Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Dec

Dec
6
2019

Synthesizing an Artificial Synapse for Artificial Intelligence

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Dec. 6, 2019) —In science fiction stories from “I, Robot” to “Star Trek,” an android’s “positronic brain” enables it to function like a human, but with tremendously more processing power and speed. In reality, the opposite is true: a human brain - which today is still more proficient than CPUs at cognitive tasks like pattern recognition - needs only 20 watts of power to complete a task, while a supercomputer requires more than 50,000 times that amount of energy. For that reason, researchers are turning to neuromorphic computer and artificial neural networks that work more like the human brain. However, with current technology, it is both challenging and expensive to replicate the spatio-temporal processes native to the brain, like short-term and long-term memory, in artificial spiking neural networks (SNN). Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, received a $500,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his work developing the missing element, a dynamic synapse, that will  dramatically improve energy efficiency, bandwidth and cognitive capabilities of SNNs. “When the human brain sees rain and then feels wetness, or sees fire and feels heat, the brain’s synapses link the two ideas, so in the future, it will associate rain with wetness and fire with warmth. The two ideas are strongly linked in the brain,” explains Xiong. “Computers, on the other hand, need to be fed massive datasets to do the same task. Our dynamic synapse would mimic the brain’s ability to create neuronal connections as a function of the timing differences between stimulations, significantly improving the energy efficiency required to perform a task.” Current non-volatile memory devices that have been studied for use as artificial synapses in SNNs haven’t measured up: they are designed to retain data permanently and aren’t suited for the spatio-temporal dynamics and high precision that the human brain is capable of. In the brain, it’s not only the information that matters but also the timing of the information—for example, in some situations, the closer two pieces of information are in time, the stronger the synaptic strand between them. By programming the conductor to conduct more electricity for a stronger neural connection, it can function more like the synapses of the human brain, giving more weight to items that are more closely linked as it learns. “The resulted change in the electrical conductance (representing the synaptic weight or the synaptic connection strength) in the dynamic synapse will have both a short-term and a long-term component, mimicking the short-term and long-term memory/learning in the human brain,” says Xiong. Though researchers have demonstrated this kind of technology before in the lab, this project is the first time it will be applied to an SNN. The application could lead to the wide use of AI and revolutionary advances in cognitive computing, self-driving vehicles, and autonomous manufacturing. In addition to the research component of the project, Xiong will use the opportunity to engage future engineers in his research. He plans to develop an after-school outreach program, host nanotech workshops with the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science, and welcome undergraduate engineering majors at Pitt to engage with the research. The project is titled “Scalable Ionic Gated 2D Synapse (IG-2DS) with Programmable Spatio-Temporal Dynamics for Spiking Neural Networks” and will begin on March 1, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Dec
2
2019

Computing at the Speed of Light

Electrical & Computer

Nathan Youngblood, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was a part of Harish Bhaskaran's Advanced Nanoscale Engineering research group at the University of Oxford before joining the University of Pittsburgh. The group's research was recently published in the journal Science Advances. Republished with permission from the University of Oxford. OXFORD, United Kingdom (Dec. 2, 2019) -- The first ever integrated nanoscale device which can be programmed with either photons or electrons has been developed by scientists in Harish Bhaskaran’s Advanced Nanoscale Engineering research group at the University of Oxford. In collaboration with researchers at the universities of Münster and Exeter, scientists have created a first-of-a-kind electro-optical device which bridges the fields of optical and electronic computing. This provides an elegant solution to achieving faster and more energy efficient memories and processors. Computing at the speed of light has been an enticing but elusive prospect, but with this development it’s now in tangible proximity. Using light to encode as well as transfer information enables these processes to occur at the ultimate speed limit – that of light. While as of recently, using light for certain processes has been experimentally demonstrated, a compact device to interface with the electronic architecture of traditional computers has been lacking. The incompatibility of electrical and light-based computing fundamentally stems from the different interaction volumes that electrons and photons operate in. Electrical chips need to be small to operate efficiently, whereas optical chips need to be large, as the wavelength of light is larger than that of electrons. To overcome this challenging problem the scientists came up with a solution to confine light into nanoscopic dimensions, as detailed in their paper Plasmonic nanogap enhanced phase change devices with dual electrical-optical functionality published in Science Advances, 29 November 2019. They created a design which allowed them to compress light into a nano-sized volume through what is known as surface plasmon polariton. The dramatic size reduction in conjunction with the significantly increased energy density is what has allowed them to bridge the apparent incompatibility of photons and electrons for data storage and computation. More specifically, it was shown that by sending either electrical or optical signals, the state of a photo- and electro-sensitive material was transformed between two different states of molecular order. Further, the state of this phase-transforming material was read out by either light or electronics thereby making the device the first electro-optical nanoscale memory cell with non-volatile characteristics. “This is a very promising path forward in computation and especially in fields where high processing efficiency is needed,” states Nikolaos Farmakidis, graduate student and co-first author. Co-author Nathan Youngblood continues: “This naturally includes artificial intelligence applications where in many occasions the needs for high-performance, low-power computing far exceeds our current capabilities. It is believed that interfacing light-based photonic computing with its electrical counterpart is the key to the next chapter in CMOS technologies.” ### Additional Information: The work was carried out as part of the H2020 project Fun-COMP (#780848), see www.fun-comp.org for further details Paper published 29 November 2019: Plasmonic nanogap enhanced phase-change devices with dual electrical-optical functionality Nikolaos Farmakidis1*, Nathan Youngblood1*, Xuan Li1, James Tan1, Jacob L. Swett1, Zengguang Cheng1, C. David Wright2, Wolfram H. P. Pernice3, Harish Bhaskaran1 1 Department of Materials, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PH, UK. 2 Department of Engineering, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 QF, UK. 3 Institute of Physics, University of Muenster, Heisenbergstr, 11, 48149 Muenster, Germany. *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Nov

Nov
21
2019

Eight Receive Mascaro Faculty Program in Sustainability Awards

Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Nov. 21, 2019) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) named eight faculty awardees for the 2020 John C. Mascaro Faculty Program in Sustainability. The one-year awards, created to enhance the University’s mission of interdisciplinary excellence in sustainability research and education, go to faculty members from all disciplines, who may apply as faculty fellows, scholars or lecturers. “From proposing ways to give students more hands-on experience with sustainability to the incorporation of arts- and humanities-based approaches to sustainability discourse, this year’s award recipients demonstrate the interdisciplinary work we strive for,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of administration and external relations at MCSI. “We’re excited to see the great work they will do.” John C. Mascaro Faculty Fellow in Sustainability: David Finegold, Graduate School of Public Health John C. Mascaro Faculty Scholars in Sustainability: Tony Kerzmann, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Sara Kuebbing, Department of Biological Sciences John C. Mascaro Faculty Lecturers in Sustainability: Joshua Groffman, Division of Communication and the Arts, Pitt Bradford Katherine Hornbostel, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Robert Kerestes, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Pamela Stewart, Department of Anthropology Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology
Maggie Pavlick
Nov
20
2019

Pitt STRIVE Program Receives UPSIDE Award

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

This article was originally published on @Pitt. Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH (November 20, 2019) ... The Swanson School of Engineering’s Pitt Success, Transition, Representation, Innovation, Vision and Education (STRIVE) Program was recognized with the 2019 University Prize for Strategic, Inclusive and Diverse Excellence (UPSIDE) Award by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The goal of the Pitt STRIVE Program is to improve transitions of underrepresented minority (URM) students into doctoral engineering programs at the University. Using evidence-based strategies, the program aims to foster student and faculty engagement to ensure students’ successful completion of the PhD in engineering. "It has been an honor be a part of the leadership team of this extraordinarily great program,” said Sylvanus Wosu, associate dean for diversity affairs at the Swanson School. Wosu acknowledged the support and commitment from the U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II and the Office of the Dean. “The Pitt STRIVE Program has been transformational in increasing URM PhD enrollment from less than 5% to over 7.5%, enhancing the academic culture and community that have contributed to 13 URM PhDs in the last four years, and significantly increasing the number of faculty with a shared vision for the school’s diversity and inclusion goals,” Wosu said. Under the direction of Wosu and Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering, the program—which has been recognized and funded by the National Science Foundation—has focused on such areas as: Improving faculty engagement with URM students Improving faculty awareness of the impediments to URM success in doctoral programs Promoting a shared vision among vested faculty regarding the success of URM students within the Pitt community Achieving a systemic inclusive academic culture and climate that support the success of URM doctoral students “The Pitt STRIVE Program’s implementation is informed by research and practices that positively impact the culture and experiences of the faculty, students and community,” said David Gau, the Pitt STRIVE Program director of University engagement and communication. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will recognize the Swanson School of Engineering with the UPSIDE Award at a Senate Council meeting in December. ###

