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.


Five Pitt engineering faculty capture nearly $3 million in total NSF CAREER awards for 2018/2019

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2019) … Five faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have been named CAREER Award recipients by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Recognized as the NSF’s most competitive award for junior faculty, the grants total nearly $3 million in funding both for research and community engagement. The CAREER program “recognizes faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” The five awards – one each in the departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – ties the record from 2017 for the most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. “Federal funding for academic research is extremely competitive, especially for faculty just beginning their academic careers. Receiving five prestigious NSF CAREER Awards in one cycle is a reflection of our winners’ distinctive research and support by their respective departments and the Swanson School,” noted David Vorp, PhD, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Research. He added, “Since a CAREER Award is also focused on community engagement, this is an opportunity for our faculty and their graduate students to promote STEM to children in the area, especially in underserved populations, and we will be working with them to develop impactful outreach programs.”Dr. Vorp also noted that the Swanson School’s recent success with CAREER awards can be attributed to a number of factors, including the School’s Center for Faculty Excellence, directed by Prof. Anne Robertson, and the CAREER writing group developed and run by Julie Myers-Irvin, PhD, the Swanson School’s Grants Developer. “Participating faculty acknowledge that the writing group focus on early preparation, group comradery, technical feedback, and discussions of grantsmanship practices attribute to more well-rounded proposals,” Dr. Myers-Irvin says.The award recipients include:Murat Akcakaya, Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, with Carla A. Mazefsky, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology ($550,000)Title:Toward a Biologically Informed Intervention for Emotionally Dysregulated Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (#1844885)Summary: Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond to stress and other factors, none are known to couple with technology that could monitor brain response in real time and provide the patient with feedback. Drs. Akcakaya and Mazefsky are developing a new intervention using electroencephalography (EEG)-guided, non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology could complement clinical treatments and improve emotion regulation in people with ASD.Dr. Akcakaya will also develop courses related to the research and outreach activities to promote STEM and ASD research to K-12 populations and the broader public. Outreach will focus especially on individuals with ASD, their families, and caretakers. Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering ($540,000)Title:Scaling Electrolytes to a Single Monolayer for Low-Power Ion-Gated Electronics with Unconventional Characteristics (#1847808)Summary: Two-dimensional (2D) materials are being explored for their exciting new physics that can impart novel functionalities in application spaces such as information storage, neuromorphic computing, and hardware security. Dr. Fullerton and her group invented a new type of ion-containing material, or electrolyte, which is only a single molecule thick. This “monolayer electrolyte” will ultimately introduce new functions that can be used by the electronic materials community to explore the fundamental properties of new semiconductor materials and to increase storage capacity, decrease power consumption, and vastly accelerate processing speed.The NSF award will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, as well as an outreach program to inspire curiosity and engagement of K-12 and underrepresented students in materials for next-generation electronics. Specifically, Dr. Fullerton has developed an activity where students can watch the polymer electrolytes used in this study crystallize in real-time using an inexpensive camera attached to a smart phone or iPad. The CAREER award will allow Dr. Fullerton to provide this microscope to classrooms so that the teachers can continue exploring with their students. Tevis Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science ($500,000)Title:Understanding Nanoparticle Adhesion to Guide the Surface Engineering of Supporting Structures (#1844739) Summary: Although far thinner than a human hair, metal nanoparticles play an important role in advanced industries and technologies from electronics and pharmaceuticals to catalysts and sensors. Nanoparticles can be as small as ten atoms in diameter, and their small size makes them especially susceptible to coarsening with continued use, which reduces functionality and degrades performance. Dr. Jacobs will utilize electron microscopy to develop new methods to measure the attachment and stability of nanoparticles on surfaces under various conditions, allowing researchers to enhance both surfaces and nanoparticles in tandem to work more effectively together.Additionally, Dr. Jacobs and his lab group will engage with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and a local elementary school to create and nationally disseminate surface engineering-focused curricular units for sixth- to eighth-grade students and professional development training modules for teachers. Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering ($500,000)Title:Harnessing biology to tackle fluorinated alkyl substances in the environment (#1845336) Summary: Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that are useful in a variety of industries because of their durability, but do not naturally break down in the environment or human body. Because of their useful oil- and water-repellent properties, PFAS are used in many consumer products, industrial processes, and in firefighting foams, but unfortunately, their manufacturing and widespread use has contributed to the undesired release of these chemicals into the environment. With evidence showing that PFAS may have adverse effects on human health, Dr. Ng wants to further investigate the potential impacts of these chemicals and identify ways to remove them from the environment. She plans to elevate K-12 and undergraduate education through the use of collaborative model-building in a game-like environment. Dr. Ng in particular will utilize the agent-based modeling language NetLogo, a freely available and accessible model-building tool that can be equally powerful for cutting edge research or for students exploring new STEM concepts in science and engineering. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering ($805,670)Title: Novel human-in-the loop approach to increase locomotor learning Summary: Many stroke survivors who suffer from impaired gait benefit from rehabilitation using robotics. Unfortunately, motor improvements following training are not maintained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo hypothesizes that some of these individuals have difficulty perceiving their asymmetric movement, and she will use this project to characterize this deficit and indicate if split-belt walking - in which the legs move at different speeds - can correct it. Her lab will track how patients with brain lesions perceive asymmetries in their gait. They will then measure how their perception is adjusted once their movements are adapted in the split-belt environment. In the second part of this study, the lab will use these data and a unique method to manipulate how people perceive their movement and create the illusion of error-free performance during split-belt walking. The goal is for the changes in their movements to be sustained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo will also use this project as a way to increase the participation of students from underrepresented minorities (URM) in science and engineering. She will recruit, mentor, and prepare URM students from K-12 and college to pursue advanced education, with the ultimate goal of broadening the professional opportunities for this population. ###


