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Feb

Feb
14
2020

Rumcik Scholarship Dinner Held

MEMS

A celebration dinner was recently held to honor the 2019 recipients of The Robert E. Rumcik ’68 Scholarship in Mechanical and Materials Engineering. From left, those present were; Dr. Brendan Connolly (Operations Engineer, Ellwood Quality Steels and former Rumcik Scholar), Jonah De Cortie (MSE junior, scholar recipient), Mike Morgus (President, Ellwood Quality Steels), Alexandra Beebout (MSE senior, scholar recipient), Bob Rumcik (retired President of Ellwood Quality Steels), and Dr. Brian Gleeson (MEMS Department Chair). Beebout has accepted a position at Ellwood and will begin working full-time upon graduating this spring.

Feb
12
2020

Distinguished Service Award Honoree Dr. John F. Oyler Establishes CEE Fellowship

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 12, 2020) The Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department of the School of Engineering is delighted to announce the establishment of the John F. Oyler Fellowship. The Fellowship will provide full tuition support for a graduate student in good academic standing and specializing in structures or solid mechanics in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with preference for students entering the  Engineering Accelerated Graduate (EAGr) program. It is funded by a gift from the John Francis Oyler and Nancy Lee Victoria Fleck Oyler Foundation to recognize Dr. Oyler’s longstanding connection to the CEE Department. Dr. Oyler was a professor in the Swanson School for 25 years before retiring in 2018. He began his teaching career after 40 years in industry, where he worked for Dravo Corporation, Daxus Corporation, and his own consulting firm, Oyler Consulting Services. During his time at Pitt, he taught Statics, Mechanics of Materials, Materials of Construction, and Senior Design Projects. He hopes that this recent gift will help jumpstart students’ careers in the field in which he dedicated more than 65 years of service. “My family and I are quite grateful for the opportunity the Civil Engineering Department gave me to participate in the education of young engineers for the past two and a half decades,” he said. “It has always been my belief that a civil engineer should acquire proficiency in all of the civil engineering disciplines and a complete mastery of at least one.” Students in the  EAGr program are encouraged to apply for the Fellowship, which will announce its first award in 2020. EAGr is an accelerated master’s program that was established to ease the path toward an advanced degree. Eligible students will earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree within their discipline in five years, rather than six. Interested students should contact Dr. Leonard Casson, the Undergraduate Coordinator for the CEE Department. “I am in agreement with the general opinion in the civil engineering profession that a fifth year of formal education is an essential requirement for achieving the professional level. It certainly was true in my career,” said Dr. Oyler. “We are particularly interested in encouraging students to pursue their master's degrees in solid mechanics and structures via the EAGr program.” In 2017, the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) selected Oyler as recipient of the 2017 Michael A. Gross Meritorious Service Award in recognition of contributions to civil engineering. He was nominated by former students wishing to pay tribute to his role in their professional development and the impact he has had on countless other students over the years. More recently, Dr. Oyler was selected to receive the 2020 Distinguished Service Award from the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers (PSPE). The award recognizes “an individual or individuals for outstanding contributions toward the improvement of the social, economic, and professional status of the Professional Engineer.” “These recent awards are a reflection of what Dr. Oyler has done for decades to elevate the stature of our profession,” said Radisav Vidic, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering. “He has impacted the lives of our students, and with this generous gift, he will continue to support their careers and leave a lasting legacy in the Swanson School.” In addition to the John F. Oyler Fellowship, Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences established the Nancy L. Oyler Student Award with a gift from the Oyler family foundation. The Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program designed the award to support and encourage graduate level training and clinical excellence in rehabilitation counseling. It was established in 2019 to honor the memory of Mrs. Oyler, who worked as a rehabilitation counselor, which involved providing psychosocial adjustment services to persons with disabilities. # # #

Feb
12
2020

Pitt Student Team Wins First Place in Annual CAWP Student Estimating Competition

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 12, 2020) — A student team from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering placed first in the 4th annual Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP) Student Estimating Competition, held Feb. 6-8, 2020, at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township. The competition asked student teams to think like a construction company and bid on a heavy-highway construction project. Students received pre-job documents and attended a pre-bid meeting before they were asked to prepare bids and a schedule. The teams turned in their packages before 5 p.m. on Friday and had 30 minutes the following day to present their bid and process to a panel of judges. Nine teams from five universities in the region—Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State University, Penn State University at Harrisburg, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown—participated in the competition, with two teams hailing from Pitt and one from Pitt Johnstown. Benedum Builders team members Paul Amicucci, Anthony Gansor, Russell Jacobs, Mason Hill, Patrick Schorr, and Brandon McDermott, took home a $1,500 prize for first place. The Brain Storm Troopers, from Pitt at Johnstown, placed second. “We appreciate CAWP and the industry mentors for providing this Estimating Competition opportunity to our students for the fourth straight year,” says John Sebastian, McKamish Director of Construction Management Program at Pitt. “The competition provided not only a realistic experience for the students but also a chance to interact with professionals in the industry. A networking opportunity as well as a competition, teams were invited to participate in a career fair and industry presentations when not presenting their bids. Representatives from local construction companies served as judges for the competition, including Swank Construction Company, Independence Excavating, Michael Facchiano Contracting, Trumbull Corporation, Mascaro Contracting and Brayman Construction Corporation. Pitt’s teams were mentored by members of Independence Excavating and i+iconUSA, a construction company led by Swanson School alumnus Lester Snyder. The CAWP developed the Student Estimating Competition to encourage students to understand the benefits and opportunities the heavy-highway construction industry has to offer. CAWP, established in 1934, is a non-profit organization that assists workers in the heavy, highway and utility construction industry and improves relationships between contractors, their employees and the general public.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
12
2020

Pitt ChemE Professor Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 12, 2020) — Susan Fullerton, PhD, Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected as a 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Chemistry. The highly competitive award is given to outstanding early-career scientists from the U.S. and Canada. The two-year, $75,000 fellowship recognizes researchers’ unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field. Fullerton’s fellowship will further her research on two-dimensional materials for next-generation electronics.  These two-dimensional materials can be thought of as a piece of paper – if the paper were only a single molecule thick.  Fullerton’s group uses ions to control charge in these molecularly thin sheets for application in memory and logic.  Fullerton is the 12th Pitt faculty member to receive the Chemistry Fellowship since 1970 “This Fellowship speaks to Susan’s groundbreaking research in electronics, and how she’s used her training in the chemical sciences to impact this field; it’s an honor that is well-deserved,” says Steven Little, PhD, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded annually to 126 researchers in the areas of chemistry, computation and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934 and named for the former president and CEO of the General Motors Corporation, makes grants to support research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
12
2020

Researchers Celebrate Pioneer’s Work on World Radio Day

Electrical & Computer

Originally published in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Every day, people use wireless technologies that may be taken for granted, like music streaming, FaceTime and podcasts listened to on smartphones. All of this and more can be traced back to the work of Reginald Fessenden, described by the United States National Park Service as the “Father of Voice Radio.” Fessenden served as chairman of the electrical engineering department at Pitt when it was called the Western University of Pennsylvania. The department has since evolved into today’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Fessenden was one of the greatest engineers and inventors in history, truly a genius,” said Alan George, the department’s current chair. “Much of the research and education in my field, electrical and computer engineering, including my research on space systems, sensors and missions, wouldn’t exist without his pioneering work in radio communications. Our department is most proud to have been founded by the father of radio.” Fessenden was recruited to Pitt in 1893 by George Westinghouse, who developed the alternating current electrical system and the Westinghouse light bulb among other innovations. Fessenden previously helped Westinghouse with electrical infrastructure and lighting for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and, prior to that, worked with another inventor he admired, Thomas Edison. It was at Pitt where Fessenden began experimenting with the foundations of what would become radio technology, at a time when wireless communication was very limited and people could only send messages via Morse code’s dashes and dots. By 1899, he was able to send wireless telegraphs between Pittsburgh and the former Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh’s North Side. He would leave Pitt in 1900 to dedicate his time to inventing, eventually being employed by the National Electric Signaling Company. His next achievements included the first wireless transmission of speech by radio in 1900, and the first two-way transcontinental radiotelegraphic transmission in 1906. Fessenden developed concepts and technologies for transmission and reception of continuous-wave signals, in the form of amplitude-modulated (AM) radio signals carrying audio information such as speech and music, which was a leap beyond the spark-gap transmitters of the day used for Morse code. AM signaling would later lead to frequency-modulated (FM) signaling, the two keystones of radio technology, and many more radio-frequency technologies that followed. “Fessenden laid the foundation for all modern communications,” George said. “Throughout our modern society, from TV to cell phones to GPS satellites, you can trace back to the work of Fessenden on radio technology. He deserves far more credit than he ever received.” Fessenden’s legacy at Pitt has been carried through the decades, with the late Marlin Mickle advancing research in the application of radio frequency energy. Mickle was the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering, holding a primary appointment as professor of electrical and computer engineering and secondary appointments in computer engineering, biomedical engineering, industrial engineering and telecommunications. He worked as a Pitt faculty member from 1962 until his retirement in 2013. Mickle had over 40 patents licensed, including a method to passively power image capturing and a method to control radio frequency transmissions to mitigate interference with critical care equipment. Pitt’s licensing of his patents led to seven spinoff companies forming. Mickle also directed Pitt’s Radio Frequency Identification Center of Excellence, which focused on research pertaining to advancements in wireless medical and engineering technologies. “He (Mickle) would make sure to dedicate part of his time to telling students in his networking classes about Fessenden and his work so they knew the connection between Fessenden and the department,” said Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “He would tell students ‘Nothing is new,’ and that all technology we have is simply repackaged ideas implemented with better devices.” In medicine, communication is important for faster accurate diagnoses and treatments. "A lot of work in my field wouldn’t be possible without Fessenden’s work,” said Christopher Brown, an associate professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Wireless communication has solved many problems in medicine. You can try using wires to transmit information from an external device to an implant in a patient’s body, but then you have the problems of infection, device failures and inconvenience.” Brown studies psychoacoustics, speech understanding in the presence of background noise, hearing impairment and cochlear implant processing. “Hearing devices have a direct link to Fessenden’s work,” he said. “For example, when someone has hearing aids in both ears, the aids will ‘communicate’ with each other to adjust volume levels so the listener is more comfortable. A cochlear implant is another surgically implanted device that takes radio information from external components through the skin into audio.” Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering reflects every year on the importance of Fessenden’s work at its graduation ceremony. “It’s important for every engineer to understand history in their field, because we can foresee much about the future by understanding the past,” George said. “The inventors of that era were amazing, and much of their new science was based upon faith in their ideas and that they can be successful, even when others didn’t believe in them.”
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Feb
12
2020

