Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Mar

Mar
1
2021

Pitt’s Manufacturing Assistance Center Expands to Pitt Titusville and Partners with Conturo Prototyping in Homewood

Industrial, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (March 1, 2021) … In a strategic move to adapt to the economic challenges of COVID-19 while providing greater reach and more flexible programming, the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) will expand its program to Pitt’s Titusville campus while launching a new hands-on partnership with Conturo Prototyping LLC in Homewood. The restructuring extends the MAC’s career training and placement program to prospective students in Crawford and surrounding countries, and links with Conturo Prototyping to continue to provide the hands-on curriculum to students in Homewood. Remote learning will still be provided from the MAC’s current home location at 7800 Susquehanna Street, and eventually extended to the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood and the Hill District CEC . Additionally, the curriculum will be made more accessible for working students by front-loading the three-week computer-based sessions, followed by a three-week machine program. Since many of the MAC’s students are adult learners with different time constraints than traditional students, the shift to a 50-50 hybrid model and compressed curriculum will be more accessible. “This restructuring is an exciting urban-rural partnership that will expand the reach of the University of Pittsburgh in a meaningful way,” said Dr. Catherine Koverola , Pitt-Titusville president. “We look forward to continuing to work with all of our hub partners to bring to fruition this innovative educational model, which will help to meet the education and workforce needs of our neighbors in the Titusville region.” Bopaya Bidanda , co-founder of the MAC and department chair of industrial engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, explained that COVID-19 required a reimagination of the MAC’s day-to-day operations by integrating virtual learning with the instruction of competitive manufacturing skills. “There continues to be a pressing need for advanced manufacturing training both in the city and across Pennsylvania’s rural counties, especially those surrounding Pitt’s Titusville campus. By streamlining our delivery system, we can reach more students while operating more efficiently within our resource constraints,” Bidanda said. “COVID-19 created a financial hardship for our operating model and so pivoting to an online curriculum and a shorter, intensified hands-on component allows us to reformat the MAC, serve a greater population, and more quickly get our graduates in front of employer demand.” Bidanda added that the MAC will be another strong component for the Titusville Education and Training Hub and further support workforce training in Crawford and surrounding counties. The University in 2018 began its transition of the Titusville campus to a community-focused resource with a combination of traditional college courses and vocational training, with both academic and corporate partners. The MAC’s new partnership with Conturo Prototyping, according to company founder and Swanson School alumnus John Conturo, helps to solve three obstacles: maintaining the MAC’s presence in Homewood; providing accessible training for communities east of the City; and addressing the “skills gap” in the machining and manufacturing industries. “Over the past few decades there has been a sharp decrease in the number of individuals pursuing trades rather than a traditional 4-year degree, especially in manufacturing. Because of this, the skills gap is making it difficult to keep up with demand for precision parts and machining services. If the workforce to address that demand doesn't exist, we need to create it,” Conturo explained. Indeed, Conturo and his company were planning on developing their own advanced training facility and curriculum until he learned that a partnership with the MAC would address public, private, and community needs. “I’ve employed a handful of MAC students, so I know the quality of students that come out of the program. By creating this partnership with the MAC, I can expand to a new facility in Homewood to accommodate more full-time staff and resources; absorb the classes currently offered; provide more advanced resources for hands-on training in a state-of-the-art facility; and provide a stronger, successful resource for Homewood and surrounding communities.” Lina Dostilio , associate vice chancellor for community engagement, noted that Pitt’s Community Engagement Centers (CECs) will be an important resource that was unavailable when the MAC relocated to Homewood from Harmar Township in 2018. “The CECs will lift some of the burden from the MAC’s operational structure,” she explained. “We can help to market the MAC to prospective students, especially in the city’s underserved neighborhoods, and will include virtual programming through our CEC in the Hill’s Digital Inclusion Center. The delivery of the online interface, any proctoring or office hours, and educational support will still be led by the MAC.” Bidanda noted that most student costs are absorbed through external funding, including grants, workforce redevelopment funds, trade adjustment, and the GI Bill. The MAC’s placement rate for graduates is a healthy 95%. James R. Martin II , U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt, emphasized that this new model maintains the MAC’s mission and Pitt’s commitment to the communities it serves while addressing employer demand for workforce manufacturing skills. “The strength of a major university like Pitt is its ability to see beyond traditional academics and research to support the people who live in its communities and to provide lifelong learning skills,” Martin said. “Engineering in particular, which throughout history has helped people develop tools and new learning that then advance society, is the perfect conduit for connecting people with the knowledge they need to advance their own lives. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has forced academia and industry alike to regroup and develop new programs that address the needs of the communities we serve. I am incredibly proud of how the MAC, Dr. Koverola, the CECs, and John have come together to develop what I think will be a stronger program than when we started.  This is a win-win all around.” ### About Conturo Prototyping LLCConturo Prototyping is a precision manufacturing company located in the East End. With a specialty in producing complex machined components, Conturo plays a vital role in the local technology ecosystem by providing parts for autonomous vehicles, cutting edge robotics, moon landers and much much more.  The business was founded in 2016 by Pittsburgh native, John Conturo after he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Since inception, the enterprise has experienced rapid growth and now occupies 17,000 sq ft with a staff of 21 full time machinists, engineers, technicians and administrators across both of locations in Pittsburgh, PA and Boston, MA.

Feb

Feb
26
2021

Pitt IRISE Consortium Welcomes CAWP as Newest Member

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 26, 2021) — The University of Pittsburgh is proud to announce that the Constructors Association of Western PA (CAWP) is the sixth and newest member to join the Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering (IRISE) Consortium. IRISE is a research consortium that is housed in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. Its focus is on finding solutions for more durable, longer lasting transportation infrastructure that will avoid the high cost and disruption caused by highway rehabilitation. The IRISE collaboration focuses on developing innovative, implementable solutions that meet the needs of its members. CAWP will join other regional public and private partners who represent both the public agencies that own and operate the infrastructure and the private firms that design and build it, including Allegheny County Department of Public Works, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Golden Triangle Construction, and Michael Baker International. For over 85 years, the members of CAWP have worked together as an industry to tackle the important issues facing the heavy, highway and utility construction industry in Western Pennsylvania. “CAWP is pleased to be able to bring the perspective of the construction industry to the IRISE consortium,” said CAWP Executive Director Richard J. Barcaskey. “As a collaborative organization ourselves, we understand the benefits and power of working together to develop innovative solutions to critical problems.” Julie Vandenbossche, Ph.D., P.E., the Director of IRISE said, “We welcome CAWP as our newest member and are excited about expanding our ability to reach out to the actual builders to better ensure the tools and technology we develop can be applied in practice and produce increased construction efficiency and worker safety.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
25
2021

ECE Professor Heng Huang Receives Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 25, 2021) — Heng Huang, the John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been named a Senior Scholar in this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Awards. The Award honors faculty members who have an outstanding record of research and academic achievement. Recipients received letters from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and will receive a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant to support their teaching, research or public service activities. The selection committee noted that they were impressed by Huang’s “exceptional contributions to machine learning, artificial intelligence and biomedical data science, which have made an impact on a national and international scale and have a wide range of industrial applications.” His peers remarked, “Dr. Huang’s accomplishments are among the most significant contributions to the fields of machine learning, bioinformatics, and neuroinformatics in recent years.” They added, “Dr. Huang is a truly gifted and unique outstanding researcher with extraordinary skills and abilities in the research of data mining and machine learning.” You can find the full list of this year’s recipients in the University Times.

Feb
24
2021

One to Watch: College Student Prepares to Help Shape the Future of Electrical Engineering

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

Reposted from IEEE. Click here to view the original story. Poised to graduate with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) in 2022, Maurice Sturdivant, who hails from Toledo, Ohio, is excited by the prospect of joining the next generation of electrical engineers. Maurice’s interest in engineering was sparked when he began thinking about possible college majors in high school. Originally intent on studying patent law, Maurice had thought to study engineering to build up his technical background. The more he learned about the field, however, the more interested he became in it – especially the opportunities it afforded in terms of applying his technical skills in a hands-on fashion. Through further research and co-op experience, he came to realize that preparing for a career related to electrical power and renewable energy was just what he was looking for. “Electrical engineering is a very broad field, and I liked all the possibilities – especially when it comes to making sure we have sustainable power systems for the future,” he explained. “More than anything, I was drawn in by knowing there are plenty of ways that I can contribute and make sure my work counts.” An active member of the Pitt chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society (PES), Maurice noted that mentorship has played a prominent role in his life, and he is looking forward to the day when he can “pay it forward” and mentor others. It was, in fact, largely due to the encouragement he received from Dr. Robert Kerestes, director of Pitt’s Undergraduate Electrical Engineering Program, to “put himself out there and get involved” that led Maurice to join IEEE/PES on campus. “As a student member [of IEEE], I have gotten to know both undergraduate and graduate students through our PES club, which has expanded my network and given me the opportunity to learn about their different perspectives. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing this major, but we’re all connected by our common interests.” Maurice also serves as parliamentarian of the Pitt chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, is vice president of the Panther Amateur Radio Club, and is actively involved in the Pitt EXCEL Program – an undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. It was all of these things, in addition to two co-op rotations at GE Power Conversion, and his participation in the Pitt EXCEL Summer Research Internship (SRI) under Brandon Grainger, PhD, assistant professor and associate director of the Electric Power Systems Laboratory in Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, that helped Maurice earn a prestigious 2020-21 Scholarship Plus Award from IEEE’s Power and Energy Society. “Applying for the scholarship not only helps support my education, but it gives me the opportunity to further involve myself in PES,” he said. “I owe so much to my mentors,” Maurice noted. “One of my biggest inspirations has been seeing other people with similar backgrounds to my own succeed in engineering and other fields. Having a diverse group of people willing to share their advice and experience has helped me in several ways. The best way I can think to give back is to share what I learn and build genuine connections with other aspiring engineers.” An avid goal setter, Maurice is already planning for life after college. His plans include going on to get his master’s degree in electrical engineering before moving up through the ranks in industry. “My goal is to find opportunities where I can work to develop more intelligent and efficient electric power systems,” he said. “Ideally, I would like to increase the availability of, and access to, these systems so that they make an impact where they are needed most.” For now, however, Maurice is looking forward to continuing his educational journey at Pitt and taking advantage of all the opportunities that lie ahead – which include a summer internship at Ford Motor Company. “I’m taking a multifaceted approach to experience as many different areas of electrical engineering as I can,” he said. “At times, it’s easy to think of engineering as purely technical, but that’s not always true because much of what you do as an engineer will affect someone. As the world keeps changing, engineering will continue to improve lives by solving problems, and I want to help find those solutions.”