Nov
12
2019

Excellence in Electrical Engineering

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Nov. 12, 2019) — The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society (PES) selected Nathan Carnovale, a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, for the John W. Estey Outstanding Scholar Award. Carnovale is one of six Pitt students selected for the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Award this year. The John W. Estey Outstanding Scholar Award is given to the top PES Scholar in each of the six IEEE U.S. regions. Region 2, Carnovale’s region, covers Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, northern Virginia, southern New Jersey, West Virginia, and Washington, DC. It serves more than 25,000 of IEEE’s estimated 400,000 members. Carnovale was first awarded the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Award in the 2017-2018 academic year and again in 2018-2019. “In his four years at Pitt, Nate’s proven to be an outstanding student and role model,” says Robert Kerestes, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We’re proud of this honor and look forward to the amazing things he will achieve beyond the University.” Eli Brock (’22), Sabrina Nguyen (’20), Anthony Popovski (’21), Elizabeth Rager (’20) and Nolan Scanlon (’19) were also among the 135 high-achieving undergraduate students in electrical engineering from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico to be recognized as 2019-2020 PES Scholars. With six awardees, Pitt has the second highest number of recipients out of the 78 universities represented. PES Scholars receive a financial award, one year of IEEE PES student membership, and mentorship from leading professionals in the power and energy industry. The John W. Estey Outstanding Scholar Award is selected by industry and academic representatives in their region based on academic preparation, extra-curricular activities and leadership, interest in power and energy engineering, technical quality and overall assessment of career potential in power and energy engineering. The award includes $5,000 for school expenses, 12 months of IEEE and IEEE PES Student Membership, and up to $1,000 in travel honorarium to attend the IEEE PES General Meeting. The award was named for John W. Estey, one of the three Chief Executive Officers in S&C Electric Company’s 100-year history. About Nathan (Nate) Carnovale: Nate Carnovale is scheduled to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019 with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and a concentration in electric power, and plans to pursue an M.S. degree in electric power engineering at Pitt starting in spring 2020. During his undergraduate career, he interned with Eaton for two summers, working at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center and in Eaton’s Power Systems Automation services group in Warrendale, PA. There he gained experience in power systems metering and monitoring, as well as experience installing, wiring, and programming Eaton demos at the Experience Center. He will be working in Eaton’s Power Systems Controls group this summer working with microgrids. For four semesters at Pitt, Carnovale has been a teaching assistant for the Art of Making, an introductory engineering course to hands-on systems design. He is currently working 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.
Maggie Pavlick
Nov
6
2019

ASL-to-Text Translator Wins Bronze in InnovateFPGA 2019 Global Contest’s Regional Finals

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Nov. 6, 2019) — Technology that translates spoken languages in real time is a boon to travelers and the hearing impaired alike. But what about a language that isn’t spoken? That problem inspired a team of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering to create a program that translates American Sign Language (ASL) to voice using machine learning. The project recently won the Bronze Award at the InnovateFPGA 2019 Global Contest Regional Final. The sign language reader uses a camera and AI to identify the hand gestures used in ASL and translates them into sentences, which would benefit the hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who rely on ASL to communicate. The program could run on a smartphone, for example. “The idea for an ASL translator was formed when our team was researching what kind of embedded AI applications can improve the experience of communication among different groups of people,” says Haihui Zhu, a student studying computer engineering and member of the team. Zhu notes that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires places like hospitals and other public services to provide human ASL interpreters. “Now imagine that a software that translates ASL into English can be deployed on a smartphone and executed real-time in an FPGA hardware accelerator. We believe that such a solution can improve the service of public facilities.” In addition to being a useful tool for the hard of hearing, a key feature of the program is its scalability. “I think the biggest challenge in this project was to design a fast and scalable machine-learning pipeline. On the input side, it is the video stream from the camera. On the output side, it is the English text,” explains Zhu. “To solve this problem, our strategy was to divide it into multiple stages: hand detection, hand keypoint detection, keypoint-to-alphabet, and finally, construct lexicons from the alphabet stream. To add a new sign to the ‘vocabulary,’ we just need to encode the hand motion of that sign.” The team included Zhu, Christopher Pasquinelli, and Roman Hamilton, all undergraduates in computer engineering at Pitt. Though the competition is over, Zhu says they plan to continue their work. “There are several challenges that have not been solved yet: one, our solution only looks at the hand motion, but to truly understand the sign language, we must look at facial expressions and hand motion simultaneously; and two, we want to improve the performance of the machine learning model. There are lots of exciting research and development tasks that we can further work on.” Students who are interested in machine learning, speech processing, or the project will be welcome to join the team. The InnovateFPGA 2019 Global Contest invited students, professors, makers and industry to showcase their idea of how field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) can be used to develop cutting edge smart devices. The team’s Bronze Award in the Regional Finals includes a certificate, a cash award of $800, and the Max 10 Plus FPGA main board.
Maggie Pavlick

Oct

Oct
21
2019

Bringing Attention to Visual Neglect in Stroke

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (October 23, 2019) … Imagine struggling to see, listen, or make movements in half of your environment. This is typical for individuals who suffer from unilateral spatial neglect, a common post-stroke deficit of attention to objects or events on the side opposite of the brain injury. The condition has a major impact on the everyday lives of stroke survivors and has shown to be a strong predictor of disability. Unilateral spatial neglect affects 29 percent of stroke survivors, yet detection and rehabilitation of this condition are lacking. A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Northeastern University received a combined $1,181,757 from the National Science Foundation to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) system that will be implemented in augmented reality, allowing for better detection, assessment, and rehabilitation of unilateral spatial neglect. “Current detection methods are limited and do not account for changes in severity over time, and while rehabilitation may help reduce neglect, it less effective at reducing neglect-related disability,” said Murat Akcakaya, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. “Incorporating everyday tasks with effective rehabilitation strategies may be the best way to improve the quality of life for this population.” Overview of the neglect detection, assessment and rehabilitation system. A Starry Night scheme (green and yellow dots will appear and disappear at random times in random locations of the visual field in order to assess the region and extent of visual neglect) is presented to the patient while the patient's EEG signal is recorded. When visual neglect is detected using EEG-driven features, the multimodal feedback unit triggers the combination of visual, auditory, and haptic feedback to the patient. The research team plans to focus on visual neglect and address the shortcomings of current rehabilitation by reaching beyond the clinical setting and taking activities of daily living into account. They will develop a noninvasive, portable, and cost-effective tool that can be used to help guide rehabilitation programs in real-time. Akcakaya will lead a $787,594 award in collaboration with Pitt colleagues Elizabeth Skidmore, chair and professor of occupational therapy, and George Wittenberg, professor of neurology. Sarah Ostadabbas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, received a $394,163 award for her contribution to the project. “Our BCI system will monitor brain activity in real-time through electroencephalography (EEG), which will be used to detect when visual extra-personal space is neglected,” said Wittenberg. “The system will be integrated into an augmented reality environment, which allows testing in real-world situations with relevance to everyday tasks. According to the research team, evidence suggests that high-intensity repetition with progression in the task skill level may be the most effective strategy for stimulating attention to the neglected side of the body. “Our system, which includes haptic, auditory, and visual stimulation, will expand on current rehabilitation by using EEG monitoring to automatically detect neglect and apply stimulation repetitively as soon as it is identified,” said Skidmore, who is also associate dean of research in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “This personalized intervention strategy, incorporated with activities of daily living, will be a more precise and cost-effective tool for clinicians to use with these patients.” Unilateral spatial neglect can be a costly side effect of stroke. It is associated with longer stays in the hospital, extensive therapy, and other disadvantages related to long-term disability. Akcakaya said, “We hope that this system, which uniquely couples augmented reality technology with EEG monitoring, will improve the rehabilitative process, decrease the financial burden, and ultimately, provide more independence to stroke survivors.” ###

Oct
8
2019

An EPIC Meeting of the Minds

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 8, 2019) — Craig Gob, senior vice president of Electrical Engineering Services and Systems at Eaton, and Brian Anderson, director of the National Energy Technology Lab (NETL), will headline the University of Pittsburgh’s Electric Power Industry Conference (EPIC). EPIC, now in its 14th year, is the region’s leading conference venue focused upon electric power engineering with participants from academia, manufacturers, utilities, government, and more. Presented by the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy GRID Institute and the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania, the day-long conference will take place Oct. 28, 2019, at the Energy Innovation Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. “Innovations in converting and delivering electric power is at an exciting crossroads, and Pittsburgh is at the center of it,” says Brandon Grainger, PhD, chair of this year’s conference and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We look forward to this opportunity to hear from representatives in the field, and to discuss their companies’ insights and visions in shaping our industry’s future.” Technical program sessions will cover Intelligent Grid Design through Power Electronics and Advanced Techniques for Grid Modernization. With an eye toward the future, the schedule also includes a graduate researcher poster session and symposium to showcase the technologies students and faculty are researching at Pitt, and a student-industry networking session to introduce industry professionals to the next generation of engineers. Additionally, attendees have the opportunity to see the Electric Power Technologies Laboratory at a reception following the conference. A full schedule and other details can be found here. Register for the event on ESWP’s website: https://eswp.com/epic/epic-home/#reg
Maggie Pavlick

Sep

Sep
27
2019

Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering Introduces New and Promoted Faculty

