Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Apr

Apr
7
2020

Let’s Do the Twist

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) … The twisting and bending capabilities of the human muscle system enable a varied and dynamic range of motion, from walking and running to reaching and grasping. Replicating something as seemingly simple as waving a hand in a robot, however, requires a complex series of motors, pumps, actuators and algorithms. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University have recently designed a polymer known as a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) that can be “programmed” to both twist and bend in the presence of light. The research, published in the journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5349) was developed at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering by Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering; and James T. Waters, postdoctoral associate and the paper’s first author. Other researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering include Joanna Aizenberg, Michael Aizenberg, Michael Lerch, Shucong Li and Yuxing Yao.These particular LCEs are achiral: the structure and its mirror image are identical. This is not true for a chiral object, such as a human hand, which is not superimposable with a mirror image of itself. In other words, the right hand cannot be spontaneously converted to a left hand. When the achiral LCE is exposed to light, however, it can controllably and reversibly twist to the right or twist to left, forming both right-handed and left-handed structures. “The chirality of molecules and materials systems often dictates their properties,” Dr. Balazs explained. “The ability to dynamically and reversibly alter chirality or drive an achiral structure into a chiral one could provide a unique approach for changing the properties of a given system on-the-fly.” To date, however, achieving this level of structural mutability remains a daunting challenge. Hence, these findings are exciting because these LCEs are inherently achiral but can become chiral in the presence of ultraviolet light and revert to achiral when the light is removed.”The researchers uncovered this distinctive dynamic behavior through their computer modeling of a microscopic LCE post anchored to a surface in air. Molecules (the mesogens) that extend from the LCE backbone are all aligned at 45 degrees (with respect to the surface) by a magnetic field; in addition, the LCEs are cross-linked with a light-sensitive material. “When we simulated shining a light in one direction, the LCE molecules would become disorganized and the entire LCE post twists to the left; shine it in the opposite direction and it twists to the right,” Dr. Waters described. These modeling results were corroborated by the experimental findings from the Harvard group.Going a step further, the researchers used their validated computer model to design “chimera” LCE posts where the molecules in the top half of the post are aligned in one direction and are aligned in another direction in the bottom half. With the application of light, these chimera structures can simultaneously bend and twist, mimicking the complex motion enabled by the human muscular system. “This is much like how a puppeteer controls a marionette, but in this instance the light serves as the strings, and we can create dynamic and reversible movements through coupling chemical, optical, and mechanical energy,” Dr. Balazs said. “Being able to understand how to design artificial systems with this complex integration is fundamental to creating adaptive materials that can respond to changes in the environment. Especially in the field of soft robotics, this is essential for building devices that exhibit controllable, dynamic behavior without the need for complex electronic components.” ### This work was supported by the Department of Energy under award DE-SC0005247 (development of new computational model for LCEs) and by the Department of Defense, Army Research Office under award W911NF-17-1-0351 (study of light-responsive behavior of LCEs), and in part by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing through the resources provided. Below: Experimental observations of twisting of surface-anchored LCE microposts. For the director orientation of 45° from flat surface, the LCE microposts reversibly twist clockwise and counterclockwise, with handedness controlled by the direction of incident light, as predicted by the simulations. (Aizenberg Lab)

Apr
7
2020

Uncovering Stimulation’s Impact on Neurons

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) … Using electrodes smaller than a human hair, researchers are able to connect mind to machine and interact with the human brain in revolutionary ways. Brain-computer interfaces have helped rehabilitate neurodegenerative diseases and restore function to individuals with brain damage. This cutting-edge technology, however, comes with complications. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $437,144 CAREER award (#1943906) from the National Science Foundation to improve the integration of the brain and technology in order to study long-standing questions in neurobiology and improve clinical applications of these devices. One of the challenges remaining with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Kozai has designed a wireless, light-activated electrode that enables precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. In this project, he will further improve this technology. “Our first objective is to design a coating technology that will be applied to the wireless axon and release biomolecules during simulation,” said Kozai, who leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. “These specific biomolecules can control the activity of a small population of neurons, and the device will recharge by drawing upon intrinsically produced biomolecules.” A laser shining onto an untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrode to stimulate neurons via the photoelectric effect. Photo credit: J. Mater. Chem. B, 2015,3, 4965-4978 - Reproduced by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Developing this coating will help Kozai achieve the main research goal of this CAREER project, which is to establish the relationship between different types of stimulation and their impact on excitability of neuronal populations. “In order for the brain to properly function, there needs to be a balance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity,” explained Kozai, “but we don’t know how stimulation impacts this balance.” According to Kozai, an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity can lead to cognitive dysfunctions and is a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, brain injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and microelectrode implantation have also been shown to disrupt this balance. “We believe that different types of stimulation will differentially alter excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity, which will in turn alter the long-term excitability of nearby neurons in different capacities,” said Kozai. “To better understand the relationship between stimulation and neuronal activity, we will use optical and optogenetic methods to determine the excitability of neurons, which will give us a better physiological understanding of the activated brain region.” The research team will use in vivo two-photon microscopy and genetically encoded fluorescent indicators to investigate this relationship. They will collect images across 12 weeks and examine the number, distance, timing and neuronal subtype densities before, during and after electrical stimulation. This method will allow them to track stimulation-induced changes over time with high spatial resolution near the electrodes. Kozai expects that this work will impact the future design of neural interfaces and give researchers an improved tool to answer neurobiological questions. A better understanding of how stimulation affects long-term neural excitability will hopefully advance BCI technology and impact the rehabilitation of neurodegenerative disease and brain damage. As part of this CAREER award’s educational goal, Kozai will target underrepresented minority students with an outreach program designed to demonstrate how science and engineering converge at the neural interface. In an effort to better disseminate neurobiology and neural engineering resources, he will provide an early platform for lecture videos, protocols and training materials. Kozai will also develop a virtual "Education in Biological and Neuroelectronic Interface Community" (eBioNIC.org). # # #

Apr
6
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 6, 2020) — Two projects from the Swanson School of Engineering have received University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants.The first, tackling the global problem of plastic waste, is headed by Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. The second project, which will support the push for artificial intelligence innovation in medical imaging, was also awarded a Scaling Grant and is led by Shandong Wu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Radiology. The Scaling Grants provide $400,000 over two years to support detailed project planning, gathering proof-of-concept results, and reduction of technical risk for teams pursuing an identified large extramural funding opportunity. The Scaling Grants are part of the University’s Pitt Momentum Funds, which offer funding across multiple stages of large, ambitious projects. Addressing the Global Waste Challenge The problem of plastic waste is growing on a global scale, with an annual global production rate of more than 500 million tons per year and predicted to triple by 2036. The project, “Attacking the Global Plastics Waste Problem,” seeks to create a convergent academic center welcoming expertise from across the University that will focus on the circular economy as a solution. “For most new technologies, one group creates the technology in the lab as a pilot, then at full scale. The group launches it, and only later decides if there are environmental and/or policy and/or legal issues,” says Beckman. “We're proposing to do these analyses in parallel, so that each section of the work informs the others. Further, the technology we are proposing to develop is a mixture of chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science.” The interdisciplinary team will take advantage of its deep expertise in both the science of plast ics recycling and the legal and governance frameworks that will help governments implement a circular economy for plastics. In addition to Beckman, the team consists of Melissa Bilec, PhD, Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and deputy director of MCSI; Vikas Khanna, PhD, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor in CEE and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Gotz Veser, PhD, professor in chemical and petroleum engineering; Peng Liu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry; Amy Wildermuth, professor and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; and Joshua Galperin, visiting associate professor in the School of Law. “Recycling can only do so much. A circular economy framework is a promising solution to the complex, urgent problem that plastic pollution presents,” says Bilec, who is part of a five-university team that received a two-year National Science Foundation grant for $1.3 million to pursue convergence research on the circular economy as a plastic waste solution. “Our proposed center will integrate the science and engineering of plastics recycling, using a novel approach on both the recycling and manufacturing sides, into frameworks tracking its environmental and economic impact.” Applying Artificial Intelligence to Medical Research The second project to receive a Scaling Grant is the “Pittsburgh Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Medical Imaging,” a collaboration between the Departments of Radiology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Informatics, and Computer Science. This work, led by Wu, aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to reshape medical imaging in radiology and pathology. Through the Pittsburgh Health and Data Alliance, the region is already at work using machine learning to translate “big data” generated in health care to treatments and services that could benefit human health. "The advancement in AI, especially in deep learning, provides a powerful approach for machine learning on big healthcare data,” said Wu. “Deep learning enables large-scale data mining with substantially increased accuracy and efficiency in data analysis." The multidisciplinary research team will work to develop AI imaging methodology and translational applications with the ultimate goal of creating tools that are clinically useful, accurate, explainable and safe. “AI can substantially improve quantitative analysis to medical imaging data and computational modeling of clinical tasks using medical images for disease diagnosis and outcome prediction," explained Wu. David A. Vorp, associate dean for research and John. A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, will help facilitate this collaboration in engineering. “Artificial intelligence nicely complements bioengineering and medical research,” said Vorp. “My lab uses AI with CT scans to help predict the prognosis and improve treatment of aortic aneurysm, and that is just one example of how this cutting-edge technology can be applied to medical images. Rather than relying on the naked eye, we can use AI to analyze these images and have a more sensitive detector to identify disease, improve health and save lives.” The group’s long-term vision is to combine the computational expertise and clinical resources across Pitt, UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University to build a center for innovative AI in clinical translational medical imaging. ###
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Apr
1
2020

Research Assistant Professor in Epithelial Cell Biology and the Mechanics of Morphogenesis

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering invites applications by accomplished individuals with a Ph.D. or equivalent in Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, or closely related discipline.  Applicants should have experience with carrying out independent as well as collaborative research in the field of epithelial cell biology and the mechanics of morphogenesis. This position will involve innovative research and development of tools and methodology to study the integration of cell polarity and cell mechanics during neurulation in the frog Xenopus laevis. These approaches may include live-cell imaging, development and validation of reagents including knock-down, mutant proteins, and small molecule inhibitors, and analysis of mechanosensing and cell signal transduction pathways. The selected candidate will be responsible for writing grant applications and contributing to ongoing projects covering the mechanobiology of development and coordination of collective cell behaviors. The Research Assistant Professor will also be responsible for preparing reports and archival publications of ongoing projects and communicating research results at scientific meetings. Additionally, the selected candidate may assist in teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, and overseeing laboratory staff engaged on research projects. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding, and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).  The Department of Bioengineering, consistently ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs, offering undergraduate (~270 students, sophomore-to-senior years) and graduate (~150 PhD or MD/PhD and ~50 MS students) degrees.  The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (mirm.pitt.edu), Computational and Systems Biology (https://www.csb.pitt.edu/), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities.  The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals must submit the following information online at http://apply.interfolio.com/75489: (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by April 30, 2020.  However, applications will be reviewed as they are received.  Early submission is highly encouraged. The Department of Bioengineering is fully committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Mar