Feb
22
2021

Undergraduate Ethan Arnold-Paine Wins De Nora Pitch Competition with PFAS Remediation System Idea

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 22, 2021) — When Ethan Arnold-Paine, an undergraduate studying chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, arrived virtually at the De Nora Student Pitch Competition and got a look at his competition, it shocked him. “A lot of them were grad students from really top-tier schools,” he said. “I was surprised to be up against them.” Still, when it came time to pitch his idea for a new PFAS remediation system, an idea being worked on in David Sanchez’s Sustainable Design Labs at the Swanson School of Engineering, he delivered—and he won. The competition took place on Nov. 13, 2020 as part of the 9th De Nora Symposium. De Nora, a company that develops and supplies electrode technologies and water disinfection and filtration systems, selected 17 students to pitch their research projects to a panel of expert judges in the field. The competition took the place of the symposium’s in-person poster sessions. Arnold-Paine’s pitch won first place across all categories. PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, are an emerging contaminant. They are a class of man-made chemicals valued for their non-stick properties and often used in food packaging, nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing and more. Troublingly, the compounds don’t break down naturally and accumulate in soil and water over time; there is evidence that exposure has adverse effects on human health. Arnold-Paine presented a closed-cycle PFAS remediation system that uses a fast-growing plant—such as bamboo or cattails—to absorb the PFAS from contaminated water as it’s run through a hydroponic system. After a growth cycle, the plants would be harvested and sent to a biomass furnace to be turned into char. The char then could be recycled as a filter bed in the system to absorb even more PFAS from the water, creating little waste. The system was first proposed by Sanchez and Carla Ng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt, in 2017 and was funded through a Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Seed Grant. “The closed loop idea is what the judges were really interested in. The system we designed would create very little waste and wouldn’t use synthetic polymers for adsorption,” said Arnold-Paine. “Also, they were impressed by the system’s modularity. A small system could be used at home or in a business, but it can also be scaled up for use in the field at remediation sites.” Arnold-Paine’s pitched project is part of the Sanchez Lab’s larger focus on smart riversheds, ways to come up with techniques to track and treat contaminants in different water systems. “What Ethan pitched was a futuristic proposal to remediate one of these emerging contaminants, PFAS, which has captured a lot of attention,” said Gregg Kotchey, postdoctoral researcher in the Sanchez Lab. “There are more contaminants that we don’t even know about yet. Our work is to detect and remediate them as we discover them.” As a winner of the competition, Arnold-Paine received a cash prize as well as the opportunity to intern with De Nora. “For Ethan to be as poised and prepared as he was in the midst of such tough competition is a remarkable achievement,” said David Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. “He was an excellent standard-bearer for our lab and the work we’re doing to sustainably clean up the environment, and I look forward to all the ideas and innovations he’ll surely bring to other lab projects and the field.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
19
2021

Green Speakeasy: Deans Discuss Accelerated Sustainability Goals at Pitt

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 19, 2020) … As the effects of climate change rapidly become more apparent, the University of Pittsburgh is accelerating part of its sustainability plan. In line with its 250th anniversary, the University commits to becoming carbon neutral by 2037. On Mar. 16, 2021, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) will celebrate Pitt’s newest sustainability-minded deans and reflect on the work ahead to achieve these carbon neutrality goals. Following a welcome message from Provost Ann Cudd, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs' Carissa Slotterback and the Graduate School of Public Health’s Maureen Lichtveld will discuss their work in sustainability and their hopes for Pitt’s sustainability efforts. Dean Lichtveld studies environmental public health, focusing on environmentally induced disease, health disparities, environmental health policy, disaster preparedness, public health systems, and community resilience. Her research examines the cumulative impact of chemical and non-chemical stressors on communities facing environmental health threats, disasters, and health disparities. Dean Slotterback is widely recognized for her research and teaching on public engagement and decision making in environmental, land use, and transportation planning. She has led a number of initiatives focused on interdisciplinary and engaged research and education and has held a number of leadership roles with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. The School of Law’s Dean Amy Wildermuth will moderate the discussion as the panel and participants share ideas about the future of sustainability at the University. “We are excited to bring together three of our deans to share their vision for sustainability at Pitt and forge a path toward carbon neutrality,” said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “The Pitt Sustainability Plan was implemented in 2018, and while we have made great strides, it is only through these cross-campus collaborations that our goals will be achieved.” The Green Speakeasy series was created in 2014 as a mechanism to bring together faculty, staff and student communities and to foster and advance interdisciplinary teaching, research and engagement at the intersection of the three tenets of sustainability. This talk is sponsored by MCSI, in partnership with Pitt Sustainability, and part of the Swanson School’s 175th Anniversary Year of Engineering Excellence. You can register for the virtual event at https://pitt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cwmJr6YgQwELrzo.

Feb
19
2021

Brandon Grainger Elected Scientific Advisor on EMerge Alliance Board

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 19, 2021) … Brandon Grainger, assistant professor and Eaton Faculty Fellow of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was elected to the board of the EMerge Alliance and will serve as scientific advisor. Established in 2008, the EMerge Alliance works to promote the greater use of DC and hybrid AC/DC microgrids and power systems. The organization has a network of members across a variety of industries that influence the design, construction and management of facilities and properties. Grainger is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. His research interests are primarily focused on power electronic converter design with power ranges that accommodate aerospace to grid scale applications. His group studies circuit topology design, controllers, magnetics, and power semiconductor devices to ensure practical, high power dense solutions primarily for DC/DC and DC/AC converters. "I look forward to contributing my expertise in medium to high voltage power equipment to the mission of the EMerge alliance in bridging manufacturers and stakeholders in the electric power profession," he said. Grainger has contributed to more than 75 electric power engineering articles and is an annual reviewer of various power electronic conferences and transaction articles. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers where he participates in the Power Electronics Society and Industrial Electronics Society at national levels. In 2019, he received the Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania, which recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments which contribute to the engineering profession. # # #

Feb
18
2021

University of Pittsburgh Faculty Elected Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors

Bioengineering

Reposted from the Innovation Institute. Click here to view the original story. The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has selected three University of Pittsburgh professors among 61 academic inventors for the 2021 class of NAI Senior Members. They are: Bryan Brown, Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering Michael Lotze, Professor, Department of Surgery Kacey Marra, Professor, Departments of Plastic Surgery NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI Member Institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization. “I want to congratulate Drs. Brown, Lotze and Marra on joining an exclusive society of academic inventors,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the Innovation Institute. “They all have demonstrated exceptional commitment to achieving impact for their research through commercial translation. Importantly, they have years of innovating ahead of them. We look forward to helping them bring more of those discoveries to market where they can make a difference in people’s lives.” Two of the new NAI Senior Members are developing solutions for treating large gap nerve injuries. Bryan Brown has been issued eight patents, with several more pending. He launched a startup company in 2017, Renerva, from his lab at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Brown leveraged more than $300,000 in commercialization gap funding from within the university while working one-on-one with an entrepreneur in residence from Pitt’s Innovation Institute, Lorenzo Soletti, who has become Renerva’s CEO. Since launching, the company has raised more than $1 million in investment capital, while also securing more than $3 million in grants from the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, to advance its preclinical programs. Kacey Marra was inspired to pursue commercial translation after receiving funding from the Department of Defense for her research and meeting soldiers who had received significant nerve damage from wounds suffered in combat. Since arriving at Pitt in 2002, she has submitted 20 invention disclosures to the Pitt Innovation Institute, which ties her for most among female faculty members. She has been issued 3 patents with many more pending. Dr. Marra and her lab have demonstrated in animal studies the ability to restore up to 80 percent of nerve function in large-gap injuries through the application of a biodegradable tube containing a time-released protein growth factor. With her research showing continuing promise, Dr. Marra launched her own company, Nerve Repair Technologies, in 2018. Michael Lotze is a pioneer in the cancer immunotherapy field and is the co-inventor of multiple patents in dendritic cell vaccines, antigen discovery, and tumor infiltrating lymphocyte therapy. He previously held leadership roles in industry as the chief scientific officer of Iovance Biotherapeutics, which is presently conducting four Phase 2 clinical trials for treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and cervical cancer. Earlier he had been vice president of research at GlaxoSmithKline. He was also senior advisor for the Immune Transplant and Therapy Center, a partnership between Pitt and UPMC. This latest class of NAI Senior Members represents 36 research universities, government, and non-profit research institutes. They are named inventors on over 617 issued U.S. patents. “With the NAI Senior Member award distinction, we are recognizing innovators who are rising stars in their fields and the innovative ecosystems that support their work,” said Paul R. Sanberg, NAI President. Following a nomination for NAI Senior Member, individuals undergo a rigorous selection process by the NAI Advisory Committee, which is composed of elected NAI members and other professionals considered pioneers in their respective field. Senior Members are elected biannually, and nominations are accepted on a rolling basis. Nominations are currently being accepted for the next Senior Member class. A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Feb
18
2021

