Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Sep

Sep
17
2020

Measuring Student Motivation and Stress During a Pandemic

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2020) … As universities continue to adapt to the evolving situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh want to understand how the ever-changing learning environment affects student motivation, stress, and valued experiences. Two Swanson School of Engineering faculty, Renee Clark and Samuel Dickerson, received an award from the National Science Foundation to lead a longitudinal study to determine the degree to which undergraduate engineering students are academically motivated several semesters after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team believes that the new safety measures implemented on campus may affect “valued college experiences” that increase motivation and help students maintain a work-life balance. They will survey which university experiences students value most and examine how the pandemic has impacted those experiences. They will also study students’ perceived motivation and stress levels using validated instruments in the semesters following the COVID-19 rules and restrictions. “The scope of this project is only step one,” said Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We suspect that students are less motivated, but with this study, we can figure out what contributed to this and determine how to mitigate it in case we need to transition to a fully virtual experience again.” Conversely, the group also wants to know if some students prefer the self-paced, flexible nature of remote learning. They have created an online assessment tool with the help of Pitt undergraduate students. Participants will be able to choose up to five “valued college experiences” and then rate the degree to which COVID-19 has impacted those experiences. “College in and of itself is stressful, but I generally find what is offered on and around campus to really complete the college experience and give me the time to enjoy myself while on campus,” said Alexander Cohen, a junior history major at Pitt who is contributing to the project. “I believe that incorporating the undergraduate viewpoint on this project helps us consider what experiences are valued the most and keep us in a healthy frame of mind, both mentally and emotionally,” he continued. They will use the MUSIC Model of Motivation by Brett Jones, professor of educational psychology at Virginia Tech, and his colleagues to formally measure academic motivation. They will similarly assess stress with the Perceived Stress Scale, a well-known, established instrument by Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and his colleagues. “This instrument measures students’ perceived stress and also will provide us with baseline data from college students who were previously studied,” said Clark, assistant professor of industrial engineering. “We can use these data to determine where our students’ stress level is in comparison and try to figure out the top stressors.” Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, Clark and Dickerson have created a flexible study that can adapt to the changing structure of higher education. “It’s more than just a survey,” said Dickerson. “We are collecting real data that we hope will reveal ways to improve the college experience and motivation and decrease stress for students who, unfortunately, found themselves in this unprecedented situation.” # # #

Sep
14
2020

Following the Current From Idea to Reality

Electrical & Computer

In March 2013, representatives from Mitsubishi Electric Company arrived from Japan to meet with University of Pittsburgh electrical engineers with a proposal: they wanted to engineer a way to identify faults within the new high voltage direct current (HVDC) system they intended to manufacture in forthcoming years. Fault identification is critical as high short circuit currents will cause equipment damage, and they needed a group of experts to propose and provide evidence that novel ideas would work as planned. The Pitt researchers—led by Founding Director of the Energy GRID Institute and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Greg Reed; Assistant Professor, Associate Director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and Eaton Faculty Fellow Brandon Grainger; and ECE then-graduate student researchers Patrick Lewis and Hashim Al Hassan—were tasked with verifying power converter performance for a US market; validating the fault finding methods for Mitsubishi; and helping to take their innovation a step farther. Now, seven years later, the company announced that this technology is finally going to market with its Voltage Source Converter (VSC)-based HVDC-Diamond. The HVDC system is a utility-scale, power electronics system used to transmit megawatts of power from point to point, converting the alternating current (AC) produced by renewable energy sources, converting it to a direct current (DC) to send through the system, and converting it back to AC on the other end. As more renewable resources find a place in the power grid, systems like this one can transmit the power quickly and reliably to load centers where it will be used. “Transmitting power through high voltage DC is important. By transmitting at a super high voltage (in this case, 500,000 Volts), current levels will drop, resulting in less losses in the overall electrical system. It’s more efficient,” explained Grainger. “But, in such a large, expensive system, things can go bad very quickly if currents flow somewhere they shouldn’t. Our main tasks were to engineer a creative way to find faults in the system and to make sure the system was designed to meet the U.S. market with the help of local engineers at Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc. in Warrendale, PA.” Faults, or short-circuits, happen when equipment degrades and allows a current to flow somewhere other than the intended path. The new system would find faults within different segments of the apparatus so they can be addressed before causing damage. With a $250,000 grant from Mitsubishi, the researchers set to work validating the findings and ensuring it would work as intended. The proposed solution did not require a communication method for the HVDC system that would allow it to relay information about faults from one end of the 1000 kilometer-long units; however, that approach was ultimately left out of the final product. Communication between station to station is important when designing equipment operating at high voltage and power. In 2016, the team at Pitt published a paper in IEEE, “Fault Section Identification Protection Algorithm for Modular Multilevel Converter-Based High Voltage DC With a Hybrid Transmission Corridor,” with their findings. Prior to publication, the team filed a patent for their technology which was awarded Aug. 4, 2020. Now, the system is being manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Company, based in Tokyo, Japan. “It’s a long road for projects to go from concept to reality, but it’s always an exciting process to be a part of,” said Grainger. “We were glad to have the opportunity to work with one of the leaders in the HVDC space. Our experience is just one example of the many ways academia and industry work together to bring innovative ideas to the marketplace.”
Maggie Pavlick

