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
  • 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.

Feb
10
2021

Origami Powered by Light

Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 10, 2021) — If you watch the leaves of a plant long enough, you may see them shift and turn toward the sunlight through the day. It happens slowly, but surely. Some man-made materials can mimic this slow but steady reaction to light energy, usually triggered by lasers or focused ambient light. New research from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has discovered a way to speed up this effect enough that its performance can compete against electrical and pneumatic systems. “We wanted to create machines where light is the only source of energy and direction,” explained M. Ravi Shankar, professor of industrial engineering and senior author of the paper. “The challenge is that while we could get some movement and actuation with light-driven polymers, it was too slow of a response to be practical.” When the polymer sheet is flat, the light animates it slowly, curving or curling over time. The researchers found that by forming the polymer into a curved shape, like a shell, the bending action happened much more quickly and generated more torque. “If you want to move something, like flip a switch or move a lever, you need something that will react quickly and with enough power,” said Shankar, who holds a secondary appointment in mechanical engineering and materials science. “We found that by applying a mechanical constraint to the material by confining it along on the edges, and embedding judiciously thought-out arrangements of molecules, we can upconvert a slow response into something that is more impulsive.” The researchers used a photoresponsive azobenzene-functionalized liquid crystalline polymer (ALCP) film that is 50 micrometers thick and several millimeters in width and length. A shell-like geometry was created by confining this material along its edges to create a curve. Shining light on this geometry folds the shell at a crease that spontaneously nucleates. This folding occurs within tens of milliseconds and generates torque densities of up to 10 newton-meters per kilogram (10Nm/kg). The light driven response is magnified by about three orders-of-magnitude in comparison to the material that was flat. “The outcomes of the project are very exciting because it means that we can create light powered actuators that are competitive with electrical actuators,” said Kaushik Dayal, coauthor and professor of civil and environmental engineering at CMU. “Our approach towards scaling up the performance of light-driven polymers could reinvent the design of fully untethered soft robots with numerous technological applications,” added lead author and post-doctoral researcher at CMU Mahnoush Babaei. The paper, "Torque-dense Photomechanical Actuation,” (DOI: 10.1039/D0SM01352H) was published in the journal Soft Matter.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
4
2021

Finding Inspiration in the Stars

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 4, 2021) — Ever since her father gifted her a telescope when she was a child, Aarti Patel (BSME ‘22), a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, has had an eye toward the stars. “When I was younger, my nights looking at the sky were the most inspired I ever felt,” said Patel, who is studying mechanical engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. “With that, I became curious and eager to learn more about aerospace technology and wanted to contribute to its advancement.” Since then, she has relentlessly pursued that dream. In recognition of her drive and passion, Patel was recently named among the competitive 2021 Class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. The organization recognizes exceptional undergraduate women and other gender minorities who are entering the aerospace industry. Fellows are matched with an executive-level mentor to help launch their careers and will be invited to the annual Brooke Owens Summit, to be held virtually at the end of the year. This year, 44 undergraduates were chosen as “Brookies” out of more than 800 applicants. The selected fellows have demonstrated “their desire to pursue a career in aerospace, a record of leadership, a commitment to their communities, and their inexhaustible creativity,” according to the organization. In her studies at Pitt, Patel has taken a keen interest in mechanical design, analysis and mission operations for launch vehicles. In addition to her engineering classes, internships in the aerospace industry and undergraduate research, Patel was a co-founding member of Pitt’s Society of Astronautics and Rocketry (SOAR) and now serves as one of the Chief Engineers of the NASA Student Launch Team at Pitt. Patel’s creativity is evident not only in her research and industry work, but also in her art—as a NASA Psyche Inspired Intern, she creates meaningful art for the upcoming Psyche Mission to explore an asteroid, with the purpose of public engagement and education. She hopes to continue that work in her career, where she plans to mentor girls and first-generation students in stem and bridge the connection between art and science. “For me, art has always been more than a creative outlet—it has inspired me to keep learning and to explore the unknown,” she said. “So, with that I hope to create inspiring and educational space art for the public and students.” Patel has worked as a Defense Division Engineering Co-op at Curtiss-Wright and is currently an Integrated Test Engineering Intern at Blue Origin. This summer, she will intern at Airbus U.S. Space & Defense in Arlington, Va. Patel hopes these experiences, along with the support and mentorship of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, will help her launch a compelling career in the aerospace industry. “It is an exciting time in the industry with the upcoming missions to the moon and Mars along with more breakthroughs being made with reusable launch vehicles,” said Patel. “I hope to have a diverse experience in the work that I do and to make a difference as I continue to explore all the super exciting roles that engineers take on.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
26
2021