Mar
31
2020

Heng Huang Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Electrical & Computer

Reposted with permission from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Heng Huang, Ph.D., John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Pittsburgh to its College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." Dr. Huang was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for “outstanding contributions to Biomedical Data Science, Bioinformatics, Medical Image Computing, and Imaging Genetics.” As a result of health concerns, AIMBE’s annual meeting and induction ceremony scheduled for March 29-30, 2020, was cancelled. Under special procedures, Dr. Huang was remotely inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2020. While most AIMBE Fellows hail from the United States, the College of Fellows has inducted Fellows representing 34 countries. AIMBE Fellows are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice and government. AIMBE Fellows are among the most distinguished medical and biological engineers including 3 Nobel Prize laureates, 18 Fellows having received the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation, and 173 also inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 84 inducted to the National Academy of Medicine and 37 inducted to the National Academy of Sciences. ### About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Mar
31
2020

Undergraduate Spotlight: Clement Ekaputra

MEMS, Student Profiles

When materials science senior Clement Ekaputra was a youth, he wanted to help rockets fly in space. In high school, he always enjoyed his science and math classes. For him, pursuing a degree in engineering seemed like a natural choice. “Coming into Pitt, I thought that developing materials that are lighter, stronger, and last longer would be the best way to get into aerospace” he said, “Materials science seemed like an interesting field.” So, in the fall of 2015, Ekaputra entered the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He is now set to graduate this Spring with a bachelor’s degree in materials science in engineering and minors in math and French language. Ekaputra recalls one of the first classes he took his first semester at Pitt, honors calculus. He mentioned how challenging it was for him at first, but the passion and excitement from his professor, Dr. Chris Lennard, helped him to succeed.  He credits this success for giving him the confidence to believe he could succeed in all his future classes as well. However, it was a MEMS class, Mechanics of Materials with Professor Tevis Jacobs, which Ekaputra named his favorite.  He commented on Dr. Jacob’s ability to make the course engaging and interesting. Though he was already interested in solid mechanics previously, this course inspired him to pursue the field even further by choosing to study it in graduate school. Classes aren’t the only thing Ekaputra enjoys about Pitt, he is also involved in the Pitt table tennis team and handbell ensemble.  But most notably, Ekaputra is a pianist.  He started playing when he was 3 years old.  His parents saw his potential and enrolled him in lessons.  At first, Ekaputra admits that he did not enjoy his formal lessons and he hated practicing.  He says over time though, he grew to enjoy it more and has participated in quite a few performances and competitions. Ekaputra playing with the University of Pittsburgh Orchestra Now, playing the piano is mostly for relaxation. He says, “I find it incredibly fulfilling to learn how to play difficult pieces, in the same way that completing an engineering project or running a marathon is fulfilling.” Ekaputra takes lessons from Dr. Tina Faigen in Pitt’s Music Department. He says Dr. Faigen has greatly helped him to improve his skills and he has a great experience playing at Pitt (see link).  He also recently performed a concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. While he no longer competes and does not intend to be a famous concert pianist, he does plan to continue playing the piano and would be interested in playing in church or with a choir someday. In addition to classes, clubs and hobbies, Ekaputra has gotten an ample amount of research experience during his time at Pitt too. He said he always knew that research was something he wanted to get involved with.  The summer after his freshman year, he worked for Dr. Albert To in a summer research program where he studied finite element modeling and topology optimization related to additive manufacturing. The following summer he took a position developing inexpensive sediment microbial fuel cells in his hometown near Philadelphia. This experience gave him the opportunity to travel to Indonesia to work on developing sustainable products using local agricultural waste. He was then given the opportunity to present his work at a conference. By his junior year, Ekaputra knew his area of interest lied in structural materials, so he began working in Dr. Isaac Garcia’s lab and completed his senior research project with him on iron alloys for jet turbine applications.  This past summer, he did a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ekaputra notes that internships and co-op experiences are two of the most defining parts of his experience at Pitt.  He did a co-op at Mine Safety Appliances (MSA) this past summer.  His projects there pertained to material selection, operations support, and failure analysis for the design and manufacturing of safety products. He says, “Although ultimately, I decided that I preferred research over industry, working at MSA really taught me a lot about professional development and how research and industry are connected.”  He notes that it wasn’t until he began having research and industry experiences that he really learned that engineering was right for him. “Figuring out how to connect different pieces of information that I learned in school, and using it to develop something new, is what I really enjoy.” After graduation, Ekaputra plans to pursue his PhD in materials science, specializing in materials for aerospace application. He is currently in the process of deciding which school he will attend.  Wherever he ends up, he knows he would like to work to send humans to space, maybe even at NASA, though he believes he will enjoy doing research anywhere. He says, “The best part of Pitt engineering, in my opinion, is the variety of opportunities afforded to students, like co-op, study abroad, and the vast variety of clubs and organizations that students can join. These are all things I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue, and which have defined my undergraduate studies.” We wish Ekaputra the best of luck in all his future endeavors!
Meagan Lenze
Mar
31
2020

Engineering Technology to Explore the Human Mind

Bioengineering

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. At a mere three pounds, it is a workhorse that controls fundamental aspects of human life, such as movement, sensation, memory, and other involuntary processes in the body. In addition, the brain helps make us who we are: it controls our emotions, personality, language, and behavior. Despite being a crucial organ, a comprehensive understanding of the brain is still elusive. Technology developed in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility allows researchers at the University of Pittsburgh to harness the power of one of the strongest human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. These imaging advancements have illuminated details of brain structure and function that are not visible on standard MRI devices, and researchers now want to study what these images can reveal about the human mind. Getting a Better Look at the Brain The Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility at the University of Pittsburgh traces its roots to Professor of Bioengineering Tamer Ibrahim’s doctoral work at the Ohio State University, where he designed antennas and coils to address challenges with ultrahigh field MRI imaging. At Pitt, the RF Research Facility and the 7 Tesla (7T) Bioengineering Research Program heavily utilize a 7T human MRI – one of the most powerful imaging devices in the world. “As MRI technology continues to become more powerful, the challenges associated with ultrahigh field imaging are exacerbated,” said Ibrahim. “The increased frequency of imaging at 7 Tesla can cause image inhomogeneities and heat to concentrate at certain locations in the head due to the presence of nonuniform electromagnetic fields. My lab works on designing and constructing devices that smooth those fields to improve the image quality and safety, and thereby, the utility of 7 Tesla Human MRI.” The RF Research Facility created a “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system of antennas that are tightly and uniquely arranged to fit the human head.  It was designed through extensive computer simulations using full wave electromagnetic software developed in the lab to optimize the antenna configuration.  The resulting device solves many of the issues associated with ultrahigh field MRIs, giving Pitt an edge in the field of neural imaging. “Our coil system is a novel design that improves homogeneity, reduces power depositions in tissue, increases the speed of acquisition, and enhances resolution, not just in space, but also in time,” said Ibrahim. “We are able to provide superior neural imaging capabilities, which opens a lot of avenues to explore things unknown.” Ibrahim has used this unique technology to establish interdisciplinary collaborations across the University, in particular with Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. A Glance Inside the Human Mind Just across the street from the Benedum Hall, where bioengineering resides, is the Western Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) - home to the Department of Psychiatry. In recent years, mental health research has become more dependent on imaging, and this work at Pitt has been enhanced with the technology developed by the RF Research Facility. “At the broadest level, the problems of psychiatry are based in the complexity of the human brain,” said David Lewis, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chair of psychiatry. “The human brain is, without question, the most complex biological organ in the known universe, and psychiatric illnesses affect the most sophisticated functions of that most complex organ.” One of Ibrahim’s frequent collaborators is Howard Aizenstein, Charles F. Reynolds III and Ellen G. Detlefsen Endowed Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at Pitt, whose research primarily looks at older adults with depression, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Aizenstein said, “Tamer’s technology has been helpful in moving this research forward because the key challenge in studying the aging brain and the neuropathological changes in aging is to look at the small vessels.” Prior to the development of 7T MRI and Ibrahim’s technology, researchers had to rely on 1.5T or 3T images to see mechanistic changes in human disease, but with Ibrahim’s coil, they can now get a more in-depth look into how the brain works. “Tamer’s 7T head coil allows you to see with much higher contrast very small microstructural changes that you couldn’t see with standard MRI,” explained Aizenstein. “This is really helpful in emerging models of Alzheimer’s disease because we think these small vessels play a big role. We also believe that accelerated aging is part of both depression and Alzheimer’s disease, and this technology allows us to better understand it.” 7T MRI was approved for clinical applications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2017, which is a pivotal development for Ibrahim’s lab. His group has performed more than 1000 scans using the Tic-Tac-Toe RF coil system on patients/subjects, and with more than $35 million in total funding that utilizes this technology, they have budgeted another 2500 scans for various neurological and epidemiological studies. “Our work is quite advanced in the translational aspect of research,” Ibrahim said. “Everything we do in the lab is applied to patient studies and is impacting the lives of people. No one is using 7T imaging the way we are doing it here at Pitt.” The University has 20 active NIH research grants using this technology. The majority of these are collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, so in an effort to formalize this connection, Ibrahim and Aizenstein reached out to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) for support to develop a predoctoral training program. Bridging Two Fields Ibrahim and Aizenstein recently received a $1.1 million grant from the NIMH to develop a unique multidisciplinary training program that prepares students with a background in engineering and other quantitative sciences for careers in mental health research. The NIMH wants to transform mental health care and recently published a strategic plan that, in part, seeks to develop new tools from the BRAIN initiative, apply computational approaches that may provide novel ways to understand relationships among datasets, and develop new and competing applications that target the NIMH research priority areas. Pitt Bioengineering and Psychiatry, two nationally ranked departments, will join forces to train a new generation of students with a focus on both bioengineering and psychiatric research. By tapping into both quantitative and qualitative data, they hope that this training grant will forge collaborations, stimulate research in each field, and further strengthen the University’s leadership in biomedical and psychiatric research, with the ultimate goal of benefitting the human condition. “Psychiatry is a field that has not been traditionally quantitative,” said Ibrahim, “and engineering is the opposite so I think there is a clear marriage between the two.” Predoctoral trainees in this program will benefit from a dual mentorship with advisors from both the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Medicine. Their research will focus on neuroimaging, neurostimulation, and neural engineering - all of which are widely used in mental health research including mood disorder, anxiety disorder, psychotic disorder, suicide, and cognitive impairment. “With interdisciplinary work, there’s effort that comes with learning to speak to each other and appreciating other perspectives,” Aizenstein said, “but there is so much you gain from it, and that’s where it’s beneficial and fun.” The announcement of this program has already sparked new collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, and the department leadership hopes that these collaborations will continue to grow and benefit both areas. “This program will help stimulate the field of bioengineering given the complexity of the challenges in psychiatric research,” said Lewis. “I’m also hopeful that the collaborations and new investigators that emerge as the product of this program will, by harnessing complex datasets and new technologies, enhance precision medicine, create novel therapeutics and improve the clinical practice of psychiatry.” “Tamer’s work and this unique collaboration with psychiatry puts Pittsburgh in a great position to become a leader in neural imaging,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “I strongly believe that this training program will create a new breed of investigator who can tackle the fundamental biological questions in psychiatry using engineering (quantitative) approaches and I look forward to seeing how these collaborations will expand and produce cutting-edge research.” # # #