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (September 27, 2019) ... With expertise from biomaterials and autonomous sensing to cyber-physical systems, neural networks and renewable energy, 14 new faculty joined the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering this fall. "Here in the Swanson School, we have established our transformative purpose to create new knowledge for the betterment of the human condition. I’m excited that these outstanding new faculty will contribute toward that interdisciplinary pursuit," noted James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering.  "Our new faculty bring incredible skill-sets that will help us address 21st-century challenges. In particular, the United Nations has outlined 17 sustainable development goals as a call to action for global socioeconomic and environmental sustainability by 2030. And we’re using those goals to track our own progress and inform our transformative purpose. I look forward to these new faculty joining in that important endeavor.” The new faculty include: Department of Bioengineering Elisa Castagnola, Research Assistant ProfessorDr. Castagnola received her PhD in robotics, neurosciences and nanotechnologies at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and continued her postdoctoral research on neurotechnologies at IIT in the departments of Robotics Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and the Center for Translational Neurophysiology for Speech and Communication. Prior to Pitt, she was a senior postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering at the Center for Neurotechnology (NSF-ERC) and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University.For the last 10 years, Dr. Castagnola’s work focused on combining research in material science and new microfabrication techniques for the development of innovative neurotechnology, advancing state-of-the-art implantable neural devices and bringing them to a clinical setting. She is now conducting research with Dr. Tracy Cui, Professor of Bioengineering, in the Swanson School’s Neural Tissue Engineering (NTE) Lab. She is currently working on the development and in-vivo validation of innovative neural probes with superior capability in neurochemical and neurophysiological recordings. Her main interests are in material science, electrochemistry, neurochemistry and microfabrication. Mangesh Kulkarni, Research Assistant ProfessorDr. Kulkarni received his bachelor degrees in medicine and surgery from Grant Medical College, University of Mumbai, his MTech in biomedical engineering and science from the Indian Institute of Technology, and a PhD in biomedical engineering and science from the National University of Ireland, Galway.While pursuing his PhD he served as a graduate research fellow at the University of Ireland’s Network of Excellence for Functional Biomaterials where he developed spatiotemporally controlled gene delivery system for compromised wound healing.  He then joined The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, MR Division, Institute of Cell Engineering as a postdoctoral fellow where he was involved in development of MRI based non-invasive system to track the pancreatic islets transplants, and later was a postdoctoral scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Department of Biomedical Sciences and Regenerative Medicine Institute where he worked to unravel molecular signatures in corneal regeneration. At Pitt Dr. Kulkarni works with Dr. Bryan Brown associate professor of bioengineering and core faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Kulkarni’s research interests focus on the development of biomaterials-based delivery systems; molecular diagnostics and therapeutics (particularly involving non-coding RNA); and cell-free therapeutic strategies such as stem cells secretome therapy. Ioannis Zervantonakis, Assistant ProfessorDr. Zervantonakis  received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, master of science in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich, and PhD in the lab of Dr. Roger Kamm at MIT, where he engineered an array of microfluidic devices to study the tumor microenvironment. For his postdoctoral studies, he joined the lab of Dr. Joan Brugge at Harvard Medical School and developed systems biology approaches to study drug resistance and tumor-fibroblast interactions. He is a recipient of a 2014 Department of Defense Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Fellowship and a 2017 NIH/NCI Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award.In his Tumor Microenvironment Engineering Laboratory, Dr. Zervantonakis employs a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis and drug resistance. His research interests include cell and drug transport phenomena in cancer, mathematical modeling of cell-cell interactions, microfluidics, and systems biology of cell-cell interactions.Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Amir H. Alavi, Assistant ProfessorPrior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Alavi was an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Missouri. Dr. Alavi’s research interests include structural health monitoring, smart civil infrastructure systems, deployment of advanced sensors, energy harvesting, and engineering information systems. At Pitt, his Intelligent Structural Monitoring and Response Testing (iSMaRT) Lab focuses on advancing the knowledge and technology required to create self-sustained and multifunctional sensing and monitoring systems that are enhanced by engineering system informatics. His research activities involve implementation of these smart systems in the fields of civil infrastructure, construction, aerospace, and biomedical engineering. Dr. Alavi has worked on research projects supported by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Missouri DOT, and Michigan DOT. He has authored five books and more than 170 publications in archival journals, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and has received several award certificates for his journal articles. Recently, he was selected among the Google Scholar 200 Most Cited Authors in Civil Engineering, as well as Web of Science ESI's World Top 1% Scientific Minds. He has served as the editor/guest editor of several journals such as Sensors, Case Studies in Construction Material, Automation in Construction, Geoscience Frontiers, Smart Cities, ASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, and Advances in Mechanical Engineering. He received his PhD in civil engineering from Michigan State University.Aleksandar Stevanovic, Associate ProfessorDr. Stevanovic previously served as an associate professor of civil, environmental and geomatics engineering at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU)., where he was also the director of the Laboratory of Adaptive Traffic Operations and Management (LATOM) and the Program Leader in Infrastructure Systems within the FAU Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE). At Pitt, he teaches courses in transportation and traffic engineering, transportation planning, and operations research and conducts research in a variety of subjects including traffic signal control systems, intelligent transportation systems, multimodal and sustainable operations, transportation simulation modeling, etc. Although Dr. Stefanovic’s main research interests emphasize arterial operations and traffic signal control, he is best known for his contributions in Adaptive Traffic Control Systems (ATCS). He is the sole author of the NCHRP 403 Synthesis Study – Adaptive Traffic Control Systems: Domestic and Foreign State of Practice and has been invited to present and teach about ATCSs, both nationally and internationally. He has published more than 150 journal and conference papers and presented at more than 80 international, national, and state seminars and professional meetings. He has been principal investigator on 31 research projects for a total of ~ $3.9 million in funding and has authored more than 30 technical reports for various transportation agencies including TRB/NAS, NSF, UDOT, UTA, FLDOT, NJDOT, and others. He is a member of TRB AHB25 Committee for Traffic Signal Systems and he is also a member of ITE, TRB, and ASCE. He serves as a paper reviewer for 30 scientific journals and conference proceedings, has advised more than 35 graduate students and five post-doctoral associates, and has served on PhD committees of several international university graduate programs. He has been awarded a position of Fulbright Specialist, in the area of urban network traffic control, for 2018-2021. He earned his bachelor’s in traffic and transportation engineering at the University of Belgrade (Serbia) followed by a master’s and PhD in civil engineering at the University of Utah. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mai Abdelhakim, Assistant ProfessorDr. Abdelhakim received her PhD in electrical engineering from Michigan State University (MSU) and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electronics and communications engineering from Cairo University. Her current research focuses on securing cyber-physical systems by leveraging machine learning, networks design, stochastic modeling and information theory. Following her PhD, she was a postdoctoral research associate at MSU where she worked on developing reliable communication networks and distributed decision making in sensor networks and high-speed communication systems. She later was a research scientist at OSRAM research center working on Internet of Things applications, security mechanisms, wireless optical communications and indoor positioning systems. Prior to her appointment at the Swanson School, she was a faculty member in Pitt’s School of Computing and Information. Her research interests include cyber-physical systems, cybersecurity, machine learning, wireless communications, networks design, stochastic systems analysis and information theory.Mohamed Bayoumy, Assistant ProfessorDr. Bayoumy received his bachelor's degree in electronics and electrical communications engineering and a master's in engineering physics from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University. He then joined the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as a graduate research and teaching fellow, and received his doctoral degree in 2019. His research features the development of optical fiber-based sensors for monitoring harsh environments. He is a recipient of the Swanson School of Engineering Dean’s Fellowship and multiple research and teaching awards. Since 2016 he has been appointed to the Postgraduate Research Program at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) administered through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).Theodore Huppert, Research Associate ProfessorDr Huppert received his bachelor's in biochemistry and genetics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and PhD in biophysics at Harvard University and the A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging of the Massachusetts General Hospital on the topic of statistical analysis models for multimodal brain imaging and models of the cerebral neural-vascular unit. Prior to joining the Swanson School, he served in the School of Medicine Department of Radiology and worked as one of the core MRI physicists in the MRI Research Center.Dr Huppert’s lab develops data analysis methods for brain imaging including near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and functional MRI with a focus on multimodal analysis and data fusion approaches. His lab also supports the NIRS brain imaging program at Pitt, which currently has over two dozen funded projects and more than a dozen different labs on campus working on projects ranging from infant development to gait impairments in the elderly. His lab also authored several open source data analysis packages for NIRS, with more than 1,400 users worldwide, and is a founding member of the Society for NIRS.   In Hee Lee, Assistant ProfessorDr. Lee received his PhD degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Michigan and served there as a postdoc and research scientist. His research interests include low-power energy-efficient circuit design to develop millimeter-scale energy-autonomous sensing/computing systems for biomedical, ecological, and industrial applications.In addition to publications and presentations, Dr. Lee holds six patents on technologies including analog to digital conversion, switched capacitor circuits, resistance detection and ultra-low-power temperature current sourcing. Amr Mahmoud, Visiting Assistant ProfessorDr. Mahmoud received his bachelor’s in electronics and electrical communications engineering and master’s in engineering physics from Cairo University, and a PhD in computer engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include, but are not limited to, machine learning, especially deep learning for image processing; memristor-based neuromorphic computing systems; and video prediction using generative adversarial recurrent neural networks. He has published five conference papers, one book chapter, and one journal paper in prestigious conferences and journals, including IEEE EMBC, ACM-DATE, IEEE IJCNN, and IEEE TNANO.Nathan Youngblood, Assistant ProfessorDr. Youngblood received his bachelor’s in physics from Bethel University and master’s and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, where his research focused on integrating 2D materials with silicon photonics for high-speed optoelectronic applications. Following, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford developing phase-change photonic devices for integrated optical memory and computation. His research interests include bi-stable optical materials, 2D material optoelectronics, and photonic architectures for machine learning. At his Photonics Lab, his research combines unique optoelectronic materials with nanophotonics to create new platforms for high-efficiency machine learning and high-precision biosensing. Principal to this is a fundamental understanding of light-matter interaction at the nanoscale and use of advanced nanofabrication techniques to address major challenges facing these disciplines.Department of Industrial Engineering Hyo Kyung Lee, Assistant ProfessorDr. Lee received her bachelor’s in information and industrial engineering from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, master’s in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, and. PhD in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research investigates healthcare analytics, data-driven decision support, and operational planning and management in the context of clinical data and practice. She has experience collaborating with medical professionals in UW Health, Mayo Clinic, Baptist Memorial Health System, SSM Health, and Dean Medical Group. She is the recipient of the Grainger Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship from the College of Engineering at UW Madison.Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Nikhil Bajaj, Assistant ProfessorDr. Bajaj earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, and has held research assistant positions on several projects in the areas of nonlinear dynamics, control systems, sensing and machine learning, computational design, and heat transfer. He has held a summer research position with Alcatel-Lucent Bell Laboratories and has also served as a consulting mechatronics engineer with two startup technology companies, in the areas of force sensing in gaming devices and the control of multi-actuator haptics. His research interests include nonlinear dynamical and control systems, and the analysis and design of mechatronic systems, especially in the context of cyber-physical systems—in particular making them secure and resilient.Tony Kerzmann, Associate ProfessorDr. Kerzmann received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Duquesne University followed by a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Following his PhD, he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Robert Morris University where his research focused on developing alternative vehicle fueling station optimization simulations. He advised student groups that won regional and international awards; the most recent team won the Utility of Tomorrow competition, outperforming 55 international teams. Additionally, he developed and taught thirteen different courses, many in the areas of energy, sustainability, thermodynamics, and heat transfer. He served as the mechanical coordinator for the Engineering Department for six years and was the Director of Outreach for the Research and Outreach Center in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. Additionally, several faculty received promotions and named professorships and fellowships:Faculty PromotionsBioengineeringBryan Brown, Associate ProfessorTamer Ibrahim, ProfessorSpandan Maiti, Associate ProfessorWarren Ruder, Associate ProfessorChemical & PetroleumGiannis Mpourmpakis, Associate ProfessorJohn Keith, Associate ProfessorCivil & EnvironmentalJulie Vandenbossche, ProfessorElectrical and ComputerWei Gao, ProfessorMechanical & Materials ScienceMarkus Chmielus, Associate ProfessorAlbert To, Professor Professorships and FellowsWilliam Kepler Whiteford ProfessorsAlbert To (MEMS)Anne Robertson (MEMS)Lance Davidson (BioE)J. Karl Johnson (ChemE)   Julie Vandenbossche (CEE)William Kepler Whiteford FellowsWarren Ruder (BioE)Chris Wilmer (ChemE)Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty FellowSusan Fullerton (ChemE)CNG Faculty FellowGuofeng Wang (MEMS)Wellington C. Carl Faculty FellowVikas Khanna (CEE) ###