Dr. Steven Jacobs on the History of Radio

Electrical & Computer

As part of World Radio Day and the Centennial of KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, Dr. Steven Jacobs spoke with Robert Mangino about the legacy of Reginald Fessenden, the "Father of Radio" and first Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt.

Feb
10
2020

Engineers’ Society of Western PA Honors Pitt Engineering Professor and Students at 136th Annual Banquet

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 10, 2020) — Students and faculty from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering were recognized on Feb. 6, 2020, at the 136th Annual Engineering Awards Banquet of the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP), the longest-lived awards program in American history. Brandon Grainger, PhD, Eaton Faculty Fellow, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate director of the Electric Power Engineering program, was named Engineer of the Year. Grainger is also associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. Trevor Devine, a senior in chemical and petroleum engineering, was awarded the Swanson School’s George Washington Prize. The George Washington Prize finalists include McKenzie Sicke (BioE) and Timothy Wroge (ECE). Semi-finalists include Katherine Dunkelberger (BioE), Chloe Feast (IE), and Alexander Short (ECE). “Since 1880 the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania has been uniting professionals who build the world around us and advance the human condition, and we are proud of our faculty and students who have been recognized by this historic organization,” says James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “Brandon and Trevor are two fine examples of the innovation, civic engagement and grit characteristic of Pitt engineers, and I’m proud to recognize their contributions to engineering’s bright and vital future.” Since it was created in 1998, the Engineer of the Year Award recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments that contribute to the engineering profession. Winners are ESWP members who are active in civic and community affairs. The George Washington Prize, founded in 2008, honors the first President of the United States and the country’s first engineer. Its mission is to reinforce the importance of engineering and technology in society, and enhance the visibility of the profession across the Swanson School’s engineering disciplines. The annual award recognizes Pitt seniors who display outstanding leadership, scholarship and performance as determined by a committee of eight professional engineers and Swanson School faculty. Winners receive a $2500 Dean’s Fellowship and award plaque. An additional $7,500 is awarded to the winner if he or she attends graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. The awards were presented at the ESWP Annual Engineering Awards Banquet on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel. About Trevor Devine Trevor Devine is a senior at the Swanson School of Engineering, scheduled to graduate with his BS in chemical engineering in April 2020. During his time at Pitt, Trevor interned with the RAPID Institute and with Harbison Walker International, where he designed and executed a project to identify the root cause of an issue affecting more than half of the company’s customers. A Mascaro Scholar, Trevor participated in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program in 2018. He continues that work as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Götz Veser’s research group, focusing on transitioning from batch to continuous processing of specialty chemicals through process intensification. After graduation, he plans to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering before obtaining a research and development position in the chemical industry. About Brandon Grainger Brandon Grainger, PhD, is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. He received his PhD in electrical engineering with a specialization in power conversion from Pitt in 2014, where he also received his master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  He was one of the first R.K. Mellon graduate student fellows as the Center for Energy was being established at Pitt. About ESWP Founded in 1880, ESWP is a nonprofit association of more than 850 members and 30 affiliated technical societies engaged in a full spectrum of engineering and applied science disciplines. Now in its 134th year, the annual Engineering Awards Banquet is the oldest award event in the world - predating the Nobel Prize (1901), the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1907), and the Pulitzer Prize (1917).
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
7
2020

Staying on Track

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 7, 2020) — Temperature is an important factor when engineering for the outdoors because materials can change with the weather. Modern railways, the kinds used for high-speed trains, are made of continuous welded rails (CWRs) that are pre-expanded when set so they won’t buckle in the warm weather or crack in the cold. Ensuring the rails remain this way is vital for the safety of trains and longevity of the tracks, but the rails can change with wear, meaning the temperature at which the rail is neither contracting or expanding can fluctuate over time. To help address this issue, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have developed a nondestructive evaluation method to measure stress in rails, with the eventual aim of calculating when the ambient temperature will be problematic. “When the temperature outside is hotter or colder than usual, trains slow down as a precautionary measure to prevent excess strain on the rails,” explains Piervincenzo Rizzo, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and senior author on the paper. “Unnecessary slowdowns create train delays and interruptions in the supply chain, which is why real-time monitoring of the stress on the rails would be so beneficial to the industry.” Rizzo and co-author Amir Nasrollahi, PhD, published their work in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Journal of Nondestructive Evaluation, Diagnostics and Prognostics of Engineering Systems. The ASME selected Rizzo’s paper as one of the top three papers in the 2019 Best Paper competition; it will be recognized at the 47th Annual Review of Progress in Quantitative Nondestructive Evaluation, held in July 2020 in Minneapolis. The paper, “Numerical Analysis and Experimental Validation of a Nondestructive Evaluation Method to Measure Stress in Rails,” (doi: 10.1115/1.4043949) was authored by Rizzo and Amir Nasrollahi, PhD, who previously was a PhD candidate and then post-doctoral researcher in Rizzo’s Laboratory for Nondestructive Evaluation and Structural Health Monitoring Studies at Pitt. Nasrollahi is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Stanford University.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
7
2020

Brandon Grainger Receives the ESWP 2019 Engineer of the Year Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 7, 2020) … Brandon Grainger, assistant professor and Eaton Faculty Fellow of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Engineer of the Year Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP). The award recognizes individuals who have significant technical and professional accomplishments which contribute to the engineering profession, and it was presented at the ESWP Annual Engineering Awards Banquet on Thursday, February 6, 2020 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel. Grainger is associate director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Electric Power Engineering Program and associate director of the Energy GRID Institute. He received his PhD in electrical engineering with a specialization in power conversion from Pitt in 2014, where he also received his master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  He was one of the first R.K. Mellon graduate student fellows as the Center for Energy was being established at Pitt. Grainger’s research interests are primarily focused upon power electronic converter design with power ranges that accommodate aerospace to grid scale applications. He and his advised students investigate circuit topology design, controllers, magnetics, and power semiconductor devices to ensure practical, high power dense solutions primarily for DC/DC and DC/AC converters. “The success of my research endeavors is a result of being strategic, aggressive and observant with a critical eye for detail,” he said. “In the past, there were two classes of engineers in power engineering: the system engineers and power conversion engineers. Although I focus in power conversion engineering, my strength is bridging both domains while proposing unique, novel solutions that industry will find valuable. I feel I bridge academia and industry well - in how I teach, train students, and interact with a wide range of manufacturers.” Grainger, a Pittsburgh native, worked for a variety of companies before joining Pitt full-time including ABB, ANSYS, Mitsubishi Electric and Siemens as either a co-op student, graduate student intern or full-time engineer. The Pittsburgh region is the birthplace of electric power engineering and Grainger gives credit to his academic and industry partners, foundations in the region and graduate students who have invested in him professionally, monetarily, or partnered with him in solving tough, electrical engineering problems that resulted in him receiving this award. “The challenges we are facing today cannot be solved by one individual but requires a community of champions within various organizations who have diverse skill sets to drive change,” he said. “My job is to ensure that students graduating with advanced degrees are equipped to meet these challenges and, yet, being a part of the community of professionals early on. I want to ensure that they feel confident as they transition to the workforce, thus, they are a part of influencing solutions being developed now, in practice, with our program at Pitt.” Grainger has contributed to more than 60 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 (IEEE) where he participates in the Power Electronics Society (PELS) and Industrial Electronics Society (IES) at national levels. He served as the IEEE Pittsburgh PELS chapter chair for three years at which time the section won numerous awards under his leadership. “We are very proud to have Brandon as part of our faculty,” said Alan George, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair Professor.  “Through his teaching and mentoring, he effectively prepares nascent engineers for a successful career in an increasingly diverse and global workforce. His innovative research and collaborations have been an asset to our department from his time as a student to his subsequent transition to faculty in 2014. Brandon is most deserving of this recognition.” ###