Mar
31
2020

Alumnus Rodney Kizito BSIE '15 thrives in PhD program at the University of Tennessee

Industrial, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Read Rodney's story at the Tickle College of Engineering. Industrial and systems engineering Department Head John Kobza describes PhD student Rodney Kizito as an “industrial engineering cheerleader,” and an overall great ambassador for the department. Kizito’s dedication and enthusiasm earned him notice as the 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student in ISE. Kizito says of many accomplishments in his time as an Engineering Vol, he is proudest of an article he published in the IEEE journal in January 2020. “It’s been a goal of mine my entire five-year graduate career, and to accomplish it in my final year was truly a blessing,” he said. The article focused on his research into the optimization of solar-based microgrid system operation. “I’m building a case for why utility companies should consider investing in microgrids as a way to provide power to their serviced regions in the event of a large-scale disturbance, such as a hurricane or tornado, to the traditional power grid.” Kizito’s motivation stems from a uniquely personal life experience. He migrated with his family to the US from Uganda in 1999 at the tender age of six. “My parents gave up everything to give my siblings and me a chance at a better education, and life in general, here in the States,” said Kizito. “My family is one of the fortunate families that gets to chase the American dream from Uganda, thus I wanted to pursue my PhD with a research focus that can help my fellow countrymen back home.” More than 40 million people live in Uganda, yet less than 25 percent of the country had access to electricity when Kizito began grad school in 2015. This didn’t seem right to him. “The one thing Uganda does have in abundance is the sun,” he said. “I decided to pursue a research track focused in harnessing solar energy as a means for power generation. My prayer is that I am able to help bring regular electricity access to my fellow countrymen, and make great use of the opportunity I was blessed to receive to study in the USA.” Kizito works both locally and globally to give back to his community. He has worked with UT’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to help connect members from across the country to the ISE graduate program at UT. “I enjoyed doing so because I know how beneficial NSBE has been for me in my 10-year collegiate career,” he said. “Being a recruiter for the department allows me help open up graduate school opportunities for NSBE members looking to continue their education.” He also enthusiastically appreciates the many ways his academic goals have been boosted at UT: acceptance and encouragement from the ISE department; support from the university’s grant partnerships with the Department of Energy; and helpful challenges from his advisor, Professor Xueping Li. “Dr. Li has challenged me academically, professionally and personally,” said Kizito. “He has challenged how I approach problems, especially those that don’t necessarily fall in my lane of expertise. I can’t say enough of how grateful I am for his leadership and guidance as my advisor, but even more for how he has cared for me as a person.” He looks forward to completing his PhD in December. In the meantime, he couples his research with working with Associate Dean Ozlem Kilic to improve the college’s efforts at recruiting students from underrepresented areas of the population. “After graduation, I hope to work for a renewable energy developer while I continue establishing my entrepreneurial consulting firm goals,” said Kizito. “I will forever be a proud graduate of Big Orange.” ###
Author: Tickle College of Engineering
Mar
30
2020

Douglas J. Weber Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Douglas J. Weber, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh to its College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." Dr. Weber was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for “outstanding contributions to neurorehabilitation engineering, translational neuroscience, and leadership in the field of neural engineering.” As a result of health concerns, AIMBE’s annual meeting and induction ceremony scheduled for March 29-30, 2020, was cancelled. Under special procedures, Dr. Weber was remotely inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2020. While most AIMBE Fellows hail from the United States, the College of Fellows has inducted Fellows representing 34 countries. AIMBE Fellows are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice and government. AIMBE Fellows are among the most distinguished medical and biological engineers including 3 Nobel Prize laureates, 18 Fellows having received the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation, and 173 also inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 84 inducted to the National Academy of Medicine and 37 inducted to the National Academy of Sciences. # # # About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Mar
30
2020

Thanks for Tuning In: Swanson School Students Present Virtual Dissertation Defenses

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 30, 2020) … After years of classwork, conducting research, collecting results and attempting to publish in peer-reviewed journals, Gary Yu was finally ready to present his dissertation defense to his committee members. He got dressed, confidently entered the room, signed in to Microsoft Teams, and began the virtual meeting. In the days of social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, this was the only way for Yu, an MD/PhD student in the Department of Bioengineering, to complete the PhD portion of his degree on schedule. Yu is not alone. Across the University, graduate students find themselves reaching long-anticipated academic milestones alone, at home, behind a computer monitor. However, even under these unusual conditions, they are making the best of it - and succeeding. Yu’s presentation started with an introduction from his advisor, John Pacella, associate professor of medicine and bioengineering. The audience then fell silent as they muted their microphones to avoid interruptions and turned off their cameras to save bandwidth. According to Yu, this absence of communication was one of the main challenges in defending remotely. “Usually when I present, I'm reassured by eye contact and other gestures of understanding that my audience is paying attention,” he said. “When I was presenting my dissertation, there were moments where I had doubts creep up in the back of my mind. Since it was completely silent, aside from myself, I wondered whether I had lagged out or disconnected from the call because of computer or internet issues.” Yu continued to present his work on a new microbubble contrast agent with anti-inflammatory properties that can be used with therapeutic ultrasound pulses to treat cardiovascular disease. He recalled a moment of relief after an audience member broke the silence by opening a bag of chips on the other end. He eventually adapted to this new environment and noticed that he began to pick up online vernacular as he subconsciously quipped, “Thanks for tuning in,” at the end of his presentation. After his committee members took turns asking questions, they informed Yu that he successfully passed his defense. Mohammed Sleiman, too, successfully defended his thesis virtually. His advisor, Brandon Grainger, created two “rooms” in Zoom, inviting Sleiman to one and using the second for committee discussion after the defense. Despite the unusual circumstances, Sleiman, who was studying the energy conversion process in electric vehicles, passed with flying colors and earned his MS in electrical engineering. Grainger is an Eaton Faculty Fellow, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and associate director of the Swanson School’s Electric Power Engineering program. “After a few minutes in the other room, the committee came back to my Zoom room and announced my pass!” recalled Sleiman. “It was a thrilling experience to present to professors online. The sad thing is that I missed taking photos for memories with them, because we were far away.” Grainger, too, noted that one downside of virtual defenses is the absence of in-person celebration with mentors, friends and loved ones that usually comes after them. “The online defense is a bit abnormal, but Mohammed handled the challenges well,” said Grainger. “When a defense is live, in a conference room, the room is typically filled with labmates, friends, and sometimes family, but having a virtual meeting did not allow for this to happen.” Despite the unusual circumstances, both Yu and Sleiman were able to make the best of their experiences. The necessity of social distancing did not stop Sleiman from celebrating; after he heard the news that he passed, he headed to the Cathedral of Learning, still in his suit, to snap a few photos to commemorate the moment for social media. Yu, too, did his best to embrace the quirks of presenting to an audience you cannot see. “Don't be nervous about the silence you will likely encounter,” suggested Yu. “Do your best to have good sound quality and minimize background noise. Enjoy feeling like a Youtuber or an academic streamer, and make sure to celebrate - responsibly - after your defense!” If you find yourself preparing for a virtual defense, here are some tips to make the best of it: Find a good streaming platform. Swanson School students have successfully used Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Consider having your audience turn off video to avoid overwhelming the connection. Ask the audience to remain muted when they are not contributing to the discussion. This will decrease background noise and feedback. Work with your advisor to test your technology ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need. Make sure to be comfortable and have hydration close by! # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Mar
30
2020

A Donation in Flight

MEMS

A generous gift donation was recently made to the MEMS Department in honor of Marion Alice Nye “Buzz” Barry. Marion was a licensed commercial pilot, certified flight and ground school instructor, a member of the Ninety-Nine Women Pilots Association, and one of the first women in the aviation industry. In the spirit of her valiance and technical accomplishments, an annual academic scholarship will be awarded to a student with interest and involvement in aerospace engineering and aviation. The scholarship can be used for tuition or sponsored academic research related to aerospace engineering. The donation was facilitated by MEMS professor, Dr. Matt Barry, who is the grandson of Marion.

