Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Since its founding in 1893 by two legends, George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt has excelled in education, research, and service.  Today, the department features innovative undergraduate and graduate programs and world-class research centers and labs, combining theory with practice at the nexus of computer and electrical engineering, for our students to learn, develop, and lead lives of impact.





Apr
11
2019

The Swanson School Presents David Toth with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. The distinguished alumnus chosen to represent the Swanson School of Engineering overall in 2019 is David Toth, BSEE ’78, President and CEO (retired) of NetRatings, Inc. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards.  James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “We may not think about it, but in some ways the Internet itself is not a product. It is a conduit, a medium. And we are not its customers,” said Dean Martin. “We, its users, are the product, and David and his peers were the first to realize that how people use the internet could provide an amazing amount of information, maybe even more so than more traditional media such as television, magazines, and newspapers.” About David Toth Mr. Toth, the Swanson School’s Distinguished Alumnus, has held several senior executive roles throughout his career. He co-founded NetRatings, Inc. in 1997 and served as President & CEO, leading the company to its position as the foremost provider of Internet audience information and analysis. Mr. Toth formed strategic partnerships with Nielsen Media Research and ACNielsen; together, the three companies developed Nielsen//NetRatings service, the leading global Internet Audience Measurement service with deployments in 29 countries throughout the world. Prior to forming NetRatings, Mr. Toth was Vice President at Hitachi Computer Products where he led the Network Products Group and was responsible for the development, sales and marketing of numerous hardware and software products. Other former affiliations include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Interlink Computer Sciences and PPG Industries. Mr. Toth is currently a member of the Board of Directors at HiveIO, LeadCrunch.AI, and GutCheckIt.com. He was formerly a Director at NexTag (acquired by Providence Equity Partners), TubeMogul (acquired by Adobe) and Edgewater Networks (acquired by Ribbon Communications). In 2003, Mr. Toth was recognized as the Swanson School Distinguished Alumnus for the Department of Electrical Engineering, having graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1978. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Presents Robert Van Naarden with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is Robert Van Naarden, BSEE ’69, CEO of Delta Thermo Energy. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “We like to ask our alumni what they remember most while at Pitt, and Robert said that his Pitt engineering education ‘prepared me for the real world not only for design engineering, which is how I started my engineering career, but even more importantly the discipline of critical thinking,’” says Dean Martin. “That education is apparent from the many things Robert has achieved—from the first minicomputer that he worked on in 1970 to the leadership in sustainable energy he provides today.” About Robert Van Naarden Robert Van Naarden began his technology career after earning Bachelor of Science degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering (University of Pittsburgh) and Master of Science degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. While pursuing his PhD he was offered a position with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to design defense critical systems computers. He was on the original design team of the PDP 11, which became the world’s most successful mini-computer. After migrating through various engineering and engineering management roles, he originated the idea to design and bring to market the world’s first microcomputer, the PDP 16, based partially on the successful PDP 11 design. He grew to be the youngest Profit and Loss Group Manager at DEC and managed its fastest growing business. While in Philadelphia, Mr. Van Naarden earned an Executive Master of Business Administration degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, sponsored by Digital. In 1979, he co-founded Convergent Technologies (CT). CT became the fastest growing company in the computer industry. He and his partner at Convergent started another company, Ardent Computer, which was focused on the single user supercomputer space. After four years, the company merged with its principal competitor, Stellar Computer, to form Stardent Computer. Two years later, at Rob’s direction, the company was sold by splitting it up into its four components/divisions. Mr. Van Naarden moved on to start and fix a variety of other companies: Supermac, Firepower, Netframe, AMT, Sensar and Authentidate, where he started the company as its founder and CEO. In 2004, Mr. Van Naarden became CEO of Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc, turning it into a profitable company within nine months after running at a loss for seven years. After four years, Mr. Van Naarden returned to his roots in technology and is currently the CEO of Delta Thermo Energy an alternative energy company which uses innovative technologies for converting waste materials to energy. Mr. Van Naarden also serves as a General Partner at BVB Capital Group and on the boards of several technology companies. ###