Aug

Aug
26
2020

EE Graduate Student Nathan Carnovale Receives IEEE Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 26, 2020) — The IEEE Educational Activities Board (EAB) has selected Nathan (Nate) Carnovale, graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship. The scholarship was named for Charles LeGeyt Fortescue (1876-1936), an electrical engineer who spent his career at the Westinghouse Corporation, in recognition of his contributions to the field of electrical engineering. The award is given to a beginning graduate student for one year of full-time graduate work in electrical engineering. “Nate is one of the most outstanding students in our department, and we are most excited for his ECE graduate studies sponsored by this prestigious scholarship,” said Alan George, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nate Carnovale graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a concentration in electric power and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in electric power engineering at Pitt. His current research deals with system and fault identification methods in microgrids and inverter-based generation power systems. “In his time at Pitt so far, Nate has proven to be an outstanding student and engineer,” said Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow, associate director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “I look forward to his continued work in the Department and in the field of electrical engineering.” During his undergraduate career, Carnovale interned with Eaton for two summers, working at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center for Eaton’s Power Systems Automation and Controls services groups in Warrendale, PA. There, he gained experience in power systems metering and monitoring and microgrid control systems, as well as experience installing, wiring, and programming Eaton demos at the Experience Center.  This past summer, he interned with Eaton’s Digital Office team testing and developing software for smart circuit breakers used in electric vehicle charging applications. For four semesters at Pitt, Carnovale was a teaching assistant for the Art of Making, an introductory engineering course to hands-on systems design. During his time as an undergrad, he worked to develop an adapted physical education learning tool for students with physical and mental challenges at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh, a project he started during his time as a student in the Art of Making course. “To be recognized by the organization at the foundation of my industry is a great honor and means a lot to me,” said Carnovale. “I am excited that this scholarship will not only help me in my own pursuits but also my department at the University of Pittsburgh as we strive toward innovation in the electrical engineering field.”
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
21
2020

Smartphones can tell when you’re drunk by analyzing your walk

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

Ervin Sejdic, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering with appointments in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Bioengineering, recently coauthored a paper published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (JSAD) that investigates the use of smartphones to detect alcohol intoxication. The research uses a smartphone's sensors to measure the user's gait as they walk, and they were able to correctly determine when the person's blood alcohol concentration exceeded the legal limit 90 percent of the time. “Many of us use smartphones as a source of entertainment and an occasional source of information. However, these devices are packed with high-quality sensors, and it is in our best interests to explore these sensors to enhance our daily lives," said Sejdic. "A combination of sophisticated sensors and artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning will provide us great opportunities to develop solutions that otherwise were only accessible in research or clinical settings. Our newest paper is just one example how we can use smartphones for the benefit of general public. With the ongoing pandemic, I’m sure many more novel solutions will pop up that will drastically expand the use of smartphones beyond entertainment apps.” News release from JSAD republished with permission. ### Smartphones can tell when you’re drunk by analyzing your walk By Paul CandonPISCATAWAY, NJ – Your smartphone can tell when you’ve had too much to drink by detecting changes in the way you walk, according to a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.Having real-time information about alcohol intoxication could be important for helping people reduce alcohol consumption, preventing drinking and driving or alerting a sponsor for someone in treatment, according to lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, M.D., who was with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine when the research was conducted and is now with Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine.“We have powerful sensors we carry around with us wherever we go,” Suffoletto says. “We need to learn how to use them to best serve public health.”But for Suffoletto, this research is much more than academic. “I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college,” he says. “And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.”For the study, Suffoletto and colleagues recruited 22 adults ages 21 to 43. Volunteers came to a lab and received a mixed drink with enough vodka to produce a breath alcohol concentration of .20 percent. They had one hour to finish the alcohol.Then hourly for seven hours, participants had their breath alcohol concentration analyzed and performed a walking task. For this task, researchers placed a smartphone on each participant’s lower back, secured with an elastic belt. Participants walked a straight line for 10 steps, turned around, and walked back 10 steps.The smartphones measured acceleration and mediolateral (side to side), vertical (up and down) and anteroposterior (forward and backward) movements while the participants walked.About 90 percent of the time, the researchers were able to use changes in gait to identify when participants’ breath alcohol concentration exceeded .08 percent, the legal limit for driving in the United States.“This controlled lab study shows that our phones can be useful to identify ‘signatures’ of functional impairments related to alcohol,” Suffoletto says.Although placing the smartphone on the lower back does not reflect how people carry their cell phones in real life, the research group plans to conduct additional research while people carry phones in their hands and in their pockets.And although it was a small investigation, the researchers write that this is a “proof-of-concept study” that “provides a foundation for future research on using smartphones to remotely detect alcohol-related impairments.”“In 5 years, I would like to imagine a world in which if people go out with friends and drink at risky levels,” Suffoletto says, “they get an alert at the first sign of impairment and are sent strategies to help them stop drinking and protect them from high-risk events like driving, interpersonal violence and unprotected sexual encounters.”Going forward, Suffoletto and his colleagues plan to not only build on this research detecting real-world signatures of alcohol-related impairment but also identify the best communication and behavioral strategies to influence and support individuals during high-risk periods such as intoxication. ### Suffoletto, B., Dasgupta, P., Uymatiao, R., Huber, J., Flickinger, K., & Sejdic, E., (2020). A preliminary study using smartphone accelerometers to sense gait impairments due to alcohol intoxication. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 81, 505–510. doi:10.15288/jsad.2020.81.505 ### To arrange an interview with Brian Suffoletto, M.D., please contact Mandy Erickson at +650-245-8491 or merickso@stanford.edu. ### The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs is published by the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It is the oldest substance-related journal published in the United States. ### To learn about education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, please visit https://education.alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/education-training.###The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs considers this press release to be in the public domain. Editors may publish this press release in print or electronic form without legal restriction. Please include proper attribution and byline.
Maggie Pavlick

