Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Aug

Aug
20
2018

Calculating a New Design

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (August 20, 2018) … A research collaboration led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of 15 national projects to receive nearly $8.8 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for cost-shared research and development initiatives to develop innovative technologies that enhance fossil energy power systems.The proposal, “Integrated Computational Materials and Mechanical Modeling for Additive Manufacturing of Alloys with Graded Structure Used in Fossil Fuel Power Plants,” was awarded to Wei Xiong, PhD (PI), assistant professor, and Albert To, PhD (Co-PI), associate professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Their collaborator is Michael Klecka, PhD at the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), headquartered in East Hartford, Connecticut. The team received $750,000 in DOE funding with $187,500 as the cost share. DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh will manage the selected projects.The team will focus on utilizing additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, to construct graded alloys use for Advanced Ultra-Super Critical (AUSC) power plants at a shorter lead time and at lower costs. Utilizing the expertise in integrated computational materials engineering (ICME), the team at Pitt will develop a new modeling framework for wire-arc additive manufacturing at UTRC that integrates both materials modeling and mechanical simulation to design and manufacture superior alloy components for these power plants. “Wire-arc AM is a promising technique to build complex parts for fossil fuel plants. However, the operational environment of these plants requires resistance to very high stress, temperatures, and oxidation, and so we need to develop a new paradigm in computational design,” Dr. Xiong explained. Dr. To also noted, “Optimizing materials composition and processing strategy, combined with ICME modeling to improve the part design and reduce failure, will be a game-changer for the industry.”AM has significantly expanded the development of complex parts thanks to the joining of dissimilar alloys, enabling the creation of stronger, lighter, and more affordable components compared to traditional manufacturing. In particular, the ability to control the manufacture of a part’s micro- and macro-structure is what makes these components superior, but this requires greater computational control over the manufacturing. For these computational systems, Pitt and UTRC will utilize physics-based, process-structure-property models to simulate thermal history, melt pool geometry, phase stability, grain morphology/texture, and thus predict and control high-temperature oxidation, mechanical strength, and interface properties. “Thanks to additive manufacturing, in the future, industrial plants of various types will have the capability to repair or replace components on-site,” Dr. Klecka at UTRC said. “This will enable utilities to improve operations and invest resources more effectively.”Dr. Xiong’s research and the other projects fall under DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s Crosscutting Technology Research Program, which advances technologies that have a broad range of fossil energy applications. The program fosters innovative R&D in sensors and controls, modeling and simulation, high-performance materials, and water management. ###

Aug
15
2018

Gleeson leads in the field of high temperature corrosion

MEMS

Any industry that operates in a high- temperature environment needs structural and functional materials that can withstand heat and associated surface reactions. To help these materials resist corrosion at high temperatures, scientists have developed alloys and coatings that can naturally form a protective scale layer. While some think that research in this field is complete, Brian Gleeson, the Harry S. Tack Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh, published an article in Nature Materials explaining that there is still much room for advancement and discovery. Gleeson leads the High Temperature Corrosion Lab in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering where his group focuses on testing and assessing the high-temperature corrosion behavior of metallic alloys and coatings.   “From a practical standpoint, any component that is exposed to a high temperature in a reactive environment is potentially at risk of excessive surface degradation,” said Gleeson. “This includes the aerospace, power generation, metal processing, automotive, waste incineration, and chemical processing industries. For these industries, high-temperature corrosion testing and assessment is often needed to aid in material selections or to generate essential design or life-prediction data.” Research by Gleeson and colleagues combines experiment with theory and advanced characterization to understand the complex interplay between the chemical and kinetic factors affecting protective-scale formation in single- and multi-oxidant environments. To provide extended protection, the scale that forms is typically an oxide (e.g., Al2O3, Cr2O3 or SiO2) that is both stable and adherent to the high-temperature component. The initial stage of corrosion reaction is an area where Gleeson believes there is considerable room for discovery. It is an important part of a given oxidation process where an alloy or coating composition forms a continuous thermally grown oxide (TGO) scale. “The TGO layer is critical because it makes the material more resilient to degradation in harsh environments,” said Gleeson. “The lifetime of a particular alloy or coating is determined by the tenacity of this layer and its ability to heal or reform in the event of damage.” Gleeson thinks that more can be done to gain a better understanding of this important step in the overall reaction. He said, “Commonly recognized oxidation theory lacks the ability to accurately predict whether a given alloy or coating composition will be able to form a continuous protective scale layer.” Researchers in the HTC Lab are probing the nature of scale formation under harsh environment conditions that mimic actual service.  Beyond understanding the formation of the TGO layer, Gleeson believes that more needs to be understood about the complex oxidizing environments during the development of these scales. The type of gas surrounding the material or the level of humidity can play a major role in the lifetime of a material. “Water vapor, which is commonly found in these environments, is known to have a detrimental effect on the scale-forming process.” As detailed in his Nature Materials article, different scales develop on alloys oxidized in dry air than alloys oxidized in wet air containing 30 percent water vapor. “The oxidizing environment is becoming increasingly more complex and goes beyond just exposure to air. Moving forward, researchers will need to understand the role of oxidizing species, such as O2, H2O, and CO2, in affecting protective scales.” To gain a better overall understanding of the oxidation process, including the underlying kinetic and thermodynamic factors, Gleeson encourages researchers to improve experimental and computational methods to observe and model oxidation. He said, “Researchers need to develop a multiscale predictive understanding of this initial stage and focus on the interactions and effects of alloy constituents and gaseous oxidants.”  According to Gleeson, “What largely stands in the way of advancing understanding on the kinetic and thermodynamic factors, which influence protective TGO-scale formation and maintenance in harsh service environments, is the misguided notion that high-temperature corrosion is a passé field with little room for discovery.” ### Gleeson’s academic collaborators at Pitt include Professors Gerald Meier, Guofeng Wang, Wei Xiong, and Judith Yang. Gleeson said, “Working with these and other collaborators –including recently retired Professor Fred Pettit– the University of Pittsburgh has long been recognized both nationally and internationally as leaders in high-temperature corrosion research.” In addition to a lab in Benedum Hall on Pitt’s campus, Gleeson recently established a lab in the Energy Innovation Center (engineering.pitt.edu/HTC) in Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District. This off-campus lab bridges the gap between basic research and commercial application. Utilizing extensive experience and expertise, researchers conduct lab-scale testing and analyses of corrosion performance under harsh, high-temperature environments, along with material failure analysis, and other consulting services. Gleeson serves as the academic director of the HTC lab, and his former PhD student, Dr. Bingtao Li, serves as the technical director. Li has over 15 years of industry experience in the area of high temperature corrosion. Testing is generally conducted in the range of 1100 - 2200°F (~600 - 1200°C) at 1 atm total pressure and in simulated service environments ranging from a combustion process (e.g., rich in O2, H2O and CO2, with 0-1000 ppm SO2) through to a specific industrial process (e.g., nitridation with NH3, carburization with CH4). Many tests involve deposits, such as sulfates and dust. According to Gleeson, “Beyond our focus on high temperature alloys and coatings, knowledge gained from research in the HTC Lab also provides a significantly more comprehensive view of the collective and coupled behaviors of surface reactions.”

Aug
14
2018

Creating a First Impression

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (August 14, 2018) … Irene B. Mena, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been named Director of the Swanson School’s First-Year Engineering Program. Dr. Mena will be responsible for implementing first year curriculum content, pedagogy, and improvements; coordinating Swanson School faculty teaching in the program, as well as faculty from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry; and management of the first year seminar. Mena will also direct the Swanson School’s annual First-Year Conference, in which all engineering first-years develop a professional-level research paper and present it to their peers at the end of the spring semester.She succeeds Daniel Budny, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, who retired from the position after 18 years. “Irene’s passion for engineering education as well as her experience in developing and teaching first-year curriculum content made for a perfect fit,” noted Mary Besterfield-Sacre, the Swanson School’s associate dean for academic affairs and the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of industrial engineering. “Most importantly, she understands the importance of integrating design projects and new teaching methods in the first-year program. These paradigms are important to address both the way the next generation of students integrate technology and learning, and how their progress to senior year better prepares them for careers in industry or academia.”Besterfield-Sacre added, “I especially want to thank Dan Budny for his nearly two decades of dedication to the first-year engineering program and for developing the First-Year Conference in partnership with the University’s Writing Center. He instilled a passion for learning and for the University in thousands of engineering students.”“I love being part of Pitt’s first-year engineering program, and am very excited to take on this new role,” Mena added.Mena earned a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and master’s in industrial engineering and PhD in engineering education from Purdue University. Prior to joining Pitt in 2015, she was an instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and The Pennsylvania State University. At Purdue she developed Model-Eliciting Activities, which are open-ended problems that challenge students to build models in order to solve complex, real-world problems. At Penn State and later at Pitt, her research focused on the experiences of first-year engineering students, specifically related to perceptions of and preparation for professional skills such as communication and creativity, as well as academic integrity and time management.She has published in several journals, has reviewed for the Journal of Engineering Education, and has presented frequently at the American Society for Engineering Education’s annual Conference and Expo, for which she also serves as a reviewer. She currently volunteers as advisor for Community-Based Research Fellowships at Pitt, and as faculty advisor for the Swanson School’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. ###

Aug
13
2018

Bioengineering names Soroosh Sanatkhani its 2018 Wes Pickard Fellow

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (August 13, 2018) … Soroosh Sanatkhani, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was named the 2018 Wes Pickard Fellow by the Department of Bioengineering. Recipients of this award are selected by the department chair and chosen based on academic merit. Sanatkhani began his studies in automotive engineering at Iran University of Science & Technology. He then joined the graduate program in Mechanical Engineering at Sharif University of Technology where he focused on bio-fluids, fluid dynamics, and hemodynamics - the study of the dynamics of blood flow. This research helped build his background in bioengineering, and after receiving his master’s degree, he was awarded a scholarship to join the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt. Sanatkhani is involved in multiple cardiovascular research projects under the supervision of Sanjeev G. Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt, and Prahlad G. Menon, adjunct assistant professor of bioengineering. His primary research is focused on hemodynamics indices and shape-based models of the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart to enhance stroke prediction in atrial fibrillation. In 2017, he was selected as the Swanson School’s Berenfield Fellow, which helped fund foundational elements of his current research. “In this study I plan to create two novel, patient-specific indices to improve the prediction of stroke in AF patients,” said Sanatkhani. “The first index is a hemodynamics-based calculation of residence time in LAA, which represents the probability of clot formation in the LAA and consequently a metric for stroke risk. The second index will quantify the LAA appearance (shape), which will help us correlate the probability of stroke with geometrical features of LAA” According to Sanatkhani, this project should result in a new and significantly improved method to predict stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation, which will enhance the clinical management and decrease the risk of stroke. “The Wes Pickard Fellowship will be a valuable complement to the mentorship and training I receive from Drs. Shroff and Menon,” said Sanatkhani. “My exposure to cardiovascular research throughout these projects has helped me realize that I would like to dedicate my research career to this field. This fellowship will help me continue my ongoing project on improving stroke risk prediction in atrial fibrillation.” About Wesley 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. ###