Apr
8
2019

NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt and CMU for Engineering Research on Thermoelectric Devices

All SSoE News, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 8, 2019) — As much as half of all U.S. energy production each year is lost as waste heat, but new research led by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, seeks to make converting that heat back into usable electricity more efficient. Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School, and Jonathan Malen, professor of mechanical engineering at CMU, received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation to develop a thermoelectric semiconductor using tungsten disulfide to convert waste heat into energy. Using a novel doping approach, they will enhance the tungsten disulfide’s electrical conductivity while lowering its thermal conductivity—it will be able to efficiently conduct electricity without conducting heat. Tungsten disulfide is thin and flexible, making it a promising new option with diverse potential uses. “Once we’ve developed an effective technique to improve thermoelectric efficiency, it will pave the way for the wide use of thermoelectric devices to scavenge heat from sources such as electronics and even the human body,” says Dr. Xiong. “A two-dimensional semiconductor like this would be useful for everything from high-performance 2D transistors to wearable electronics that harvest body heat for power.” The project length is three years, with a possible extension into a fourth. The award is split between Dr. Xiong’s lab ($270,000) and Dr. Malen’s lab ($230,000). The team will work closely with local communities to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore engineering careers and foster interest in nanotechnology. Outreach efforts will include lab demonstrations, summer internships and career workshops. “Climate change is a pressing concern in today’s world, and developing ways to use our resources more efficiently is critical,” says Dr. Xiong. “Converting waste heat into electricity could improve energy efficiency dramatically and sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Through this project, we hope to encourage the next generation to explore even more innovative options for energy.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
4
2019

Good Vibrations: Pitt Undergraduates Create a Device to Help Deaf Kids Experience Music Through Tactile and Visual Feedback

