochemical environments; and 3) high-throughput screening powered by alchemical perturbation density functional theory and machine learning. The article explains how these approaches can transform how engineers and scientists develop electrocatalysts needed for society. “These emerging computational methods can allow researchers to be more than a thousand times as effective at discovering new systems compared to standard protocols,” Keith said. “For centuries chemistry and materials science relied on traditional Edisonian models of laboratory exploration, which bring far more failures than successes and thus a lot of wasted time and resources. Traditional computational quantum chemistry has accelerated these efforts, but the newest methods supercharge them. This helps researchers better pinpoint the undiscovered catalysts society desperately needs for a sustainable future.” ### About John Keith Dr. Keith is an associate professor and R. K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained a BA degree from Wesleyan University (2001) and a PhD from Caltech (2007). He was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ulm (2007-2010) and later an associate research scholar at Princeton University (2010-2013). Keith is an expert in applying a wide range of computational quantum chemistry methods to understand molecular scale phenomena across broad areas of science and engineering. He has more than 65 research publications and was the recipient of a U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER award. From 2019-2020, he was funded by the U.S. and Luxembourg science foundations as a visiting researcher at the University of Luxembourg, where he studied state of the art chemical physics and atomistic machine learning methods.

Jul

Jul
29
2020

Engineering a Carbon-Negative Power Plant

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) — As renewable power generation increases, conventional energy sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power will still be required to balance the nation’s energy portfolio. Traditional power plants will not, however, need to produce as much energy as they do now, leaving them to sit idle some of the time. Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and her team received $800,283 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Flexible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program to design a natural gas/direct air capture hybrid plant that will take advantage of those idle periods. The proposed design will not only eliminate carbon emissions from the power plant when it is producing electricity for the grid but will also capture carbon from the atmosphere during idle periods, ideally making the plant carbon negative. “We still have a large fleet of natural gas and coal plants in our country. As we add renewables, which provide intermittent energy, we’ll still need those fossil power sources to make sure the grid is consistently powered,” explained Hornbostel. “The FLECCS funding call asks how we can make those fossil sources cleaner and even use them to improve air quality.” For the project, Hornbostel will partner with Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toledo; Debangsu Bhattacharyya, professor of chemical engineering at West Virginia University; and Michael Matuszewski, founder of Aristosys LLC in Venetia, PA. The team has proposed a system design that integrates natural gas with two carbon capture technologies: a membrane system that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from the plant’s exhaust, and a sorbent system that will absorb leftover CO2 from the exhaust and CO2 from the air outside. During normal operations, the hybrid plant will capture about 99 percent of the CO2 it generates; during off-peak hours, the plant will use its power to run the carbon capture systems to remove CO2 from the air. “This is a very exciting and important project, and I’m pleased – but not surprised – to see this innovative research is being undertaken in Pittsburgh,” said Congressman Mike Doyle. “The world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions in a few short decades, or the impact on the environment and our society will be devastating. It’s essential that, as we make the transition to carbon-free energy, we also make efforts like this to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants that use fossil fuels – and explore technology that could reduce the carbon already in our atmosphere. ARPA-E is playing a critical role in promoting groundbreaking research on all aspects of energy production and consumption, and I strongly support its important work.” The highly competitive ARPA-E FLECCS Program awarded $11.5 million in Phase 1 funding to 12 projects that develop carbon capture and storage processes. Hornbostel will be the second in the Swanson School to receive an ARPA-E award, following Assistant Chair of Research and Professor of Chemical Engineering Robert Enick. “ARPA-E grants are very prestigious and are only awarded to the most innovative applications that propose high impact projects,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Dr. Hornbostel and her team will use this FLECCS funding to address several important gaps in the field, and we could not be prouder of her for winning this award.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
29
2020

Uncovering the Nitty-Gritty Details of Surface Tension and Flow Behavior

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) — Dry sand can be poured out of a bucket almost like a liquid; if you try to build a sandcastle with dry sand, you won’t have much luck. However, if you add just a little bit of water, everything about the sand’s behavior changes: It cannot be poured like a liquid and, instead, holds together well enough to build something. That difference is an example of how surface tension affects flow behavior, an element that is crucial in a variety of physical processes that involve mixing together liquid and solid particles. Sachin Velankar, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, received $291,968 from the National Science Foundation for his collaborative research that seeks to better understand these phenomena. Velankar holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “Dry sand is really a mix of sand particles and air. The reason wet sand behaves so differently from dry sand is that water wants to wet the sand particles more than air does,” explained Velankar. “If you take the wet sand and look under microscope, you’ll see that between each pair of sand particles is a ring of water – a meniscus –sticking them together. That’s why the wet sand can’t be poured: the granules just won’t separate easily. We want to understand how such wet particles separate under flow.” Velankar will partner with Charles Schroeder, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, on the project. The two will not be looking at sand, however. Instead, they will use state-of-the-art technology to manipulate microscopic particles suspended in fluid to study their behavior, the conditions that bind them together and the force necessary to break them apart. “I’ve been working in this area for more than 10 years and thought about questions of micromechanics for a long time but didn’t know how to approach it,” said Velankar. “It’s hard to manipulate particles precisely at this scale. That’s where the collaboration comes in.” Schroeder’s method involves a small microfluidic device, called a Stokes trap, with strategically placed channels for incoming and outgoing liquid streams. The particles, suspended in the chamber, are manipulated as liquid flows through the different channels. The research will provide a fundamental understanding of the dynamics and rupture of particle clusters in well-defined flows. Understanding the micromechanics of this phenomenon will inform the way materials are mixed and separated in many industries that rely on the mixing of solids and liquids, from oil drilling to 3D printing to the food industry. The project, titled “Collaborative Research: Micromechanics of Meniscus-bound Particle Clusters,” received a total of $510,000 with $291,968 assigned to Pitt. It begins Sept. 1, 2020, and is expected to last 3 years.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
28
2020