Sep
13
2019

Pitt Nuclear Energy Research Awarded More Than $2 Million in Department of Energy Grants

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (September 13, 2019) — The Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has received three substantial grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) totaling $2.3 million. The awards are three of the 40 grants in 23 states issued by the DOE, which awarded more than $28.5 million to research programs through the NEUP this year to maintain the U.S.’s leadership in nuclear research. “Nuclear energy research is a vital and growing source of clean energy in the U.S., and we are at the forefront of this exciting field,” says Heng Ban, PhD, R.K. Mellon Professor in Energy and director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program at the Swanson School of Engineering. “These grants will enable us to collaborate with leading international experts, conducting research that will help shape future of nuclear energy.” One project, titled “Advanced Online Monitoring and Diagnostic Technologies for Nuclear Plant Management, Operation, and Maintenance,” received $1 million and is led by Daniel Cole, PhD, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Pitt.  Taking advantage of advanced instrumentation and big data analytics, the work will develop and test advanced online monitoring to better operate and manage nuclear power plants.  By combining condition monitoring, financial analysis, and supply chain models, nuclear utilities will be better able to streamline operation and maintenance efforts, minimize financial risk, and ensure safety. The project “Development of Versatile Liquid Metal Testing Facility for Lead-cooled Fast Reactor Technology” received $800,000 and is led by Jung-Kun Lee, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt. His work will benefit lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR) technology. Liquid lead is beneficial for this cooling process because it is non-reactive with water and air, has a high boiling point, poor neutron absorption and excellent heat transfer properties. Despite these benefits, though, lead’s corrosive nature is a critical challenge of LFR. This research would develop a versatile, high-temperature liquid lead testing facility that would help researchers understand this corrosive behavior to find a solution. Dr. Lee will collaborate with Dr. Ban at Pitt, as well as researchers from Westinghouse Electric Company, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, the ENEA in Italy, and the University of Manchester in the UK. The project “Thermal Conductivity Measurement of Irradiated Metallic Fuel Using TREAT” received $500,000 and is led by Dr. Ban in collaboration with Assel Aitkaliyeva from the University of Florida. The project will help to measure thermal conductivity and diffusivity data in uranium-plutonium-zirconium (U-Pu-Zr) fuels using an innovative thermal wave technique in the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT). The project will not only provide thermophysical properties of irradiated U-Pu-Zr fuels, but also create a new approach for measuring irradiated, intact fuel rodlets. Additionally, Kevin Chen, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt, will collaborate on a project that received $800,000 from the DOE, titled “Mixing of Helium with Air in Reactor Cavities Following a Pipe Break in HTGRs” and led by Masahiro Kawaji, PhD, professor at the City College of New York and assistant director of CUNY Energy Institute.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
10
2019

Pitt ECE Assistant Professor Sam Dickerson to receive IEEE Education Society Mac E. Van Valkenburg Award

Electrical & Computer, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 10, 2019) — In recognition of his innovative teaching methods and research, Samuel Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Computer Engineering undergraduate program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, will receive the IEEE Education Society’s 2019 Mac E. Van Valkenburg Award. Faculty who are within the first 10 years after receiving their PhD and have at least two years of experience as a faculty member are eligible to be nominated. Alan George, PhD, professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, nominated Dickerson for the award. “Sam’s innovative thinking and outstanding contributions have shaped our department since he joined the faculty in 2015,” says George. “He played a major role in modernizing our curriculum and many of our core courses and, in my 32 years in academia, I have never known a faculty member with a greater passion and commitment for teaching.” In his first four years as assistant professor, Dickerson has taught 10 different undergraduate courses, including some, like one on the Internet-of-Things, that he created from scratch. He has also authored 10 engineering education research publication and has been awarded four engineering education grants. Most significantly, a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant has allowed him to develop and assess a novel method of teaching computer-aided circuit simulation. Dickerson personally advises the over 300 undergraduate students in Computer Engineering, one of the School’s largest programs. He received the School’s Outstanding Educator Award and Board of Visitors Award this year in recognition of this work. The IEEE Education Society committee chooses a winner based on a submitted statement of teaching philosophy and practice, up to five letters of support from students and colleagues, and data and comments from student evaluations. The award will be presented at the Awards Banquet during the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Oct. 18, 2019. The award includes a $1,000 honorarium, paid registration to the conference, a commemorative plaque, and a certificate.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
9
2019

Makerspaces and Mindsets

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 9, 2019) — As with many creative projects, this one started with a doodle. Students at this year’s Makerspace Bootcamp at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering learned that to create a finished product, (in this case, a laser-cut lampshade), you must first translate the idea in your head onto paper. The 31 rising sophomore engineering students were asked to quickly sketch out a lampshade design, and then another, and another. By the end of the day, they would turn one of the sketches into a working lamp. “The project goes from physical, to digital, and back to physical. We walk through the design process, using software to create a digital model from the sketch, cutting it with the laser cutter, and assembling the lamp,” says David Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School. “The workshop helps students overcome two hurdles—one, that they don’t know that the makerspace is available to everyone, and two that they feel they need to be Tony Stark in order to create something.” The students used the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber, BioE Design, Innovation and Outreach Coordinator, to complete their lamp. The Makerspace, located in Benedum Hall, is open to students of all majors and has a wide range of equipment to design and fabricate. Current Makerspace students serve as mentors and helped the boot camp participants in the same way they guide all newcomers. “The Pitt Makerspaces provide hands-on experiences for students, with resources and support to make an idea a reality,” says Barber. “We want students to feel welcome to come in, explore, and collaborate, and the boot camp helps introduce them to a new way of thinking.” The annual boot camp began in 2013 as an entrepreneurship-focused event sponsored by the Engineering Education Research Center, but under the direction of Sanchez with the support of William (Buddy) Clark, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, and Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. Since then it has shifted its focus to the Makerspace and Sanchez and Barber now plan for it to be even more hands-on and open to more students. While the first day of the workshop focused on using the Pitt Makerspace, the final day centered on building the mindset of a creator. Sanchez presented the students with different design challenges, such as imagining how to grow a company that sells one particular product successfully, like an oven cleaner. While most pitched the idea of making “a better oven cleaner,” he helped them to see that diving deeper into the customer’s experience would yield opportunities to reinvent it with concepts like better self-cleaning ovens. “Critical thinking and empathy are important parts of the design process. Shifting your focus beyond what products do to what customers experience is essential to good design,” says Sanchez. “Our goal for the boot camp is to cultivate this approach to design and making that inspires all our students to incorporate it into their experience here at the Swanson School.”
Maggie Pavlick

