Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Join With Us In Celebrating Our 2020 Graduating Class! 

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) is the largest in the Swanson School of Engineering in terms of students and faculty. All of our programs are ABET-accredited. The Department's core strengths include:

  • Advanced Manufacturing and Design
  • Materials for Extreme Conditions
  • Soft Matter Biomechanics
  • Computational and Data-Enabled Engineering
  • Cyber-Physical Systems and Security
  • Nuclear and other Sustainable Energies
  • Quantitative and In Situ Materials Characterization

MEMS faculty are not only world-renowned academicians, but accessible teachers who seek to inspire and encourage their students to succeed.  

The Department also has access to more than 20 laboratory facilities that enhance the learning process through first-rate technology and hands-on experience.

Each year, the Department graduates approximately 90 mechanical and materials science engineers, with nearly 100% placed in excellent careers with industry and research facilities around the globe.


Pitt Engineering Alumnus Dedicates Major Gift Toward Undergraduate Tuition Support

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Nuclear, Diversity, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (October 21, 2020) …  An eight-figure donation from an anonymous graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering and spouse to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering in their estate planning to provide financial aid to undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Pitt EXCEL Program. Announced today by Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and US Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II, the donors beques will provide tuition support for underprivileged or underrepresented engineering students who are residents of the United States of America and in need of financial aid. “I am extremely grateful for this gift, which supports the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts to tackle one of society’s greatest challenges—the inequity of opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Put into action, this commitment will help students from underrepresented groups access a world-class Pitt education and—in doing so—help elevate the entire field of engineering.” “Our dedication as engineers is to create new knowledge that benefits the human condition, and that includes educating the next generation of engineers. Our students’ success informs our mission, and I am honored and humbled that our donors are vested in helping to expand the diversity of engineering students at Pitt,” Martin noted. “Often the most successful engineers are those who have the greatest need or who lack access, and support such as this is critical to expanding our outreach and strengthening the role of engineers in society.” A Gift to Prepare the Workforce of the Future Martin noted that the gift is timely because it was made shortly after Chancellor Gallagher’s call this past summer to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all, especially for the University’s future students. The gift – and the donors’ passion for the Swanson School – show that there is untapped potential as well as significant interest in addressing unmet need for students who represent a demographic shift in the American workforce.  “By 2050, when the U.S. will have a minority-majority population, two-thirds of the American workforce will require a post-secondary education,” Martin explained. “We are already reimagining how we deliver engineering education and research, and generosity such as this will lessen the financial burden that students will face to prepare for that future workforce.” A Half-Century of IMPACT on Engineering Equity In 1969 the late Dr. Karl Lewis (1/15/1936-3/5/2019) founded the IMPACT Program at the University of Pittsburgh to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from the field of engineering. The six-week program prepared incoming first year students through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. Many Pitt alumni today still note the role that Lewis and IMPACT had on their personal and professional lives.  Under Lewis’ leadership, IMPACT sparked the creation of two award-winning initiatives within the Swanson School’s Office of Diversity: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors. Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. “Dr. Lewis, like so many of his generation, started a movement that grew beyond one person’s idea,” said Yvette Wisher, Director of Pitt EXCEL. “Anyone who talks to today’s EXCEL students can hear the passion of Dr. Lewis and see how exceptional these young people will be as engineers and individuals. They and the hundreds of students who preceded them are the reason why Pitt EXCEL is game-changer for so many.”  Since its inception, Pitt EXCEL has helped more than 1,500 students earn their engineering degrees and become leaders and change agents in their communities. Ms. Wisher says the most important concept she teaches students who are enrolled in the program is to give back however they can once they graduate—through mentorship, volunteerism, philanthropy, or advocacy.  Supporting the Change Agents of Tomorrow “Pitt EXCEL is a home - but more importantly, a family. The strong familial bonds within Pitt EXCEL are what attracted me to Swanson as a graduating high school senior, what kept me going throughout my time in undergrad and what keeps me energized to this very day as a PhD student,” explained Isaiah M. Spencer Williams, BSCE ’19 and currently a pre-doctoral student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Pitt EXCEL is a family where iron sharpens iron and where we push each other to be the best that we can be every day. Beyond that, it is a space where you are not only holistically nurtured and supported but are also groomed to pave the way for and invest into those who are coming behind you.  “Pitt EXCEL, and by extension, Dr. Lewis' legacy and movement are the reasons why I am the leader and change agent that I am today. This generous gift will ensure a bright future for underrepresented engineering students in the Pitt EXCEL Program, and will help to continue the outstanding development of the change agents of tomorrow.”  Setting a Foundation for Community Support “Next year marks the 51st anniversary of IMPACT/EXCEL as well as the 175th year of engineering at Pitt and the 50th anniversary of Benedum Hall,” Dean Martin said. “The Swanson School of Engineering represents 28,000 alumni around the world, who in many ways are life-long students of engineering beyond the walls of Benedum, but who share pride in being Pitt Engineers. “The key to our future success is working together as a global community to find within ourselves how we can best support tomorrow’s students,” Martin concluded. “We should all celebrate this as a foundational cornerstone gift for greater engagement.” ###


