Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

May

May
14
2021

Building a Foundation for High-Power Tech

Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (May 14, 2021) — As electrification advancement accelerates and more renewables are integrated into the electric grid, improved power electronics systems are needed to convert AC or DC power into a usable form. New semiconductor device materials and advanced magnetic materials can enable an unprecedented combination of voltage levels and power handling capabilities. However, the latest class of new switching devices, which use so-called ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) semiconductor materials, will also require improved soft magnetic materials and manufacturing approaches not currently available. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are working to solve that problem with new materials and manufacturing processes that will establish a foundation for UWBG semiconductors in novel power electronics switching devices. Their investigation received $820,000 in funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to support graduate students to explore new ideas in magnetic materials, advanced manufacturing, and advanced component design methods and techniques. “Ultra-high frequency soft magnetics technologies, ranging from 50 kilohertz to as high as the megahertz range, are going to play an important role in the next generation of power electronics and power conversion technologies,” said  Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, director of the Engineering Science program and the Advanced Magnetics for Power and Energy Development (AMPED) consortium. “Our work will help to overcome limitations of current materials and manufacturing, and we will also develop and demonstrate new methods and techniques for optimized magnetic component design leveraging these latest advances.” Applications for this new technology include power dense electrical power conversion technologies for electric vehicle design, aircraft electrification, or power converters for grid integration applications. For many of these, the converters need to be as small and light as possible while still handling the same amount of electric power. The higher switching frequencies made possible by these new materials would be more efficient and could, for example, increase the range of electric vehicles. Ohodnicki is leading the project with Ahmed Talaat, visiting assistant research faculty, and Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Grainger is also associate director of the Energy GRID Institute and co-director of AMPED at the University of Pittsburgh. The four-year project will address the need for advanced ultrahigh frequency soft magnetics and focus on creation of new ferrite-based systems, advanced manufacturing of components for optimal performance, and the design of optimized transformer and inductor components. The work will also demonstrate enhanced design and optimization tools for inductors. “Emerging ultra-wide bandgap semiconductor materials have enormous potential for high-power applications, but there needs to be a pathway for the magnetic material and component design first,” said Brandon Grainger. “Our project will establish the fundamental research necessary to make that happen.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
11
2021

Engineering Catalysts That Turn Seawater into Fuel

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 11, 2021) — What if aircraft carriers could rely on the most abundant of local resources—seawater—to fuel the planes on board? Thanks to seawater-to-fuel technology that has been in development for several years, scientists are able to use the onboard nuclear reactor and harness the carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater to create a liquid fuel that can power a jet engine. The technology would allow aircraft carriers to remain in continuous operation and avoid relying on tanker ships to replenish their fuel. However, designing catalysts that can effectively create jet fuel from these common compounds is a difficult and costly process. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester seek to improve this process in a project that recently received $300,000 from the Department of Defense Office of Naval Research. The project, led by the University of Rochester’s Marc Porosoff and Pitt’s Giannis Mpourmpakis, will refine a crucial step in the seawater-to-fuel process, making it more energy efficient, safer, and scalable. The first step of fuel synthesis is converting the carbon dioxide (CO2) extracted from seawater into carbon monoxide (CO). Last summer, the team successfully demonstrated that molybdenum carbide catalysts efficiently and reliably convert CO2 to CO, achieving this critical first step in turning seawater into fuel. The newly funded project will expand on the previous work, seeking to further hydrogenate the carbon monoxide into usable fuels using Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. “Our goal with this project is to tune hydrocarbon selectivity during the hydrogenation of a mixture of CO and CO2,” said Porosoff, who is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Rochester and principal investigator of the project. “To do that, we’ll design, synthesize and test bimetallic, zeolite-based catalysts that selectively hydrogenate CO and create specific compounds, like olefins and heavier hydrocarbons, that can be used as fuels.” Zeolites—minerals that contain aluminum and silicon—are commonly used as commercial catalysts. The researchers expect that catalysts based on zeolites and bimetallic particles will result in enhanced activity, selectivity and stability in the seawater-to-fuel application. The catalysts offer several other benefits, as well: They avoid reliance on expensive and rare precious metals and are highly tunable, meaning that researchers can control the acid-base properties to stabilize the desired reaction. Mpourmpakis, associate professor of chemical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and co-PI on the project, leads the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa), which specializes in using theory and computation to investigate the physicochemical properties of nanomaterials for applications in catalysis, green energy generation and storage, and materials engineering. To test their hypothesis, Porosoff and Mpourmpakis will use computational modeling and machine learning to identify the characteristics of catalysts most likely to achieve their goal: the selective hydrogenation of CO in a mixture of CO and CO2, limiting unwanted reactions that make less useful compounds like methane. “This work will combine computational and experimental approaches to hopefully result in significant time, energy and cost savings over conventional experimental approaches,” said Mpourmpakis, who is also the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow at Pitt. “These control experiments are essential for the design of an integrated, modular system, and enable the implementation of the ‘seawater to fuel’ process in a way that is safe and efficient for the U.S. Navy.” The two-year project is titled “Selective CO Hydrogenation Over Bimetallic Nanoparticles” and began on April 1st 2021.
Maggie Pavlick
May
11
2021

CEE Postdoctoral Surface Model Development and Evaluation Position

Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

Interested in learning and gaining valuable interdisciplinary research experiences, from data science to modeling in ecohydrology and water related fields to enrich your modeling and data analytics experiences? Please apply for this postdoctoral position in the civil & environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.We are recruiting a highly self-motivated postdoctoral associate for a funded project with a start date of summer 2021 or fall 2021. The initial appointment is for one year with the possibility of extension for additional one to two years depending on performance and the project needs. The postdoctoral associate would work under the supervision of Professor Xu Liang (email: xuliang@pitt.edu) at the University of Pittsburgh (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/XuLiang/). Project Description:The postdoctoral associate, as part of a larger project team, would work on developing and evaluating a new land surface and eco-hydrological model based on new theory (e.g., optimality) and newly available rich observations. These related aspects of the modeling development work are part of an international collaborative project where a next-generation model of the terrestrial biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, water cycle and climate will be developed. The goal of the entire project is to eventually yield more reliable projections of future climates which could give a newfound ability to address issues in sustainability, including the potential to maintain the biosphere’s capacity to regulate the carbon cycle while benefiting human well-being and development. The postdoctoral associate will have an opportunity to work with top scientists around the world from multiple universities/institutions with diverse expertise.Candidate Qualifications/Requirements:• Hold a Ph.D. degree prior to the start date of the postdoctoral appointment with research experiences in at least one or more of the following areas: land surface modeling, eco- hydrological modeling, regulation of plant hydraulics on land-atmosphere interaction, computational hydrology; and knowledge on VIC (Variable Infiltration Capacity) model, VIC+ model, and vegetation  dynamic modeling would be a plus;• Possess strong coding skills in at least C and/or Python, additional skills in GIS, Matlab, R, and Fortran are a plus, and have modeling experiences over large spatial scales;• Possess excellent oral and written communication skills• Lead the preparation of research publications for submission to peer-reviewed academic journals based on the research undertaken• Be able to manage own academic research and associated activities along with the ability to work independently and within a multidisciplinary team as required;• Have a strong work ethic and time management skills;• Candidates should be highly self-motivated, responsible, intellectually curious and enthusiastic about the project research, and interested in model development by writing computer codes;• Be committed to advancing diversity and inclusion. Additional experience in the following aspects is highly desirable:• Have experiences of coupling different models (e.g., a land surface model with a dynamic vegetation model)• Be able to handle and analyze large datasets• Be familiar with numerical methods (e.g., finite difference, finite volume, and/or finite element methods)Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled. Forfurther information or questions about this position you may contact Professor Xu Liang directly (xuliang@pitt.edu).Your application should include:•      Cover letter•      Curriculum Vitae•      1-page statement of your career goals and how this position will help you achieve your goals•      Unofficial academic transcripts for B.S. and graduate studies•      Contact information for three referencesApplications are being accepted to Requisition 21003101 at join.pitt.edu.Candidates from underrepresented minority groups and women are strongly encouraged to apply for this position. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity, EOE, including disability/vets. The University of Pittsburgh offers an excellent health insurance benefit together with other benefits. Pittsburgh has been consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the US (https://www.visitpittsburgh.com/media/press-kit/pittsburgh-accolades/).

May
10
2021

MEMS Department Recognizes Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Assistant

MEMS, Student Profiles

In the times of COVID and hybrid class delivery, teaching assistants have become more valuable than ever to faculty instructing large courses. Samantha Wismer, ME junior, and TA for three ENGR and MEMS courses this past academic year, has gone above and beyond to ensure her student peers have the best learning experience possible. Some of Wismer’s duties included reviewing instructor and student lecture slides for errors (typographical, mathematical, conceptual, grammatical, etc.) to ensure a top-tier product was delivered to students. She was responsible for reviewing several semesters of homework, quizzes and exams to provide students with study aids and access to materials. She was also tasked with the creation of 3-5 minute post-recorded lecture video questions, along with the creation of worksheets to give students extra practice. These activities require the use of LaTex, Adobe Illustrator and Top Hat, all of which Wismer has become proficient in. Wismer holds weekly office hours and is constantly available via Zoom and by email for not only the classes she is TA for, but any class students’ may be struggling with. She has put in evening and weekend hours to help build “At Home Makerspace Kits” to ship out to students. Professor Matt Barry is the instructor for all three classes Wismer is a TA for.  He notes, “For all of these classes, there have been numerous compliments and glowing reviews of Samantha's helpfulness and willingness to go above and beyond to help her fellow students. Many from ENGR 0135 enrolled in MEMS 0031 and MEMS 0051 based solely on Samantha's presence as the UTA.” Barry also says he admires her tenacity, perseverance and patience. Outside of the Department, Wismer is a level II national accredited tutor for the Physics Lab at Pitt, where she uses these skills and knowledge to better serve MEMS students. Additionally, Wismer has co-authored a textbook which is currently used in a Pitt engineering class. She also co-authored two conference papers. Wismer is one shining example of the amazing undergraduate students in MEMS, and the Department would like to recognize and thank her for her dedicated commitment and service!

May
6
2021

Upcoming Psyche Inspired Showcase

MEMS, Student Profiles

Psyche Inspired is a cross-discipline internship program for undergraduate students designed to share NASA’s Psyche mission in a unique way through artistic and creative works. These works are published online and collected in downloadable books which tell the story of Psyche through musical scores, sculptures, painting, 3-D models, photography, acrylic art, needlepoint, stop-motion films, and mixed media. The program rolled out nationally in 2018 and this year’s cohort is known as the Nickel Class. Aarti Patel, ME junior, was a part of the Nickel cohort. Read more about her experience and the Brooke Owens Fellowship she received here. You can also register now to view the Psyche Inspired Online Showcase, which runs from May 10-24, 2021. Applications are now being accepted for 2022.

May
4
2021

Taking Charge: How to Use a Battery to Prevent Workplace Injury

Bioengineering

Workplace injuries and deaths have an enormous economic impact in the United States, costing society billions of dollars annually. According to the National Safety Council, work injury costs totaled $170.8 billion in 2018. One of the top causes is slip-and-fall injuries – an accident that can be mitigated in a variety of ways, such as proper footwear. The University of Pittsburgh’s Kurt Beschorner leads research to predict the risk of a slip-and-fall injury based on shoe tread. They have examined the impact of worn shoes on slipping and are now working with the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Traumatic Injury Prevention Council to develop safety signage for hospitals and the restaurant industry. “Our research focuses on understanding the underlying causes of slippery shoes, and we have been working to identify the tread thresholds where shoes become unsafe,” said Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and a member of the Human Movement & Balance Laboratory. “Slip-resistant shoes are designed with train channels that help drain fluid, but as shoes wear down, the channels disappear and become ineffective. This can create a slipping effect similar to tires hydroplaning on a wet road.” Unlike tire tread, which focuses on depth, Beschorner and his team found that the risk of slipping depends on the size of the worn patch of shoe. They developed a test that uses a universal device, a battery, to determine when it might be time to replace your footwear. “The strength of our test is in its simplicity,” Beschorner said. “Use the base of a AA battery to measure the worn region of your slip-resistant shoe. When the worn region becomes larger than the base of a battery, the shoe should be replaced. As the worn patch grows larger, there is a steady decline in function, and the base of the battery is the size where it becomes meaningful.” The team considered several common items – such as pens or coins – for the test, but most objects varied in size from brand to brand and country to country. Batteries, however, are globally universal in size. Beschorner suggests monitoring your shoes and replacing them before the worn patch becomes too large. His research also suggests that individuals will wear through their shoes at different rates. “The rate of wear was predicted by the walking style of the individual. Particularly, participants who utilized more friction during dry walking wore through shoes at a faster rate,” he said. “Thus, individuals may require different replacement schedules based on their unique walking style.” In addition to monitoring shoe wear, Beschorner also advises workers to examine the tread before buying a new pair. “Certain footwear comes with large tread features, which should be avoided since these treads mimic the worn patch that can lead to slips,” he explained. Check out the NORA Traumatic Injury Prevention Council’s posters for the food service and health care industries. “Common sense research meets the real world,” said Patrick Kubis, president of SR Max Slip Resistant Shoes. “We are already sharing this research with customers through educational posters and shoe box inserts. With one simple picture, our customers visualize the solution and the importance of replacing worn out shoes.” You can find more information on the HMBL website. # # #

May
4
2021

Bioengineering Introduces Two New Faculty Members in 2021

Bioengineering

The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering welcomed two new assistant professors in 2021. Katrina Knight, an alumna of the department, will advance the work she started as a graduate student at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health. Helen Schwerdt will build a research program committed to learning more about the brain, developing and integrating tools to examine and manipulate neural circuits. “Dr. Knight is a rising star in the bioengineering community, and her research in pelvic floor disorders aligns well with ongoing work in the women’s health arena within and outside of the department,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “She is an engaged citizen and an excellent science ambassador, with a deep commitment to promoting diversity in the STEM field and enhancing access to STEM education for underprivileged and underserved communities. “Dr. Schwerdt is another superstar who has applied her electrical engineering background to develop novel neural interfaces and help us better understand how the brain works under normal and pathological conditions,” he said. “She will be a major asset to our research efforts in the neural engineering area, and her work nicely complements ongoing research within our department and at the collaborative Brain Institute. I’m thrilled to have them both on our team.” Katrina Knight (PhD, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh) Knight’s research focuses on the pathogenesis and treatment of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a common condition where the organs in the pelvis push against the vagina, creating a “bulge” that can extend outside of the body. Despite the fact that this condition affects nearly one-third of all women, repair surgeries using synthetic mesh often result in complications. Knight’s work explores the biomechanical mechanisms underlying the failure of synthetic meshes in an effort to develop improved mesh materials and design. “Current prolapse meshes are simply hernia meshes repurposed for the repair of pelvic organ prolapse,” she explained. “My research aims to develop a novel device that is specifically tailored for prolapse repair and one that is based on scientific evidence. “Such a device will improve the lives of millions of women around the world who are impacted with this condition.” Knight joins the Department of Bioengineering from a postdoctoral associate position in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and the Magee-Women’s Research Institute and Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Her research career has so far produced 13 peer-reviewed journal publications, 2 book chapters, and 24 presentations at national and international conferences in the field of urogynecology. She also currently serves as a co-founder and chief engineering officer of Your Village Is My Village, Incorporated, a 501c3 non-profit organization that aims to positively transform communities through mentoring and the education of at-promise youths. Helen Schwerdt (PhD, Electrical Engineering, Arizona State University) Schwerdt’s research involves building and applying novel, multi-modal neural interfaces to explore how the brain works, understand its pathological mechanisms, and improve the treatment of debilitating neurological disorders. She will focus on monitoring and manipulating neural activity from the level of individual cells and molecules – such as dopamine and other neurotransmitters – to the connections they shape between cells across the brain. Her group will examine how all of this activity collectively drives adaptive behavior. She will also work to improve neural implant device longevity for lifetime diagnostic and therapeutic use. “Direct interfacing and communication with the human brain requires implantable devices that work over a lifetime without degradation,” she said. “Adding the ability to probe multiple forms of neural activity, outside of the traditional electrical neural signals, would enable a more directed approach to intervention as well as open up new ways to study the brain. “My goal is to develop a new class of multi-modal neural interfaces capable of monitoring and perturbing chemical and electrical forms of neural activity in a longitudinally stable manner. We will use these devices to study brain function and dysfunction and improve treatment for a wide range of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.” Prior to her appointment at Pitt, Schwerdt was a postdoctoral associate and research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has 12 peer-reviewed journal publications, 2 book chapters, and 16 presentations and/or abstracts at national and international conferences. In 2018, she received an NIH/NINDS Pathway to Independence Award for a project titled “Mapping neurochemical activity of the basal ganglia in pathological behaviors.” Two years later, she received the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to examine the role of the basal ganglia circuits and the underlying dopamine molecular signaling that become dysregulated in major mood disorders. # # #