Aug

Aug
27
2019

Pitt Researchers Create Breathalyzer That Can Detect Marijuana

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 27, 2019) — As recreational marijuana legalization becomes more widespread throughout the U.S., so has concern about what that means for enforcing DUI laws. Unlike a breathalyzer used to detect alcohol, police do not have a device that can be used in the field to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana. New research from the University of Pittsburgh is poised to change that. An interdisciplinary team from the Department of Chemistry and the Swanson School of Engineering has developed a breathalyzer device that can measure the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in the user’s breath. Current drug testing methods rely on blood, urine or hair samples and therefore cannot be done in the field. They also only reveal that the user has recently inhaled the drug, not that they are currently under the influence. The breathalyzer was developed using carbon nanotubes, tiny tubes of carbon 100,000 times smaller than a human hair. The THC molecule, along with other molecules in the breath, bind to the surface of the nanotubes and change their electrical properties. The speed at which the electrical currents recover then signals whether THC is present. Nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry, which is considered the gold standard for THC detection. “The semiconductor carbon nanotubes that we are using weren’t available even a few years ago,” says Sean Hwang, lead author on the paper and a doctoral candidate in chemistry at Pitt. “We used machine learning to ‘teach’ the breathalyzer to recognize the presence of THC based on the electrical currents recovery time, even when there are other substances, like alcohol, present in the breath.” Hwang works in the Star Lab, led by Alexander Star, PhD, professor of chemistry with a secondary appointment in bioengineering. The group partnered with Ervin Sejdic, PhD, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, to develop the prototype. “Creating a prototype that would work in the field was a crucial step in making this technology applicable,” says Dr. Sejdic. “It took a cross-disciplinary team to turn this idea into a usable device that’s vital for keeping the roads safe.” The prototype looks similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, with a plastic casing, protruding mouthpiece, and digital display. It was tested in the lab and was shown to be able to detect the THC in a breath sample that also contained components like carbon dioxide, water, ethanol, methanol, and acetone. The researchers will continue to test the prototype but hope it will soon move to manufacturing and be available for use. “In legal states, you’ll see road signs that say “Drive High, Get a DUI,’ but there has not been a reliable and practical way to enforce that,” says Dr. Star. “There are debates in the legal community about what levels of THC would amount to a DUI, but creating such a device is an important first step toward making sure people don’t partake and drive.” The paper detailing this research, “Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Detection using Semiconductor-enriched Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube Chemiresistors,” (DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.9b00762) was published in the journal ACS Sensors and was coauthored by Sean Hwang, Long Bian, David White, Seth Burkert, Raymond Euler, Brett Sopher, Miranda Vinay and Alexander Star, from the Department of Chemistry, and Nicholas Franconi, Michael Rothfuss, Kara Bocan, and Ervin Sejdic, from the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. ### This research has been featured in a number of media outlets, including WTAE, KDKA, KDKA Radio, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Philly Voice, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Vice, Digital Trends and NPR/WBUR's "Here & Now."
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
27
2019

Using Nature to Protect Cities from Extreme Weather

Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 27, 2019) — As the planet warms, communities will continue to face the sometimes crippling aftermath of flooding and increasingly common extreme weather events. The U.S.’ failing infrastructure exacerbates the problem, leaving engineers in search of solutions that are both sustainable and future-proof. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Northwestern University $2 million to study nature-based strategies that can help prevent urban flooding and give under-resourced communities the ability to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to extreme weather events. The project, entitled “Catalyzing Resilient Urban Infrastructure Systems: Integrating the Natural & Built Environments,” is part of the NSF’s Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI) program, which has awarded five projects a total of $9 million this year. The Swanson School of Engineering’s Carla Ng, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Murat Akcakaya, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will work with principal investigator Kimberly Gray, PhD, Kay Davis Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University, on the project. Daniel Bain, PhD, assistant professor of geology and environmental science and associate director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Water Collaboratory, will also contribute his expertise to the Pitt team. “Cities across the country experience flooding when severe weather strikes due to their overtaxed and aging stormwater infrastructure,” says Dr. Ng. “Here in Pittsburgh, a combined sewer system means water quality is often hit as well. We want to give cities the ability to use natural features that will not only improve water management and enhance the livability of the surrounding community, but are also more adaptive, robust and resilient than current systems.” Linda Young, Dr. Peter Haas and Drew Williams-Clark at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago; and Nicole Chivaz and Laura Brenner Kimes at Greenprint Partners in Chicago, are also on the team. Sarah States, PhD, director of research and science education at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, will contribute expertise towards biodiversity assessments and outreach activities in Pittsburgh. The goal is to develop the engineering tools that will allow communities to integrate nature-based green infrastructure, such as green roofs, rain gardens and porous pavements, with existing built infrastructure to manage storm water in ways that help prevent flooding while improving water quality and ecological health. The collaboration will fundamentally reinvent the urban water cycle using a systems approach that will be designed to operate with predictive and expanded performance metrics tailored to local conditions. The researchers will use two topographically different cities with ongoing stormwater issues—Pittsburgh and Chicago—to establish a model that can be replicated in communities across the country. Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of only a handful of certified Living Buildings in the United States, will provide historical data from several of its existing green infrastructure installations from which the team will build new models and understanding of green infrastructure function within the landscape. “Using green infrastructure alongside the built environment can benefit the entire ecosystems, including humans, wildlife and vegetation,” says Dr. Ng. “We aim to identify and resolve the hurdles that have limited green infrastructure to single installations with limited real-time performance data or to plans that remain unrealized. Our goal is to apply engineering tools to real communities with real outcomes affecting real lives.” The grant began on Aug. 1, 2019 and is expected to last until 2024.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
23
2019

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. ###

Aug
10
2019

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

Jul

Jul
9
2019

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. ###

Jul
1
2019

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!

Jun

Jun
19
2019

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
Jun
18
2019

Engineering Synergy

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2019) … Following almost two years of intense investigation, research, and feedback, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is poised to begin a new chapter in the 126-year history of one of its departments. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) received approval to adopt new curricula for its two undergraduate programs (electrical engineering, computer engineering) to provide greater synergy between the two fields, create more opportunities for hands-on learning, and address the needs of employers who demand that graduates have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge. The two new curricula will begin in fall 2019 for rising sophomores in these two majors and were greatly influenced by input from faculty, alumni, industry, and students. Alan George, department chair and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explained that the time was perfect to modernize and seamlessly integrate the two programs and encourage greater flexibility in learning. “The genesis of Pitt’s ECE program is one for the history books. The electrical engineering (EE) curriculum was born in 1893 from the minds of George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, two of the leading engineering pioneers of the late 19th century, while creation of the computer engineering (CoE) program in 1996 was a response to the incredible growth of the industry,” Dr. George explained. “And yet, for several decades there was a disconnect between what would become two very integral fields. This split was a missed opportunity for strength from synergy, especially today when both electricity and computers are ubiquitous to everyday human life.” The beginning of the curricula redesign began shortly after Dr. George’s appointment as department chair in 2017, when there was already a growing desire by faculty and students to improve the two programs, especially in response to industry trends and new guidelines released by IEEE and ACM (the two leading professional societies in ECE). The effort then escalated in 2018 with major contributions from many ECE faculty members, and with the appointment of two new undergraduate program directors in ECE: Assistant Professor Samuel Dickerson, who would serve as the director for computer engineering; and Assistant Professor Robert Kerestes, who was appointed as director for electrical engineering. Dickerson and Kerestes are both triple alumni (B.S., M.S., PhD) of Pitt in their respective disciplines.  “We could not be more fortunate than to have Sam and Bob as outstanding young faculty and alumni, with a passion for Pitt and commitment to leading programs and teaching classes for the next generation of engineers that are even better than they had as students.” Four Strategic Curricular Changes According to Dickerson and Kerestes, the changes in each program follow four strategies: Following the students’ foundational first-year experience, the sophomore year for both majors features four, two-course sequences in analog hardware, digital hardware, software design, and applied math, with a strong balance of classroom and lab studies. A modernized suite of required courses is featured in the junior year, including six core courses and one advanced math course unique to each discipline, plus a new course on Junior Design Fundamentals for both majors. Senior year includes four discipline-specific electives, three technical electives, and one general elective, providing greater depth and the ability for students to develop specialties and explore other fields. Lastly, design concepts, skills, and experiences are greatly expanded throughout the two programs, both explicitly (new junior and upgraded senior design courses) and implicitly (design-oriented lab experiments in many new and upgraded courses). “One of the complaints we heard from recent graduates – and which we both experienced as students – is that we don’t let them have “fun” until senior year,” Dickerson said. “Like any engineering discipline, electrical and computer engineers are very hands-on people, and so it’s critical for students to engage in those activities earlier than senior year, as well as understand the integration of design with theory.” “The input of our visiting committee, alumni and industry was critical in helping us focus on integrating the electrical and computer engineering skills that decades ago were independent, but today are complementary and intertwined,” Kerestes added. “I also think that by leveraging the strengths of our department – for example, from power engineering and systems in EE to embedded computer systems and applications in CoE – we can integrate those in the junior year and better prep our students for employment in co-op or industry, or help them better decide whether they want to continue to graduate school.” Both Dickerson and Kerestes acknowledge the level of difficulty increases with the new curricula, but the changes will enable the students to do much more as electrical and computer engineers. And Department Chair George agreed that such challenges are necessary to better prepare students for an increasingly competitive global environment. “I think that, after our students graduate, each will find that the new curriculum has benefited them by making them more adaptable, nimble, and impactful engineers,” George said. “Just as Westinghouse, Fessenden, and the first computer engineers could only have theorized how our disciplines would evolve over the century, we need to prepare our students to adapt to the next technological breakthroughs that we haven’t yet imagined. It’s an exciting time for the ECE Department, and I’m looking forward to the response and success of our undergraduates.” ###