Building on a Fruitful Engagement

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 18, 2021) — In the middle of concrete streets and brick buildings in the neighborhood of Homewood, a greenhouse teems with activity. The Oasis Farm and Fishery produces fresh, local produce for residents and businesses in this community, which is considered a food desert — an area with limited access to fresh, affordable, good-quality foods like fruits and vegetables. Food deserts are a growing problem not only in Pittsburgh but throughout the U.S. In 2015, Pitt Hydroponics, a University of Pittsburgh student organization, partnered with the Oasis Project, an initiative of the Bible Center Church in Homewood, to produce locally grown, fresh produce for the community and provide instruction in urban farming. The urban micro-farm has produced food for Homewood neighbors as well as the Pitt Pantry. Now, the partnership finds itself at a critical moment of expansion. A new Year of Engagement Grant from the University of Pittsburgh will enable the Pitt Hydroponics Club and the Oasis Project to build its new greenhouse, complete with a microclimate that can produce food year-round, even through the cold months of the Pittsburgh winter. "The importance of this partnership is that the ideas and projects are co-created. It is another exciting step, on a long journey,” said Pitt Hydroponics advisor David Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. “And if we do it right, we will meet real needs in Homewood, inspire transformational solutions for Pittsburgh and beyond, and meet our educational mission for our students." The Magic of Hydroponics Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil; the roots instead hang in nutrient-dense water. The method enables plants to grow more quickly with less water, producing a better yield without the need for pesticide or fertilizer. With hydroponics, many plants can be grown in a small amount of space, making it well-suited for sustainable urban farming. The partnership between Pitt Hydroponics and the Oasis Project has already yielded positive results. The site currently consists of a direct current (DC) powered greenhouse that stores 1,750 gallons of reclaimed rainwater and has both aquaponic and hydroponic food production systems. The farm grows a variety of vegetables and fruits, from hearty greens and lettuce to tomatillos and hot peppers. Last year, it produced more than 500 pounds of food, much of which was used by the Everyday Cafe, a branch of the Bible Center Church. “Pitt Hydroponics is able to take requests directly from the cafe as to what they would like us to grow for their menu,” said Pitt Hydroponics President William Sauerland, a junior studying computer science. “Having the club’s work go right back into the community is an advantage of working in and with the Homewood community.” Though Pitt Hydroponics has strong ties to the Swanson School of Engineering, it is made up of students from across the University who meet regularly to brainstorm, design, build and test hydroponic growing systems. The group created the plan and received funding for the greenhouse. They also designed and built a microclimate in the building’s garage so that both the greenhouse and the garage are usable in the winter to grow crops. “Since beginning this collaboration, we have been able to accomplish a great deal in a very short time,” said Jerry Potts (BSME ’20), the former vice president of Pitt Hydroponics. “I am really proud of what we have done in so little time and I am really excited to see how the groups continue to expand, especially when there isn’t a pandemic getting in the way.” In addition to creating a warm microclimate that will lengthen the growing season, the new space will allow the partners to design and test innovative new systems. Once the new greenhouse is built, it will house Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydronic systems, with the capacity to grow around 400 plants. Cultivating Green Education The Oasis Farm and Fishery offers hands-on educational programming for Homewood residents and others about urban farming, the parts of the plant, the role of nutrients in the soil, and the plethora of beneficial bugs that help out around the farm. By partnering with the University of Pittsburgh, Oasis Farm and Fishery is “working to leverage our combined energy and expertise to help make Homewood a destination for Green workforce training and education, as well as a source for quality, locally grown produce,” said Tacumba Turner, farm manager for the Oasis Project. “Our farm is a space where undergraduate students can get exposure to real world application of the concepts and theories they learn about, and it enables them to to put those ideas and insights into use in ways that are meaningful and relevant to the community of Homewood.” The new greenhouse, funded by the $2,246 Year of Engagement Grant, will also enable more hands-on demonstrations for students who come to the farm to learn about hydroponics. “The best part of working with the community in Homewood is being able to have direct contact with the people we are helping. Pitt Hydroponics spends a lot of its efforts on community engagement at elementary schools in Homewood,” said Sauerland. “We do after-school programs teaching kids the basics of hydroponics and sustainable growing methods. It is fun to work with the elementary school kids and rewarding to be able to share what we learn as a club with them.” The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for the students to engage with the community, but the construction of the greenhouse—and all the work that follows—provides a safe and productive way to engage with and learn from the community of Homewood. The outdoor, socially distanced work will allow interaction and learning to continue, even as the pandemic stretches on. “The Oasis Project serves the people of Homewood in many ways, and the partnership with Pitt has brought resources, innovative thinking and best practice from research to our work,” said Cynthia Wallace, Executive Director of the Oasis Project and Executive Pastor at the Bible Center Church. “It also means that the Pitt students are not learning in isolation but understand that as knowledge grows, so does responsibility. The role of education is not just for the individual but is for the collective.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
17
2021

New Research from Pitt and Lubrizol Models Reaction to Improve Fuel and Lubricant Additive Production

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 17, 2021) — Polyisobutenyl succinic anhydrides (PIBSAs) are important for the auto industry because of their wide use in lubricant and fuel formulations. Their synthesis, however, requires high temperatures and, therefore, higher cost. Adding a Lewis acid—a substance that can accept a pair of electrons—as a catalyst makes the PIBSA formation more efficient. But which Lewis acid? Despite the importance of PIBSAs in the industrial space, an easy way to screen these catalysts and predict their performance hasn’t yet been developed. New research led by the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Lubrizol Corporation, addresses this problem by revealing the detailed mechanism of the Lewis acid-catalyzed reaction using computational modeling. The work, recently featured on the cover of the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, builds a deeper understanding of the catalytic activity and creates a foundation for computationally screening catalysts in the future. “PIBSAs are commonly synthesized through the reaction between maleic anhydride and polyisobutene. Adding Lewis acids makes the reaction faster and reduces the energy input required for PIBSA formation,” explained Giannis Mpourmpakis, the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “But the reaction mechanism has not been well understood, and there are not many examples of this reaction in the literature. Our work helps to explain the way the reaction happens and identifies Lewis acids that will work best.” This new foundational information will aid in the discovery of Lewis acid catalysts for industrial chemical production at a faster rate and reduced cost. “The alliance between the University of Pittsburgh and Lubrizol has been instrumental in demonstrating how Academia and the Chemical Process Industry can work together to produce commercially relevant results,” said Glenn Cormack, Global Process Innovation Manager at The Lubrizol Corporation. “Combining the knowledge and expertise of the Swanson School of Engineering and The Lubrizol Corporation allows both parties access to some of the best available computational and experimental techniques when exploring new challenges.” The research is one of many collaborations between Pitt and the Lubrizol Corporation, an Ohio-based specialty chemical provider for transportation, industrial and consumer markets. The alliance with Lubrizol, now in its seventh year, provides students with hands-on opportunities to experience how the knowledge and skills they’re developing are used in the chemical industry. At the same time, students gain world-ready knowledge how Pitt’s research helps improve Lubrizol’s processes and products. “Over the last few years, our partnership with Lubrizol has led to new, innovative ways for Lubrizol to make products and rethink their manufacturing processes,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “We learn a tremendous amount from them as well, and all of these publications are evidence of an alliance that continues to grow.” The paper, “Computational Screening of Lewis Acid Catalysts for the Ene Reaction between Maleic Anhydride and Polyisobutylene,” (DOI: 10.1021/acs.iecr.0c04860 ) was published in the ACS journal I&EC Research. It was authored by Cristian Morales-Rivera and Giannis Mpourmpakis at Pitt and Nico Proust and James Burrington at the Lubrizol Corporation.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
16
2021