Apr

Apr
30
2021

Swanson School Space Computing Team Heads to Houston

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

"If I told my 10-year-old self I was going to work with NASA one day, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Seth Roffe, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at the University of Pittsburgh. “Any kid who is interested in space dreams of that opportunity.” That dream became a reality for Roffe, his fellow students and their faculty leads, who recently delivered their newest space system to NASA for launch at the NASA Kennedy Space Center on SpaceX-24 this fall. The system of innovative new computers and sensors, uniquely designed for space and dubbed the Configurable and Autonomous Sensor Processing Research or CASPR system, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP), which provides an opportunity to perform cutting-edge technology research on the International Space Station (ISS). Both SHREC and the CASPR mission are led by Dr. Alan George, Mickle Chair Professor and Department Chair of ECE. The students and faculty are members of the NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) headquartered at Pitt. SHREC is a national research center sponsored by the National Science Foundation and dedicated to assisting U.S. industrial partners, government agencies, and research organizations in mission-critical computing. Both SHREC and the CASPR mission are led by Dr. Alan George, Mickle Chair Professor and Department Chair of ECE. “SHREC provides Pitt students with the unique opportunity to work with dozens of leading space agencies and companies while earning their engineering degrees,” said Dr. George. “CASPR is the third space system and mission led and developed by SHREC students and faculty, and it represents one of the most advanced space systems ever developed by students and faculty at any university.” Observing Earth from Afar As part of their recent delivery to NASA, the SHREC team added two new types of space sensors that will be used to get a better view of Earth and its surroundings. The sensors include a high-resolution binocular telescopic imager, developed by SHREC collaborator Satlantis, and a neuromorphic event-based camera, developed by Prophesee and created by Dr. Ryad Benosman, professor of ophthalmology and ECE at Pitt. “This binocular telescope will point to Earth, and its ground-resolved distance (GRD) will enable us to see things like cars, roads, or trees from the ISS,” said Roffe, who is project manager of STP-H7-CASPR. “There are other telescopes with this level of GRD, but this one is small – roughly the size of a toaster oven.” With this hardware and an algorithm from Satlantis, they hope to get more detailed images of Earth’s coastlines and other areas of interest for researchers. Unlike the binocular telescope, the neuromorphic sensor will face the horizon, in the direction that the ISS is moving. The device emulates the human retina and will be used to track fast-moving objects in space and improve situational awareness. “When you take a photo with a normal camera, you take a frame, capturing everything in a field of view,” Roffe explained. “This camera is special because it only captures events by looking for changing light intensity in each pixel, which makes it really good at tracking motion.” Let’s say that you used this technology to take a picture of someone walking. The resulting image would only reveal the person in motion, omitting the static background. This device could ultimately help mitigate collisions or assist in docking to the ISS. Leveling Up Computing Power CASPR, SHREC’s third space system, features two new SSP space computers, two new space sensors, and a GPU. Credit: Theodore Schwarz. Performing research on the ISS requires small yet robust tools that are equipped to handle space’s harsh environment. In addition to new sensors, the CASPR system also includes a pair of new high-performance computers for space, each known as a SHREC Space Processor (SSP), which is built to withstand these challenging conditions and perform better than its predecessors from SHREC. “With SSP, the SHREC team has created one of the most innovative, powerful, dependable, and adaptable types of space computers in the world, and our space computers have been adopted by groups across the country for a growing list of recent and upcoming space missions,” said Dr. George.  “The SSP features a unique mix of fixed and reconfigurable electronics, as well as a hybrid combination of commercial and radiation-hardened technologies, resulting in a system that is very powerful, versatile, and resilient and yet very small in size, weight, power, and cost.” The computing system will also test a commercial GPU, or graphics processing unit, to evaluate how it performs in space. GPUs are more powerful than their CPU counterparts for some applications, which for example would allow modern satellites to perform machine learning or improve graphics rendering in space. “This project is really cool because GPUs haven’t flown very often, so it is really leading edge, and our team is doing great work adding resilience to machine learning,” Roffe added. “The area of a GPU that is vulnerable to radiation is much larger than that of a CPU, so we’re excited to see what happens.” A Space for Students to Shine SHREC gives students in the Swanson School of Engineering a unique opportunity to interact with experts at NASA or the Department of Defense and see their work take flight. In May 2019, a collaborative effort sent the Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing (SSIVP) computer cluster to the ISS on the STP-H6 mission. Like CASPR, this project involved faculty and students from the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences.  In the latter department, the faculty lead for CASPR is Dr. Matthew Barry, an expert in thermal and mechanical issues for space systems. In addition to Roffe, the project leads for the CASPR system include the following graduate students: Noah Perryman, electronics lead, who designed and built all of the electronics; Theodore Schwarz, mechanical lead, who designed and built the structure; Antony Gillette, software lead, who wrote most of the flight software that will control everything in flight; Evan Gretok, operations lead and expert on commanding the system after launch, as well as applications to run in flight; Tyler Garrett, GPU lead, who was responsible for software and hardware development related to the GPU; Sebastian Sabogal, FPGA lead, who designed and wrote all of the firmware that works alongside the software; and Thomas Cook, power lead, who designed the system that distributes electric power to everything in CASPR.

Apr
29
2021

Alumni Focus - Ken Balkey

MEMS, Nuclear

Joseph C. Balkey (on left with extended right leg) at Westinghouse Gearing Division – Nuttall Plant, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA – Circa 1941 Ken Balkey’s history at the University of Pittsburgh began long before his current position as an adjunct lecturer in the MEMS department. In fact, the entire Balkey family has a history with Pitt and it begins with Ken’s father, Joe. Joe Balkey worked at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Nuttall Plant in Lawrenceville where he manufactured large gear motor parts starting in 1941. When the Westinghouse plant closed in 1960, he took his life savings and began a renewal parts business named Joseph C. Balkey Sales with the full devotion of his wife Marie. He became well-known for solving breakdown issues and some of his customers included the Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh Asphalt Company and the U.S. Navy. As a teenager attending North Catholic High School, Ken helped cut keyways in gears for his father’s customers, a technical endeavor that influenced his decision to become a mechanical engineer. When it came time for college, Balkey’s parents encouraged him and his two brothers to pursue engineering, and all three siblings obtained advanced degrees from Pitt. Ken earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1972 and his master’s in the same concentration in 1980. His elder brother, Joe, received degrees in chemical engineering and his younger brother, Dave, acquired his degrees in industrial engineering. During his time at Pitt, Balkey noted how he greatly respected all of his engineering professors. He says, “They all had their own unique teaching styles that caused students to adjust their way to learn and understand the important information that was provided in each course, which reflects the real world.” One instructor that particularly stood out to Balkey was Professor Roy Marangoni. Professor Marangoni taught Balkey in both undergraduate and graduate courses on vibration, which he says had direct use and were greatly beneficial to him during the early days of his career. More prominently, Professor Marangoni was Balkey’s faculty advisor for his team’s senior capstone project on determining the natural frequencies of a three-mass torsional system. Balkey was the group’s presenter and project report creator which he says prepared him well for the industry. He notes, “I could readily pull together efforts from addressing complex issues in a succinct and straightforward manner that everyone can understand. I have published many articles on a wide range of challenging topics during my career.  I thought of Dr. Marangoni many times over the last 50 years when I found myself in similar situations as our senior capstone design project.” Balkey served as secretary of the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which he describes as one of the best decisions he made as a student. He was encouraged to join as a sophomore by a senior student, Tim Andreychek. Post-graduation, the two men ended up working together at Westinghouse where they often reminisced about their time as ASME students. During the summer after his freshman year, Balkey interned at Houser & Carafas Engineering Company where he assisted draftsman supporting the steel industry. That led to a position with Reliance Engineering Company, where he was able to do his own engineering drawing work. Balkey says all this experience was quite helpful to have on his resume as he applied for engineering jobs upon graduation. Ken Balkey running track for Pitt at the Fitzgerald Field House circa 1971 Balkey had an impressive athletic tenure at Pitt which started with a recommendation from retired Pitt track and field coach, Carl Olson, to join the track and cross teams as a walk-on.  Coach Olson made the recommendation upon learning Balkey completed the 1968 Boston Marathon as a high school senior. He joined the teams as a freshman and continued to win and improve throughout the year.  By the end his freshman year, Balkey shaved over 30 seconds off of his mile time, eventually completing a 4 minute 17 second indoor mile. Since he was running better than many of the other top freshman in the eastern half of the country, he was offered an athletic scholarship for his remaining three years on the teams. Balkey admits much of his success was likely due to trying to impress his future wife, Ruth Anne. He met Ruth Anne during his freshman year at Pitt while ice skating at a public session at the Civic Arena. Ruth Anne was a junior in high school at the time. He says it was love at first sight! But, he told her that he was not able to ask her on a date due to his engineering course load and commitments to the Pitt track team. Ruth Anne agreed to come watch him at a track meet at the Fitzgerald Field House instead. It was this meet that Balkey first shattered his record mile time. Ruth Anne came to Pitt two years later to pursue a degree in education. Balkey saved a few of his electives so they could take classes together. He says, “Without a doubt, Ruth Anne has had the most significant impact on my life from helping me with my engineering studies, to supporting many leadership roles at Westinghouse, ASME and numerous other organizations.” However, managing his workload and demanding sports schedule proved to be difficult and Balkey found his grades slipping.  He recalls being approached by Coach Olson one day after practice freshman year. Coach asked him how his grades were, and when he replied that he was receiving B’s and C’s, coach scolded him.  Balkey said he was stunned and that the interaction had a powerful impact on him. The next semester during his sophomore year, Balkey began the ME program. He met with three friends every day after class to strategize how to address their homework problems. They would then disburse to work on the problems on their own.  Balkey said this approach made a huge difference to him, “It reduced the time it took me to do my homework while better understanding the material that was presented in class.” He began getting better grades and by his second semester junior year he was one of six out of over 400 Pitt student-athletes to earn a 4.0 that semester. He was also the only engineering student-athlete to do so. Balkey was so excited he went to find Coach Olson right away to share the news. He says, “I ended up graduating with honors with an overall GPA of 3.41 that got me in the door to be interviewed for my job at Westinghouse. Coach Olson’s push made an enormous difference for me in getting a great job and launching my 42-year career at the company for which I am eternally grateful.” Balkey’s 42-year Westinghouse career began in 1972 in the Pressurized Water Reactor Systems Division. He notes, “[The] work included use of static and dynamic analysis methods that aligned with material learned in my Pitt M.E. undergraduate and graduate courses dealing with methods of analytical dynamics, advanced vibrations, and theory of elastic/plastic analysis.” As the 70s became the 80s, Balkey continued to advance his career at Westinghouse. In 1983, he was recognized in the industry for leading team efforts in integrating probabilistic risk assessment pressurized thermal shock event frequencies with probabilistic fracture mechanics methods to address concerns with reactor pressure vessel integrity at nuclear power plants in the U.S. and many other countries. This state-of-the-art approach kept five U.S. reactors from facing immediate shutdown, and further work over the last decades in this area has assured safe continued operation of nuclear power plants around the world today in the generation of reliable, emission free electricity. This work opened opportunities in management for Balkey, which he declined in order to pursue a technical leadership path. The inspiration to take this path came from a conversation he had with respected Westinghouse consulting engineer, Floyd Moschini. Moschini said his senior technical leadership position afforded him the opportunity to influence the nuclear industry in a unique, positive way and that he derived much personal satisfaction from his work. Balkey realized this was something he also wanted. In his last position before retiring from Westinghouse in 2014, Balkey was promoted to the same engineering consulting position Moschini held years earlier. He concluded his career at Westinghouse with over four decades of service in the global nuclear power industry. As Balkey advanced his career at Westinghouse, he also advanced his roles and responsibilities within ASME which eventually led him to serve as vice president, ASME Nuclear Codes and Standards (2005-2008) and then the highly respected role of senior vice president, ASME Standards and Certification (2011-2014). The latter organization is comprised of more than 5,500 dedicated ASME staff and volunteers from around the world.  As senior vice president, Balkey had oversight of the development of more than 500 standards used across many industries and in over 100 countries. He also chaired the ASME Council on Standards and Certification from 2011 to 2014. Balkey is the only in the Pittsburgh region ever to serve this role, which is chosen based on peer recommendation and appointment by a wide range of industries and government organizations. The role afforded him the opportunity travel and work with highly respected engineers and other leaders from around the globe. Today, Balkey remains an active volunteer with ASME (over 50 years!) where he works to raise funds for ASME engineering scholarships and other philanthropic programs. He also strives to get engineering standards content infused into undergraduate mechanical engineering curricula in the U.S. and in other countries accredited by ASME. Other notable accomplishments throughout Balkey’s career include receiving the IntraFirm Volunteer of the Year Award by the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering for enhancing the relationship between Westinghouse Electric Company and the University of Pittsburgh. He arranged annual updates from SSOE’s Development office to employees at Westinghouse and encouraged them to participate in the nuclear engineering program at Pitt. Additionally, he received an invitation from the Executive Office of the U.S. President to attend a strategic White House workshop on critical infrastructure priorities post 9/11. He also joined a group of recognized experts in publishing a special ASME report on nuclear safety construct following the Great East Japan earthquake in March 2011. Balkey has authored over 150 publications and technical reports related to risk evaluations, and holds two patents on pressure vessel integrity and risk-informed inspection of heat exchangers. His honors include the ASME Melvin R. Green Codes and Standards Medal (2008), the ASME Bernard F. Langer Nuclear Codes and Standards Award (2002) and numerous other awards from ASME, Westinghouse, and more. Throughout his impressive tenure with Westinghouse and ASME, Balkey interacted with numerous associates also involved with Pitt SSOE in some capacity. Westinghouse colleague and fellow Pitt grad, Dr. Gary Elder, has worked with Balkey since 2010 to co-teach to their Pitt graduate course in nuclear engineering dealing with real world applications of nuclear codes and standards. Balkey notes, “Any recognition that has come my way during my career, it has always come by working with so many other talented people.  I am forever grateful for having the honor and privilege of working with so many talented people from around the globe during my career.” Balkey credits the help and support of his parents, along with his athletic scholarship, as the reasons to why he was able to obtain his education from Pitt. He notes that his scholarship was invaluable and came at a time that he really needed the help. Joseph and Marie Balkey (seated in front) 40th Wedding Anniversary September 14, 1986. Back row: Joe and Ann Balkey, Kathleen and David Balkey, Ruth Anne and Ken Balkey; Grandchildren Keith and Karen Balkey standing next to their grandparents. Therefore, when their father passed in 2013, the Balkey brothers decided to establish the Joseph C. and Marie A. Balkey Family Engineering Legacy Fund to honor their parents for the significant sacrifices they made to support their children in engineering education and careers. The income from the fund is used for the purpose of supporting the Swanson School of Engineering at the discretion of the Dean. In the spirit of giving, Ken and Ruth Anne have also recently pledged to fund two endowed scholarships, one for a MEMS student and the second for an ASME scholarship. Balkey notes the scholarships have been something he has wanted to do for a while as a way to pay it forward in the hopes that it will help others as he was helped 50 years ago. Balkey notes one of the key intentions of making his pledge to endow a Pitt engineering scholarship is to encourage others to follow in his example. Ken and Ruth Anne have been together for 52 years and just celebrated their 47th year of marriage. They have two children, Karen and Keith, and three grandchildren, Lucas, Max and Nina.  Keith also attended the University of Pittsburgh where he obtained his bachelor’s in business administration in 2004. Keith joined his father at Westinghouse for the last six years of his career at the company. Balkey’s current involvement at Pitt does not stop with his generous donations and adjunct lectureship.  He is also a member of the Pitt Panther Club and Varsity Letter Club. He regularly attends the Swanson School of Engineering golf outings and the Distinguished Alumni Banquet each spring. Additionally, he is a reviewer for the senior design projects.  He says, “It is quite enjoyable to connect with current and past faculty, alums, students, and Development Office staff each year at these events.” Balkey hopes to inspire others to pursue the field of engineering for the self-fulfillment derived from contributing to the improvement and advancement of everyday society and the excitement of participating in future global initiatives.