Aug
13
2018

Bioengineering names Ali Behrangzade its 2018 Leonard H. Berenfield Fellow

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (August 13, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering selected Ali Behrangzade, a graduate student in the Soft Tissue Biomechanics Lab, for its Leonard H. Berenfield Graduate Fellowship in Bioengineering. This competitive fellowship is awarded to one student each academic year. Recipients of this award receive one year of funding for cardiovascular research performed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. They retain the title of Berenfield Fellow throughout their PhD studies and occasionally meet with the award’s donor. Behrangzade earned his BSc and MSc degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Tehran. During his master’s, he focused on experimental and computational fluid mechanics. He is currently pursuing a PhD in bioengineering under advisor Jonathan P. Vande Geest, professor of bioengineering. Behrangzade is working on functional tissue-engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs) that will be used for coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. According to a 2015 American Heart Association report, coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs in 32.2 percent of males and 18.8 percent of females over the age of 80, and most of these patients require CABG surgery. Autologous vessels are blood vessels obtained from the same individual and used in CABG surgery. However, these vessels are not always suitable because of prior harvesting or pre-existing vascular disease. “Since current alternatives for autologous vessels lead to failure of the grafts via intimal hyperplasia - thickening of the inner layer of a blood vessel - and graft thrombosis, a functional TEVG is required for CABG surgery,” said Behrangzade. “As part of this project, I’m studying vasoactivity - the contraction and dilation of a blood vessel in response to different stimuli - of these vascular grafts which is a necessary feature of a functional TEVG.” “Vasoactivity contributes to the regulation of blood pressure by a contraction/dilation process. Since smooth muscle cells (SMCs) play the key role in vasoconstriction/vasodilation, I am investigating the responsiveness of the SMC-seeded vascular graft to different chemical stimuli,” explained Behrangzade. “The ultimate goal of this research is to provide a functional TEVG as a reliable alternative for autologous vessels for CABG surgery, which will lead to less failure and can benefit patients and the healthcare system. About Leonard H. Berenfield:Leonard H. Berenfield received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964. In 1965, after one year at Westinghouse, he moved to Warren, Pa. to use his engineering knowledge to help grow Berenfield Steel Drum Co. – the family steel drum manufacturing business. The firm’s continued growth led to reorganization as Berenfield Containers, Inc. in 1985 with Mr. Berenfield assuming the role of President. Further expansions of existing plants over the years and the acquisition of plants in Harrisburg, N.C. and Pine Bluff, Ark. as well as new factories to diversify the product line into fibre drums established the company’s legacy. Mauser USA purchased Berenfield Containers in 2016. Mr. Berenfield was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area and is an active volunteer. He has held posts in several nonprofit and industry boards including the American Heart Association, the United Way, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College, the Steel Shipping Container Institute, the International Fibre Drum Institute, and the Industrial Steel Drum Institute. In 2018, he was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Swanson School’s  Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. ###

Aug
13
2018

NSF Awards IE’s Andrés Gómez $150K to Solve Widespread Optimization Problems in Computational Mathematics

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (August 13, 2018) … Relationships between return and investment cost, profit and time, or cost and quality are important for decision-makers looking to optimize efficiency. If the possible choices faced by the decision-maker have a simple structure, then these tradeoff problems can be solved efficiently; however, in practice, the decisions are rarely simple and the existing computational approaches fail after complexity reaches a certain point.The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Mathematical Science awarded $150,000 to Andrés Gómez, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, to widen the computational boundaries of complex optimization problems involving such tradeoffs. The project titled “Advancing Fractional Combinatorial Optimization: Computation and Applications” (1818700) begins Sept. 1.“We will be working with a hard class of problems called single- and multiple-ratio fractional combinatorial optimization problems,” Dr. Gómez explains. “There are no adequate approaches to these kinds of problems if they involve many layers of complexity or variability. This project aims to develop computational approaches with solid underlying theoretical foundations to solve these problems.”Dr. Gómez’s research falls broadly into the field of “decision-making under uncertainty.” He studies ways to improve mathematical modeling to better understand problems in finance, statistics, machine learning, manufacturing, revenue management, and many other applications.“Our proposed approaches will contribute to our understanding of mathematical optimization, particularly conic, fractional and discrete optimization, combinatorics, and algebraic graph theory,” adds Dr. Gómez.Oleg Prokopyev, professor of industrial engineering at Pitt, will join Dr. Gómez as co-principal investigator of the study. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Aug
7
2018

Integrated Sensor Could Monitor Brain Aneurysm Treatment

Bioengineering, Industrial

POSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM GEORGIA TECH. ATLANTA (August 2, 2018) ... Implantation of a stent-like flow diverter can offer one option for less invasive treatment of brain aneurysms – bulges in blood vessels – but the procedure requires frequent monitoring while the vessels heal. Now, a multi-university research team has demonstrated proof-of-concept for a highly flexible and stretchable sensor that could be integrated with the flow diverter to monitor hemodynamics in a blood vessel without costly diagnostic procedures.The sensor, which uses capacitance changes to measure blood flow, could reduce the need for testing to monitor the flow through the diverter. Researchers, led by Georgia Tech, have shown that the sensor accurately measures fluid flow in animal blood vessels in vitro, and are working on the next challenge: wireless operation that could allow in vivo testing. The research was reported July 18 in the journal ACS Nano and was supported by multiple grants from Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, the University of Pittsburgh and the Korea Institute of Materials Science. “The nanostructured sensor system could provide advantages for patients, including a less invasive aneurysm treatment and an active monitoring capability,” said Woon-Hong Yeo, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “The integrated system could provide active monitoring of hemodynamics after surgery, allowing the doctor to follow up with quantitative measurement of how well the flow diverter is working in the treatment.”Cerebral aneurysms occur in up to five percent of the population, with each aneurysm carrying a one percent risk per year of rupturing, noted Youngjae Chun, an associate professor in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Aneurysm rupture will cause death in up to half of affected patients. Endovascular therapy using platinum coils to fill the aneurysm sac has become the standard of care for most aneurysms, but recently a new endovascular approach – a flow diverter – has been developed to treat cerebral aneurysms. Flow diversion involves placing a porous stent across the neck of an aneurysm to redirect flow away from the sac, generating local blood clots within the sac.“We have developed a highly stretchable, hyper-elastic flow diverter using a highly-porous thin film nitinol,” Chun explained. “None of the existing flow diverters, however, provide quantitative, real-time monitoring of hemodynamics within the sac of cerebral aneurysm. Through the collaboration with Dr. Yeo's group at Georgia Tech, we have developed a smart flow-diverter system that can actively monitor the flow alterations during and after surgery.”  Repairing the damaged artery takes months or even years, during which the flow diverter must be monitored using MRI and angiogram technology, which is costly and involves injection of a magnetic dye into the blood stream. Yeo and his colleagues hope their sensor could provide simpler monitoring in a doctor’s office using a wireless inductive coil to send electromagnetic energy through the sensor. By measuring how the energy’s resonant frequency changes as it passes through the sensor, the system could measure blood flow changes into the sac.“We are trying to develop a batteryless, wireless device that is extremely stretchable and flexible that can be miniaturized enough to be routed through the tiny and complex blood vessels of the brain and then deployed without damage,” said Yeo. “It’s a very challenging to insert such electronic system into the brain’s narrow and contoured blood vessels.”The sensor uses a micro-membrane made of two metal layers surrounding a dielectric material, and wraps around the flow diverter. The device is just a few hundred nanometers thick, and is produced using nanofabrication and material transfer printing techniques, encapsulated in a soft elastomeric material.“The membrane is deflected by the flow through the diverter, and depending on the strength of the flow, the velocity difference, the amount of deflection changes,” Yeo explained. “We measure the amount of deflection based on the capacitance change, because the capacitance is inversely proportional to the distance between two metal layers.”Because the brain’s blood vessels are so small, the flow diverters can be no more than five to ten millimeters long and a few millimeters in diameter. That rules out the use of conventional sensors with rigid and bulky electronic circuits.“Putting functional materials and circuits into something that size is pretty much impossible right now,” Yeo said. “What we are doing is very challenging based on conventional materials and design strategies.”The researchers tested three materials for their sensors: gold, magnesium and the nickel-titanium alloy known as nitinol. All can be safely used in the body, but magnesium offers the potential to be dissolved into the bloodstream after it is no longer needed.The proof-of-principle sensor was connected to a guide wire in the in vitro testing, but Yeo and his colleagues are now working on a wireless version that could be implanted in a living animal model. While implantable sensors are being used clinically to monitor abdominal blood vessels, application in the brain creates significant challenges.“The sensor has to be completely compressed for placement, so it must be capable of stretching 300 or 400 percent,” said Yeo. “The sensor structure has to be able to endure that kind of handling while being conformable and bending to fit inside the blood vessel.”The research included multiple contributors from different institutions, including Connor Howe from Virginia Commonwealth University; Saswat Mishra and Yun-Soung Kim from Georgia Tech, Youngjae Chun, Yanfei Chen, Sang-Ho Ye and William Wagner from the University of Pittsburgh; Jae-Woong Jeong from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Hun-Soo Byun from Chonnam National University; and Jong-Hoon Kim from Washington State University. CITATION: Connor Howe, et. al., “Stretchable, Implantable, Nanostructured Flow-Diverter System for Quantification of Intra-aneurysmal Hemodynamics” (ACS Nano, 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.8b04689 ### A proof-of-concept flow sensor is shown here on a stent backbone. (Credit: John Toon, Georgia Tech)   With gloved fingers for scale, a proof-of-concept flow sensor is shown here on a stent backbone. (Credit: Woon-Hong Yeo, Georgia Tech)
John Toon, Director of Research News, Georgia Tech
Aug
3
2018

Ravi Shankar and collaborators make a breakthrough in 4D printing

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Aug 3, 2018) … Four-dimensional (4D) printed objects are 3D structures capable of changing shape in time. This transformation is achieved by using stimuli-responsive materials. University of Pittsburgh Professor Ravi Shankar and collaborators at the University of Texas at Dallas have now demonstrated a platform that may help improve the way researchers morph these structures. The collaboration was led by Taylor Ware, assistant professor of bioengineering at UT Dallas, and Cedric Ambulo, a graduate student researcher in Ware’s lab. The study, “Four-dimensional Printing of Liquid Crystal Elastomers” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.7b11851), was published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces in October 2017. Since its release, it has achieved recognition as being “first of its kind” and was awarded best poster at the 2017 International Liquid Crystal Elastomer Conference. “Previous strategies for stimuli-responsive materials require mechanical programming, which involves physically manipulating the material by stretching or bending it to help program the actuation,” said Shankar, professor of industrial engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “In this work, we demonstrate a platform for programming the molecular-level order in macroscopic 3D structures so that the actuation can be triggered without external loading or training.” Their platform works by orienting molecules within a printable ‘ink’. On exposure to light, the ink cross-links into a rubbery material while maintaining molecular orientation. By controlling how the material is deposited, they can build 3D structures with encoded molecular orientation which allows for the control of the structure’s shape change when it is heated. The research team used liquid crystal elastomers (LCE), a polymer that can change shape in response to a variety of stimuli, including heat and light. “In order to undergo reversible shape change, LCEs should be cross-linked in an aligned state,” explained Shankar. “To do this, we controlled the print path used during 3D printing, whereby 3D structures with locally controlled and reversible stimulus response can be fabricated into geometries not achievable with current processing methods.” The resulting 4D models are capable of twisting, bending, and curving on demand. The structure will stay in one state until it is prompted by a stimulus to change shape. By printing objects with controlled geometry and stimulus response, the research team can create magnified shape transformations using snap-through instabilities. “Snap-through instabilities can be seen in nature when observing a venus flytrap catching their prey. The snapping action is used to magnify the power density and speed of actuation,” said Shankar. “Our group mimicked this action by creating curved geometries encoded with molecular-level programming that when exposed to a thermal stimulus, evolve and snap between discrete shapes.” Scientists are just scratching the surface for the future of this technology. According to Shankar, “There is a lot of potential for innovation with these unique materials. There are numerous applications for 4D printing including advancements in soft robotics, implantable medical devices, and consumer products.” This material is based upon work supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under award number FA9550-17-1-0328. Any opinions, finding, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Air Force. ###

Aug
2
2018

MEMS Department Administrator

MEMS, Open Positions

The Swanson School of Engineering is currently seeking a qualified Department Administrator in an advanced professional capacity for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Duties include: - General and fiscal administration - Post-award management - Processing and maintaining all personnel and payroll forms - Problem interventions - Managing educational programs - Supervision of staff and student workers. The incumbent must be able to act independently to determine, interpret, and execute Department, School, and University policies. This position will report directly to the Department Chair. The Department consists of 35 full-time Faculty, 650 undergraduate students and 200 graduate students (graduate. This position will be responsible for managing approximately $15 million in research and departmental funding. Minimum of 10+ years experience in professional and/or administrative positions, preferably in a University setting. For more information and to apply please use the PittSource portal.