Jul

Jul
29
2020

Training Algorithms to Identify COVID-19 in CT Scans

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) … As COVID-19 cases in the United States continue to surge, there is an ongoing search for quick and reliable testing. Though there are conflicting opinions on using chest computerized tomography (CT) scans as a method of screening in the United States, the technology has been successfully used to identify the disease in other parts of the world. The University of Pittsburgh’s Jingtong Hu received funding from the National Science Foundation to improve CT scan screening by training a computer to analyze images and do the diagnostic heavy lifting. “Several works have recently demonstrated the potential of deep neural networks in identifying typical signs or partial signs of COVID-19 pneumonia,” said Hu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our goal is to train an algorithm to be able to tell the difference between regular pneumonia and the type of pneumonia caused by COVID-19.” Deep neural networks are sets of algorithms, inspired by the human brain, that recognize patterns and learn to complete a task by training on sample data -- in this scenario, CT scans with confirmed pneumonia caused by COVID-19. This approach has the potential to drastically speed up the screening process and reduce the burden on radiologists, who are challenged to accurately screen the volume of incoming images. Hu will collaborate with Yiyu Shi, associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, to address some of the current limitations with this technology. “Though deep neural networks work well on 2D images, they are not well equipped to handle the amount of data associated with 3D images,” said Hu. “We will explore various hardware and software solutions that will allow the technology to adapt to these larger files.” Since deep neural networks require significant processing power, the research group will use a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), which is a high performance integrated circuit that is designed to be reconfigured by the user. This type of device also provides the flexibility needed to handle the evolving structure of neural networks. “The first step of this project is to create the algorithm and allow it to learn from the current data,” Hu explained. “We will use FPGAs to make the computation faster and more energy efficient. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a mobile scanning device that can screen for signs of COVID-19 in highly populated places, like an airport or university.” The diagnostic standard in the U.S. is the RT-PCR test kits, which are not widely available and can take days to deliver results, many of which are inaccurate. Hu and his team hope that the results of this project can help effectively address some of the issues associated with testing in the U.S. This work will be made open source so that the developed techniques can be applied beyond COVID-19 where neural networks need to handle large volumetric data. # # #

Jul
20
2020

Three Women Will Join the Electrical and Computer Engineering Faculty in Fall 2020

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (July 20, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) will welcome Drs. Kara Bocan, Azime Can-Cimino, and Peipei Zhou as assistant professors, starting September 1, 2020. “My ECE colleagues and I are thrilled to have these outstanding new professors join our faculty,” said Alan George, Department Chair and R&H Mickle Endowed Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Azime’s experience in industry and gift for working with students will be a major asset, and Kara is an innovative teacher with a wealth of ideas to improve our courses and programs. Peipei will boost our research efforts with her expertise in field-programmable gate arrays, which is a field of growing prominence and a growing need in our department.” The appointment of these three faculty members will also help narrow the gender gap in a field that struggles to hold a female presence. Though the number of women earning engineering degrees has increased in the past decade, there are still proportionally far fewer women than men studying engineering and an even lower proportion of female engineering faculty. According to a 2018 study from the American Society for Engineering Education, on average, women only make up about 17 percent of tenured and tenure-track engineering faculty. “These three appointments will double the number of full-time female faculty in our department, help us to more strongly support our present undergraduate and graduate students, and help us to attract in future an even larger and broader range of promising students,” George added. “Peipei, Azime, and Kara are outstanding engineers, and they will significantly enhance both teaching and research in the Swanson School of Engineering.” Kara Bocan, PhD Bocan received her PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017, where she also received her BSE in electrical engineering and bioengineering with a minor in neuroscience in 2012. She performed her dissertation research on wireless implantable medical devices with the RFID Center of Excellence, where her use of computer-aided design was an entry point to the field of computational modeling. More recently, her research has focused on the use of computational modeling to enhance understanding of complex systems, and on the development of effective and usable modeling software. She has taught courses part-time as a visiting research assistant professor for the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since Fall 2018, focusing on active learning and student engagement through interactive examples and open-ended engineering questions. Her teaching interests include blended learning, flipped classrooms, gameful design, technology ethics, and accessibility. Azime Can-Cimino, PhD Can-Cimino received a BS and MS degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the University of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey, and a PhD degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to Pitt, she worked as a senior software engineer at Emerson Automations Solutions development team, where among other things, she developed AI algorithms for the power and water industry. Her research interests are in machine learning, optimization, and statistics. She has also contributed to other areas including sampling (signal processing), wavelets and compressive sensing. Peipei Zhou, PhD Zhou received her PhD in computer science in August 2019 from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also received an MS in electrical and computer engineering in June 2014. Her undergraduate studies were in electrical engineering at Chien-Shiung Wu Honors College, Southeast University, China. She is currently a research scientist at Shanghai Enflame Technology, an AI chip start-up with a research focus on domain-specific language and compiler for AI ASIC Accelerator and computer architecture modeling and system optimization with autotuning. Zhou's research interests lie in design automation and compilers as well as modeling and optimization for customized, parallel and distributed computing at multiple levels, including chip-level, node-level and cluster-level. Her research advances field-programmable gate array-based reconfigurable architecture from a performance, energy and cost perspective for deep learning, precision medicine and other big data and machine learning applications. # # #

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).

Jul
2
2020

The Department of Energy Awards $1.9M to Swanson School Faculty and Students for Nuclear Energy Research

