Pitt | Swanson Engineering

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
  • Biomechanics and Medical Technologies
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Energy System Technologies
  • 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.

Read our latest newsletter below


Pitt professor models a system that can capture carbon dioxide from coal plants using capsules filled with baking soda and water


PITTSBURGH (December 12, 2018) … Although the use of renewable energy is on the rise, coal and natural gas still represent the majority of the United States energy supply. Even with pollution controls, burning these fossil fuels for energy releases a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - in the U.S. alone, coal and natural gas contributed 1,713 million metric tons of CO2, or 98 percent of all CO2 emissions from the electric power sector in 2017.1  In an effort to mitigate these effects, researchers are looking for affordable ways to capture carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust. Research led by the University of Pittsburgh and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) uses microcapsule technology that may make post-combustion carbon capture cheaper, safer, and more efficient. Model results for carbon capture system for a 500 MW coal power plant. The sizes (top row) and energy penalty (bottom row) are compared between the baking soda capsule design (left) and the traditional amine solvent design (right). The baking soda capsule reactor is smaller and requires a lot less energy than the traditional reactor design. "Our approach is very different than the traditional method of capturing carbon dioxide at a power plant,” said Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Instead of flowing a chemical solvent down a tower (like water down a waterfall), we are putting the solvent into tiny microcapsules.” Similar to containing liquid medicine in a pill, microencapsulation is a process in which liquids are surrounded by a solid coating. “In our proposed design of a carbon capture reactor, we pack a bunch of microcapsules into a container and flow the power plant exhaust gas through that,” said Hornbostel. “The heat required for conventional reactors is high, which translates to higher plant  operating costs. Our design will be a smaller structure and require less electricity to operate, thereby lowering costs.” Conventional designs also use a harsh amine solvent that is expensive and can be dangerous to the environment. The microcapsule design created by Hornbostel and her collaborators at LLNL uses a solution that is made from a common household item. “We’re using baking soda dissolved in water as our solvent,” said Hornbostel. “It’s cheaper, better for the environment, and more abundant than conventional solvents.  Cost and abundance are critical factors when you’re talking about 20 or more meter-wide reactors installed at hundreds of power plants.” Hornbostel explained that the small size of the microcapsule gives the solvent a large surface area for a given volume. This high surface area makes the solvent absorb carbon dioxide faster, which means that slower absorbing solvents can be used. “This is good news,” says Hornbostel, “because it gives cheaper solvents like baking soda solution a fighting chance to compete with more expensive and corrosive solvents.” Proposed design of a carbon capture reactor filled with baking soda capsules for a 500 MW coal power plant. Power plant exhaust is sent to hundreds of cylinders packed together (shown on right). Each cylinder (shown on left) is a hollow cylinder that lets exhaust gas flow through the core, then out through a packed bed of capsules. Hornbostel detailed her model in a recent paper in Applied Energy, “Packed and fluidized bed absorber modeling for carbon capture with micro-encapsulated sodium carbonate solution” (DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2018.11.027). “Our proposed microcapsule technology and design are promising for post-combustion carbon capture because they help make slow-reacting solvents more efficient,” said Hornbostel. “We believe that the decreased solvent cost combined with a smaller structure and lower operating cost may help coal and natural gas power plants maintain profits long-term without harming the environment.” ### 1U.S. Energy Information Administration.