Jun
11
2019

Pitt Team Makes Finals in Cornell Cup

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 11, 2019) —  A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering competed as finalists in this year’s Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled with their project, V2 Communications, an inter-vehicle communication network. The Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled is a design competition that invites engineering students to submit an invention or project featuring embedded technology. It offers finalists funding, access to expert reviews, and the opportunity to present their project at a two-day expo at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. The team competed against 11 other finalist teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California - Irvine, Purdue University, Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and Drexel University from May 3-4. The goal of V2 Communications is to develop an inter-vehicle communication network so that any cars with a Controller Area Network (CAN) bus system can share real-time driving data such as speed, acceleration, and engine status with other cars within 100 meters—information that may lead to fewer accidents and greater traffic throughput capacity on the road. The system includes security measures, ensuring it is resistant to packet injection and spoofing attacks. The team consisted of Haihui Zhu, rising junior in electrical and computer engineering, and Zachary M. Mattis, who graduated this semester with a bachelor degree in computer engineering. The pair were interested in the concept of cars “talking” to one another on the road and decided to pursue the project last fall. Sami Mian, doctoral candidate, and Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Undergraduate Computer Engineering program, served as advisors for the team. Now, the team will spend time researching the market and determining what’s next for V2 Communications. “There are some technology companies already working on vehicle-to-vehicle communications. For example, Peloton Technology focuses on automated delivery and provides truck platooning,” Zhu explains. “One of the next steps is to do research on these companies and understand the market need. We also plan to improve our V2 solution with mmWave sensors and 5G beamforming.” “This was a great opportunity for our students to think critically and apply the things they’ve learned in the classroom,” says Dr. Dickerson. “We’re proud of them for representing us well at the finals and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for V2 Communications.”
Maggie Pavlick

May

May
4
2019

How Kevin Glunt Went From Struggling Student to Sending an A.I. Computer to the ISS

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

Around a decade ago, Kevin Glunt was more interested in drawing cars than paying attention in class, with his parents threatening that he would repeat a grade of school if he didn’t stop. Now aged 24, he’s in awe as SpaceX has launched his team’s creation into orbit: A radiation-tolerant supercomputer that will be used in experiments on sensing, image processing, and machine learning, aboard the International Space Station. “All of our names are on the board, like etched on it,” Glunt told Inverse this week, prior to the launch. “It’s like, your name will be in space. And it’s really, really weird to think about that.” It’s not just a name in space: the computer, made by Glunt and his fellow researchers and students from the University of Pittsburgh, could pave the way for a faster future in space. More powerful systems at lower cost, and with more efficient power usage, represent another step toward more reliable research in orbit. Read the full story at inverse.com.
Author: Mike Brown, inverse.com
May
3
2019

Pitt Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Sam Dickerson Wins 2019 Board of Visitors Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (May 3, 2019) — Recognizing his role in developing undergraduate programs, innovative teaching and leadership in his field, Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has won the 2019 Board of Visitors Award. “Dr. Dickerson is the epitome of a faculty member devoted to diversity for the benefits of all students, staff, and faculty, demonstrating leadership in student recruitment, student retention, community engagement, and student mentoring,” says Roberta A. Luxbacher, chair of the Board of Visitors.  “He has had a tremendous impact on the mission of the department and the school. The Board of Visitors is proud of accomplishments such as his, which are extremely important if the School is to continue to be recognized as a national force in engineering education and research." Dr. Dickerson serves as director of the undergraduate Computer Engineering program in addition to his teaching. He joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Pitt. Examples of Dr. Dickerson’s dedication to the success of all students are abundant in the department. Dr. Dickerson pushed for examination space in ECE for students with disabilities and special needs and is the faculty founder of “Chat and Chew,” a diversity program in ECE meant to engage and support URM students. He also served as faculty lead in funding female ECE students to attend the annual Grace Hopper Conference; led an NSF project to create and study new teaching methods for broad demographic groups; and led the Hands-on-Science activity for Swanson’s Investing NOW Pre-College Program. Dr. Dickerson also advises the nearly 300 undergraduate students in Computer Engineering, one of the School’s largest programs. In addition to his leadership and mentoring roles, Dr. Dickerson is nationally recognized as an innovative and passionate educator. He has received NSF funding to implement new techniques in teaching electronics and has modernized the Senior Design Project course in a way that challenges students and pushes them out of their comfort zones. Dr. Dickerson received the School’s Outstanding Educator Award this year in recognition of this work. “Dr. Dickerson is consistently ranked by students as one of the best teachers in the School, and his commitment to the teaching profession is a model for every faculty member demonstrating great passion and commitment to teaching,” says Alan George, PhD, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.  “When he was asked to assume the leadership role as director of our undergraduate program in computer engineering in 2017, his response was amazing and refreshing, replying that he would be happy to serve in this role but regretful that it would mean a reduction by one in his teaching load each year.” The Board of Visitors Award includes a $5,000 grant to support the recipient’s scholarly activities. It was presented at the Board of Visitors Dinner on May 2, 2019.
Maggie Pavlick
May
1
2019

New Pitt Supercomputer to Launch Into Space

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

This story originally appeared in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Additional coverage at Inside HPC. A novel supercomputer developed by a University of Pittsburgh team is set to journey to the International Space Station on May 1, continuing a NASA partnership meant to improve Earth and space science. (Editor’s note: The successful launch later occurred on May 4.) It will be “one of the most powerful space-qualified computers ever made and flown,” said Alan George, department chair of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who led Pitt researchers and graduate students on the project. On the space station, the supercomputer will serve as a research “sandbox” for space-based experiments on computing, sensing, image processing and machine learning. Researchers said the main objective of these experiments is progression toward autonomous spacecraft, like a more advanced version of the self-driving cars seen in Pittsburgh. This radiation-tolerant computer cluster, called the Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing (SSIVP) system, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program-Houston 6 mission (STP-H6), developed at the National Science Foundation Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC). The system “features an unprecedented combination of high performance, high reliability, low power and reconfigurability for computing in the harsh environment of space, going beyond the capabilities of previous space computers,” said George, who’s also founder and director of SHREC. The project carries over from time’s spent with the University of Florida prior to moving to Pitt in 2017, when a pair of space computers developed by Pitt students and faculty was sent aboard the space station. Last year, the new space supercomputer embarked on a 1,400-mile land-based journey for rigorous testing, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Its final, much shorter and more meaningful trip will see it travel 250 miles skyward from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the space station with the SpaceX-17 mission on a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket. Super powered Sebastian Sabogal and Evan Gretok, PhD students in electrical and computer engineering, pose by their workstation in SHREC (Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing), where they monitor their supercomputing cluster’s progress. They’ve worked on the cluster’s design, hardware configuration and image processing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh) The new space supercomputer is more than 2.5 times more powerful than its predecessor, which was launched to the space station with STP-H5 on SpaceX-10 in February 2017. It includes dual high-resolution cameras capable of snapping 5-megapixel images of Earth, for detailed aerial shots like the city of Pittsburgh, all in a system about the size of a breadbox. The H5 system will remain on the space station, working separately from the soon-to-be-launched H6 system on a dynamic set of space technology experiments until at least 2021. The H6 system is expected to be in service for three to four years after launch. The large amounts of data the new system captures will pose their own challenge. “There are limitations in communications between ground and spacecraft, so we’re trying to circumvent these limitations with high-performance onboard data processing to more quickly transfer data,” said Sebastian Sabogal, a third-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “We also want our systems to be highly responsive to processed sensor data to enable spacecraft autonomy, which would reduce the amount of human interaction needed to operate the spacecraft and interpret data.” “Everyone in the space community wants to build sensor systems that are more powerful and autonomous,” George said. “We must process the data where it’s gathered, which requires very powerful computers, but space is the most challenging place to build and deploy powerful computers.” Space, too, is a challenging place for computers to thrive due to high fluctuations in temperatures, strong vibrations during launch and higher levels of radiation — all of which can affect performance, said Sabogal. During its time in space, the supercomputer will gather and monitor data on weather patterns, deforestation, and the effects of natural disasters on Earth and the effects of space and radiation on electronic devices, among many applications in Earth and space science. A goldmine for students SHREC also is collaborating for the first time with the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, with the latter designing, assembling and testing the system chassis to meet the structural requirements from NASA for the computing system. For students, these space missions are an opportunity to hone their engineering expertise and interact closely with experts at NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing marks the first known instance of the “Pitt Script” in space. (Courtesy of Alan George) “When I initially came in, it was one of the big projects going on here,” said Evan Gretok, a second-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “I was asked if I was up for a challenge, and I was put on developing some of the flight software for some of the secondary objectives of the mission.” These secondary objectives include studies regarding flight services, hardware configuration and studies on image processing. Gretok also earned his master’s degree in the same field at Pitt this year, and he has been working with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to certify the supercomputer’s ground-station software for mission operations that will be controlled by Pitt researchers in the SHREC lab meets NASA standards. “It’s really humbling to be part of a team that has this kind of access to such innovative technology,” Gretok said. “The amount of opportunities that open up for Earth observation for data analytics and for these students to develop their own applications and algorithms is exciting to see.” Other leading researchers for the project include Matthew Barry, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, who also works with the Center for Research Computing and was in charge of thermal modeling for the computer, and David Schmidt, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, whose team was in charge of the design and construction of the aluminum chassis to house the electronics, ensuring that it meets NASA specifications. For more information on the mission visit NASA’s missions page.
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications

Apr

Apr
19
2019

Four Projects Receive Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Seed Grants

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

PITTSBURGH (April 19, 2019) — The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has announced its 2019-2020 seed grant recipients. The grants support graduate student and post-doctoral fellows on one-year research projects that are focused on sustainability. “All of the projects we have selected this year have the potential to make a lasting, positive impact on the environment,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center. “The Mascaro Center is excited to support these core teams of researchers who are passionate about sustainability.” This year’s recipients are: Towards Using Microbes for Sustainable Construction Materials:  Feasibility StudySarah Haig, civil & environmental engineeringSteven Sachs, civil & environmental engineeringMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering*Jointly funded by MCSI and IRISE Chemical Recycling of Polyethylene to EthyleneEric Beckman, chemical & petroleum engineeringIoannis Bourmpakis, chemical & petroleum engineeringRobert Enick, chemical & petroleum engineeringGoetz Veser, chemical & petroleum engineering Investigating flexible piezoelectric materials with lower water pressuresKatherine Hornbostel, mechanical engineering & materials scienceMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering Amplifying the efficiency of Tungsten Disulfide Thermoelectric DevicesFeng Xiong, electrical and computer engineering
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
18
2019

2019 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship Awarded to Ryan Brody

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 18, 2019) — Ryan Brody, a first-year MS 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 third year, is 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. “Peter Hammond represents the inventive thinking and hard work that is central to engineering,” says Brandon Grainger, PhD, associate director of the Electric Power Systems Laboratory and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Swanson. “This scholarship selects students who are not only qualified academically but who also share those qualities that have made Peter a successful engineer.” The first Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship recipient was Jacob Friedrich, MS EE, who is currently working at Aptiv on electric vehicles; the second was Thomas Cook, BS, who is currently pursuing his MS at Swanson and plans to go on for a PhD. Brody says he values learning and wants to use his experience to find solutions to interesting, practical problems and to mentor others. He plans to complete his master’s degree and pursue a PhD, studying power conversion in electric vehicles. “I hope my research will find a simple, energy efficient, low-cost, lightweight active battery cell balancing system for electric vehicles by integrating the cell balancing circuitry into the drive-train power electronics,” says Brody. “I’m grateful that this scholarship will help me achieve my goals of becoming a researcher, professor and entrepreneur.” The scholarship was presented April 10, 2019 and included a presentation by Jason Hoover, director of business development at Siemens Industry, called “Using Digitalization for Motors and Drives to Improve Productivity in Process Industries.” “We’re pleased to invest in our collective future through the Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship,” says Hoover. “We know the recipients of this scholarship will go on to mold the future with the same passion and ingenuity that allowed Pete to imagine the Perfect Harmony and bring it to life.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
11
2019

The Swanson School Presents David Toth with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Electrical & Computer

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

Apr
8
2019

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

Electrical & Computer

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

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

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

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

Apr
3
2019

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

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

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

Mar

Mar
28
2019

Swanson School of Engineering Names Sam Dickerson as 2019 Outstanding Educator

All SSoE News, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2019) — The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has presented Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Computer Engineering undergraduate program, with this year’s Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes his excellence in teaching and innovative work in developing and improving the department’s undergraduate program. The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. Dr. Dickerson joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. In addition to teaching, Dr. Dickerson plays an influential role in the development and improvement of the ECE and EE curriculums, with enthusiasm that does not go unrecognized by his peers. “Sam has modernized the way we teach our Senior Design Project course in a way that challenges the students and pushes them out of their comfort zones,” says Amro El-Jaroudi, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He has innovated in all aspects of the course: group formation, project selection, progress monitoring and project presentation. The impact of his hard work was immediately evident in the quality and depth of the designs and products created by the students.” Pushing students out of their comfort zone, while unreservedly providing the support they need, is a hallmark of Dr. Dickerson’s teaching style. “Dr. Dickerson is one of those professors who is so passionate about what he teaches that it makes students more excited to learn the material,” says Abigail Wezelis, a recent graduate who took several of Dr. Dickerson’s courses and served as a teaching assistant for his Advanced Digital Design course. “He strives to find real-world examples of the concepts that he teaches and is not afraid to teach relevant cross-disciplinary material in his classes.” “I’ve found that when students don’t see the big picture or understand how what they are learning fits in, then they quickly categorize it as being unimportant,” says Dr. Dickerson. “In order to combat this, through both lectures and laboratory exercises, I constantly give them examples where they can see how what they are learning is applied in industry.” Nominators noted that abundant examples of Dr. Dickerson’s method can be found throughout his courses. For example, in a recent course covering digital electronics, he showed students datasheet parameters, which serve as instruction manuals for electronic components, from real integrated circuit processes. According to Dickerson, these real-world examples showed students exactly why the material is relevant and how they, as future designers, will use what they are learning. In addition to teaching, Dr. Dickerson personally serves as an advisor and mentor to the over 300 students in the Computer Engineering undergraduate program. “When I asked him in 2017 to assume the leadership role as director of our undergraduate program in computer engineering, a major expansion to his faculty role, his response was amazing and refreshing, replying that he would be happy to serve in this role but regretful that it would mean a reduction by one in his teaching load each year,” says Alan George, professor and department chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He truly loves working with and helping students; it is his calling and passion.” “The most important thing in teaching is to care about your students,” continues Dr. Dickerson. “This principle helps me overcome many of the flaws I have as an educator and drives me to work hard at improving my teaching abilities. I care deeply about student success and am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that my students learn.”
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
21
2019

Pitt researchers receive $550,000 NSF CAREER award to develop new brain-computer therapy method for people with autism

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 21, 2019) … Autism was first described by U.S. researchers more than 70 years ago, and today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), affecting more than 3.5 million Americans. Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with 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. However, thanks to a $550,000 award from the National Science Foundation, engineers at the University of Pittsburgh and clinicians at the UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, 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. The multidisciplinary team includes Murat Akcakaya, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Carla A. Mazefsky, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. The proposal is funded through an NSF CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.“People on the autism spectrum today have access to effective clinical strategies or technologies, but none are coupled effectively to provide real-time feedback in real-life activities. This limits reinforcement techniques that the patient can utilize on his or her own, without the need for a clinical appointment,” Dr. Akcakaya explained. “However, by utilizing EEG to couple clinical techniques with BCI technologies, we can develop a closed-loop system that will help patients better learn how to recognize emotional triggers and respond with appropriate techniques generalizing the effects of clinical treatment strategies to real-life activities.” Akcakaya and Mazefsky will develop social interaction scenarios in virtual environments while recording EEG responses simultaneously in order to detect patterns that represent changes in distress levels. The virtual scenario will then present audio or visual cues to help remind them how to handle stress. The project will also develop new machine learning algorithms and neuroscience methods to identify EEG features associated with emotion regulation to classify between distress and non-distress conditions, and to distinguish among different distress levels.The two will also investigate the promise of these EEG and virtual reality approaches within the context of Mazefsky’s randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the US Department of Defense. The clinical trial is testing the efficacy of an intervention Mazefsky and colleagues developed, called the Emotion Awareness and Skills Enhancement (EASE) program, in 12- to 21-year-old verbal youth with ASD. “EASE emphasizes awareness of one’s own emotional responses as a foundational skill that promotes the ability to manage intense negative emotions, which is taught through mindful awareness,” Mazefsky explained. “By coupling the clinical strategies we teach in EASE with technological interventions, we believe we can enhance patients’ ability to distinguish different distress levels and therefore potentially reap even greater (and more generalized) benefit.”The CAREER award will also enable Akcakaya to 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.  “Early diagnosis and intervention can help patients with ASD and their families improve quality of life, and so providing clinicians with a new tool that both enhances and reinforces what patients learn is critical to closing the loop between triggers and responses,” Akcakaya said. “Additionally machine learning based on biological responses could also be integrated in to the existing technologically driven intervention techniques targeting patients across the autism spectrum.  Eventually, the technology could be incorporated in an accessory like a smart watch or glasses, enhancing patient privacy and building confidence.” ###