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (July 2, 2020) … Humankind is consuming more energy than ever before, and with this growth in consumption, researchers must develop new power technologies that will address these needs. Nuclear power remains a fast-growing and reliable sector of clean, carbon-free energy, and four researchers at the University of Pittsburgh received awards to further their work in this area. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) invested more than $65 million to advance nuclear technology, announced June 16, 2020. Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering received a total of $1,868,500 in faculty and student awards from the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP). According to the DOE, “NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.” “Historically, our region has been a leader in the nuclear energy industry, and we are trying to keep that tradition alive at the Swanson School by being at the forefront of this field,” said Heng Ban, Richard K. Mellon Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Swanson School’s Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program. “I’m thrilled that the Department of Energy has recognized the innovative work from our faculty, and I look forward to seeing the advancements that arise from this research.” The DOE supported three projects from the Swanson School. High Temperature Thermophysical Property of Nuclear Fuels and MaterialsPI: Heng Ban, Richard K. Mellon Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program$300,000 Ban, a leading expert in nuclear material thermal properties and reactor instrumentation and measurements, will use this award to enhance research at Pitt by filling an infrastructure gap.  He will purchase key equipment to strengthen core nuclear capability in the strategic thrust area of instrumentation and measurements. A laser flash analyzer and a thermal mechanical analyzer (thermal expansion) will be purchased as a tool suite for complete thermophysical property information. Fiber Sensor Fused Additive Manufacturing for Smart Component Fabrication for Nuclear Energy PI: Kevin Chen, Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer EngineeringCo-PI: Albert To, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science$1,000,000 The Pitt research team will utilize unique technical capabilities developed in the SSoE to lead efforts in sensor-fused additive manufacturing for future nuclear energy systems. Through integrated research efforts in radiation-harden distributed fiber sensor fabrication, design and optimization algorithm developments, and additive manufacturing innovation, the team will deliver smart components to nuclear energy systems to harness high spatial resolution data. This will enable artificial intelligence based data analytics for operation optimization and condition-based maintenance for nuclear power systems. Multicomponent Thermochemistry of Complex Chloride Salts for Sustainable Fuel Cycle TechnologiesPI: Wei Xiong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceCo-PIs: Prof. Elizabeth Sooby Wood (University of Texas at San Antonio), Dr. Toni Karlsson (Idaho National Laboratory), and Dr. Guy Fredrickson (Idaho National Laboratory)$400,000 Nuclear reactors help bring clean water and reliable energy to communities across the world. Next-generation reactor design, especially small modular reactors, will be smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, but they will require high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) as fuel. As the demand for HALEU is expected to grow significantly, Xiong’s project seeks to improve the process of recovering uranium from spent nuclear fuels to produce HALEU ingots. Part of the process involves pyrochemical reprocessing based on molten salt electrolysis. Hence, developing a thermodynamic database using the CALPHAD (Calculation of Phase Diagrams) approach to estimate the solubilities of fission product chloride salts into the molten electrolyte is essential for improving the process efficiency. The results will help in estimating the properties that are essential for improving the HALEU production and further support the development of chloride molten salt reactors. Two Swanson School students also received awards from NEUP. Jerry Potts, a senior mechanical engineering student, received a $7,500 nuclear energy scholarship, one of 42 students in the nation. Iza Lantgios (BS ME ‘20), a matriculating mechanical engineering graduate student, was one of 34 students nationwide to be awarded a $161,000 fellowship. Swanson School students have secured 20 NEUP scholarships and fellowships since 2009. # # #

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
23
2020

Five Pitt Researchers Receive PA Department of Community and Economic Development Grants

Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (June 23, 2020) — Five researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have received grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) through the Manufacturing PA initiative. The DCED has approved more than $2.8 million in grants to 43 projects that will “spur new technologies and processes in the manufacturing sector,” according to their press release. “As engineers, we are applied scientists, and our singular goal in performing research is to produce public impact,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and John A. Swanson Professor of bioengineering. “I am proud that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania saw the potential of these projects by our Swanson School faculty and their industrial partners to have benefit to their citizens.” The five researchers to receive funding at the Swanson School are: Kevin Chen, Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering$67,991—Femtosecond Laser Manufacturing of 3D Photonics Components in Nonlinear Optical Substrates for Electro-Optic Applications Markus Chmielus, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Improving 3D Binder Jet Printed Tungsten-Carbide Parts via Strategies to Increase Green Density and Strength Jung-Kun Lee, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Smart Crucible: Monitoring Damage of Crucibles by Embedded Electric Resistance Sensor Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$69,450—A Computational Tool for Simulating the Sintering Behavior in Binder Jet Additive Manufacturing Xiayun Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Pushing the Boundaries of Ceramic Additive Manufacturing (CAM) with Visible light initiated Polymerization (ViP)
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
18
2020

Researching resilience

Electrical & Computer

Grid and infrastructure resilience are increasingly important, while a relatively ‘new concept’ in terms of today’s modern grid, and its dynamic environment. With the increase in natural disasters, and as the northern hemisphere goes into what is commonly known as ‘storm season’, Smart Energy International spoke with Dr. Alexis Kwasinski, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Kwasinski specializes in grid resilience research in areas prone to natural disasters and extreme weather. Read the full article.
Smart Energy International Issue 3 2020
Jun
10
2020

Pitt ECE Professor Receives $300K NSF Award to Develop 2D Synapse for Deep Neural Networks

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2020) — The world runs on data. Self-driving cars, security, healthcare and automated manufacturing all are part of a “big data revolution,” which has created a critical need for a way to more efficiently sift through vast datasets and extract valuable insights. When it comes to the level of efficiency needed for these tasks, however, the human brain is unparalleled. Taking inspiration from the brain, Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is collaborating with Duke University’s Yiran Chen to develop a two-dimensional synaptic array that will allow computers to do this work with less power and greater speed. Xiong has received a $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation for this project. “Deep neural networks (DNN) work by training a neural network with massive datasets for applications like pattern recognition, image reconstruction or video and language processing,” said Xiong. “For example, if airport security wanted to create a program that could identify firearms, they would need to input thousands of pictures of different firearms in different situations to teach the program what it should look for. It’s not unlike how we as humans learn to identify different objects.” To do this, supercomputing systems transfer data back and forth constantly from the computation and memory units, making DNNs computationally intensive and power hungry. Their inefficiency makes it impractical for them to be scaled up to the level of the complexity needed for true artificial intelligence (AI). In contrast, computation and memory in the human brain uses a network of neurons and synapses that are closely and densely connected, resulting in the brain’s extremely low power consumption, about 20W. “The way our brains learn is gradual. For example, say you’re learning what an apple is. Each time you see the apple, it might be in a different context: on the ground, on a table, in a hand. Your brain learns to recognize that it’s still an apple,” said Xiong. “Each time you see it, the neural connection changes a bit. In computing we want this high-precision synapse to mimic that, so that over time, the connections strengthen. The finer the adjustments we can make, the more powerful the program can be, and the more memory it can have.” With existing consumer electronic devices, the kind of gradual, slight adjustment needed is difficult to attain because they rely on binary, meaning their states are essentially limited to on or off, yes or no. The artificial synapse will instead allow a precision of 1,000 states, with precision and control in navigating between each. Additionally, smaller devices, like sensors and other embedded systems, need to communicate their data to a larger computer to process it. The proposed device’s small size, flexibility and low power usage could make it able to run those calculations in much smaller devices, allowing sensors to process information on-site. “What we’re proposing is that, theoretically, we could lower the energy needed to run these algorithms, hopefully by 1,000 times or more. This way, it can make power requirement more reasonable, so a flexible or wearable electronic device could run it with a very small power supply,” said Xiong. The project, titled “Collaborative Research: Two-dimensional Synapatic Array for Advanced Hardware Acceleration of Deep Neural Networks,” is expected to last three years, beginning on Sept. 1, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
8
2020

