Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Labs and Groups

The Bio Tissues and Complex Fluids Laboratory is devoted to the characterization and experimental study of complex materials. Much of our work is focused on understanding and quantifying the link between material behavior and structure. These results are used for the development of constitutive equations to model these materials in a predictive fashion. Of particular interest in this group is the behavior of cerebral vascular tissue with applications to the pathological condition of intracranial aneurysms (ICA). ICAs are abnormal dilations of arteries at the base of the brain. If untreated, an ICA can continue to expand until rupture, resulting in hemorrhage which is followed by death or severe disability in the majority of patients. A central goal of this research laboratory is to better understand the initiation, growth, and rupture of the ICA and to improve clinical treatments for this disease. The walls of the ICA differ morphologically from those of healthy vascular walls. Elastin, which is present in healthy arteries, is fragmented or missing in ICAs. A central question in this disease is why this breakdown occurs and what role it plays in the initiation and continued growth of the aneurysm. We conjecture this breakdown arises from a combination of mechanical damage and a breakdown in homeostatic mechanisms in the wall due to the particular hemodynamic loading in the region of ICA formation. Our group is the first to develop a constitutive equation to model this disruption using a structural model in which damage arises from both mechanical and hemodynamic factors. In our laboratory, we are studying this damage process. We have several custom built mechanical testing devices for this purpose and are working with the Center for Biological Imaging (CBI) of the University of Pittsburgh to quantify the structural changes to the elastin due to mechanical and enzymatic damage.

The Ceramics Processing Laboratory includes glove box facilities for chemical synthesis of powders and thin films. Powder preparation facilities allow for mixing and milling of powders, Horiba CAPA-300 particle size analyzer, Quantachrome BET surface area analysis, mini spray drier, Brookfield viscometer, uniaxial press and colloidal filtration pressurization unit, cold isostatic press. Firing facilities include a high-temperature sintering dilatometer and various tube and box furnaces for firing ceramics and melting glass at temperatures up to 1700°C in air.


The Composite Materials Laboratory is used mainly for research in penetration and fracture mechanics of composite materials, the characterization of associated dynamic failure modes, and understanding the physics of dynamic failures of new generation of composite materials.

The lab is equipped with a high-performance penetrating and fracturing Split Hopkinson Pressure Bar (SHPB) integrated to a high speed optical/CCD imaging system for high strain rate testing. The system is capable of capturing dynamic fracture, crack propagation, and fragmentation processes during composite materials failure at over 2 million frames per second.
The lab operates a laser Raman Spectroscopy for characterization of residual strengths and micro micromechanical properties of composite materials with 1 mm resolution. Heat, moisture absorption, dynamic impact, or a combination of these factors results in transformation of micro-mechanical properties of composite materials in the region of damage and beyond. Laser Raman spectroscopy is used to directly measure fiber stress at the microscopic level because Raman frequencies or unique atomic vibrational energy levels of the constituent fibers are stress-strain dependent. In many crystalline or paracrystalline materials, the Raman peak position shifts linearly to lower wave numbers under tensile strains and to higher wave number under compressive strains.

Composite materials of interest include woven composites, advanced composite materials, nano-composites, smart composite, and high-temperature materials such as ceramics.

The primary objective of the Computational Transport Phenomena Laboratory is to conduct theoretical research in fluid mechanics, combustion, heat and mass transfer, applied mathematics, and numerical methods. The emphasis of current research in this laboratory is on "understanding physics" rather than "developing numerical algorithms."

Several areas of current investigations are turbulent mixing, chemically reacting flows, high-speed combustion and propulsion, transition and turbulence, nano-scale heat transfer, magnetohydrodynamics, and plasma physics. The numerical methodologies in use consist of spectral methods (collocation, Galerkin), variety of finite difference, finite volume and finite element schemes, Lagrangian methods, and many hybrid methods such as spectral-finite element and spectral-finite difference schemes.
The laboratory is equipped with high-speed mini-supercomputers, graphic systems, and state-of-the-art hardware and software for "flow visualization." Most computations require the use of off-site supercomputers (mostly parallel platforms), for which high-speed links are available.