Mar
27
2020

Pitt Engineering Labs Donate Supplies to Help UPMC Battle COVID-19

All SSoE News, Covid-19

PITTSBURGH (March 27, 2020) ­­— As COVID-19 continues to impact Allegheny County, hospitals face shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies that they need to keep their personnel safe and prevent the further spread of disease. Rising to fill that need, faculty and staff at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering organized a substantial donation of supplies to UPMC’s Covid-19 Command Center so that it can keep fighting the spread of the virus uninterrupted. As many research activities at the Swanson School and elsewhere in the University were greatly reduced because of the pandemic, Carla Ng, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, contacted David Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research, to ask where her lab could donate their unused supplies. The idea quickly swelled into a School-wide mission. “Like everyone, I had been hearing in the news about the dangerous shortage that the hospitals were incurring, and with the University ramping down its research operations, the thought of PPE and other critically-needed items sitting unused in our research labs was hard to bear,” said Vorp, who coordinated the initiative and contacted UPMC’s Clinical Laboratories with the idea. (Note: on March 26, Pitt opened a University-wide process for donations. See below.) “Once I saw the excitement and happiness that the idea brought to the laboratory staff, I knew that we needed to respond in a big way, so I sent the request out to our faculty and tried to get the request out to a wider group with some success. In the end, I was blown away by the response of my Pitt colleagues. It truly was humanity at its finest. It was Pitt at its finest!” Researchers from every department at the Swanson School contributed to the cause, as did researchers from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine. When it became clear that Vorp would not be able to deliver the supplies with a few trips in an SUV as planned, the Pitt Movers were able to provide a truck. “I had a strong sense of pride and satisfaction seeing that big blue moving truck, with the gold Pitt script and panther head on the side and full of much-needed supplies, pull out of the loading dock of Benedum Hall bound for our friends at UPMC,” Vorp said. The deliveries included pallets stacked with an assortment of sterile and non-sterile gloves, masks (including the much-needed N95 masks that protect against the virus), peroxide, alcohol, HEPA-based air filter unites, sanitizers and eye protection. Götz Veser, PhD, professor of chemical engineering, even offered to make hand sanitizer. In all, five pallets of supplies were delivered by Pitt faculty and staff to the UPMC Warehouse on the South Side, who distributed it to facilities in need. “UPMC has so many points of service, all important and all in need of supplies. Every single mask is being used, nothing is being wasted,” said Melissa Matta, Category and Operations Manager at UPMC, who coordinated with Vorp to receive the donations. “We are so surprised by the community’s outpouring of support. Every time I pick up supplies, people say to me, ‘Take care,’ ‘I’m praying for you,’ or ‘Stay safe.’ It put faith back into humanity for us.” “As engineers, we are obsessed with creating solutions that contribute to improving the human condition,” said James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “The Pitt community showed that their inspiration and generosity were as strong as ever during this trying and uncertain time, an inspiring example of our community’s strength and humanity in the face of adversity.” ### On March 26, the University opened a streamlined process to handle donations of medical and other physical supplies from Pitt to hospitals and other health care centers. The process tracks, vets and coordinates offers of and requests for these physical donations to ensure they will be routed to where they are most critically needed. Please use the emergency operations website portal to make offers or requests.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
23
2020

Swanson School Industrial Engineering Administrator Liza Allison Honored with MCSI 2020 Sustainability Award

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (March 23, 2020) — The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) has announced that Elizabeth (Liza) Allison, program administrator for the University of Pittsburgh Center for Advanced Manufacturing (UPCAM) and the Center for Industry Studies (CIS) in the Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected for the 2020 Sustainability Award Program in the Staff category. The Awards recognize members of the Pitt community who are making an extraordinary impact on Pitt’s sustainability. The individuals or groups selected have had an impact in one of the three categories of the Pitt Sustainability Plan—Stewardship, Exploration, and/or Community and Culture—and contribute to a thriving culture of sustainability at Pitt. Allison’s contributions include making the Department of Industrial Engineering an early adopter of composting in the lunchroom and purchasing compostable and eco-friendly office supplies for the Department. She was among the first to take a zero-waste approach to events, even going the extra mile to make sure off-campus events were sustainable and educated the department on the ways they can reduce their carbon footprint. “Liza has made many positive changes in the Department of Industrial Engineering that contribute to their increased sustainability,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “Her proactive approach is a great example of what all of us can be doing to decrease our footprint and improve sustainability in our professional and personal lives.” The full list of 2020 Pitt Sustainability Award Winners is Faculty Dr. Danielle Andrews-Brown, Geology and Environmental Scienc Dr. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs Staff Liza Allison, Department of Industrial Engineering Tiara Arnold, Pitt Housing, Housekeeping Student Ellie Cadden, undergraduate, environmental studies Sarah Hart, undergraduate, environmental studies Staff (Group) Pitt Business Staff Leadership Collaborationled by Chris Driscoll (IT); Greg (FM) Guzewicz; Karri Rogers (Dean’s Office) Student (Group) Zero Waste Period Initiativeled by Pitt Planned Parenthood and SOOS
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
23
2020

Christopher Reyes Clinches Third Place at McGowan Institute Scientific Retreat Poster Session

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 23, 2020) … Christopher Reyes, a bioengineering graduate student in the Swanson School of Engineering, received a third place poster award in the Cellular & Gene Therapy section at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Annual Scientific Retreat held March 9-10, 2020 in Wheeling, WV. Reyes works in the lab of Sruti Shiva, associate professor of pharmacology and chemical biology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he focuses on understanding regulation of mitochondrial function within the vasculature by molecular and biomechanical cues of the vessel wall. In this project, he investigates how the molecule nitrite may improve outcomes following a cardiac surgical procedure. Balloon angioplasty is a routine procedure used for carotid artery disease where surgeons widen narrowed blood vessels with a balloon catheter, rather than opening the skin to expose organs and tissues. Though this procedure restores blood flow, it often leads to vascular injury resulting in restenosis, a complication characterized by a “re-hardening” of the affected artery, which increases the likelihood of stroke or myocardial infarction. “Vascular smooth muscle (VSMC) proliferation is central to restenosis pathogenesis and therapies are still needed to inhibit VSMC proliferation,” explained Reyes. “My research provides evidence that the molecule nitrite, a dietary constituent found in cured meats and leafy greens and that is also internally produced, inhibits VSMC proliferation through regulation of VSMC mitochondrial function. “My work also provides evidence that mitofusin-1, one of the key proteins involved in modulation of mitochondrial function, plays an important role in the therapeutic benefits of nitrite in treating restenosis,” he continued. The group’s future work will investigate other effects of nitrite on VSMC function in vivo and whether mitofusin-1 can be pharmacologically targeted by other compounds to treat restenosis and related disorders involving VSMC proliferation. # # #

Mar
19
2020

Ameya Nanivadekar Selected for NIH Outstanding Scholar in Neuroscience Award Program

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 19, 2020) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Ameya Nanivadekar was selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a recipient of the Outstanding Scholar in Neuroscience Award Program. This new offering from the NIH recognizes and supports individuals who are conducting exceptional research and have a great academic potential in their scientific PhD programs. Nanivadekar is a bioengineering PhD student at the Swanson School of Engineering who works in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs under the direction of Lee Fisher, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. His research focuses on electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to deliver a sense of touch in upper and lower limb amputees. “Nearly 200,000 Americans undergo amputation each year, yet the acceptance rate of prosthetic limbs is less than 40 percent,” explained Nanivadekar. “This low rate is in part due to the lack of sensory feedback - such as the sense of touch - in existing prostheses. My research aims to better understand the response to electrical stimulation and how we can incorporate sensory feedback into modern prostheses.” Nanivadekar has worked on evaluating the performance of novel electrodes, building computational models to study how stimulation recruits neurons and affects tissue in the spinal cord, and conducting human experiments to study the kinds of sensations that can be produced through electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. “The ultimate goal of this work is to provide sensory feedback that can improve the functionality of a prosthesis for activities such as maintaining balance while standing or walking or grasping and interacting with objects,” he said. Nanivadekar was previously an ARCS Scholar, which is a program from the ARCS Foundation that provides unrestricted funding to help the country's brightest graduate and undergraduate students create new knowledge and innovative technologies. “I'm proud of Ameya's accomplishments working to improve the lives of people with limb amputations,” said Fisher. “He is a truly exceptional student and an instrumental member of our lab. This award is well-deserved." # # #

Mar
19
2020

Postdoctoral Position in Glaucoma Mechanobiology

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is currently available at the Soft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory (STBL) in the Department of Bioengineering under the direction of Professor Jonathan Vande Geest. The STBL is currently developing a novel platform to study the mechanobiology of the optic nerve head in primary open angle glaucoma that seamlessly integrates state of the art techniques in regenerative medicine, 3D bioprinting, and intravital imaging. The long term goal of the STBL is to utilize this novel platform to improve the mechanistic understanding of how optic nerve head extracellular matrix remodeling is linked to retinal ganglion cell death and vision loss and if this understanding can be leveraged to discover the next generation of novel therapeutic targets for glaucoma. Applicants should hold a PhD in Bioengineering or Cell Biology or related field. A strong background in biology is preferred, including experience with cell and molecular biology quantitative assay development and optimization. Candidates will also be considered who have a strong computational/mathematical background with experience in mechanistic modeling of extracellular matrix remodeling. This will remain open until filled. The Postdoctoral Fellow will work in a collaborative environment and interact with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians. In particular, the candidate will work closely with clinician scientists in the Department of Ophthalmology as well as STBL collaborators in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine and Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration. The city of Pittsburgh is one of the “most livable” cities in the US and is a leader in medicine, engineering and high-tech industries. Please visit our website (www.stblvandegeest.com) to further explore ongoing research in the STBL. Interested applicants should submit a CV, statement of research interest and purpose, Unofficial copy of full UG and Grad transcripts, and the contact information for three references to: Jonathan P. Vande Geest, Professor jpv20@pitt.edu using the subject line “STBL Postdoctoral Position Application” The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates. We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Jonathan P. Vande Geest
Mar
16
2020

Madeline Cramer receives NIH F31 award for regenerative medicine research

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 16, 2020) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Madeline Cramer received an F31 award from the National Institutes of Health for her regenerative medicine research that may help improve outcomes in cardiac disease. Cramer studies bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering and works in the lab of Stephen Badylak, professor of surgery at Pitt and deputy director of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Badylak’s lab focuses on the use of biologic scaffolds composed of extracellular matrix (ECM) to facilitate functional tissue and organ reconstruction. Present within all tissues and organs, ECM provides essential structural support and also initiates biochemical and biomechanical cues. Cramer’s project will look at myocardial infarction (MI) and examine how a specific protein embedded within the ECM may affect the underlying mechanisms behind the scaffold’s therapeutic response. “Following myocardial infarction, cardiomyocyte death initiates an intense inflammatory response which is necessary to clear the debris of the dead cells,” explained Cramer. “However, a prolonged pro-inflammatory state is associated with immune-driven fibrosis that can progress to heart failure.” Heart failure is a costly condition that affects millions of adults in the United States. Tissue engineered biologic scaffolds derived from ECM have been shown to promote an anti-inflammatory phenotype in macrophages and reduce fibrosis after MI in pre-clinical and clinical studies, but the underlying mechanisms driving this response are only partially understood. “Previous work in the Badylak lab showed that ECM is an abundant source of extra-nuclear interleukin-33 (IL-33), a protein that is stored and protected from degradation within matrix-bound nanovesicles (MBV),” said Cramer. “My research aims to delineate the roles of MBV-associated IL-33 in mediating the pro-remodeling effects of ECM through in vitro and in vivo models of myocardial infarction.”\ Demonstrating that IL-33 containing MBV can dampen the fibrotic response following MI may prove to be a significant advancement in the treatment of MI and the prevention of subsequent heart failure. “Maddie has worked extremely hard and is very deserving of this award,” said Dr. Badylak. “I’m confident that the results of her work will have a significant impact upon the field.” # # #