Apr
28
2021

William Federspiel Receives the 2020-2021 Marlin Mickle Outstanding Innovator Award

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 28, 2021) ... The current COVID-19 pandemic has not only shaken the healthcare industry but also delivered more than a year of social and economic disruption across the globe. During this time, innovators at the University of Pittsburgh quickly adapted their research to meet new safety standards and managed to tackle the effects of the pandemic. On April 22, the Innovation Institute recognized Pitt faculty, students and staff who thrived, despite these unprecedented circumstances, at its 2020-2021 Celebration of Innovation. William Federspiel, John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, received the Marlin Mickle Outstanding Innovator Award for his consistent dedication to achieving societal impact through commercial application of his research. This prestigious award honors Professor Mickle, a Pitt innovator who holds the University record for invention disclosures filed, patents issued, and startups formed. “I am honored and thankful to be this year’s recipient of the Marlin Mickle Innovation Award. I’m also humbled knowing many of the past recipients of this award,” said Federspiel, who also holds appointments in chemical engineering, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, critical care medicine, and the Clinical Translation Institute. “This award has personal meaning for me. I always knew Marlin to be a scholar and an innovator, but through conversation, I recognized that he was the ultimate gentleman and extremely humble.” Federspiel directs the Medical Devices Laboratory wherein clinically significant devices are developed for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. He is also a co-founder of ALung Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based medical device company, at which he now serves as head of the scientific advisory board. Among Federspiel’s innovations is the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS), a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide from the blood. During the coronavirus pandemic, the device received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for COVID-19. “It is an amazingly rewarding experience to develop technologies that help save lives,” Federspiel said. “[ALung Technologies] did an amazing job creating the Hemolung RAS system that was seeded in my laboratory. “Last year we experienced the beginning of a once in a lifetime pandemic. While I was already proud that the Hemolung RAS device was in FDA clinical trials for approval, I was ecstatic when I learned the company sought and obtained EUA authorization from the FDA to treat severe COVID-19 patients,” he added. “Obviously, these are circumstances I would have never envisioned 25 years ago when I joined Pitt. It came from the hard work of many individuals both at the University and the company.” Click here to watch Dr. Federspiel’s acceptance speech. To date, 97 COVID-19 patients have been treated using the Hemolung® RAS device, and the company has experienced increased demand as a result of the pandemic. Federspiel has developed additional artificial lung platforms that combine fiber technology with cellular and biomolecular components to create biohybrid artificial lung tissue and bioactive hollow fibers. Some of his other innovations include a membrane and particle-based blood purification devices for use in critical care settings; improved transport models for drug delivery from nanoparticles and microparticles; and oxygen depletion devices for blood storage systems that will extend the shelf life of red cell units and deliver red cells of higher efficacy and lower toxicity for transfusion therapy. “Although publication is one of the core activities of academia, the ultimate goal of bioengineering research is to make a real-world impact, e.g., improve health care. Bill has dedicated his career to translating novel research findings into improved treatments of cardiopulmonary diseases – this is perhaps his highest contribution,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. During his time at Pitt, Federspiel has submitted 32 invention disclosures, been issued 14 patents, and has had his work licensed 11 times. He is an elected Fellow of several prestigious professional organizations such as the National Academy of Inventors, the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs. In 2019, he received the Carnegie Science Award for Life Sciences. # # #

Apr
28
2021

Designing New Alloys for Additive Manufacturing

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 28, 2021) — Additive manufacturing (AM), a burgeoning technology for alloy fabrication, allows engineers to specifically manufacture a complex component in any shape. However, due to the unique processing involved, the alloy behaves differently during fabrication using AM when compared with other traditional manufacturing techniques. The alloy components produced by AM can easily develop a texture that makes them behave like wood in some ways—stronger along the grain than against it—and thus limits the strength (its resistance to distortion and fracture) and ductility (how much it can elongate before it breaks). There is a well-known trade-off between strength and ductility, which cannot be fully solved using current AM techniques, like reducing the grain size through externally applied deformation. Wei Xiong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, will study the fundamental mechanisms behind this trade-off in a new project that received a $526,334 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year project, titled “Unraveling Fundamental Mechanisms Governing Grain Refinement in Complex Concentrated Alloys Made by Additive Manufacturing Towards Strong and Ductile Structures,” began on April 15, 2021. “The ability to produce strong yet tough structural alloys is a necessary step toward getting the most out of new, innovative materials and manufacturing,” said Xiong, who last year also received the Early Career Faculty Fellow Award from the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (known as TMS). “This project will provide a fundamental understanding that can overcome the well-known problem that, in general, the stronger a material is, the less ductile it becomes. Moreover, we will also design new alloys that can be additively manufactured”. Grain refinement is a method used to augment a material by changing the size of its grain structure, improving both its strength and ductility. Xiong’s project aims to understand the underlying mechanism of grain refinements in complex concentrated alloys made by additive manufacturing of combinations of multiple chemical element additions. Xiong’s Physical Metallurgy and Materials Design Lab will investigate whether increasing entropy, or disorder, in an alloy system will slow grain coarsening and stabilize microstructures, making the material both strong and ductile. Particularly, they will focus on mixing alloy powders to print complex concentrated alloys, which is a new type of material that usually stabilizes the microstructure due to its resulting high entropy. There are plenty of earthly reasons that AM has exploded as a way to fabricate alloy parts. There are some good interplanetary reasons, too. “Think about, in the future, if we colonize Mars and want to build stations using 3D printing. No one wants to bring hundreds of different alloy powders to travel with the rocket,” said Xiong. “We want to bring maybe only three or four different types of powders to serve the needs of building an entire station on Mars, so we can mix them with different ratios to fabricate different parts by additive manufacturing.” “The developed technique can also help to save the cost of alloy powder production for various engineering purposes and enhance the sustainability of 3D printing by providing recipes to recycle and reuse existing metal powders," he continued. “Therefore, it is important to explore the effective pathways of microstructure engineering of these alloys by additive manufacturing, and that is why I proposed such a topic.” According to the NSF, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is its most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. This award marks the fourth consecutive year that a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science has received a CAREER Award.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
26
2021

University of Pittsburgh’s Anna C. Balazs elected to National Academy of Sciences

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (April 26, 2021) … Anna C. Balazs, an award-winning University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor in the Swanson School of Engineering, has added one of the nation’s top honors to her portfolio. The National Academy of Sciences announced today that Balazs is among its 120 newly elected members, recognizing distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Balazs, who also holds the John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, is internationally recognized for her theoretical and computational modeling of polymers. For the past decade, her research has focused on mimicking biological processes in polymeric materials which could contribute to the advancement of soft robotics or “squishy robots.” “Throughout her career, Anna has advanced the field of materials and computational modeling, and we are so proud that the National Academy of Sciences has bestowed her with this honor,” said James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “Her research has built the foundation for future materials and their use in ways that even only a decade ago were science fiction. She has fulfilled the passion of every engineer – to create new knowledge that one day will benefit the human condition. I congratulate her on this exceptional achievement and look forward to one day celebrating with her in person.” Balazs, a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Materials Research Society, has also received some of the leading awards in her field, including the Royal Society of Chemistry S F Boys - A Rahman Award (2015), the American Chemical Society Langmuir Lecture Award (2014), and the Mines Medal from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (2013). In 2106 she was named the first woman to receive the prestigious Polymer Physics Prize from the American Physical Society. “The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh could not be more proud of Anna’s selection to the National Academy of Science, which is one of the highest honors bestowed upon a U.S. scientist,” noted Steven R. Little, Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “There is no one more deserving than Anna. She has envisioned (and continues to envision) the materials that future generations will use to create a better world, and she continues to lead scientists to make these materials a reality. She is a role model to our faculty and our students. Her work in her field is truly unparalleled in its breadth, quality and impact.” This year’s NAS member cohort includes 59 women, the most elected in a single year. “The historic number of women elected this year reflects the critical contributions that they are making in many fields of science, as well as a concerted effort by our Academy to recognize those contributions and the essential value of increasing diversity in our ranks,” said National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt in the announcement. Anna C. Balazs (second from left) presents her Provost Inaugural lecture on 13 September 2018, recognizing her Distinguished Professorship. To her left is Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; from her right is Provost Ann Cudd and Dean James R. Martin II. (Photo: Aimee Obidzinski) ### About Dr. Balazs Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh in 1987, Anna C. Balazs held a postdoctoral position in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Balazs' research involves theoretical and computational modeling of the thermodynamic and kinetic behavior of polymer blends and composites. She is also investigating the properties of polymers at surfaces and interfaces. Her awards and recognitions include the Polymer Physics Prize (2016); S. F. Boys-A. Rahman Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) Faraday Division (2015); ACS Langmuir Lecture Award (2014); Greater Pittsburgh Women Chemists Committee Award for Excellence in the Chemical Sciences (2014); Fellow, Materials Research Society (2014); South Dakota School of Mines’ Mines Medal (2013); Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2010); Donaldson Lecturer, University of Minnesota (2007); Honoree, “Women in the Material World,” Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania (2006); Maurice Huggins Award of the Gordon Research Conference for outstanding contributions to Polymer Science (2003); Visiting Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford University (2000 – 2001; 2007- 2008); Special Creativity Award, National Science Foundation, (1999-2001); Fellow, American Physical Society (1993); and Invited Participant, National Academy of Sciences' 6th Annual Frontiers of Science Symposium (November 3-5, 1994). About the National Academies The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars. Established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. The NAS is committed to furthering science in America, and its members are active contributors to the international scientific community. Approximately 500 current and deceased members of the NAS have won Nobel Prizes, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, founded in 1914, is today one of the premier international journals publishing the results of original research. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM, formerly the Institute of Medicine) -- were founded under the NAS charter in 1964 and 1970, respectively. The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.  The National Academies' service to government has become so essential that Congress and the White House have issued legislation and executive orders over the years that reaffirm its unique role.

Apr
21
2021

Sarah Hemler Clinches First Place at Pitt’s Three Minute Thesis Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Each year, graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh participate in the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition to challenge their research communication skills. The event invites higher degree students to effectively explain their work in three minutes to a non-specialist audience. Sarah Hemler, a bioengineering PhD candidate in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Human Movement and Balance Laboratory, was awarded first place in Pitt’s 2021 competition. She used the platform to discuss the assessment and mechanics of shoe tread wear. “I think research or any work we do is only as potent as its communication,” she said. “In the lab, we know the details of our work more than anyone else. It’s in relaying this information with accuracy, tact, and attention to the audience that the information is disseminated effectively. Even the best interventions require strategic communication around their importance and validity to reach the intended audiences.” Her dissertation work includes monitoring shoe traction performance and wear, and developing footwear replacement strategies to prevent slips and falls. She designed and prototyped a portable shoe scanner, which could ultimately help reduce the billions of dollars spent on medical claims due to workplace injuries. “Part of my research involves user-centered design which understands how to assess and incorporate user needs into the product design process for optimal efficiency,” Hemler added. “I think effective communication involves applying some user-centered design techniques; we need to know what is useful, usable, and desirable for the audience in order for information to be remembered.” “Sarah has worked hard to refine the skill of communicating in a concise and understandable way,” said Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering and Hemler’s research advisor. “This skill can be especially challenging when communicating highly technical research. I was so pleased that her efforts and talents were recognized in this competition.” Swanson School students have continually placed as finalists or won the top prize in this competition since 2018.

Apr
21
2021

Get SMART: Swanson School Sophomore Receives DoD SMART Scholarship

Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 21, 2021) — Anna Strauss grew up fascinated by the work at the nearby Naval Air Warfare Center at Patuxent River, Md. “Part of my drive to go into engineering was to one day contribute to the work I observed there,” said Strauss, a sophomore Engineering Physics student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “It is important to me that my work has a positive impact on my community and country.” Through a Department of Defense (DoD) SMART Scholarship, Strauss will soon get the opportunity to pursue her dream. The SMART Scholarship, which stands for Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation, is a Scholarship-for-Service program that provides students pursuing STEM degrees with a scholarship in return for work as a civilian employee with the DoD. SMART recipients also are paired with a mentor and complete summer internships that will prepare them for full-time employment with the DoD after graduation. “I hope that this path will allow me to work in a wide variety of things, opposed to focusing on one specific task, as I really enjoy the collaborative process,” said Strauss. “With that being said I have been gravitating towards electromagnetic interferences, and signal processing, which I will hopefully have the opportunity to work on over this internship.” Strauss is part of the Engineering Science Program at the Swanson School, which is affiliated with the University Honors College. The Program provides students with a personally optimized scientific and engineering training experience, allowing them to reach beyond and across traditional disciplines and boundaries. Strauss’s Engineering Physics degree marries her passion for physics with her desire to work in an engineering field. She is currently working in the Talaat lab, where she is researching the laser heating of amorphous and nanocrystalline alloys. In the summer of 2022, Strauss will complete her first DoD internship at Dahlgren Navy Base in Virginia, where she will be testing and simulating waveforms, developing algorithms and using the engineering computing platform MATLAB to design some of naval ship combat systems. “I think my degree, engineering physics, being so interdisciplinary in its nature has put me in a really good place for this type of work,” said Strauss. “In taking such a diverse course load to this point, I feel very prepared to problem solve and adapt in any situation that may arise.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
20
2021

University of Pittsburgh Collaboration Supports Energy Innovation at NETL for More Than a Decade

Electrical & Computer

NETL News Release - Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2021) ... NETL amplifies the impacts of its nationally recognized technical competencies through collaboration with a variety of organizations, including university partnerships crucial to early-stage development of energy technologies that will lead the nation to a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. One prime example of these valuable partnership efforts is the work of an ongoing collaborative research team comprising NETL and University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) researchers who have developed and commercialized sensor technologies, won multiple Carnegie Science Awards, produced more than a dozen patents and pending patents, advanced the understanding of energy production through high-impact research papers, and most recently, applied a first-of-its-kind distributive sensing method to solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) — a promising clean energy technology. For the most recent accomplishment, which was aimed at improving the durability of SOFCs, Professor Kevin Chen, Ph.D., led the Pitt researchers, who leveraged the extensive research laboratories of the University’s Swanson School of Engineering, to fabricate and functionalize the distributed sensors that were then tested and characterized by NETL researchers in their own cutting-edge facilities. “NETL has been collaborating with Dr. Chen’s group on a variety of sensor projects since approximately 2008,” said Michael Buric, Ph.D., who leads current NETL work on the team. “At that time, we were working to construct the world’s fastest Raman gas analyzer using novel hollow waveguide technology. After patenting and licensing the Gas Analyzer technology, we focused on optical fiber sensors that enable distributed sensing capabilities, which means they have the ability to sense parameters of interest all along the optical sensing fiber.” The NETL-Pitt team continued developing the distributed sensing technology, applying their novel sensing methods to a range of measurement and monitoring applications across the energy infrastructure spectrum to enable new capabilities in operational efficiency, reliability and safety. The team found that optical fibers are capable of performing at high temperatures, in erosive or corrosive environments, and in highly oxidizing or reducing conditions. This led to the discovery of a fiber optic sensor capable of measuring the temperature and gas concentration distribution inside an operating planar SOFC. “This was a truly collaborative effort, as we used a unique laser fabrication capability to create the high-temperature stable and hydrogen-resistant distributed fiber sensors at Pitt,” Chen said. “And this work wouldn’t have been possible without NETL’s extensive sensor development and testing facility, fuel cell testing facility and modeling capability.” After the success of the SOFC distributed sensor work, the team is looking to the future to develop even more robust sensors capable of operating in even more extreme conditions, which will lead to greater power generation efficiencies. Furthermore, the team is working to apply this sensor technology to support efforts that address climate change. Chen explained that the team envisions using their unique sensor capability to harness valuable data with high temporal and spatial resolution to develop better engines, turbines, battery systems and solar thermal systems. “We are extremely grateful for NETL’s incredibly open attitude toward university collaborations,” Chen said. “Our graduate students and faculty are able to tap into NETL’s wide range of research expertise, which has resulted in not only world-class university research, but also highly trained personnel. NETL’s materials, sensor and modeling expertise supports innovation across so many fields, and previous collaborative work with the Lab has helped to produce energy experts that are now advancing the fields of SOFCS, combustion, rare earth elements, renewable energy and many others. For us, since the Lab is just down the road in South Park Township, NETL is a true national treasure right in our neighborhood.” The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. ###

Apr
15
2021

Swanson School Faculty and Students Named MCSI Sustainability Champions

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 15, 2021) — Tony Kerzmann, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been named the 2021 Pitt Sustainability Champion in the faculty category by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) for his work on renewable energy and sustainability. The program honors faculty, staff and students who have gone above and beyond to support campus sustainability in any of the three categories of the Pitt Sustainability Plan: Stewardship, Exploration, and Community and Culture. “This year’s winners are integral in cultivating a culture of sustainability at Pitt,” said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “We’re excited to honor their contributions and inspire the next generation to take up the mantle of building a more sustainable world.” Kerzmann is one of this year’s Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows and co-teaches the “Current Issues” and “Sustainability Capstone” core courses for MCSI’s Sustainability Certificate. His research focuses on the energy sector, leading projects that relate to energy and sustainability, including solar energy. He is currently working on offshore hydrogen production and 3D printed building optimization. Jessica Vaden, graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was also among the winners for her work on the Pitt’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which has been a critical analysis for future planning and the Pitt Climate Action Plan. Additionally, two MCSI interns, Anna Coleman and Gabrielle Sampson, were selected in the undergraduate student category. Coleman, a senior majoring in Global Studies, leads the peer training, coordination and execution of the First Year Presentations that introduce first year students to sustainability. Sampson, a senior studying geology and environmental science, has created two comprehensive Year of Engagement grant proposals, including one on indoor air quality. All 25 honorees will be recognized at the Student Sustainability Symposium on April 23, 2021. The full list of 2021 Sustainability Champions is available here.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
14
2021

Making a PAWS-itive Impact

Chemical & Petroleum

When CEO and founder of Pawprint Oxygen Blake Dubé (ChemE ’17) scrolled past a news story about pet oxygen masks from high schooler Carley Deery, he had to do a double take. A 17-year-old from Des Moines had raised more than $2,000 to provide pet oxygen masks in her local community. This emergency treatment is all too familiar to Dubé, who co-founded Aeronics -- a company that provides portable oxygen technology for consumer, veterinary, and medical applications. The group later created the brand Pawprint Oxygen after an acquaintance lost a pet to respiratory complications, en route to a veterinary hospital. Impressed with Deery’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for animal rescue, Dubé decided to reach out. “We saw an opportunity to amplify her work and reach even more pets by donating $10,000 worth of pet oxygen masks to her cause,” he said. “We're a small company, and our team's average age is only a few years older than Carley. That's why this opportunity was so special -- to be able to join a cause that matches our own mission while supporting another young change-maker means a lot to us.” Deery was originally inspired by a story from her father, a Des Moines firefighter who rescued and resuscitated a puppy from a house fire. When she saw the impact animal oxygen masks can make in emergency situations, she raised both money and awareness for this treatment. Her GoFundMe campaign resulted in raising enough for nearly half of the 50 masks that were distributed, in collaboration with the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Iowa, among ten fire departments in the Des Moines area. They will expand this effort with the donation from Pawprint Oxygen. “The plan for the additional masks currently is to reach out across Iowa with an emphasis on rural or small town volunteer fire departments who struggle for equipment,” said Tom Colvin, CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. “The ARL is occasionally on the receiving end of pets from fires so our veterinary staff will want to keep a few on hand as well.” Deery’s effort also caught the eye of Drew Barrymore, who hosts a popular daytime talk show. “Carley's work with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa shows what an impact young people can make,” Dubé added. “When she saw the difference that these masks can make for pets involved in house fires, she took action.” # # #
Leah Russell and Maggie Pavlick
Apr
12
2021