Using a Machine Model to Predict Risk of Human Aneurysms

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 16, 2020) ... An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can be a ticking time bomb if undiscovered in time. However, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are developing a new model to better predict at-risk patients. And the tools they are using apply mechanical testing to the human body - which is itself a complex machine. An AAA occurs when the aorta weakens and begins to irreversibly dilate, like a slowly inflating balloon. If left untreated, the risk of rupture increases and has a 90 percent rate of mortality, making AAA the 15th leading cause of death in the United States with more than 15,000 deaths reported annually. Once diagnosed, clinicians must determine whether the aorta requires surgery, using the AAA diameter to decide if an aneurysm is clinically relevant. A diameter 5.5 centimeters or larger typically calls for surgical intervention, barring other contraindications, but this one-size-fits-all approach misses nearly 25 percent of patients who experience a rupture at a smaller size. Pitt bioengineer David A. Vorp received an award from the National Institutes of Health to track the natural evolution of small AAA and develop a predictive model to improve patient prognosis. His Vascular Bioengineering Lab at the university’s Swanson School of Engineering is focused on finding novel diagnoses and treatments for these silent killers. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” explained Timothy Chung, a post-doctoral associate in Vorp’s lab. “Once you diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you don’t know when or if it’s going to rupture. “Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon, and it pops. This event involves the mechanics and forces that are interacting with the wall of the balloon,” continued Chung, who will help lead the project. “We’re interested in the biomechanics of why elevated pressure or a weakening of the aneurysm wall might lead to rupture or accelerated growth.” The research team hopes that CT scans and other data from a rare, longitudinal clinical trial (“Non-Invasive Treatment of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Clinical Trial”) will help them identify the risks of elevated growth rate or eventual rupture. Vorp’s lab group will create 3D geometric reconstructions and perform biomechanical simulations on patient datasets at each imaging scan interval (every six months) to learn how small AAA progresses over time. They will then use the scans and unique software tools from their lab to perform shape analyses that will determine which geometries may lead to poor patient outcomes. “Currently, clinicians are simply applying a one-dimensional shape analysis, using diameter as a threshold for clinical intervention,” said Chung. “The tools developed in the Vascular Bioengineering Lab can help us extract more than one-dimensional measurements. They allow us to create two- and three-dimensional shape indices derived from image-based surface reconstructions, allowing for a more robust analysis.” The team will then feed data from the shape analysis and biomechanical simulations to train a machine learning algorithm to classify different types of aneurysm outcomes. This will be used to develop a predictive model that can help guide clinicians and determine the need for surgical intervention. “Early in my career, the advent of finite element analysis – a computational method to predict mechanical wall stress distribution in complex shapes both biological and human-made  – provided a game-changing tool to better understand the role of biomechanics in AAA disease,” said Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Now, machine learning technologies can not only help us better understand the combination of factors that lead toward rupture or clinical intervention, but also package that knowledge into a true, personalized health tool for those afflicted with this potentially lethal condition.” # # #

Feb
15
2021

UPMC/Pitt Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory Experts Study ACL Injury Features with Three-Dimensional Statistical Shape Modeling

Bioengineering

Reposted from UPMC Physician Resources. Click here to view the original article. A study to investigate tibiofemoral bony morphology features associated with ACL injury and sex utilizing three-dimensional statistical shape modeling was conducted by: Sene Polamalu, BSThird-year Bioengineering PhD Student Researcher  Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh Volker Musahl, MDBlue Cross of Western Pennsylvania ProfessorChief UPMC Sports Medicine Medical DirectorProfessor, University of Pittsburgh Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery, Bioengineering, and Clinical Translational Science Institute Richard Debski, PhDWilliam Kepler Whiteford Faculty FellowCo-Director, Orthopaedic Robotics LaboratoryProfessor, University of Pittsburgh Departments of Bioengineering and Orthopaedic Surgery In the study, statistical shape modeling was employed to assess three-dimensional (3D) bony morphology between: Distal femurs and proximal tibiae of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injured knees. The contralateral uninjured knees of ACL injured subjects. Knees with no history of injury. Surface models were created by segmenting bone from bilateral computed-tomography scans of: 20 subjects of their ACL injured knees and non-injured contralateral knees. 20 knees of control subjects with no history of a knee injury. Correspondence particles were placed on each surface, and a principal component analysis determined modes of variation in the positions of the correspondence particles describing anatomical variation. ANOVAs assessed the statistical differences of 3D bony morphological features with main effects of injury state and sex. ACL injured knees were determined to have a more lateral femoral mechanical axis and a greater angle between the long axis and condylar axis of the femur. A smaller anterior-posterior dimension of the lateral tibial plateau was also associated with ACL injured knees. Results of this study demonstrate that there are more bony morphological features predisposing individuals for ACL injury than previously established. These bony morphological parameters may cause greater internal and valgus torques increasing stresses in the ACL. No differences were determined between the ACL injured knees and their uninjured contralateral knees demonstrating that knees of ACL injured individuals are at similar risk for injury. Further understanding of the effect of bony morphology on the risk for ACL injury could improve individualized ACL injury treatment and prevention. Read more about this study on PubMed.

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
8
2021

Helping Translational Research Meet the Needs of Older Adults

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 8, 2021) … In this digital age, where the internet accelerates technological development, there has been a surge of scientific innovation designed to improve the quality of life for patients in need. However, there are physical, cognitive, and sensory issues that are often overlooked during the process, resulting in poor design for a particular user group –adults aged 65 and older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this group will comprise more than 20 percent of the U.S. population starting in 2030. Highlighting the importance for safety and efficacy, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has made incorporating human factors a priority for device approval which can significantly impact the road to commercialization, leaving many researchers stuck in the design phase. Unfortunately, many of these technologies and interventions struggle to advance to commercialization. A new program at the University of Pittsburgh hopes to help investigators navigate this common roadblock. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Professor Mark Redfern will establish a Human Factors of Aging program at Pitt to inform, support, and advance the translation of research focused on improving the lives of older adults. “There are a huge number of factors to take into consideration when designing for older adults, and with this program, we hope to educate our investigators and innovators and create a collaborative community to help translate research across the University,” said Redfern, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. In 2018, Redfern spent part of a sabbatical at the FDA to learn more about how human factors are evaluated. He will use this knowledge along with his 20 years of experience in human factors and aging research to help investigators at Pitt advance their work. “Many changes occur with age that should be considered in design. For example, vision changes can include loss of acuity, contrast sensitivity, depth perception and field of view, making a display more difficult to see.  Physical changes such as reduced strength and struggles with balance can also occur, making devices designed for mobility perhaps more difficult to use,” he explained. “On the cognitive side, memory and attention may be an issue so developers must design a product understanding these limitations. “My goal is to help make our investigators aware of these factors that they may not have otherwise considered as they think of translating their research into action.” Redfern will use this K07 award to educate investigators, their post-doctoral researchers and graduate students.  He currently teaches a course on Human Factors Engineering of Medical Devices for engineering students, but now wants to develop courses and workshops more broadly for the University community. He will also use the Human Factors Laboratory within the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory to help them develop and test prototypes. As part of the program, Redfern hopes to bring together a network of people with a vested interest in aging research – from engineers and clinicians to companies and University centers. “One of the most exciting things is our partnership with Pitt’s Alzheimer's Disease Research Center,” Redfern said. “Their knowledge about the impact of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease on functional capabilities will be integrated into the program to improve design for older adults with these challenges. This collaboration will give program participants a practical and robust education on the human factors of aging.” Ultimately, he hopes that this program will advance the world-class translational research at Pitt and have a positive impact on the lives of older adults. If successful, he will develop resources to extend the program nationally. # # #

Feb
4
2021

Alpha Chi Continues the Conversation on Racial Equality

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Race relations and social justice have been in the spotlight in recent years, calling on individuals to devote energy toward creating a more equitable future for everyone. Allies have been encouraged to consider their privilege and educate themselves on the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in the United States. This self-reflection and realization, however, has left some overwhelmed or uncertain about how they can personally effect change. Working together and learning from one another may lend to a richer understanding of these issues, and Alpha Chi National College Honor Society will host a forum to help its members and greater community start the process. On Saturday, Feb. 6, in line with the start of Black History Month, they hope to facilitate an engaging conversation about “Personal Perspectives on Race, Privilege, and Responsibility.” “The seminar continues the current dialogue of fighting for social justice,” said Ande Marini, a bioengineering PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “Personally, I love learning about other people’s cultures and learning how people’s experiences have shaped their perspectives. “Learning about the hardships others have faced and how we can help those individuals is crucial to growing as a society. We need to have this dialogue to better understand each other’s perspectives, and having difficult conversations provides new avenues for growth and understanding.” When Alpha Chi called for nominations for the panel, Marini decided to nominate Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt. Abramowitch has contributed diversity and inclusion in the Swanson School through programs such as PITT STRIVE, the Global Engineering Preparedness Scholarship (GEPS), Engineering Design for Social Change: South Africa, and CampBioE. "I was honored to be nominated by Ande and to be selected for this panel,” Abramowitch said. “Our lives have been especially chaotic over the last year; thus, it is wonderful that Alpha Chi is using this time to help us do some reflection and encourage us to think beyond ourselves again." He will participate as one of three panelists in the seminar: Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, will focus on positive actions students can take to address diversity issues. Dwonna Goldstone, associate history professor and director of the African American Studies program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, will focus on her experience in helping people with difficult conversations about race. Justine Pas, associate professor of English and associate dean in the School of Humanities at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, will share personal experiences and discuss the concept of white privilege. The seminar will be hosted and moderated by Lara Noah, executive director of Alpha Chi. “This panel is the second event in the first series of its kind as an educational initiative from Alpha Chi's national headquarters,” she said. “Other than programming during our annual national convention, educational events like these are typically planned and conducted at the local chapter level. I’m very much looking forward to our conversation on Saturday and appreciate Dr. Abramowitch’s participation.” “… and Justice for All” is the theme for the organization’s 2021 national conference, and this event was planned to help raise awareness of these issues among the Alpha Chi community. “Sharing these topics with the collegiate generation, both undergraduate and graduate, is important and can open their eyes to new perspectives,” Marini added. “By impacting this generation, we are laying a foundation built upon understanding, love, and acceptance for our future leaders.” About Alpha Chi Alpha Chi National College Honor Society was founded in 1922 to recognize and promote academic excellence among college and university students of all disciplines, to encourage a spirit of service and leadership, and to nurture the elements of character that make scholarship effective for good. Alpha Chi is a member in good standing with the Association of College Honor Societies. You can learn more about Alpha Chi at AlphaChiHonor.org.