Designed to Make a Difference

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

A multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Pittsburgh continue to develop an Art of Making project designed to help hearing-impaired children experience music. Their work was featured the Fall 2020 Edition of Pitt Magazine. The current team continued the project through the "Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World Impact" program established by Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering. The group includes Jocelyn Dunlap, a 2019 communication sciences and disorders alumna; Natalie Neal, a 2020 materials science and engineering alumna; Jesse Rosenfeld, a 2020 mechanical engineering alumnus; Caroline Westrick, a senior bioengineering student; Dr. Joseph Samosky; Issam Abushaban, a senior computer engineering and bioengineering student; and Thomas Driscoll, a senior computer engineering student. --- The little girl spins in a circle, bounces side to side, feet stomping and hands wiggling. She dances to the beat. A special dance partner—a smiling plush monkey with elastic arms and a purple belly—hugs her neck. All around, her preschool classmates are dancing, too, copying the teacher’s steps as music fills the room. But these children aren’t hearing the music; they’re feeling it. The students are from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD). The stuffed animals they embrace contain transducers, which convert the songs playing over the classroom’s speakers (and transmitted to the monkeys via Bluetooth) into palpable vibrations, helping the hearing-impaired youth groove to Bach or Beyoncé. Click here to read the full PittMag story.
Maya Best, Pitt Magazine

Four Pitt Engineering Researchers Receive NSF CAREER Awards in 2020 Funding Cycle