Pitt SOAR Named Finalist in NASA Sponsored Innovation Challenge

All SSoE News, MEMS

The Pitt Society of Astronautics and Rocketry (SOAR), comprised of several MEMS undergraduates, has been named a finalist in NASA’s 2021 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. In 2020, NASA confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the Moon and ice at its poles, in addition to extensive subsurface water-ice deposits at mid to high latitudes on Mars. The Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge invites universities to compete to develop technologies capable of extracting water from these sources. This challenge is a part of a larger suite of competitions under The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL), which sponsors university engineering design challenges that “help inform NASA’s approaches for future human space exploration and prompt collegiate students to investigate, plan, and analyze space exploration design at differing states of development” (nasa.gov). Periodically, RASC-AL calls for a special edition challenge, as was the case this year, to elicit students’ fresh perspective on developing concepts that may provide solutions to specific design problems and challenges currently facing human space exploration (specialedition.rascal.nianet.org). SOAR’s project is titled Vaporizer of Underground Liquid for Consumption by Astronaut coloNists (VULCAN) and the team received a $5000 stipend to build their system when they were identified as semi-finalists. As finalists, they will receive an additional $10,000 to further develop their system and use on expenses such as hardware development, materials, testing equipment, hardware, software, and travel. On a yet-to-be-determined date this summer, the team will travel to the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, VA to test their prototype against the other university finalists in a multi-day competition.  The teams will compete to extract the most water from an “analog environment simulating a slice of a combined lunar and Martian surface, while simultaneously using system telemetry to distinguish between overburden layers and create a digital core of the various layers” (specialedition.rascal.nianet.org). Teams will also present their work in a technical poster session and with a technical paper. MEMS professor Matt Barry is the Faculty Mentor of SOAR and Mars Ice. Barry effused that he is "…continually amazed by what the students within SOAR and Mars Ice Challenge teams accomplish. Having teams in their infancy, such as these, continually and successfully competing in NASA competitions is a remarkable feat, and a true testament of the students' abilities, their commitment to the team and missions, and their perseverance to overcome any and all barriers in their way. These amazing students not only represent themselves well, but the University as a whole, and I could not be more proud of them." The MEMS students on this team, all ME undergraduates, include; Cole Bowman, Andrew Horton, Benjamin Moyer, Jack Cornell, Justin Olah, Marissa DeFallo, Sam Hunn, Ronald Musto, and Elliot Kerachsy. We wish SOAR the best of luck at finals this summer!

Apr
9
2021

Controlled Release Society to Present Pitt’s Steven Little with Distinguished Service Award

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2021) … The Controlled Release Society (CRS) has announced that University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven R. Little will receive its Distinguished Service Award at its virtual annual meeting this July 25-29. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, is internationally recognized for his research in drug delivery systems that mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation.This is Little’s third honor from CRS; in 2018 he received the society’s Young Investigator Award, and in 2020 was elected to its College of Fellows for “outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of delivery science and technology over a minimum of ten years.”“Dr. Little's leadership of the focus groups of the Controlled Release Society has been transformational for the society as a whole,” said nominator Justin Hanes, the Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “I have never seen the young rising superstars of our field so engaged in the CRS, and their engagement is key to the long-term success of this remarkable scientific society. Dr. Little has also been a highly valued member of the CRS board of directors.  He is a visionary and a natural leader. We are so grateful to him.”Rather than traditional drug treatments that are distributed throughout the entire body, Little’s controlled release research focuses on time-released microcapsules that target specific cells on site. In 2020, Little published a groundbreaking discovery of a new immunotherapy system that mimics how cancer cells invade the human immune system and thereby reduces the risk of transplant rejection. He has also made advancements to the fundamentals of delivery science with predictive models enabling rational design of drug delivery systems, leading to the founding of Qrono Inc., a specialty pharma company in Pittsburgh.“The CRS is a tremendous organization, and I am extremely humbled by this recognition. A large number of people sacrificed so much of their time to achieve the positive changes that this award is recognizing. I am very confident that I speak for all of these people when I say how rewarding it is for all of us to see the next generation of scientists and engineers being recognized for what they do and having a way to exercise their own leadership in this world-class organization.”More About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is a William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award from the ASEE, being elected as a fellow of the BMES and AIMBE, a Carnegie Science Award for Research, the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award, the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award, being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator, and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education. Dr. Little was also recently named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. Chemical Engineering departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. ###

Apr
9
2021

Studying the Mechanism Behind Metastatic Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Apr. 9, 2021) … University of Pittsburgh bioengineer Partha Roy received awards from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institute of Heath and the Magee Women’s Cancer Research and Education Funding Committee to investigate the role of actin-binding protein profilin1 in metastatic breast cancer -- the second most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2021, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women, and around 15 percent of those cases are expected to be fatal.­ “Metastatic cancer is the cause of the majority of breast cancer deaths,” said Roy, who leads the Cell Migration Lab at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “During metastasis, nests of cells escape from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body. Treating these metastatic growths only temporizes the lethal outcome, so my group will investigate the mechanism that leads to metastatic dissemination and growth.” Roy’s lab previously found that profilin1 has contrasting effects on early vs. late stage of breast cancer metastasis. While reduced level of profilin1 in cancer cells makes these cells more migratory and competent in dissemination from the primary tumor, cancer cells are dependent on profilin1’s action for metastatic colonization. As part of the NCI-R01 grant, Roy’s lab will study how profilin1 controls lipid signaling and the downstream processes during dissemination of breast cancer cells. This study will be in collaboration with Pitt’s Gerry Hammond, assistant professor of cell biology, and Beth Roman, associate professor of human genetics and member of the Vascular Medicine Institute. The pilot grant from the Magee Women’s Cancer Research will have two foci. They will conduct preclinical proof-of-concept studies to determine whether novel small molecules targeting the profilin1-actin interaction suppress metastatic colonization of breast cancer cells. They will also examine the mechanistic understanding of how profilin1’s interaction with actin activates certain signaling pathways to regulate dormancy-to-emergence behavior of cancer cells. These studies could pave the way for novel therapeutic directions in metastatic breast cancer. # # # Image: Bioluminescence and X-Ray images demonstrating that knockdown (KD) of profilin1 (Pfn1) expression dramatically suppresses metastatic colonization ability of breast cancer cells in mouse model

Apr
8
2021

15 Pitt Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Student Profiles

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to view the original story. Fifteen Pitt graduate students have been selected for the 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The prestigious award provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Its overall goal is to recruit individuals into STEM fields and to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. Since its inception in 1952, the GRFP has supported more than 60,000 graduate students nationwide. The NSF expects to award 1,600 Graduate Research Fellowships overall. Fellows are provided a $34,000 stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance each year. Pitt’s 2021 awardees are: Max Franklin Dudek, life sciences—computationally intensive research Zachary Egolf, engineering—systems engineering Hannah C. Geisler, engineering—biomedical engineering Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, engineering—bioengineering Sarah Clarkson Griffin, engineering—bioengineering Pete Howard Gueldner, engineering—bioengineering Elijah Hall, geosciences—hydrology Sara Jaramillo, psychology—cognitive psychology Caroline Iturbe Larkin, engineering—computationally intensive research Jennifer Mak, engineering—biomedical engineering Karen Y Peralta Martinez, life sciences—organismal biology Kevin Pietz, engineering—bioengineering April Alexandra Rich, life sciences—genomics Paul Anthony Torrillo, chemistry—computationally intensive research Carissa Siu Yun Yim, engineering—chemical engineering In addition, nine Pitt students were recognized with honorable mentions: Marissa Nicole Behun, engineering—bioengineering Emily Kaye Biermann, physics and astronomy—astronomy and astrophysics Gabriella Gerlach, life sciences—bioinformatics and computational biology Emily Anne Hutchinson, psychology—developmental psychology Kayla M. Komondor, life sciences—developmental biology Rachael Dawn Kramp, life sciences—ecology Patrick John Stofanak, engineering—mechanical engineering Madeline Torres, life sciences—microbial biology Darian Yang, life sciences—biophysics "It is very exciting that, once again this year, University of Pittsburgh students have been recognized by the National Science Foundation for their excellent work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That the country’s oldest fellowship program supporting STEM applauds the fine accomplishments of Pitt's students is as impressive as it is inspiring," said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean of the University Honors College. "I sincerely congratulate this year's honorees." The University offers guidance for students who want to prepare strong applications for these and other awards. “Students in the Swanson School of Engineering successfully compete every year for NSF GRFP awards, which is a testament to their academic excellence and hard work,” said bioengineering professor Patrick Loughlin. “It is also a testament to the decade-long workshop and efforts by Swanson School faculty to assist graduate students in preparing competitive fellowship applications.” Loughlin said the Swanson School is joining forces with the University Honors College to expand its efforts with an eye toward further increasing the number of Pitt NSF GRFP recipients. Pitt Honors scholar-mentor Joshua Cannon said the Honors College’s program includes workshops throughout the summer and early fall, numerous past successful applications to read and learn from, advice on how to structure essays, and detailed reading and reviewing of essays. Awardee Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio said she felt overwhelmed as she started her NSF GRFP proposal. “Not because I didn't feel ready, but because as a graduate student it was my first time applying for such a competitive and prestigious grant. “I knew I needed mentorship, advice and new sets of eyes to provide an objective perspective on my proposal as I wanted it to be the best possible,” Gonzalez-Rubio said. “In my advisor, lab mates, fellow grad students and Pitt's Honors College prep program I found everything that I was looking for and I will be forever thankful for their support in helping me achieve what I consider to be my career's most important milestone so far.” Said honorable mention honoree Emily Bierman, "The application process allowed me to really envision what I wanted my graduate school experience to look like. After taking time to think deeply about what brought me to where I am today and what I want to accomplish, I feel much more grounded as a graduate student. Pitt's prep program really helped me through that self-reflection. The GRFP application is quite daunting, but I didn't have to do it alone." Swanson School recipients for the 2021 award include: Zachary Egolf, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to develop a nonlinear control scheme for distributive control of robotic swarms. This controller will allow for robust tracking of randomly moving targets. (PI: Vipperman) Hannah Geisler, a bioengineering undergrad, performed research to investigate the fluid-handling capabilities of a 3D-printed peristaltic pump for application in cell-free protein synthesis systems. The overarching goal of the project was to design a microfluidic system capable of controlled, rapid SARS-COV-2 protein synthesis for downstream production of protein-based COVID-19 assays and therapeutics. (PI: Ruder) Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, a bioengineering graduate student, studies how humans learn new ways of walking by using a split-belt treadmill where participants move each of their legs at different speeds. She is interested in quantifying their perception of leg movements once they adjust their walking patterns to this novel environment. (PI: Torres-Oviedo) Sarah Griffin, a bioengineering graduate student, studies the biomechanics and shoe-rung mechanics of ladder climbing to describe the factors affecting slip risk. The overall goal is to develop new knowledge that can be implemented in the workplace to reduce ladder slip and fall risk. (PI: Beschorner) Pete Gueldner, a bioengineering graduate student, uses novel experimental and computational techniques to analyze the biomechanics of abdominal aortic aneurysms. The central goal is to reduce the risk of patients by leveraging artificial intelligence tools on large clinical imaging datasets which will aid in the improvement of  the clinical standards as well as overall patient health. (PI: Vorp) Jennifer Mak, a bioengineering graduate student, develops innovative stroke rehabilitation strategies, involving the use of augmented reality (AR), encephalography (EEG), robotics, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The overarching goal is to address post-stroke sensory processing issues like neglect as well as motor impairments. (PI: Wittenberg) Kevin Pietz, a bioengineering undergraduate, performed research that involved engineering stem cell-derived pancreatic islets using alginate encapsulation and islet-on-a-chip systems. The goal is to develop a long-term microphysiological culture system for studying type 2 diabetes. (PI: Banerjee) Carissa Yim, a chemical engineering undergraduate, aims to understand and improve energy efficiency in flow batteries through electrochemistry and molecular-scale structural simulations. This will enable researchers to better harness intermittent renewable energy and address climate change. (PI: McKone) Honorable Mentions Marissa Behun, a bioengineering graduate student, aims to better understand the way in which macrophage phenotypes change with age following a skeletal muscle injury. (PI: Brown) Patrick Stofanak, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to better understand the impact that winds have on melting ice sheets and sublimation of snow in polar regions. Using fundamental thermal-fluid concepts and numerical simulation, he aims to improve our understanding of how these processes are contributing to sea level rise. (PI: Senocak) # # #
Kimberly K. Barlow, Communications Manager, Office of University Communications
Apr
7
2021

Pitt and CMU Host Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference

Bioengineering

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University co-hosted the 47th Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference on March 23-25, 2021. With the goal of sharing novel research and educational efforts and stimulating collaboration, the virtual event focused on "New Research Frontiers and Educational Landscapes in Biomedical Engineering" with six key themes: Neural Engineering Regenerative Engineering Biomaterials and Biocompatibility Computational Biology Medical Product (Biomedical Devices) Education in Biomedical Engineering The three-day event featured an undergraduate design competition, faculty speakers, research and poster presentations, and a special panel discussion on education in biomedical engineering. Each day of the conference also included a keynote speech on a relevant topic. March 23: Education – Ruth Ochia, Temple University March 24: Neural Engineering – Brian Litt, University of Pennsylvania March 25: Regenerative Engineering – Cato Laurencin, The University of Connecticut “Pitt and CMU have established strong cross-institutional collaborations in biomedical engineering, so we were delighted to have an opportunity to co-host a conference that encourages and stimulates collaborations in the field,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. “Though the virtual workspace is not ideal, it opened the conference to a wider audience, increasing attendance from individuals who otherwise might not have been able to travel to Pittsburgh. It was very satisfying to see this level of participation, especially by students, in this non-traditional format.” The conference welcomed 818 registrants, reaching the maximum capacity of the virtual format days ahead of the event. Twenty-four podium presentations were delivered, and students, postdocs and faculty presented 170 posters in the two competitions. Podium Presentation Winners 1st Place Kalliope Roberts, Carnegie Mellon University “In Vivo Development and Testing of an Ambulatory Destination Therapy Low Coagulation ECMO System” 2nd Place Quezia Lacerda, Thomas Jefferson University “Sterilization and Loading Approach to Deliver Oxygen Microbubbles to Hypoxic Tumors” 3rd Place Lily Cordner et al., Worcester Polytechnic Institute “A preliminary analysis of healthcare disparities curriculum in Bioengineering and Biomedical sciences: Piloting an educational module at WPI” Poster Presentation Winners 1st Place Simran Dayal, Lehigh University “Targeting Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Pathway to Stimulate Vascular Elastic Matrix Regenerative Repair” 2nd Place Mackenzie Maurer Ditty, Carnegie Mellon University “’Micro’ Devices Solving the World’s “Macro” Health Challenges:  A Look at How Nanomaterials Can Help to Detect the World’s Most Critical Nanoscale Biologicals” 3rd Place Patrick Tatlonghari, University of Pittsburgh “Calcification in Cerebral Arteries and its Relevance to Aneurysms” Undergraduate Student Design Competition Winners 1st Place Zachary Dougherty, Morgan Harr, Anthony DellaGrotta University of Rhode Island “Force Quantification: Using a Wobble Board for Rehabilitation Assistance” 2nd Place Erica Wessner, Sonam Saxena, Vanessa Tep Drexel University “At Home Physical Therapy Smartphone Application for Hemiplegic Patients” 3rd Place Miranda Griffith, John Handy, Michael Sherman Roger Williams University Automated Microarray System

Apr
6
2021

DIY Device Climbs to the Top of the Charts

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

A student’s side project created to optimize his lab work has piqued the interest of the global scientific community, putting it in the top 10 chemistry papers published in Scientific Reports in 2020. Michael Behrens’ synthetic biology research at the University of Pittsburgh requires the use of microfluidic devices, which allow researchers to rapidly perform biology or chemistry experiments on a small scale. Doing this work on a small scale helps save time and precious research dollars by allowing investigators to stretch resources, but Behrens saw more room for improvement. The peripheral equipment often required for microfluidic experiments adds to the cost and complexity, so he decided to innovate a solution to this problem. Behrens’ open-source, 3D-printed tool is not only cheaper, but it also adds a level of flexibility for tech-savvy researchers to fully harness these transformative devices. “Peristaltic pumps for microfluidic devices already exist, but I wanted a simple, reliable version that could carry small volumes of liquid,” said Behrens, a bioengineering PhD student at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “It’s cheaper to build it yourself, but we also added a level of flexibility by incorporating programmable microcontrollers that allow for custom flow profiles.” Microfluidic devices have a wide range of applications, including point-of-care diagnostics – much like the testing we have witnessed for the COVID-19 pandemic. This type of technology, also known as lab-on-a-chip, can quickly deliver much needed results and has transformed testing – particularly in times of emergency, at-home care, or in places that lack clinical infrastructure. “Since our pump is relatively cheap and easy to build and use, it could enable places with resource constraints to still have advanced diagnostics,” he said. “This pump could allow clinicians to run reagents past cells grown in a microfluidic device and do quick on-site testing, or allow high school labs to experiment with modern chemistry and biology research techniques.” For Behrens, the tool has helped advance his biorobotics research in the Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics Lab led by Warren Ruder, associate professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow of Bioengineering at Pitt. He believes this tool could help fellow engineers stretch their budgets and more effectively utilize microfluidic technologies. “I think there an unmet need to develop cheap tools to make microfluidics more accessible, especially for researchers,” he said. "The success of the paper shows me that a lot of people are interested in microfluidics, and providing open-source tools to help enable those technologies seems like a useful thing to do.” # # #