Feb
4
2020

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards three novel biomedical projects with $47,500 in Round 2 2019 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 31, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $47,500 to three research groups through its 2019 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a system for preservation of explanted hearts used in transplantation surgery, a new vascular stent with anti-thrombogenic capability, and a rugged, infection resistant material for orthopedic implants. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: “A Structurally and Mechanically Tunable Biocarpet for Peripheral Arterial Disease” For the development of a material and method of deployment of specialized materials that coat the inner lumen of synthetic vascular grafts. The coating will greatly improve the viability and anti-thrombogenic properties of long stent grafts which overlap flexible joints. Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering William R. Wagner, PhD, Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering, Surgery, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Dr. John J. Pacella, MD, Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine, UPMC AWARD 2: “Ex-Vivo Heart Perfusion System for Human Heart Support, Resuscitation, and Physiologic Testing” For the development of a system for preservation of explanted donor hearts suitable for transplantation. Includes means to verify the heart’s mechanical and biological viability to improve recipient response. Christopher Sciortino, MD, PhD; Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC Harvey S. Borovetz, PhD; Dept of Bioengineering; Swanson School of Engineering Rick Shaub, PhD; UPMC Artificial Heart Program; UPMC Garrett Coyan, MD, Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC AWARD 3: “In Vivo Efficacy of an Antibacterial and Biocompatible Polymeric Nanofilm on Titanium Implants” For the development of biocompatible, anti-biofilm coatings for orthopedic use, especially in children. Houssam Bouloussa, MD, MS,  Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Michael McClincy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, UPMC Prashant Kumta, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.
Alan Hirschman, PhD, Executive Director, CMI
Feb
3
2020

Bopaya Bidanda Named IISE President-Elect for 2020-21

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 3, 2020) — Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, Ernest Roth Professor and Department Chair of Industrial Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been elected president of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), the largest professional society dedicated to industrial engineering. “IISE serves those who solve the complex and critical problems of the world, and I am thrilled to have this opportunity to lead our profession and increase our visibility and scope,” says Bidanda. “Industrial engineering is the broadest of all the engineering fields, because it can be applied anywhere. Part of my plan as IISE president is to accelerate the IISE’s strategic initiatives and to help industrial and system engineering become the engineering discipline of choice for high school seniors.” New officers are elected by IISE professional members and serve for three years, with terms beginning on April 1. Bidanda is one of three seats filled in the annual election; he is joined by Ronald Askin, PhD, (Arizona State University) as senior vice president of publications and Rohan Shirwaiker, PhD, (North Carolina State University) as senior vice president of operations. In addition to his roles as chair and professor, Bidanda serves as director of the Manufacturing Assistance Center and Center for Industry Studies at Pitt. He has been an IISE Fellow since 2002 and won the IISE’s Albert G. Holzman Distinguished Educator Award in 2013.  Additionally, he was honored with the 2012 John Imhoff Award for Global Excellence in Industrial Engineering given by the American Society for Engineering Education and the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES) 2012 Award for Global Excellence in Engineering Education. In 2006, he served as President of the Council of IE Academic Department Heads (CIEADH). “Bopaya’s election as president is a testament to his leadership in the field of industrial engineering,” says James R. Martin, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “I’m proud that our faculty members actively pursue opportunities to advance a vital and evolving field, and inspire the next generation of engineers who will shape our world.” ### About IISE The Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers is the world’s largest professional society dedicated solely to the support of the industrial engineering profession and individuals involved with improving quality and productivity. Founded in 1948, IISE is an international, nonprofit association that provides knowledge, training, networking opportunities and recognition to enhance the skills and effectiveness of its members, customers and the profession. Visit IISE at www.iise.org.
Maggie Pavlick

Jan

Jan
31
2020

Got Slime? Using Regenerative Biology to Restore Mucus Production

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 31, 2020) … Let’s talk about slime. Mucus is a protective, slimy secretion produced by goblet cells and which lines organs of the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. Slime production is essential to health, and an imbalance can be life-threatening. Patients with diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and ulcerative colitis produce too much mucus, often after growing too many goblet cells. Loss of goblet cells can be equally devastating - for instance during cancer, after infection, or injury. The balance of slime creation, amount, and transport is critical, so doctors and medical researchers have long sought the origins of goblet cells and have been eager to control processes that regenerate them and maintain balanced populations. Recently, a group of bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered a case of goblet cell regeneration that is both easily accessible and happens incredibly fast on cells isolated from early developing frog embryos. Their findings were published this week in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-14385-y). Lance Davidson, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt, leads the MechMorpho Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering where his researchers study the role of mechanics in human cells as well as the Xenopus embryo - an aquatic frog native to South Africa. “The Xenopus tadpole, like many frogs, has a respiratory skin that can exchange oxygen and perform tasks similar to a human lung,” explained Davidson. “Like the human lung, the surface of the Xenopus respiratory skin is a mucociliated epithelium, which is a tissue formed from goblet cells and ciliated cells that also protects the larva against pathogens. Because of these evolutionary similarities, our group uses frog embryonic organoids to examine how tissue mechanics impact cell growth and tissue formation.” Studying this species is a rapid and cost-effective way to explore the genetic origins of biomechanics and how mechanical cues are sensed, not just in the frog embryo, but universally. When clinicians study cancer in patients, such changes can take weeks, months, or even years, but in a frog embryo, changes happen within hours. “In this project, we took a group of mesenchymal cells out of the early embryo and formed them into a spherical aggregate, and within five hours, they began to change,” Davidson said. “These cells are known to differentiate into a variety of types, but in this scenario, we discovered that they changed very dramatically into a type of cell that they would not have changed into had they been in the embryo.” The lab surprisingly uncovered a case of regeneration that restores a mucociliated epithelium from mesenchymal cells. They performed the experiment multiple times to confirm the unexpected findings and began to look closely at what microenvironmental cues could drive cells into an entirely new type. “We have tools to modulate the mechanical microenvironment that houses the cells, and to our surprise, we found that if we made the environment stiffer, the aggregates changed into these epithelial cells,” explained Davidson. “If we made it softer, we were able to block them from changing. This finding shows that mechanics alone can cause important changes in the cells, and that is a remarkable thing.” Davidson’s group is interested in how cells, influenced by mechanics, may affect disease states. The results detailed in this article may drive new questions in cancer biology, prompting researchers to consider whether certain kinds of invasive cancer cells might revert to a resting cell type based on the stiffness or softness of their surroundings. “When applying these results to cancer biology, one might ask, ‘If tumors are surrounded by soft tissues, would they become dormant and basically non-invasive?’ Or, ‘If you have them in stiff tissues, would they invade and become deadly?’” said Davidson. “These are major questions in the field that biomechanics may be able to help answer. Many researchers focus solely on the chemical pathways, but we are also finding mechanical influencers of disease.” Hye Young Kim, a young scientist fellow at Institute for Basic Science (IBS) and former member of the MechMorpho Lab, will continue this work at the Center for Vascular Research located at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). She will study how cell motility changes during regeneration and how epithelial cells assemble a new epithelium. Davidson and his lab will explore how this novel case of mechanical cues are sensed by mesenchymal cells and how these mechanical induction pathways are integrated with known pathways that control cell fate choices. "Frog embryos and organoids give us unparalleled access to study these processes, far more access than is possible with human organs,” he said. “The old ideas that regeneration is controlled exclusively by diffusing growth factors and hormones is giving way to the recognition that the physical mechanics of the environment – such as how rubbery or fluid the environment -  play just as critical a role." ### This research was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Image caption: "Green Slime covers the surface of a tadpole (bottom) and a goblet-cell regenerated aggregate (top, not the same scale). The images show the molecule intelectin-1, an important factor in tadpole skin, and one of the slime factors synthesized and secreted by goblet cells (single goblet cells can be seen in the aggregate). In human lung, intelectin-1 binds bacteria and is on the front line of the innate immune system. Images courtesy of Hye Young Kim and Lance Davidson."