Badie Morsi Receives SPE Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 28, 2020) — In recognition of his contributions to the field of petroleum engineering, Badie Morsi, professor and director of the Petroleum Engineering Program at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was awarded the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ (SPE) Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty. The Award is given to a SPE member in recognition of their excellence in classroom teaching, research, advising and guiding students, and contributions to the field of petroleum engineering. Morsi is the long-standing director of Pitt’s petroleum engineering program, which offers undergraduate electives, a minor, a concentration, and an MS degree. “Badie is an outstanding and devoted teacher who is admired by the undergraduates. He has been an enthusiastic mentor for students who have expressed an interest in petroleum engineering career,” said Steven R. Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Badie is also an incredibly dedicated mentor to graduate students; he challenges them to excel, he spends a great deal of time providing them with valuable insights, and he guides them as they become top-notch graduates with outstanding career opportunities." Morsi has taught at the Swanson School for 38 years, joining the faculty in 1982 after receiving his PhD in chemical engineering from the École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC) at the Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine in Nancy, France. He developed and introduced several courses in chemical and petroleum engineering and won the Beitle-Veltri School of Engineering Teaching Award in 1999. Morsi’s research focuses primarily on the design and scaleup of multiphase reactors; modeling, simulation and optimization of industrial processes; CO2 capture from flue gas, fuel gas and natural gas streams using chemical and physical solvents; CO2 sequestration in depleted gas/oil reservoirs and deep coal seams; and enhanced oil recovery using CO2 and alcohols. He leads the Reactor and Process Engineering Laboratory (RAPEL), which specializes in the characterization of the hydrodynamic and gas-liquid mass transfer parameters in industrial processes. In addition to his teaching and research, Morsi serves as executive director of the Annual International Pittsburgh Coal Conference. “Under his leadership the Pittsburgh Coal Conference has become the world’s foremost international gathering of scientists and engineers with coal-related research interests. Badie remains one of the foremost experts on hydrodynamics and mass transfer as it relates to multi-phase reactors; his high-pressure laboratory facilities are world-class systems,” said Little. “His expertise is also valued by industry experts working in large chemical plants, who turn to him for assistance in reactor design. He has also made remarkable contributions to carbon capture and geologic sequestration in coal seams and conventional reservoirs undergoing enhanced oil recovery while working extensively with researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.” Morsi serves as the editor-in-chief of Fuels, associate editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Clean Coal and Energy and is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Chemical Engineering and the Journal of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. Among his numerous appointments, Morsi was selected as a fellow of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education from 1999 to 2002, from 2005 to 2008 and from 2018 to 2019. “Simply put, every facet of Dr. Morsi’s activities, research, academic and career advising, undergraduate and graduate education, and professional service to the scientific community, has flourished out of his knowledge, experience and passion for petroleum-related science and technology,” Little added. Due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SPE’s 2020 awards will be presented at a yet undetermined future date.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
21
2020

Leading by Example

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 21, 2020) — Taryn Bayles, vice chair for undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has dedicated her career to sharing the joy of engineering with others. In recognition of her myriad contributions to the field of engineering education, she was honored with the ASEE 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award during the organization’s virtual conference on June 23, 2020. The award is presented to a Pre-College Engineering Education Division member who has “provided a high standard of service in alignment with the Division Vision, Mission and Core Beliefs and in support of pre-college engineering education efforts within the American Society of Engineering Education), and who has made significant and sustained contributions to the field of pre-college engineering.” Bayles’ research primarily focuses on engineering pedagogy, with the aim of making science and engineering more engaging and accessible for students from kindergarten through college. She has taught 7,200 instructors through more than 150 workshops how to introduce students to engineering principles. As part of her chemical engineering classes, her undergraduates share their knowledge with the local community through hands-on outreach activities. These efforts of Bayles’ 1000+ engineering students have benefitted more than 10,000 participating K-12 students. Bayles knows that early encounters can be an important first step toward a career in engineering. Her own first encounter with engineering was in high school when she received a scholarship to work at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, N.M. This experience and several more internships during college cemented her interest in chemical engineering. But her industry job after graduation revealed a passion for teaching. “When I worked in industry, I led activities for young students during Engineers’ Week and through Junior Achievement, and it became addictive.” she said. “Every time I’ve gotten to teach, it has been so rewarding.” For more than two decades, Bayles has taught chemical engineering at institutions including Pitt, the University of Nevada Reno, the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In the classroom, she regularly draws on her own industrial engineering experience, which has included process engineering, computer modeling and control, process design and testing, and engineering management at Exxon, Westinghouse and Phillips Petroleum. In between her career in industry and her career in academia, Bayles formatively stayed at home with her two children. When her daughter came home from school in the second grade with a note about cuts to the science curriculum, she wanted to make sure the students wouldn’t miss out on opportunities to learn about science and engineering. She started an after-school program with hands-on STEM activities; even when her daughter was no longer in elementary school, she continued the program while her son was still in elementary school — and her daughter would help to co-lead the activities. “Those experiences made me realize how few resources there are for getting kids into engineering,” she said. “It drove me to create opportunities to encourage STEM learning. It sparked a passion and desire, and from there I set a course.” In addition to teaching students directly about STEM, Bayles’ research and workshops have also taught teachers ways to make STEM accessible to their students. She has led middle school and high school teacher professional development for Project Lead the Way, and co-authored the INSPIRES (INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering & Science) curriculum, which introduces high school students to engineering design through hands-on experiences and inquiry-based learning with real world engineering design challenges. In her courses she incorporates her industrial experience by bringing practical examples and active learning to help students grasp fundamental engineering principles. Last year, Bayles was awarded the Department’s James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching Chemical Engineering, and she has served as the Chair of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Education Division. In addition to her impressive teaching record and education research, Bayles has been a supportive advisor for Pitt’s AIChE Chem-E-Car team, which has excelled in recent years. “Taryn Bayles is quite simply a juggernaut in Engineering Education. She is a national leader and pioneer that is admired by the most distinguished engineering educators in our field,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “She is highly deserving of this award and the Department could not be more proud of her.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
20
2020

Working on the Frontier of Nanoparticle Research

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 20, 2020) — A field studying something very small is becoming very big: In the last decade, the field of nanoparticle research has exploded. At about one nanometer in size, nanoparticles are 100,000 times smaller than the width a strand of human hair and cannot be seen with the naked eye, but researchers are discovering broad uses for them in fields ranging from bioimaging to energy and the environment. Working at this scale, it is difficult to be precise; however, the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is advancing the field, modeling metal nanoclusters that are atomically precise in structure. An article highlighting their work and its influence on the field of nanoparticles is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Dalton Transactions. “One major benefit of these very small systems is that by knowing their exact structure, we can apply very accurate theory,” said Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical engineering, who leads the CANELa. “With theory we can then investigate how properties of nanoclusters depend on their structure.” Ligand-protected metal nanoclusters are a unique class of nanomaterials that are sometimes referred to as “magic size” nanoclusters because of their high stability when they have specific compositions. One of the key advances their lab has made to the field, with funding from the National Science Foundation, is in modeling the specific number of gold atoms stabilized by a specific number of ligands, on the surface. “With larger nanoparticles, researchers may have an estimate of how many atoms exist on each structure, but our modelling of these nanoclusters is exact. We can write out the precise molecular formula,” explained Michael Cowan, graduate student in the CANELa and lead author on the article. “If you know the exact structure of small systems you can tailor them to create active sites for catalysis, which is what our lab focuses on most.” Predicting new alloys and previously undiscovered magic sizes is the next step that the field—and the lab—will need to tackle. The lab uses computational chemistry methods to model known nanoclusters, but creating a complete database of nanocluster structure, property and synthesis parameters will be the next step to apply machine learning and create a prediction framework. The Frontier article, titled “Toward elucidating structure of ligand-protected nanoclusters,” (DOI: 10.1039/D0DT01418D) was published in the journal Dalton Transactions by the Royal Society of Chemistry and was authored by Cowan and Mpourmpakis.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
20
2020

