Pitt | Swanson Engineering

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Welcome to the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department’s website! Please enjoy exploring and learning about our department. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

The University of Pittsburgh is proud of its history and tradition in civil and environmental engineering education, reinforced by a faculty who are dedicated to their students. The curriculum prepares students to tackle today’s most eminent engineering, environmental and societal challenges. Undergraduate and graduate students (M.S. and PhD) have the opportunity to study and conduct research in a diverse range of areas, including structures, geotechnical and pavements, water resources, transportation, mining, environmental, water resources, sustainability and green design, and construction management. Graduates of the department have become leaders in our profession, serving with government, private consulting firms and contractors as well as research in private industry and academic institutions.

The department offers a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree that may be obtained by majoring in civil engineering or a new major in environmental engineering. You can find more information on the requirements for each degree under the undergraduate tab. The civil engineering major has been continuously accredited by ABET since its inception in 1936. The environmental engineering major was established in 2015 in response to strong demand from students, industry and government agencies and will seek ABET accreditation in the Fall of 2017. The Department also offers minors in civil engineering and environmental engineering to students majoring in other disciplines.

The undergraduate curriculum culminates in a capstone design project, which enables students to put into practice what they learned in the classroom, and offers a direct connection to local civil and environmental engineering professionals who consult with students throughout the semester on their projects.

The department employs world-class faculty, offers access to first-rate educational and research facilities and partnerships with industry, all of which provide the necessary edge for our graduates to discover and pursue satisfying careers that have profound impact on meeting the current and any future challenges for the society. 


Visualizing Our City's Energy Use

Research, Banner, Civil & Environmental

The building sector in the U.S. accounts for 39 percent of energy use, with commercial buildings responsible for about half of that. As cities grapple with climate change, making commercial buildings more efficient is a key part of the solution. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation used the City of Pittsburgh to create a model built upon the design, materials and purpose of commercial buildings to estimate their energy usage and emissions. While other models may be hindered by a scarcity of data in public records, the researchers’ Urban Building Energy Model (UBEM) uses street-level images to categorize and estimate commercial buildings’ energy use. Their findings were recently published in the journal Energy & Buildings.“We found that in the existing literature, the scale of commercial buildings was always one of the challenges. It’s cumbersome or even impossible to find and process detailed information about hundreds or thousands of buildings in an urban environment,” said Rezvan Mohammadiziazi, lead author and graduate student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Researchers need to rely on assumptions based on when buildings were built or what the mechanical and electrical systems look like. Our hope is that by using image processing, we can build a framework that reduces some assumptions.”The researchers used publicly available Geographic Information System (GIS) data and street-level images to develop their UBEM, then created 20 archetypes of buildings that comprised eight commercial use types.The buildings were sorted into the groups based on categories including use type and construction period.With street-level images to determine the building material, window-to-wall ratio, and number of floors, and LiDAR data from the U.S. Geological Survey to determine building height, the researchers were able to simulate and map the annual energy use intensity of 209 structures in Pittsburgh. When they validated their findings using other publicly available data, they had just a 7 percent error rate. Though it’s currently mostly guided by the researchers looking at the images, the researchers hope that this modeling framework can eventually take advantage of machine learning to more quickly analyze and categorize building images.The focus on commercial buildings, as well, was an important addition to the field of research.“A lot of good work has already been done in this field, but there are fewer studies focusing on commercial buildings, because data about them is more difficult to capture than residential buildings. They’re bigger and have more diverse uses,” explained Mohammadiziazi. “We wanted to determine if an urban model for commercial buildings could be accurate based on acceptable errors, and it was.” While one goal was to create a framework that other researchers could replicate and build upon, another was to help the City of Pittsburgh meet its ambitious energy goals. Pittsburgh has joined 22 other U.S. cities as a 2030 District, pledging to reduce energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 50 percent by the year 2030. By creating a tool to estimate current usage, the research can aid policy makers in setting energy goals and efficiency regulations. The University of Pittsburgh is a member of the 2030 District, and hasalso pledged to be carbon neutral by 2037 to mark Pitt’s 250th anniversary. Pitt Assistant Professor Melissa Bilec has been involved in the Pittsburgh 2030 District since its inception.“We are fortunate—and have worked diligently—to have a strong partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, along with our own University of Pittsburgh’s Facilities Management. The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation values and fosters our internal and external partners,” said Bilec, who is also Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow in the department of civil and environmental engineering, and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “We will not meet or exceed our climate and energy goals without aggressive action and solid planning in the building sector. Models, such as the one we created, are intended to aid in the planning process to meet our goals.”Joining Bilec and Mohammadiziazi as coauthor is civil engineering undergraduate Samuel Copeland, who began working with Bilec as a high school student through the Pitt EXCEL program. The paper, “Urban building energy model: Database development, validation, and application for commercial building stock” (doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2021.111175) will also be printed in the October 2021 edition, published by Elsevier. AcknowledgementThis work was supported by the National Science Foundation [Grant No. 1934824]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

60 Researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering Ranked Among Top 2% of Scientists Worldwide

Accolades, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Electrical & Computer, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, Honors & Awards