Jan
30
2020

Stellar Student Researchers

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 30, 2020) — Most researchers can take certain things, like gravity, for granted. That is not the case for the two groups of students from the University of Pittsburgh who will be sending their experiments to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Thanks to a Pitt SEED Grant, two groups of students from the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Pharmacy have the opportunity to send experiments into space to study the effects of microgravity on their subjects through Pitt’s participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). “This is an incredible opportunity for our students to participate in one of humankind’s most impressive ventures: spaceflight,” says David Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research, John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, and co-principle investigator of the SSEP at Pitt. “We’re impressed that our interdisciplinary student teams designed not one, but two experiments accepted to this highly selective program.” Vorp is joined as co-principle investigator by Ravi Patel, PharmD, and Kerry Empey, PharmD, PhD, from the School of Pharmacy. John Donehoo, RPh, clinical pharmacist at UPMC, joins the project as a select collaborator. The SSEP student teams are given a 10-inch silicone tube in which to perform their experiments, which they can segment with clamps to keep elements of the experiment separate until they reach the ISS. Scientists aboard the ISS can only be given simple instructions, like removing the clamps and shaking the tube, making experiment design complicated. Finding a Silver Lining One interdisciplinary group of students is studying how silver nanoparticles effect the immune response of Daphnia Magna, a species of water flea that can show an immune response. Researchers Samantha Bailey, PharmD candidate; Jordan Butko, sophomore studying mechanical engineering; Amanda Carbone, junior studying chemical engineering; and Prerna Dodeja, MS student in the School of Pharmacy, will look at genetic markers in the organism that indicate its immune response once it returns to earth. “Researchers have previously tested immune response in Daphnia Magna, but no one has looked at it with regard to nanoparticles yet,” says Carbone. “We’re excited that we get to build on the work that others have done and explore new territory.” Silver nanoparticles are also sometimes found in antibacterial products and have been associated with significant toxicity in the liver and brain. While these nanoparticles aren’t so problematic on Earth, where gravity keeps them down, they could be more harmful in microgravity, where they can be accidentally inhaled or ingested. The study will investigate the effect of these silver nanoparticles on Daphnia Magna’s immune system in microgravity, comparing it to Daphnia Magna’s response on Earth, to shed light on if and how astronauts’ immune systems function differently in space. Aerospace Aluminum Marissa Defallo, a junior studying mechanical engineering, and Nikolas Vostal, a junior studying materials science, make up the second group of student researchers. They will send a sample of 3D-printed aluminum with unique topography, combined with an oxidizer like a saltwater solution, to the ISS to study corrosion in microgravity. Aluminum is frequently used in the aerospace industry, including on the ISS, and the experiment will provide insights into how the material corrodes in space, information that could inform future corrosion-resistant materials. “At my co-op with American Airlines, we had to do corrosion training, and that evolved into the idea for this project. When satellites are in orbit, they are still in Earth’s atmosphere, and there’s oxygen present to cause corrosion,” says Defallo.  “I’ve always had a passion for space and want to work for a company like SpaceX someday, so this kind of experience is an invaluable opportunity to have.” Though the launch date is not yet officially scheduled, the SSEP teams say they may be able to send the experiments into space in June 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
27
2020

Recognizing a career of service to generations of students

Civil & Environmental

From the Pittsburgh Professional Engineer newsletter. Reposted with permission. Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, Engineers’ Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well‐educated future engineering workforce by increasing the understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers. Engineers’ Week promotes recognition among parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science, and technology literacy. It motivates youth to pursue engineering careers. Each year, Engineers’ Week reaches thousands of schools, businesses, and community groups across the United States. In conjunction with Engineers’ Week, the PSPE Pittsburgh Chapter will hold its annual Awards Banquet at the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP) on Saturday, February 22, 2020. The Distinguished Service Award is presented each year to recognize an individual or individuals for outstanding contributions toward the improvement of the social, economic, and professional status of the Professional Engineer. This year’s award recipient is Dr. John Oyler, whose professional interests are specialized in Civil Engineering Materials, Solid Mechanics, and Structural Engineering. He earned a B.S. in civil engineering from The Pennsylvania State University in 1953, an M.S. in Civil Engineering from Carnegie Tech in 1961, and PhD in Civil Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1972. Dr. Oyler worked for Dravo Corporation from 1953 to 1987 and Daxus Corporation from 1988 to 1991, before forming Oyler Consulting Services in 1991 as a sole proprietorship. He has a strong engineering and solid mechanics background and interest and is a Registered Professional Engineer in five states. He earned his Pennsylvania license in 1959, making him one of the oldest Professional Engineers in the state. Dr. Oyler has had responsibility for all the engineering activities of the 750-member staff of Dravo Engineers. He served as the Project Engineering Manager for the Timken Company’s $450-million greenfield integrated steel-making facility in Canton, Ohio. Dr. Oyler is active nationally in ASCE and ASME and served as an Adjunct Associate Professor from 1993 to 2018 in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching Statics, Mechanics of Materials, Materials of Construction, and Senior Design Projects.

Jan
27
2020

Bridging the Gaps in Bridge Inspection Data

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 27, 2020) — The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains over 25,000 bridges, and the average age of those bridges is 50 years, with a significant portion of them in poor condition. Making sure these bridges are safe is a vital job, but it’s also a dangerous one: Every year, an estimated average of 23  bridge inspectors of state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) lose their lives on the job, highlighting the need for an automated inspection method that is safe, accurate and efficient. Amir Alavi, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is undertaking a $200,000 project sponsored by the Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering (IRISE) Consortium at Pitt for work that will improve bridge assessment. IRISE is a public-private consortium focused on solving infrastructure durability problems.  Its members are Allegheny County, Golden Triangle Construction, Michael Baker International, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Alavi’s research will integrate three bridge assessment techniques: structural health monitoring (SHM), non-destructive evaluation (NDE) and visual inspection using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. The study will establish a data fusion framework to identify the synergies among bridge degradation, remaining service life, and the SHM, NDE and UAV-collected data. Though using UAVs is an emerging civil infrastructure inspection method, it is presenting its own challenges. In the arena of bridge inspection, one of the unanswered questions is how DOTs can integrate the UAV systems with NDE techniques to additionally track deterioration at a higher temporal resolution, or the frequency at which data is collected, improving service-life models forecasting. “We have tons of systems collecting different type of information about the condition of the civil infrastructure systems and, in particular, our bridges. However, the problem is how to combine this information to give inspectors a more descriptive picture of the health status of the bridge,” says Alavi. “While one method can offer a better temporal information, the other may provide better spatial resolution, giving more visual detail but less frequently. One of our primary goals is to identify the level of unique information provided by each data modality and then fuse the data with various levels of spatial and temporal resolution to help bridge inspectors make better decisions more efficiently.” To pursue this research, Alavi and his team will collaborate with the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) at Rutgers University, along with industry partner Wiss, Janney, Elstner (WJE) Inc. It will leverage the data collected by Rutgers’ Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST) facility, the world’s first full-scale accelerated testing facility for bridges. The team at the BEAST will monitor a multi-girder steel composite bridge that is 30 by 50 feet. They will expose the bridge to rapid-cycling environmental changes and extreme traffic loading to speed up the bridge’s deterioration, even undergoing simulated winter road maintenance treatments. Over the nine- to 12-month period, the bridge will go through the equivalent of 15 to 20 years of wear and tear. Alavi’s team will evaluate the resulting data to look for correlations between the SHM, NDE and UAV-collected data through the full-life cycle of bridge performance from the first day of service until to the point that the bridge will be functionally deficient and out of service. The team plans to build a layered heat map, stacking the data from each method to provide a more efficient picture of the bridge’s health and potential issues. The goal of the research is for PennDOT and the other IRISE public partner agencies to implement the framework, gaining valuable information that will inform how—and how often—bridge inspectors should use the various modalities to monitor bridge health. “Understanding bridge condition is a critical aspect of infrastructure durability,” says Julie Vandenbossche, PhD, director of IRISE and William Kepler Whiteford professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. “We’re pleased that Dr. Alavi’s work will improve the state-of-the practice in how those conditions are assessed.” The team will address the reliability of the UAV-based assessment as compared to the commonly-used NDE methods. “The autonomous robotic inspection is the future of bridge inspection, and UAVs play a key role in this game. The problems we are facing for a wide application of UAVs are basically technological issues,” says Alavi. “There are solutions, it’s only a matter of time and research, and our research is a step in the right direction for an effective UAV implementation for bridge inspection in Pennsylvania and beyond.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
24
2020

“I want to pursue a degree like this when I go to college.”