Mar

Mar
31
2021

Message of Vaccine Acceptance Can Boost Immunization Rates

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (March 31, 2021) — The development of a COVID-19 vaccine signaled, for many, the long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel. But for the vaccine to be effective in ending the pandemic, a large majority of the population – some estimates put it at more than 75% –  have to be willing to get it. And that might prove to be the tricky part. While hesitancy to get a vaccination makes headlines, new research finds that emphasizing the widespread and growing acceptance of the vaccine is an effective way to encourage more people to get immunized. “Our research has shown that giving people accurate descriptions of norms in their communities, like how many people are accepting the vaccine, makes them more willing to get it themselves,” said Amin Rahimian, assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and co-author of the study, which is currently under peer review. “This knowledge presents an important opportunity for public health officials to effectively communicate.” The study, led by MIT Sloan School of Management professors Sinan Aral and Dean Eckles, highlights the importance of messaging in reaching the goals of widespread vaccination, herd immunity and the eventual eradication of COVID-19. As part of a larger collaboration with Facebook and using input from public health experts at Johns Hopkins University, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and the World Health Organization, the researchers fielded a survey with over 1.9 million responses from 67 countries in their local languages. On a sample of more than 400,000 people in 23 countries, the researchers surveyed the participants about their plans for vaccination, inserting information throughout the survey about others’ behavior. When given accurate information about the number of people who said they’d receive the vaccine, the number of people who were unsure or felt negative about accepting the vaccine was reduced by 5 percent. “Everyone has different reference points when it comes to societal norms, but overall, peoples’ preventative health behaviors are dramatically influenced by social and cultural factors,” said Rahimian. “The most important message is to appreciate the value of these norms. It is natural for people to be hesitant, but emphasizing overall acceptance is an important way to contextualize the decision they’re making for themselves and their community.” Because one cannot tell by looking at people whether they’ve been immunized, messaging around acceptance rates is an especially potent tool to encourage more participation. The researchers noted that it wasn’t clear going into the study whether learning that more people were vaccinated would encourage or decrease acceptance of the vaccine. For example, if a majority of others say they will get it, some people may think it’s safe to skip it. “Humans are sensitive to the behaviors of others. Public health communications should avoid overemphasizing the shrinking minority of people who say they won’t accept a vaccine against COVID-19,” said Eckles. “The best way forward, as is often the case, is the presentation of clear, accurate and timely information. That includes the information that other people overwhelmingly intend to accept these vaccines.” The Age of Data Rahimian’s work is at the intersection of networks, data, and decision sciences. His work focuses on analysis and decision making in large-scale, sociotechnical systems, like social media, and the opportunities it represents for researchers. “The landscape for scientific research is changing in the age of data. The combined force of high-end data analytics and high performance computing opens new ways for scientific discovery,” said Rahimian. In this project, the researchers partnered with Facebook to gather data. The survey was deployed through the social media platform, and the researchers received anonymized responses attached only to a participant number. The partnership gave them extraordinarily detailed information on the participants’ demographic data along with their responses, without revealing their identity. “It was very important for us to make sure our survey was representative of the population. Facebook is in a unique position to help with this kind of work because of the massive amount of demographic and behavioral data that they can use globally,” Rahimian said. “Ensuring that we are hearing from a lot of different kinds of people allows us to extrapolate better conclusions about the population as a whole.” The paper, “Surfacing Norms to Increase Vaccine Acceptance,” (Preprint DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/srv6t) is undergoing peer review and was co-authored by Alex Moehring, Avinash Collis, Kiran Garimella, M. Amin Rahimian, Sinan Aral and Dean Eckles.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
31
2021

From Superman to Super Research

Bioengineering

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to see the original story. Of all people, Superman changed the course of Kacey Marra’s (A&S ’96G) professional life. In 2002, the chemist was attending a tissue engineering conference in downtown Pittsburgh. One of the featured speakers was actor and disability advocate Christopher Reeve, who Marra recalls saying, “Whatever you’re doing, think about what you’re working on and how that can translate to spinal cord injury.” The day after Reeve’s speech, Marra turned her attention to just that. Today, she is a professor of plastic surgery in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, as well as vice chair of research for the Department of Plastic Surgery. Her research focuses on a biodegradable tube that repairs severe peripheral nerve injuries, such as loss of feeling in limbs due to spinal cord injury like Reeve had. The tube releases a protein that repairs affected tissue in wounds while slowly disappearing to prevent infection or dislodging. Prior research in animals has demonstrated that the nerve guide device could restore up to 80% of nerve function. The device could have applications for people injured in car accidents, machinery accidents, newborn nerve injuries incurred during delivery, nerve damage due to tumor removal and diabetic neuropathy. Soldiers, too, could benefit. If it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the project will then enter human clinical trials. “Over half of our injured soldiers have a nerve injury. As a daughter of a Marine and a Vietnam vet who fought on the front lines, I found that highly motivational,” Marra said. “To turn my research efforts into something that can help our brave soldiers and veterans completely motivated me.” Marra has been attending military medicine meetings and working with colleagues at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. She has also met with soldiers affected by nerve injuries. To help advance her research, Marra has been entering competitions and filed an invention disclosure with Pitt’s Innovation Institute for her research. In 2018, she created her own startup company, Nerve Repair Technologies. In June 2020, Marra received the People’s Choice award at Equalize2020, a competition for female academic entrepreneurs. Shortly after that, she was named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors. “I tell my students to try to find something in life that you’re going to be passionate about. That’s what got me to where I am today,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a scientist since I was 10. I didn’t even realize I could do this kind of work for the military without enlisting.”

Mar
30
2021

Connecting the Dots Between Engagement and Learning

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from Carnegie Mellon University. Click here to view the original story. We’ve all heard the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh finds that it isn’t all about repetition. Rather, internal states like engagement can also have an impact on learning. The collaborative research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, examined how changes in internal states, such as arousal, attention, motivation, and engagement can affect the learning process using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Findings suggest that changes in internal states can systematically influence how behavior improves with learning, thus paving the way for more effective methods to teach people skills quickly, and to a higher level of proficiency. Internal states are known to modulate brain-wide neural activity, and studies continue to explore their impact on motor control, sensory processing, and cognition. However, the specific interaction between internal states and learning is not well understood. “Intuitively, we know that neural activity changes as we’re learning different things, because our behavior gets better with practice,” explains Jay Hennig, a graduate student in neural computation and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon. “However, what we’re finding is that it’s not just about getting better. All of the things that go on alongside of learning, such as one’s level of attention or state of arousal, play a significant role.” Using a BCI learning paradigm, the researchers observed how neural activity changed, and the degree to which these changes were influenced by shifts in internal states, as subjects performed tasks by moving a cursor on a computer screen using only patterns of neural activity. As the study unfolded, the team began to notice occasional large, abrupt fluctuations in neural population activity within the motor cortex. At first, they did not understand why this was happening, but over time, they came to realize that the fluctuations happened whenever the subject was surprised with a change in the task. (Changes ranged from brief pauses to perturbations of the BCI mapping.) At these moments, the subjects’ pupils dilated, suggesting that the abrupt fluctuation was the neural manifestation of an internal state, engagement. “We weren’t looking for this particular effect in the neural data,” says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Neuroscience Institute. “The pupil diameter was tightly correlated with the engagement signal that we saw in the neural activity, and it seems to have a massive effect in the motor cortex.” Ultimately, the research suggests that subjects’ level of engagement or attention can make things easier or harder to learn, depending on the context. “You might have imagined that the brain would be set up with a clear segregation of functions, like motor areas to motor control, and emotional areas to emotional control, and sensory areas to sensory representation,” says Aaron Batista, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “What we’re finding is a serendipitous kind of intrusion of an internal state into a motor area. It could be that we can harness that signal to improve learning.” The group’s work is ongoing and done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution’s strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior. “One of the unique parts of our collaboration is how integrated we all have been throughout the entire project, from experimental design, to experimental conduction, to data analyses, and adopting; we’re all involved in all parts of that,” says Byron Yu, professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “The findings here might one day help people learn everyday skills, such as math or dance, more quickly and to a higher level of proficiency.” # # #
Sara Vaccar, Communications Manager, College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
Mar
30
2021

Research on New Magnetic Materials Gets AMPED Up

Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (March 30, 2021) — As society continues to grapple with the realities of climate change, it looks toward electric vehicles and renewable energy as technological solutions. With these growing technologies, however, there is a greater need for improved soft magnetic materials that can operate in these systems. Meeting this need requires an interdisciplinary skillset, including materials science, applied physics, and electrical engineering, as well as collaboration with end-users in industry. A new consortium created to address this gap, focused on the research and development of magnetic materials for power electronics systems, has received $60,000 in funding from a University of Pittsburgh Momentum Funds Teaming Grant. The consortium, Advanced Magnetics for Power and Energy Development (AMPED), will include members from several schools at Pitt, as well as North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University. “There’s been a historical gap in research and development funding to support these quickly emerging areas, both with new and established industries in the electric power sector,” said Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our hope is that with this funding, we can invest in the relationships and innovation spaces needed to fill that gap.” Grainger, who is also associate director of the Energy GRID Institute and co-director of AMPED, is leading the effort to establish AMPED at the University of Pittsburgh with Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and material science and director of AMPED. Faculty leadership of the consortium also includes Director Michael McHenry and Co-Director Maarten DeBoer from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Director Subhashish Bhattacharya and Co-Director Richard Beddingfield from North Carolina State University. At Pitt, Grainger and Ohodnicki are joined by Rabikar Chatterjee from the Katz Graduate School of Business and Daniel Mosse from the School of Computing and Information. Chatterjee will bring to the consortium his experience and research in technology-to-market planning and competitive analyses. “Understanding the potential markets and assessing their needs warrants a business perspective, for which the Katz Graduate School of Business can provide the expertise,” said Chatterjee. “I am personally very excited to be part of the team, given my industry experience and research interests that cover the analysis of business markets and assessing the markets’ response to technology-driven innovation. Energy and sustainability are important priorities at Katz for faculty and graduate students, and this project is right in our sweet spot.” On the technological side, Mosse will help to develop novel algorithms for optimizing magnetics and power electronics technology. "It is exciting to participate in this interdisciplinary team with the promises of developing new technologies that will improve efficiency in electric vehicles, the smart grid, and other devices, all with the goal carbon emissions,” said Mosse. “This is the first step toward developing a large collaborative center where industry, academia, and governmental partners will come together to make great things happen, all in pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable world." The Teaming Grant is a one-year award to support the formation of multi-disciplinary collaborations at Pitt to successfully pursue large-scale external funding. AMPED will use the funds to establish synergies through facilitated team collaborations, supporting graduate student stipends, and investing in lab space at the Energy GRID Institute at Pitt. The group hopes to attract federal funding to further their research, and welcome corporate partners to the consortium to fuse research with industry needs. “More research into improved magnetic materials is crucial for a sustainable future, and it’s important that we’re working in harmony with people at all stages of the research and development process, from theory to manufacturing. Establishing this consortium within the university system also ensures that we can provide industry with the interdisciplinary, skilled workforce required to support their needs moving into the future,” said Ohodnicki, who is also chief technology officer for the soft magnetics manufacturing startup CorePower Magnetics. “I am thrilled to be working with a team whose skills and expertise have the potential to have an enormous impact on the future of energy.”
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
29
2021

Pitt and the Global Manufacturing And Industrialization Summit Join Efforts To Advance Research And Development Efforts In Manufacturing

Industrial, MEMS

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (March 29, 2021) ... The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance research collaboration and knowledge sharing in technology, manufacturing, and education across borders. The partnership will see GMIS and Pitt, in particular its Swanson School of Engineering, collaborate to explore opportunities to encourage research and development in manufacturing, develop academic papers, and facilitate knowledge exchange between different universities and educational institutes worldwide. The partnership aims to foster cross-sector collaboration through academic research and expertise to address the industry's challenges. Dr. David Vorp, the Swanson School’s John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research, and Namir Hourani, Managing Director of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS) signed the MoU. The partnership is designed to further the two organizations’ shared objectives to drive sustainable innovation that will help reshape the global manufacturing landscape, serving economies, industry, and civil society better. Commenting on the partnership, Namir Hourani, Managing Director of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS), said: “We are pleased to sign the MoU with the University of Pittsburgh as we continue to rollout long-term partnerships with world-class, research-focused universities from all over the world. These partnerships play a very important role within our ecosystem and contribute to multiple activities that run alongside the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit. “The city of Pittsburgh is a major center for technological innovation and advanced manufacturing in the United States and across the world, and this partnership will provide a platform for us to jointly showcase best practices from the city on the world stage.”James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, said: “The University of Pittsburgh is indeed excited to be a global academic partner with GMIS, and reflects Pittsburgh’s commitment to excellence in academics, research, and sustainability. “Pittsburgh represents the intersection of Industry 5.0 and Society 5.0, as indicated when Worth magazine recently named it as the nation’s second-most resilient city. Pittsburgh was the burning heart of the Second Industrial Revolution, and the past three decades of re-invention have shown how our region has once again established itself as the nexus for creating new knowledge that improves the human condition. And as we celebrate the 175th year of engineering education at Pitt in 2021, the Swanson School is proud to help lead the way in research, academics, and cultural competency,”The University of Pittsburgh will join the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS) in the development of its Leadership Program which was announced at #GMIS2020 and focuses on shaping future global leaders to prioritize advancing humanity and promoting global prosperity. Together with the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, the GMIS platform will work towards developing future leaders that can set their organizations on the path to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Swanson School will be instrumental in supporting with the research, developing the curriculum, engaging with stakeholders, implementing the programs, and supporting in creating awareness of for the program amongst relevant institutions all over the world.Dr. David Vorp, the Swanson School’s John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research, added: “The integration of sustainable industrial development in the mission for GMIS sets a well-charted path for our partnership. Pitt has endeavored to be a university leader in sustainable innovation, and at the Swanson School, our faculty and students are exploring new materials, advanced manufacturing, and tools that have the potential to improve the triple bottom line – social, environmental, and economic – for industry around the world. We are excited to join the GMIS ecosystem as a global academic partner and to be able to share the city of Pittsburgh’s success stories and innovations on the world stage of industrial and manufacturing excellence.” ### About GMIS: The Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) was established in 2015 to build bridges between manufacturers, governments and NGOs, technologists, and investors in harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s (4IR) transformation of manufacturing to enable the regeneration of the global economy. A joint initiative by the United Arab Emirates and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), GMIS is a global platform that presents stakeholders with an opportunity to shape the future of the manufacturing sector and contribute towards global good by advancing some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.The first two editions of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit were held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in March 2017, and Yekaterinburg, Russia in July 2019, respectively, with each edition welcoming over 3,000 high-level delegates from over 40 countries. The third edition, GMIS2020, was held virtually in September 2020 and convened over 10,000 attendees and close to 100 thought-provoking leaders from governments, businesses, and civil society. GMIS2021, the fourth edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit, will be held once again in the United Arab Emirates from November 22 to 27, alongside EXPO Dubai, under the theme – Rewiring Societies: Repurposing Digitalization for Prosperity. To learn more about GMIS, please visit https://gmisummit.com/ and follow GMIS on Twitter:  @GMISummit, Instagram: @gmisummit, LinkedIn: GMIS - Global Manufacturing & Industrialization Summit, and Facebook: @GMISummit. Press Contact:Reethu ThachilCommunications ManagerM Three Marcomms LLC, Press Office for:Global Manufacturing & Industrialisation Summit Mohammed Bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity +971 58 847 6870/ press@gmisummit.com
Reethu Thachil, GMIS Communications Manager
Mar
29
2021

Karen Bursic Wins Grant Award for Best Paper in The Engineering Economist

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (March 29, 2021) — Many fundamental engineering subjects, like statics and dynamics, heat and energy, signals and systems, and statistics, have reliable methods for measuring students’ learning. Engineering economy, which uses economic principles to evaluate engineering decisions, has not traditionally been among them, despite its importance to the curriculum. The Engineering Economist recently published an article by Karen Bursic, associate professor of industrial engineering and undergraduate program director at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, that evaluates a concept inventory to determine students’ learning in engineering economy courses. The article, “An Engineering Economy Concept Inventory,” (doi: 10.1080/0013791X.2020.1777360), was recently awarded the Grant Award, an award given annually by the Engineering Economy Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). “With all the changes in engineering education, like flipped classrooms or problem-based learning, it’s especially important to have an unbiased, targeted assessment tool to make sure students are learning important core concepts,” said Bursic. “The Engineering Economy Concept Inventory I have developed can help instructors understand whether the pedagogical changes they make to their course have been effective.” Bursic teaches the Engineering Economics Analysis course at Pitt, a course that introduces engineering undergrads to concepts like cost estimation, interest rate calculations, depreciation, and economic equivalence concepts. “These skills are critical for the effective application of engineering skills in the real world,” said Bursic. “While decision makers are often confident in the technical solutions that engineers provide, they almost always will ask whether benefits outweigh costs or which of several alternatives is least costly.” The Grant Award, named for Eugene L. Grant, is awarded for the best paper published in The Engineering Economist. Grant was a professor of economics of engineering at Stanford University whose primary objective, both in the several textbooks he penned and his classroom lectures, was to help students develop practical skills for solving real world problems. Papers considered for the Grant Award are evaluated on originality, importance of the problem they address, logic and clarity, and adequacy of the proposed solution. The Award includes a cash prize of $1000. Bursic will receive the Award at the ASEE conference in Long Beach, Calif. on July 28, 2021.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
29
2021

MEMS Student Receives Prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship

MEMS, Student Profiles

Asher Hancock, mechanical engineering junior, is a 2021 recipient of a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship. The scholarship is a part of the Excellence in Education Foundation which was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the work of Senator Barry Goldwater. Award winners annually receive an amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board until graduation. Scholarships are awarded to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The scholarships are to help ensure the US produces many highly-qualified professionals in these critical fields. Hancock joins 68 other mechanical engineering scholars out of a pool of over 5,000 applicants. In addition to the scholarship, Hancock recently had his research published in the international archival journal Energy. He is currently completing a computational telework rotation with NASA, along with working in both Professors Albert To and Matt Barry’s labs in the MEMS Department. He is minoring in computer science and mathematics and is the Chief Wing Engineer for the Pitt Aerospace Society of Automotive Engineering (Aero SAE). Congratulations Asher!!!