In Memoriam: John C. "Jack" Mascaro BSCE ’66 MSCE ’80, 1944-2020

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

From James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering: It is with great sadness to inform you that Jack Mascaro BSCE ’66 MSCE ’80, one of our outstanding alumni, volunteers, advocates, and benefactors, passed away this weekend after a hard-fought battle with illness. On behalf of our Swanson School community, I extend our deep condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.Jack was a creative, caring juggernaut of ideas and inspiration, and his passing leaves an emptiness in our hearts and minds. It was an incredible honor and privilege to work with him during my short tenure as dean thus far, but I know those of you who have a long history with Jack and his family experienced a deep connection and now share a tremendous loss. I hope your memories of his lighthearted spirit, curious intellect, and enthusiasm for our students and programs provide solace and smiles.As one of our Distinguished Alumni, Jack was lauded by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School for his contributions to Pitt, the region, and the profession, and was also honored by the University with the Chancellor’s Medallion. Thanks to his beneficence, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and our focus on sustainability will continue his legacy for generations. Most importantly, it was his passion for sustainability, and what he saw as its inexorable link to engineering, that will forever inform our mission to create new knowledge for the benefit of the human condition. He truly was an engineer’s engineer, and we can never thank him and his family enough for his generosity of mind and spirit. Please join me in expressing our sympathies to the Mascaro Family, and to thank them for Jack’s impact on our students, alumni, and entire Swanson School community. Visitation will be held this Thursday in McMurray and you may leave thoughts for the family at his obituary page. Sincerely,Jimmy Other Remembrances Some Random and Personal Observations. Jeffrey Burd, Tall Timber Group & Breaking Ground Magazine (7-21-20). Jack Mascaro, founder of one of Pittsburgh's largest construction firms, dies at 76. Tim Schooley, Pittsburgh Business Times (7-22-20). Pittsburgh builder and sustainability pioneer Jack Mascaro dies after long illness. Paul Guggenheimer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (7-23-20). John C. 'Jack' Mascaro / Builder of Heinz Field, science center embraced 'green' construction. Janice Crompton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (7-27-20). Founder of Mascaro Construction, Heinz Field builder, dies at age 75. Harry Funk, Washington Observer-Reporter (8-1-20).

Jun

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

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
May
15
2020

Controlled Release Society Elects University of Pittsburgh’s Steven Little to Prestigious College of Fellows

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 15, 2020) … The world’s leading organization for delivery science and technology has recognized University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven R. Little with election to its College of Fellows. The Controlled Release Society elevated Dr. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, for outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of delivery science and technology over a minimum of ten years.“This year’s class of CRS Fellows is exceptional. Dr. Little is recognized for his impressive scholarly contributions to the literature, technologies based on his discoveries that are poised to make a clinical impact, and exemplary service to the CRS in building the CRS Focus Groups, and serving as its inaugural director. He is a highly respected leader in the field,” noted Justin Hanes, CRS President and the Lewis J. Ort Professor and Director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.Dr. Little’s novel drug delivery systems mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation, allowing for dosages millions of times smaller than current treatments. These systems need only be applied once and then are released over a period of days or months, depending on the medication. This year, Dr. Little published groundbreaking research revealing a new immunotherapy system that mimics how cancer cells invade the human immune system to reduce the risk of transplant rejection. Dr. Little has also made advancements to the fundamentals of delivery science with predictive models enabling rational design of drug delivery systems and leading to the founding of Qrono, Inc, a specialty pharma company in Pittsburgh, PA. “The CRS is an amazing, international organization that is led by many of the world’s leading scientists advancing the field of drug delivery.  Election to Fellow in this organization is only possible because of the many contributions by our students, postdoctoral researchers, and our collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh.” said Little. “It’s extremely humbling to me personally, because the Fellows of the CRS are people that have mentored me, and those who I have admired for my entire career.”Other notable CRS Fellows include:María José Alonso, University of Santiago de CompostelaGordon Amidon, University of MichiganPaolo Columbo, Università di ParmaAlexander “Sandy” Florence, University of LondonPaula Hammond, MITJustin Hanes, Johns Hopkins UniversityRobert Langer, MITAntonios Mikos, Rice UniversitySamir Mitragotri, Harvard UniversityKinam Park, Purdue UniversityNicholas Peppas, University of Texas at AustinMark Prausnitz, Georgia TechMore About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is a William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award from the ASEE, being elected as a fellow of the BMES and AIMBE, a Carnegie Science Award for Research, the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award, the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award, being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator, and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education. Dr. Little was also recently named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds 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. ###

Apr

Apr
29
2020

Engineering a New Model for Respiratory Infection Treatment

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 29, 2020) — When a person contracts a respiratory viral infection like COVID-19 or influenza, the immune system responds in a myriad of ways to eliminate the virus. Respiratory viral infections are so dangerous, however, because excessive immune responses may cause extreme lung inflammation. However, new modeling research may help doctors better predict and treat patients who are most at risk to that extreme response. Jason Shoemaker, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, believes engineering-based mathematical modeling can help clinicians understand why some people’s immune systems react so severely, predicting the risk factors and pinpointing the most effective treatments to reduce inflammation. The National Science Foundation granted Shoemaker a CAREER Award for $547,494 over five years to create computational models of the immune response to seasonal, deadly (avian) influenza viruses, which can help identify the best way to suppress immune activity and reduce tissue inflammation. Since this work targets the immune system and not the specific virus, the models are expected to impact many respiratory infections, including COVID-19 “The immune system is a complex, interactive, dynamic system. Its goal is to clear the infection while minimizing collateral damage to the lungs and other organs in the process. But when it comes to respiratory infections, it’s been known that your immune response can do more damage than it should,” says Shoemaker. “Engineering-based mathematical modeling approaches are ideal for simulating such a complex system and predicting the system’s response to viral infections and treatment.” Even outside of the current pandemic, respiratory virus infections are a constant threat to public health. Seasonal influenza can result in up to 700,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths in the United States. Shoemaker’s models will enable researchers to uncover the biochemical markers that lead to excessive immune responses in respiratory infections and will help identify the best method for suppressing immune activity in those cases. In addition to this research, Shoemaker and his team will develop virtual reality (VR) games to teach the public about the immune system. “Our computational work is not tangible, and it’s hard to engage our community with something they can’t see or touch,” says Shoemaker. “The idea behind our VR games is to create a virtual environment to allow someone to dive in and observe the chemical behaviors of the immune system, seeing up close how they can lead to a dysregulation of the immune system and severe disease.” The award, titled “CAREER: Enabling Immunomodulatory Treatment of Influenza Infection using Multiscale Modeling,” begins on May 1, 2020. The NSF CAREER award program honors “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
27
2020