The Electrical Characterization Facility contains an LCR meter, impedence analyzers, and a ferroelectric testing system for measuring the dielectric properties of bulk materials and thin films. The facility also includes a microwave cavity and network analyzer used to measure dielectric constants and Q-factors at microwave frequencies.

As part of the MMCL, the Fischione Lab, a private-public parternship between Fischione Instruments and the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science of the University of Pittsburgh offers access to world-class expertise and a complete suite of state-of-the-art equipment used for high-fidelity and effective electron microscopy sample preparation. Specific instrumentation includes the Fischione Model 1010 Ion-Mill, Model 1040 NanoMill, Model 1050 TEM Mill, Model 1060 SEM Mill, Model 1070 NanoClean Plasma-Cleaner, Model 200 Dimple Grinder, Model 170 Ultrasonic Disk Cutter, Model 110 Twin-Jet Electroplisher, a Allied HighTech Products TechCut4 low speed saw and Multiprep8 automated precision sample preparation system.  After consultation with MMCL staff direct support from Fischione Instruments application scientists and engineers facilitates solution of standard and unique, unconventional electron microscopy sample preparation challenges. 


The Gas Turbine Heat Transfer Laboratory is equipped with advanced flow and heat transfer measurement facilities directed toward obtaining fundamental understanding and design strategies of airfoil cooling in advanced gas turbine engines.

Major experimental systems available include a particle imaging velocimetry, a computer-automated liquid crystal thermographic system, a UV-induced phosphor fluorescent thermometric imaging system, and a sublimation-based heat-mass analogous system. Specific projects currently under way include optimal endwall cooling, shaped-hole film cooling, innovative turbulator heat transfer enhancement, advanced concepts in trailing edge cooling, and instrumentation developments for unsteady thermal and pressure sensing.


The John A. Swanson Micro/Nanotechnology Laboratory (JASMiN Lab) is a newly established research and educational facility directed for design, fabrication, and performance characterization of various engineering systems in micro- and nano-scales. This laboratory is built upon the existing capabilities in precision manufacturing, smart materials and transducers, rapid prototyping, and semiconductor fabrication in the Swanson School of Engineering. For the full line of silicon-based MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) processing, the JASMiN Lab is equipped in clean room, located in the 6th floor of the Benedum Engineering Hall, with various facilities for photolithography, thin-film deposition (sputtering and ultrahigh vacuum e-beam evaporation), wet/dry etching, dicing, and device characterizations. The Lab is open in public and all the facilities can be easily accessed, running mainly on the basis of user usage fees. The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science is currently expanding its research capabilities to both nano-scale devices and non-silicon-based micro-devices. New fabrication equipment, such as thick-film deposition/patterning facilities, deep reactive ion etching facilities, and special equipment to develop micro/nano devices for bio-medical and energy applications, is being established. Currently, interdisciplinary research and education are actively being carried out in the JASMiN Lab. The primary research areas include microfluidics, Bio-MEMS, binary semiconductor nanotube and nanowire research, electro-active polymer films and devices, compact/miniaturized fuel cell power generation devices, thin film piezoelectric and electrostrictive micro-devices, surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices, thin film bulk acoustic wave (BAW) devices, and so on.


The Joint Replacement Biomechanics Laboratory focuses on the improvement of both the life span of joint replacements and the design of the components used in joint replacement. The laboratory is equipped for computational and experimental analyses.

A vibrating sample magnetometer (VSM) with low and high temperature stages (liquid helium to 1000°C) and a hysteresis graph are available for characterizing "hard" and "soft" magnetic materials. Also, a magnetorheological viscometer is available for measuring the mechanical properties of magnetorheological fluids.