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 24, 2019) — The Outreach Projects for ChE 500 “Systems Engineering I: Dynamics and Modelling,” a Pillars Curriculum course for senior students in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is an integral part of the course. The same groups that work out homework assignments, other projects, recitations or lab experiments are challenged with making a proposal for a community service where they address non-technical audiences and promote the interest in or appreciation for STEM careers. The project, meant to help the engineering students engage with their field in a new way, had a significant impact on their audiences. Eleven groups of Pitt students reached a total of 12 teachers and 443 students ranging from third-graders to college students. Students were entirely free to choose their topics, their partners, their audiences, their communication tools, their service and their goals. The basic structure for the project required a proposal presentation early in the term, the approval of the instructor before the actual presentation to the selected audience, and a final presentation to the class, complemented by a group report and individual self-assessment reports. The final grades factored in self-assessment, community feedback and instructor grading. “Learning to communicate well about science is an important part of being an engineer,” says Joaquin Rodriquez, PhD, assistant professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and ChE 500 instructor. “An important part of this project is practicing communication skills that will serve them for their academic and professional careers.” Many of the groups focused on breaking down engineering concepts for non-engineering audiences in a way that was engaging and hands-on. For some, that meant providing teachers with materials they can use in the classroom to bring STEM concepts to life. One group prepared a presentation for fourth and fifth grade students at Howe Elementary School and Holiday Park Elementary School on how water is processed from natural sources and distributed to peoples’ homes. Another prepared a video and presentation about a chemical experiment, making a lava lamp, to third graders at Stewartsville Elementary School, and yet another prepared a lecture on forces, combined with a dynamic set of experiments to illustrate the different types of forces. Several other groups created websites with chemical engineering principles and fundamental information that teachers can use as a resource when presenting these concepts in the classroom. Other groups created in-person demonstrations designed to engage young audiences. One group prepared a background presentation and a set of three chemical reaction experiments—elephant tooth-paste, a vitamin C clock, and a Luminol demonstration—on stage at Freedom Area Middle School with about 100 sixth-graders in attendance. The students were invited to take part in the experiments, a call they answered with enthusiasm. The projects weren’t all geared toward a K-12 audience, though; others sought to reach non-engineering majors to show how engineering impacts everyone. One group prepared a video about the Haber-Bosch process and its dramatic impact on agriculture to sustain a growing world population. The video was presented at a meeting of the Pitt Muslim Students Association, a group with a diverse educational background. Another prepared a video with animations on the scientific principles behind the operation of microwave ovens to a class of non-STEM major students at Pitt. “Our students each found unique ways to engage with their audiences and make science exciting, enjoyable, and importantly, clear,” says Rodriguez. “They were strong ambassadors for the field of chemical engineering and STEM careers, and I’m proud of the impact our students have in our community.” The feedback provided by the students and teachers shows the great impact these outreach efforts had. In response to a group’s website detailing solar power and chemical engineers’ role in it, the instructor said, “The site provided a lot of useful information on how prevalent these forms of sustainable energy are becoming in the United States and around the world, which started several side conversations with my students about the importance of sustainable energy –which, I believe, is alone the marking of a huge success. To have tapped into the interests of teenagers to such a degree that they talk about renewable energy with interest is, truly, a remarkable feat.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
22
2020

Researchers Regrow Damaged Nerves with Polymer and Protein

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from UPMC. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH, Jan. 22, 2020 –University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have created a biodegradable nerve guide — a polymer tube — filled with growth-promoting protein that can regenerate long sections of damaged nerves, without the need for transplanting stem cells or a donor nerve. So far, the technology has been tested in monkeys, and the results of those experiments appeared today in Science Translational Medicine. “We’re the first to show a nerve guide without any cells was able to bridge a large, 2-inch gap between the nerve stump and its target muscle,” said senior author Kacey Marra, Ph.D., professor of plastic surgery at Pitt and core faculty at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “Our guide was comparable to, and in some ways better than, a nerve graft.” Half of wounded American soldiers return home with injuries to their arms and legs, which aren’t well protected by body armor, often resulting in damaged nerves and disability. Among civilians, car crashes, machinery accidents, cancer treatment, diabetes and even birth trauma can cause significant nerve damage, affecting more than 20 million Americans. Peripheral nerves can regrow up to a third of an inch on their own, but if the damaged section is longer than that, the nerve can’t find its target. Often, the disoriented nerve gets knotted into a painful ball called a neuroma. The most common treatment for longer segments of nerve damage is to remove a skinny sensory nerve at the back of the leg — which causes numbness in the leg and other complications, but has the least chance of being missed — chop it into thirds, bundle the pieces together and then sew them to the end of the damaged motor nerve, usually in the arm. But only about 40 to 60% of the motor function typically returns. “It’s like you’re replacing a piece of linguini with a bundle of angel hair pasta,” Marra said. “It just doesn’t work as well.” Marra’s nerve guide returned about 80% of fine motor control in the thumbs of four monkeys, each with a 2-inch nerve gap in the forearm. The guide is made of the same material as dissolvable sutures and peppered with a growth-promoting protein — the same one delivered to the brain in a recent Parkinson’s trial — which releases slowly over the course of months. The experiment had two controls: an empty polymer tube and a nerve graft. Since monkeys’ legs are relatively short, the usual clinical procedure of removing and dicing a leg nerve wouldn’t work. So, the scientists removed a 2-inch segment of nerve from the forearm, flipped it around and sewed it into place, replacing linguini with linguini, and setting a high bar for the nerve guide to match. Functional recovery was just as good with Marra’s guide as it was with this best-case-scenario graft, and the guide outperformed the graft when it came to restoring nerve conduction and replenishing Schwann cells — the insulating layer around nerves that boosts electrical signals and supports regeneration. In both scenarios, it took a year for the nerve to regrow. The empty guide performed significantly worse all around. With these promising results in monkeys, Marra wants to bring her nerve guide to human patients. She’s working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a first-in-human clinical trial and spinning out a startup company, AxoMax Technologies Inc. “There are no hollow tubes on the market that are approved by the FDA for nerve gaps greater than an inch. Once you get past that, no off-the-shelf tube has been shown to work,” Marra said. “That’s what’s amazing here.” Additional authors on the study include Neil Fadia, Jacqueline Bliley, Gabriella DiBernardo, Donald Crammond, Ph.D., Benjamin Schilling, Wesley Sivak, M.D., Ph.D., Alexander Spiess, M.D., Kia Washington, M.D., Matthias Waldner, M.D., Liao Han Tsung, Ph.D., Isaac James, M.D., Danielle Minteer, Ph.D., Casey Tompkins-Rhoades, Deok-Yeol Kim, Riccardo Schweizer, M.D., Debra Bourne, M.D., Adam Cottrill, George Panagis, Asher Schusterman, M.D., Francesco Egro, M.D., Insiyah Campwala, Tyler Simpson, M.S., Douglas Weber, Ph.D., Trent Gause, M.D., Jack Brooker, Tvisha Josyula, Astrid Guevara, Alexander Repko and Christopher Mahoney, all of Pitt. This study was funded by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (award number W81XWH-14-2-0003). MedGenesis Therapeutix Inc. supplied the growth-promoting protein. Axomax Technologies was formed after the experiments were completed. For additional multimedia, contact Erin Hare at HareE@upmc.edu or 412-738-1097. #  #  # Video credit: UPMC.