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
Feb
3
2021

The Business of Bees

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 3, 2021) — The economic value of insect pollinators was $34 billion in the U.S. in 2012, much higher than previously thought, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University. The team also found that areas that are economically most reliant on insect pollinators are the same areas where pollinator habitat and forage quality are poor. “Pollinators like bees play an extremely important role in agriculture,” explained senior author Vikas Khanna, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The insects that pollinate farmers’ crops underpin our ecosystem biodiversity and function, human nutrition, and even economic welfare.” But some of those busy little bees are headed for crisis—one-third of managed honey bee colonies die each winter in the U.S., and populations of many wild pollinator species are showing declines as well. Using publicly available price and production data and existing pollination field studies, the team determined economic dependence of U.S. crops on insect pollination services at the county level, as well as areas where the habitat for wild pollinators has been reduced. One key finding is that the economic value that is dependent on insect pollination totaled $34 billion in 2012, much higher than previously thought. The team looked at 2012 because it was the most recent year for which data were available. “The value of insects as part of our economy is apparent when you look at the well-established connection between farming and beekeeping. Farmers sometimes will buy or rent bee colonies to help pollinate their crops when there aren’t enough wild bees in the area,” said Khanna. “We’ve found that some of the areas that are economically most reliant on insect pollinators are the same areas where pollinator habitat and forage quality are poor.” The researchers found that 20 percent of U.S. counties produce 80 percent of total economic value that can be attributed to wild and managed pollinators. Their findings will inform conservation efforts and ensure sustainable production of key crops. They also identified the key areas that produce economically and nutritionally valuable crops and are highly dependent on pollinators—areas that are at risk if wild pollinator populations continue to decline. By overlaying maps of predicted wild bee abundance, the researchers could identify areas where there was high economic dependence on pollinators but low predicted abundance of pollinators. The research suggests a need for farmers to mitigate the shrinking bee populations by providing a more suitable habitat for the insects to thrive. “Our study showcases the increasing importance of pollinators to supporting U.S. agricultural systems, particularly for the foods that are vital for healthy diets, like fruits, vegetables and nuts,” says Christina Grozinger, Publius Vergilius Maro Professor of Entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State. “This detailed map of pollination needs and pollinator deficits helps identify regions where resources could be provided to improve pollinator habitat, as well as other regions where local land use practices are supporting both agriculture and healthy pollinator populations. Those places could serve as models for sustainable agriculture and pollinator conservation practices.” The paper, “Economic Dependence and Vulnerability of United States Agricultural Sector on Insect-Mediated Pollination Service,” (DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04786) was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Other authors on the paper include Alex Jordan, graduate student at Pitt, and Harland Patch, assistant research professor at Penn State. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
3
2021

Bioengineering Names Linggang Luo its 2020 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 3, 2021) … Linggang Luo, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was named the 2020 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow by the Department of Bioengineering. Recipients of this award are selected by the department chair and chosen based on academic merit. Luo received his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at Harbin Institute of Technology in Weihai, China and his master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Columbia University before joining the graduate program at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “I chose Pitt’s bioengineering program because it is among the top programs in the United States,” Luo said. “For those who are simultaneously interested in neuroscience and imaging, there are many opportunities, including collaborations between Pitt, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.” Luo works in the lab of Fang-Cheng (Frank) Yeh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine, where he studies tractography, a 3D modeling technique that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to visualize nerve tracts. Specifically, he looks at how this tool can be used to map structural properties of the brain, such as white matter tracts. “Diffusion MRI has arisen as the only non-invasive way to map white matter bundles and assess their structural integrity in the human brain,” Luo explained. “There is a growing interest in large-scale analysis of diffusion MRI to explore its promising applications in biomedical research as an imaging biomarker of neuropathology. “With fast imaging sequences, diffusion MRI -- particularly its high angular resolution variants -- can be acquired on standard clinical scanners,” he added. “This advancement has gained considerable interest because of its roles in mapping human connectome and potential for accessing neurological disorders.” Improved imaging will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of neural function and may eventually help predict and improve treatment of neurological disorders. “Diffusion MRI is a challenging field with keen competition from top engineers around the world, who are striving to lift technical obstacles for clinical needs,” Dr. Yeh said. “I am thrilled that Linggang has decided to take on this challenge and work side-by-side with me. It is a tough choice, but I believe there is promising potential for him to change health care practice in the future.” After he completes his PhD, Luo plans to pursue a career in academia and lead his own neuroscience research laboratory. “I appreciate this fellowship and the opportunity it has allowed me to advance research in this field,” Luo said. “I hope to make a positive impact that can one day improve the treatment of neurological disorders.” About Wesley C. Pickard: Mr. Pickard is an alumnus of the Swanson School of Engineering and earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering at Pitt in 1961.  He retired from Synergy Inc, a DC based consulting firm as the CFO. Over a period of 33 years, Pickard helped the company grow from five staff members to more than 200 with revenues of approximately $25 million when it was sold in 2005. His support of Pitt includes the establishment of this fellowship, and he was recently inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society at Pitt—a giving society that honors some of our most generous alumni. In 2010 Mr. Pickard was named the University of Pittsburgh Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. He also received the Pitt Volunteer of Excellence Award in 2012 and was named a “Significant Sig” in 2017 by Sigma Chi Fraternity.  In 2018 he was selected as the overall honoree representing the entire Swanson School at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet.

Feb
2
2021

Mapping PFAS Contamination in Packaged Foods

Civil & Environmental

When grabbing a sweet, sticky bun from the grocery store for breakfast, one might rejoice in the fact that it cleanly slides out of the wrapper and onto a plate. While consumers may not think twice about why it is not sticking, researchers are trying to shed light on how this convenient packaging could potentially expose humans to toxic chemicals called PFAS. Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals lauded for their nonstick and oil-repellent characteristics. While useful in the food industry, there is evidence that exposure to these persistent chemicals may lead to adverse outcomes in human health. Supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the University of Pittsburgh’s Carla Ng will lead a project that aims to be the first systematic study of the kinds and amount of PFAS that are present in imported and domestic food packaging. She and her collaborators from Indiana University and the USDA – Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will create a database that they hope will help guide better policy around the use of PFAS in the food industry. “Humans are exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways, but depending on where you live, food is likely your major source,” said Ng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “There are many different types of PFAS, and we don’t have enough information on where they are used, in what quantities, and whether they’re toxic, so we will use this award to study those details.” According to the FDA, there are nearly 5,000 different types of PFAS. To add to the complexity of this issue, other countries have adopted different approaches to regulating PFAS and its many varieties. For example, PFOA and PFOS have been phased out in the United States, but they are still widely produced in China. While they do not send these specific chemicals to the U.S., there may be residual chemicals that are transferred during production. “Because of these uncertainties, we want to understand how all the different origins of packaging will impact which PFAS actually wind up in the consumer product,” said Ng. The research team will inspect national supermarket chains and local international food stores to get an idea of the type and geographic origin of food packaging. They will then collect a representative sample of products and analyze the packaging for the presence of PFAS. “We will use extraction and migration assays to evaluate the packaging,” explained Ng. “Extraction would represent an extreme case where we use harsh chemicals to gather a sample. Alternatively, the migration assays use simulants which represent different types of food – such as fatty, acidic, or salty. It will show, under normal conditions, how much PFAS transferred from packaging to food.” ARS researcher Yelena Sapozhnikova will contribute to this work by identifying PFAS chemicals migrating from food packaging materials with non-targeted, high-resolution mass spectrometry. Sapozhnikova's interest in this research is a direct result from her previous work on identification of chemicals from food contact materials. Once the PFAS structures are identified, they will go to Amina Salamova, associate scientist at IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, whose team will quantify how much of each structure is in the sample. “We’re excited to conduct research that has such big implications for consumer safety,” Salamova said. “This research will help us understand a lot more about a group of chemicals that are widely used but not well understood.” From there, the analyzed extracts and simulants will go to Pitt to be tested for toxicity. Ng’s lab specializes in molecular modeling that can initially screen the samples before evaluating them in zebrafish for further validation. The results of the project will reveal whether the chemicals present in the packaging are toxic and if the concentration is high enough to contaminate your food. The researchers hope that this work will inform regulators, provide a risk assessment tool, and potentially reveal hot spots for PFAS exposure in our food system. # # #

Jan

Jan
29
2021

The Planet’s Battleground for Climate Change

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 29, 2021) — Asia and the Pacific are exceptionally vulnerable to the risks associated with climate change. At the same time, the region is also on track to become the world’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making it a primary area of focus for the fight against climate change. On Feb. 16, 2021, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh will welcome Divya Nawale (GSPIA ‘16) for a virtual presentation on “Asia -- the Planet’s Battleground for Climate Change.” Nawale’s presentation will follow her journey from Pitt to the Arctic, the Antarctic, and back to India, sharing her experience of how Asia is fighting climate change and embracing sustainable development. Nawale was recently named among Asia’s top 20 women in sustainability for 2020 and currently works with the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines on clean energy and energy programs across Southeast Asia. In addition to this work, Nawale serves as an advisor for the non-profit Nirmaan in India, where she launched a climate action program that envisions engaging 10 million people in the coming decade. Nawale earned a Master of Public Policy and Management in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) in 2016. During her studies, she served as a sustainability fellow for the City of Pittsburgh and helped draft the city’s Climate Action Plan. The Dean of the GSPIA, Carissa Slotterback, will open the talk with an introduction. “Asia is one of the most important regions for the fight against climate change, so we’re thrilled to have a woman who is at the forefront of that fight come and speak with us about her work,” said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “I hope this talk inspires us all to action and gives us the tools to support sustainable development.” The talk is part of the Green Speakeasy series sponsored by MCSI in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Business and GSPIA, and part of the Swanson School’s 175th Anniversary Year of Engineering Excellence. You can learn more and register for the virtual event at www.tinyurl.com/GSE-221.