Giving Distressed Lungs a Safer Fighting Chance

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 27, 2020) … A device designed at the University of Pittsburgh could help improve outcomes as a treatment for COVID-19 when used in conjunction with non-invasive or mechanical ventilation, and it recently received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health records from a New York study showed that close to 90 percent of patients who were placed on mechanical ventilation did not survive.1 Some intensive care units are now considering mechanical ventilation as a last resort because of the complications and side effects associated with the process, and researchers believe this device could help. The Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System is a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide directly from the blood, much as a dialysis machine does the work of the kidneys. The device was developed by William Federspiel, PhD, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and the Pittsburgh-based lung-assist device company ALung Technologies, co-founded by Federspiel. A public health emergency related to COVID-19 was declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on February 4, 2020, and the FDA issued ALung the EUA to treat lung failure caused by the disease. Hemolung could help eliminate damage to the lungs caused by ventilators and does not require intubation or sedation, which allows patients to remain mobile during treatment. “Ventilation can cause serious issues in lungs that are already being damaged by the disease itself,” said Federspiel. “The Hemolung would allow the lung to rest and heal during the ventilation process by allowing for gentler ventilation. It could also prevent certain patients, who have less severe symptoms, from having to go on ventilation in the first place.” Mechanical ventilation requires patients to be sedated and intubated, and a myriad of complications can arise from the treatment, including collapsed lung, alveolar damage, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. For these more critically ill patients, the Hemolung could be used to help remove CO2, which would allow the mechanical ventilation process to be done more gently. Before resorting to mechanical ventilation, less severe COVID-19 cases can use non-invasive ventilation, which uses a mask to help support breathing, but sometimes this treatment is not sufficient. In this case, the Hemolung device could be used to support the non-invasive methods and prevent mechanical ventilation altogether. Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies, stated, “With published mortality rates as high as 90% for patients receiving invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), we believe that the Hemolung can be a valuable tool for physicians to be used in conjunction with IMV, by reducing or eliminating the potential of further lung damage caused by high ventilator driving pressures, often referred to as Ventilator Induced Lung Injury. Many of the academic medical centers involved with our clinical trial have already requested the use of the Hemolung RAS for treatment of their COVID-19 patients.” Created to help chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients, Hemolung has already been used on thousands of patients in Europe, where it was approved in 2013, and it is currently in clinical trials in the United States. Since the onset of the pandemic, the device has been used on some COVID-19 patients with success; however, set-up of the Hemolung is not trivial. Medical professionals would need to be trained to use the technology, and it would take time to supply a significant number of devices. Federspiel also holds appointments in the School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) at Pitt and is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. “This technology developed by Dr. Federspiel and ALung Technologies is a perfect example of how collaborative research at the McGowan Institute can impact human lives,” said William Wagner, director of MIRM and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at Pitt. “A clinical viewpoint is necessary, but medical training doesn’t give you an engineer’s perspective of design and manufacturing. You need a solid foot in both camps to make progress.” # # # 1: Most COVID-19 Patients Placed on Ventilators Died, New York Study Shows, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-04-22/most-covid-19-patients-placed-on-ventilators-died-new-york-study-shows

Apr
20
2020

Twelve Pitt Students Awarded 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2020) … Twelve University of Pittsburgh students were awarded a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is the highest number of students to receive this competitive award since 2015 when the University had a total of 13 recipients. An additional sixteen Pitt students also earned an honorable mention. For the past two years, the University’s Honors College has been working with the Office of the Provost to host informational workshops and boost participation in the fellowship program. Patrick Loughlin, professor of bioengineering, also holds workshops in the Swanson School of Engineering to encourage graduate students to apply to external fellowships. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. GRFP supports the graduate study of U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents attaining research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education at institutions located in the United States. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. Four Swanson School students and three alumni are among this year’s cohort. Three current students and three alumni received honorable mentions. Award Recipients Janet Canady, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. George Stetten’s lab where she helps design and test FingerSight, a device for the visually impaired. Zachary Fritts, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Tamer Ibrahim’s lab where he helps design and build multi-channel transmit arrays for ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Brian Gentry, a mechanical engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab where he investigates local solvent effects on density functional theory energy calculations applied to a class of organic compounds called chelating agents. Evan Miu, a chemical engineering graduate student, works with Drs. James R. McKone and Giannis Mpourmpakis. His research explores combined thermo- and electro-catalytic processes through experimental electrochemistry and density functional theory. Honorable Mentions Evan Becker, an electrical and computer engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov’s lab where he has designed representation schemes for modeling and simulating dynamic behavior in systems such as intracellular networks and geopolitical systems. Dr. Miskov-Zivanov’s lab uses discrete logic techniques, allowing him to rapidly assemble these models from scientific literature. Alexander Maldonado, a chemical engineering graduate student, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab to develop novel ways to accurately and quickly predict how complicated chemical reactions occur in solvents using state-of-the-art quantum chemistry and machine learning. Jordyn Ting, a bioengineering graduate student, works in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs with Dr. Douglas Weber where her work focuses on investigating the spared connection between the motor cortex and muscles. Swanson School alumni Kiara Lee (BioE, Brown University), Harrison Douglas (ChemE, Michigan State University) and Katarina Klett (BioE, Stanford University) also received awards. The alumni to receive honorable mentions include Katreena Thomas (IE, Arizona State University), Richard Hollenbach (MEMS, Duke University) and Arjun Acharya (BioE, University of Utah). # # #

Apr
20
2020

Engineering a (Sanitizing) Solution

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Repurposed from Pittwire. When labs at the Swanson School of Engineering closed for research purposes, Götz Veser, the Nickolas DeCecco Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and associate director of the Center for Energy, looked for a way his equipment could be put to use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Riddhesh Patel, one of Veser’s graduate students, had an idea: Use the lab’s large-scale batch reactors—essentially enormous stirred glass containers—to blend hand sanitizer for UPMC, which is experiencing a severe shortage for their medical personnel. After receiving permission to return to the Pittsburgh campus, Veser, Patel and graduate student Nasser Al Azri set to work. Al Azri maintains and cleans the equipment with support from Patel, as the scope of the effort has increased. Veser supervises production, solicits donations of chemicals needed and shuttles the sanitizer to UPMC’s South Side operation. “I do what any good professor does: Stay out of the way and make sure that my students have what they need to do their good work,” he said. To date, the lab has produced more than 150 gallons of sanitizer and plans to continue to produce sanitizer as long as it can get supplies. For more information or to contribute supplies, contact Dr. Götz Veser.