Feb

Feb
28
2019

Swanson School Undergrad Kaylene Stocking Wins the University’s Top Student Award for Scholarship

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

Click here to view the PittWire Accolade. PITTSBURGH (February 28, 2019) … The 43rd annual Honors Convocation recognized the academic achievements of nearly 3,700 students and 478 faculty members, including the University’s highest awards for undergraduate students. The Emma W. Locke Award, given to a graduating senior in recognition of high scholarship, character and devotion to the ideals of the University of Pittsburgh, went to the Swanson School of Engineering’s Kaylene Stocking. “We are very proud of Kaylene’s accomplishments,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “She has effectively leveraged Swanson School resources and her own ingenuity to achieve academic excellence within and outside of the classroom and make impactful contributions to the University community. We know she has a bright, successful future ahead!” Stocking is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both bioengineering and computer engineering. Her research has led to three journal publications, two presentations and a Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention. She is also an undergraduate teaching assistant, an Honors College ambassador and member of the Pitt orchestra. For the past two years, she has been working in the BIONIC Lab led by Takashi D. Y. Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering. Her work focuses on how researchers can improve the longevity of neural implant technology. "It has been an amazing experience to work with Kaylene,” said Kozai. “Her off-the-cuff insights into projects and scientific discussion as well as her simultaneous bird's-eye view perspective and understanding of how each individual piece of data fits into the larger story has been a major driving force in our research lab." Stocking plans to continue her education after graduating this spring. Regarding her time at Pitt, she said, “I'm so grateful for the many opportunities I've had thanks to the amazing Engineering and Honors College communities. I'd like to thank my professors, mentors, family, and friends for their encouragement and support over the last four years.” ###

Feb
26
2019

Pennsylvania's Climate Moment

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Nuclear

Forty-two percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity is generated by nuclear plants, but that percentage may decline as a result of the announced closure of two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear plants in 2019 and 2021, respectively. To explore what impact those closures will have on the Commonwealth's energy portfolio, as well as on decarbonization plans, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Energy will host a special forum, "Pennsylvania's Climate Moment," on Friday, March 8 from 11:00am - 12:30 pm in Posvar 3911. Heng Ban, PhDR.K. Mellon Professor in Energy, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering ProgramUniversity of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Hillary BrightDirector, State Policies Blue Green Alliance Sam RessinFormer PresidentUniversity of Pittsburgh Climate Stewardship Society Kathleen RobertsonSenior Manager of Environmental Policy and Wholesale Market DevelopmentExelon John WalliserSenior Vice-President, Legal AffairsPennsylvania Environmental Council For more information, contact the Center for Energy at 412-624-7476 or centerforenergy@engr.pitt.edu.

Feb
4
2019

Pitt Power Engineering Seniors Nathan Carnovale and Shamus O’Haire named IEEE PES Scholars

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (February 4, 2019) … The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)Power and Energy Society (PES) selected University of Pittsburgh seniors Nathan Carnovale and Shamus (James) O’Haire as recipients of the 2018-19 IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Award. Both are majoring in electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. This is Mr. Carnovale’s second IEEE PES Scholarship in as many years. “Being named an IEEE PES Scholar is well-respected in the field of power engineering, and both Nate and Shamus are outstanding ambassadors for our program,” said Robert Kerestes, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We are incredibly proud of their accomplishments and I think they have great potential in their future careers.”The IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative awarded scholarships to 174 electrical engineering students from 96 universities across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Applicants for the scholarships were evaluated based on high achievement with a strong GPA, distinctive extracurricular commitments, and dedication to the power and energy field. Over the past seven years, the Scholarship Plus Initiative has awarded more than $3.5 million in scholarships to students interested in pursuing a career in the power and energy industry. Carnovale and O’Haire are the Swanson School’s 11th and 12th PES recipients since the scholarship’s inception in 2011 and continue the School’s seven-year streak of at least one awardee each year. Also, according to IEEE, Pitt is one of only 16 universities that have had at least one recipient every year since 2011. About Nathan CarnovaleNate Carnovale is scheduled to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019 with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and a concentration in electric power, and plans to pursue an M.S. degree in electric power engineering at Pitt starting in spring 2020. During his undergraduate career, he interned with Eaton for two summers, working at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center and in Eaton’s Power Systems Automation services group in Warrendale, PA. There he gained experience in power systems metering and monitoring, as well as experience installing, wiring, and programming Eaton demos at the Experience Center. He will be working in Eaton’s Power Systems Controls group this summer working with microgrids. For four semesters at Pitt, Carnovale has been a teaching assistant for the Art of Making, an introductory engineering course to hands-on systems design. He is currently working 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.About Shamus (James) O’HaireShamus O’Haire is scheduled to graduate in spring 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in power systems and a minor in computer science. During his career at Pitt, he has spent three summers interning at Exelon Corp., a Fortune 100 energy company that operates electric generation nationwide as well as electric distribution in the Northeastern US. He gained industry experience in system operations, transmission planning, and substations engineering during his time with the company, and hopes these experiences will be a springboard for his future career in the power and energy industry. O’Haire currently serves as the Chief Electronics Engineer for Pitt Aero Society of Automotive Engineers, and is a member of IEEE. ###

Jan

Jan
29
2019

Lights, Camera, Action: Pitt iGEM team captures silver medal for their “Molecular Movie Camera”

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The ability to measure and record molecular signals in a cell can help researchers better understand its behavior, but current systems are limited and provide only a “snapshot” of the environment rather than a more informative timeline of cellular events. In an effort to give researchers a complete understanding of event order, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students prototyped a frame-by-frame “video” recording device using bacteria. The group created this project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which over 300 teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. The Pitt undergraduate group received a silver medal for their device titled “CUTSCENE.” The iGEM team included two Swanson School of Engineering students: Evan Becker, a junior electrical engineering student, and Vivian Hu, a junior bioengineering student. Other team members included Matthew Greenwald, a senior microbiology student; Tucker Pavelek, a junior molecular biology and physics student; Libby Pinto, a sophomore microbiology and political science student; and Zemeng Wei, a senior chemistry student. CUTSCENE aims to show a “video” of cellular activity by recording events in the cell using modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Hu said, “By knowing what time molecular events are happening inside of a cell, we are able to better understand a cell's history and how it responds to external stimuli.” Their system improved upon older methods that could only record the levels of stimuli at a single point in time. They used a movie analogy to illustrate their objective. “Try guessing the plot of a movie by looking at the poster; you can get an idea of what is going on, but to really understand the story, you need to watch the film,” said Becker. “Unless researchers are taking many snapshots of the cellular activity over time, the image doesn’t give any sense of causality. You can see that the molecule is there, but you don't know where it has been or where it is going.” For their project, the iGEM team used modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology called a base editor. The CRISPR/Cas9 system contains two key components: a guideRNA (gRNA) that matches a specific sequence of DNA and a Cas9 protein that makes a cut at the specific sequence, ultimately leading to the insertion or deletion of base pairs - the building blocks of DNA. In addition to these components, a CRISPR/Cas9 base editor contains an enzyme called cytidine deaminase that is able to make a known single nucleotide mutation at a desired location of DNA. “We achieved a method of true chronological event recording by introducing recording plasmids with repeating units of DNA and multiple gRNA to direct our base editor construct,” said Hu. “This technique will provide an understanding of the order in which molecules and proteins appear in systems.” “A recording plasmid can be thought of as a roll of unexposed film, with each frame being an identical sequence of DNA,” explained Wei. “A single-guideRNA (sgRNA) directs the CRISPR/Cas9 base editor to move along the recording plasmid, making mutations at a timed rate and constantly shifting which frame is in front of our base editor. Activated by the presence of a stimulus, another sgRNA can mark the current frame.” The iGEM team’s approach to this technology will allow them to figure out which molecules are abundant at specific times and perhaps reveal hidden, causal relationships. The information gathered from the device has many potential applications and may allow researchers to develop medicines and therapies based on the timing of the cellular malfunction. “The team did a tremendous amount of lab work over the summer, implementing the cellular event recording methodology,” said Alex Deiters, a professor of chemistry at Pitt who helped advise the iGEM team. “Most importantly, the students developed this clever idea on their own by first identifying a current technology gap and then applying modern gene editing machinery to it. The silver medal is well-deserved!” In addition to Dr. Deiters, the 2018 Pitt iGEM team was advised by Dr. Jason Lohmueller, American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Immunology; Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Computational and Systems Biology; Dr. Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering; and Dr. Cheryl Telmer, a Research Biologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Funding for the 2018 Pitt iGEM effort was provided by the University of Pittsburgh (Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, Honors College, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Swanson School of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering), New England Biolabs (NEB), and Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT). ###