Jan
29
2021

Sustainability Distinction Now Available for Undergraduates

All SSoE News, Student Profiles

This story originally appeared in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Students have long been a driving force in advancing sustainability at Pitt. From food recovery efforts that have received national recognition, to the establishment of an on-campus thrift store, a bicycle-repair collective and bee houses, their creativity and energy enhances today’s campus culture and leaves a lasting legacy to benefit future generations of students. Now, undergraduates can have their commitment and passion recognized with a new credential on their University transcript. The Office of the Provost has established a Sustainability Distinction as part of its commitment to a personalized education for all Pitt students. The distinction adds to the range of opportunities for students to integrate their sustainability interests with their academic, community service and professional pursuits. The Sustainability Distinction is the third in a series of interdisciplinary credentials that includes a Global Distinction and an Honors Distinction. To earn the distinction, students must complete course work and participate in relevant high-impact activities outside the classroom. “This latest distinction is an important addition to the series. It provides a special way to recognize the dedication and outstanding work of Pitt students as they engage in efforts to protect and sustain the environment for us all,” said Joe McCarthy, vice provost of undergraduate studies. The sustainability Distinction has been in planning for more than a year, developed by a cross-disciplinary committee of faculty, staff and students themselves. “This differentiates those who go above and beyond during their undergraduate education, said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of administration and external relations for Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, who coordinated the committee. “Students do so much outside the classroom. They devote time and effort to benefit the community and to benefit Pitt. To be recognized in an official way on their transcript is special,” she said. “This designation will give Pitt students the edge, beyond a good GPA and a quality degree.” Students may declare their intention to pursue the sustainability distinction at any time, up until the add/drop deadline of the semester prior to the semester of their graduation. They can track their own progress toward the distinction online. A committee representing the Student Affairs Office of PittServes, the Environmental Studies Program and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation will oversee the credential and certify students’ successful completion. Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator in the Office of PittServes, estimated that students will need two to three years to complete the sustainability distinction’s requirements. “Many are already on their way, interning or employed in a sustainability-related position, or having taken sustainability-related courses,” she added. “We want to let students know that we recognize that work. That they’ve put in the effort to make the University a better place,” she said. She hopes the designation will attract other students who may not recognize how the activities they’re passionate about may contribute to campus sustainability, and motivate them to deeper involvement as they work to complete the requirements, once they see they’re also on their way. “They know what it means to be involved in resale and reuse, or in community service or climate justice. They get it—but they don’t always make that connection,” she said. “Sustainability is so broad and covers so many areas that for some students, it’s like, ‘Wow, I did not realize I did all this and this was part of the sustainability community,’” she said. The designation also will signify to employers how students are integrating their interest in sustainability with their career plans. Particularly for non-science majors, that connection is not always clear to outsiders, she said, citing urban studies as one major that is very relevant, but not always recognized as dovetailing with sustainability. The University’s interdisciplinary transcript distinctions for undergraduates are quite uncommon, Ninos noted. “Pitt is one of very few institutions that offers programs like these, and the use of the term ‘distinction’ is unique to Pitt,” she said. Students who hold these credentials demonstrate to future employers that they can apply their classroom knowledge in the real world, Ninos said. “I think that Pitt students are very good at finding the experiences that are going to shape the person they’re going to become,” she said. “Academics alone does not create a qualified young professional. Real-world experience matters. It’s a practical application of what you can do for an employer.” ### Earning the Sustainability Distinction To earn the Sustainability Distinction, students must: Complete 9 credits of sustainability-related coursework. Participate in at least three high-impact activities, such as: ­ holding a leadership role in a Student Office of Sustainability affiliated organization; undertaking a long-term campus, community service or place-based engagement project; engaging in a sustainability-related internship, research project, co-op, study-abroad or alternative break, or a sustainability-related innovation competition, experience or start-up. Earn the Outside the Classroom Curriculum sustainability badge. Write a 2,000-word essay reflecting on their experience and how it contributed to their personal and professional development.
Author: Kimberly K. Barlow, University Communications
Jan
27
2021

A Better Way to Separate Isotopes

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 27, 2021) — Imagine a bin full of basketballs, all the same size and color, differing only by a tenth of an ounce in weight. Separating the heavier basketballs would likely be a difficult and tedious task, even with the right equipment. This is similar to the problem of separating isotopes, such as oxygen-16 (16O) and oxygen-18 (18O); they have almost identical properties, so they are very difficult to separate. Isotopes like these are extremely valuable for a wide variety of applications like medical imaging and radiopharmaceuticals. This is the case with 18O, which makes up only 0.2 percent of the oxygen on earth. But generating pure 18O is very expensive, driving up the costs of medical applications. New research reported in Nature Communications introduces a novel way to separate oxygen isotopes that is less energy-intensive and expensive than conventional methods. An international team of researchers led by Shinshu University in Japan introduced a new method using a material made from carbon having subnanometer pores, making it much easier to isolate the heavier oxygen isotopes. “Oxygen molecules are relatively heavy, so adding one or two neutrons does not make a huge difference in weight. That makes them more difficult to identify and isolate,” explained Karl Johnson, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and co-author of the paper. “We discovered that when you crowd oxygen molecules together very tightly in a porous material, they self-organize in such a way that the difference is magnified, and it’s easier to separate them.” Current distillation-based methods are expensive and require a huge amount of energy, as they cool the gas until it forms a liquid and then boil off the oxygen molecules in very large distillation columns. The new method would instead use a porous material made from carbon in a relatively small adsorption column—a technology already widely used in industry—to separate the molecules. “It’s not a new technology, just a new material,” added Johnson, who noted the method is well-suited to industry use. Yury Gogotsi, Distinguished University and Bach Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University, who developed this sorbent known as carbide-derived carbon, highlighted the importance of this new material. “To be able to separate isotopes, one needs not only tune the pore size with sub-nanometer accuracy, but also make all pores of about the same size,” said Gogotsi. “This is nanotechnology in action. Johnson’s lab was charged with developing a theoretical explanation of the experiments performed by senior author Katsumi Kaneko, distinguished professor at Shinshu University in Japan. “This project has demonstrated the importance of fruitful collaboration for the creation of new science,” said Kaneko. “I’m delighted to have colleagues like Yury Gogotsi and Karl Johnson who can provide new materials and theoretical explanation of the separative adsorption behavior of subnanometer carbon pores for 18O2 and 16O2.” The paper, “Adsorption separation of heavier isotope gases in subnanometer carbon pores,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20744-6) was published in Nature Communications. Research was led by Shinshu University’s Sanjeev Kumar Ujjain and Katsumi Kaneko and is a collaboration between nine institutions, including Pitt.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
27
2021