Shedding a New Light on 2D Materials

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 8, 2020) … In the information age, where we ditch paper files and cabinets for digital files and hard drives, there is an imminent need for affordable and efficient ways to store our information. At the beginning of 2020, the digital universe was estimated to consist of 44 zettabytes of data -- that’s 44 trillion gigabytes (GB) of information. Every time someone “googles” a question, uploads a photo to social media, or performs a variety of daily activities, that number increases. The University of Pittsburgh’s Nathan Youngblood and Feng Xiong secured a $501,953 award from the National Science Foundation to better understand how to store data more efficiently using optical and electrical techniques on two-dimensional (2D) materials. Optical storage, commonly used in rewritable CDs and DVDs, uses a laser to store and retrieve data in what is called a “phase-change material.” Heating these materials causes them to switch between two stable states, where the atoms are either randomly positioned like in glass or ordered like in a crystal. However, the amount of energy required to heat these materials is fundamentally limited by their volume. “Encoding data in 2D materials, which are atomically flat, provides a direct route to overcome this fundamental limitation,” said Youngblood, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and lead researcher on the study. “If you reduce the dimensions of the material, it becomes much more efficient because the amount of energy needed to program data is proportional to the area rather than the volume of the material,” he continued. Modern 2D materials were first studied in the early 2000s. Their crystalline structure, consisting of a single layer of atoms, demonstrated a variety of useful properties, inspiring research into hundreds of other 2D materials, including MoTe2 -- the compound used in this project. “MoTe2 is useful for this application because it is predicted to be the most energy efficient, but due to a lack of experimental data, the way that light affects this material is elusive,” said Youngblood. Youngblood and Xiong will work in collaboration with Steven Koester, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and an expert in 2D materials, to examine how MoTe2 interacts with the light used in optical storage. “Our goal is to use time-dependent light-based measurement techniques along with advanced imaging and characterization at the atomic level,” said Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Storing and retrieving data in atomically flat materials like MoTe2 could allow highly-efficient processors for machine learning where the computation physically occurs in the memory cell itself. This approach is known as “in-memory” computing and has been demonstrated to be much faster than digital computers--though up to now has used three-dimensional materials like those used in rewritable optical discs. “A better understanding of MoTe2 properties will allow us to advance this technology and improve the use of 2D materials for high-speed, reliable and efficient memory and computation,” said Youngblood. # # #

May

May
12
2020

Using a Smartphone to Diagnose COVID-19 at Home

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer

In Pennsylvania and other U.S. states, one of the keys to safely reopening society amid the COVID-19 pandemic is providing sufficient testing so that new cases of the disease do not overwhelm the public healthcare system. University of Pittsburgh professors are reimagining testing using a device that nearly every American owns -- a smartphone. Using the existing hardware and computing power of commodity smartphones, this project aims to perform non-invasive at-home testing for COVID-19 infection, and it was selected for funding by the National Science Foundation through its RAPID award program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this work is to provide an easy and low-cost way to monitor and diagnose a large population without the need for special equipment or the involvement of clinicians. It can ultimately be applied to other acute or chronic respiratory diseases, in addition to the novel coronavirus. “In this project, we will develop new mobile sensing and artificial intelligence techniques for in-home evaluation of COVID-19 in an effort to quickly and effectively identify viral disease carriers,” said Wei Gao, lead researcher and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “We hope this work will also help identify negative cases caused by other diseases with similar symptoms, and therefore, help eliminate unnecessary hospital visits during this pandemic,” he said. Gao and his team will build upon smartphones’ microphones and speakers to develop acoustic sensing that can measure changes in human airway mechanics, which are uniquely correlated to COVID-19 infection. “We will begin by designing new acoustic waveforms to minimize acoustic signal distortion in human airways,” Gao said. “We will then develop new signal processing techniques for accurate measurements and eventually apply deep learning techniques to create generic models that depict the core characteristics of airway mechanics.” The system will be implemented as a smartphone app that a user can easily download, install, and operate. Users will need to use a smartphone adapter as a mouthpiece so that the phone’s microphone and speaker can transmit and record acoustic signals from human airways. If successful, this research will help accurately identify cases of COVID-19 without a visit to the hospital, which could subsequently help contain the spread of the highly contagious virus. This project is a collaborative effort with Heng Huang, John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt, and clinicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital. # # #

Apr

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
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.” ###

Mar

Mar
31
2020

Heng Huang Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Electrical & Computer

Reposted with permission from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Heng Huang, Ph.D., John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Pittsburgh to its College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." Dr. Huang was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for “outstanding contributions to Biomedical Data Science, Bioinformatics, Medical Image Computing, and Imaging Genetics.” As a result of health concerns, AIMBE’s annual meeting and induction ceremony scheduled for March 29-30, 2020, was cancelled. Under special procedures, Dr. Huang was remotely inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2020. While most AIMBE Fellows hail from the United States, the College of Fellows has inducted Fellows representing 34 countries. AIMBE Fellows are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice and government. AIMBE Fellows are among the most distinguished medical and biological engineers including 3 Nobel Prize laureates, 18 Fellows having received the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation, and 173 also inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 84 inducted to the National Academy of Medicine and 37 inducted to the National Academy of Sciences. ### About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Mar
30
2020