Mar
29
2021

Swanson School Researchers Receive More than $270K Through Manufacturing PA Initiative

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (March 29, 2021) — Four University of Pittsburgh researchers at the Swanson School of Engineering have received over $270,000 through Governor Wolf’s Manufacturing PA Initiative to further advance the manufacturing industry in Pennsylvania. The projects are part of the fellowship program through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), which will offer graduate and undergraduate students a chance to work directly with Pennsylvania’s growing manufacturing industry. “Our region has had a long history of industrial innovation and manufacturing leadership, from the steel industry that earned Pittsburgh its Steel City nickname to the emerging AI and robotics sector today,” said Brian Gleeson, Harry S. Tack Chaired Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “I’m pleased that this initiative recognizes our talented faculty and exceptional students who are advancing that work and making Pittsburgh a leader in manufacturing.” The program awarded nearly $2 million for 29 research partnerships with 15 Pennsylvania colleges and universities. The projects will “help advance innovation in several sectors of manufacturing, from advanced medical, to waste sustainability, to artificial intelligence,” according to the Commonwealth’s press release. The Swanson School’s recipients are: Markus Chmielus, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received $68,075 for a partnership with ExOne and ANSYS Inc. The project will build reusable N95 mask filters using binder jet 3D-printing, a powder-based additive manufacturing technique that can create optimally-designed structures without the need to machine parts or build tools first. The work will be informed by 3D-modeling and builds on previous work to systematically study and optimize the process. Graduate student Aaron Acierno will join Chmielus on the project, along with an undergraduate student who is yet to be determined. C. Isaac Garcia, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received $68,680 for work with the U.S. Steel Corporation Research and Technology Center in Munhall, Pa. The project will study the influence of casting and rolling processes on precipitation reactions in titanium/niobium (Ti/Nb) steels. Garcia will work with Pedro De Souza Ciacco, an associate researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. The project will give Ciacco and an additional undergraduate student this summer the chance to integrate university coursework and sophisticated laboratory tools into problem solving with an established metals producer. Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received $64,433 for work with Carnegie Mellon University and Carpenter Technology Corporation in Philadelphia. The project will explore new ways to process the high-performing commercial iron cobalt-based soft magnetic alloys developed by Carpenter Technology. While traditional processing methods result in a trade-off between mechanical and magnetic properties, the new methods would improve upon these trade-offs to optimize the material’s properties. Ultimately, the project will work towards demonstrating a commercially viable way to make these materials optimal for motors in electric vehicles and hybrid-electric aircrafts. Ohodnicki will work with Tyler Paplham, an undergraduate studying MEMS at Pitt that will be taking a PhD position within his research group, and Walter Robinson, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, in collaborations with his colleagues Professors Maarten deBoer and Michael McHenry. Albert To, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received $68,900 for his work with Pennsylvania companies Wabtec, ExOne, and ANSYS. The project will overcome a critical issue that hinders the broad adoption of binder jet printing: the warping of jetted parts after they’re treated with heat (sintered). The project will develop a new gradient-based method for minimizing warpage that changes the structures such that they will settle into the correct shapes after printing and sintering. To will work with Basil Paudel and Hao Deng, graduate students in mechanical engineering and materials science.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
26
2021

Brown Lab’s Marissa Behun Receives CTS Predoctoral Fellowship

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 26, 2021) … Marissa Behun, a first-year PhD student in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a Predoctoral Clinical and Translational Science Fellowship. This competitive award equips researchers with the skills to advance the translation of discoveries into improved patient outcomes and health policy. Behun’s research examines the correlation between aging, skeletal muscle repair and immune cell populations. She works to address defects in aging skeletal muscle, such as sarcopenia – a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function that affects 10 percent of individuals over 65 years old. “Sarcopenia is a chronic, debilitating condition with many unsatisfactory treatment plans,” Behun explained. “This condition is often present in elderly patients who experience adverse outcomes, morbidity and mortality during surgery. Aging and sarcopenia are also associated with a reduced capacity to heal muscle injury, contributing to the incidence of incisional hernias.” While defects in extracellular matrix composition and/or cellular response to injury are deemed explanations for this condition, both have been poorly tested. “The cellular response to injury has been well characterized in young animals, and evidence has shown that old cells placed on young matrix have a youthful phenotype,” Behun said. “However, recent evidence from our lab has shown that defective repair in aging is at least partially attributed to defects in immune cell recruitment, not polarization.” Behun uses special biomaterials in a well-established body wall defect to assess tissue remodeling and compare young animals to aged ones. “The main things we want to evaluate are the types of cells that respond to injury, the effect of different bioactive molecules delivered via biomaterials on infiltrating immune cell types, and the contribution these cells have on constructive repair of injured tissues,” she said. Understanding these bioactive materials may improve development, which could ultimately help clinicians more effectively address defects in aging skeletal muscle in humans and improve surgical outcomes. Behun works in the Brown Lab, which is led by Bryan Brown, a member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The group’s research seeks to couple a mechanistic understanding of the host inflammatory response with the development of biomaterials for regenerative medicine. ###

Mar
25
2021

CEE Xu Liang to participate in Land Ecosystem Models based On New Theory, obseRvations and ExperimEnts (LEMONTREE) project

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 25, 2021) ... A University of Pittsburgh team, led by Xu Liang from Swanson School of Engineering, will collaborate with top scientists around the world in a new thrust to study Land Ecosystem of the Earth in the project called LEMONTREE funded by Schmidt Futures and under the umbrella of VESRI, the Virtual Earth System Research Institute (https://schmidtfutures.com/our-work/scientific-knowledge/vesri/). The Pitt team will develop a land surface model VIC++, a significant extension of the VIC model, based on new theory and newly available rich observations. The VIC model has been widely used both nationally and internationally. It is also one of the models used in the NASA Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS). The official announcement of the thrust reads as follows: Reading University will be coordinating a new 5-year project Land Ecosystem Models based On New Theory, obseRvations and ExperimEnts (LEMONTREE) funded by Schmidt Futures and under the umbrella of VESRI, the Virtual Earth System Research Institute. LEMONTREE will develop a next-generation model of the terrestrial biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, water cycle and climate. The LEMONTREE approach draws on eco-evolutionary optimality theory as a basis for building ecosystem models that rest on firm theoretical and empirical foundations, and that can be incorporated into the land-surface component of climate models. These models should eventually yield more reliable projections of future climates. This could give a newfound ability to address issues in sustainability, including the potential to maintain the biosphere’s capacity to regulate the carbon cycle while benefiting human well-being and development. LEMONTREE is an international consortium with participants from Reading, Imperial College London, Columbia University, the University of Pittsburgh, UC Berkeley, Utrecht University, Seoul National University, Texas Tech University, Tsinghua University, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the UK Met Office and the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts. Sandy Harrison, project lead for Reading University, says "The Lemontree consortium have been collaborating informally for several years, and I am very excited that with the support of Eric and Wendy Schmidt by recommendation of the Schmidt Futures program, we have the opportunity to fast-track our efforts to create a better understanding of the way the terrestrial biosphere works and how this impacts biogeochemical cycles, climate and feedbacks to ecosystem services."

Mar
23
2021

Opening the Door for Women in Engineering at Pitt

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles

When Emmy Lou Haller decided to study engineering at the beginning of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “It takes a lot of courage to go into a school where the students are all men.” The numbers have improved since Haller earned her degree in industrial engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, first-year female recruitment in the Swanson School of Engineering is nearing 40 percent, and women represent a third of the undergraduate population and more than a quarter of graduate students. That’s an impressive feat for a discipline that is typically male-dominated – and above the 21.9 percent of women who earned engineering degrees in the U.S., according to a 2018 study by the American Society for Engineering Education. “When I was an undergrad in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, I was typically one of two or three girls in a classroom of 40 students. I only had two female engineering professors during my entire undergraduate studies,” said Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. “This often led me to feel like I didn’t belong or have what it takes to be a successful engineer.” This feeling partially inspired Hornbostel to become a professor and improve female representation in engineering education. “I want future female engineering students to have a role model and feel like they belong,” she said. “Whenever I teach undergraduates at Pitt, I’m so encouraged by the number of female students in my classroom. I love how they seem so comfortable speaking up and asking questions. Representation truly makes a difference.” Back in 1933 and despite being the only woman among a crowd of male peers, Haller enjoyed her studies and graduated at the top of her class. Coming from a family of engineers and preferring mathematics to dolls, her career choice was destined, but the journey would be difficult. For Haller, who transferred to Pitt from the all-women’s Sweet Briar College after her freshman year, community had to be found outside of the classroom. In addition to her engineering studies, Haller was also a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and Quax, a women's honorary science sorority founded by seven female science majors in 1919. Today, more so than in the early 20th century, women at Pitt can still find opportunities to connect with their peers through numerous groups, such as DIVA (Determined Intelligent Victorious Available), a student run organization dedicated to empowering women of color in the Swanson School. Engineering alumna Brianna Pinckney (BS CEE’15) got her first taste of female leadership when she was asked to lead DIVA by her mentor Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL. “I had no idea this role would unleash an unknown passion to support, challenge and help expose other women to achieving personal and professional opportunities they most likely would not consider for themselves,” she said. “Women-led organizations have also taught me that we (women) don't have to compete for success; we're stronger as a unit by encouraging and celebrating each other and building off of previous success stories.” These organizations have effectively helped women create community and network of support in pursuing research and a career in STEM. Confidence to Succeed Amid New Challenges Haller’s research at Pitt included studying downtown department stores and determining the amount of light that attracts the most public attention to store window displays. She hoped to continue research in Pittsburgh after graduation and was optimistic about her prospects. “I think the average woman can accomplish more with a buttonhook or a hair pin than the average man does with the aid of a step ladder, a whole set of tools and a wife to hand him things,” she said in the Post-Gazette article. Haller’s enthusiasm for engineering and bold career move helped open the door for other women to enter the field; however, for some, the journey still is not simple. “As a female engineer, we are often told to quickly establish our presence and find our voice amongst the sea of men in our industry; as a minority female, the pressure to define your role and prove your worth is only intensified,” Pinckney said. “With more than five years of industry experience under my belt, I've challenged myself to engage in conversations and opportunities that positively highlight my knowledge, experience and ultimately my worth as a team member.” As the field continues to grow and adapt to the changing workforce, leaders and mentors play a pivotal role in motivating and inspiring people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. “Having a support system through EXCEL, DIVA, and our advisor Ms. Moore has been crucial to my success as an engineer,” said Fodun Ologunde, a senior computer engineering student who also serves as a leader and social media chair of DIVA. “From professional workshops to wellness seminars, the ladies created a safe space and provided the motivation to keep going. It is always encouraging to engage with women who have shared experiences and who genuinely care about my success and wellbeing as an engineer and also as a friend.” During Women’s History Month and the 175th anniversary of the Swanson School of Engineering, the university community can also celebrate 98 years of women in engineering at Pitt. “I’m proud of what we have accomplished in the Swanson School, and it is a legacy which I think Emmy Lou Haller would be tremendously proud,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering. “However, we still have a way to go to not only have parity, but to improve equity within the field itself. To do that, we will continue to recruit the next generation of women engineering students to Pitt.” # # # Image 1: Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceImage 2: Brianna Pinckney (BS CEE’15), Business Development Engineer, Turner ConstructionImage 3: Fodun Ologunde, a senior computer engineering student and leader and social media chair of DIVAImage 4: Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering, and Director of the Engineering Education Research Center

Mar
23
2021

Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty

Bioengineering

When the COVID-19 crisis took hold of the United States more than a year ago, the University shut down all but essential work and had to transform day-to-day operations. Research was put on hold, students were told to stay home, and campus quickly became a ghost town. Despite these unprecedented circumstances, which continue to affect life on campus, research and education quickly revived, and University of Pittsburgh engineers returned to what they do best – addressing complex problems to improve the human condition. From collecting donations and making personal protective gear to advancing lung assist devices and mitigating viral exposure for doctors and nurses, Pitt bioengineers have overcome obstacles to help contribute to pandemic relief and adapt their research and education to the “new normal.” Reengineering Research Given the nature of biomedical research, managing human and non-human subjects was an obstacle to overcome in this new environment. The first steps toward restarting research were to reduce personnel and mitigate risk, which required many labs to reengineer operations for a safe return. Tamer Ibrahim’s group uses its unique head coil system and one of the strongest MRI devices in the world to perform scans on patients with neurological disorders. To return to these studies and to keep their patients safe, the team had to adapt their technology. “We created new standard operating procedures, modified our devices with clever engineering, and completely changed the way we do human imaging in order to mitigate the risk of infections and spreading of the disease,” said Ibrahim, professor of bioengineering. “Despite significant difficulties, we have been conducting human studies for about seven months now and are becoming even busier than before the pandemic shut down our operation. I am amazed at the resilience of our students, postdocs, and staff.” Students have played a large role in adapting research to these new safety standards. Undergraduate students, like bioengineering senior Yuxuan Hu, have had to find creative ways to continue their lab work. Hu works on FingerSight, a device for the blind worn as a ring on the index finger. It has a camera and vibrators that can help a visually impaired individual navigate their environment and guide manipulation. During the pandemic, he managed to develop a system that allows a blindfolded person to pick up a plastic strawberry with a spoon. “The system uses relatively straightforward computer vision methods, such as binary thresholding, but adjusting parameters in the methods was still challenging as it requires repetitive testing,” he explained. “Dr. Stetten delivered basic parts of the hardware to my apartment so I could work on the prototype from home and only had to come to the lab for formal experiments. Additionally, I met with the lab virtually every week to present and discuss my progress.” Hu’s success will be published in the Swanson School’s annual student journal, Ingenium. “Considering my lab was otherwise shut down, and he was all alone, his efforts were above-and-beyond,” said George Stetten, professor of bioengineering who devised the concept for FingerSight. Though operations are still far from “normal,” most bioengineering labs have reopened and are continuing their work to advance human medicine and treatment. Restructuring Education In addition to a new research environment, faculty and students have also had to tackle an unconventional classroom. An integral part of engineering education is engaging in the creative design process and exploring solutions through hands-on learning – a task that is difficult to accomplish remotely. During the pandemic, faculty and students have had to apply their engineering skills to restructure the teaching environment. “My TA team and I have viewed this situation as a profoundly interesting challenge for us to reinvent a hands-on, project-based design course for remote delivery – and build the plane as we're flying it,” said Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering who teaches the Art of Making: Hands-On System Design and Engineering, a Swanson School course that focuses on innovation, human-centered design, experiential learning and projects that address real-world problems. To equip the 43 students enrolled in the course’s spring 2021 term, Samosky and his wife sorted thousands of prototyping materials and tools to be shipped to each student by the first day of class. In a time of physical distance, this enabled the Art of Making students to remotely interact with one another, explore technologies and build prototypes “We had a communal ‘unboxing ceremony’ during the first class session to foster a sense of unity and promote the ability to work with physical ‘atoms’ even when our communications are mediated by ‘bits,’” he said. “We’ve seen dramatically increased engagement when students can ‘break the fourth wall’ of the Zoom screen by working together with physical artifacts.” In an early assignment, students built robots that play music and dance together – even while spatially remote. They also paused for creative physical activity breaks as a team. “Everyone stares at a screen all day, and since the class is almost two hours long, we try to get students out of their seats -- whether for a nature break or a virtual roller coaster simulation,” said Jessica Steinberg, a bioengineering sophomore and Art of Making TA. The teaching assistants took creative measures to try to make the “covid classroom” mimic an in-person experience. “Inspired by techniques used at the Stanford d.school to enhance creativity and community, Dr. Samoksy suggested playing ‘ideation music’ during some of our class activities. I DJ music while the students are working, playing calmer music during brainstorming and more high energy songs while they are prototyping or doing workshops,” said Mackenzie Stiles, a bioengineering sophomore who is also a TA for the course. “We used to listen to music together in G34 so something small like that really creates a nice sense of community while we work in different places.” Both Steinberg and Stiles were part of the spring 2020 course offering and were well equipped to help the new cohort of students navigate the untraditional classroom. “When we returned last spring, everything was so unstable with all of my classes, except the Art of Making,” said Stiles. “It was shocking how normal it felt, which is a testament to the hard work that Dr. Samosky and the TAs made during the week of spring break. That made me value what I do as a TA now and motivated me to provide the same level of consistency during these unpredictable times.” Samosky and his TA team also developed, tested and deployed a new Art of Making Online Expo where the capstone project teams presented their projects to their peers, industry guests and course alumni joining from around the world. “It is a great opportunity for the students to show off, get feedback, and take pride in everything they accomplished during the course,” Steinberg added. “Experiential learning has always been at the core of Art of Making, so it has been a rewarding challenge to help create ways for students to engage in hands-on, collaborative learning, even while physically distant.” Reimagining the Future Bioengineering is closely connected to the clinical world, and graduate programs in the field often draw health care professionals. During the pandemic, many of these professionals have faced unique challenges and have been pushed to the front line of the crisis. Two current MS in Medical Product Engineering (MS-MPE) graduate students have had to learn how to strike a balance between a career and education during these unprecedented circumstances. As COVID-19 swept through New York City in March 2020, hospital intensive care units (ICUs) were quickly slammed with patients and in desperate need of healthy hospital workers, like travel nurse Kelsey Cox. “I was in Seattle at the beginning of the pandemic and saw the immediate need for nurses in New York City,” said Cox, who started the MS-MPE program in the fall. “With my background and interest in failing lungs and hearts, I knew I had to help, so I moved to Brooklyn in mid-March.” After her time in New York, Cox traveled to Pittsburgh to settle in and prepare for the start of the program; however, she was soon called to Texas – another state hit hard by the pandemic. “I worked 21 days straight in an ICU in McAllen and later did the same thing in El Paso,” she said. “Though they were difficult months, I was happy I could contribute to the crisis and grateful to have had the experience. “Being a travel nurse has given me an amazing opportunity to work all across the nation and has allowed me to network with like-minded peers. It has also afforded me the chance to focus on my graduate studies and not have to work a part-time job as a student.” Cox hopes to connect her two professional worlds and engineer devices and solutions that can improve daily life for nurses. Another MS-MPE student juggling a career and graduate school is Brandon D’Aloiso (BS BioE ’15), a lead perfusionist at UPMC Presbyterian who supports cardiac patients, including heart and lung transplant patients. He also supports individuals on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a device that can do the work of the patient’s heart and/or lungs while native organs recover. “We have seen an increasing use of ECMO in the COVID-19 patient population and have supported these ECMO patients round-the-clock since last April,” he said. D’Aloiso also participates on the StatMedivac ECMO Transport team, a group that branches out to regional hospitals, places qualifying individuals on ECMO, and transports them back to UPMC Presbyterian for further care. “This life-saving effort was one of the coolest things I got to do during the pandemic,” he added. “It really helped regional centers to care for these sick patients. “While balancing life as a graduate student has been tough, I love my job and learning in the program so I have made it work. I have been fortunate that many of my courses have allowed me to focus on projects I am very interested in and that relate to my work as a perfusionist as well.” D’Aloiso has an interest in cardiac medical devices and joined the MS-MPE program to further his knowledge in this area. Though these stories only represent a fraction of the Pitt bioengineering population, they demonstrate the diverse backgrounds and interests that can come together to impact and improve the human condition – even during times of crisis.