According to a new report by Stanford University, 60 researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are ranked in the top 2 percent of scientists in the world. The report covered scientists globally from a wide range of fields, and the ranking is based on citations from Scopus, assessing scientists for career-long citation impact up until the end of 2019 and for citation impact during the single calendar year 2019. More information on the ranking method can be found here.The full list can be found here.“I am incredibly proud of the breadth and depth of our primary and secondary faculty within this survey, both overall and as a segment of the University of Pittsburgh,” noted James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “Receiving this external validation is a testament to their research and dedication to their respective fields.”The researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering are:BioengineeringX. Tracy CuiWilliam FederspielPrashant KumtaPatrick LoughlinDavid VorpStephen F. BadylakMichael BoningerR. A. CooperJoseph FurmanJorg GerlachThomas GilbertMark GladwinJohn KellumKacey G. MarraJ. Peter RubinWalter SchneiderIan SigalAlexander StarYoram VodovotzWilliam WagnerJames H.C. WangAlan WellsPeter WipfDouglass Lansing TaylorChemical and Petroleum EngineeringAnna C. BalazsEric J. BeckmanRobert EnickGerald D. HolderJ. Karl JohnsonJoseph McCarthySachin VelankarGötz VeserIrving Wender (deceased)Civil and Environmental EngineeringAmir AlaviAndrew P. BungerKent A. HarriesPiervincenzo RizzoLuis VallejoRadisav VidicFred MosesElectrical and Computer EngineeringHeng HuangAlexis KwasinskiKartik MohanramErvin SejdićMingui SunRami MelhemRob RutenbarIndustrial EngineeringLarry ShumanMechanical Engineering and Materials ScienceWilliam (Buddy) ClarkPaul OhodnickiG. Paolo GaldiPeyman GiviBrian GleesonScott X. MaoGerald H. MeierWissam A. SaidiGuofeng WangXudong ZhangCarey BalabanFreddie H. Fu

Eco-Village Seeks to Recirculate Pittsburgh’s Waste

Student Profiles, Civil & Environmental, Chemical & Petroleum, Sustainability, Banner

Think of waste as a valuable resource. This is the key concept that University of Pittsburgh undergraduate Dana Vidic took from her sustainability capstone project in the Swanson School of Engineering.She and her team developed a plan for an “Eco-Village” that minimizes waste by efficiently reusing materials and reframing how people think about consumption. They delivered a proposal to the City of Pittsburgh as part of its Roadmap to Zero Waste, an effort to make the area an autonomous zero-waste city by 2030.“The goal of our project was to create a framework for a sustainable city and to promote responsible consumption and production amongst its residents,” said Vidic (CEE ‘21), a new civil and environmental engineering alumna. “We wanted to incorporate a community circular economy that centers on minimizing waste, maximizing reuse, and attempting to mimic nature’s own regenerative and cyclical processes.”In addition to Vidic, the multidisciplinary team included Corrine Koziel, a neuroscience undergraduate student; Mel Marciesky, a chemical engineering graduate student; Delia Mercer, an environmental science undergraduate student; and Darien Strickler, an architecture undergraduate student.“The amount of energy and effort that goes into creating things just to eventually bury it is ridiculously backward,” Marciesky said. “The most successful cities not only encourage a circular economy but mandate it.”They designed and modeled the Eco-Village with inspiration from other U.S. and European cities. The first step in executing this project involves creating a facility in the center of town to sort waste.“What currently happens is that waste is transported throughout the day, in gas-guzzling trucks, to two landfills outside of the city,” Vidic explained. “In this new model, the trash could be transported to a city hub, where it is sorted for reuse while the remainder is transported to the landfills.”From there, the team broke down Pittsburgh’s waste stream and focused their sorting efforts on the areas that would most benefit the region, including construction and demolition waste, which represents 67 percent of the U.S. waste stream. They will also manage organic waste and process these materials with milling equipment or an anaerobic digester. The resulting products could provide the city with renewable energy, soil, mulch, fertilizer, and non-hazardous wood mass.The overall plan includes a larger community park that promotes a culture of sustainability and features work from local artists, created with reused materials. ”The movement toward accepting a new way of looking at trash is to create a way for the community to be involved in the activity of recycling,” Strickler said. “For us, we believed that the best way to do this was to show that a community can not only coexist with recycled materials, but thrive with them, in a facility that makes it all possible.”They created a 3D video tour of their proposed design.“Creating an Eco-Village in Pittsburgh would both mitigate waste and boost the economy — not just for the city, but the entire surrounding region,” Vidic said. “It is the next logical step in the battle against climate change.“This project was definitely an eye-opening experience,” she added. “In a classroom, you learn how things function in a perfect world, but gleaning knowledge from industry experts gives you a different perspective. It helps you see how things function in the real-world and consider factors that you normally wouldn’t think about in a classroom setting.”The group included future steps in their proposal and suggested that the next cohort of sustainability capstone students continue the project and present a more robust framework to the City of Pittsburgh.

Are Silver Nanoparticles a Silver Bullet Against Microbes?