Thanks for Tuning In: Swanson School Students Present Virtual Dissertation Defenses

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 30, 2020) … After years of classwork, conducting research, collecting results and attempting to publish in peer-reviewed journals, Gary Yu was finally ready to present his dissertation defense to his committee members. He got dressed, confidently entered the room, signed in to Microsoft Teams, and began the virtual meeting. In the days of social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, this was the only way for Yu, an MD/PhD student in the Department of Bioengineering, to complete the PhD portion of his degree on schedule. Yu is not alone. Across the University, graduate students find themselves reaching long-anticipated academic milestones alone, at home, behind a computer monitor. However, even under these unusual conditions, they are making the best of it - and succeeding. Yu’s presentation started with an introduction from his advisor, John Pacella, associate professor of medicine and bioengineering. The audience then fell silent as they muted their microphones to avoid interruptions and turned off their cameras to save bandwidth. According to Yu, this absence of communication was one of the main challenges in defending remotely. “Usually when I present, I'm reassured by eye contact and other gestures of understanding that my audience is paying attention,” he said. “When I was presenting my dissertation, there were moments where I had doubts creep up in the back of my mind. Since it was completely silent, aside from myself, I wondered whether I had lagged out or disconnected from the call because of computer or internet issues.” Yu continued to present his work on a new microbubble contrast agent with anti-inflammatory properties that can be used with therapeutic ultrasound pulses to treat cardiovascular disease. He recalled a moment of relief after an audience member broke the silence by opening a bag of chips on the other end. He eventually adapted to this new environment and noticed that he began to pick up online vernacular as he subconsciously quipped, “Thanks for tuning in,” at the end of his presentation. After his committee members took turns asking questions, they informed Yu that he successfully passed his defense. Mohammed Sleiman, too, successfully defended his thesis virtually. His advisor, Brandon Grainger, created two “rooms” in Zoom, inviting Sleiman to one and using the second for committee discussion after the defense. Despite the unusual circumstances, Sleiman, who was studying the energy conversion process in electric vehicles, passed with flying colors and earned his MS in electrical engineering. Grainger is an Eaton Faculty Fellow, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and associate director of the Swanson School’s Electric Power Engineering program. “After a few minutes in the other room, the committee came back to my Zoom room and announced my pass!” recalled Sleiman. “It was a thrilling experience to present to professors online. The sad thing is that I missed taking photos for memories with them, because we were far away.” Grainger, too, noted that one downside of virtual defenses is the absence of in-person celebration with mentors, friends and loved ones that usually comes after them. “The online defense is a bit abnormal, but Mohammed handled the challenges well,” said Grainger. “When a defense is live, in a conference room, the room is typically filled with labmates, friends, and sometimes family, but having a virtual meeting did not allow for this to happen.” Despite the unusual circumstances, both Yu and Sleiman were able to make the best of their experiences. The necessity of social distancing did not stop Sleiman from celebrating; after he heard the news that he passed, he headed to the Cathedral of Learning, still in his suit, to snap a few photos to commemorate the moment for social media. Yu, too, did his best to embrace the quirks of presenting to an audience you cannot see. “Don't be nervous about the silence you will likely encounter,” suggested Yu. “Do your best to have good sound quality and minimize background noise. Enjoy feeling like a Youtuber or an academic streamer, and make sure to celebrate - responsibly - after your defense!” If you find yourself preparing for a virtual defense, here are some tips to make the best of it: Find a good streaming platform. Swanson School students have successfully used Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Consider having your audience turn off video to avoid overwhelming the connection. Ask the audience to remain muted when they are not contributing to the discussion. This will decrease background noise and feedback. Work with your advisor to test your technology ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need. Make sure to be comfortable and have hydration close by! # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
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.

Mar
4
2020

ECE Alumnus and Fulbright Scholar Pursues MS in Electrical Engineering in Germany

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 4, 2020) — David Skrovanek (ECE’19), a University of Pittsburgh alumnus, electrical engineer, accomplished musician, and polyglot, is adding Fulbright Scholar to his list of accomplishments. One of the 14 Pitt students and alumni to receive a Fulbright in 2019, Skrovanek is currently earning his master’s in electrical engineering with a concentration in optical and radio telecommunications at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, in Dresden, Germany. “When I started college, if you'd asked me if I’d end up in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, I'd say, “No way!” says Skrovanek. “But sticking to my true self and what interests me and pursuing things I’m passionate about has worked out for me.” A double major in electrical engineering and German while at Pitt, Skrovanek participated in a Maymester study abroad program in Munich. Upon returning, Lesha Greene, scholar mentor in the Pitt Honors College, encouraged him to pursue a Fulbright to study in Germany after graduation. Though it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition at first, Skrovanek is proud of his progress so far. “In the first week of classes, I found out I was the only non-German student in the class. I was confident in my German-speaking abilities, but lectures were challenging to follow, and with dialects and technical vocabulary, I was lucky if I understood half of what they were saying,” he recalls. “But comparing that with the last week of classes, now I can understand all of it and feel comfortable talking about electrical engineering in German. I’ve definitely come a long way, and I’m proud of that.” Among those encouraging him to pursue a degree abroad was William Stanchina, professor of electrical and computer engineering who retired from the Swanson School last year. “I worked with Dr. Stanchina during my junior year, and even though I ended up going into a different area of electrical engineering, he remained kind of a mentor for me and encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone,” says Skrovanek. “He told me that there is a lot of top-notch research being conducted in other parts of the world, and how important it was to recognize that.” In addition to his coursework, Skrovanek is engaging in research that will help electrical grid operators more efficiently distribute electricity and plan networks more effectively. The research uses fiber optic sensors to measure air temperature, wind speed, and transmission lines’ real-time thermal expansion. He will use that information along with the grid operator’s distribution data to mathematically predict the lines’ expected thermal expansion as it relates to current weather conditions, which will help avoid the dangerous sagging power lines that result from overheating. After graduation, Skrovanek plans to return to the U.S. and pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering. For now, he’s enjoying his studies and learning from his new friends. “I always enjoyed studying a foreign language and a foreign culture. I find I learn more about myself as well as my own culture through that,” he says. “I always had that interest, and I stuck with it. It’s interesting to see the twists and turns that has led to in my professional life.”
Maggie Pavlick