Mar
13
2020

Mimicking Cancer to Avoid Transplant Rejection

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

Originally published by UPMC Media Relations. Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH – Inspired by a tactic cancer cells use to evade the immune system, University of Pittsburgh researchers have engineered tiny particles that can trick the body into accepting transplanted tissue as its own. Rats that were treated with these cell-sized microparticles developed permanent immune tolerance to grafts — including a whole limb — from a donor rat, while keeping the rest of their immune system intact, according to a paper published today in Science Advances. “It’s like hacking into the immune system borrowing a strategy used by one of humanity’s worst enemies to trick the body into accepting a transplant,” said senior author Steven Little, Ph.D., William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of chemical and petroleum engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt. “And we do it synthetically.” The advantage of a synthetic approach rather than cell-based therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, is that the treatment logistics are much simpler. “Instead of isolating cells from a patient, growing them up in the lab, injecting them back in and hoping they find the right location, we’re packaging it all up in an engineered system that recruits these naturally occurring cells right to the transplanted graft,” said lead author James Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. The microparticles work by releasing a native protein secreted by tumors, CCL22, which draws regulatory T cells (Treg cells) to the site of the graft, where they tag the foreign tissue as “self” so that it evades immune attack. Microparticle-treated animals maintained healthy grafts for as long as they were monitored — a little under a year, equivalent to about 30 human years. All it took was two shots to effect seemingly permanent change. In a companion paper published recently in PNAS, the researchers showed that these engineered microparticles can train the immune system of one strain of rat to accept a donor limb from a different strain. This new paper shows that the effects are specific to the intended donor. Skin grafts from a third strain were rapidly rejected. Today, transplant patients take daily doses of immunosuppressant drugs to avoid rejection, leaving them vulnerable to cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases and a host of other ailments that come along with a weakened immune system. “These drugs hammer the immune system into submission so it can’t attack the transplanted organ, but then it can’t protect the body either,” said coauthor Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. “We’re trying to teach the immune system to tolerate the limb, so that a transplant recipient can remain immunocompetent.” The risks of lifelong immunosuppression are particularly problematic when the transplant isn’t a life-saving procedure. Doctors and patients have to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. “The ability to induce transplant tolerance while avoiding systemic immunosuppression, as demonstrated in these innovative studies, is especially important in the context of vascularized composite transplantation where patients receive quality-of-life transplants, such as those of hands or face,” said coauthor Angus Thomson, Ph.D., professor of surgery and immunology in the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at Pitt. Additional authors on the study include Wensheng Zhang, Ph.D., Ali Aral, M.D., Abhinav Acharya, Ph.D., Yalcin Kulahci, M.D., Jingjing Li, M.D., Heth Turnquist, Ph.D., Mario Solari, M.D., all of Pitt; and Vijay Gorantla, M.D., Ph.D., of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. This research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01-AI118777 U19-AI131453, R01-HL122489, T32-AI074490), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Medicine (R01-DE021058), the Department of Defense (W81XWH-15-2-0027 and W81XWH-15-1-0244), The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the National Cancer Institute (T32-CA175294).
Author: Erin Hare, Ph.D., Manager, Science Writing
Mar
12
2020

Four Members of the Swanson School are Recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 11, 2020) … Four members of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering were recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards, announced on March 10 by the Carnegie Science Center. Bioengineering’s Bryan Brown and Alexis Nolfi received the Postsecondary Educator Award and University Student Award, respectively. Civil and environmental engineering’s David Sanchez and Kareem Rabbat received honorable mentions in the same categories. They will receive the awards at the 24th Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration, held May 8, 2020. Bryan Brown, associate professor of bioengineering, Postsecondary Educator Award Brown’s educational efforts in the Department of Bioengineering include teaching and mentoring junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. He also serves as the director of educational outreach at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he reaches younger audiences through the McGowan Institute’s Summer School. In July 2014, Brown organized and launched the program, which is a hands-on experiential learning program that aims to provide regional, national, and international students an opportunity to explore the multidisciplinary field of regenerative medicine. Through lectures and laboratory experiences, undergraduate students have the opportunity to interact with more than 20 faculty members from across the University. The program aims to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from universities that lack significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine programs. In addition to engaging younger audiences in STEM, Brown also targets individuals who wish to continue their education through his course on regenerative medicine hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Osher Center for Lifelong Learning program. As an extension of these activities, he also developed an hour long “Open to the Public” session on the “Hype vs. Hope of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine,” which focuses on the realities of the science and clinical practice related to the use of stem cells in medicine. The program was developed to address the most common questions asked by participants in the Osher classes. Alexis Nolfi, bioengineering graduate student, College Student Award Nolfi is involved in numerous projects centered on how the immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of disease and how we can modify immune response to biomaterials and with biomaterials-based approaches. Much of her work has a distinct focus in women’s health applications, including a polypropylene mesh often used in pelvic surgery and a novel ovarian hydrogel that could one day be used to generate a tissue-appropriate model of endometriosis. According to Nolfi, the field of basic science research in women’s health topics is underserved by the biomaterials and regenerative medicine community. She believes that this research helps to shine light on topics deserving of more attention, and the experimental findings and developments will be applicable to not only biomaterials-based urogynecologic applications, but also to furthering advancement of other biomaterial and immunology-based fields. As part of her work with biomaterials, she and the lab developed a novel contact lens that is coated with an immune modifying molecule for the treatment of dry eye disease. The bioengineering- and opthamology-led research group was recently awarded $100,000 at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge. David Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Postsecondary Educator honorable mention In addition to his appointment in CEE, Sanchez serves as assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. He directs programs including the Undergraduate Summer Research Program, Sustainability certificate, and Master’s in Sustainable Engineering. He is the founding advisor for Pitt Hydroponics and the principal investigator for Sustainable Design Labs. He teaches the Environmental Engineering Lab, core engineering sustainability courses, and in the First Year Engineering program. Sanchez also leads many community engagement efforts. For the past five years, he has held a Summer Teacher workshop that exposes middle school science teachers to sustainability and engineering. This effort indirectly engages around 2000 students each year. He founded the Constellation Energy Inventor Labs and has used it to teach hundreds of Pittsburgh area students about energy using design-build modules. Furthermore, he has worked with the ALCOSAN summer science program for many years and helped create the Clean Water Academy for 2018. Sanchez organizes an annual Makerspace and Mindsets Bootcamp each fall that introduces engineering students to the creative resources available to them and the design thinking that goes with them. He was the recipient of the Swanson School’s Faculty Diversity Award in 2015 in recognition of his significant contributions in increasing diversity. His research focuses on sustainable solutions to pollution, including a recent $420,000 NSF grant to study biofilms grown on electrodes as a method to degrade the contaminant Bisphenol A (BPA). Kareem Rabbat, undergraduate senior in civil and environmental engineering, College Student honorable mention Rabbat’s passion for the environment is clear to anyone he meets. Through research, coursework, internships, competitions and global summits, he has taken full advantage of his four years at Pitt and does not plan to slow down in his pursuit to educate communities about sustainability and develop technology that helps guide a greener future. From an aquaponics project funded by the competitive Ford College Community Challenge sprouted Ecotone Renewables, a company dedicated to local and sustainable urban farming. Rabbat is CIO of the company which has converted shipping containers into biodigesters and greenhouses throughout the city. They also seek to educate the local communities about sustainable practices of agriculture. This past summer, he performed research looking for bacteria and fungi that could solve persistent pollution problems. If successful, the innovation could be used globally to eliminate toxicity caused by nonylphenol and bisphenol (BPA) that contaminate soil and water near old industrial facilities. Rabbat’s environmental work does not end at Pittsburgh’s city limits. In addition to his local achievements, Kareem has also explored global sustainability: he designed and implemented aquaponics/hydroponics systems in Brazil; he studied abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of the Swanson School’s Engineering Design for Social Change program; and he was recently nominated and selected to attend the 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit Student Competition in London, a program held jointly by the U.S., U.K., and Chinese academies of engineering. His achievements have been recognized locally by the Incline’s Who’s Next: Environment and Energy Class of 2019. # # #

Mar
11
2020

DARPA Awards $22 Million to Create ‘Smart’ Device for Healing Large Muscle Wounds

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from UPMC. Click here to view the original article. PITTSBURGH, March 11, 2020 – A multi-institution research team led by the University of Pittsburgh secured a $22 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a device combining artificial intelligence, bioelectronics and regenerative medicine to regrow muscle tissue, especially after combat injuries. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Rice, University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are also part of this four-year initiative. When more than 20% of a muscle is damaged, as is common for soldiers wounded in recent overseas conflicts, the tissue can’t regenerate and a stiff scar forms in place of the missing muscle, which often leads to significant disability. “With these severe injuries it’s been drilled into us through all of our training that functional muscle replacement is not possible,” said principal investigator Stephen Badylak,  D.V.M., Ph.D., M.D., professor of surgery at Pitt and deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The sort of technology we’re developing offers hope where there otherwise would have been no hope.” Badylak envisions creating a device that would change the environment inside larger wounds to help them heal the way smaller wounds do naturally. Smaller, self-healing wounds typically switch from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory conditions a couple weeks after the initial injury. Badylak imagines kicking larger wounds into anti-inflammatory mode as early as day three or four, and then again a few days later, repeating the cycle until the muscle rebuilds itself, similar to the way fetal wounds heal without forming a scar. All of that would be accomplished by a smart device implanted inside the wound. The device will monitor key molecular signals at each stage of healing – from the first hours after injury to the days and weeks that follow – and deliver specific molecules at specific times under the direction of artificial intelligence. The first two years of the project will involve developing the device, then the next two years will involve close collaboration with surgeons at Walter Reed, who treat patients with major muscle loss, to refine the design so that it’s suitable for the clinic. Meanwhile, the researchers will be working with industry partners and the Food & Drug Administration to identify and clear regulatory hurdles that might slow down clinical translation. For instance, it’s possible to test whether the components of the device are safe to use in the human body while the overall design is evolving. “We’re developing the science and the device in mostly an academic setting,” Badylak said. “If that’s done without consideration of regulatory and industry requirements, patients would never see it because it would remain buried in institutions with no clear path for clinical translation.” One of the companies engaging in this process is ECM Therapeutics, which Badylak spun out of Pitt in 2018 to speed up the clinical translation of several extracellular matrix technologies developed by his lab. Badylak and Pitt both have a financial stake in the company. Additional investigators on the grant include Yoram Vodovotz, Ph.D., Ruben Zamora, Ph.D., Douglas Weber, Ph.D., Bryan Brown, Ph.D., Paul Cohen, Ph.D., and Milos Hauskrecht, Ph.D., of Pitt; Tzahi Cohen-Karni, Ph.D., and Adam Feinberg, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University; Jonathan Rivnay, Ph.D., of Northwestern University; Jacob Robinson, Ph.D., Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., and Omid Veiseh, Ph.D., of Rice University; Gary An, M.D., and Robert Chase Cockrell, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont; Peng Jiang, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin; and Eric Elster, M.D., and Seth Schobel, Ph.D., of Walter Reed. #  #  # About the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. Since 1998, Pitt and its affiliated university faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about the Schools of the Health Sciences, please visit www.health.pitt.edu. www.upmc.com/media