MMCL website

The MMCL is located on the 5th floor of Benedum Engineering Hall and part of the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department. The laboratory provides instrumentation and personnel expertise for the complete microstructural characterization and analysis of materials and locally resolved micro- and nano-mechanical measurements. As part of the MMCL the Fischione Instruments Electron Microscopy Sample Preparation Center of Excellence (Fischione Lab) offers a suite of specialized state-of-the-art instruments for the artifact-free preparation of high-quality samples and for anti-contamination solutions for quantitative and highest resolution electron microscopy experiments. Major characterization equipment resources housed in the MMCL include a versatile X-ray diffractometer (XRD) platform, two scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and two transmission electron microscopes (TEM), a multi-mode scanning probe microscope (SPM), a nano-mechanical testing system, a micro-hardness tester and light-optical microscopes (LOM) for metallographic investigations and measurements. 



 The Mechanical Testing Laboratory includes two hydraulic MTS machines. One has a high temperature capability for hot deformation simulation, and the other is an MTS 880, 20,000-pound frame with hydraulic grips and temperature capability up to 1000°C. Two screw-driven machines are available, a 50,000-pound Instron TT and a 10,000-pound ATS tabletop tester (this machine has fixtures for loading in tension, compression, and bending). The facility also includes several hardness testers, including one Brinell, two Rockwell, one Rockwell Superficial, and one Vickers, plus a new Leco M-400 G microhardness tester. Two impact testers are available-one with 100 foot-per-pound and the other with 265 foot-per-pound capacity. An ultrasonic elastic modulus tester is also available. 


The Mechanics of Active Materials Laboratory focuses on the experiment- and physics-based constitutive modeling of smart materials, with a strong secondary emphasis on applications. A smart (or active) material is any material that can transform energy from one domain to another, akin to how man-made motors transform electrical energy into mechanical work. Dr. Lisa Weiland is directing the development of this new laboratory, in which active materials such as ferroelectric ceramics, electroactive and photoactive polymers, and nastic materials will be considered both experimentally and computationally. Experimental studies focus on developing characterization methods for novel materials for which there are no established procedures. Computational studies generally focus on nano length scale active response as a means to anticipate macro length scale response. The goal of research is to understand the multi-scale physics responsible for the 'smart' behavior observed in these materials in order to expand viable engineering applications which range from shape morphing structures and bio-sensors to fuel cell vehicles.


The Metals Processing Laboratory includes a cold rolling mill and various muffle and recirculating air furnaces for heat treatment of metals and alloys. Metal melting and casting facilities include air, inert atmosphere, and vacuum facilities. A special arc melting unit also provides a facility for preparing buttons and rapidly solidified ribbons.


The Micro/Bio Fluidics Laboratory is primarily devoted to (1) engineering and developing a variety of micro/bio fluidic sensors, actuator and integrated systems that enable us to handle a wide range of micro/bio objects with more direct access and to (2) studying science and engineering associated with them. In particular, most research activities are heavily involved with micro fabrications. Available equipment includes a high-power florescent microscope, a low-power microscope, optical benches, a parylene coater, computers, data acquisition systems, high-voltage amplifiers, a conductivity meter, arbitrary waveform generators, MEMS device design software, etc.


The Micromechanics and Nano-Science Laboratory is a modern facility with cutting-edge technology for the study of micromechanics and physics of micrometer and nanometer scaled structures and materials. The laboratory contains atomic force microscopes and a nano-indentation testing facility, which provide a capability of measuring load vs. displacement at scales of 10-9 Newton versus nanometer, nano-scaled adhesion, and micro-mechanical behavior for advanced materials, including semiconductors and biosystems.


With supports from federal funding agents, the current and future research activities conducted in the Microsensor and Microactuator Laboratory can be grouped in following closely related areas.