Aug
2
2018

MEMS Asst Prof

MEMS, Open Positions

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is seeking an outstanding candidate to fill a non-tenure stream faculty position in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) with the principal duty of advising undergraduate students. There will also be some teaching responsibilities. Applicants should possess an MS or PhD in Mechanical Engineering or a related field. Applicants with prior teaching and/or advising experience in an engineering program are particularly encouraged to apply. In addition, experience in such areas as engineering education or the development of outreach programs to pre-college students, and relevant industrial/practical experience is desired. The successful candidate will work with many students and should have good communication skills. Interested applicants should submit an email to pitt-mems-search@engr.pitt.edu that includes in a single PDF file: a cover letter, a detailed resume and the names and contact information for at least three references. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled employer.

MEMS Assistant Professor Search
Aug
1
2018

Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood provides training and 95% job placement

Industrial

Donald Harmuth graduated from South Fayette High School this past spring and is building on the training he got at the Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood to pursue a degree in Engineering Physics at Westminster College this fall. “I was surprised by what we could do with the equipment we had. I was always extremely resourceful, but the capability of the machines is amazing when fully understood,” he says. “The most important thing I learned is not a technical or ‘hard skill’ but a soft one. It is resilience; anything can be done if you try,” says Harmuth. Read the full story at Next Pittsburgh.
Bill O'Toole, news reporter, Next Pittsburgh
Aug
1
2018

Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood provides training and 95% job placement

Industrial

Donald Harmuth graduated from South Fayette High School this past spring and is building on the training he got at the Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood to pursue a degree in Engineering Physics at Westminster College this fall. “I was surprised by what we could do with the equipment we had. I was always extremely resourceful, but the capability of the machines is amazing when fully understood,” he says. “The most important thing I learned is not a technical or ‘hard skill’ but a soft one. It is resilience; anything can be done if you try,” says Harmuth. In May, the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) celebrated one year at its new location in Homewood. The center, which shares equipment and space with several other companies in a refurbished warehouse on Susquehanna Street, provides training in advanced manufacturing techniques for budding engineers and others in the East End and beyond. MAC is just one project in a larger effort by the University of Pittsburgh to move more facilities and resources into underserved neighborhoods bordering Oakland. Read the full article at Next Pittsburgh. The Manufacturing Assistance Center is an initiative of the Department of Industrial Engineering.
Bill O'Toole, Next Pittsburgh

Jul

Jul
31
2018

ChemE Undergraduates Take Their Research to Italy

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (July 31, 2018) … University of Pittsburgh undergraduates Erin Hunter and Nicholas Waters traveled to Lucca, Italy this summer to present at the 2018 Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) on Biointerface Science. Both students presented work from their past year of research with Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Niepa, who was co-chair of the GRS on Biointerface Science, knew it was uncommon for undergraduates to attend this meeting but thought that Hunter and Waters might benefit from the experience. “Erin and Nick are impressive undergraduates with a strong academic record and scientific curiosity,” said Niepa. “They were the first students to join my new lab at Pitt and demonstrated a strong dedication, high level of maturity, and responsibility for the tasks I assigned them. It was my personal goal to provide them with this prestigious and eye-opening experience; and I was extremely delighted that GRC made a special exception allowing these emerging researchers to present their work alongside experts in the field of Biointerface Science.” Waters, a junior chemical engineering student, was granted a travel award by Pitt’s University Honors College to support his participation in the conference. His research focuses on understanding how bacteria interact with fluid interfaces. “We work with Alcanivorax borkumensis, an oil-degrading bacteria that is capable of emulsifying the oil and water phases by interacting with the oil-water interface,” said Waters. “This work is significant because the findings could help us better understand how to use bacteria for bioremediation of crude oil spills and/or microbial enhanced oil recovery from the ground.” After Niepa joined in the Swanson School in 2017, Waters was quick to contact him for research opportunities. He said, “I got involved in this work simply by reaching out to Dr. Niepa when he was first hired. I started working with him last fall semester and spent a lot of time helping set up his lab and learning the full capabilities of his instruments.” One year later, Waters has now collected enough data that will likely lead to a publication in the near future. Regarding the conference, he said, “I greatly enjoyed being able to meet and discuss my work in a professional setting and receive high-level feedback from others working in similar fields.” Hunter, a junior chemical engineering student, also spent her sophomore year in Niepa’s lab. Her research focuses on examining microbial dynamics in artificial confinements, referred to as microbial nanocultures. “Because of the amount of competition among species in a sample, traditional methods of culturing -such as using a flask- can be ineffective,” explains Hunter. “For example, a sample from the mouth contains an abundance of species, and in order to see growth from all species present, we must use a nanoculture.” “We can isolate and examine the individual bacterial species when we take a few milligram sample that we swabbed and encapsulate into smaller 5-7 nanoliter capsules,” said Hunter. “The goal of my research is to show that by using this process, it is now possible to study and collect data on these previously ‘unculturable species.’” Hunter believes that the Gordon Research Seminar was a valuable experience that helped guide her academic and research career. “It is helpful to learn about other people’s studies because it can inspire new ideas for your own research,” she said. “With Nick and I being the only undergraduate students there, it was nice to talk to current PhD students about their paths to graduate school.” In the fall of 2018, Waters will return to Niepa’s lab to continue his research, and Hunter will start a yearlong internship with McNeil Consumer Healthcare. “Whenever someone recalls the first undergraduate participation at the international GRS on Biointerface Science, they will remember these two Pitt ChemE undergrads. Their outstanding presentations initiated high-level conversations and promoted our work in the space of microbial interactions with solid or fluid interfaces.” said Niepa. “Erin and Nick are a testament to Pitt’s commitment to preparing its students for global scientific leadership” ###

Jul
26
2018

Manufacturing Engineer Mostafa Bedewy Lands $330K NSF Grant to Study “Nanotube Forests”

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (July 26, 2018) … Manufacturers use carbon nanotubes in a variety of commercial products from baseball bats and bicycle frames to aerospace structures. Attributes such as a tensile strength 20 times higher than steel and an electrical conductivity 10 times that of copper have caused the global carbon nanotube market to soar to $3.43 billion in 2016, and it is projected to double by 2022.To better understand and control the internal structure of nanotube-based materials for emerging applications, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $330,000 to Mostafa Bedewy, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. In this new NSF project titled “Functionally Graded Carbon Nanotubes by Dynamic Control of Morphology during Chemical Vapor Deposition,” Dr. Bedewy will employ a combination of experimental and modeling techniques to reveal the kinetics of activation and deactivation in large populations of carbon nanotubes known as “nanotube forests.”“In the community of carbon nanotube researchers, structures made of billions of vertically-aligned nanotubes are sometimes referred to as forests, turfs, arrays, or films, but I think the term “forest” best describes their complex intertwined and tortuous morphology,” says Dr. Bedewy. “Research efforts abound on how the size and atomic structure dictate the properties of individual nanotubes, but in my lab we are more interested in looking at these nanotube forests collectively to gain a fundamental understanding of how they behave together as a population.”Carbon nanotubes are hollow, cylindrical nanostructures consisting of single-sheets of carbon atoms. Their sizes are typically smaller than one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair. Random assortments of individual nanotubes appear in many technologies because of their desirable electrical, physical, and thermal properties; however, leveraging the exceptional collective mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of nanotube forests is very promising for applications that require directional energy and mass transport.Dr. Bedewy explains, “Our previous work has shown that when we grow nanotube forests by chemical vapor deposition, we end up with a significant variation of density, alignment, and size distribution across the height of each forest. These spatial variations directly impact their collective properties such as their behavior under mechanical loading.”Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is a process that enables the synthesis of carbon nanotubes from catalyst nanoparticles by the decomposition and dissociation of hydrocarbon gases. CVD is the process of choice for industrial applications of nanotubes owing to its scalability and versatility, as well as the high quality of CVD-grown nanotubes. “I am very excited about this NSF grant, because it will enable us to create nanotube "forests" with tailored morphology, leveraging the unique capabilities of our custom-designed rapid-thermal chemical vapor deposition (RT-CVD) reactor, which will enable unprecedented control of nanotube density profiles,” says Dr. Bedewy.Emerging applications such as thermal interfaces for high power density devices, electrical interconnects for 3D electronics, and structural materials for mechanical energy absorption require greater control of the nanotube forest structures, and therefore, a better understanding is needed for how the forest morphology develops during the production process, i.e. during their collective growth by CVD.“Our work will shed light on the stochastic nature of how individual nanotubes "pop" into existence in a population of billions of neighboring nanotubes, whose growth is seeded from catalytically active nanoparticles. Revealing the interplay between the kinetics of this "birth" and "death" of nanotubes is key to understand their population behavior during growth, which dictates their overall hierarchical structure and collective properties,” says Dr. Bedewy. ### About the NanoProduct LabThe NanoProduct Lab (nanoproductlab.org), also known as the Bedewy Research Group, focuses on fundamental experimental research at the interface between nanoscience, biotechnology, and manufacturing engineering. The group explores basic scientific discoveries and applied technological developments in the broad area of advanced manufacturing at multiple length scales, creating solutions that impact major societal challenges in energy, healthcare, and the environment.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
23
2018