Apr
15
2020

Peering Into Undergraduate Research at Pitt: Swanson School of Engineering Publishes Sixth Edition of Ingenium

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

PITTSBURGH (April 15, 2020) … Demonstrating the diverse and exceptional undergraduate research in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Associate Dean for Research David A. Vorp recently released the sixth edition of Ingenium. This edition features a collection of 26 articles that highlight work performed throughout the 2019-20 academic year and during the school’s 2019 summer research program. Ingenium mirrors the peer-review process of scientific journals by inviting undergraduate researchers to submit manuscripts to a board of graduate students. The review board provides feedback to which the undergraduates are required to respond before their work is accepted. The co-editors-in-chief for this edition were Monica Liu, a bioengineering graduate student, and Jianan Jian, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student. “I think Ingenium is a great experience for undergraduates,” said Liu. “They have been diligently working on research all year, and Ingenium is a great way for them to present it to a larger audience and get experience writing a scientific paper.” While the publication is designed to help prepare undergraduates, members of the graduate review board also benefit from a different point of view in the academic writing process. “Graduate students spend so much time writing about their research and incorporating feedback,” said Liu. “Ingenium is a great way to experience the other side of things -- taking the time to review others' work gives us a broader perspective when we review our own work.” Ingenium features research from each department in the Swanson School and is divided into five categories: experimental research, computational research, device design, methods, and review. The publication is sponsored by the school’s Office of Research. “With each year and with each edition of Ingenium, we continue to see notable and impressive academic and professional growth and development in our undergraduate students when given opportunities to engage in scientific research,” said Vorp. “We witness students taking the knowledge, skills, and information that they learn in their coursework and apply it in a meaningful and intentional manner outside of the classroom. These thriving students are our future -- of both our highly accredited institution and our world.” ###

Apr
7
2020

Let’s Do the Twist

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) … The twisting and bending capabilities of the human muscle system enable a varied and dynamic range of motion, from walking and running to reaching and grasping. Replicating something as seemingly simple as waving a hand in a robot, however, requires a complex series of motors, pumps, actuators and algorithms. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University have recently designed a polymer known as a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) that can be “programmed” to both twist and bend in the presence of light. The research, published in the journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5349) was developed at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering by Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering; and James T. Waters, postdoctoral associate and the paper’s first author. Other researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering include Joanna Aizenberg, Michael Aizenberg, Michael Lerch, Shucong Li and Yuxing Yao.These particular LCEs are achiral: the structure and its mirror image are identical. This is not true for a chiral object, such as a human hand, which is not superimposable with a mirror image of itself. In other words, the right hand cannot be spontaneously converted to a left hand. When the achiral LCE is exposed to light, however, it can controllably and reversibly twist to the right or twist to left, forming both right-handed and left-handed structures. “The chirality of molecules and materials systems often dictates their properties,” Dr. Balazs explained. “The ability to dynamically and reversibly alter chirality or drive an achiral structure into a chiral one could provide a unique approach for changing the properties of a given system on-the-fly.” To date, however, achieving this level of structural mutability remains a daunting challenge. Hence, these findings are exciting because these LCEs are inherently achiral but can become chiral in the presence of ultraviolet light and revert to achiral when the light is removed.”The researchers uncovered this distinctive dynamic behavior through their computer modeling of a microscopic LCE post anchored to a surface in air. Molecules (the mesogens) that extend from the LCE backbone are all aligned at 45 degrees (with respect to the surface) by a magnetic field; in addition, the LCEs are cross-linked with a light-sensitive material. “When we simulated shining a light in one direction, the LCE molecules would become disorganized and the entire LCE post twists to the left; shine it in the opposite direction and it twists to the right,” Dr. Waters described. These modeling results were corroborated by the experimental findings from the Harvard group.Going a step further, the researchers used their validated computer model to design “chimera” LCE posts where the molecules in the top half of the post are aligned in one direction and are aligned in another direction in the bottom half. With the application of light, these chimera structures can simultaneously bend and twist, mimicking the complex motion enabled by the human muscular system. “This is much like how a puppeteer controls a marionette, but in this instance the light serves as the strings, and we can create dynamic and reversible movements through coupling chemical, optical, and mechanical energy,” Dr. Balazs said. “Being able to understand how to design artificial systems with this complex integration is fundamental to creating adaptive materials that can respond to changes in the environment. Especially in the field of soft robotics, this is essential for building devices that exhibit controllable, dynamic behavior without the need for complex electronic components.” ### This work was supported by the Department of Energy under award DE-SC0005247 (development of new computational model for LCEs) and by the Department of Defense, Army Research Office under award W911NF-17-1-0351 (study of light-responsive behavior of LCEs), and in part by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing through the resources provided. Below: Experimental observations of twisting of surface-anchored LCE microposts. For the director orientation of 45° from flat surface, the LCE microposts reversibly twist clockwise and counterclockwise, with handedness controlled by the direction of incident light, as predicted by the simulations. (Aizenberg Lab)

Apr
6
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 6, 2020) — Two projects from the Swanson School of Engineering have received University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants.The first, tackling the global problem of plastic waste, is headed by Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. The second project, which will support the push for artificial intelligence innovation in medical imaging, was also awarded a Scaling Grant and is led by Shandong Wu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Radiology. The Scaling Grants provide $400,000 over two years to support detailed project planning, gathering proof-of-concept results, and reduction of technical risk for teams pursuing an identified large extramural funding opportunity. The Scaling Grants are part of the University’s Pitt Momentum Funds, which offer funding across multiple stages of large, ambitious projects. Addressing the Global Waste Challenge The problem of plastic waste is growing on a global scale, with an annual global production rate of more than 500 million tons per year and predicted to triple by 2036. The project, “Attacking the Global Plastics Waste Problem,” seeks to create a convergent academic center welcoming expertise from across the University that will focus on the circular economy as a solution. “For most new technologies, one group creates the technology in the lab as a pilot, then at full scale. The group launches it, and only later decides if there are environmental and/or policy and/or legal issues,” says Beckman. “We're proposing to do these analyses in parallel, so that each section of the work informs the others. Further, the technology we are proposing to develop is a mixture of chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science.” The interdisciplinary team will take advantage of its deep expertise in both the science of plast ics recycling and the legal and governance frameworks that will help governments implement a circular economy for plastics. In addition to Beckman, the team consists of Melissa Bilec, PhD, Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and deputy director of MCSI; Vikas Khanna, PhD, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor in CEE and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Gotz Veser, PhD, professor in chemical and petroleum engineering; Peng Liu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry; Amy Wildermuth, professor and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; and Joshua Galperin, visiting associate professor in the School of Law. “Recycling can only do so much. A circular economy framework is a promising solution to the complex, urgent problem that plastic pollution presents,” says Bilec, who is part of a five-university team that received a two-year National Science Foundation grant for $1.3 million to pursue convergence research on the circular economy as a plastic waste solution. “Our proposed center will integrate the science and engineering of plastics recycling, using a novel approach on both the recycling and manufacturing sides, into frameworks tracking its environmental and economic impact.” Applying Artificial Intelligence to Medical Research The second project to receive a Scaling Grant is the “Pittsburgh Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Medical Imaging,” a collaboration between the Departments of Radiology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Informatics, and Computer Science. This work, led by Wu, aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to reshape medical imaging in radiology and pathology. Through the Pittsburgh Health and Data Alliance, the region is already at work using machine learning to translate “big data” generated in health care to treatments and services that could benefit human health. "The advancement in AI, especially in deep learning, provides a powerful approach for machine learning on big healthcare data,” said Wu. “Deep learning enables large-scale data mining with substantially increased accuracy and efficiency in data analysis." The multidisciplinary research team will work to develop AI imaging methodology and translational applications with the ultimate goal of creating tools that are clinically useful, accurate, explainable and safe. “AI can substantially improve quantitative analysis to medical imaging data and computational modeling of clinical tasks using medical images for disease diagnosis and outcome prediction," explained Wu. David A. Vorp, associate dean for research and John. A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, will help facilitate this collaboration in engineering. “Artificial intelligence nicely complements bioengineering and medical research,” said Vorp. “My lab uses AI with CT scans to help predict the prognosis and improve treatment of aortic aneurysm, and that is just one example of how this cutting-edge technology can be applied to medical images. Rather than relying on the naked eye, we can use AI to analyze these images and have a more sensitive detector to identify disease, improve health and save lives.” The group’s long-term vision is to combine the computational expertise and clinical resources across Pitt, UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University to build a center for innovative AI in clinical translational medical imaging. ###
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell

Mar

Mar
13
2020

Mimicking Cancer to Avoid Transplant Rejection

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

Originally published by UPMC Media Relations. Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH – Inspired by a tactic cancer cells use to evade the immune system, University of Pittsburgh researchers have engineered tiny particles that can trick the body into accepting transplanted tissue as its own. Rats that were treated with these cell-sized microparticles developed permanent immune tolerance to grafts — including a whole limb — from a donor rat, while keeping the rest of their immune system intact, according to a paper published today in Science Advances. “It’s like hacking into the immune system borrowing a strategy used by one of humanity’s worst enemies to trick the body into accepting a transplant,” said senior author Steven Little, Ph.D., William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of chemical and petroleum engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt. “And we do it synthetically.” The advantage of a synthetic approach rather than cell-based therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, is that the treatment logistics are much simpler. “Instead of isolating cells from a patient, growing them up in the lab, injecting them back in and hoping they find the right location, we’re packaging it all up in an engineered system that recruits these naturally occurring cells right to the transplanted graft,” said lead author James Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. The microparticles work by releasing a native protein secreted by tumors, CCL22, which draws regulatory T cells (Treg cells) to the site of the graft, where they tag the foreign tissue as “self” so that it evades immune attack. Microparticle-treated animals maintained healthy grafts for as long as they were monitored — a little under a year, equivalent to about 30 human years. All it took was two shots to effect seemingly permanent change. In a companion paper published recently in PNAS, the researchers showed that these engineered microparticles can train the immune system of one strain of rat to accept a donor limb from a different strain. This new paper shows that the effects are specific to the intended donor. Skin grafts from a third strain were rapidly rejected. Today, transplant patients take daily doses of immunosuppressant drugs to avoid rejection, leaving them vulnerable to cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases and a host of other ailments that come along with a weakened immune system. “These drugs hammer the immune system into submission so it can’t attack the transplanted organ, but then it can’t protect the body either,” said coauthor Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. “We’re trying to teach the immune system to tolerate the limb, so that a transplant recipient can remain immunocompetent.” The risks of lifelong immunosuppression are particularly problematic when the transplant isn’t a life-saving procedure. Doctors and patients have to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. “The ability to induce transplant tolerance while avoiding systemic immunosuppression, as demonstrated in these innovative studies, is especially important in the context of vascularized composite transplantation where patients receive quality-of-life transplants, such as those of hands or face,” said coauthor Angus Thomson, Ph.D., professor of surgery and immunology in the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at Pitt. Additional authors on the study include Wensheng Zhang, Ph.D., Ali Aral, M.D., Abhinav Acharya, Ph.D., Yalcin Kulahci, M.D., Jingjing Li, M.D., Heth Turnquist, Ph.D., Mario Solari, M.D., all of Pitt; and Vijay Gorantla, M.D., Ph.D., of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. This research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01-AI118777 U19-AI131453, R01-HL122489, T32-AI074490), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Medicine (R01-DE021058), the Department of Defense (W81XWH-15-2-0027 and W81XWH-15-1-0244), The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the National Cancer Institute (T32-CA175294).
Author: Erin Hare, Ph.D., Manager, Science Writing
Mar
10
2020

Learn more about Pitt's planning and response to COVID-19

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

Please visit and bookmark the University of Pittsburgh COVID-19 site for the most up-to-date information and a full list of resources. From the University Times: As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, Pitt is remaining diligent with addressing related issues as the pop up. For an overall look at updates from Pitt, go to emergency.pitt.edu. On Saturday, Provost Ann Cudd issued a statement about how to support faculty and staff who have committed to attending professional conferences this semester and choose not to attend due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The University will grant an exception for travel booked through May 31 and reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those who decide to cancel travel. The administration will reassess this deadline date as COVID-19 evolves and may extend the deadline as conditions evolve. For more updates from the provost, go to provost.pitt.edu. The provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning is encouraging faculty to be prepared if remote learning situations become required. The center has set up a page detailing the basics of providing instructional continuity. The page will be updated regularly. Find information about remote learning and more at teaching.pitt.edu/instructional-continuity. All business units and responsibilities centers also are being asked to work on how to handle mass absenteeism and/or the need for as many people as possible to work at home.

Feb

Feb
26
2020

Associate or Full Professor, Tenure Stream

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

We seek one exceptional tenured candidate for a position at associate or full professor level. Our department is re-establishing an ABET-accredited BS degree program in PetE to complement our MS in PetE, and the applicant is expected to provide leadership in the development of the undergraduate curriculum and internship/coop program.  Promising academic candidates must have a track record of leadership in Petroleum Engineering research and contributions to teaching Petroleum Engineering courses at the undergraduate or graduate levels. We also welcome industrial candidates with at least five years of experience reflected in an extensive research and presentation record, along with university-level instructional experience. All candidates, whether from academia or industry, must have a PhD in science or engineering and at least one degree (BS, MS or PhD) in Petroleum Engineering. Candidates from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. Our department has internationally recognized programs in Energy and Sustainability, Catalysis and Reaction Engineering, Materials, Multi-Scale Modeling, and Biomedical Engineering. Active collaborations exist with several adjacent centers, including the U.S. DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling, the Center for Energy, the Petersen Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  Our department has a strategic alliance with Lubrizol Corporation that includes educational and research components. The candidate is expected to lead a vibrant research program (funded by federal sources such as NSF, DOE and NETL, state agencies, industry partners, ACS PRF, etc.). The successful applicant will be expected to organize and lead large group proposals and to develop a strong relationship with the NETL facilities in Pittsburgh and Morgantown and with regional gas and oil producing companies. The candidate must also be committed to high quality teaching for a diverse student body and to assisting our department in enhancing diversity. To apply, please submit via Interfolio a detailed CV, names of four references, research plans/vision (5 - 10 pages), teaching plans/vision (2 - 4 pages), and service plans/vision (2 - 4 pages related to professional service to the department, university and scientific community).  Applications will only be accepted via submission through the following Interfolio link: http://apply.interfolio.com/73466. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by May 1, 2020. Please address any inquiries (but not applications) to Dr. Robert Enick via che@pitt.edu. Please put “2020 PetE position” in the subject line. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vet/Disabled employer.

