Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Join With Us In Celebrating Our 2020 Graduating Class! 

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.


Read our latest newsletter below




Sep
25
2020

Not Just a Phase

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 25, 2020) —  The ability to tune the optical properties of materials is the key to many of the technologies we rely on everyday, like phone displays and fiber internet. For new applications, like high-speed computing and advanced optical storage, a new group of materials—known as phase-change materials—is especially promising. The University of Pittsburgh's Nathan Youngblood and Feng Xiong, assistant professors of electrical and computer engineering, have received $380,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study phase-change materials and overcome the challenges inherent in the technology. Phase-change materials consist of a layer of atoms that can be individually manipulated. Heating these materials causes them to switch between two or more stable states, where the atoms are either randomly positioned, like in glass, or ordered, like in a crystal. Importantly, the change is reversible, which allows it to be rewritten over and over, an aspect crucial to analog computing and deep learning applications. Optical memory, like a DVD, uses lasers to write and read information in a phase-change material. This project would combine optical readouts with electrical controls, using electrical currents to generate heat and encode information. “Other attempts to create an electrically-controlled optical memory device have resulted in short life-cycles, failing after 1,000 cycles. Blending the two technologies is a challenge, but it’s necessary for real-world applications,” explained Youngblood, who is the principal investigator on the project at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “This project will help us understand how to overcome those challenges.” The team will investigate the role of heat and mechanical expansion in the layers that make up these devices, and they will use high-resolution imaging to study the role of migration of atoms and the effect that has on reversibility of the materials. The pair also received a $501,953 NSF award earlier this year for their work investigating how light affects two-dimensional phase-change materials for use in improved storage devices. “One of the bigger issues we’re addressing is how many times they can reverse and repeat the memory storage process,” said Xiong. “Computing memory needs to do many cycles, and if we’re using electrical phase change memory, you can achieve an endurance performance of about 108 cycles - or a hundred million - times. But with current technologies combining electrical control and optical readouts, instead of one hundred million, it’s reduced to just a few thousand cycles before it starts to degrade.” Though these materials’ primary use is for storage, Youngblood and Xiong say their work can potentially also be used for optical devices with a coating that can be controlled, like a lens or screen that can perform calculations on the optical information passing through it. “This technology would be useful not only for storage but also for tenable optical components, like electrical interfaces,” said Youngblood. “If we are able to create memory cells that we can control electrically, we can apply the same technology to optical devices, like mirrors or lenses, with a coating that users can control.” The project, titled “High Endurance Phase-Change Devices for Electrically Reconfigurable Optical Systems,” began in August 2020 and is expected to last three years.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
22
2020

Under (Intraocular) Pressure

Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 22, 2020) — Diabetic patients monitor their blood glucose throughout the day, watching for peaks and valleys. Just taking a sample once during a visit to the doctor’s office would not give a clear picture of whether the patient’s diabetes is under control. The same is true of glaucoma patients, whose intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure within the eye, is too high. IOP varies throughout the day, but there isn’t yet an easy way to monitor changes at home that would provide proven, reliable readings, making it difficult for doctors to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. Piervincenzo Rizzo, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is leading a project that will help glaucoma patients monitor their intraocular pressure (IOP) at home, giving them and their doctors a clearer picture of eye health. The project recently received $1,099,984 from the National Science Foundation. The proposed device would use a cylinder containing an array of particles that, when pressed against the closed eyelid, will send an acoustic wave into the eye and wait for it to bounce back. The properties of the returning wave give the device information about the pressure inside the eye. “We’re proposing to use a special family of acoustic waves that can interact with the eye, bouncing back like an echo,” said Rizzo. “It’s like shouting into a small room versus a large one. The properties of the echo depend on the properties of the room.” Rizzo’s team includes Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School, and Ian Sigal, PhD, Ian Conner, MD, PhD, and Robert Handzel, MD, in Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology. “We understand that intraocular pressure can have a pretty wide range throughout the day, but have very few ways to assess this critical variable outside of the clinic,” explained Conner, Director of UPMC’s Glaucoma Service. “This technology really has a lot of potential to enable non-clinicians, and even patients themselves, to reliably assess intraocular pressure, which will allow their doctors to better tailor their treatments. The project, titled “Managing Glaucoma in the Digital Age: A New Tonometer to Connect Patients to their Caregivers,” will begin Oct. 1, 2020 and last four years.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
17
2020

Measuring Student Motivation and Stress During a Pandemic

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2020) … As universities continue to adapt to the evolving situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh want to understand how the ever-changing learning environment affects student motivation, stress, and valued experiences. Two Swanson School of Engineering faculty, Renee Clark and Samuel Dickerson, received an award from the National Science Foundation to lead a longitudinal study to determine the degree to which undergraduate engineering students are academically motivated several semesters after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team believes that the new safety measures implemented on campus may affect “valued college experiences” that increase motivation and help students maintain a work-life balance. They will survey which university experiences students value most and examine how the pandemic has impacted those experiences. They will also study students’ perceived motivation and stress levels using validated instruments in the semesters following the COVID-19 rules and restrictions. “The scope of this project is only step one,” said Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We suspect that students are less motivated, but with this study, we can figure out what contributed to this and determine how to mitigate it in case we need to transition to a fully virtual experience again.” Conversely, the group also wants to know if some students prefer the self-paced, flexible nature of remote learning. They have created an online assessment tool with the help of Pitt undergraduate students. Participants will be able to choose up to five “valued college experiences” and then rate the degree to which COVID-19 has impacted those experiences. “College in and of itself is stressful, but I generally find what is offered on and around campus to really complete the college experience and give me the time to enjoy myself while on campus,” said Alexander Cohen, a junior history major at Pitt who is contributing to the project. “I believe that incorporating the undergraduate viewpoint on this project helps us consider what experiences are valued the most and keep us in a healthy frame of mind, both mentally and emotionally,” he continued. They will use the MUSIC Model of Motivation by Brett Jones, professor of educational psychology at Virginia Tech, and his colleagues to formally measure academic motivation. They will similarly assess stress with the Perceived Stress Scale, a well-known, established instrument by Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and his colleagues. “This instrument measures students’ perceived stress and also will provide us with baseline data from college students who were previously studied,” said Clark, assistant professor of industrial engineering. “We can use these data to determine where our students’ stress level is in comparison and try to figure out the top stressors.” Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, Clark and Dickerson have created a flexible study that can adapt to the changing structure of higher education. “It’s more than just a survey,” said Dickerson. “We are collecting real data that we hope will reveal ways to improve the college experience and motivation and decrease stress for students who, unfortunately, found themselves in this unprecedented situation.” # # #