If Only A.I. Had a Brain

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (July 23, 2018) … Digital computation has rendered nearly all forms of analog computation obsolete since as far back as the 1950s. However, there is one major exception that rivals the computational power of the most advanced digital devices: the human brain.The human brain is a dense network of neurons. Each neuron is connected to tens of thousands of others, and they use synapses to fire information back and forth constantly. With each exchange, the brain modulates these connections to create efficient pathways in direct response to the surrounding environment. Digital computers live in a world of ones and zeros. They perform tasks sequentially, following each step of their algorithms in a fixed order.A team of researchers from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering have developed an “artificial synapse” that does not process information like a digital computer but rather mimics the analog way the human brain completes tasks. Led by Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, the researchers published their results in the recent issue of the journal Advanced Materials (DOI:10.1002/adma.201802353). His Pitt co-authors include Mohammad Sharbati (first author), Yanhao Du, Jorge Torres, Nolan Ardolino, and Minhee Yun.“The analog nature and massive parallelism of the brain are partly why humans can outperform even the most powerful computers when it comes to higher order cognitive functions such as voice recognition or pattern recognition in complex and varied data sets,” explains Dr. Xiong.An emerging field called “neuromorphic computing” focuses on the design of computational hardware inspired by the human brain. Dr. Xiong and his team built graphene-based artificial synapses in a two-dimensional honeycomb configuration of carbon atoms. Graphene’s conductive properties allowed the researchers to finely tune its electrical conductance, which is the strength of the synaptic connection or the synaptic weight. The graphene synapse demonstrated excellent energy efficiency, just like biological synapses. In the recent resurgence of artificial intelligence, computers can already replicate the brain in certain ways, but it takes about a dozen digital devices to mimic one analog synapse. The human brain has hundreds of trillions of synapses for transmitting information, so building a brain with digital devices is seemingly impossible, or at the very least, not scalable. Xiong Lab’s approach provides a possible route for the hardware implementation of large-scale artificial neural networks.According to Dr. Xiong, artificial neural networks based on the current CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) technology will always have limited functionality in terms of energy efficiency, scalability, and packing density. “It is really important we develop new device concepts for synaptic electronics that are analog in nature, energy-efficient, scalable, and suitable for large-scale integrations,” he says. “Our graphene synapse seems to check all the boxes on these requirements so far.”With graphene’s inherent flexibility and excellent mechanical properties, these graphene-based neural networks can be employed in flexible and wearable electronics to enable computation at the “edge of the internet”—places where computing devices such as sensors make contact with the physical world.“By empowering even a rudimentary level of intelligence in wearable electronics and sensors, we can track our health with smart sensors, provide preventive care and timely diagnostics, monitor plants growth and identify possible pest issues, and regulate and optimize the manufacturing process—significantly improving the overall productivity and quality of life in our society,” Dr. Xiong says.The development of an artificial brain that functions like the analog human brain still requires a number of breakthroughs. Researchers need to find the right configurations to optimize these new artificial synapses. They will need to make them compatible with an array of other devices to form neural networks, and they will need to ensure that all of the artificial synapses in a large-scale neural network behave in the same exact manner. Despite the challenges, Dr. Xiong says he’s optimistic about the direction they’re headed.“We are pretty excited about this progress since it can potentially lead to the energy-efficient, hardware implementation of neuromorphic computing, which is currently carried out in power-intensive GPU clusters. The low-power trait of our artificial synapse and its flexible nature make it a suitable candidate for any kind of A.I. device, which would revolutionize our lives, perhaps even more than the digital revolution we’ve seen over the past few decades,” Dr. Xiong says. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
18
2018

Pitt bioengineer receives $390K NIH grant to develop imaging technology that may improve brain implant design

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 18, 2018) … Chronic brain implants are long-term devices used to record brain activity or stimulate neurons with electrical pulses and are a crucial component of neuroprosthetics. The performance of these devices depends on the host tissue response, which is often inflammatory and results in device performance degradation. Takashi Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was awarded an NIH R21 grant to improve device design by investigating the role of oligodendrocytes and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in this process. Kozai will work with Franca Cambi, professor of neurology at Pitt, to develop in vivo imaging technology that will explore how these cells cause negative tissue response to chronic brain implants. Supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Kozai and Cambi received a two-year, $386,645 award for their research. Kozai and his collaborators recently published work that reveals the importance of the brain’s glial cells. Oligodendrocytes and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) are a type of glia or connective tissue in the central nervous system that play an important role in brain injury and neuronal activity, including the body’s response to brain implants. Oligodendrocytes are crucial for normal signaling in the brain. They produce proteins that help neurons grow, form synapses, and may even help neurons survive traumatic injuries. They play a key role in myelination, a process where oligodendrocytes wrap a fatty substance around the neuron’s axon to help insulate electrical signals and allow neural signals to move more rapidly. “Oligodendrocytes, like neurons, consume enormous amounts of energy,” explained Kozai. “Neurons require the energy to maintain membrane potential, while oligodendrocytes require energy to maintain high production levels of protein and lipids. As a result oligodendrocytes and neurons are one of the first cell types to die following brain injury.” “Because the oligodendrocytes provide growth factors and support for neurons, the idea is maybe if we can help to oligodendrocytes to survive after injury, they can, in turn, help the neurons to survive,” said Kozai. They plan to apply a similar logic to OPCs, which are a subtype of glia that are of particular interest because they have the capacity to differentiate into oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, or neurons during tissue repair. Kozai said, “If we can maintain a healthy environment for OPCs, maybe they can help replenish the oligodendrocyte and neuronal population, instead of turning into scar tissue forming astrocytes.” Kozai and Cambi hope to gain insight by getting a more detailed look at the life span of these cells using multiphoton imaging and neural engineering technology. Kozai said, “Much of the work on oligodendrocytes and OPCs has been carried out with post-mortem immunohistochemistry and molecular assays in disease models. As such, we only get a snapshot of the dead cells in their last moments, instead of seeing how and when they got there so that we can identify when and where to apply treatments and employ intervention strategies.” By using in vivo imaging techniques like multiphoton imaging and pinpointing brain injury using neural engineering technology, Kozai and Cambi can map out the spatiotemporal relationships between oligodendrocyte loss, neuronal cell death, and OPC tissue repair and identify targets for intervention strategies, not just for brain implants, but also many neurodegenerative diseases. ###

Jul
16
2018

A Foundation for Future Founders: The Swanson School Empowers a New Generation of Entrepreneurs

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

.pullquote-feature { width: 50%; border-top: 1px solid #151414; border-bottom: 1px solid #151414; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; display: block; } With a 95–97 percent job placement rate for graduates over the past three years1, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering provides a well-manicured path for those traveling from Benedum Hall to the halls of Fortune 500 companies. At an increasing rate, students who embrace risk and uncertainty for the sake of innovation are also finding the tools they need at the Swanson School to carve their own paths to success. Aspiring entrepreneurs can attend networking opportunities, compete for seed money, and receive one-on-one mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs and educators right on campus. There were 23 startups originating from the University of Pittsburgh in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a 53 percent increase from the previous year. In the spring of 2017, two of those companies—one with a tomato-picking robot and the other with nanoparticle-filled oxygen tanks—took their first steps off the Pitt campus and into the startup world. “Engineering students are adept at solving real-world problems. That is why so many of the students we have participating in our entrepreneurship programs and competitions come from the Swanson School. They want to see their ideas translated into new products and services that advance the state of the art and improve people’s lives,” said Babs Carryer, Director of the Big Idea Center for student entrepreneurship at the Pitt Innovation Institute. “We know we’re undertaking a good amount of risk, but knowing that there is a whole industry that needs the product we are building helps mitigate that. At the end of the day, there always is risk, but for me, to not do this would lead to regrets. We are all about solving the problem.” --Brandon Contino, CEO at Four Growers, Pitt ECE ‘17 Four Growers team: Brandon Contino (left) and Dan Chi (right). Instead of taking a traditional route upon graduation, two recent University of Pittsburgh graduates have taken a risk on a project cooked up during their undergraduate studies in the Swanson School of Engineering. Brandon Contino (ECE ‘17) and Dan Chi (MEMS ‘18) have spent the past year tirelessly promoting their startup, Four Growers, in a series of competitions, and their most recent success will take them to Silicon Valley where they will be among the leading minds of innovation and technology. Brandon and Dan met while working in the lab of David Sanchez, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pitt. The two collaborated on different projects involving hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient rich solution. Growing increasingly interested in this method of farming, the pair visited a hydroponic tomato greenhouse in Chicago where they learned of a pressing problem facing the industry. Brandon explained, “More than 50% of the tomatoes consumed in the US are grown in greenhouse farms, but the industry is facing an issue with labor. After talking to the farmers, we discovered that there are shortages in the availability and reliability of the labor force, and we wanted to find a solution through robotics and automation.” This spurred the creation of Four Growers. Brandon and Dan planned to develop a product that provides reliable harvesting year-round for greenhouse farms. Creating a startup is a high risk, high reward endeavor, but Brandon and Dan had faith in their idea. “After speaking with other greenhouses about the industry, we learned that labor was a common problem, and when you have a strong need, clearly defined from your future customer, it really helps to lower the risk,” said Brandon. Confident in their mission, the Four Growers team developed a robotic tomato harvesting device for commercial greenhouses that can efficiently find and pick ripe tomatoes off the vine. The robot’s decision making is controlled by an algorithm that uses cameras and a neural network trained to find the proper fruit. A robotic arm and custom gripper enable the robot to harvest the tomatoes without damaging them. Additionally, their device provides analytics to the growers to help improve profitability. Creating the product is only one step towards entrepreneurial success; getting your product to market requires a bit of business acumen. Brandon and Dan believe they have benefitted from their past experiences at Pitt. During Brandon’s undergraduate years, he served as president of multiple organizations including Pitt Engineering Student Council, the Robotics and Automation Society, and the Panther Amateur Radio Club. Dan created the Hydroponics Club in Dr. Sanchez’s lab, was a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World, and acted as fundraising director of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers. These experiences have introduced them to aspects of leadership and management applicable to their new executive roles. The Four Growers team has also taken advantage of various entrepreneurial programs and resources like Pitt’s Innovation Institute and Carnegie Mellon University’s Project Olympus, which have both provided valuable mentorship and contacts. Brandon said, “The connections we’ve made along the way have played a large role in our success. We’ve been able to discuss business aspects of the company with our mentors and advisors, and their expertise and guidance have refined our ability to operate both the technical and business sides of Four Growers.” Hydroponic tomato greenhouse. Photo credit: Shutterstock. The journey, however, has not been entirely smooth sailing. “Creating and running a business has a steep learning curve, and Dan and I have been drinking from the fire hose for a while now,” said Brandon. “One of our biggest hurdles has been financing. While Dan finished his degree, we decided to bootstrap and as a hardware company, it takes money to iterate on a product. Initially, we just didn’t have much funding so we had to spend a lot of time searching for lower cost options or workarounds, which slowed some of our technical development.” To overcome this setback, Brandon and Dan have spent the past year trying to raise funds through a series of competitions. Their first success was with Pitt’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition where they won first place and $25,000 to help launch their idea. Then they took second place and $10,000 against some of the most innovative students from the 15 Atlantic Coast Conference schools at the ACC InVenture Prize competition. Their last event took them to Texas where they became one of the first two Pitt teams to compete in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition and made it to the semi-finals. With funds starting to accumulate and Dan’s graduation imminent, they looked for the next step towards success and applied to Y Combinator, a highly competitive startup accelerator in Mountain View, California whose alumni include Airbnb, Dropbox and reddit. Four Growers was accepted as one of 90 teams and will receive $120,000 in exchange for 7 percent equity position in their company. Brandon and Dan will travel back and forth between greenhouse farms, Pittsburgh, and Silicon Valley for three months during the summer and receive intensive training to refine their business and prepare pitches to investors. Four Growers has successfully completed autonomous tomato harvesting inside greenhouses with their device and plan to have a beta prototype in operation by December 2018. Brandon and Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for sustainable farming helped lead them down this career path. The team looks forward to the challenges ahead and hopes to reap the harvest of a successful business. Brandon said, “We know we’re undertaking a good amount of risk, but knowing that there is a whole industry that needs the product we are building really helps mitigate that. At the end of the day though there always is risk, but for me, to not do this would lead to regrets. We are all about solving the problem.” “I don’t think this could have happened at another university without these kind of resources. Once I dug into something and realized someone at my age could actually do this and find the support—all the support that’s out there—it really propelled the business into reality, and it became the thing I knew I wanted to do.” --Blake Dubé, CEO and Co-Founder at Aeronics Inc., Pitt ChemE ‘17 Aeronics team: Alec Kaija (left), Blake Dubé (middle), Mark Spitz (right). With his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh nearing an end, the last thing Blake Dubé (ChemE ’17) was looking to do was start a business. “I didn’t just breeze through the first two years of college,” he recalls. “It took a lot of work focusing on my classes and learning about chemical engineering. It wasn’t like I decided to start a business because I was looking for a bigger challenge.” Nearly three years later, Blake has won about a dozen startup competitions, he has a product scheduled to go to market this year, and he works full-time as CEO of the company he co-founded, Aeronics, Inc. Back in the spring of 2015, the only thing Blake was looking for was a lab to do summer research. After a visit to the ninth floor of Benedum Hall, Blake started research in the lab of Chris Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical engineering and himself an entrepreneur. Dr. Wilmer and his team were researching ways to use nanomaterials to improve gas storage, transportation, and safety in the many industries kept aloft by gas. Blake spent his time in the lab running computer simulations to find the best nanomaterial configurations for maximizing gas storage without the high levels of heat and pressure caused by putting too much gas into too small a container. “I realized gas storage was such a broad field and started wondering where I could make a difference in the three months I would be working in the lab,” says Blake. “Most of the focus seemed to be on energy sources like methane and hydrogen, and there wasn’t as much work being done with oxygen. I started to think about how better oxygen storage could make an impact.” The following semester, Blake enrolled in ChE 314: Taking Products to Market taught by Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor of Chemical Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. Dr. Beckman, who had co-founded his own business for commercializing technology, guided students through the process of turning ideas into marketable products. When Blake showed an interest in applying his lab research to the class, Dr. Wilmer suggested he enter the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, a university-wide innovation challenge. Everyday Oxygen prototype. The Randall Family competition takes place from February to March each year and awards $100,000 in prizes to Pitt students working on interdisciplinary teams to bring product ideas to market. Blake recruited teammates Alec Kaija, a PhD candidate in Dr. Wilmer’s lab, and Mark Spitz, a kinesiology and exercise science student and long-time friend of Blake from their hometown of York, Pa. Dr. Wilmer served as the team’s faculty advisor. “We started the Randall Family competition with the idea of fitting oxygen and the materials from Dr. Wilmer’s lab in a soda can. By the end of it, we actually had plans for a viable product, and since we won the grand prize, we had money to get started,” says Blake. The team won first place and the grand prize of $25,000 to get their company up and running. Blake, Mark, and Alec became co-founders of the startup Aeronics and went on to win several more competitions. By the spring of 2017, Aeronics had claimed more than $120,000 in prize money. While Blake and Mark were getting fitted for their graduation robes, they were measuring up the odds of successfully running their own business. “BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, offered me a full-time job before I graduated. It would have been a great way to start my career. Around the same time, Aeronics was incorporated,” he says. “When you’re an entrepreneur at the university, before you graduate is different than after you graduate. Now you better make it work. The pressure is on.” Fortunately, Aeronics handles pressure well. Their prototype could store about three times as much oxygen as a standard portable oxygen tank at the same pressure. Still considering a more traditional career path, Blake consulted with Steve Little, the chair of the chemical engineering department, for advice. Dr. Little had been helping Aeronics navigate some of the issues with starting a private company at a university. “I remember asking Dr. Little for advice because he had experience starting his own business. He helped us a lot throughout the beginning stages, but he said to me, ‘I can give you all the advice you want, but sooner or later you’re just going to have to do it to find out if it will work,’” says Blake. One year later, Aeronics has completed two startup accelerator cohorts, found its own lab space to operate, and developed a product called Everyday Oxygen, which stores three times the oxygen as competitors’ cans. Everyday Oxygen is available for pre-order on their website and will be ready to ship in the fall. Looking back, Blake says he liked most of his experiences with research, internships, and studying chemical engineering at Pitt in general. He didn’t dream of becoming an entrepreneur as a kid, but now that he’s running his own business, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. “I don’t think this could have happened at another university without these kind of resources. Once I dug into something and realized someone at my age could actually do this and find the support—all the support that’s out there—it really propelled the business into reality, and it became the thing I knew I wanted to do,” he says. ### 195 to 97 percent job placement rate over the past three years, http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/Friends-Giving-Administration/Office-of-the-Dean/Quick-Facts/
Leah Russell (Four Growers feature) and Matt Cichowicz (Aeronics feature)
Jul
12
2018