Pitt PetE Search
Feb
20
2020

Shining a New Light on Biomimetic Materials

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (February 24, 2020) … Advances in biomimicry – creating biological responses within non-biological substances – will enable synthetic materials to behave in ways that were typically only found in Nature. Light provides an especially effective tool for triggering life-like, dynamic responses within a range of materials. The problem, however, is that the applied light is typically dispersed throughout the sample and thus, it is difficult to localize the bio-inspired behavior to the desired, specific portions of the material. A convergence of optical, chemical and materials sciences, however, has yielded a novel way to utilize light to control the local dynamic behavior within a material. In a general sense, the illuminated material mimics a vital biological behavior: the ability of the iris and pupil in the eye to dynamically respond to the incoming light. Furthermore, once the light enters the sample, the material itself modifies the behavior of the light, trapping it within regions of the sample. The latest research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, Harvard University and McMaster University, reveals a hydrogel that can respond to optical stimuli and modify the stimuli in response. The group’s findings of this opto-chemo-mechanical transduction were published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117). The Pitt authors include Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering; and Victor V. Yashin, Visiting Research Assistant Professor. Other members include Joanna Aizenberg, Amos Meeks (co-first author) and Anna V. Shneidman, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Ankita Shastri, Harvard Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; and Fariha Mahmood, Derek Morim (co-first author), Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu and Andy Tran, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. “Until only a decade or so ago, the preferred state for materials was static. If you built something, the preference was that a material be predictable and unchanging,” Dr. Balazs explained. “However, as technology evolves, we are thinking about materials in new ways and how we can exploit their dynamic properties to make them responsive to external stimuli. “For example, rather than programming a computer to make a device perform a function, how can we combine chemistry, optics and materials to mimic biological processes without the need for hard-wired processors and complex algorithms?”The findings continue Dr. Balazs’ research with spiropyran (SP)-functionalized hydrogels and the material’s photo-sensitive chromophores. Although the SP gel resembles gelatin, it is distinctive in its ability to contain beams of light and not disperse them, similar to the way fiber optics passively control light for communication. However, unlike a simple polymer, the water-filled hydrogel reacts to the light and can “trap” the photons within its molecular structure. “The chromophore in the hydrogel plays an important role,” she explains. “In the absence of light, the gel is swollen and relaxed. But when exposed to light from a laser beam about the width of a human hair, it changes it structure, shrinks and becomes hydrophobic. This increases the polymer density and changes the hydrogel’s index of refraction and traps the light within regions that are denser than others. When the laser is removed from the source, the gel returns to its normal state. The ability of the light to affect the gel and the gel in turn to affect the propagating light creates a beautiful feedback loop that is unique in synthetic materials.” Most surprisingly, the group found that the introduction of a second, parallel beam of light creates a type of communication within the hydrogel. One of the self-trapped beams not only controls a second beam, but also the control can happen with a significant distance between the two, thanks to the response of the hydrogel medium. Dr. Yashin notes that this type of control is now possible because of the evolution of materials, not because of advances in laser technology.“The first observation of self-trapping of light occurred in 1964, but with very large, powerful lasers in controlled conditions,” he said. “We can now more easily achieve these behaviors in ambient environments with far less energy, and thus greatly expand the potential use for non-linear optics in applications.”The group believes that opto-chemo-mechanical responses present a potential sandbox for exploration into soft robotics, optical computing and adaptive optics. “There are few materials designed with a built-in feedback loop,” Dr. Balazs said. “The simplicity of the responses provides an exciting way to mimic biological processes such as movement and communication, and open new pathways toward creating devices that aren’t reliant on human control.”This research was supported in part by the US Army Research Office under Award W911NF-17-1-0351 and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Foundation for Innovation. ### Schematic representation of optical self-trapping within SP-functionalized hydrogels with two remote beams; each beam is switched on and off to control the interaction. (Aizenberg/Saravanamuttu Lab. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2020, 201902872; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117) SP-modified hydrogels. (A) Photoisomerization scheme of chromophore substituents from the protonated merocyanine (MCH+, Left) to SP (Right) forms in the methylenebis(acrylamide) cross-linked p(AAm-co-AAc) hydrogel. (B) Photographs of chromophore-containing p(AAm-co-AAc) hydrogel monoliths employed in experiments. (C) UV-visible absorbance spectra demonstrating reversible isomerization of MCH+ (absorption λmax = 420 nm) to SP (λmax = 320 nm) in solution. (D) Experimental setup (Top) to probe laser self-trapping due to photoinduced local contraction of the hydrogel, schematically depicted on the Bottom (see also Movie S1). A laser beam is focused onto the entrance face of the hydrogel while its exit face is imaged onto a CCD camera. (Aizenberg/Saravanamuttu Lab. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2020, 201902872; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117)

Feb
12
2020

Pitt ChemE Professor Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 12, 2020) — Susan Fullerton, PhD, Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected as a 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Chemistry. The highly competitive award is given to outstanding early-career scientists from the U.S. and Canada. The two-year, $75,000 fellowship recognizes researchers’ unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field. Fullerton’s fellowship will further her research on two-dimensional materials for next-generation electronics.  These two-dimensional materials can be thought of as a piece of paper – if the paper were only a single molecule thick.  Fullerton’s group uses ions to control charge in these molecularly thin sheets for application in memory and logic.  Fullerton is the 12th Pitt faculty member to receive the Chemistry Fellowship since 1970 “This Fellowship speaks to Susan’s groundbreaking research in electronics, and how she’s used her training in the chemical sciences to impact this field; it’s an honor that is well-deserved,” says Steven Little, PhD, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded annually to 126 researchers in the areas of chemistry, computation and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934 and named for the former president and CEO of the General Motors Corporation, makes grants to support research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics.
Maggie Pavlick