MEMS, Open Positions

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) invites applications for tenure ­track positions in the areas of Cyber-Physical Systems and Data-Driven Modeling. We are seeking to fill a position in each of these areas. Successful applicants should have the ability to build an externally funded research program, as well as contribute to the teaching mission of the MEMS Department. Applicants should have a PhD or ScD in Mechanical Engineering or a related field. Applicants with outstanding track records at the associate professor and full professor levels are also encouraged to apply, but the focus will be at the assistant professor level. Cyber-Physical Systems Position:  Expertise is particularly sought in one or more of the following areas: dynamic systems and control, modeling and simulation, networked control systems, algorithm and system design, sensors and actuators, signal processing, big data and analysis, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet. We are seeking candidates who have strong interdisciplinary interests and who can collaborate across engineering disciplines; although, a primary focus on mechanical engineering is essential. Candidates should clearly explain how their research fits with CPS and how it spans the physical and cyber domains. Data-Driven Modeling Position: Expertise is particularly sought in one or more of the following areas: data-driven discovery of dynamical systems; physics-informed machine learning; data-driven predictive modeling; and multi-fidelity analysis. Candidates with research applications in the areas of data assimilation and forecast, PDE-constrained optimization, control and reinforcement learning and modern computational methodologies are especially encouraged.  We are seeking candidates who have strong interdisciplinary interests and who can collaborate across engineering disciplines, but have a primary focus on mechanical engineering. The MEMS Department currently has 30 tenured or tenure-track faculty members who generate over $8 million in annual research expenditures. The Department maintains cutting-edge experimental and computational facilities in its five core research competencies: advanced manufacturing and design; materials for extreme conditions, biomechanics and medical technologies; modeling and simulation; energy system technologies; and quantitative and in situ materials characterization. The successful candidate for this position will benefit from the resources, support, and a multidisciplinary research environment fostered by many interdisciplinary centers including the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research Computing (http://www.crc.pitt.edu). Qualified applicants should submit their applications through Interfolio at the following link:  https://apply.interfolio.com/57686. The application should include the following materials in pdf form: a curriculum vitae, a statement of research and teaching plans, and name and contact information of at least three references. Review of applications will begin on January 1, 2019, and continue until the position is filled. Candidates from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. The candidate should be committed to high-quality teaching for a diverse student body and to assisting our Department in enhancing diversity. The University of Pittsburgh is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.


Pitt Researchers Discover Surface of “Ultra-smooth” Nanomaterial Steeper than Austrian Alps


PITTSBURGH (November 29, 2018) … People can usually tell if something is rough or smooth by running their fingers along its surface. But what about things that are too small or too big to run a finger over? The earth looks smooth from space, but someone standing at the foot of the Himalayas would disagree. Scientists measure surfaces at different scales to account for different sizes, but these scales don’t always agree.New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering measured an ultrananocrystalline diamond coating, prized for its hard yet smooth properties, and showed that it is far rougher than previously believed. Their findings could help researchers better predict how surface topography affects surface properties for materials used in diverse environments from microsurgery and engines to satellite housings or spacecraft.“One important measure of the ‘roughness’ of a surface is its average slope, that is, how steep it is,” says Tevis Jacobs, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt. “We found that the surface of this nano-diamond film looks wildly different depending on the scale you’re using.” Dr. Jacobs and his team’s research appeared in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.8b09899). They took more than 100 measurements of the diamond film, combining conventional techniques with a novel approach based on transmission electron microscopy. The results spanned size scales from one centimeter down to the atomic scale. Dr. Jacobs explains, “The nanodiamond surface is smooth enough that you can see your reflection in it. Yet by combining all our measurements, including down to the smallest scales, we showed that this “smooth" material has an average slope of 50 degrees. This is steeper than the Austrian Alps when measured on the scale of a human footstep (39 degrees).”“By using electron microscopy, we were able to get the smallest end of the measurement range; we can’t even define topography below the atomic scale,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Then, by combining all the scales together, we were able to get rid of the problem of having roughness deviate between scales. We can calculate ‘true’ scale-invariant roughness parameters.”“We’ve known for one hundred years that surface roughness controls surface properties. The missing link is that we haven’t been able to quantify its effect. For example, in biomedical applications, different investigations have arrived at opposite conclusions about whether roughness promotes or degrades cell adhesion. We believe this new understanding of roughness across scales will open the door to finally solving this age-old puzzle in surface analysis.”The ultimate goal is to have predictive models of how roughness determines surface attributes such as adhesion, friction or the conduction of heat or electricity. Dr. Jacobs’ breakthrough is the first step in an uphill, and very steep, battle to create and validate these models.“We are currently making properties measurements of this nanodiamond material and many other surfaces to apply mechanics models to link topography and properties,” he says. “By finding the scales or the combination of scales that matter most for a given application, we can establish which surface finishing techniques will achieve the best results, reducing the need for a costly and time-consuming trial-and-error approach.” ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Filling the Gap: Pittsburgh Promise recipients share their success stories