1. Fabrication and property characterization of piezoelectric, pyroelectric, and ferroelectric thin films and thick films
2. On-chip integrated microsensors and microactuators that are based on piezoelectric AlN, ZnO, and PZT thin film materials
3. Acoustic wave devices, including thin film bulk acoustic wave devices for RF and microwave frequency control application and acoustic wave sensors
4. Piezoelectric and electrostrictive ceramics, and polymers such as PZT, PMN-PT, PVDF and copolymers, electro active elastomers, magnetostrictive materials, multiferroic materials, and other functional materials for transducers and biomedical applications
5. Fabrication and characterization of semiconductor nanowires, nanoparticles, and multifunctional nanocomposites. The laboratories accommodate extensive fabrication and characterization capabilities for functional materials and devices.


Complete facilities are available for the preparation of metallic, ceramic, and polymeric materials for optical techniques. Preparation facilities include grinding and polishing machines, electropolishing and etching apparatus, microtome, and thin section apparatus. Imaging facilities include microscopes for examination and recording in bright-field, dark-field, polarized, transmitted, and reflected light and in differential interference contrast. The metallography facility has acquired two new optical microscopes, including Olympus BX60M Upright and Olympus PM63 Inverted microscopes with motorized X-Y stage. Digital and high-resolution black-and-white and color video cameras, image grabbers, and image processing and analysis software are available.

In the Oxidation Laboratory, equipment is available for high-temperature oxidation and corrosion experiments, including controlled atmosphere microbalances, cyclic oxidation furnaces, and acoustic emission apparatus.


In the Scanning Probe Microscopy Laboratory, a Digital Instruments Dimension 3100 scanning probe microscope permits atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), and magnetic force microscopy (MFM) investigations in a single platform. Samples up to eight inches in diameter can be scanned in ambient air or fluids, and automated stepping can be used to scan multiple areas of the sample without operator intervention. The Dimension 3100 SPM is well suited for fundamental studies of the surfaces of all classes of materials as well as semiconductor wafers, lithography masks, magnetic media, CD/DVD, biomaterials, optics, and other demanding samples.

The SEM laboratory is part of the MMCL. Its two separate SEM platforms provide capabilities for studies of surface topography and morphology, elemental composition and crystal orientation analyses. The JEOL JSM 6610-LV with Oxford EDS and EBSD is a tungsten-cathode equipped analytical SEM that accepts large samples (diameter ≤8”) and can operate in a low-vacuum (Environmental) mode. The FEI Apreo Hi-Vac is equipped with a field-emission gun (FEG) and optimized for high-through-put integrated back-scatter diffraction (EBSD) based orientation imaging microscopy (OIM) and energy-dispersive-spectroscopy (EDS) studies for crystal orientation and phase mapping (Team Pegasus Hikari Super Octane 25, Edax). The FEI Apreo FEGSEM is equipped with an Everhart-Thornley secondary electron (SE) detector, two additional in-lens SE detectors for separation of high and low energy SE signals and a segmented back-scatter electron (BSE) detector offering atomic number sensitive contrast formation. This state-of-the-art analytical high-resolution FEGSEM is capable of imaging with 1nm (1.3nm) at 15kV (1kV) without beam deceleration and 1nm at 1kV with beam deceleration. The two SEM instruments permit elemental mapping by energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) for elements of heavier than Boron (Z>6). 

This Sound, Systems, and Structures Laboratory is dedicated to development, modeling, and experimental characterization of active systems at the micro (MEMS) and macro scales. The diverse range of projects typically blend the related fields of acoustics, noise control, hearing loss prevention, vibrations, structural-acoustic interaction, controls, and analog/digital signal processing. A 1,000 ft2 laboratory equipped with state-of-the-art equipment is complemented with an ancillary 250m3 anechoic chamber facility. Past and current applications include biological modeling and control, analysis of novel composite structures, development of automated classification systems, and hearing loss prevention.