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (September 28, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering closed out the 2020 fiscal year with four faculty winning CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation. This brings the total to 15 CAREER awards received by Swanson School faculty since 2016. According to NSF, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is its most prestigious award in support of 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. “I am incredibly proud of our young faculty for contributing to the Swanson School’s diverse research portfolio and achieving this important recognition in their early career,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Over the past few years, we have improved faculty resources for developing and applying for federal funding, and the number of CAREER recipients is a great indicator of our success.” The 2020 recipients include: Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineeringUncovering the Impact of Traditional and Novel Chronic Stimulation Modalities on Neural Excitability and Native Neuronal Network Function Dr. Kozai received a $437,144 CAREER award to improve the integration of the brain and technology in order to study long-standing questions in neurobiology and improve clinical applications of brain-computer interfaces. One of the challenges remaining with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Kozai has designed a wireless, light-activated electrodethat enables precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. The funding will enable him to further improve this technology. Sangyeop Lee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Machine Learning Enabled Study of Thermal Transport in Polycrystalline Materials from First Principles Dr. Lee’s $500,000 CAREER award will utilize machine learning to model thermal transport in polycrystalline materials. Developing materials with ultrahigh or ultralow thermal conductivity along a certain direction can enable new energy storage and conversion devices. However, grain boundaries - two-dimensional defects in crystal structures - exist in polycrystalline material and significantly affect thermal transport. Addressing the defects is currently not efficient - observing and experimenting with grain boundaries when creating materials can prove to be a lengthy and costly process. Machine learning may provide a more sustainable alternative. His research seeks to create a computer model that can predict the conductive properties of a material in real life, providing guidance to engineer defects for desired thermal properties. Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering Enabling Immunomodulatory Treatment of Influenza Infection using Multiscale Modeling When a person contracts a respiratory viral infection like COVID-19 or influenza, the immune system responds in a myriad of ways to eliminate the virus. Respiratory viral infections are so dangerous, however, because excessive immune responses may cause extreme lung inflammation. However, Dr. Shoemaker’s new modeling research may help doctors better predict and treat patients who are most at risk to that extreme response. His $547,494 CAREER Award will fund creation of computational models of the immune response to seasonal, deadly (avian) influenza viruses, which can help identify the best way to suppress immune activity and reduce tissue inflammation. Since this work targets the immune system and not the specific virus, the models are expected to impact many respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Scalable Ionic Gated 2D Synapse (IG-2DS) with Programmable Spatio-Temporal Dynamics for Spiking Neural Networks 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. Dr. Xiong’s $500,000 CAREER award will fund research in neuromorphic computer and artificial neural networks to replicate the spatio-temporal processes native to the brain, like short-term and long-term memory, in artificial spiking neural networks (SNN). This “dynamic synapse” that will dramatically improve energy efficiency, bandwidth and cognitive capabilities of SNNs. ###


Innovative Biocontainment Unit Shows Promise

Covid-19, Bioengineering, MEMS

U.S. Department of Defense News Release. Reposted with permission. The Army partnered with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to create a biocontainment unit that could help healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients. Researchers from the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory and the university created an individual biocontainment unit that uses negative pressure to suction the air from around a patient to filter out viral particles. This prevents environmental contamination and limits exposure to SARS-CoV-2. ''Outside of the current pandemic, the IBU could be rapidly deployed to isolate patients with any respiratory illness.'' said study co-author Dr. David Turer, a plastic surgeon who recently completed his residency at UPMC. ''It's easy to see this technology used to contain influenza, MERS, or tuberculosis, particularly in places lacking advanced hospital infrastructure.'' The device and the results of safety testing are described in a study published today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. This research was first reported by the Army in April during an effort to identify solutions to help combat the spread of COVID-19. At that time, initial approaches to minimize viral spread involved the use of plexiglass barriers, such as intubation boxes, to limit health care worker exposure when inserting a breathing tube down a patient's throat. While these barriers may mitigate exposure to larger droplets, the research team hypothesized that they do little to stop the spread of smaller, aerosolized viral particles. Army researcher and study co-author Dr. Cameron Good and Turer, along with a team of colleagues, developed prototype individual biocontainment units and tested them by performing simulated medical procedures. Using validated techniques adopted from the medical research laboratory community, they tested the IBU and a plexiglass intubation box for their ability to contain virus-sized particles from a simulated COVID-19 patient. ''Greater than 99.99% of the virus-sized aerosols were trapped by the IBU and prevented from escaping into the room,'' Good said.  ''When we tested the passive intubation box, we observed more than three times the aerosol concentration outside the box—where the health care provider is located—than inside the box. It is not safe to use these intubation boxes without actively filtering the air.'' The Food and Drug Administration recently revoked an emergency use authorization for passive plexiglass intubation barriers and mandated the use of negative pressure systems, such as the IBU, to prevent viral spread. The team is actively developing a portable vacuum and filter system that can run on a battery pack for use in austere environments where energy resources are limited, which is of particular interest for military and humanitarian applications. ''The ability to isolate COVID-19 patients at the bedside is key to stopping viral spread in medical facilities and onboard military ships and aircraft, particularly to limit transmission through close quarters or shared ventilation systems,'' Good said. The FDA is considering a recently submitted emergency use authorization. Once granted, hospitals and military units will be able to use IBUs immediately to protect health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and to prepare for future surges. ''None of this would have been possible without the extremely dedicated clinicians and engineers who rapidly designed, built, tested and validated the equipment,'' Good said. ''I want to thank Dr. Robert Turer [the brother of Dr. David Turer] from Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Nick Karlowsky from Filtech, Inc.; Dr. Lucas Dvoracek, Dr. J. Peter Rubin and Dr. Jason Chang from UPMC; and Ben Schilling and Dr. Heng Ban from the University of Pittsburgh. It truly takes a team.'' ###
(Joyce Conant, Army Research Laboratory