Hemolung® RAS Used to Treat More than 75 COVID-19 Patients

Covid-19, Bioengineering

Reposted from Business Wire. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ALung Technologies, Inc., the leading provider of low-flow extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) technologies for treating patients with acute respiratory failure, announced that it has now treated more than 75 COVID-19 patients, and that it is experiencing increasing demand for the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS) as a result of the current pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the Company Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) designation to the Hemolung RAS for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the second quarter of 2020. The Hemolung is the only ECCO2R device currently granted an EUA for the treatment of COVID-19. “The Hemolung RAS has enabled us to recover patients with COVID pneumonia during the pandemic. In select patients where there is a selective issue with hypercarbic respiratory acidosis while their oxygen requirements have normalized post-Veno-Venous ECMO cannulation, we have utilized Hemolung as a bridge in their recovery. We have noticed that these patients are able to wean off mechanical circulatory support in a gradual manner. Additionally, at a time when there was a shortage of ECMO circuits, our program has relied on utilizing this technology in stabilizing patients with severe hypercarbic respiratory acidosis while providing lung protective ventilation,” stated Dr. Bindu Akkanti, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Divisions of Critical Care, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, McGovern Medical School, and Director of Heart and Vascular Critical Care, Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center. “The Hemolung RAS has given us a new tool during the current pandemic, to safely and easily treat our COVID-19 patients. We were able to rapidly introduce the Hemolung RAS to our staff and start treating patients under Emergency Use Authorization. As a smaller community hospital without an ECMO program, the ease of use of the Hemolung has played a large role in the successful deployment of ECCO2R for the treatment of COVID-19 at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center,” stated Ribal Darwish, MD, Medical Director Critical Care Medicine, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. “We are pleased to be able to assist in this fight against the COVID-19 viral disease by providing the use of the Hemolung RAS as a tool for physicians to be used in conjunction with IMV, by reducing or eliminating the potential of further lung damage caused by high ventilator driving pressures, often referred to as Ventilator Induced Lung Injury (VILI). We are treating COVID-19 patients in greater than 20 hospitals worldwide,” said Mr. Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies. In its EUA approval letter to ALung the FDA stated that it believes the Hemolung RAS has the potential to treat lung failure as an adjunct to noninvasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, to reduce hypercapnia and hypercapnic acidosis due to COVID-19, and/or to maintain normalized levels of partial pressure of carbon dioxide(PCO2) and pH in patients suffering from acute, reversible respiratory failure due to COVID-19 for whom ventilation of CO2 cannot be adequately, safely, or tolerably achieved and, in turn, may provide clinical benefit, and that there is no adequate, approved and available alternative to the emergency use of the Hemolung RAS to treat lung failure caused by COVID-19. About ALung Technologies ALung Technologies, Inc. is a privately held Pittsburgh-based developer and manufacturer of innovative lung assist devices. Founded in 1997 as a spin-out of the University of Pittsburgh, ALung has developed the Hemolung RAS as a dialysis-like alternative or supplement to mechanical ventilation. ALung is backed by Philips, UPMC Enterprises, Abiomed, The Accelerator Fund, Allos Ventures, Birchmere Ventures, Blue Tree Ventures, Eagle Ventures, Riverfront Ventures, West Capital Advisors, and other individual investors.For more information about ALung and the Hemolung RAS, visit www.alung.com.For more information on the VENT-AVOID trial, and a list of enrolling sites, please visit clinicaltrials.gov.For more information on the use of the Hemolung RAS for COVID-19 patients, please visit https://www.alung.com/covid-19/covid-19-us/*The Hemolung RAS has not been FDA cleared or approved.*The Hemolung RAS has been authorized for the above emergency use by FDA under an EUA.*This device is authorized only for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of the emergency use of the Hemolung RAS under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb- 3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.This press release may contain forward-looking statements, which, if not based on historical facts, involve current assumptions and forecasts as well as risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from the results or events stated in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, certain events not within the Company’s control. Events that could cause results to differ include failure to meet ongoing developmental and manufacturing timelines, changing GMP requirements, the need for additional capital requirements, risks associated with regulatory approval processes, adverse changes to reimbursement for the Company’s products/services, and delays with respect to market acceptance of new products/services and technologies. Other risks may be detailed from time to time, but the Company does not attempt to revise or update its forward-looking statements even if future experience or changes make it evident that any projected events or results expressed or implied therein will not be realized.

Jan
27
2021

Ph.D. position: data science and modeling in water

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

We have a fully funded PhD opportunity in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA USA.  Please see the attachment for details of the project. We look forward to receiving strong applications from qualified applicants.

xuliang@pitt.edu
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
22
2021

Air Force Provides More Than $300K to Accelerate Materials Research at Pitt

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan 22, 2021) — The U.S. Air Force will provide $313,000 to the University of Pittsburgh for a broadband dielectric spectrometer through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). The acquisition was made by a five-faculty team led by Jennifer Laaser, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and includes Susan Fullerton, Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The new instrument, a Novocontrol Concept 80, will be used to measure the conductivity and dielectric properties of soft materials, which will help faculty at Pitt and surrounding universities conduct research ranging from ion gel materials for carbon capture to new materials for computing. “These types of soft materials are a rapidly growing research area at Pitt, and we are thrilled that the Air Force has decided to help us build up our characterization capabilities by funding our purchase of this instrument,” said Laaser. DURIP supports university researchers with the tools to perform cutting-edge research relevant to the Department of Defense. These research programs are supported by more than $1.9 of active grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation. At Pitt, the instrument will support the investigations of doubly-polymerized ionic liquids (Jennifer Laaser), ion dynamics in ion gels for carbon capture (Sean Garrett-Roe), electroadhesive ionomers (Tara Meyer), new materials for efficient conversion of mechanical and electrical energy (Geoffrey Hutchison), and ionomers for low-power computing (Susan Fullerton). “This instrument fills a huge gap in our ability to characterize the dielectric properties of the materials we use in our device research,” explained Fullerton. “We focus on new materials and approaches for low-power electronics, and the equipment provided by the DURIP will significantly accelerate our progress.”
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
Jan
12
2021

“Bluetooth Bacteria” Wins a Gold Medal at iGEM 2020

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 12, 2021) … Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology have provided an invaluable connection to the workplace and the outside world as we remained sheltered at home in 2020. As part of a virtual research competition, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduates explored if a comparable equivalent to this ubiquitous technology could allow scientists to wirelessly manipulate cell behavior and control gene expression. The group pitched this idea for the 2020 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. More than 250 teams participated in the organization’s first Virtual Giant Jamboree, and the Pitt undergraduate group received a gold medal for their project titled “Bluetooth Bacteria.” This year’s group was also one of three teams that were nominated for “Best Foundational Advance Project.”  This is the first time a Pitt iGEM team has been nominated for an award at the iGEM competition. The team included one Swanson School of Engineering student: Lia Franco, a chemical engineering junior. Other members included Sabrina Catalano, a senior molecular biology student; Dara Czernikowski, a senior biological sciences student; Victor So, a senior microbiology and English literature student; and Chenming (Angel) Zheng, a junior molecular biology student. “This sort of non-invasive technology could be used for timed drug release, synthetic organ and neuron stimulation, or even industrial applications,” Czernikowski said. “We first considered optogenetics, which uses light to manipulate cell behavior, but this strategy cannot target deep tissue without risky invasive methods so we needed to change our approach.” The team ultimately decided to attach magnetic nanoparticles to the surface of bacteria and stimulate them with an alternating magnetic field (AMF). The nanoparticles react to the AMF stimulation and dissipate heat, causing the temperature of the bacterium’s cytoplasm to rise. They then used a protein dimer to act as a “bio-switch” to control gene expression. “At lower temperatures, the protein dimers bind to a target DNA sequence and turn off gene expression, but at higher temperatures, heat causes the proteins to un-dimerize,” Catalano explained. “In its un-dimerized state, it can no longer inhibit gene expression, turning the system on. The change in temperature is controlled by the stimulation of magnetic nanoparticles with AMF, allowing wireless control of gene expression in bacteria.” The team hopes that there is therapeutic potential for their design but recognizes that they need to improve spatial control in order to match techniques like optogenetics. They would like to improve their design to use localized heating that could selectively target one bacterium or a specific region of the cytoplasm. They plan to continue development during the upcoming semester. “The iGEM competition is a unique experience where undergraduates take charge and develop and execute their own research idea, with close mentorship from a set of faculty mentors,” said W. Seth Childers, assistant professor of chemistry at Pitt and one of five faculty advisors for the Bluetooth Bacteria team. “This year’s team worked hard under the stress of a pandemic to bring together engineering and biology concepts to consider how one could wirelessly control a bacterium.” Another unique aspect of their project is the “Bluetooth Bacteria Podcast” – a casual and conversational podcast that seeks to educate the general population on topics and current developments in synthetic biology. “One of our main project goals was effective science communication,” said Catalano. “Because COVID-19 limited our ability to teach synthetic biology in person, we thought it would be fun to make a podcast as it is accessible to a wide audience. It gave us the opportunity to hear from iGEM teams all over the world, including France, London, and India.” The team published two episodes every week, and they are available on Apple Podcast or Spotify. The other faculty advisors include Alex Deiters, professor of chemistry; Jason Lohmueller, assistant professor of surgery and immunology; Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering; and Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. # # # The team was sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh, Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Open Philanthropy, Integrated DNA Technologies, TWIST Bioscience, GenScript, Ginkgo Bioworks, Benchling, Revive & Restore, SnapGene, MathWorks, New England BioLabs Inc., and Promega. Photo caption: (from left) Sabrina Catalano, Dara Czernikowski, Lia Franco, Victor So, and Chenming (Angel) Zheng.

