Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Since its founding in 1893 by two legends, George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt has excelled in education, research, and service.  Today, the department features innovative undergraduate and graduate programs and world-class research centers and labs, combining theory with practice at the nexus of computer and electrical engineering, for our students to learn, develop, and lead lives of impact.





Sep
13
2019

Pitt Nuclear Energy Research Awarded Over $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 Professor Sam Dickerson Awarded IEEE Education Society Mac E. Van Valkenburg Award

Electrical & Computer

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
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

Upcoming Events


back
view more