Jan
22
2020

Impacting human life now

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Reposted with permission from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing. Click here to read the original story. Two images of MRI brain scans are displayed side-by-side on a poster in the Radiofrequency Research Facility in the basement of BST 3, one image marked 3T and one 7T. On the 7T image the hippocampus region of the brain displays a tracing of vessels not visible on the 3T image. “You can clearly see a microstructure in the 7T scan that doesn’t appear in the 3T scan,”  post-doc Tales Santini points out. “That kind of detail is what our scanner system offers.” That scanner is one of the most powerful MRI devices in the world – designated 7T  for 7 Tesla, a measure of the strength of an electromagnetic field (by comparison, Earth’s magnetic field is about 0.00065 T and a refrigerator magnet 0.01 T). MRI scanners in use are primarily 1.5 and 3 Tesla. The increased power of the 7 Tesla scanner reveals details not visible in typical MRI machines. With a resolution up to 180 microns – a micron is a millionth of a meter – the 7 Tesla can identify problems much earlier than existing scanners. 7 Tesla is particularly effective in early detection of brain issues implicated in diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s and late life depression, diseases which are a focus of the Radiofrequency Research Facility and the 7 Tesla Bioengineering Research program, directed by Tamer Ibrahim, professor of bioengineering, radiology, and psychiatry. The increased frequency of the 7 Tesla represents challenges. If the electromagnetic waves do not enter the skull evenly in a uniform pattern, heat concentrates in individual areas of the brain, considerably raising their temperatures. The maximum possible heating allowed by the U.S.. Food and Drug Administration is one degree centigrade. The lab is currently developing technology to smooth those electromagnetic waves using an array of 70 intricate radiofrequency antennas surrounding the head and neck, dubbed the Tic-Tac-Toe antenna owing to a nine-square grid marked with X’s and O’s displayed on the array’s housing. The team uses the Center for Research Computing to simulate hundreds of thousands of possible configurations of the antennas to create the most uniform possible waves. “The wavelength of tissue is short, about 12 centimeters at 7 Tesla, while the human head is electrically large, about 20 cm front to back,” explains Ibrahim. “We must create a relatively homogenous magnetic field to image a head that is about twice the wavelength of the 7 Tesla in tissue. This is extremely challenging. Without a uniform field, the image quality and usefulness will significantly degrade, and the electrical field can localize and heat the tissue.” Engineer Anthony Defranco, Tamer Ibrahim, and post-doc Tales Santini. Santini is holding the housing of the Tic-Tac-Toe antenna. Now the computational problem. Hundreds of thousands of configurations of the Tic-Tac-Toe antennas must be modeled to optimize that balance of uniform imaging while minimizing the danger of heating before any testing. Each of the 70 antennas is simulated in the presence of the other 69 antennas, the electromagnetic fields from these simulations are combined – potentially in hundreds of millions of different ways - to form the most even, yet safe, magnetic field distribution.  “We use CRC to do the simulation and optimization of the coils, but also in processing human imaging data,” Santini explained. The 7 Tesla scanner and Tic-Tac-Toe antennas are being heavily used in clinical studies. Ibrahim estimates that his team of 12 PhD students, several MS and BS students, two engineering staff, and two post-docs has performed 4,000 human head and neck scans between 2017 and 2024 looking at blood flow, cerebral spinal fluid, small vessels and microstructures in the hippocampus and other brain regions, all of which correlate with diseases like Alzheimer’s. The research is not limited to conditions associated with aging but includes major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, sickle cell, mild cognitive impairment, normal aging, late-life depression, dementia, psychosis, neurocognitive disparities, and linking personality to health, among others. The Tic-Tac-Toe radiofrequency coil system has achieved breakthrough results in terms of image quality and consistency at 7 Tesla. The new capabilities are stimulating significant translational and collaborative research.  Through extensive collaborations with the Alzheimer Disease Research Center and the  Pitt departments of Psychiatry, Medicine, Epidemiology, Neurology, Psychology, and Anesthesiology, Ibrahim’s lab has attracted close to $40 million in grant funding over the last four years, including 17 National Institutes of Health grants. A recent NIH award of over $3.75 million funds research by Ibrahim and collaborators in the Department of Psychiatry into developing new 7 Tesla technology to investigate relationships between preclinical Alzheimer’s disease and small vessel and cerebrospinal fluid conditions. Ibrahim is also central to an initiative of the departments of Bioengineering and Psychiatry to create a multidisciplinary training program for pre-doc bioengineering students to participate in mental health research, an initiative that recently received $1.1 million from the NIH. “This is an exciting time,” says Ibrahim. “Our engineering innovations are being used on real patient studies. We’re not making something that just could be used some time in the future. We are impacting human life now.”

Jan
22
2020

MBA & CAP Award Scholarships to Pitt Engineering Students

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

MBA/CAP News Release. Posted with permission. PITTSBURGH (January 22, 2020) ... The Master Builders’ Association of Western Pennsylvania, Inc. (MBA) and the Construction Advancement Program (CAP) awarded three scholarships this year at the MBA’s Annual Membership Reception. The scholarship awardees were Derek Miller, Anthony Mash, and Rachel Dancer. Collectively, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering’s Construction Management/Civil Engineering Program students received $15,000. Derek Miller took the top prize of an $8,000 scholarship. Miller is the returning champion, having taken first place last year as well. Anthony Mash and Rachel Dancer were in a statistical tie for second place, so the prize was split, awarding each student $3,500. "Congratulations to the scholarship winners, who are all Civil Engineering students with a Construction Management focus. We are grateful to the Master Builders Association and the Construction Advancement Program for providing these scholarships annually to deserving Pitt students," said John T. Sebastian, Professor of Practice and Director of the Construction Management program. Providing annual scholarships to students in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is something near and dear to the MBA & CAP. In the early 1990s CAP responded to an inquiry from the School's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to do a needs assessment of the construction community so that Pitt could expand its engineering studies into areas that would improve the skills and the marketability of its graduates. The CAP Board of Trustees worked with university faculty to help set goals for what is now the Pitt Construction Management Program. Since the MBA & CAP teamed to provide annual scholarships in 1998, more than $200,000 in scholarships have been provided. This year’s recipients were honored at the 2020 MBA Annual Membership Reception, held on Friday, January 17, at the Duquesne Club. To view photos from the event, please click here. About CAP: The Construction Advancement Program is a service organization established in 1961 via the collective bargaining agreements between the MBA and the various building trades unions. The primary function of CAP is to provide services benefiting all persons, management and labor alike, who earn their living in union construction.About the MBA Since 1886, MBA contractors have set the standard in Western PA for construction excellence by investing in a skilled workforce, implementing award-winning safety programs and offering the best in management expertise. For more information on the MBA, please call 412-922-3912 or visit www.mbawpa.org. ###
Master Builders’ Association
Jan
21
2020

Pitt Researchers Propose Solutions for Networking Lag in Massive IoT Devices

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Jan 21, 2020) — The internet of things (IoT) widely spans from the smart speakers and Wi-Fi-connected home appliances to manufacturing machines that use connected sensors to time tasks on an assembly line, warehouses that rely on automation to manage inventory, and surgeons who can perform extremely precise surgeries with robots. But for these applications, timing is everything: a lagging connection could have disastrous consequences. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are taking on that task, proposing a system that would use currently underutilized resources in an existing wireless channel to create extra opportunities for lag-free connections. The process, which wouldn’t require any additional hardware or wireless spectrum resources, could alleviate traffic backups on networks with many wireless connections, such as those found in smart warehouses and automated factories. The researchers announced their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2019 International Conference on Emerging Networking Experiments and Technologies, one of the best research conferences in networking techniques.The paper, titled“EasyPass: Combating IoT Delay with Multiple Access Wireless Side Channels,” (DOI: 10.1145/3359989.3365421), was named Best Paper at the Conference. It was authored by Haoyang Lu, PhD, Ruirong Chen, and Wei Gao, PhD. “The network’s automatic response to channel quality, or the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), is almost always a step or two behind,” explains Gao, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “When there is heavy traffic on a channel, the network changes to accommodate it. Similarly, when there is lighter traffic, the network meets it, but these adaptations don’t happen instantaneously. We used that lag - the space between the channel condition change and the network adjustment - to build a side channel solely for IoT devices where there is no competition and no delay.” This method, which the authors call “EasyPass,” would exploit the existing SNR margin, using it as a dedicated side channel for IoT devices. Lab tests have demonstrated a 90 percent reduction in data transmission delay in congested IoT networks, with a throughput up to 2.5 Mbps over a narrowband wireless link that can be accessed by more than 100 IoT devices at once. “The IoT has an important future in smart buildings, transportation systems, smart manufacturing, cyber-physical health systems, and beyond,” says Gao. “Our research could remove a very important barrier holding it back.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
16
2020