Mar
10
2020

Learn more about Pitt's planning and response to COVID-19

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Please visit and bookmark the University of Pittsburgh COVID-19 site for the most up-to-date information and a full list of resources. From the University Times: As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, Pitt is remaining diligent with addressing related issues as the pop up. For an overall look at updates from Pitt, go to emergency.pitt.edu. On Saturday, Provost Ann Cudd issued a statement about how to support faculty and staff who have committed to attending professional conferences this semester and choose not to attend due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The University will grant an exception for travel booked through May 31 and reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those who decide to cancel travel. The administration will reassess this deadline date as COVID-19 evolves and may extend the deadline as conditions evolve. For more updates from the provost, go to provost.pitt.edu. The provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning is encouraging faculty to be prepared if remote learning situations become required. The center has set up a page detailing the basics of providing instructional continuity. The page will be updated regularly. Find information about remote learning and more at teaching.pitt.edu/instructional-continuity. All business units and responsibilities centers also are being asked to work on how to handle mass absenteeism and/or the need for as many people as possible to work at home.

Mar
10
2020

Developing A Valve for Developing Hearts

Bioengineering, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (March 10, 2020) — Approximately one in every 125 babies in the U.S. is born with a congenital heart defect (CHD), making it the country’s most common birth defect. Heart valves developed for adults have been used on infants to treat CHDs, but the large devices sometimes require open heart surgery, presenting a severe risk to infants and young children. Additionally, infants and children grow quickly, but the artificial valve does not, resulting in repeated surgeries that increase risks. To address this issue, Youngjae Chun, PhD, an associate professor of industrial engineering and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is developing a new type of metallic frame for pediatric heart valves that could not only be placed by a minimally invasive catheter-based procedure but would also grow with the child, eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries. The project recently received an award of $120,000 from the Children’s Heart Foundation’s Liam Ward Fund. “Using a heart valve developed for an adult on an infant or young child is considered an emerging technology, but they’re bulky and typically require open heart surgery. Often, these patients are already too weak or ill to undergo such major surgery,” explains Chun. “Our goal is to develop a novel metallic valve frame that would eliminate the need for multiple heart surgeries and their associated hospital stays, and one that would actually grow with the patient.” The proposed new valve will use two types of novel metallic biomaterials: superelastic nitinol and biodegradeable metals like magnesium and iron. Nitinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium, is known for its ability to flex and return to its original shape. This flexibility allows the valve to be compressed and placed by a small catheter inserted into a vein, rather than through open heart surgery, presenting much less risk to the patient. Magnesium and iron, on the other hand, would degrade over time, giving the valve the ability to change and expand with the surrounding heart tissue as the patient grows. “No one wants to see their child go through multiple surgeries before they’re even able to walk, but that’s the reality for thousands of families every year,” says Chun. “With improved devices for these young patients, we can give them a better quality of life and give their parents greater peace of mind.” If the project proves to be successful, Chun will be collaborating with William Wagner, PhD, director of Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Antonio D’Amore, PhD, research assistant professor in the departments of Surgery and Bioengineering, to develop it further. The grant began on Jan. 1, 2020, and will last two years.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
8
2020

Postdoctoral Position in Cancer Bioengineering - Zervantonakis lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is available at the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering lab in the Department of Bioengineering and UPMC Cancer Institute. We employ a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis and drug resistance. Our group has projects in three main areas: (1)  Drug-resistant microenvironments in breast cancer: modeling cellular dynamics. (2)  Metastatic dissemination in ovarian cancer: macrophages and fluid flow. (3) Localized drug release technologies and single-cell functional assays. Applicants should hold a PhD in bioengineering, biomedical sciences or related fields. A strong background in cancer biology is preferred, including experience with quantitative assay development and optimization, microscopy. Openings are also available for candidates with a computational/mathematical background with expertise in mechanistic modeling and systems analysis. The Tumor Microenvironment Engineering laboratory offers the opportunity to work at the forefront of cancer bioengineering, learn cutting edge techniques and collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians. The candidate will benefit from the rich biomedical research environment in the University of Pittsburgh, including the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the Department of Computational and Systems Biology, the Drug Discovery Institute and the Magee-Women’s Research Institute. The city of Pittsburgh is one of the “most livable” cities in the US and is a leader in medicine, engineering and high-tech industries. Openings are available starting April 2020. Please visit the website (www.zervalab.com) to find out more about research projects, publications, mentoring and collaborations. Interested applicants please submit a CV, statement of research interests and contact information for three references to: Ioannis Zervantonakis, Assistant Professor ioz1@pitt.edu. The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates. We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Zervantonakis Laboratory
Mar
5
2020

CEE Undergraduate Kaitie DeOre Wins American Bridge Leadership Award

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 5, 2020) — The Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has awarded the American Bridge Leadership Award to Kaitie DeOre, a senior civil engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh. Michael Winiarczyk, senior civil engineering student at Pitt, received an ASCE Accomplishment Award. “Kaitie and Mike are great students, and I’m proud of their accomplishments,” says Anthony Iannacchione, PhD, associate professor of civil engineering and the Pitt ASCE student chapter’s faculty advisor. “I was honored to recommend them for these awards and look forward to the amazing things they will accomplish in their careers.” The Bridge Award is a highly competitive award open to all civil engineering students in the region covered by the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, and included a $7,000 cash prize. The ASCE Accomplishment Award included a $500 cash prize. DeOre, whose concentration is geotechnical engineering, is the president of Pitt ASCE. She organized the first annual Civil Engineering Day at Pitt to introduce high school students to the field through professional demonstrations, lab tours, panels and hands-on activities. She is captain for the Geotechnical Team and is involved with the Society of Women Engineers. DeOre has completed a co-op with Independence Excavating; after graduation in December 2020, she plans to pursue a career in the industry here in Pittsburgh. Winiarczyk, who will also graduate in December 2020, is the treasurer for ASCE Pitt. He is the captain of the 2019-2020 OVSC Surveying team and has been co-captain and member of the team for the past two years. Throughout his undergraduate career, he has completed co-ops with PennDOT and GAI Consultants, Inc., where he is planning to enter a full-time position in Transmission Line Engineering upon graduation. The awards were presented at the Engineers Week Awards Banquet on Feb. 15, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
4
2020

ECE Alumnus and Fulbright Scholar Pursues MS in Electrical Engineering in Germany

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 4, 2020) — David Skrovanek (ECE’19), a University of Pittsburgh alumnus, electrical engineer, accomplished musician, and polyglot, is adding Fulbright Scholar to his list of accomplishments. One of the 14 Pitt students and alumni to receive a Fulbright in 2019, Skrovanek is currently earning his master’s in electrical engineering with a concentration in optical and radio telecommunications at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, in Dresden, Germany. “When I started college, if you'd asked me if I’d end up in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, I'd say, “No way!” says Skrovanek. “But sticking to my true self and what interests me and pursuing things I’m passionate about has worked out for me.” A double major in electrical engineering and German while at Pitt, Skrovanek participated in a Maymester study abroad program in Munich. Upon returning, Lesha Greene, scholar mentor in the Pitt Honors College, encouraged him to pursue a Fulbright to study in Germany after graduation. Though it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition at first, Skrovanek is proud of his progress so far. “In the first week of classes, I found out I was the only non-German student in the class. I was confident in my German-speaking abilities, but lectures were challenging to follow, and with dialects and technical vocabulary, I was lucky if I understood half of what they were saying,” he recalls. “But comparing that with the last week of classes, now I can understand all of it and feel comfortable talking about electrical engineering in German. I’ve definitely come a long way, and I’m proud of that.” Among those encouraging him to pursue a degree abroad was William Stanchina, professor of electrical and computer engineering who retired from the Swanson School last year. “I worked with Dr. Stanchina during my junior year, and even though I ended up going into a different area of electrical engineering, he remained kind of a mentor for me and encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone,” says Skrovanek. “He told me that there is a lot of top-notch research being conducted in other parts of the world, and how important it was to recognize that.” In addition to his coursework, Skrovanek is engaging in research that will help electrical grid operators more efficiently distribute electricity and plan networks more effectively. The research uses fiber optic sensors to measure air temperature, wind speed, and transmission lines’ real-time thermal expansion. He will use that information along with the grid operator’s distribution data to mathematically predict the lines’ expected thermal expansion as it relates to current weather conditions, which will help avoid the dangerous sagging power lines that result from overheating. After graduation, Skrovanek plans to return to the U.S. and pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering. For now, he’s enjoying his studies and learning from his new friends. “I always enjoyed studying a foreign language and a foreign culture. I find I learn more about myself as well as my own culture through that,” he says. “I always had that interest, and I stuck with it. It’s interesting to see the twists and turns that has led to in my professional life.”
Maggie Pavlick