Feb

Feb
27
2020

Michael Sullivan Selected for 2020 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 27, 2020) — Michael Sullivan, a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive this year’s Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship for $10,000. The scholarship is named for Peter Hammond, inventor of the Perfect Harmony drive and long-time engineer at Siemens who is now retired. Hammond’s Perfect Harmony drive is a high-power machine that controls the speed of large motors; today, it is a key part of Siemens’ medium voltage variable frequency drive portfolio. The resulting energy savings on large pumps, fans, compressors, and other industrial equipment have had an enormous environmental impact, the carbon footprint equivalent of removing millions of cars from the road. The annual scholarship, which is in its fourth year, was open to any student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Swanson School. Students must complete an application, supplementing it with an essay, letters of recommendation, a resume and their transcript. “Not only is Michael’s academic work remarkable, but he embodies the humility and good nature that Peter Hammond embodied throughout his career,” says Brandon Grainger, PhD, associate director of the Energy GRID Institute, Eaton Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School. “This scholarship invests in the students who will someday be the engineers pursuing bold ideas like the Perfect Harmony drive.” Before attending Swanson School, Sullivan worked for a decade as an electrician, where he was first introduced to the field of electrical engineering. Excited to learn of a career path so well suited to his curiosity about how things work, he pursued a bachelor’s degree at Pitt. Once he finishes earning his master’s degree in 2021, he plans to become a research engineer and work part-time toward a PhD. Previous recipients include Jacob Friedrich, MSEE; Thomas Cook, MSEE; and Ryan Brody, MSEE. The scholarship was presented Feb. 21, 2020, and included a presentation by Jason Hoover, director of business development at Siemens Industry. “The pool of applicants for this year’s scholarship was diverse and impressive, and we’re proud to have Michael Sullivan as the recipient of the 2020 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship,” says Hoover. “Michael’s innovative spirit, humility, and passion for engineering are all virtues that reflect Pete Hammond and make Michael a very worthy recipient of this award.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
12
2020

Researchers Celebrate Pioneer’s Work on World Radio Day

Electrical & Computer

Originally published in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Every day, people use wireless technologies that may be taken for granted, like music streaming, FaceTime and podcasts listened to on smartphones. All of this and more can be traced back to the work of Reginald Fessenden, described by the United States National Park Service as the “Father of Voice Radio.” Fessenden served as chairman of the electrical engineering department at Pitt when it was called the Western University of Pennsylvania. The department has since evolved into today’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Fessenden was one of the greatest engineers and inventors in history, truly a genius,” said Alan George, the department’s current chair. “Much of the research and education in my field, electrical and computer engineering, including my research on space systems, sensors and missions, wouldn’t exist without his pioneering work in radio communications. Our department is most proud to have been founded by the father of radio.” Fessenden was recruited to Pitt in 1893 by George Westinghouse, who developed the alternating current electrical system and the Westinghouse light bulb among other innovations. Fessenden previously helped Westinghouse with electrical infrastructure and lighting for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and, prior to that, worked with another inventor he admired, Thomas Edison. It was at Pitt where Fessenden began experimenting with the foundations of what would become radio technology, at a time when wireless communication was very limited and people could only send messages via Morse code’s dashes and dots. By 1899, he was able to send wireless telegraphs between Pittsburgh and the former Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh’s North Side. He would leave Pitt in 1900 to dedicate his time to inventing, eventually being employed by the National Electric Signaling Company. His next achievements included the first wireless transmission of speech by radio in 1900, and the first two-way transcontinental radiotelegraphic transmission in 1906. Fessenden developed concepts and technologies for transmission and reception of continuous-wave signals, in the form of amplitude-modulated (AM) radio signals carrying audio information such as speech and music, which was a leap beyond the spark-gap transmitters of the day used for Morse code. AM signaling would later lead to frequency-modulated (FM) signaling, the two keystones of radio technology, and many more radio-frequency technologies that followed. “Fessenden laid the foundation for all modern communications,” George said. “Throughout our modern society, from TV to cell phones to GPS satellites, you can trace back to the work of Fessenden on radio technology. He deserves far more credit than he ever received.” Fessenden’s legacy at Pitt has been carried through the decades, with the late Marlin Mickle advancing research in the application of radio frequency energy. Mickle was the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering, holding a primary appointment as professor of electrical and computer engineering and secondary appointments in computer engineering, biomedical engineering, industrial engineering and telecommunications. He worked as a Pitt faculty member from 1962 until his retirement in 2013. Mickle had over 40 patents licensed, including a method to passively power image capturing and a method to control radio frequency transmissions to mitigate interference with critical care equipment. Pitt’s licensing of his patents led to seven spinoff companies forming. Mickle also directed Pitt’s Radio Frequency Identification Center of Excellence, which focused on research pertaining to advancements in wireless medical and engineering technologies. “He (Mickle) would make sure to dedicate part of his time to telling students in his networking classes about Fessenden and his work so they knew the connection between Fessenden and the department,” said Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “He would tell students ‘Nothing is new,’ and that all technology we have is simply repackaged ideas implemented with better devices.” In medicine, communication is important for faster accurate diagnoses and treatments. "A lot of work in my field wouldn’t be possible without Fessenden’s work,” said Christopher Brown, an associate professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Wireless communication has solved many problems in medicine. You can try using wires to transmit information from an external device to an implant in a patient’s body, but then you have the problems of infection, device failures and inconvenience.” Brown studies psychoacoustics, speech understanding in the presence of background noise, hearing impairment and cochlear implant processing. “Hearing devices have a direct link to Fessenden’s work,” he said. “For example, when someone has hearing aids in both ears, the aids will ‘communicate’ with each other to adjust volume levels so the listener is more comfortable. A cochlear implant is another surgically implanted device that takes radio information from external components through the skin into audio.” Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering reflects every year on the importance of Fessenden’s work at its graduation ceremony. “It’s important for every engineer to understand history in their field, because we can foresee much about the future by understanding the past,” George said. “The inventors of that era were amazing, and much of their new science was based upon faith in their ideas and that they can be successful, even when others didn’t believe in them.”
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Feb
12
2020