Getting on a Pipeline’s Nerves

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 26, 2021) — When you stub your toe, a chain of nerves sends a signal from your toe to your brain—ouch!—to let you know that there might be damage. The human body is great at monitoring its own condition. Why not apply that same system to critical infrastructure that requires nonstop monitoring? Research led by Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received $1 million in funding to utilize Pitt-developed optical fiber sensor technology as the “nerves” of critical infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines, to mimic the principle of a nervous system. The Ohodnicki Lab will collaborate with Pitt’s Kevin Chen, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Jung-Kun Lee, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, as well as researchers Kayte Denslow and Glenn Grant from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The group received $1 million from Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) REPAIR (Rapid Encapsulation of Pipelines Avoiding Intensive Replacement), a program of the U.S. Department of Energy. “The ‘legacy’ natural gas distribution pipelines, made of cast iron, wrought iron and bare steel, account for a disproportionate number of gas leaks and pipe failures,” explained Ohodnicki. “Smart monitoring technology like we are developing will allow utility providers to monitor the integrity of these pipes in real time and, when combined with artificial intelligence and in-situ cold-spray repair technology, can allow for preventive repairs prior to catastrophic failures.” The research will embed optical fiber sensors internal to the pipeline to create an “innervated” pipeline system that enables monitoring the integrity of the pipes through monitoring of acoustic and vibrational signatures of defects.  By combining the embedded sensors with artificial intelligence and machine learning and integrating into an overarching digital twin of the pipeline system, an “intelligent” pipeline can be realized that allows for targeted in-situ repairs of defects through an emerging robotic crawler deployable technology known as cold-spray with reduced downtime and dramatically reduced repair costs. In addition to technology development and demonstrations, the team also plans to develop an economic model for in-situ repair and sensor-embedded coating technology as well as a detailed set of modifications to the existing and standard regulatory requirements required for commercialization.  These economic and regulatory issues will be addressed through consultation with an industry advisory group established to collaborate with the project team. The project is titled “‘Innervated’ Pipelines: A New Technology Platform for In-Situ Repair and Embedded Intelligence” and kicked off on January 1st, 2021.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
25
2021