MEMS, Diversity, Student Profiles

Lots of people can claim that education saved their life, but in Jackie Sharp’s case, it's literal. As a high school freshman, Sharp was struck by a car running a red light two days before Christmas. Most of the impact was absorbed by the school laptop she carried in her backpack. Its screen was shot and, it turned out, so was playing hockey competitively. Doctors checking out Sharp post-accident discovered she was missing part of a vertebrae in her neck that wraps around a blood vessel going to the brain. A puncture or hit from playing contact sports could cause that to burst. So Sharp was sidelined. “Hockey was the love of my life, and I was devastated,” she said. “A really good friend said, ‘Why don’t you join the robotics team?’ And I fell in love with engineering.” Read the full story (with subscription) at the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Author: Patty Tascarella, Senior Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times

Accelerated Insertion of Materials for Additive Manufacturing


PITTSBURGH (November 1, 2018) … Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, presents a game-changing opportunity for the space industry to produce complex components with greater efficiency at a lower cost. However, the trial-and-error method currently used to create such parts with limited materials is not suited for components that would need to survive the harsh environment of space. Thanks to a $750,000 award from NASA, researchers from QuesTek Innovations and the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering will utilize new computer modeling and optimization techniques, combined with a nickel-iron super-alloy, to enable faster adoption of additive manufacturing in various NASA missions.The principal investigator of the project, “Integrated Computational Material Engineering Technologies for Additive Manufacturing,” is Jiadong Gong, PhD, technical fellow at QuesTek in Evanston, Ill. Collaborators from the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science are Assistant Professor Wei Xiong, PhD and Associate Professor Albert To, PhD. The project is one of 20 research and technology proposals funded through Phase II of NASA’s competitive Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which supports NASA's future missions into deep space and benefits the U.S. economy. Selected proposals will support the development of technologies in the areas of aeronautics, science, human exploration and operations, and space technology. “For as promising as AM is to modern manufacturing, its acceptance by major commercial or government industries like NASA comes down to a lack of confidence in the quality of the part,” Dr. Gong said. “The majority of systems are based largely on hand-tuned parameters determined by trial-and-error for a limited set of materials, which is ineffective, costly and can contribute to mission failure.” To offset these problems, QuesTek and Pitt will work together to develop an Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) framework for Inconel 718, a commonly used super-alloy preferred for high-temperature environments in aerospace applications. Processing of Inconel will be further designed, and thus better suited for additive manufacturing versus traditional industrial manufacturing techniques, with reduced costs and greater structural integrity than traditional metals. Drs. Xiong and To will contribute Pitt’s expertise in integrated computational mechanical and materials design, supported by AM resources in the Swanson School’s ANSYS Additive Manufacturing Research Laboratory and Nanoscale Fabrication & Characterization Facility. To advance NASA’s goal to make these new technologies available commercially, the Pitt/QuesTek team will develop a software tool that can be used by OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to reduce costs and improve AM techniques for other industries such as automotive, biomedical and energy. “Research partnerships between industry and universities such as Pitt can truly help to advance new technologies, thanks to programs such as those funded by NASA,” Dr. Xiong said. “At Pitt, we have focused on process-structure-property optimization and improved computer modeling with advanced alloys to mitigate these issues and improve quality control. Combined with QuesTek’s expertise in Materials by Design®, we can accelerate the insertion of materials not only for NASA but for commercial industries as well.” ### Dr. To (left) and Dr. Xiong with an image of a microstructure produced by additive manufacturing.

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