Dr. Steven Jacobs on the History of Radio

Electrical & Computer

As part of World Radio Day and the Centennial of KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, Dr. Steven Jacobs spoke with Robert Mangino about the legacy of Reginald Fessenden, the "Father of Radio" and first Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt. Click here to download the KDKA-AM episode.

Feb
7
2020

Brandon Grainger Receives the ESWP 2019 Engineer of the Year Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 7, 2020) … Brandon Grainger, assistant professor and Eaton Faculty Fellow of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP). The award recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments which contribute to the engineering profession, and it was presented at the ESWP Annual Engineering Awards Banquet on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel. Grainger is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. He received his PhD in electrical engineering with a specialization in power conversion from Pitt in 2014, where he also received his master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  He was one of the first R.K. Mellon graduate student fellows as the Center for Energy was being established at Pitt. Grainger’s research interests are primarily focused upon power electronic converter design with power ranges that accommodate aerospace to grid scale applications. He and his advised students investigate circuit topology design, controllers, magnetics, and power semiconductor devices to ensure practical, high power dense solutions primarily for DC/DC and DC/AC converters. “The success of my research endeavors is a result of being strategic, aggressive and observant with a critical eye for detail,” he said. “In the past, there were two classes of engineers in power engineering: the system engineers and power conversion engineers. Although I focus in power conversion engineering, my strength is bridging both domains while proposing unique, novel solutions that industry will find valuable. I feel I bridge academia and industry well - in how I teach, train students, and interact with a wide range of manufacturers.” Grainger, a Pittsburgh native, worked for a variety of companies before joining Pitt full-time including ABB, ANSYS, Mitsubishi Electric and Siemens as either a co-op student, graduate student intern or full-time engineer. The Pittsburgh region is the birthplace of electric power engineering and Grainger gives credit to his academic and industry partners, foundations in the region and graduate students who have invested in him professionally, monetarily, or partnered with him in solving tough, electrical engineering problems that resulted in him receiving this award. “The challenges we are facing today cannot be solved by one individual but requires a community of champions within various organizations who have diverse skill sets to drive change,” he said. “My job is to ensure that students graduating with advanced degrees are equipped to meet these challenges and, yet, being a part of the community of professionals early on. I want to ensure that they feel confident as they transition to the workforce, thus, they are a part of influencing solutions being developed now, in practice, with our program at Pitt.” Grainger has contributed to more than 60 electric power engineering articles and is an annual reviewer of various power electronic conferences and transaction articles. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) where he participates in the Power Electronics Society (PELS) and Industrial Electronics Society (IES) at national levels. He served as the IEEE Pittsburgh PELS chapter chair for three years at which time the section won numerous awards under his leadership. “We are very proud to have Brandon as part of our faculty,” said Alan George, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair Professor.  “Through his teaching and mentoring, he effectively prepares nascent engineers for a successful career in an increasingly diverse and global workforce. His innovative research and collaborations have been an asset to our department from his time as a student to his subsequent transition to faculty in 2014. Brandon is most deserving of this recognition.” ###

Jan

Jan
21
2020

Pitt Researchers Propose Solutions for Networking Lag in Massive IoT Devices

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Jan 21, 2020) — The internet of things (IoT) widely spans from the smart speakers and Wi-Fi-connected home appliances to manufacturing machines that use connected sensors to time tasks on an assembly line, warehouses that rely on automation to manage inventory, and surgeons who can perform extremely precise surgeries with robots. But for these applications, timing is everything: a lagging connection could have disastrous consequences. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are taking on that task, proposing a system that would use currently underutilized resources in an existing wireless channel to create extra opportunities for lag-free connections. The process, which wouldn’t require any additional hardware or wireless spectrum resources, could alleviate traffic backups on networks with many wireless connections, such as those found in smart warehouses and automated factories. The researchers announced their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2019 International Conference on Emerging Networking Experiments and Technologies, one of the best research conferences in networking techniques. The paper, titled “EasyPass: Combating IoT Delay with Multiple Access Wireless Side Channels,” (DOI: 10.1145/3359989.3365421), was named Best Paper at the Conference. It was authored by Haoyang Lu, PhD, Ruirong Chen, and Wei Gao, PhD. “The network’s automatic response to channel quality, or the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), is almost always a step or two behind,” explains Gao, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “When there is heavy traffic on a channel, the network changes to accommodate it. Similarly, when there is lighter traffic, the network meets it, but these adaptations don’t happen instantaneously. We used that lag - the space between the channel condition change and the network adjustment - to build a side channel solely for IoT devices where there is no competition and no delay.” This method, which the authors call “EasyPass,” would exploit the existing SNR margin, using it as a dedicated side channel for IoT devices. Lab tests have demonstrated a 90 percent reduction in data transmission delay in congested IoT networks, with a throughput up to 2.5 Mbps over a narrowband wireless link that can be accessed by more than 100 IoT devices at once. “The IoT has an important future in smart buildings, transportation systems, smart manufacturing, cyber-physical health systems, and beyond,” says Gao. “Our research could remove a very important barrier holding it back.”
Maggie Pavlick