The SPM laboratory is part of the MMCL. Its DI Dimension 3100 SPM has recently been upgraded with new control electronics and software and permits atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), and magnetic force microscopy (MFM) investigations in a single platform. This multi-modal surface morphology and property characterization instrument accepts samples up to eight inches in diameter for SPM analyses in air or fluids and automated stepping can be used to scan multiple areas of the sample without operator intervention. The Nano-mechanical test system is a Hysitron TI900 Triboindenter which allows nano-Newton level resolution depth-resolved measurements of hardness and elastic modulus Both normal (hardness) and lateral (friction) force loading configurations are available to provide a sub-micron scale testing arena with real-time data collection and nanometer resolution in-situ SPM imaging. 


The TEM laboratory is part of the MMCL. It offers access to two separate 200kV TEM platforms. The FEI Tecnai G2 F20 S-Twin TMP microscope is a true multi-purpose computer controlled analytical high-resolution FEG TEM. It offers an information limit of 0.11nm and a lateral spatial resolution at Scherzer defocus of 0.24nm for high resolution atomic lattice imaging (HREM) in combination with a specimen tilt range of ≤±35˚ and capable of forming intense electron probes as small as ≈0.4nm in diameter. The FEI Tecnai G2 F20 S-Twin is equipped with a bottom-mounted 2kx2k CCD camera, and EDS detector for elemental analysis and a precession electron diffraction assisted automated crystal orientation mapping  (NanoMegas Topspin / Astar) for 1nm lateral spatial resolution OIM for quantitative studies of texture, crystallite size, strain and phase fractions in the TEM specimens. It is used for routine high-resolution lattice imaging and permits analysis and characterization of the detailed microstructural and micro-chemical changes in materials by diffraction (selected area, convergent beam and nano-beam diffraction) and EDS with 0.4nm diameter probe size electron beams. This facilitates the study of material interfaces, observing microstructural defects, dislocations, precipitates, and quantifying elemental composition and elemental segregation at the nanometer scale. The Jeol JEM 200CX instrument offers a large sample tilt range of ≤60˚, very fast specimen exchange and 0.34nm information limit. It is used for conventional diffraction contrast (bright and dark field) imaging and selected area diffraction investigations. Apart from standard single-tilt and double-tilt low-background analytical specimen holders, numerous specialized sample holders for specimen cooling, heating, straining and for analytical or specialized crystallographic studies are available or acquisitions in the near future are in planned to support increasing interest and needs for in-situ studies.

The department has thermogravimetric analysis and differential thermal analysis capabilities.


The Thermal Science and Imaging Laboratory is equipped with advanced flow and heat transfer measurement facilities directed toward obtaining fundamental understanding and design strategies for advanced thermal control systems. Major equipment includes a subsonic wind tunnel, a particle imaging velocimetry, a computer-automated liquid crystal thermographic system, a UV-induced phosphor fluorescent thermometric imaging system, and a sublimation-based heat-mass analogous system. Specific projects currently under way include optimal endwall cooling, shaped-hole film cooling, innovative turbulator heat transfer enhancement, advanced concepts in trailing edge cooling, and instrumentation developments for unsteady thermal and pressure sensing.


The Vibration and Control Laboratory is devoted to the study of smart structures and microsystems. The primary focus is on the use of smart materials in a variety of applications, including structural vibration control, microelectromechanical systems (including sensors, actuators, resonators, and filters), and energy harvesting. The laboratory is well equipped for experimental and analytical research. Equipment includes computers and data acquisition hardware for simulation and real-time control of dynamic electromechanical systems; a variety of modern transducers and instrumentation for sensing, actuation, and measurement such as dynamic signal analyzers, shakers, high voltage power supplies, and amplifiers, as well as a variety of basic instrumentation and sensors and a work center for constructing electronics and test rigs, with emphasis on piezoelectric systems.

In the XRD Laboratory, two Philips X'pert diffractometers are available. One unit is dedicated to powder diffraction and includes a platinum furnace capable of temperatures up to 1600°C as well as a vacuum furnace capable of temperatures above 2000°C. The second diffractometer has a thin film attachment and a Eulerian cradle useful for the study of crystallographic textures and the determination of pole-figures. Computers for online and offline processing and analysis of diffraction data are also available in this laboratory.