Expect more blackouts unless we invest in our energy grid

Electrical & Computer

Gregory F. Reed is a professor and director of the Energy GRID Institute at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. This op-ed appeared in The Hill on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Even before summer’s hottest months, utility providers in California warned they might cut power on windy days to prevent wildfires caused by falling power lines. In Texas, utilities said they would urge consumers to conserve electricity to avoid the need for rolling blackouts when record heat leads to record electricity usage that can overwhelm the system. Despite having one of the most reliable electricity systems in the country, much of midtown Manhattan and parts of the Upper West Side were plunged into darkness last month, 42 years to the day of the New York City blackout of 1977. A contributing factor was that some of the electrical infrastructure of the Con Edison system in the city is old enough to have been involved in both outages. A week after the blackout, Con Ed had to cut power to more than 50,000 customers in Brooklyn and other boroughs to prevent a larger outage. Across the country, and especially in major metropolitan areas, the power grid is in need of repairs, updates and, in many cases, redesign. As demand for electricity continues to increase, we cannot ignore the impact of our energy production on the environment and vice versa. These blackouts underscore a significant, persistent threat to our country’s electric power grid — and they won’t be the last. Nearly 600,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and approximately 15,000 interconnected substations serve the U.S.’s intricate power grid. Nearly 5.5 million miles of low-voltage distribution circuits and 60,000 stations serve large cities and remote rural areas. Much of the infrastructure and equipment is over 40 years old (in some cases, 80 years), built during times of prosperity after both world wars, with technology that would be recognizable to George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, the inventors of our current system, were they to visit a power station today. Those stations did not anticipate today’s power demands, nor were they designed to easily integrate sustainable power generation or two-way interactions between the grid and consumers. New resources such as solar, wind, wave and battery energy systems are based on power electronics and direct current (DC) technologies. But the grid was constructed using alternating current (AC) and moves electricity primarily in one direction from large-scale centralized resources to consumers. Today, many new resources are being located on the consumer, or distribution end of the system, presenting a challenging paradigm for our energy infrastructure and markets. Overhauling the power grid would be an enormous endeavor — a modern-day equivalent of building the 1940s highway system across the country — but it is necessary. We need a national power grid infrastructure that is reliable and sustainable, as well as resilient to the challenges of a changing climate. We need the power equivalent of our commitment to the Manhattan Project or NASA’s endeavor in the 1960s to put a man on the moon. And while space exploration is important to our future, the immediate need to secure and modernize our nation’s electrical infrastructure remains much more critical and necessary. Because we no longer are tethered to coal as the primary energy source, “microgrids” are one way that communities can provide independent energy from sustainable sources such as solar power and wind farms. Smaller grids can restore power more rapidly in the event of an outage and better meet the demands of a concentrated area. But even this isn’t enough to secure a sustainable, efficient and secure grid. A national high-voltage direct current (HVDC) system would create opportunities for technological leadership and economic growth for this country. It would maximize investments in large-scale energy developments in remote areas of the country, as well as offshore. The redesigned architecture would be designed with DC in mind, meaning consumers would see increased efficiency and lower operating costs. Though it would be no small investment, it’s one that the United States should prioritize. From construction to advanced research and development, from engineering to innovative technology, there would be blue-collar and white-collar employment opportunities that would benefit communities across the country — the 21st century equivalent of Roosevelt’s New Deal. July’s power outage in New York City was just a glimpse at what could happen if our overtaxed power grid were to fail on a larger scale: trains interrupted, buildings hot and quiet, and people left in the dark, some stranded on elevators. It is worth considering that nearly everything we do in modern society is dependent upon the reliable supply of electricity. Our nation’s power grid is at a critical crossroads.We need to seize this opportunity to protect our nation’s security and our way of life. ###
Gregory Reed, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director, Energy GRID Institute