The Difference the Right Tools Can Make

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 16, 2019) —  Sometimes, in order to understand the big picture, you need to start by assessing the smallest of details. It’s a truth that engineers know well — selecting the right materials can mean the success or failure of a given application. As technology advances, researchers have assessed engineering materials at the microscopic level for applications ranging from nanomachines to semiconductors, specialized coatings to robotics. For researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, looking closely enough to engineer materials for cutting-edge applications would not have been possible without the generous $1 million gift that Thomas F. Dudash provided in 2018. Mr. Dudash, an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh who received his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1960, never imagined that he’d have a million dollars to donate for advanced research. After a lifelong career with Allegheny Ludlum, he wanted to share his success with the next generation of materials engineers. The gift was designated for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS), the successor to the metallurgical engineering program. The gift enabled the Department to purchase nano-manipulators, specialized sample holders that allow researchers to make in situ observations of materials behavior at the nano-scale using transmission electron microscopy. In-situ atomistic observation of a gold nano-crystal from Mao's research. Those observations have led to foundational discoveries that are crucial for materials development. Scott X. Mao, MEMS professor, uses a specially designed sample holder to study how metals elongate and deform at the atomic level. Microelectronic mechanical systems rely on components made from microscopic structures of these metals, but metals behave differently at such a reduced length scale. Understanding the mechanical behavior of nanostructured metallic materials will enable the further development of strong and reliable components for advanced nanomechanical devices. Without such holder, it’s impossible to carry out an atomic scaled mechanical and electrical experiments under the most advanced high resolution electron microscope to achieve the understanding. Electron microscopy is used to observe and test individual nanoparticles on flat surface in Jacobs' research. Tevis Jacobs, assistant professor in MEMS, was able to acquire a specialized holder, which enables research advancing the understanding of micro- and nano-surfaces and engineering more stable nanoparticles. Nanoparticles play an important role in advanced industries and technologies, from electronics and pharmaceuticals to catalysts and sensors. Because they can be as small as 10 atoms in diameter, they are susceptible to coarsening with continued use, reducing their functionality and degrading performance. Jacobs received a $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for this work that will utilize the specialized holder to directly study and measure adhesion properties of nanoparticles and their supporting substrates. Thanks to Mr. Dudash’s gift, Jacobs and his team were able to procure the only commercially-available tool that can manipulate the materials as precisely as is necessary to perform their impactful research. Polymer with embedded copper molecules. The gift also enabled Assistant Professor Markus Chmielus’s research analyzing 3D-printed denture frames. His group has used a SkyScan 1272 micro-computed tomography (microCT) scanner – purchased and maintained using gift funds - to export an accurate model of an existing denture, then used binder jet 3D-printing to reproduce the model. The scanner can analyze samples prior to 3D-printing as well to look for porosity and how that porosity changes when heat treatment is added, helping researchers develop a processing step to eliminate porosity. So far, the group has used the microCT to evaluate densities of green and sintered binder jet 3D-printed metals, including nickel-based superalloys , functional magnetic materials, and a commonly used titanium alloy, Ti-6Al-4V. Image from Roberts' paper in ATVB, "Calcification in Human Intracranial Aneurysms Is Highly Prevalent and Displays Both Atherosclerotic and Nonatherosclerotic Types." Anne Robertson, MEMS and BioE professor, and her team use the micro-CT in their NIH-supported work studying the causes for rupture of intracranial aneurysms (IAs). Robertson and her team used the specialized micro-CT equipment to analyze aneurysm tissue from patients and found that calcification is substantially more prevalent than previously thought. The micro-CT was able to identify microcalcifications as small as 3 micrometers. The team discovered differences in the types of calcification in ruptured versus unruptured aneurysms, made possible using the micro-CT system. The work was published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB (doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.119.312922). This improved understanding could lead to new therapeutic targets and, ultimately, improved outcomes for patients with aneurysms. Great innovations require the right tools. Thanks to Mr. Dudash’s gift, the MEMS Department has the tools to innovate, discover and create—tools that have produced an important base of knowledge that manufacturers will be building on for years to come. “It is generous gifts from donors like Mr. Dudash that enable advanced research and, ultimately, discovery,” said Brian Gleeson, Tack Chaired Professor and MEMS Department Chairman. “Moreover, the funds provided by Mr. Dudash are being used strategically to create specialized capabilities that greatly help to procure further funding from agencies and, hence, further bolster research activities.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
16
2020

Le Problème des Plastiques

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 16, 2020) — Plastic pollution is one of the many pressing environmental problems we are facing. On Dec. 12 and 13, 2019, in Paris and Le Mans, France, Melissa Bilec - deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow the University of Pittsburgh -  was invited by the French Embassy in the U.S. and the French Government to provide her perspective on solutions to this demanding problem. Bilec’s work in circular economy solutions to plastic waste earned her an invitation to present her expertise to the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment (OPECST). OPECST is composed of 18 members of the National Assembly and 18 senators, with the purpose of studying and assessing research that applies to policy decisions. Specifically, Bilec’s presentation will inform French politicians Angèle Préville, Senator for Lot, and Deputy Philippe Bolo, member of the National Assembly for Maine-et-Loire, as they lead a study on plastic pollution. “Complex problems like plastic waste require convergent, systems-level perspectives; circular economy solutions should be considered as a strong and viable solution to address plastic waste,” says Bilec. “I am grateful for the opportunity to share my expertise and ideas on designing products and processes to close loops with those who can enact them on the global stage.” Following the testimony to OPECST, Bilec was also invited to speak at workshop, “Responding to Plastic Pollution through Science: From Research to Action,” in Le Mans, France, which was attended by the Senator Preville and Deputy Bolo, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Embassy of France in the United States.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
15
2020

Shaping the Future of Pitt

Industrial, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Originally published in Pittwire. Reposed with permission. Anila Ghosh has a lot of ideas about how the University of Pittsburgh can shape its next five years. “Diversity is really important to me as a woman engineer,” said Ghosh, who’s working toward her degree from the Swanson School of Engineering. That’s why the third-year student is bringing her ideas to the table for the Plan for Pitt 2025, Pitt’s new strategic plan that will define the University’s priorities and guide the path to accomplish those goals over the next five years. Students, faculty and staff from all of Pitt’s campuses are encouraged to participate in the input process, which will culminate in the new plan, to be introduced later this year. “It’s the socially responsible thing to do. Whenever I make decisions like this, I like to think about what would happen if everybody acted the way I’m acting,” said Ghosh at a planning workshop open to all undergraduate students. “If I didn’t come tonight, there would be one less engineer here. There would be one less woman here.” Daniel Rudy also came to the workshop with his own suggestions for the Plan for Pitt 2025. And as a third-year student, he’s seizing the opportunity to share his ideas—to leave a legacy, he said. “We operate like a small city. If we don’t say something now, there’s not going to be anyone to make those changes for the next class of students or the next generation,” said Rudy, a triple-major working toward degrees in the School of Computing and Information and in economics and mathematics, both in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Setting the focus Over pizza, large sheets of white notebook paper and bold-colored markers, Ghosh and Rudy worked with their peers to delve into the six goals from the original Plan for Pitt that will serve as the basis for the Plan for Pitt 2025. In smaller groups, the students defined goals, identified outcomes and set forth some actions on how to reach those goals. Some suggestions from the workshop participants: having access to more pre-professional and career advisors, creating more art studios on campus, expanding locations for study abroad programs and improving the visibility of disability resources. “I talked about bringing in professors with diverse cultural experiences and giving them a platform to talk about their expertise, even if it’s not in a standard class environment,” said Rudy. “I also talked about getting more students into study abroad programs that are better funded so students from low-income families can have the opportunity to go abroad.” Ghosh emphasized diversity and interdisciplinary learning in her suggestions. “Success looks like having more students who are in personalized learning experiences versus following a traditional major path,” said Ghosh, who is minoring in classics in the Dietrich School to complement her engineering degree. She added, “It’s impossible to be using all of your resources to the fullest if everyone in your classes has the same background. It’s important to not just focus on what’s in your major or what’s available within your comfort zone.” All voices welcome Faculty, staff and graduate students will also have the opportunity to collaborate and provide their feedback at additional workshops. Every school or unit has identified a liaison for the Plan for Pitt 2025 process. Amanda Leifson said she plans to attend the workshop specific to graduate students. “I heard that the Plan for Pitt was coming down the line, and I was excited as I’m getting ready to leave Pitt to share my experiences. It’s really reflective,” said Leifson, who for the past two years has worked as executive administrator for the Graduate and Professional Student Government. “The fact that Pitt is reaching out to grad students and learning about our experiences straight from us is a good sign.” Leifson, who is pursuing a PhD in political science and government in the Dietrich School, said she plans to make suggestions to the Plan for Pitt that elevate the awareness and the voice of graduate students. She also want to advocate for a physical space for graduate students to network and build relationships across disciplines. Alex Toner, assistant director of community engagement in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations, is eager to get involved as well. “I’ve been part of three different departments in the University and have been here for about six or seven years now, so I've seen the whole process of one plan play out,” said Toner. “I think it's valuable for those varied perspectives from across our campuses and communities to be involved in these opportunities. I think it's really important for everyone to be able to participate in the strategic plan to allow for such an open and transparent process. So I'm really just looking forward to adding my voice to that and being a positive part of the future of the University.” Here’s how to get involved: Register for one of the scheduled workshops and focus groups. The events will be held on all five of Pitt’s campuses and in the greater community throughout January and February. Can’t make it in person? There’s also an online survey to provide feedback. Anyone with an interest in the future of Pitt can submit comments. Once all the input is gathered, it will be shared with goal-specific committees, which will shape objectives and make proposals based on feedback from the Pitt community and other stakeholders. The target is to start working toward these goals as early as the next calendar year. “Students, faculty, staff, alumni—we want to hear from everyone. The Plan for Pitt 2025 will guide the direction of the University over the next five years,” said Melissa Schild, assistant vice chancellor for strategic planning and performance, who is leading the process of the Plan for Pitt 2025. “Strong participation will result in a plan that everybody can use as a foundation for moving forward. It will position Pitt to make an even bigger impact." ###
Margo Shear Fischgrund, Communications Manager
Jan
9
2020

Advancing Neural Stimulation: Kozai Designs a Wireless, Light-Activated Electrode