ChemE’s Giannis Mpourmpakis named “Emerging Investigator” by ACS Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 12, 2018) … The American Chemical Society (ACS) Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data named Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, an “Emerging Investigator” in a special issue of the publication. The issue highlights work from researchers at the forefront of their discipline. Mpourmpakis leads the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELA) where his group researches the physicochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnological areas ranging from energy generation and storage to materials design and catalysis. Mpourmpakis contributed his paper “Understanding the Gas Phase Chemistry of Alkanes with First-Principles Calculations” (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jced.7b00992) to the ACS special issue. “Alkanes are molecules commonly found in petroleum and shale gas,” explained Mpourmpakis. “Their conversion to higher-value chemicals involves high temperature conditions that often result in the production of gas-phase radical species, which are very reactive and difficult to track in experiments.” “This work utilizes very accurate computational chemistry calculations to explain the reaction preference of alkyl radicals under experimental conditions,” continues Mpourmpakis. “The generated reaction data can be used to optimize processes for the conversion of alkanes to olefins, which are important building blocks for the production of plastics.” With the cost of olefins growing due to the high demand for its associated chemicals and plastics and the low abundance of its common resource, Mpourmpakis  believes the findings may provide valuable insights towards more efficient production. This research was supported by the Doctoral New Investigator award given to Mpourmpakis by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Funds. (Read the SSoE press release about this award) “I am very honored to be named an Emerging Investigator and have our work highlighted in this special issue of the journal,” said Mpourmpakis. “This accomplishment belongs to the very talented students that I am fortunate to work with in our lab.” Another achievement from this journal article is the work done by Jonathan Estes, a chemical engineering junior who was first author on the publication. Mudit Dixit, a postdoctoral researcher in Mpourmpakis’ lab, co-authored the article. “Jonathan did a phenomenal job in calculating thermochemical and kinetic data for a wide range of hydrocarbon species and their associated reactions,” said Mpourmpakis. “These involved hundreds of computationally demanding calculations that were performed on supercomputing facilities at Pitt’s Center for Research Computing. This is a great accomplishment for an undergraduate researcher.” Click here to view the Emerging Investigators Special Issue. ###

Jul
10
2018

Fishy Chemicals in Farmed Salmon

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (July 10, 2018) … Persistent organic pollutants—or POPs—skulk around the environment threatening human health through direct contact, inhalation, and most commonly, eating contaminated food. As people are becoming more aware of their food’s origin, new research at the University of Pittsburgh suggests it might be just as important to pay attention to the origin of your food’s food.The American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology featured research by Carla Ng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, on the cover of its June 19 issue. Dr. Ng tracked the presence of a class of synthetic flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were once a popular additive to increase fire resistance in consumer products such as electronics, textiles, and plastics (DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00146).“The United States and much of Europe banned several PBDEs in 2004 because of environmental and public health concerns,” says Dr. Ng. “PBDEs can act as endocrine disruptors and cause developmental effects. Children are particularly vulnerable.”The Stockholm Convention, an international environmental treaty established to identify and eliminate organic pollutants, listed PBDEs as persistent organic pollutants in 2009. Despite restrictions on their use, PBDEs continue to be released into the environment because of their long lifetime and abundance in consumer goods. They are particularly dense in areas such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam that process a lot of electronic waste and do not regulate much of their recycling.“The international food trade system is becoming increasingly global in nature and this applies to animal feed as well. Fish farming operations may import their feed or feed ingredients from a number of countries, including those without advanced food safety regulations,” explains Dr. Ng.Most models to predict human exposure to pollutants typically focus on people in relation to their local environment. Dr. Ng’s model compared a variety of factors to find the best predictor of PBDEs in farmed salmon, including pollutants inhaled through gills, how the fish metabolized and eliminated pollutants, and of course, the concentration of pollutants in the feed.She says, “We found that feed is relatively less important in areas that already have high concentrations of pollutants in the environment. However, in otherwise clean and well-regulated environments, contaminated feed can be thousands of times more significant than the location of the farm for determining the PBDE content of salmon fillets.”Dr. Ng says the model could be modified and applied to other fish with high global trading volumes such as tilapia or red snapper. It could also be used to predict pollutant content in livestock or feeds produced in contamination “hot spots.”“Hot spots are places identified as having high levels of pollutants,” says Dr. Ng. “As these chemicals circulate through the environment, much ends up in the ocean. It’s extremely important to pay attention to the sourcing of ocean commodities and areas where pollutant concentrations are particularly high.”Dr. Ng’s model also helps inform contamination control strategies such as substituting fish oils for plant-based materials or taking measures to decontaminate fish oil before human consumption. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
6
2018

A Structured Solution

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 6, 2018) … Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is an advanced manufacturing process capable of fabricating complex components by sintering layers of powders together. This process requires support structures to maintain the component’s structural integrity during printing. Unfortunately, removing these supports is not only expensive, but can also be difficult-to-impossible if the supports are located in the interior of the component.  This limits the adoption of AM by industries such as nuclear energy, which rely on cost-effective manufacturing of complex components.To find an effective solution to these complex processes, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will be the lead investigator on a $1 million award to advance design and manufacture of nuclear plant components via AM. The award is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy’s Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program.The novel research will be directed by Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) at the Swanson School. Co-investigators include Wei Xiong, assistant professor of MEMS at Pitt, and Owen Hildreth, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Corporate collaborators in Pittsburgh include Curtiss-Wright Corporation and Jason Goldsmith at Kennametal Inc. The integrated approach taken by the project team will be to develop innovative dissolvable supports, greater topology optimization, and improved microstructure design to make state-of-the-art nuclear components at lower cost, with minimal distortion, and greater structural integrity.“Many gaps still remain in the scientific understanding of additive manufacturing, most especially the optimization of the assembly process while reducing build failure and cost,” Drs. To and Xiong explained. “Removing internal support structures in complex additive manufactured components via post-machining is costly and sometimes impossible. By integrating dissolvable supports, topology optimization, microstructure design, we have an opportunity to drastically reduce post-processing costs for AM components, while ensuring manufacturability of designs with complex internal features like those needed in the nuclear industry.” According to Dr. Hildreth, post-processing accounts for 30 to 70 percent of the cost of producing AM products, with support removal accounting for the majority of those costs. “Our dissolvable support technology enables consolidation of the many manufacturing steps currently required for complex nuclear components into one AM assembly. This will reduce manufacturing costs by 20 percent and improve manufacturing schedules by at least six months,” he explained. “This work will help bring dissolvable supports to not just nuclear applications, but to the broader metal AM community so that costs can be significantly reduced. Metal AM is projected to be a $21.2 billion industry in five years, and these batch-processable dissolvable supports could save the industry $10 billion while also expanding design freedom and reducing post-processing machining.” The Pitt Award is one of five NEET Crosscutting Technologies projects led by Department of Energy national laboratories, industry and U.S. universities to conduct research to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges that will help to develop advanced sensors and instrumentation, advanced manufacturing methods, and materials for multiple nuclear reactor plant and fuel applications.This is the Swanson School’s second NEET award in as many years. In 2017, Kevin Chen, the Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt, received $1.275 million to lead a collaborative study with MIT, the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Westinghouse Electric Corporation to develop radiation-hard, multi-functional, distributed fiber sensors, and sensor-fused components that can be placed in a nuclear reactor core to improve safety and efficiency.“Because nuclear energy is such a vital part of our nation’s energy portfolio, these investments are necessary to ensuring that future generations of Americans will continue to benefit from safe, clean, reliable, and resilient nuclear energy,” said Ed McGinnis, DOE’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. “Our commitment to providing researchers with access to the fundamental infrastructure and capabilities needed to develop advanced nuclear technologies is critical.” Image above: Cracking in the build resulting from excessive residual stress in the support structure from the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. Image below: Failed build of a complex part due to excessive residual distortion from  the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. ###