NSF funds Bridges-2 supercomputer at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 9, 2019) ... A $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. In partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), PSC will deploy Bridges-2, a system designed to provide researchers in Pennsylvania and the nation with massive computational capacity and the flexibility to adapt to the rapidly evolving field of data- and computation-intensive research. Bridges-2 will be available at no cost for research and education, and at cost-recovery rates for other purposes. "Unlocking the power of data will accelerate discovery to advance science, improve our quality of life and enhance national competitiveness," said Nick Nystrom, PSC's chief scientist and principal investigator (PI) for Bridges-2. "We designed Bridges-2 to drive discoveries that will come from the rapid evolution of research, which increasingly needs new, scalable ways for combining large, complex data with high-performance simulation and modeling." Bridges-2 will accelerate discovery to benefit science, society, and the nation. Its unique architecture will catalyze breakthroughs in critically important areas such as understanding the brain, developing new materials for sustainable energy production and quantum computing, assembling genomes of crop species to improve agricultural efficiency, exploring the universe via multimessenger astrophysics and enabling technologies for smart cities. Building on PSC's experience with its very successful Bridges system, Bridges-2 will take the next step in pioneering converged, scalable high-performance computing (HPC), artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Designed to power and scale applications identified through close collaboration with the national research community, Bridges-2 will integrate cutting-edge processors, accelerators, large memory, an all-flash storage array and exceptional data-handling capabilities to let researchers meet challenges that otherwise would be out of reach. By enabling AI to be combined with simulation and modeling and through its focus on ease of use and researcher productivity, Bridges-2 will drive a new era of research breakthroughs. "Bridges-2 is a major leap forward for PSC in high-performance computing and data analytics infrastructure and research," said Alan D. George, Interim Director of PSC. "PSC is unique in combining the strengths of two world-class universities (CMU and Pitt) and a world-class medical center (UPMC). Bridges-2 will amplify these strengths to fuel many new discoveries." "Enabling the execution of science, engineering and non-traditional workflows at scale while leveraging and further developing artificial intelligence is vital to keeping the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery now and into the future," said Paola Buitrago, Director of Artificial Intelligence & Big Data at PSC and co-PI of Bridges. "The Bridges-2 system is the way to realize this and more. I look forward to all the knowledge, discoveries and progress this new system will produce." Bridges-2's community data collections and user-friendly interfaces are designed to democratize participation in science and engineering and foster collaboration and convergence research. The Bridges-2 project includes bringing the benefits of scalable data analytics and AI to industry, developing STEM talent to strengthen the nation's workforce and broadening collaborations to accelerate discovery. The NSF is funding Bridges-2 as part of a series of awards for Advanced Computing Systems & Services. "The capabilities and services these awards will provide will enable the research community to explore new computing models and paradigms," said Manish Parashar, Office Director for the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at NSF. "These awards complement NSF's long-standing investment in advanced computational infrastructure, providing much-needed support for the full range of innovative computational- and data-intensive research being conducted across all of science and engineering." Bridges-2 will be deployed in the summer of 2020. ###


From Oakland to Outer Space

Electrical & Computer

The Summer 2019 eNewsletter launched from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering! Read more about the latest research and accolades from our department!


NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt Researchers to Create Neuromorphic Vision System Mimicking Human Sight

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2019) —  Self-driving cars rely on their ability to accurately “see” the road ahead and make adjustments based on what they see. They need to, for instance, react to a pedestrian who steps out from between parked cars, or know to not turn down a road that is unexpectedly closed for construction. As such technology becomes more ubiquitous, there’s a growing need for a better, more efficient way for machines to process visual information. New research from the University of Pittsburgh will develop a neuromorphic vision system that takes a new approach to capturing visual information that is based on the human brain, benefitting everything from self-driving vehicles to neural prosthetics. Ryad Benosman, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who holds appointments in electrical engineering and bioengineering, and Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, received $500,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct this research. Conventional image sensors record information frame-by-frame, which stores a great deal of redundant data along with that which is useful. This excess data storage occurs because most pixels do not change from frame to frame, like stationary buildings in the background. Inspired by the human brain, the team will develop a neuromorphic vision system driven by the timings of changes in the dynamics of the input signal, instead of the conventional image-based system. “With existing neuromorphic camera systems, the communication between the camera and the computing system is limited by how much data it is trying to push through, which negates the benefits of the large bandwidth and low power consumption that this camera provides,” says Dr. Xiong. “We will use a spiking neural network with realistic dynamic synapses that will enhance computational abilities, develop brain-inspired machine learning to understand the input, and connect it to a neuromorphic event-based silicon retina for real-time operating vision.” This system will work more efficiently than existing technology, with orders of magnitude better energy efficiency and bandwidth. “We believe this work will lead to transformative advances in bio-inspired neuromorphic processing architectures, sensing, with major applications in self-driving vehicles, neural prosthetics, robotics and general artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Benosman. The grant will begin July 1, 2019, and is expected to last until June 30, 2022. ### About the Swanson School of EngineeringThe University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the U.S. and is consistently ranked among the top 25 public engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade with focus areas in sustainability, energy systems, advanced manufacturing, bioengineering, micro- and nano-systems, computational modeling and advanced materials development. About the University of Pittsburgh School of MedicineAs one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.
Maggie Pavlick

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