A Microscopic Look at Aneurysm Repair

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 25, 2021) — Hitting a pothole on the road in just the wrong way might create a bulge on the tire, a weakened spot that will almost certainly lead to an eventual flat tire. But what if that tire could immediately begin reknitting its rubber, reinforcing the bulge and preventing it from bursting? That’s exactly what blood vessels can do after an aneurysm forms, according to new research led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. Aneurysms are abnormal bulges in artery walls that can form in brain arteries. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in almost 50% of cases. The research, recently published in Experimental Mechanics, is the first to show that there are two phases of wall restructuring after an aneurysm forms, the first beginning right away to reinforce the weakened points. “Imagine stretching a rubber tube in a single direction so that it only needs to be reinforced for loads in that direction. However, in an aneurysm, the forces change to be more like those in a spherical balloon, with forces pulling in multiple directions, making it more vulnerable to bursting,” explained Anne Robertson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, whose lab led the research. “Our study found that blood vessels are capable of adapting after an aneurysm forms. They can restructure their collagen fibers in multiple directions instead of just one, making it better able to handle the new loads without rupturing.” Researchers have known that blood vessels have the ability to change and restructure over time, but this study represents the first observation of a new, primary phase of restructuring that begins immediately. The researchers used a rabbit model developed by David Kallmes of the Mayo Clinic to observe this restructuring in the brain tissue over time. To see this process up close, the researchers partnered with Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging, taking advantage of the center’s state-of-the-art multiphoton microscopes to image the architecture of the fibers inside the aneurysm wall. “We found that the first phase of restructuring involves laying down an entirely new layer of collagen fibers in two directions to better handle the new load, while the second phase involves remodeling existing layers so their fibers lie in two directions,” explained Chao Sang, who was a primary investigator on this research as part of his doctoral dissertation in Pitt’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science “The long-term restructuring is akin to a scar forming after a cut has healed, while this first phase that we observed can be thought of as having a role similar to clotting immediately after the cut—the body’s first response to protect itself,” added Robertson, who has a secondary appointment in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. “Now that we know about this first phase, we can begin to investigate how to promote it in patients with aneurysms, and how factors like age and preexisting conditions affect this ability and may place a patient at higher risk for aneurysm rupture.” The investigative team includes Robertson and graduate students Chao Sang and Michael Durka from Pitt, Simon Watkins from the Center for Biologic Imaging, and David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding, and Daying Dai from the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology. The paper, “Adaptive Remodeling in the Elastase-Induced Rabbit Aneurysms,” (DOI:10.1007/s11340-020-00671-9) was published in the journal Experimental Mechanics and was authored by Chao Sang, Michael Durka and Anne Robertson at the Swanson School; David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding and Daying Dai at the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology; Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
13
2021

Breathing Easier with a Better Tracheal Stent

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 13, 2021) — Pediatric laryngotracheal stenosis (LTS), a narrowing of the airway in children, is a complex medical condition. While it can be something a child is born with or caused by injury, the condition can result in a life-threatening emergency if untreated. Treatment, however, is challenging. Depending on the severity, doctors will use a combination of endoscopic techniques, surgical repair, tracheostomy, or deployment of stents to hold the airway open and enable breathing. While stents are great at holding the airway open and simultaneously allowing the trachea to continue growing, they can move around, or cause damage when they’re eventually removed. New research published in Communications Biology and led by the University of Pittsburgh is poised to drastically improve the use of stents, demonstrating for the first time the successful use of a completely biodegradable magnesium-alloy tracheal stent that avoids some of these risks. “Using commercial non-biodegradable metal or silicone based tracheal stents has a risk of severe complications and doesn't achieve optimal clinical outcomes, even in adults,” said Prashant N. Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor of bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. “Using advanced biomaterials could offer a less invasive, and more successful, treatment option.” In the study, the balloon-expandable ultra-high ductility (UHD) biodegradable magnesium stent was shown to perform better than current metallic non-biodegradable stents in use in both in lab testing and in rabbit models. The stent was shown to keep the airway open over time and have low degradation rates, displaying normal healing and no adverse problems. “Our results are very promising for the use of this novel biodegradable, high ductility metal stent, particularly for pediatric patients,” said Kumta, who also holds appointments in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We hope this new approach leads to new and improved treatments for patients with this complex condition as well as other tracheal obstruction conditions including tracheal cancer.” The paper, “In-vivo efficacy of biodegradable ultrahigh ductility Mg-Li-Zn alloy tracheal stents for pediatric airway obstruction,” (DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-01400-7), was authored by the Swanson School’s Jingyao Wu, Abhijit Roy, Bouen Lee, Youngjae Chun, William R. Wagner, and Prashant N. Kumta; UPMC’s Leila Mady, Ali Mübin Aral, Toma Catalin, Humberto E. Trejo Bittar, and David Chi; and Feng Zheng and Ke Yang from The Institute of Metal Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Maggie Pavlick
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