Jul
6
2018

Neutron beams help to advance the 3D printing industry

Industrial

This article originally appeared at the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering. Although 3D printing might be widely known for its ability to make bobble heads and plastic trinkets, it’s also a practical way to produce unique or specialized parts for important applications. For instance, 3D printers allow airplane and car parts to be made without having to tool up an entire factory, thereby bringing down the cost of producing small batches or even a single part.This new technology, also known as ‘additive manufacturing,’ now represents a major commercial industry. Already generating over $6 billion in annual revenue, the 3D printing industry is currently enjoying double-digit growth that is expected to continue well into the future as the technology matures.The potential applications for this technology reach a wide variety of industries, including some that aren’t necessarily considered part of the traditional manufacturing sector. For example, in the healthcare sector, some patients have already benefited from early examples of 3D printing of biomedical implants and specialized surgical devices, which have complex or customized shapes and specs that may be difficult to produce using traditional manufacturing methods.To help 3D printing technology mature, researchers are addressing technical challenges involved in producing parts with precise specifications.“In principle, 3D printing can produce a material in any shape, but sometimes it fails due to stress in the material while the part is being printed,” says Ravi Shankar, professor of industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.“This stress can lead to distortions in the shape, either as the part is being built, or when it is extracted it from the printer. If the distortions are larger than the limits of the specification, then it’s a failure, its ‘off-spec’,” he explains.To overcome this problem, Shankar has been leading a team including researchers from the University of Notre Dame and Ohio State University. This collaboration, supported by $1.7 million in funding from the America Makes Program of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, has also benefited from the involvement of ITAMCO, a 3D printing software company whose input helped the researchers to determine what tests would produce the most useful results for the industry.“We needed to understand the relationships between geometry [i.e., the shape and orientation of the part being printed], stress, and the resulting distortions—critical knowledge for 3D printing algorithms that will avoid the distortions, or minimize their impact,” Shankar says. Another factor they needed to consider was the role of the support structure. Support structures are selected to ensure that during printing, the part doesn’t move, and this selection can also impact the distortions.That’s where neutron beams came in: Shankar’s research team accessed the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (CNBC) to measure the stresses present in 3D-printed steel components and then compare these stresses with the accompanying distortions. Because neutron beams are non-destructive, the researchers could measure the stresses present both before and after a part was removed from the support structures.These data provided the information needed to relate the support structures and the orientation of the part to the stresses and resulting distortions present in the 3D-printed part. The researchers published some of their results in a 2017 paper (doi:10.1016/j.msea.2017.09.108) and have more publications in progress.Meanwhile, ITAMCO has already begun applying the team’s results to improve its commercial services. For instance, it offers a software platform accessible through a website (https://atlas3d.xyz/) that will convert a part’s design into an algorithm that can be used by the customer’s own 3D printer. Informed by the research, this software now takes into account various factors such as support structures and printing materials to predict what the stresses and resulting distortions may be if printed in each of over 100 orientations. The software then selects an orientation that will minimize the distortion.“The stress data and other results of Professor Shankar’s research provided valuable experimental checks to boost the accuracy of our software’s ability to find the best orientation to produce the part,” says Joel Neidig, Chief Technology Officer at ITAMCO.Undoubtedly, better predictive capabilities like these will help 3D printing to revolutionize production, whether by enabling previously unattainable efficiencies in the traditional manufacturing sector or by supporting the creation of biomedical devices that would be impractical to produce any other way. ###
CINS
Jul
5
2018

EQT Foundation Supports INVESTING NOW Girls Programming with $15K Grant

Diversity

PITTSBURGH (July 5, 2018) … For a third consecutive year, the EQT Foundation has awarded the Swanson School of Engineering’s INVESTING NOW Female Empowerment Mission (FEM) a $15,000 grant to help fuel an ongoing commitment to provide enhanced, specialized opportunities for female high school students. At the Swanson School, The FEM program will focus specifically on engaging students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). "The EQT Foundation is proud to provide continuing support for the University of Pittsburgh's INVESTING NOW Female Empowerment Mission," said Charlene Petrelli, president of the EQT Foundation. "Supporting diverse education initiatives in the areas where we operate is a priority for EQT, and it is our hope that by participating in this program, these young women will work to create change and a continued understanding of the role women have in STEM careers." “These funds will help us carry out programming designed to further inspire and encourage young women’s interest and participation in STEM fields,” added Alaine Allen, Director of the INVESTING NOW pre-college diversity program and the Pitt EXCEL undergraduate diversity program at the University of Pittsburgh. Three main objectives of the FEM program are to: increase the number of female participants interested in pursuing STEM fields, increase the number of female graduates choosing to major in STEM fields, and increase the confidence and knowledge of the young women entering college to pursue STEM majors. The EQT grant will help support monthly workshops led by female professionals, college students, and faculty in STEM fields. The workshops will include guest speakers who will share their knowledge and personal experiences and engage students in discussions and activities to help the students understand the significance of pursuing STEM majors and careers.“The high school students will also have the opportunity to share their personal stories and pre-conceptions about STEM careers and other STEM-related experiences,” Allen added.Allen and the Pitt INVESTING NOW team have a variety of other strategies planned that will benefit from the EQT funding and help achieve the FEM program objectives. They include: field trips designed to expose the students to STEM fields and provide more opportunities for the students to interact with professional STEM women; visits to colleges and universities to learn more about their respective STEM programs and enrollment requirements and to speak with faculty and students in these programs; attendance at regional or national diversity conferences to allow participants to network with female professionals who serve as role models in STEM fields; and two special outreach projects that will enable college students to provide mentoring and STEM exposure to girls in the Pittsburgh area. “For the outreach projects, we will connect with a local school districts or community-based organizations to identify opportunities to bring INVESTING NOW FEM participants to young girls in the community who would most benefit from their mentorship,” explained Allen.About INVESTING NOWCreated in 1988, INVESTING NOW is a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and careers. The purpose of the program is to ensure that participants are well prepared for matriculation at the University of Pittsburgh. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
3
2018

Chemical Science Features Stunning Artwork from John Keith’s Lab

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (July 3, 2018) … The back cover of Royal Society of Chemistry journal Chemical Science featured an artistic depiction of research from the laboratory of John Keith, assistant professor of chemical engineering and R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy at the University of Pittsburgh, into a simple and effective way of modeling chemical reactions in solutions. Yasemin Basdogan, a PhD student in Dr. Keith’s lab, designed the back cover image, which shows several molecules reacting in a cross-shaped container slowly filling with a liquid. She says, “The red cross in the cover art symbolizes the medical red cross that you see on ambulances. Our model is like a paramedic team that comes with an ambulance: it’s a quick fix that can be really effective.” Their study titled “A paramedic treatment for modeling explicitly solvated chemical reaction mechanisms” (DOI: 10.1039/C8SC01424H) analyzed a very complex chemical system called the Morita-Baylis Hillman reaction. Previous modeling studies have traditionally struggled to explain subtle details of this reaction (DOIs: 10.1021/ja5111392, 10.1039/C7CP06508F), but Basdogan and Dr. Keith brought improvements to the modeling that allows better understanding of these types of chemical reactions that will impact areas of chemical engineering and chemistry. “I’m particularly interested in how characterizing chemical reactions can help improve our understanding of the human body,” Basdogan explains. “By understanding catalysts working in solution we get closer to understanding how enzymes catalyze chemical reactions in your body. We need to first understand fundamental reactions before we can understand the even more complex systems.” Basdogan developed the image for the back cover using tools and skills she learned in a course at the Swanson School of Engineering taught by Assistant Professor Chris Wilmer called ChE 3460 Advanced Scientific Visual Communication. The course teaches how to use modeling and animation tools such as GIMP, Inkscape, and Blender and the Python programming language to create professional quality artwork based on students’ research. “This cover art was my final project for the Advanced Scientific Visual Communication class,” says Basdogan. “Dr. Wilmer helped me throughout every step of the art project.” Chemistry World, a monthly chemistry news magazine published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, featured Basdogan and Dr. Keith’s work with a feature story titled “Errors in continuum solvent models unraveled at last.” The author Hannah Kerr writes: "[Basdogan and Keith] showed that continuum solvent models do not describe local solvation effects very well. This can lead to mechanistic steps like proton shuttling and charge transfer being modelled poorly. As an alternative, [the researchers] developed a strategy that can be carried out by anyone with a general grasp of quantum chemistry.” In the article, Dr. Keith also highlighted Basdogan’s efforts to complete the study: “‘What I first thought would be 6–12 months of work ended up being far more challenging. Fortunately, I had a very talented 1st year PhD student, Yasemin Basdogan, who stayed focused and never quit on the project – or me!,’ says Keith." "Basdogan adds, “This manuscript is my sixth publication, but it has a special place in my heart because it is the first work that I completed mostly myself in the Keith Group, and I learned a lot of things along the way.” Basdogan is now in her third year as a PhD student. She said she would like to stay in academia after completing her PhD to become a professor. The Pitt Center for Research Computing contributed computing resources. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
2
2018