Feb

Feb
27
2020

Michael Sullivan Selected for 2020 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 27, 2020) — Michael Sullivan, a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive this year’s Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship for $10,000. The scholarship is named for Peter Hammond, inventor of the Perfect Harmony drive and long-time engineer at Siemens who is now retired. Hammond’s Perfect Harmony drive is a high-power machine that controls the speed of large motors; today, it is a key part of Siemens’ medium voltage variable frequency drive portfolio. The resulting energy savings on large pumps, fans, compressors, and other industrial equipment have had an enormous environmental impact, the carbon footprint equivalent of removing millions of cars from the road. The annual scholarship, which is in its fourth year, was open to any student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Swanson School. Students must complete an application, supplementing it with an essay, letters of recommendation, a resume and their transcript. “Not only is Michael’s academic work remarkable, but he embodies the humility and good nature that Peter Hammond embodied throughout his career,” says Brandon Grainger, PhD, associate director of the Energy GRID Institute, Eaton Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School. “This scholarship invests in the students who will someday be the engineers pursuing bold ideas like the Perfect Harmony drive.” Before attending Swanson School, Sullivan worked for a decade as an electrician, where he was first introduced to the field of electrical engineering. Excited to learn of a career path so well suited to his curiosity about how things work, he pursued a bachelor’s degree at Pitt. Once he finishes earning his master’s degree in 2021, he plans to become a research engineer and work part-time toward a PhD. Previous recipients include Jacob Friedrich, MSEE; Thomas Cook, MSEE; and Ryan Brody, MSEE. The scholarship was presented Feb. 21, 2020, and included a presentation by Jason Hoover, director of business development at Siemens Industry. “The pool of applicants for this year’s scholarship was diverse and impressive, and we’re proud to have Michael Sullivan as the recipient of the 2020 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship,” says Hoover. “Michael’s innovative spirit, humility, and passion for engineering are all virtues that reflect Pete Hammond and make Michael a very worthy recipient of this award.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
26
2020

Associate or Full Professor, Tenure Stream

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

We seek one exceptional tenured candidate for a position at associate or full professor level. Our department is re-establishing an ABET-accredited BS degree program in PetE to complement our MS in PetE, and the applicant is expected to provide leadership in the development of the undergraduate curriculum and internship/coop program.  Promising academic candidates must have a track record of leadership in Petroleum Engineering research and contributions to teaching Petroleum Engineering courses at the undergraduate or graduate levels. We also welcome industrial candidates with at least five years of experience reflected in an extensive research and presentation record, along with university-level instructional experience. All candidates, whether from academia or industry, must have a PhD in science or engineering and at least one degree (BS, MS or PhD) in Petroleum Engineering. Candidates from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. Our 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 U.S. DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling, the Center for Energy, the Petersen Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  Our department has a strategic alliance with Lubrizol Corporation that includes educational and research components. The candidate is expected to lead a vibrant research program (funded by federal sources such as NSF, DOE and NETL, state agencies, industry partners, ACS PRF, etc.). The successful applicant will be expected to organize and lead large group proposals and to develop a strong relationship with the NETL facilities in Pittsburgh and Morgantown and with regional gas and oil producing companies. The candidate must also be committed to high quality teaching for a diverse student body and to assisting our department in enhancing diversity. To apply, please submit via Interfolio a detailed CV, names of four references, research plans/vision (5 - 10 pages), teaching plans/vision (2 - 4 pages), and service plans/vision (2 - 4 pages related to professional service to the department, university and scientific community).  Applications will only be accepted via submission through the following Interfolio link: http://apply.interfolio.com/73466. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by May 1, 2020. Please address any inquiries (but not applications) to Dr. Robert Enick via che@pitt.edu. Please put “2020 PetE position” in the subject line. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vet/Disabled employer.

Pitt PetE Search
Feb
25
2020

Pitt bioengineer finds support for female pelvic floor research

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 25, 2020) … A paper published by Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was recently recognized by the editors of the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering (JBME) for exemplifying high quality and significant work (DOI: 10.1115/1.4041743). The article details complications associated with mechanical loads on synthetic mesh used in pelvic organ prolapse and will be listed as an Editors’ Choice paper in JBME’s Annual Special Issue February 2020. William Barone, a bioengineering graduate alumnus, contributed as first author on this paper. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a condition where the organs in the pelvis push against the vagina, creating a “bulge” that can extend outside of the body. It results from a weakening of the muscles and tissues that help support the pelvic organs. Despite the fact that 12.6 percent of women in the U.S. will undergo major surgery for POP by the age of 80,1 most of the studies surrounding these devices were conducted as they are applied to hernias in the abdomen. According to recent research, pelvic floor applications using this technology seem to be more vulnerable to mesh-related complications. Abramowitch’s research in the Swanson School of Engineering and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health uses experimental and computational methods to examine the mechanical behavior of mesh so that it can be optimized for the female pelvic floor environment. “The textile and structural properties of mesh have proven to be an important factor in its efficacy – particularly the pore size, which has shown to increase complications when less than 1mm in size,” said Abramowitch. “Even though these devices are widely used, the in vivo mechanical behavior of synthetic mesh is largely unknown, as is the impact of its mechanics on surrounding biological tissues.” Though most vaginal mesh is developed with pore sizes large enough to minimize complications, researchers have recently discovered that mechanical loading significantly alters pore dimensions. While previous studies have looked at the effects of uniaxial loading, Abramowitch and his group are broadening research in this area by quantifying multiaxial loading. “Transvaginal meshes, which are most commonly associated with complications and have been recently banned from use in the United States, are fixed at multiple locations in the pelvis. This creates multi-directional forces that cause the mesh to change shape in specific regions,” he explained. “Interestingly, our simulations predict the locations where the most shape change occurs, and they happen to be consistent with the most common sites for complications. This gives us a great possible lead to better understanding the mechanisms that cause mesh complications.” Abramowitch’s group developed an experimental model to quantify pore dimensions in response to clinically relevant mechanical forces and a computational model to simulate the mechanical behavior of transvaginal mesh in response to these forces. By developing these models, they will be able to examine a wide range of mechanical conditions, predict mesh behavior, and eventually optimize devices for the female pelvic floor. This research recently led to a $2,500,000 award from the National Institutes of Health to create a novel repair device designed for the vagina that may improve outcomes in POP surgery. Abramowitch and Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, will lead this effort. # # # This work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 HD-045590, K12HD-043441) and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-0753293). 1 Wu JM, Matthews CA, Conover MM, Pate V, Jonsson Funk M. Lifetime risk of stress urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse surgery. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;123(6):1201-6. Epub 2014/05/09. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000286. PubMed PMID: 24807341; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC4174312.

Feb
20
2020

Shining a New Light on Biomimetic Materials

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (February 24, 2020) … Advances in biomimicry – creating biological responses within non-biological substances – will enable synthetic materials to behave in ways that were typically only found in Nature. Light provides an especially effective tool for triggering life-like, dynamic responses within a range of materials. The problem, however, is that the applied light is typically dispersed throughout the sample and thus, it is difficult to localize the bio-inspired behavior to the desired, specific portions of the material. A convergence of optical, chemical and materials sciences, however, has yielded a novel way to utilize light to control the local dynamic behavior within a material. In a general sense, the illuminated material mimics a vital biological behavior: the ability of the iris and pupil in the eye to dynamically respond to the incoming light. Furthermore, once the light enters the sample, the material itself modifies the behavior of the light, trapping it within regions of the sample. The latest research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, Harvard University and McMaster University, reveals a hydrogel that can respond to optical stimuli and modify the stimuli in response. The group’s findings of this opto-chemo-mechanical transduction were published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117). The Pitt authors include Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering; and Victor V. Yashin, Visiting Research Assistant Professor. Other members include Joanna Aizenberg, Amos Meeks (co-first author) and Anna V. Shneidman, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Ankita Shastri, Harvard Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; and Fariha Mahmood, Derek Morim (co-first author), Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu and Andy Tran, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. “Until only a decade or so ago, the preferred state for materials was static. If you built something, the preference was that a material be predictable and unchanging,” Dr. Balazs explained. “However, as technology evolves, we are thinking about materials in new ways and how we can exploit their dynamic properties to make them responsive to external stimuli. “For example, rather than programming a computer to make a device perform a function, how can we combine chemistry, optics and materials to mimic biological processes without the need for hard-wired processors and complex algorithms?”The findings continue Dr. Balazs’ research with spiropyran (SP)-functionalized hydrogels and the material’s photo-sensitive chromophores. Although the SP gel resembles gelatin, it is distinctive in its ability to contain beams of light and not disperse them, similar to the way fiber optics passively control light for communication. However, unlike a simple polymer, the water-filled hydrogel reacts to the light and can “trap” the photons within its molecular structure. “The chromophore in the hydrogel plays an important role,” she explains. “In the absence of light, the gel is swollen and relaxed. But when exposed to light from a laser beam about the width of a human hair, it changes it structure, shrinks and becomes hydrophobic. This increases the polymer density and changes the hydrogel’s index of refraction and traps the light within regions that are denser than others. When the laser is removed from the source, the gel returns to its normal state. The ability of the light to affect the gel and the gel in turn to affect the propagating light creates a beautiful feedback loop that is unique in synthetic materials.” Most surprisingly, the group found that the introduction of a second, parallel beam of light creates a type of communication within the hydrogel. One of the self-trapped beams not only controls a second beam, but also the control can happen with a significant distance between the two, thanks to the response of the hydrogel medium. Dr. Yashin notes that this type of control is now possible because of the evolution of materials, not because of advances in laser technology.“The first observation of self-trapping of light occurred in 1964, but with very large, powerful lasers in controlled conditions,” he said. “We can now more easily achieve these behaviors in ambient environments with far less energy, and thus greatly expand the potential use for non-linear optics in applications.”The group believes that opto-chemo-mechanical responses present a potential sandbox for exploration into soft robotics, optical computing and adaptive optics. “There are few materials designed with a built-in feedback loop,” Dr. Balazs said. “The simplicity of the responses provides an exciting way to mimic biological processes such as movement and communication, and open new pathways toward creating devices that aren’t reliant on human control.”This research was supported in part by the US Army Research Office under Award W911NF-17-1-0351 and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Foundation for Innovation. ### Schematic representation of optical self-trapping within SP-functionalized hydrogels with two remote beams; each beam is switched on and off to control the interaction. (Aizenberg/Saravanamuttu Lab. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2020, 201902872; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117) SP-modified hydrogels. (A) Photoisomerization scheme of chromophore substituents from the protonated merocyanine (MCH+, Left) to SP (Right) forms in the methylenebis(acrylamide) cross-linked p(AAm-co-AAc) hydrogel. (B) Photographs of chromophore-containing p(AAm-co-AAc) hydrogel monoliths employed in experiments. (C) UV-visible absorbance spectra demonstrating reversible isomerization of MCH+ (absorption λmax = 420 nm) to SP (λmax = 320 nm) in solution. (D) Experimental setup (Top) to probe laser self-trapping due to photoinduced local contraction of the hydrogel, schematically depicted on the Bottom (see also Movie S1). A laser beam is focused onto the entrance face of the hydrogel while its exit face is imaged onto a CCD camera. (Aizenberg/Saravanamuttu Lab. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb 2020, 201902872; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117)