Mar
23
2021

Advising the Whole Student

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (March 23, 2021) — When she began her career advising students at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, Cheryl Paul wanted to make sure she provided students an experience opposite to the one she had as an undergraduate. “When I’d meet with my advisor, they would just check the list of courses I was planning to take to make sure they’d count toward my degree,” said Paul, who is the School’s Director of Engineering Student Services and the Graduate Student Ombudsperson. “The advising didn’t connect the dots between the classroom, extracurricular activities and post-graduation plans. They never asked questions like, ‘Why are you adding a dual degree?’ or, ‘Why are your grades either As or Cs?’” Paul knows that kind of intuition and empathy can make all the difference for the students who come to see her. From noticing when they might be struggling in class to uncovering challenges they may be facing in the community or with stress, going the extra mile has been a key part of Paul’s work at Pitt. Now, her work with undergraduates has been recognized with the naming of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s Cheryl Paul Professional Academic Mentor of the Year Award. The Award honors and recognizes the efforts of the Professional Academic Mentor who gives of their time and talents to student chapters and the Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) Community to aid in their goals of academic excellence. Paul’s work with the FSL community began in 2007, when she was approached by a group of engineering students who wanted to colonize a fraternity at Pitt, Delta Chi, and needed a professional academic mentor. Despite having no prior experience with Greek life—either as a student or as a professional—Paul got involved and has never looked back. “It’s so energizing to work with college students. They’re very idealistic in the way they approach things, and our conversations are always very genuine and interesting,” she said. “Involvement in these kinds of communities directly impacts not only their experience in college, but also how I approach my work.” Though her work was initially focused on academics, she learned that so much of what is happening outside the classroom impacts students’ ability to succeed within it. Since working with Delta Chi, she has advised around six other student groups at Pitt. “The more work I did, the more I realized work inside the classroom and outside it shouldn’t be separate conversations,” said Paul. “If you were to measure student success, you would see that it often correlates with their engagement.” Paul’s work has been widely recognized by her peers. She received the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence for her work with fraternities at Pitt. Her success led former Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Pitt Matthew Richardson to push for naming the Professional Academic Mentor Award after Paul. “Cheryl is an exemplar among student life professionals and a well-respected advisor to students,” said Richardson, who is now director of the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership at West Virginia University. “During my time at Pitt, I saw Cheryl literally transform fraternities and sororities through her intentional and warm guidance. We named the Professional Academic Mentor Award after Cheryl because there is literally no one who can do that particular job quite like her.” Paul points to an empathetic and holistic approach as key to her success in advising students. She hopes to see more academic advisors and mentors take that approach, especially through a time when in-person support is rare, and students may be struggling more than usual. “I think it’s important to have good training, but it’s also important to listen to your gut,” she advises her peers. “Pay attention to what you see in front of you, not just in terms of how students are doing in class but also how they’re interacting with their community. Our students are used to fixing their own problems, but they sometimes need someone to notice what they’re going through and ask how they’re doing.” “You don’t have to be able to provide solutions for everything,” she added. “Just be open to having a conversation, wherever that may lead.”
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
20
2021

Swanson School of Engineering Statement on Anti-Asian Hate

All SSoE News, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Diversity, Investing Now

To our Swanson School Community, I join with Chancellor Gallagher, Provost Cudd, and our University of Pittsburgh colleagues in condemning the rising tide of crime and hate against Asians and Asian-Americans in our country, especially the heinous murder of eight this past week in Atlanta: Daoyou Feng, 44  Hyun Jung Grant, 51  Suncha Kim, 69  Paul Andre Michels, 54  Soon Chung Park, 74  Xiaojie Tan, 49  Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33  Yong Ae Yue, 63 I encourage you to read the statements released yesterday in Pittwire, as well as that of Pitt’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and note the resources available to our students, faculty, and professional staff. Engineering is an ancient and universal profession that links its practitioners with one noble goal – the betterment of the human condition. Universities throughout the U.S. have long been an international destination for engineering education, and so many of our students, alumni and faculty have charted new courses back into the world to improve the lives of others, from the greatest cities to the most remote villages. The Asian and Asian-American members of our community have likewise contributed to our breadth and depth of engineering excellence. As we mark this year the 175-year  anniversary of engineering education at Pitt, it is important to remember that Asians and Asian Americans have been part of our shared Pitt Engineering community for more than a century. As colleagues, collaborators, researchers, and teachers, they are integral to our success. Together we share a passion for engineering that allows us to make the world a better place through innovation and imagination. This past year we have battled not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also an epidemic of bigotry, racism, misogyny, and hate in our country. Yet, just as defeating the coronavirus requires a shared respect for science, education, and each other – as much as it does a vaccine – so too does combatting racial and social injustice demand an understanding of and appreciation for each other. No matter our color, creed, nationality, sexuality, or ability, we must stand together as a community to face hate with resolve and deny it a voice on our campus and in our neighborhoods – whether here in Pittsburgh or elsewhere around the world. Our long fight against injustice is never easy nor brief; as I have previously noted the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To continue that arc requires that we not only stand together, but also that we stand as exemplars of equity and inclusion through actions, words, and deeds. This includes incorporating concepts of cultural competence and humility in our curriculum. Both the University and the Swanson School have integrated new programs toward this goal, and we are developing more initiatives that we will launch in the coming months. I and the senior leadership of the Swanson School are committed to creating powerful and needed change in our academic and research environment, but it will require an investment by everyone for it to succeed, and for us to make our community a better place for all. As distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine grows exponentially and the semester nears an end, the light of resolution burns brighter – but we still have a journey ahead of us. Reaching that destination of change and a new future requires a shared commitment to each other’s success, one that I know we as engineers can accomplish and carry forward in our lives and those of others throughout the world. We have 175 years of excellence as our foundation – let’s make the next 175 years a testament to the change we make today. Best,  -Jimmy
Author: James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering
Mar
18
2021

For Women’s History Month, Women in STEM Share Their Journeys

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (March 18, 2021) — The path for women in STEM fields has historically been fraught with obstacles that their male counterparts may not have had to face. The path is a bit clearer today thanks to the women who walked it before: women like Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and environmentalist; Katherine Johnson, the space scientist who made the Apollo 11 flight possible; and Edith Clarke, the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the U.S. On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in celebration of Women’s History Month, a panel of women from the Swanson School of Engineering will discuss their own paths to success as women in STEM and higher education. The six faculty and staff members will discuss their journeys and lessons learned while building their fruitful careers. The panel, “My Journey, My Story: The Path to Success for Women in STEM and Higher Education,” is presented by the Swanson School of Engineering Office of Diversity. The discussion is open to all members of the Swanson School. You can find more information and RSVP here. PANELISTS: Xinyan Tracy Cui, Professor of Bioengineering Tracy Cui runs NTE Lab, where they investigate and develop tools that interface with the nervous system for neuroscience research or clinical diagnosis and therapies. One major thrust of the lab research is to understand and modulate neural tissue interactions with smart materials and biosensors—an effort that can be applied to several fields of research, including neural electrode/tissue interface, neural tissue engineering, implantable biosensors and drug delivery. The NTE Lab also designs advanced functional biomaterials and electrode devices that will intimately integrate with the host neural tissue. They simultaneously develop rigorous methods to comprehensively and accurately evaluate these novel materials and devices. Related news: $2.37M NIH Award to Deliver Improved Neural Recording Technology Katherinetarget="_blank" Hornbostel, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science On the way to renewable energy, there will still be a need for traditional power plants, like natural gas and coal, to keep the electrical grid stable during the transition. Katherine Hornbostel’s research focuses primarily on making those traditional energy sources cleaner through carbon capture technology. Her research group investigates materials for post-combustion carbon capture and direct air capture. Another project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program will model a novel plant that can capture more carbon dioxide from the air than it produces, making it carbon-negative. Related news: New Research Led by Pitt Analyzes Modeling Techniques for Carbon Capture Technology Gena Kovalcik, Co-Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) focuses on sustainability initiatives and practices through the development and integration of curriculum, groundbreaking research, community outreach and innovation. Gena Kovalcik has led MCSI since 2003, when she joined as Codirector of Administration and External Relations. Kovalcik was also recently selected as Strategic Advisor to the Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering. In this new position, Gena will play an important role in helping to formalize and lead development of the Swanson School’s strategic processes and operationalizing its strategy across all units. In addition to her work at Pitt, Kovalcik serves as a member of the Allegheny County Green Action Team, which provides high-level, strategic input to Allegheny County officials to better support regional sustainability. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Green Innovators. Related news: https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/MCSI/News/ Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering There are tens of thousands of industrial chemicals currently in commerce—the majority of which were not carefully evaluated to understand their toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, or persistence. As researchers continue to discover environmental contaminants, Carla Ng’s lab works to effectively screen these potentially dangerous substances. Ng’s group works at the intersection of biology and chemistry to understand and predict the fate of chemicals in the environment. They build and validate models for legacy and emerging chemicals at multiple scales, from molecules to organisms to global systems. Recent news: Mapping PFAS Contamination in Packaged Food Cheryl Paul, Director of Engineering Student Services and Graduate Student Ombudsperson In her dual role assisting undergraduates and as the school’s graduate Ombudsperson, Cheryl Paul provides support to engineering students as they navigate academic and life challenges. Additionally, Paul extensively consults with staff, faculty, and parents in situations where extra assistance is required. As a member of Pitt’s Campus Crisis Support Team, the Care & Resource Support group, & the LGBTQI+ Task Force, she is invested in leading the effort to improve student’s educational experiences with care & compassion. Paul’s work has been widely recognized by her peers. In 2013, she received the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence for her work assisting student organizations.To honor this work, Pitt’s Fraternity and Sorority Life recently named the Cheryl Paul Professional Academic Mentor of the Year Award after her. Anne Robertson, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Anne Robertson joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1995, where she was the first female faculty member in Mechanical Engineering. Her research is focused on understanding the relationship between biological structure and mechanical function of soft tissues with a particular focus on vascular tissues. She directs a multi-institution program on cerebral aneurysms that is supported by the NIH and served a four-year term as a standing member of the Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Imaging Technologies (NOIT) Study Section of the NIH. Robertson is founding Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, which takes the lead in developing and implementing programs to enhance the effectiveness of junior faculty in building outstanding academic careers. She was recently promoted to Associate Dean of Faculty Development so that she can expand this work to include recently promoted Associate Professors. Dr. Robertson is a strong supporter of diversity-related initiatives and in 2007, she received the Robert O. Agbede Faculty Award for Diversity in the Swanson School. Related news: Pitt and Mayo Clinic Discover New, Immediate Phase of Blood Vessel Restructuring After Aneurysm
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
16
2021

Pitt ChemE Researchers Design Active Materials for Self-regulating Soft Robots

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 16, 2021) … During the swarming of birds or fish, each entity coordinates its location relative to the others, so that the swarm moves as one larger, coherent unit. Fireflies on the other hand coordinate their temporal behavior: within a group, they eventually all flash on and off at the same time and thus act as synchronized oscillators. Few entities, however, coordinate both their spatial movements and inherent time clocks; the limited examples are termed “swarmalators”1, which simultaneously swarm in space and oscillate in time. Japanese tree frogs are exemplar swarmalators: each frog changes both its location and rate of croaking relative to all the other frogs in a group. Moreover, the frogs change shape when they croak: the air sac below their mouth inflates and deflates to make the sound. This coordinated behavior plays an important role during mating and hence, is vital to the frogs’ survival. In the synthetic realm there are hardly any materials systems where individual units simultaneously synchronize their spatial assembly, temporal oscillations and morphological changes. Such highly self-organizing materials are important for creating self-propelled soft robots that come together and cooperatively alter their form to accomplish a regular, repeated function. Chemical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have now designed a system of self-oscillating flexible materials that display a distinctive mode of dynamic self-organization. In addition to exhibiting the swarmalator behavior, the component materials mutually adapt their overall shapes as they interact in a fluid-filled chamber. These systems can pave the way for fabricating collaborative, self-regulating soft robotic systems. The group’s research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022987118). Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering. Lead author is Raj Kumar Manna and co-author is Oleg E. Shklyaev, both post-doctoral associates. “Self-oscillating materials convert a non-periodic signal into the material’s periodic motion,” Balazs explained. “Using our computer models, we first designed micron and millimeter sized flexible sheets in solution that respond to a non-periodic input of chemical reactants by spontaneously undergoing oscillatory changes in location, motion and shape. For example, an initially flat, single sheet morphs into a three-dimensional shape resembling an undulating fish tail, which simultaneously oscillates back and forth across the microchamber.”The self-oscillations of the flexible sheets are powered by catalytic reactions in a fluidic chamber. The reactions on the surfaces of the sheet and chamber initiate a complex feedback loop: chemical energy from the reaction is converted into fluid flow, which transports and deforms the flexible sheets. The structurally evolving sheets in turn affect the motion of the fluid, which continues to deform the sheets. “What is really intriguing is that when we introduce a second sheet, we uncover novel forms of self-organization between vibrating structures,” Manna adds. In particular, the two sheets form coupled oscillators that communicate through the fluid to coordinate not only their location and temporal pulsations, but also synchronize their mutual shape changes. This behavior is analogous to that of the tree frog swarmalators that coordinate their relative spatial location, and time of croaking, which also involves a periodic change in the frog’s shape (with an inflated or deflated throat). “Complex dynamic behavior is a critical feature of biological systems,” Shklyaev says. Stuff does not just come together and stop moving. Analogously, these sheets assemble in the proper time and space to form a larger, composite dynamic system. Moreover, this structure is self-regulating and can perform functions that a single sheet alone cannot carry out.”“For two or more sheets, the collective temporal oscillations and spatial behavior can be controlled by varying the size of the different sheets or the pattern of catalyst coating on the sheet,” says Balazs. These variations permit control over the relative phase of the oscillations, e.g., the oscillators can move in-phase or anti-phase.“These are very exciting results because the 2D sheets self-morph into 3D objects, which spontaneously translate a non-oscillating signal into “instructions” for forming a larger aggregate whose shape and periodic motion is regulated by each of its moving parts,” she notes. “Our research could eventually lead to forms of bio-inspired computation – just as coupled oscillators are used to transmit information in electronics – but with self-sustained, self-regulating behavior.” Autonomous coupled oscillations of two active sheets. Two fully coated sheets are initially placed in symmetric locations about the patch. (Raj Kumar Manna) ### This work was supported by Department of Energy Grant DE-FG02-90ER45438 and the computational facilities at the Center for Research Computing at the University of Pittsburgh. 1KP O'Keeffe, H Hong, SH Strogatz. Oscillators that sync and swarm. Nature Communications, 8, 2017, 1504. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01190-3

Mar
11
2021

2020 Scholarship Award Winner Named

MEMS, Student Profiles

The Robert E. Rumcik ’68 Scholarship in Mechanical and Materials Engineering was recently awarded to John Davison, a junior in the materials science & engineering (MSE) program. The scholarship is intended for two consecutive academic years and Davison joins MSE senior Jonah De Cortie, who first received his scholarship as a junior in 2019. The scholarship is based on academic merit, an aspirational interest in metallurgy, and leadership qualities. Selection was based on an interview process conducted by the MEMS Department. The scholarship will cover tuition costs for the school year for both recipients. The namesake of the scholarship, Robert Rumcik, retired as President of ELLWOOD Quality Steels at the ELLWOOD Group, Inc. in 2014. He earned a BS in Metallurgy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1968 and in 2000 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Swanson School of Engineering in recognition of his significant career achievements. The ELLWOOD Group Inc. established this endowed scholarship in appreciation for Mr. Rumcik’s commendable service to the company. A socially-distanced celebration luncheon was recently held for Davison. From left, those present were; Anna Barensfeld (Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and fifth generation worker at ELLWOOD) John Davison (MSE junior, scholar recipient), Bob Rumcik (retired President of Ellwood Quality Steels), and Dr. Brendan Connolly (Operations Engineer, Ellwood Quality Steels and former Rumcik Scholar).  Also in attendance, but not shown, was Dr. Brian Gleeson, MEMS Department Chair.