Discovering “Virtual” Resources in the National Food System

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (July 2, 2018) … Does producing one ton of rice consume more water in Arkansas or California? Is it more sustainable for Texas to import oranges from Florida or grow its own? Will switching to water efficient irrigation pumps reduce both water and energy footprint of food production? To better integrate sustainability across multiple production systems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded two professors from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering a $305,764 grant for their research into the interconnectivity of U.S. food, energy, and water resources. The research will focus on modeling the complex network of resources in the United States and strategies for optimizing sustainability in resource production and consumption with a focus on food, energy, and water systems.“People tend to see food, energy, and water as individual diodes on a larger network, when they are more like a mesh of connections. This research is asking how you can model the nexus of these complex systems,” says Vikas Khanna, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and principal investigator of the study.The study titled "Modeling and Optimization of Sustainable and ResilienT FEW (MOST FEW) Networks" will use publicly available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Department of Agriculture, and related organizations to examine the environmental sustainability of U.S. national food system with an emphasis on interstate trade. The researchers in particular will focus on identifying networks of “virtual resources.”“Virtual resources are those consumed in a process but not intended to be directly used in the exchange itself,” Dr. Khanna explains. “For example, a large amount of water is consumed across the entire supply chain of corn. A singular focus on optimizing corn production could come at the expense of high water consumption or increased fertilizer use, or result in some other negative consequence if relationships within the system aren’t better understood.”Joining Dr. Khanna on the study as co-principal investigator is Oleg Prokopyev, professor of industrial engineering. Dr. Prokopyev specializes in Operations Research and develops tools and algorithms for describing complex, mathematical relationships in networks. Their collaboration began after Dr. Khanna used similar techniques and principles to model the London public transit system. Dr. Prokopyev recognized their common research interests, and the two decided to collaborate on the current project.Dr. Prokopyev says, “When looking at multiple objectives, most often efficiency with one thing will come at the expense of another. These are problems that don’t really have easy solutions, but there are mathematical ways to describe the processes and help people visualize how their decisions impact the network.”During the grant period, the researchers hope to identify “hot spots” for improvement opportunities and provide a range of solutions that minimize environmental impact and maximize the efficiency of resource production and consumption.“When your focus is sustainability, you always have a research application in mind,” says Dr. Khanna. “We face real life problems every day that require tradeoffs like quality for price or personal preference for availability. In the same way consumers can make better decision by being more informed, modeling the food, energy, and water networks will help to inform better decision making about our national resource policies by government, industry, utilities, and more.” ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
2
2018

Psychology and Engineering Team Up for Longitudinal Look at Brain Aging Disparities

Bioengineering

Reposted from PittWire. Read the original article here. Pitt professors of psychology Anna Marsland and Peter Gianaros have received a five-year Research Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health to revisit decade-old data from Pittsburgh residents. They’re trying to understand what aspects of health and the social environment matter for brain aging among middle-aged people. The work is part of a larger project that was initiated by Stephen Manuck, Distinguished University Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, called the Adult Health and Behavior Project. Now, Marsland and Gianaros are teaming up with associate professor of bioengineering and radiology Tamer Ibrahim, director of the Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility, to bring as many of the initial participants back into the lab for testing as possible, 10 and 15 years after they were originally seen. The unique imaging technology developed in the RF Research Facility will let Marsland and Gianaros use an unconventional form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain in a level of detail that ordinary MRI techniques can’t achieve. With this new level of detail, the psychology-engineering team can link current features of brain health to prior information about inflammation, heart health and many other factors that influence memory, thinking, attention, and other phenomena sensitive to aging. Being able to predict brain aging starting in midlife could be critically important for prevention and intervention — helping reduce health disparities that follow a social and economic gradient, said Marsland. “We’re trying to encourage participants to stay involved.” Said Gianaros: “It’s important for us to show them how much we care about them and how important they are. If we see them one time, that’s great; they’ve made a contribution to science. But our interest is really more dynamic in how people change in their life. A snapshot is not the same thing as a movie.” Left to right: Pitt professors of psychology Anna Marsland and Peter Gianaros and associate professor of bioengineering and radiology Tamer Ibrahim are working together on a project studying brain aging.

Jun

Jun
27
2018

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical projects with $105,000 in Round-1 2018 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 27, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $105,000 to five research groups through its 2018 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new vascular access device for use with stent grafts, an artificial tricuspid valve for treatment of right-heart disease, a shoe insert for treatment of foot pain, a biological treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, and a biofeedback system for mobility rehabilitation training. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. This is our seventh year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty. AWARD 1: “E-mag system for Rapid Cannulation of Fenestrated Stent Grafts to Reduce Radiation Exposure” For the development of a vascular stent graft system that will magnetically guide cannulation of endograft branches. Bryan W. Tillman, MD, PhDDivision of Vascular Surgery Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Youngjae Chun, PhDAssociate Professor, Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 2: “Valved stent conduit for the treatment of severe advanced tricuspid regurgitation” For the development of an artificial tricuspid valve that will treat decreased right ventricular performance due to cardiac disease. Catalin Toma, MDAssistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Heart and Vascular Institute Youngjae Chun, PhD Associate Professor, Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 3: “PopSoleTM Foot Off-Loading Device” For the development of a shoe insert that will reduce foot pain due to fat pad atrophy in the feet. Jeffrey Gusenoff, MD Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Beth Gusenoff, DPM Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Kurt Beschorner, PhD Associate Professor, Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering Seyed Reza Moghaddam, PhDBioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering Steven Donahoe, MSBioengineering, Swanson School of EngineeringAWARD 4: “Local Induction of Tolerogenic T cells to Ameliorate Inflammation in Inflammatory Bowel Disease”For the development of a potent IBD therapy with fewer side effects than current medical therapy. R. Warren Sands MD, PhDT32 Clinical and Research Fellow, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Steven R. Little PhD William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering David G. Binion MD, AGAF, FACGProfessor of Medicine, Clinical and Translational Science Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical SchoolAWARD 5: “MOVISU-FIT: Mobile Wearable System for Real Time Visual Feedback and Gait Training”For the development of a system to provide real-time visual feedback to patients working on gait corrections during mobility rehabilitation training. Goeran Fiedler PhDAssistant Professor, Rehabilitation Science and Technology, UPMC William Clark, PhD Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Swanson School of Engineering David Brienza, PhD Professor, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Krista Kutina, DPT Researcher, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Alicia Koontz, PhD Associate Professor, Veterans Administration Hospital April Chambers, PhD Research Assistant Professor, Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical InnovationThe Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2011 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 60 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1 million since inception.
Akhil Aniff, CMI Fellow
Jun
22
2018

BioE Alumna Sharlene Flesher Talks With Gizmodo UK About Neural Engineering Research

Bioengineering

Sharlene Flesher (BioE PhD '17) contributes to Gizmodo UK's article about research from Johns Hopkins University's Department of Bioengineering. Current prosthetic limbs aren’t yet capable of transmitting complex sensations like texture or pain to the user, but a recent breakthrough by scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in which a synthetic layer of skin on an artificial hand transmitted feelings of pain directly to the user, takes us one step closer to that goal. Pain sucks, but we’d be lost without this extremely valuable sensation. “Pain helps protect our bodies from damage by giving us the sensation that something may be harmful, such as the sharp edge of a knife,” Luke Osborn, a co-author of the new study and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, told Gizmodo. “For a prosthesis, there is no concept of pain, which opens it up to the possibility of damage. We found a way to provide sensations of pain in a meaningful way to the prosthesis as well as the amputee user.” Working with JHU neuroengineer Nitish Thakor, Osborn and his colleagues developed a system called e-dermis—a skin-like layer that gives prosthetic limbs the capacity to perceive touch and pain. Pressure applied to the e-dermis is transmitted to the user’s brain via an electric nerve stimulator implanted in the arm above the prosthesis, allowing the system to emulate actual sensations. In tests of the e-dermis system, a volunteer amputee said he could tell the difference between objects that were rounded or sharp, saying the sensation of pain registered a three out of 10 in terms of severity. This study was published today in Science Robotics. Read the full story and Flesher's comments at GizmodoUK.

Jun
20
2018

ECE’s Aryana Nakhai Wins Society of Women Engineers Scholarship

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 20, 2018) … The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has selected Aryana Nakhai, an undergraduate electrical engineering student, as the recipient of its 2018 Lockheed Martin Corporation Scholarship totaling $2,500 for the 2018-19 academic year. “This award is recognition of Aryana’s incredible passion for power systems and electrical engineering, and it speaks to the engineering community’s confidence that she will contribute great things during her professional career,” said Gregory Reed, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering and director of Pitt’s Center for Energy and the Energy GRID Institute.SWE Scholarships recognize outstanding academic achievement and strong engineering potential, according to the SWE website. Recipients must be women admitted to accredited baccalaureate or graduate programs in preparation for careers in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science. The SWE Scholarship Selection Committee chose 2018 award recipients from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants.Aryana has been a member of Pitt SWE since her freshman year in 2014. She said, “SWE is an organization that has always stood out to me. I strongly believe in the importance for a female support system and everything that SWE stands for.”“I am especially excited since Lockheed Martin has been one of my biggest inspirations for pursing a degree in electrical engineering,” Aryana continued. “As an engineer, I very much enjoy being part of a team to develop solutions to exciting and new, complex challenges.”Aryana is studying electrical engineering with a concentration on power systems. She is scheduled to graduate in December 2018 and plans to pursue a master’s degree at Pitt after graduation.While an undergraduate student, Aryana completed three co-op rotations as a Process Planning Engineer at BMW U.S. Manufacturing Co. She also represents the University of Pittsburgh on the Student Innovation Board for the Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources (FEEDER) Consortium. In this role, Aryana addresses and explains power related topics on campus.“My goal is to inspire students to gain interest in power engineering, allow them the opportunity to learn about distributed technology, and express the need for power engineers in industry,” she said. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
19
2018

ChemE Graduate Student Alexandra May Receives Willem Kolff Award at ASAIO Annual Meeting

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2018) …The American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) selected Alexandra May, a chemical engineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, as a finalist for the Willem Kolff Award at its 64th annual meeting. The award, named after the late Dutch physician who invented the original artificial kidney, recognizes the top abstracts at each annual meeting. May is a graduate student in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Cardiovascular Bioengineering Training Program and works in the Medical Devices Laboratory under the direction of William Federspiel, a William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt. The lab develops clinically significant devices for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. May’s research focuses on the development of the Pittsburgh Pediatric Ambulatory Lung (P-PAL), an artificial lung device developed to bridge pediatric acute or chronic lung failure patients to transplant. The P-PAL integrates the blood pump and gas exchanging hollow fiber membrane bundle into a single compact unit and provides 70 percent to 90 percent of the patient’s oxygenation needs. The compact design of the P-PAL provides children with increased mobility pre-transplant, a factor which has been shown to improve post-transplant outcomes. The ASAIO Annual Meeting was held June 13-16, 2018 in Washington, D.C. May’s abstract titled Acute in vivo Performance of a Pediatric Ambulatory Artificial Lung was awarded second place out of approximately 300 accepted abstracts, and she presented her work during the conference’s opening general session. “Alex deserves this recognition,” said Federspiel. “She is an extremely hard worker and devoutly dedicated to our mission of improving the lives of kids with respiratory failure.” ###

Jun
18
2018

Swanson School professors capture award to improve engineering instruction and learning