MEMS Staff Member Retires after 53 Years of Service


Cole Van Ormer, mechanical engineering and materials science technical staff member worked his final day at the University of Pittsburgh last week, after an impressive 53 years of service. Van Ormer was first hired by the Pitt School of Engineering shortly after returning from his second Vietnam War combat tour, where he served as a gun fire control technician and an aviation ordinance man simultaneously while aboard the USS Intrepid. He was initially hired by Pitt as an electronics technician for a project testing naval air weapons equipment. Eventually, the Pitt Defense Department contract was canceled, but Van Ormer was asked to stay on to build electronic equipment from scratch as a part of the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department. He also assisted other School faculty with projects such as building medical diagnostic equipment. Former MSE Department Chair, Dr. Harold Brody, asked Van Ormer to learn metallography and photography which led to him assisting in teaching laboratory classes in those subjects and a new found love for photography. He purchased equipment for his new hobby and began photographing commercial catalog work on the side. His photography skills also led to helping graduate students in other departments with compute-generated animation. Additionally, Van Ormer was asked to photograph for former Studio Arts Department Chair, Virgil Cantini, whose sculptures and enamel murals are found all over campus. Throughout his career, Van Ormer never stopped learning and took continuing education courses in electron microprobe at JEOL and Lehigh University. He has a degree in Economics, plus postgraduate work in Computer Science and Engineering. He learned and then trained others in the Pitt MSE department in TEM, SEM and EM. After the Benedum Hall renovation, Van Ormer’s primary responsibility was working and training in the Materials Micro-Characterization Lab (MMCL) plus training undergraduates in optical microscopy, metallography and lab safety. Van Ormer was one of the founders of the Staff Advisory Board and Staff Association Council for which he served as President and also Chaired the Grievance Committee.  He also served on University Staff Grievance Mediation Boards and Campus Police Citation appeals hearings plus as Jury Foreman for the School of Law student mock trials. In the Naval Reserve, he was trained as a Damage Control Fire Fighting Scene Leader.  Together with the Chatham College Police Department, he received law-enforcement training in a class given by the Pitt Police Academy. In addition, he attended the Pittsburgh Police Citizens Police Academy, Pittsburgh Citizen Emergency Response Team training and the National Outdoor Leadership School for Wilderness Medicine First Aid. Van Ormer served as Benedum Hall’s Emergency Marshal for several years where he responded to several accidents and medical emergencies in the building.  He also represented the School of Engineering at the University-Wide Safety Committee. Van Ormer and his late wife, Susan, have a son who received an Engineering Physics degree in MEMS, and a daughter who received a Communications degree at the Pitt Greensburg campus.   He also has a grandson and a granddaughter. Van Ormer is no doubt an upstanding citizen to the country, the community, and the University of Pittsburgh. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher describes Van Ormer as, “…one of those rare, yet vital, people whose consistent dedication and commitment have enhanced the University – and the lives of the students who have come through the University - in a way that we can all see and appreciate.”  On behalf of the MEMS department and entire University of Pittsburgh, we thank Van Ormer for his service and congratulate him on his retirement!
Meagan Lenze
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