Mar
9
2021

A Joint Effort to Improve Shoulder Surgery

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 10, 2021) … A dislocated shoulder is a common sports injury that can occur with a single swing of the tennis racket or an awkward fall on the field. Though popping the bone back into the socket may seem like a simple solution, the reality is more complex. The injury can sometimes require an operation, and improper surgical technique and healing can further exacerbate the injury. This puts individuals at increased risk for future dislocation or joint disease later in life. To tackle this issue, multidisciplinary researchers from the University of Pittsburgh will use an award from the National Institutes of Health to study an individualized approach that may improve surgical outcomes and help athletes avoid lasting repercussions. Richard Debski, PhD, professor of bioengineering, and Albert Lin, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, will lead a study to improve injury assessment and repair using quantitative techniques to measure the magnitude and location of injury. “Repair surgery has up to a 15 percent rate of failure, and these cases lead to instability and additional dislocations which limit the patient’s ability to return to an active life,” said Debski, who runs the Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our research reveals this injury affects a larger region than previously thought and indicates that the location and magnitude vary from person to person,” he explained. “This suggests that an individualized approach may be more effective in treating dislocation injuries and improving surgical outcomes.” Dislocation injuries involve a sheet of soft tissue -- called a capsule -- that surrounds and stabilizes the joint. The high recurrence rate in capsular injuries can enlarge the damaged area, making a successful recovery even more difficult. In this study, Debski and Lin will use a custom robotic system to dislocate a cadaveric shoulder and simulate clinical exams to assess joint stability. They will use an optical tracking system to measure the amount of permanent deformation or injury after each dislocation. A surgeon will then perform a more precise repair procedure with the given location and magnitude of injury, and the results will be evaluated and compared to current methods. “Despite significant advancement in surgical technique to address shoulder instability over the past 20 years, the rate of failure remains unacceptably high with real socioeconomic impact, particularly in a young patient population,” said Lin. “Dr. Debski and I have found that injury patterns vary significantly between patients; therefore, the key to improving recurrence rates may be individualized, anatomic surgeries specifically tailored to address the unique pattern injury rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach.” Since the current optical tracking system cannot be used in a clinical setting, the team will also develop a new strategy to collect patient-specific measurements. “We will use an MRI technique to characterize the injury and compare it to the quantitative patterns from our cadaveric model to see if there is a correlation between the data before and after surgical repair,” said Debski. The findings of this study could validate the need for an individualized approach to capsular injury repair and potentially lead to a clinical trial. “With this personalized approach, we hope to reduce the amount of failed capsular surgeries,” Debski said. “In the long run, we also hope to reduce the development of osteoarthritis in young adults, and ultimately, help these athletes make a healthy return to the sport that they love.” # # # Caption: 3D model of MR arthrogram with division of the capsule into eight sub-regions.

Mar
1
2021

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

Industrial, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Diversity

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

Feb

Feb
26
2021

Pitt IRISE Consortium Welcomes CAWP as Newest Member

Civil & Environmental

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

ECE Professor Heng Huang Receives Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award

Electrical & Computer

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

Feb
24
2021

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

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

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

Feb
22
2021

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

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

Green Speakeasy: Deans Discuss Accelerated Sustainability Goals at Pitt

All SSoE News

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

Feb
19
2021

Brandon Grainger Elected Scientific Advisor on EMerge Alliance Board

Electrical & Computer

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

Feb
18
2021

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

Bioengineering

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

Feb
18
2021

Building on a Fruitful Engagement

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

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

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

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Using a Machine Model to Predict Risk of Human Aneurysms

Bioengineering

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

Feb
15
2021

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

Bioengineering

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

Feb
10
2021

Origami Powered by Light

Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 10, 2021) — If you watch the leaves of a plant long enough, you may see them shift and turn toward the sunlight through the day. It happens slowly, but surely. Some man-made materials can mimic this slow but steady reaction to light energy, usually triggered by lasers or focused ambient light. New research from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has discovered a way to speed up this effect enough that its performance can compete against electrical and pneumatic systems. “We wanted to create machines where light is the only source of energy and direction,” explained M. Ravi Shankar, professor of industrial engineering and senior author of the paper. “The challenge is that while we could get some movement and actuation with light-driven polymers, it was too slow of a response to be practical.” When the polymer sheet is flat, the light animates it slowly, curving or curling over time. The researchers found that by forming the polymer into a curved shape, like a shell, the bending action happened much more quickly and generated more torque. “If you want to move something, like flip a switch or move a lever, you need something that will react quickly and with enough power,” said Shankar, who holds a secondary appointment in mechanical engineering and materials science. “We found that by applying a mechanical constraint to the material by confining it along on the edges, and embedding judiciously thought-out arrangements of molecules, we can upconvert a slow response into something that is more impulsive.” The researchers used a photoresponsive azobenzene-functionalized liquid crystalline polymer (ALCP) film that is 50 micrometers thick and several millimeters in width and length. A shell-like geometry was created by confining this material along its edges to create a curve. Shining light on this geometry folds the shell at a crease that spontaneously nucleates. This folding occurs within tens of milliseconds and generates torque densities of up to 10 newton-meters per kilogram (10Nm/kg). The light driven response is magnified by about three orders-of-magnitude in comparison to the material that was flat. “The outcomes of the project are very exciting because it means that we can create light powered actuators that are competitive with electrical actuators,” said Kaushik Dayal, coauthor and professor of civil and environmental engineering at CMU. “Our approach towards scaling up the performance of light-driven polymers could reinvent the design of fully untethered soft robots with numerous technological applications,” added lead author and post-doctoral researcher at CMU Mahnoush Babaei. The paper, "Torque-dense Photomechanical Actuation,” (DOI: 10.1039/D0SM01352H) was published in the journal Soft Matter.
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
8
2021

Helping Translational Research Meet the Needs of Older Adults

Bioengineering

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

Feb
4
2021

Alpha Chi Continues the Conversation on Racial Equality

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

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

Feb
4
2021

Finding Inspiration in the Stars

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 4, 2021) — Ever since her father gifted her a telescope when she was a child, Aarti Patel (BSME ‘22), a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, has had an eye toward the stars. “When I was younger, my nights looking at the sky were the most inspired I ever felt,” said Patel, who is studying mechanical engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. “With that, I became curious and eager to learn more about aerospace technology and wanted to contribute to its advancement.” Since then, she has relentlessly pursued that dream. In recognition of her drive and passion, Patel was recently named among the competitive 2021 Class of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. The organization recognizes exceptional undergraduate women and other gender minorities who are entering the aerospace industry. Fellows are matched with an executive-level mentor to help launch their careers and will be invited to the annual Brooke Owens Summit, to be held virtually at the end of the year. This year, 44 undergraduates were chosen as “Brookies” out of more than 800 applicants. The selected fellows have demonstrated “their desire to pursue a career in aerospace, a record of leadership, a commitment to their communities, and their inexhaustible creativity,” according to the organization. In her studies at Pitt, Patel has taken a keen interest in mechanical design, analysis and mission operations for launch vehicles. In addition to her engineering classes, internships in the aerospace industry and undergraduate research, Patel was a co-founding member of Pitt’s Society of Astronautics and Rocketry (SOAR) and now serves as one of the Chief Engineers of the NASA Student Launch Team at Pitt. Patel’s creativity is evident not only in her research and industry work, but also in her art—as a NASA Psyche Inspired Intern, she creates meaningful art for the upcoming Psyche Mission to explore an asteroid, with the purpose of public engagement and education. She hopes to continue that work in her career, where she plans to mentor girls and first-generation students in stem and bridge the connection between art and science. “For me, art has always been more than a creative outlet—it has inspired me to keep learning and to explore the unknown,” she said. “So, with that I hope to create inspiring and educational space art for the public and students.” Patel has worked as a Defense Division Engineering Co-op at Curtiss-Wright and is currently an Integrated Test Engineering Intern at Blue Origin. This summer, she will intern at Airbus U.S. Space & Defense in Arlington, Va. Patel hopes these experiences, along with the support and mentorship of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, will help her launch a compelling career in the aerospace industry. “It is an exciting time in the industry with the upcoming missions to the moon and Mars along with more breakthroughs being made with reusable launch vehicles,” said Patel. “I hope to have a diverse experience in the work that I do and to make a difference as I continue to explore all the super exciting roles that engineers take on.”
Maggie Pavlick
Feb
3
2021

The Business of Bees

Civil & Environmental

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

Bioengineering Names Linggang Luo its 2020 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow

Bioengineering

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

Feb
2
2021

Mapping PFAS Contamination in Packaged Foods

Civil & Environmental

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

Jan

Jan
29
2021

The Planet’s Battleground for Climate Change

All SSoE News

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

Jan
29
2021

Sustainability Distinction Now Available for Undergraduates

All SSoE News, Student Profiles

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

A Better Way to Separate Isotopes

Chemical & Petroleum

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

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

Covid-19, Bioengineering

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

Jan
27
2021

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

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

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

xuliang@pitt.edu
Jan
26
2021

Getting on a Pipeline’s Nerves

MEMS

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

A Microscopic Look at Aneurysm Repair

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 25, 2021) — Hitting a pothole on the road in just the wrong way might create a bulge on the tire, a weakened spot that will almost certainly lead to an eventual flat tire. But what if that tire could immediately begin reknitting its rubber, reinforcing the bulge and preventing it from bursting? That’s exactly what blood vessels can do after an aneurysm forms, according to new research led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. Aneurysms are abnormal bulges in artery walls that can form in brain arteries. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in almost 50% of cases. The research, recently published in Experimental Mechanics, is the first to show that there are two phases of wall restructuring after an aneurysm forms, the first beginning right away to reinforce the weakened points. “Imagine stretching a rubber tube in a single direction so that it only needs to be reinforced for loads in that direction. However, in an aneurysm, the forces change to be more like those in a spherical balloon, with forces pulling in multiple directions, making it more vulnerable to bursting,” explained Anne Robertson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, whose lab led the research. “Our study found that blood vessels are capable of adapting after an aneurysm forms. They can restructure their collagen fibers in multiple directions instead of just one, making it better able to handle the new loads without rupturing.” Researchers have known that blood vessels have the ability to change and restructure over time, but this study represents the first observation of a new, primary phase of restructuring that begins immediately. The researchers used a rabbit model developed by David Kallmes of the Mayo Clinic to observe this restructuring in the brain tissue over time. To see this process up close, the researchers partnered with Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging, taking advantage of the center’s state-of-the-art multiphoton microscopes to image the architecture of the fibers inside the aneurysm wall. “We found that the first phase of restructuring involves laying down an entirely new layer of collagen fibers in two directions to better handle the new load, while the second phase involves remodeling existing layers so their fibers lie in two directions,” explained Chao Sang, who was a primary investigator on this research as part of his doctoral dissertation in Pitt’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science “The long-term restructuring is akin to a scar forming after a cut has healed, while this first phase that we observed can be thought of as having a role similar to clotting immediately after the cut—the body’s first response to protect itself,” added Robertson, who has a secondary appointment in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. “Now that we know about this first phase, we can begin to investigate how to promote it in patients with aneurysms, and how factors like age and preexisting conditions affect this ability and may place a patient at higher risk for aneurysm rupture.” The investigative team includes Robertson and graduate students Chao Sang and Michael Durka from Pitt, Simon Watkins from the Center for Biologic Imaging, and David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding, and Daying Dai from the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology. The paper, “Adaptive Remodeling in the Elastase-Induced Rabbit Aneurysms,” (DOI:10.1007/s11340-020-00671-9) was published in the journal Experimental Mechanics and was authored by Chao Sang, Michael Durka and Anne Robertson at the Swanson School; David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding and Daying Dai at the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology; Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
22
2021

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

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Jan 22, 2021) — The U.S. Air Force will provide $313,000 to the University of Pittsburgh for a broadband dielectric spectrometer through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). The acquisition was made by a five-faculty team led by Jennifer Laaser, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and includes Susan Fullerton, Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The new instrument, a Novocontrol Concept 80, will be used to measure the conductivity and dielectric properties of soft materials, which will help faculty at Pitt and surrounding universities conduct research ranging from ion gel materials for carbon capture to new materials for computing. “These types of soft materials are a rapidly growing research area at Pitt, and we are thrilled that the Air Force has decided to help us build up our characterization capabilities by funding our purchase of this instrument,” said Laaser. DURIP supports university researchers with the tools to perform cutting-edge research relevant to the Department of Defense. These research programs are supported by more than $1.9 of active grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation. At Pitt, the instrument will support the investigations of doubly-polymerized ionic liquids (Jennifer Laaser), ion dynamics in ion gels for carbon capture (Sean Garrett-Roe), electroadhesive ionomers (Tara Meyer), new materials for efficient conversion of mechanical and electrical energy (Geoffrey Hutchison), and ionomers for low-power computing (Susan Fullerton). “This instrument fills a huge gap in our ability to characterize the dielectric properties of the materials we use in our device research,” explained Fullerton. “We focus on new materials and approaches for low-power electronics, and the equipment provided by the DURIP will significantly accelerate our progress.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
13
2021

Breathing Easier with a Better Tracheal Stent

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 13, 2021) — Pediatric laryngotracheal stenosis (LTS), a narrowing of the airway in children, is a complex medical condition. While it can be something a child is born with or caused by injury, the condition can result in a life-threatening emergency if untreated. Treatment, however, is challenging. Depending on the severity, doctors will use a combination of endoscopic techniques, surgical repair, tracheostomy, or deployment of stents to hold the airway open and enable breathing. While stents are great at holding the airway open and simultaneously allowing the trachea to continue growing, they can move around, or cause damage when they’re eventually removed. New research published in Communications Biology and led by the University of Pittsburgh is poised to drastically improve the use of stents, demonstrating for the first time the successful use of a completely biodegradable magnesium-alloy tracheal stent that avoids some of these risks. “Using commercial non-biodegradable metal or silicone based tracheal stents has a risk of severe complications and doesn't achieve optimal clinical outcomes, even in adults,” said Prashant N. Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor of bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. “Using advanced biomaterials could offer a less invasive, and more successful, treatment option.” In the study, the balloon-expandable ultra-high ductility (UHD) biodegradable magnesium stent was shown to perform better than current metallic non-biodegradable stents in use in both in lab testing and in rabbit models. The stent was shown to keep the airway open over time and have low degradation rates, displaying normal healing and no adverse problems. “Our results are very promising for the use of this novel biodegradable, high ductility metal stent, particularly for pediatric patients,” said Kumta, who also holds appointments in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We hope this new approach leads to new and improved treatments for patients with this complex condition as well as other tracheal obstruction conditions including tracheal cancer.” The paper, “In-vivo efficacy of biodegradable ultrahigh ductility Mg-Li-Zn alloy tracheal stents for pediatric airway obstruction,” (DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-01400-7), was authored by the Swanson School’s Jingyao Wu, Abhijit Roy, Bouen Lee, Youngjae Chun, William R. Wagner, and Prashant N. Kumta; UPMC’s Leila Mady, Ali Mübin Aral, Toma Catalin, Humberto E. Trejo Bittar, and David Chi; and Feng Zheng and Ke Yang from The Institute of Metal Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
12
2021

“Bluetooth Bacteria” Wins a Gold Medal at iGEM 2020

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

Jan
11
2021

MEMS Team Takes Home First Place at SSoE Design Expo

Covid-19, MEMS, Student Profiles

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

Jan
7
2021

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


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

Machine Learning at the Speed of Light

Electrical & Computer

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

Defining the Future of Chemical Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

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