Electrical & Computer, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2018) … When imagining a college classroom, one might imagine a professor standing at a podium and lecturing a room full of students taking notes. A pair of professors from the University of Pittsburgh want to reimagine this simplistic approach with a more interactive experience. Renee Clark, research assistant professor of industrial engineering, and Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, hope to impact education at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering through widespread propagation of active learning. In an effort to strengthen the role of teaching at Pitt, the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE) created the Innovation in Education Awards Program to support faculty proposals which aim to reinvent traditional classroom instruction. Clark and Dickerson received one of eight awards this year for their project. “With active learning, we ask students to do something in the classroom beyond just listening to a lecture and taking notes,” explained Clark. “Students should be engaged and interacting with class content. Whether through brainstorming solutions to a problem, solving calculations in a group, or writing a one-minute reflection at the end of class, the goal is to have professors take a step back from lecturing and allow students to participate in the lesson. This promotes critical thinking and improves knowledge retention” Clark began working with Dickerson in July 2016 after they attended a Swanson School active learning workshop. They decided that they wanted to take their experience a step further and coach other instructors in how they can implement what they learned from this workshop in their classrooms. Clark and Dickerson’s project will begin this summer with a cohort of nine professors. This pilot group will work to implement simple active learning activities for their courses in two engineering departments (IE and ECE). Clark said, “We want to create a supportive learning community where we can exchange ideas and plans for the use of active learning.” Clark and Dickerson will coach each of the professors throughout the school year by observing their classrooms and giving feedback. At the end of the year, they will reunite the professors for a focus group to further improve their model for future participants. While there are many useful advanced active learning techniques, Clark and Dickerson plan to start simple. Dickerson’s implementation of the “think, pair, share” activity in his classroom demonstrates the success of this approach. He explains, “Rather than starting a class with an example and running through it, you give the students a problem, allow them to individually think about it, then ask them to come up with a solution as a group.” He discovered that using this activity changed the dynamic of his classroom. He said, “It became completely normal for students to speak up when they didn’t understand a concept or offer help to peers who were struggling with certain topics.” The ease of execution is a selling point for instructors who may debate changing their classroom structure. “Many professors do not have the time for more-involved active learning so we are sharing simple activities that require little preparation,” Clark said. “Instructors can introduce these methods on the fly or in response to a lack of classroom interaction. It is easy to stop a lecture and allow students to think about what they’re learning.” Dickerson has found that using these activities has been beneficial to more than just the students. He said, “Using active learning has helped me reflect on the way I teach; what I thought were easy concepts, were not. This strategy has allowed me to reevaluate my lessons and improve student comprehension.” Clark and Dickerson have had positive feedback on their efforts and found that students quickly become comfortable in this kind of environment. Based on data collected over the past two years, simple active learning has also positively impacted exam scores. This response encouraged them to apply to the Innovation in Education program and adapt their experience into a school-wide effort. Dickerson said, “Although these types of teaching techniques work well, the number of adopters is low. We want to change that.” The overall goal of this project is to have other Swanson School professors adapt this successful model to their classrooms. They hope to enhance student engagement, increase information retention, and improve students’ ability to use gained knowledge. “We want to make classrooms more learner-centered. In a teacher-centered environment, the focus is on content delivery. With a learner-centered classroom, we switch the spotlight to the student,” said Clark. “With simple active learning, class may still be lecture based, but you add some elements to make the students more active and turn the focus on them.” ###

Jun
18
2018

When It Rains, It Pours for Pitt IE Awards

Industrial, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2018) … The scholarships came pouring in with the spring rain this year for several students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Industrial Engineering (IE). Two IE professional organizations announced five scholarships last month to support the students’ tuition during the 2018-19 academic year. “So many of our students work incredibly hard in their classes yet still manage to engage with professional societies and lay the groundwork for their upcoming careers,” said Karen Bursic, associate professor of industrial engineering and director of the IE undergraduate program. “We always look forward to this kind of recognition for their outstanding efforts and encouragement for their professional futures.”The Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) awarded three scholarships to Pitt IE students during its annual meeting, which took place from May 19-22 in Orlando, Fla. The award recipients and their scholarships were:• Dina Perlic, Dwight D. Gardner Scholarship• Regina Munsch, Harold & Inge Marcus Scholarship• Marni Sirota, Marvin Mundel Memorial ScholarshipThe IISE awards scholarships to active members enrolled full time in graduate or undergraduate industrial engineering programs. Recipients must have an overall grade-point-average of 3.40 or higher. They must be nominated by IE department heads or faculty advisors. The IISE evaluates nominees based on scholastic ability, character, leadership, and potential service to the industrial engineering profession.The Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc. (MHEFI) awarded two scholarships to Pitt IE students. The award recipients and their scholarships were:• Julie Shields, Rack Manufacturers Institute/John Nofsinger Honor Scholarship• Dina Perlic, Southworth International Group, Inc. Honor ScholarshipScholarships from the MHEFI range from $1,500 to $6,000. Students must have completed at least two years of study and must be enrolled or provide proof of plans to enroll as a full-time undergraduate or graduate student. All applicants must have maintained a “B” equivalent grade point average in post-secondary studies.About IISESystems world view. Productivity. Efficiency. These are words that describe the distinctive attributes of industrial engineering, and IISE is the world's largest professional society dedicated solely to the support of the industrial engineering profession and individuals involved with improving quality and productivity. Founded in 1948, IISE is an international, nonprofit association that provides leadership for the application, education, training, research, and development of industrial engineering. ISEs figure out a better way to do things and work in a wide array of professional areas, including management, manufacturing, logistics, health systems, retail, service, and ergonomics. They influence policy and implementation issues regarding topics such as sustainability, innovation, and Six Sigma. And like the profession, ISEs are rooted in the sciences of engineering, the analysis of systems, and the management of people. About MHEFIThe Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc. is an independent charitable organization that was established in 1976 with a mission to promote the study of material handling, logistics and supply chains by exposing students and educators to the industry through financial support. Since 1976, more than $2.5 million in scholarships and grants have been awarded to students at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
14
2018

Postdoctoral Positions in Neural Engineering

Bioengineering, Open Positions

Positions are available at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Bioengineering. Our group focuses on seamlessly integrating the brain to implantable technologies by studying the molecular, cellular, and tissue-scale processes that regulate regeneration, inflammation, and electrical or optical recording and stimulation of the brain. Projects involve using brain-computer interfaces to study and treat the progression of neurological diseases and brain injuries. Postdoctoral Associate candidates will possess a Ph.D. degree in a related field including but not limited to, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Optics, Material Science, and Mathematics. Animal surgery experience is preferred. The candidate should have a strong research background in neural engineering, in vivo electrophysiology, or in vivo two-photon microscopy. Experience with biomaterial fabrication, electrochemistry, material characterization, neural tissue histology, functional/evoked electrophysiology/imaging, functional electrical stimulation, neurochemical sensing, and advanced biological imaging (two-photon and confocal microscopy) are desired. Successful candidate will work on the chronic neural interface with special focus on implant-tissue interaction. Candidate will be working with an interdisciplinary team of neural engineers, neuroscientists, neurosurgeon, biologists, and material scientists. The research environment at the University of Pittsburgh includes a dynamic community of bioengineers. Contemporary Pittsburgh is a diverse vibrant city undergoing a renaissance led by world class Universities and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The University of Pittsburgh is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. Interested applicants should forward their CV, statement of research interests, and references to: TK Kozai (tdk18@pitt.edu)Assistant Professor of Bioengineering University of PittsburghPittsburgh PA 15219 The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates. We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Jun
11
2018

Breaking Tradition: PittServes Students Spend “Alternative May Break” in Iceland

Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 11, 2018) … Spring break evokes images of palm trees, white sand beaches, and the gentle ocean breeze. But what about Icelandic Birch trees, black sand lava fields, and 70 mile-per-hour arctic winds? Although a mainstream beach trip might sound tempting after a long winter studying, a group of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s PittServes office had no trouble trading fun in the sun for lending a hand in Iceland.As part of the inaugural PittServes Alternative May Break, a dozen University of Pittsburgh students traveled to Iceland for the opportunity to learn about sustainability issues while helping local organizations with service projects. The trip took place from May 13 – 23 and was co-sponsored by PittServes, the Student Office of Sustainability, and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation.  “The students spent 10 days learning about the successes and challenges of sustainability in Southern Iceland, worked on sustainability focused services projects at Sólheimar eco-village, and collaborated with Iceland’s oldest conservation organization Landvernd,” said Erika Ninos, PittServes sustainability program coordinator and staff representative for the trip.Sólheimar, the world’s oldest eco-village, is home to roughly 100 people, nearly half of whom live with disabilities. The community houses the nation’s largest solar panel, the only certified organic farm on the island, and a sustainability education hub called the Sesseljuhús Center for Sustainable Development, which is named after the community’s founder Sesselja. Her vision to create a self-sustaining, equitable, and enriching community continues today, almost 90 years since its founding. The Sólheimar community hosted the Pitt students for most of the trip.“One aspect of service in a different community, whether it be three or 3,000 miles away, is getting to know the community before and during the service experience. This is essential to make an impactful and lasting difference,” said Ellie Cadden, who will start her junior year this fall studying Environmental Studies at Pitt.At Sólheimar, the students spent their time volunteering to improve two main areas: the “Troll Garden” and the “Tree Museum.” The former is a garden used as a food source and for therapeutic exercise with a large troll statue at the entrance; the latter is an arboretum for housing and preserving Iceland’s biological diversity.“There are only three native tree species in Iceland, and only roughly four percent of the land has sufficient forests today. To have this ‘Tree Museum’ with about 36 different types of tree species which can thrive in the Icelandic climate is precious,” explained Cadden.The PittServes volunteers didn’t get to catch waves or soak up rays for their break. Instead they got to discuss sustainability with writer and environmental activist Andri Snœr Magnason, visit Iceland’s largest geothermal power plant Hellisheiði, and plant 1,200 trees to combat soil erosion in the foothills of Mount Hekla, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. After all, they still spent their spring break on a beautiful, exotic island in the Atlantic Ocean.Read the PittServes AltBreak daily blog and see more photos from the trip at: https://www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/pittserves/altbreak/iceland/ ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
7
2018

Capturing light in a waveguide array

Electrical & Computer

Originally published by Penn State University Eberly College of Science. Reposted with permission. UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cheaper and more efficient photonic devices, such as lasers, optical fibers and other light sources, may be possible with confined light that is unaffected by imperfections in the material that confines it, according to new research. A team of physicists and engineers from Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois have demonstrated in a proof-of-concept experiment that they can contain light in such a way that makes it highly insensitive to defects that might be present in a material. The results of the research appeared online on June 4 in the journal Nature Photonics (DOI: 10.1038/s41566-018-0179-3). “Photonic technology involves the generation, transmission and manipulation of light, and it is used ubiquitously across industries,” said Mikael Rechtsman, the Downsbrough Early Career Assistant Professor of Physics at Penn State and the leader of the research team. “It underlies the fiber optic network that forms the skeleton of the internet; solar cells used in the generation of sustainable energy; and high-power lasers used in manufacturing, among many other applications. Finding a way to confine and manipulate light so that it is insensitive to defects could have a huge impact on this technology. To confine the light, the researchers used a complex lattice structure composed of “waveguides” precisely carved in glass. These waveguides act like wires, but for light instead of electricity. In this structure, light enters at one end of the waveguide and gets trapped and confined as it propagates forward through the wires. There, the trapped light becomes immune to imperfections in the positions of the waveguides, and thus significant imperfections in the structure can be tolerated. “The light becomes insensitive because of the phenomenon of ‘topological protection,'” said Rechtsman. “This concept has been used extensively in the context of solid-state electronic physics. The waveguide structure is a photonic analogue of the so-called ‘topological crystalline insulators,’ and this form of topological protection can potentially be used across a range of photonic devices, including in nano-scale lasers, specialized nonlinear optical fibers, and for robustly and precisely coupling between photons and electrons for manipulating quantum information.” "From the perspective of photonic engineers, this is an wonderful learning opportunity to see the connections betwee