Sep
14
2020

Following the Current From Idea to Reality

Electrical & Computer

In March 2013, representatives from Mitsubishi Electric Company arrived from Japan to meet with University of Pittsburgh electrical engineers with a proposal: they wanted to engineer a way to identify faults within the new high voltage direct current (HVDC) system they intended to manufacture in forthcoming years. Fault identification is critical as high short circuit currents will cause equipment damage, and they needed a group of experts to propose and provide evidence that novel ideas would work as planned. The Pitt researchers—led by Founding Director of the Energy GRID Institute and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Greg Reed; Assistant Professor, Associate Director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and Eaton Faculty Fellow Brandon Grainger; and ECE then-graduate student researchers Patrick Lewis and Hashim Al Hassan—were tasked with verifying power converter performance for a US market; validating the fault finding methods for Mitsubishi; and helping to take their innovation a step farther. Now, seven years later, the company announced that this technology is finally going to market with its Voltage Source Converter (VSC)-based HVDC-Diamond. The HVDC system is a utility-scale, power electronics system used to transmit megawatts of power from point to point, converting the alternating current (AC) produced by renewable energy sources, converting it to a direct current (DC) to send through the system, and converting it back to AC on the other end. As more renewable resources find a place in the power grid, systems like this one can transmit the power quickly and reliably to load centers where it will be used. “Transmitting power through high voltage DC is important. By transmitting at a super high voltage (in this case, 500,000 Volts), current levels will drop, resulting in less losses in the overall electrical system. It’s more efficient,” explained Grainger. “But, in such a large, expensive system, things can go bad very quickly if currents flow somewhere they shouldn’t. Our main tasks were to engineer a creative way to find faults in the system and to make sure the system was designed to meet the U.S. market with the help of local engineers at Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc. in Warrendale, PA.” Faults, or short-circuits, happen when equipment degrades and allows a current to flow somewhere other than the intended path. The new system would find faults within different segments of the apparatus so they can be addressed before causing damage. With a $250,000 grant from Mitsubishi, the researchers set to work validating the findings and ensuring it would work as intended. The proposed solution did not require a communication method for the HVDC system that would allow it to relay information about faults from one end of the 1000 kilometer-long units; however, that approach was ultimately left out of the final product. Communication between station to station is important when designing equipment operating at high voltage and power. In 2016, the team at Pitt published a paper in IEEE, “Fault Section Identification Protection Algorithm for Modular Multilevel Converter-Based High Voltage DC With a Hybrid Transmission Corridor,” with their findings. Prior to publication, the team filed a patent for their technology which was awarded Aug. 4, 2020. Now, the system is being manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Company, based in Tokyo, Japan. “It’s a long road for projects to go from concept to reality, but it’s always an exciting process to be a part of,” said Grainger. “We were glad to have the opportunity to work with one of the leaders in the HVDC space. Our experience is just one example of the many ways academia and industry work together to bring innovative ideas to the marketplace.”
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
26
2020

EE Graduate Student Nathan Carnovale Receives IEEE Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 26, 2020) — The IEEE Educational Activities Board (EAB) has selected Nathan (Nate) Carnovale, graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship. The scholarship was named for Charles LeGeyt Fortescue (1876-1936), an electrical engineer who spent his career at the Westinghouse Corporation, in recognition of his contributions to the field of electrical engineering. The award is given to a beginning graduate student for one year of full-time graduate work in electrical engineering. “Nate is one of the most outstanding students in our department, and we are most excited for his ECE graduate studies sponsored by this prestigious scholarship,” said Alan George, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nate Carnovale graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a concentration in electric power and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in electric power engineering at Pitt. His current research deals with system and fault identification methods in microgrids and inverter-based generation power systems. “In his time at Pitt so far, Nate has proven to be an outstanding student and engineer,” said Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow, associate director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “I look forward to his continued work in the Department and in the field of electrical engineering.” During his undergraduate career, Carnovale interned with Eaton for two summers, working at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center for Eaton’s Power Systems Automation and Controls services groups in Warrendale, PA. There, he gained experience in power systems metering and monitoring and microgrid control systems, as well as experience installing, wiring, and programming Eaton demos at the Experience Center.  This past summer, he interned with Eaton’s Digital Office team testing and developing software for smart circuit breakers used in electric vehicle charging applications. For four semesters at Pitt, Carnovale was a teaching assistant for the Art of Making, an introductory engineering course to hands-on systems design. During his time as an undergrad, he worked 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. “To be recognized by the organization at the foundation of my industry is a great honor and means a lot to me,” said Carnovale. “I am excited that this scholarship will not only help me in my own pursuits but also my department at the University of Pittsburgh as we strive toward innovation in the electrical engineering field.”
Maggie Pavlick

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