Jan
11
2021

MEMS Team Takes Home First Place at SSoE Design Expo

Covid-19, MEMS, Student Profiles

The team and Dr. Chmielus celebrate their win which comes with a $500 prize A pandemic-inspired project received first place from judges at the schoolwide – and virtual – Fall 2020 Engineering Design Expo. The winning project was titled “Enhancement of Metal 3D Printed Respiratory Filter Design” and was conducted by MEMS students Nathan Knueppel, Fred Wohlers, Jared Melnik, Andrew Harman and Zach Ostrander. The team was sponsored by MEMS professor, Markus Chmielus in collaboration with industry partner, ExOne. The project originated in the summer of 2020 when ExOne approached Chmielus with the idea of designing a reusable metal N95 filter. N95 respirator masks are recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for healthcare professionals who are likely to come into contact with patients infected with COVID-19. They are more effective than the cloth masks recommended for public use.  The current design of N95 masks is such that they are generally unable to be sanitized and are considered disposable. The extent of the pandemic has stressed supply chains globally and led to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 respirators. The aim of the team’s design project was twofold. First, to alleviate shortages of N95 masks by designing a new mask that can be 3D printed with metal and can be cleaned and reused.  The second objective was to develop a testing method to determine if the design observed the necessary N95 filter standards. This required the design and manufacture of a test apparatus capable of measuring pressure drop and filtration efficiency for prototype designs. Team member Zach Ostrander models the N95 mask This project is a continuance of the work started over the summer with Chmielus’ research group. Likewise, this team’s test stand and associated developments will be used to guide future groups in the continuation of mask design and test-stand improvements. While more work needs to be completed before manufacturing a functioning N95 masks, the team made tremendous progress this semester, enough to earn them the first-place prize. The team partnered with the Swanson Center for Product Innovation (SCPI) to help with the creation of the test stand. Time constraints limited the team from exploring filtration, so this test stand currently only tests pressure drop, but has been designed to easily adapt to future modifications/additions. In fact, Chmielus has already received several requests from faculty to use the test stand for other research purposes. Therefore, the stand will serve as a permeant addition to the testing equipment available to students and faculty at Pitt. Looking ahead, once the silicone mask design is complete, a single ExOne printer will be capable of producing 90,000 masks per month, which would displace 1.5 million cloth N95 masks. Chmielus notes that the group was excited about their project and inspired by being able to see how their design and progress were directly implemented into the project for use in both the short-term and long-term. According to Chmielus, despite the challenges they faced, the team was well prepared and communicated effectively. Pressure drop test apparatus With COVID restrictions, the team was challenged with video chats instead of in-person meetings and adhering to social distancing guidelines while working on the construction of their designs. Another novelty last semester was that the Design Expo was held virtually via Zoom.  Each team was assigned a breakout room where judges and other Expo attendees were invited to visit the various rooms to learn about each project. Team Coordinator, Nathan Knueppel, said, “This project provided an amazing opportunity for our group to apply our diverse talents to a problem with very real consequences. The news every day provided a poignant reminder of why we were working and the impact we could have on a global scale if we were ultimately successful. I am excited for the progress we made and the work still to come and proud we could contribute to the battle against the current pandemic and to the preparation against the diseases of the future.”

Jan
7
2021

Statement from Dean James Martin II on Yesterday's Violence at the U.S. Capitol Building


To our Swanson School Community, Yesterday’s events in Washington DC have given us pause only a few days into what we had hoped would be a promising new year. We always refer to DC as “Our Nation’s Capital” and “The People’s House” because unlike any other nation, those places are indeed ours. We share in that legacy of representative democracy as Americans – whether we are indigenous, or descended from immigrants or slaves, or if we are newly minted citizens. That is why what we witnessed yesterday viscerally hurt and shamed us. This is especially true for us in higher education, as we are dedicated toward creating new knowledge that advances the human condition and further developing the young minds that will one day succeed us. I join Chancellor Gallagher in denouncing the violent acts of insurrection against the U.S. Capitol. We are a nation of laws undergirded by what should be a shared and respected commitment to the Constitution and to each other. Yesterday’s events – as well as the past year of social unrest and inequity – are in part a result of a loss of respect for our shared heritage, our laws, and what should be a shared concern for each other. When we supplant that respect with arrogance and fealty, our mutual bonds as Americans, citizens, and neighbors are broken. I also echo the Chancellor’s confidence in our shared birthright to work toward a more perfect union, and his confidence in our students as future leaders. Over the past several months I have witnessed first-hand the determination and passion that our engineering students have for helping to bend the arc of the moral universe toward freedom. They are not hiding from arguments of racial injustice and socioeconomic imbalance; rather, they are committed to finding solutions for our Swanson School, our University, and the greater community. Some in our broken body politic may denigrate their passion as idealistic and sophomoric; I, like the Chancellor, believe our students are the foundation for a society better than what we have produced. I hope you will join me in recommitting ourselves to the spirit of We the People, and to provide our Pitt students with the support, knowledge, and tools they need to build a more perfect union for all. Higher education is a most noble profession; universities have always been associated with the principles of freedom and are a conduit to create new knowledge and inspire learning. Likewise, engineering is a long-lived profession that furthers a healthy global society. We have important work ahead of us. Together. Best, Jimmy
Dean James Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering
Jan
6
2021

Machine Learning at the Speed of Light

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 6, 2021) — As we enter the next chapter of the digital age, data traffic continues to grow exponentially. To further enhance artificial intelligence and machine learning, computers will need the ability to process vast amounts of data as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Conventional computing methods are not up to the task, but in looking for a solution, researchers have seen the light—literally. Light-based processors, called photonic processors, enable computers to complete complex calculations at incredible speeds. New research published this week in the journal Nature examines the potential of photonic processors for artificial intelligence applications. The results demonstrate for the first time that these devices can process information rapidly and in parallel, something that today’s electronic chips cannot do. “Neural networks ‘learn’ by taking in huge sets of data and recognizing patterns through a series of algorithms,” explained Nathan Youngblood, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and co-lead author. “This new processor would allow it to run multiple calculations at the same time, using different optical wavelengths for each calculation. The challenge we wanted to address is integration: How can we do computations using light in a way that’s scalable and efficient?” The fast, efficient processing the researchers sought is ideal for applications like self-driving vehicles, which need to process the data they sense from multiple inputs as quickly as possible. Photonic processors can also support applications in cloud computing, medical imaging, and more. “Light-based processors for speeding up tasks in the field of machine learning enable complex mathematical tasks to be processed at high speeds and throughputs,” said senior co-author Wolfram Pernice at the University of Münster. “This is much faster than conventional chips which rely on electronic data transfer, such as graphic cards or specialised hardware like TPUs (Tensor Processing Unit).” The research was conducted by an international team of researchers, including Pitt, the University of Münster in Germany, the Universities of Oxford and Exeter in England, the École Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich. The researchers combined phase-change materials—the storage material used, for example, on DVDs—and photonic structures to store data in a nonvolatile manner without requiring a continual energy supply. This study is also the first to combine these optical memory cells with a chip-based frequency comb as a light source, which is what allowed them to calculate on 16 different wavelengths simultaneously. In the paper, the researchers used the technology to create a convolutional neural network that would recognize handwritten numbers. They found that the method granted never-before-seen data rates and computing densities. “The convolutional operation between input data and one or more filters – which can be a highlighting of edges in a photo, for example – can be transferred very well to our matrix architecture,” said Johannes Feldmann, graduate student at the University of Münster and lead author of the study. “Exploiting light for signal transference enables the processor to perform parallel data processing through wavelength multiplexing, which leads to a higher computing density and many matrix multiplications being carried out in just one timestep. In contrast to traditional electronics, which usually work in the low GHz range, optical modulation speeds can be achieved with speeds up to the 50 to 100 GHz range.” The paper, “Parallel convolution processing using an integrated photonic tensor core,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03070-1) was published in Nature and coauthored by Johannes Feldmann, Nathan Youngblood, Maxim Karpov, Helge Gehring, Xuan Li, Maik Stappers, Manuel Le Gallo, Xin Fu, Anton Lukashchuk, Arslan Raja, Junqiu Liu, David Wright, Abu Sebastian, Tobias Kippenberg, Wolfram Pernice, and Harish Bhaskaran.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
5
2021

Defining the Future of Chemical Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 5, 2021) — Two professors in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are featured in a special “Futures” issue of the AIChE Journal. Research from Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis and John Keith, associate professors of chemical and petroleum engineering, is featured in the special issue that highlights the research of emerging scholars in chemical engineering. “Much of the future of chemical engineering lies in computational chemistry, and John and Yanni are at the forefront of this research,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “It’s no surprise that they were featured in this exciting special issue.” Computational Screening for Catalysts Catalysts are important in the production of industrial chemicals. Experimentally finding sites on atoms for catalysts to bind, however, is an arduous and costly endeavor. Research from the lab of John Keith analyzes errors in alchemical perturbation density functional theory (APDFT), a method that uses a computer model to screen atoms for hypothetical catalyst sites more quickly and with lower cost than trial-and-error experiments in a lab. The researchers used machine learning to correct the prediction errors that occurred in the program, resulting in more than 500 times more hypothetical alloys than the previous model. Their research provides a recipe for developing other machine learning-based APDFT models. The paper, “Machine Learning Corrected Alchemical Perturbation Density Functional Theory for Catalysis Applications,” (DOI: 10.1002/aic.17041) was authored by Charles D. Griego, Lingyan Zhao, Karthikeyan Saravanan, and John Keith. Understanding Zeolites Zeolites are porous, aluminosilicate materials that are used for an array of applications in the chemical industry, including separations, catalysis, and ion exchange. Despite their widespread use, zeolite growth is still not well understood. Featured research led by Giannis Mpourmpakis’s CANELa lab at Pitt uses density functional theory calculations to understand the thermodynamics of oligomerization, which constitutes the initial stage of zeolite growth. The researchers were able to determine that the growth of aluminosilicate systems is energetically more preferred than their pure silicate counterparts and elucidate the effect of different cations on these energetics. They also suggest that the formation of small complexes at the initial growth steps can have a significant impact on the final zeolite structure. Understanding how zeolites form is central to controlling their final structure, such as pore size distribution and chemical composition, since these properties determine to a large extent their overall application behavior. The paper, “Understanding Initial Zeolite Oligomerization Steps with First Principles Calculations,” (DOI: 10.1002/aic.17107) was authored by Emily E. Freeman and Giannis Mpourmpakis from Pitt, James J. Neeway and Radha Kishan Motkuri from the Pacific Northwest National Lab; and Jeffrey D. Rimer from the University of Houston. This work is funded by the Department of Energy, Nuclear Energy University Program and the computations were performed in Pitt’s Center for Research Computing.
Maggie Pavlick