Jan

Jan
30
2020

Stellar Student Researchers

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 30, 2020) — Most researchers can take certain things, like gravity, for granted. That is not the case for the two groups of students from the University of Pittsburgh who will be sending their experiments to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Thanks to a Pitt SEED Grant, two groups of students from the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Pharmacy have the opportunity to send experiments into space to study the effects of microgravity on their subjects through Pitt’s participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). “This is an incredible opportunity for our students to participate in one of humankind’s most impressive ventures: spaceflight,” says David Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research, John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, and co-principle investigator of the SSEP at Pitt. “We’re impressed that our interdisciplinary student teams designed not one, but two experiments accepted to this highly selective program.” Vorp is joined as co-principle investigator by Ravi Patel, PharmD, and Kerry Empey, PharmD, PhD, from the School of Pharmacy. John Donehoo, RPh, clinical pharmacist at UPMC, joins the project as a select collaborator. The SSEP student teams are given a 10-inch silicone tube in which to perform their experiments, which they can segment with clamps to keep elements of the experiment separate until they reach the ISS. Scientists aboard the ISS can only be given simple instructions, like removing the clamps and shaking the tube, making experiment design complicated. Finding a Silver Lining One interdisciplinary group of students is studying how silver nanoparticles effect the immune response of Daphnia Magna, a species of water flea that can show an immune response. Researchers Samantha Bailey, PharmD candidate; Jordan Butko, sophomore studying mechanical engineering; Amanda Carbone, junior studying chemical engineering; and Prerna Dodeja, MS student in the School of Pharmacy, will look at genetic markers in the organism that indicate its immune response once it returns to earth. “Researchers have previously tested immune response in Daphnia Magna, but no one has looked at it with regard to nanoparticles yet,” says Carbone. “We’re excited that we get to build on the work that others have done and explore new territory.” Silver nanoparticles are also sometimes found in antibacterial products and have been associated with significant toxicity in the liver and brain. While these nanoparticles aren’t so problematic on Earth, where gravity keeps them down, they could be more harmful in microgravity, where they can be accidentally inhaled or ingested. The study will investigate the effect of these silver nanoparticles on Daphnia Magna’s immune system in microgravity, comparing it to Daphnia Magna’s response on Earth, to shed light on if and how astronauts’ immune systems function differently in space. Aerospace Aluminum Marissa Defallo, a junior studying mechanical engineering, and Nikolas Vostal, a junior studying materials science, make up the second group of student researchers. They will send a sample of 3D-printed aluminum with unique topography, combined with an oxidizer like a saltwater solution, to the ISS to study corrosion in microgravity. Aluminum is frequently used in the aerospace industry, including on the ISS, and the experiment will provide insights into how the material corrodes in space, information that could inform future corrosion-resistant materials. “At my co-op with American Airlines, we had to do corrosion training, and that evolved into the idea for this project. When satellites are in orbit, they are still in Earth’s atmosphere, and there’s oxygen present to cause corrosion,” says Defallo.  “I’ve always had a passion for space and want to work for a company like SpaceX someday, so this kind of experience is an invaluable opportunity to have.” Though the launch date is not yet officially scheduled, the SSEP teams say they may be able to send the experiments into space in June 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
24
2020

“I want to pursue a degree like this when I go to college.”

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 24, 2019) — The Outreach Projects for ChE 500 “Systems Engineering I: Dynamics and Modelling,” a Pillars Curriculum course for senior students in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is an integral part of the course. The same groups that work out homework assignments, other projects, recitations or lab experiments are challenged with making a proposal for a community service where they address non-technical audiences and promote the interest in or appreciation for STEM careers. The project, meant to help the engineering students engage with their field in a new way, had a significant impact on their audiences. Eleven groups of Pitt students reached a total of 12 teachers and 443 students ranging from third-graders to college students. Students were entirely free to choose their topics, their partners, their audiences, their communication tools, their service and their goals. The basic structure for the project required a proposal presentation early in the term, the approval of the instructor before the actual presentation to the selected audience, and a final presentation to the class, complemented by a group report and individual self-assessment reports. The final grades factored in self-assessment, community feedback and instructor grading. “Learning to communicate well about science is an important part of being an engineer,” says Joaquin Rodriquez, PhD, assistant professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and ChE 500 instructor. “An important part of this project is practicing communication skills that will serve them for their academic and professional careers.” Many of the groups focused on breaking down engineering concepts for non-engineering audiences in a way that was engaging and hands-on. For some, that meant providing teachers with materials they can use in the classroom to bring STEM concepts to life. One group prepared a presentation for fourth and fifth grade students at Howe Elementary School and Holiday Park Elementary School on how water is processed from natural sources and distributed to peoples’ homes. Another prepared a video and presentation about a chemical experiment, making a lava lamp, to third graders at Stewartsville Elementary School, and yet another prepared a lecture on forces, combined with a dynamic set of experiments to illustrate the different types of forces. Several other groups created websites with chemical engineering principles and fundamental information that teachers can use as a resource when presenting these concepts in the classroom. Other groups created in-person demonstrations designed to engage young audiences. One group prepared a background presentation and a set of three chemical reaction experiments—elephant tooth-paste, a vitamin C clock, and a Luminol demonstration—on stage at Freedom Area Middle School with about 100 sixth-graders in attendance. The students were invited to take part in the experiments, a call they answered with enthusiasm. The projects weren’t all geared toward a K-12 audience, though; others sought to reach non-engineering majors to show how engineering impacts everyone. One group prepared a video about the Haber-Bosch process and its dramatic impact on agriculture to sustain a growing world population. The video was presented at a meeting of the Pitt Muslim Students Association, a group with a diverse educational background. Another prepared a video with animations on the scientific principles behind the operation of microwave ovens to a class of non-STEM major students at Pitt. “Our students each found unique ways to engage with their audiences and make science exciting, enjoyable, and importantly, clear,” says Rodriguez. “They were strong ambassadors for the field of chemical engineering and STEM careers, and I’m proud of the impact our students have in our community.” The feedback provided by the students and teachers shows the great impact these outreach efforts had. In response to a group’s website detailing solar power and chemical engineers’ role in it, the instructor said, “The site provided a lot of useful information on how prevalent these forms of sustainable energy are becoming in the United States and around the world, which started several side conversations with my students about the importance of sustainable energy –which, I believe, is alone the marking of a huge success. To have tapped into the interests of teenagers to such a degree that they talk about renewable energy with interest is, truly, a remarkable feat.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
8
2020

2020 ChemE Faculty

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position at the assistant professor rank. Successful candidates are expected to show exceptional potential to become leaders in their respective fields, and to contribute to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Department has internationally recognized programs in Energy and Sustainability, Catalysis and Reaction Engineering, Materials, Multi-Scale Modeling, and Biomedical engineering. Active collaborations exist with several adjacent centers, including the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling, the Petersen Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, The University of Pittsburgh Center for Energy, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and the U.S. DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. The department also has a broad strategic alliance with the Lubrizol Corporation, a leading specialty chemicals company, with a particular focus on process intensification. We are seeking faculty who can contribute strategically to departmental strengths, but outstanding applicants in all areas will be considered. Applications will only be accepted via submission through the following Interfolio link: http://apply.interfolio.com/72527. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by February 28, 2020. Please address any inquiries (but not applications) to che@pitt.edu. Candidates from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. One of the major strategic goals of the university 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.