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 4, 2019) … Through the Swanson School of Engineering’s The Art of Making class, an interdisciplinary group of eleven University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students connected with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) and Attack Theatre to create a device that can help hearing-impaired children experience music and express themselves through dance. Attack Theatre holds a recurring dance workshop for three-to-six-year-olds at WPSD. The group previously tried using a Bluetooth speaker in a trash can to produce a vibratory effect that the children could touch and interact with, but this design was not kid-friendly and lacked mobility for lessons that necessitate free movement. The Pitt team saw an opportunity to take a fresh look at the problem and design a new system that addresses the needs of both the instructors and the children. However, with no hearing-impaired members, the undergraduates had to find a way to step into the shoes of their end users to better understand their needs. “This was a profoundly human-centered design problem with multiple stakeholders,” said Dr. Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering and director of The Art of Making course. “A new technology, even if it works perfectly, is useless if it isn’t accepted by and accessible to the end user. This team of student innovators really understood and acted on that insight.” Issam Abushaban, a sophomore bioengineering and computer engineering student, said that the group learned more about their target audience from WPSD teachers. “We discovered that the rhythm of music and the visualization of colors can reflect a certain mood and affect the way that you feel,” he said. “That was something we really wanted to incorporate into our design.” To better understand the dance element of their task, the group participated in one of Attack Theatre’s workshops catered to deaf and hard-of-hearing children. “A lot of their dance moves were geared toward expressing an emotion, such as stomping to express anger or frustration or skipping to express joy,” said Farah Khan, a senior bioengineering student. “I think this demonstration gave us a different perspective and helped us view music in a new, productive way.” After completing their background research, the team decided to explore the use of both visual and tactile feedback for their design. They created several early prototypes, including a wrist strap with haptic motors and a disc “floor mat” with multi-hued illumination around the periphery. When the vibrating wrist strap was sampled by the children, the team learned the value of making early prototypes and getting feedback from their users to empirically test design concepts. “During our first round of testing, we wanted to pay attention to the reactions that the kids made, rather than focusing on the messages that the interpreter relayed,” said Abushaban. “Some of the kids seemed to be wary or afraid of the wrist strap so the lesson we learned from that meeting was that our product perhaps wasn’t kid-friendly. We then brainstormed new ideas of how to provide vibrational feedback in a more toy-like system.” The custom-designed plush toy houses sound transducers and a wireless communication system. The soft straps of the backpack/frontpack are adjustable, comfortable for the kids, and allow greater mobility for the dance workshop. Natalie Neal, a junior mechanical engineering and materials science student, was inspired to create patterns and hand sew a series of plush toy monkeys that incorporate a Bluetooth receiver, audio amplifier, vibrational transducers and battery power supply. This new iteration, dubbed Vibrance, can be worn either as a backpack or a “frontpack” - what the team calls “hug mode.” Additional testing and user feedback led to supplementing the tactile feedback with a projected visualizer that produces colorful circles based on the audio input. The Vibrance team presented their work at the Swanson School of Engineering’s fall 2018 Design Expo and swept the top three awards: first place in The Art of Making category, the People’s Choice Award, and the Best Overall Design. “Receiving those three awards really validated all of the hard work we did throughout the semester,” said Khan. The students’ innovative design has also received an enthusiastic response from kids, teachers, and parents. One parent of a child at WPSD wrote to the team, “I hope I’ll get the chance to see my son experience the vest vibration device. What an awesome idea!” Dr. Samosky was recently awarded a Provost’s Personalized Education Grant to support high-potential – and potentially high-impact – student design projects like Vibrance, enabling them to continue beyond the class in which they originate and be nurtured toward real-world impact. The Vibrance team will continue to develop and improve Vibrance under this new Classroom to Community initiative in Dr. Samosky’s lab. The goal is to create a device that meets the needs of both WPSD and Attack Theatre, but most importantly, the team wants to continue to positively affect the lives of the children using their device. As stated by Jocelyn Dunlap, a senior communication science student, “We are heading back to WPSD to continue building a project that claims a spot in all of our hearts.” ### This video of the Vibrance project, also created as part of the students’ coursework in The Art of Making, shows the system in action as it is used by instructors and kids at WPSD and with Attack Theatre. The Vibrance team includes, Issam Abushaban, a sophomore bioengineering and computer engineering student; Dani Broderick, a senior mechanical engineering student; Tom Driscoll, a junior computer engineering student; Jocelyn Dunlap, a senior communication science student; Austin Farwell, a junior mathematics student; Farah Khan, a senior bioengineering student; Stephanie Lachell, a senior mechanical engineering student; Evan Lawrence, a junior mechanical engineering student; Natalie Neal, a junior materials science and engineering student; Jesse Rosenfeld, a junior mechanical engineering student; and Caroline Westrick, a junior bioengineering student.

Apr
3
2019

Allderdice Senior Caroline Yu to Present Research at IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 3, 2019) — High school students in the Pittsburgh area get the chance to work with groundbreaking researchers—and, sometimes, even become published authors before high school graduation. Caroline Yu, a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, worked in Ervin Sejdic’s iMed Lab through the University of Pittsburgh Computer Science, Biology and Biomedical Informatics (CoSBBI) program. Working closely PhD candidate Yassin Khalifa, Miss Yu co-authored a paper titled “Silent Aspiration Detection in High Resolution Cervical Auscultations,” which has been accepted at the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics. The authors will present their findings at the Dorin Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, held May 19-22, 2019. The CoSBBI program is part of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy. This UPMC partnership invites high school students to work on an authentic cancer research project while receiving mentorship and training. “Caroline did an amazing job, and I’m proud and excited to see her success in her first publication,” says Dr. Sejdic, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “We know she is headed for great things.” After graduation, Miss Yu says that while she is still waiting to hear back from a few schools before making her final decision, she plans to major in computer science.
Maggie Pavlick

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