Feb
20
2020

Kozai Co-Chairs 2020 Gordon Research Conference to Foster Collaborations in Neural Engineering

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 20, 2020) … Neuroelectronic interfaces are the foundation of technology that connects the human mind to machine and helps to restore motor and sensory function to individuals with neurological diseases and disorders. This technology has been introduced as a successful treatment to the clinical environment, but issues with device stability and longevity remain. The 2020 Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Neuroelectronic Interfaces will bring together a multidisciplinary group of scientists and engineers to address challenges in this area and collectively discuss how to drive innovation for next-generation devices. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, will co-chair the event in Ventura, California, March 15-20, 2020. “The challenges with this technology have been long-standing and complex to solve. It requires fundamentally understanding the problem from both biological and engineering perspectives,”  said Kozai, who helms the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. “Therefore, the goal of this GRC is to bring together fundamental neuroscientists, brain neurophysiologists, brain biocompatibility experts, material scientists, electrical engineers, clinical neural engineers, and clinical scientists to really understand what the fundamental problems and needs are for these neural interface technologies. “The Gordon Research Conference format is conducive to this type of problem solving and innovation as it brings experts together for a week in an intimate setting,” he continued. “This conference has seeded many new collaborations and new directions in neural engineering.” Pitt is no stranger to multidisciplinary research in this area, and this year’s GRC on Neuroelectronic Interfaces will feature presentations from five professors, each representing different departments at the University: Robert Gaunt (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences) "Bidirectional Brain Computer Interfaces: Science and Function" Douglas Weber (Bioengineering) "Recording and Stimulating Sensory Neurons in Dorsal Root Ganglia and Spinal Cord" Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara (Neurological Surgery) "Longevity of Intracranial Recordings for BCI" Franca Cambi (Neurology) "The Role of Myelin and Oligodendrocytes in Neural Function and Repair: Implications for Recording Devices" Alberto Vazquez (Radiology) "Optogenetic Assessment of the Contribution of Neuronal Populations to Tissue Metabolic Load and Blood Flow Regulation: Vulnerable Neuronal Populations to Brain Injury" In the past year, Swanson School faculty have received notable awards in this field of research: Kozai received $1,600,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop an innovative wireless neural device for long-term and precise stimulation; and Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering, developed a coating that improves the performance of microelectrode array technology and was awarded a $2,370,218 NIH grant. Douglas Weber, associate professor of bioengineering, and his colleagues in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs will collaborate on a $20,000,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to develop non-invasive wearable technologies for able-bodied individuals. “We’ve received tremendous support for this conference from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as our industry and foundation partners,” said Kozai. “The level and number of sponsoring partners highlight how important these collaborations are in achieving high-quality work and realizing the full potential of this pioneering and life-changing technology. The leadership at Pitt has cultivated an environment for excellent multidisciplinary research collaborations.” This GRC will be held in conjunction with the "Neuroelectronic Interfaces (GRS): Creating a Roadmap to Translating Neural Technologies" Gordon Research Seminar (GRS). # # #

Feb
19
2020

Undergrad Innovators Design Wearable Device to Aid People in Posture

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

This story is reprinted from Pittwire Health. Click here to view the original post. In the Classroom to Community Design Lab in the Department of Bioengineering on the fourth floor of Benedum Hall, Jacob Meadows tries on a vest-like device. He bends forward slightly as the device vibrates and a red light on the vest’s shoulder flickers on and off. “This is our first iteration prototype from two years ago, which features a light for demonstration during presentations.” said the bioengineering senior in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Meadows and fellow bioengineering senior Tyler Bray have been developing this wearable device, Posture Protect, to help people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, as well as their physical therapists. Meadows and Bray are among six teams of student innovators supported by the Classroom to Community program, a new initiative directed by bioengineering assistant professor Joseph Samosky and funded by Pitt’s Office of the Provost. The program helps mentor and bridge potential high-impact student projects from the classroom toward real-world impact. The duo has been working on Posture Protect since 2017 when they first developed their idea and prototype as a capstone project in the course “The Art of Making: A Hands-on Introduction to Systems Design and Engineering”—a human-centered design course taught by Samosky. Bray’s grandmother was diagnosed with a stroke that semester, which spurred the idea to help people with fine motor control problems. In their research, they learned that people with Parkinson’s disease share similar issues and honed their focus. “We sat in on fitness classes at a local boxing gym specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease and we learned that people with that disease struggle daily with posture,” Bray said. “We hadn’t really heard of that before because most people just associate it with hand tremors. We followed up with physical therapists who confirmed that this was true and important because it increases their risk of falls.” The team has been experimenting with different designs, including vests, necklaces and one that rests comfortably on the user’s shoulders. And while people with Parkinson’s disease and stroke may have been the impetus for Posture Protect, the device can also be used by people with other conditions that affect postural control, such as multiple sclerosis. When the user of the device bends over or slouches for a certain period of time, the wearable device will vibrate, informing the user that they are in poor posture. The student innovators say the final product aims to be unobtrusive, preventing unwanted attention. The team’s highly successful capstone project in The Art of Making led to their winning the top award for “Best Overall Design” at the 2017 Swanson School of Engineering Design Expo. The two were then introduced to the Big Idea Center, part of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. The center is a hub for student innovation and entrepreneurship on Pitt’s campus. Posture Protect has made progress in the center’s programs, including the most recent program, the Forge student incubator, which is supported by Pitt Seed funding. "We hadn’t thought about the business side of things before the Innovation Institute’s programs. Being able to get this out of the lab and to the people has been helpful for understanding better who our actual customer might be." - Jacob Meadows “This is an example of a couple of students who really keep going; they haven’t gotten discouraged and have been working steadily with our entrepreneurs-in-residence,” said Babs Carryer, the center’s director. “They’re persistent and it’s been great seeing how far they’ve come in the past two years. I have high hopes for them in future competitions. The persistent student entrepreneurs here usually do best because they take what they learn from previous programs and apply them to their products and business analysis for future competitions.” Meadows and Bray have been working with the center to advance their product development, participating in competitions such as the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, the Startup Blitz and the Michael G. Wells Competition. They are entered into this year’s Randall competition and in April, will take Posture Protect to the ACC InVenture Prize Competition at North Carolina State University. They also plan to start a pilot program with local physical therapists and their patients soon. “We’ve learned a lot about the innovation process as a whole: designing the product, showing it to people to get feedback, understanding business use cases and learning which initial target market may be the best,” said Meadows. “We hadn’t thought about the business side of things before the Innovation Institute’s programs. Being able to get this out of the lab and to the people has been helpful for understanding better who our actual customer might be.” “The Big Idea Center has really helped us round out our experience and our education in terms of product development,” Bray added. “As engineers, we can design and build whatever we want, and we’ve learned some unique ways to do that. But once we graduate, so much of that is driven by business, and to be able to understand how that side of things work is extremely valuable.”

Feb
19
2020

Solar Glass Project Selected in Top 20 for Department of Energy American-Made Solar Prize

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 19, 2020) — A project developed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has been selected for the American-Made Solar Prize, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) competition designed to incentivize entrepreneurs toward U.S. solar energy innovation and manufacturing. The project, “Durable Antireflective and Self-Cleaning Glass,” is led by Paul W. Leu, PhD, professor of industrial engineering, and Sajad Haghanifar, doctoral candidate in Leu’s lab. Sooraj Sharma, a senior studying materials science and engineering, has also worked on this project through the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program. The team is evaluating new methods to improve the top glass sheet in solar panels. The top glass on a solar panel is partially reflective, losing valuable rays that could be converted to energy as they bounce off the glass. Conventional anti-reflective coatings aren’t effective against a broad range of wavelengths, and the team is instead using sub-wavelength nanostructures that may reduce broadband reflection over a wide range of incidence angles to as low as 0 percent. Haghanifar’s recent research into glasswing-butterfly inspired glass, highlighted on the cover of Materials Horizons, has demonstrated proof of concept for the solar glass project. “Glasswing butterflies have small random structures that enable it to be antireflecting across many wavelengths as well many different directions,” says Haghanifar. “This is important because sunlight consists of a broad range of light and most solar panels are fixed while the sun moves through the sky during the day.” Solar panels may also be installed in desert and urban environments, where particulates and pollutants may dirty the glass, blocking sunlight from being converted to electricity. The team is evaluating methods to use naturally forming dew droplets to remove dirt. “Solar panels are one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, and our research addresses some of the problems hindering its wide use,” says Sharma. “We’re excited to see the wide range of innovations proposed in this round of the competition. This prize will enable us to advance our project to the next level and take substantial steps toward clean, renewable energy.” The project is one of 20 that has made it to this round out of the 120 submissions, chosen for the novelty of the solution and how impactful it would be against the problems facing the solar industry. The project is being pursued in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Corning.  Each team will receive a $50,000 cash prize and is eligible for the next round of the competition, which rewards a cash prize of $100,000 and up to $75,000 in vouchers. The following, final phase of the competition, will select two final projects to win a $500,000 prize in September 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
19
2020

Bryan Brown Featured in the Products of Pittsburgh Podcast

Bioengineering

This story is reposted from the Clinical & Translational Science Institute. Click here to view the original post. The Products of Pittsburgh podcast is about the people in Pittsburgh – innovators, scientists, community leaders – and the remarkable stories behind how they came to be and the work they have produced. In 2001, Bryan Brown came to Pittsburgh to study mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh where he would go on to obtain his PhD in bioengineering and become a faculty member at the university.    From winning multiple awards to co-founding a company, Bryan is well on his way to making an impact on health care innovation. About BrownBryan Brown, PhD is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering with secondary appointments in Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences as well as Clinical and Translational Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.  He’s a core faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine where he serves as Director of Educational Outreach. He is a two time Pitt Innovation Challenge awardee and serves as Chief Technology Officer of Renerva, LLC, a Pitt start-up company that he co-founded.  Brown received both his B.S. and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh.

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.