Research, Civil & Environmental, Banner

Antimicrobials are used to kill or slow the growth of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. They can be in the form of antibiotics, used to treat bodily infections, or as an additive or coating on commercial products used to keep germs at bay. These life-saving tools are essential to preventing and treating infections in humans, animals and plants, but they also pose a global threat to public health when microorganisms develop resistance to them, a concept known as antimicrobial resistance.One of the main drivers of antimicrobial resistance is the misuse and overuse of antimicrobial agents, which includes silver nanoparticles, an advanced material with well-documented antimicrobial properties. These nanoparticles are increasingly used in commercial products that boast enhanced germ-killing performance – silver nanoparticles in particular have been woven into textiles, coated onto toothbrushes, and even mixed into cosmetics as a preservative. The Gilbertson Group at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering used laboratory strains of E.coli to better understand bacterial resistance to silver nanoparticles and attempt to get ahead of the potential misuse of this material. The team recently published their results in Nature Nanotechnology.“Bacterial resistance to silver nanoparticles is understudied, so our group looked at the mechanisms behind this event,” said Lisa Stabryla, lead author on the paper and a recent civil and environmental PhD graduate at Pitt. “This is a promising innovation to add to our arsenal of antimicrobials, but we need to consciously study it and perhaps regulate its use to avoid decreased efficacy like we’ve seen with some common antibiotics.” Stabryla exposed E.coli to 20 consecutive days of silver nanoparticles and monitored bacterial growth over time. Nanoparticles are roughly 50 times smaller than a bacterium. “In the beginning, bacteria could only survive at low concentrations of silver nanoparticles, but as the experiment continued, we found that they could survive at higher doses,” Stabryla noted. “Interestingly, we found that bacteria developed resistance to the silver nanoparticles but not their released silver ions alone.”The group sequenced the genome of the E.coli that had been exposed to silver nanoparticles and found a mutation in a gene that corresponds to an efflux pump that pushes heavy metal ions out of the cell.“It is possible that some form of silver is getting into the cell, and when it arrives, the cell mutates to quickly pump it out,” she added. “More work is needed to determine if researchers can perhaps overcome this mechanism of resistance through particle design.”The group then studied two different types of E.coli: a hyper-motile strain that swims through its environment more quickly than normally motile bacteria and a non-motile strain that does not have physical means for moving around. They found that only the hyper-motile strain developed resistance. “This finding could suggest that silver nanoparticles may be a good option to target certain types of bacteria, particularly non-motile strains,” Stabryla said. In the end, bacteria will still find a way to evolve and evade antimicrobials. The hope is that an understanding of the mechanisms that lead to this evolution and a mindful use of new antimicrobials will lessen the impact of antimicrobial resistance.“We are the first to look at bacterial motility effects on the ability to develop resistance to silver nanoparticles,” said Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. “The observed difference is really interesting and merits further investigation to understand it and how to link the genetic response - the efflux pump regulation - to the bacteria’s ability to move in the system.“The results are promising for being able to tune particle properties for a desired response, such as high efficacy while avoiding resistance.”

Creating Cooler Cities

Civil & Environmental, Research, Banner

If you’ve ever been in a city’s central core in the middle of summer, you know the heat can be brutal—and much hotter than in the surrounding region.Temperatures in cities tend to be several degrees warmer than in its rural areas, a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. Many cities have been observed to be 2-4ºC warmer than the countryside in virtually every inhabited continent. This phenomenon occurs because urban infrastructure, especially pavements, absorbs a lot of heat as compared to natural vegetated surfaces. This heat pollution causes higher air conditioning and water costs, while also posing a public health hazard. One mitigation strategy called gray infrastructure involves the modification of impermeable surfaces (walls, roofs, and pavements) to counter their conventional heating effect. Typical urban surfaces have a solar reflectance (albedo) of 0.20, which means they reflect just 20 percent of sunlight and absorb as much as 80 percent. By contrast, reflective concrete and coatings can be designed to reflect 30-50 percent or more. Cities like Los Angeles have already used reflective coatings on major streets to combat heat pollution, although the solution can be expensive to implement city-wide. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering used a Computational Fluid Dynamics model to find ways to decrease cost and increase usage of cooler surfaces. The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, examined the possibility of applying cooler surfaces to just half the surfaces in a city. “This could be an effective solution if the surfaces selected were upstream of the dominant wind direction,” said lead author Sushobhan Sen, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “A ‘barrier’ of cool surfaces preemptively cools the warm air, which then cools the rest of the city at a fraction of the cost. On the other hand, if the surfaces are not strategically selected, their effectiveness can decline substantially.” This research gives urban planners and civil engineers an additional way to build resilient and sustainable infrastructure using limited resources.“It’s important for the health of the planet and its people that we find a way to mitigate the heat produced by urban infrastructure,” said coauthor Lev Khazanovich, the department’s Anthony Gill Chair Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Strategically placed reflective surfaces could maximize the mitigation of heat pollution while using minimal resources.”The paper, titled “Limited application of reflective surfaces can mitigate urban heat pollution,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23634-7) was coauthored by Sen and Khazanovich. The paper was recently featured by Nature Communications in the Editors’ Highlight page on climate change impacts. 

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