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 9, 2020) … Neural stimulation is a pioneering technology that can be used to recover function and improve the quality of life for individuals who suffer from brain injury or disease. It serves an integral role in modern neuroscience research and human neuroprosthetics, including advancements in prosthetic limbs and brain-computer interfaces. A challenge that remains with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received a $1,652,844 award from the National Institutes of Health (1R01NS105691-01A1) to develop an innovative solution to address these limitations. “Implantation of these devices causes a reactive tissue response which degrades the functional performance over time, thus limiting device capabilities,” Kozai explained. “Current electrical stimulation implants are tethered to the skull, which leads to mechanical strain in the tissue, and in turn, causes chronic inflammation and increases the possibility of an infection.” Kozai, who leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering, will use the NIH award to develop a wireless in vivo stimulation technology that will enable precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. In this design, the electrode will be implanted in the brain and activated by light - via the photoelectric effect - with a far-red or infrared laser source, which can sit outside of the brain. “This use of photostimulation removes the mechanical requirements necessary in traditional microstimulation technology and improves spatial selectivity of activated neurons for stable, long-term electrical stimulation,” Kozai said. His group found that photostimulation drives a more localized population of neurons when compared to electrical stimulation under similar conditions. When used, the activated cells were closer to the electrode, which indicates increased spatial precision. The proposed technology will be smaller than traditional photovoltaic devices but larger than nanoparticles to improve device longevity. “With this project, we hope to develop advanced neural probes that are capable of activating specific neurons for long periods of time and with great precision,” Kozai said. “This technology could significantly impact neuroscience research and ultimately the treatment of neurological injury and disease in humans.” ###

Jan
8
2020

2020 ChemE Faculty

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position at the assistant professor rank. Successful candidates are expected to show exceptional potential to become leaders in their respective fields, and to contribute to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Department has internationally recognized programs in Energy and Sustainability, Catalysis and Reaction Engineering, Materials, Multi-Scale Modeling, and Biomedical engineering. Active collaborations exist with several adjacent centers, including the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling, the Petersen Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, The University of Pittsburgh Center for Energy, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and the U.S. DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. The department also has a broad strategic alliance with the Lubrizol Corporation, a leading specialty chemicals company, with a particular focus on process intensification. We are seeking faculty who can contribute strategically to departmental strengths, but outstanding applicants in all areas will be considered. Applications will only be accepted via submission through the following Interfolio link: http://apply.interfolio.com/72527. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by February 28, 2020. Please address any inquiries (but not applications) to che@pitt.edu. Candidates from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. One of the major strategic goals of the university is to “Embrace Diversity and Inclusion”; therefore, the candidate should be committed to high-quality teaching and research for a diverse student body and to assisting our department in enhancing diversity in all forms. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vet/Disabled employer.

Jan
6
2020

Take heart: Pitt study reveals how relaxin targets cardiovascular disease

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 6, 2020) … As a healthy heart ages, it becomes more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Though researchers have discovered that relaxin, an insulin-like hormone, suppresses atrial fibrillation (AF), inflammation, and fibrosis in aged rats, the underlying mechanisms of these benefits are still unknown. In a recent Scientific Reports paper, University of Pittsburgh graduate student Brian Martin discusses how relaxin interacts with the body’s signaling processes to produce a fundamental mechanism that may have great therapeutic potential. The study, “Relaxin reverses maladaptive remodeling of the aged heart through Wnt-signaling” (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-53867-y) was led by Guy Salama, professor of medicine at Pitt, and Brian Martin, a graduate student researcher from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering. “Relaxin is a reproductive hormone discovered in the early 20th century that has been shown to suppress cardiovascular disease symptoms,” said Martin. “In this paper, we show that relaxin treatment reverses electrical remodeling in animal models by activating canonical Wnt signaling - a discovery that reveals a fundamental underlying mechanism behind relaxin’s benefits.” A better understanding of how relaxin interacts with the body may improve its efficacy as a therapy to treat cardiovascular disease in humans. As the U.S. population ages, the rates of these age-associated diseases are expected to rise, requiring better treatment for this leading cause of death. According to a report from the American Heart Association, the total direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease are projected to increase to $749 billion in 2035. “A common problem in age-associated cardiovascular disease is altered electrical signaling required for proper heart contraction,” Martin explained. “When ions in the heart and their associated channels to enter or exit the heart are disrupted, complications occur.” “Natural, healthy aging has been shown to be accompanied by changes in structure and function,” Salama added. “For example, aged cardiomyocytes start to express embryonic contractile proteins and fewer voltage-gated Na+ channels by unknown mechanisms. The reversal of some aspects of the aging process by relaxin is mediated by the reactivation of Wnt canonical signaling which may partly explain mechanisms of the aging process.” The group’s study found that relaxin upregulated the prominent sodium channel, Nav1.5, in cells of heart tissue via a mechanism inhibited by the Wnt pathway inhibitor Dickkopf-1. “Wnt signaling is thought to be active primarily in the developing heart and inactive later in life,” Martin said. “However, we show that relaxin can reactivate Wnt signaling in a beneficial way to increase Nav1.5.” Increased Nav1.5 is associated with better electrical signaling in the heart may reduce susceptibility to cardiac rhythm disorders. “Further, we show that relaxin can also reverse the age-associated reduction in cell adhesion molecules and cell-cell communication proteins,” he continued. “In summary, relaxin appears to reverse problematic reductions or pathological reorganization of vital cardiac signaling proteins.” While these data provide new insight into relaxin’s mechanisms of action, further work is needed to understand the precise steps required for relaxin to alter Wnt signaling and if steps can be taken to directly alter Wnt signaling to provide its beneficial effects. ### Image caption: “Left ventricular tissue sections (7-µm thick) from aged rat hearts (24 months old) were labeled with the nuclear stain (DAPI-blue) and an antibody against β-catenin (green). Rats were treated with Relaxin (0.4 mg/kg/day for 2-weeks) (left panel) or with the control vehicle (sodium acetate) (right panel) and the tissue sections were imaged by confocal microscopy (600X magnification). Relaxin treatment (left) produced a marked positive remodeling of aged ventricles with a reduction of cell hypertrophy, improved organization of myofibrils and cell membrane compared to untreated, control aged hearts (right).” Credit: Dr. Guillermo Romero.

Jan
6
2020

MEMS Welcomes Two New Faculty Members

MEMS

Qihan Liu Qihan Liu Dr. Liu received his BS from the University of Science and Technology of China (Special Class for Gifted Young) in 2010 and his PhD from Harvard University in Materials Sciences and Mechanical Engineering in 2016. Since completing his PhD, Dr. Liu has worked at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow in the Bioengineering Department studying the manufacturing of 3D nanofibrous scaffold for regenerative heart valves. Trained as a theorist during his PhD studies, Dr. Liu has developed a strong background in the mechanics and physics of soft materials, with expertise spanning elastic instability, fracture, rheology, interfacial phenomena, and multi-physics constitutive models. Paul Ohodnicki Paul Ohodnicki Dr. Ohodnicki received bachelor degrees in both Economics and Engineering Physics from the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his MS and Ph.D. degrees in Materials Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Dr. Ohodnicki’s most recent position was Materials Scientist and Technical Portfolio Lead of the Functional Materials Team at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh. While at NETL, Dr. Ohodnicki received a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (2016) and was a finalist for the Service to America Promising Innovations Medal (2017). His research experience has spanned academia, industry, and the federal government. The main focus of Dr. Ohodnicki’s research is the synthesis, characterization, and integration of functional materials down to the nano-scale, together with component-level performance improvements through advanced materials engineering strategies. He has exploited advanced processing methods for both thin film and bulk nano-structured materials and nano-composites. These methods include additive manufacturing, thin film deposition, nanofabrication, and far-from equilibrium processing such as rapid solidification in addition to anisotropic processing in the presence of applied strain and magnetic fields. His research has been particularly impactful in the areas of soft magnetic materials and sensors for harsh service environments.

Jan
6
2020

NSF Grant Awarded

MEMS

Sung-Kwon Cho Microfluidics have had a tremendous impact on biotechnology, biosensors, health care, and more.  Conventional microfluidics are based on a micro channel network for continuous flow streams. In contrast, digital microfluidics use droplets as the operational element, which serve as carriers and reaction chambers eliminating the need for confining physical structures. The current method most commonly used to drive these droplets is through electrowetting on dielectric (EWOD). However, EWOD often suffers from limitations such as high voltage requirement and biofouling, hampering many real applications. Dr. Sung Kwon Cho, mechanical engineering professor, was awarded a $310,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to seek a straightforward pathway to a new digital microfluidic platform without the limitations of EWOD. The project is entitled, “Collaborative Research: Magnetically Actuated Black Silicon Ratchet Surfaces for Digital Microfluidics," and is in collaboration with Professor Seok Kim of the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign. The proposed platform exploits a purely mechanical means to drive discrete liquid droplets in a rapid, flexible, programmable, and reconfigurable manner. The key mechanism is dynamically tuning surface morphology using magnetically-actuated anti-biofouling ratchet surfaces.  As a result, droplets are essentially driven mechanically, not electrically. This three-year collaborative research project will combine the expertise of Profs. Cho and Kim in mechanics, materials, manufacturing and microfluidics in order to achieve understanding and knowledge in the proposed system, and finally open up a new interdisciplinary research area across smart composite materials and digital microfluidics.