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Jul

Jul
9
2020

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards three novel biomedical projects with $60,000 in Round 1 2020 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 1, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $60,000 to three research groups through its 2020 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a virus-resistant wear-resistant textile, a system for removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies, and a biocontainment unit for reducing viral transmission to healthcare workers and patients CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: “Wash-Stable and Mechanically Durable Anti-Virofouling Medical Textiles”For the development of a nanoparticle-based reusable textile for use in healthcare settings. Paul W. Leu, PhD;  Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRobert Shanks , PhD  Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, UPMC                                                 Eric Romanowski, MS,  Research Director, Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiolog AWARD 2: “Targeted removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies” For an extracorporeal hemoperfusion device that removes plasma hemoglobin from a blood column using treated porous beads. Nahmah Kim-Campbell, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and PediatricsWilliam Federspiel, PhD; Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRyan Orizondo, PhD  Researcher in Bioenengineering, Swanson School of Engineerin AWARD 3: “Individual Biocontainment Unit for Reducing Viral Transmission to healthcare Workers and Patients”For the expedited development, approval and manufacture of a novel device for use with ICU patients to reduce contamination by aerosolized particles. David M. Turer, MD, MS Department of Plastic Surgery, UPMCHeng Ban, PhD; Professor Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Swanson School of EngineeringJ.Peter Rubin, MD;  Chairman, Dept of Plastic Surgery, UPMC # # # About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.

Jul
8
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Secure 2020 Pitt Seed Funding

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

Click here to read Pittwire’s original story about all eleven awards. PITTSBURGH (July 8, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh created the Pitt Seed Grant to support faculty and staff proposals that advance the six goals in the Plan for Pitt. Eleven projects, including two from the Swanson School of Engineering, received funding in the 2020 award cycle. “Our call for proposals received a great response—and I congratulate this year’s grantees. Many of the projects funded this year reflect our continued commitment to social justice and active outreach to communities in need,” said Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor. “We have committed support to projects that reflect our deep interest in further exploring ways to evaluate teaching effectiveness, as well as to probe innovations in both the advising and remote learning spaces. All of this is important work—and I am very excited to support these extremely interesting initiatives.” The Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering received two awards for projects that enhance research collaborations and extend student experiences beyond the classroom. “I want to congratulate Brandon and Joe on receiving the Pitt Seed Funding. Engineering at its core involves designing solutions to real-world problems,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “One of the critical aspects of learning is the ability to apply scientific and technical knowledge to creative design, and both of these projects will provide our students hands-on experiences and the opportunity to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom setting.” The winning bioengineering proposal summaries are: XProjects Applied Research XPlorationBrandon Barber, BioE design, innovation and outreach coordinator The purpose of the XProjects Applied Research XPloration (XARX) is to further develop the Pitt XProject program’s internal research collaborations and explore new applications of ongoing research, while simultaneously providing students with co-curricular design/engineering experiences that go beyond the classroom. The diverse multidisciplinary teams employ a rigorous process and a proven suite of tools to navigate fast-paced project work, all while gaining practice with project management, prototyping and negotiating stakeholder-client relationships. This innovative approach to design education also creates an environment where students can gain the experience they need to more confidently approach and define complex problems. Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World ImpactJoseph Samosky, assistant professor Classroom to Community is for students who want to creatively design and invent solutions for real-world problems and needs. Space, resources and mentorship will be provided for students to learn powerful human-centered design tools and methods, build bridges with community partners and create diverse teams from different backgrounds, majors and schools. Together we will co-create an engaging, multidisciplinary experience for students to explore, envision, share and learn from faculty partners and each other as they translate their ideas into something new in the world that benefits others. The project’s ultimate goals are to foster a culture of innovation, agency and service; empower students to discover their creative potential; and become agents of positive change. # # #

Jul
7
2020

Searching for the Silver Lining in Drinking Water Disinfection

Covid-19, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (July 7, 2020) … As workplaces prepare to reopen, precautionary measures like plexiglass barriers and sanitizer stations have been put in place to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Researchers and public health experts, however, warn that this might not be the only health concern to worry about. Buildings that have been relatively abandoned for months likely have stagnant water in the plumbing, and if not treated properly, this can be a breeding ground for bacteria. The National Science Foundation awarded a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh $330,000 to examine the effect that silver, embedded in shower fixtures, has on water disinfection. “While the context of our proposed research is showers in homes, offices, healthcare facilities, and gyms under normal operation, the COVID-19 pandemic introduces a new relevance to our project,” said Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and lead researcher on the study. Municipally treated drinking water is not sterile. Instead, it is home to many types of microbes, the majority of which are not harmful. “Typically, the drinking water entering buildings contains a disinfectant residual, such as chlorine, to help prevent and reduce microbial growth,” explained Sarah Haig, assistant professor of CEE at Pitt. “However, changes in water chemistry, building fixtures and building operation, like the long periods without water use (stagnation) recently observed across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic will have unexpected consequences on building water quality.” According to Haig, the long stretches of stagnation can result in low to no disinfection residual being present in building water. This creates an ideal growth environment for many microbes such as Legionella pneumophila. Opportunistic pathogens (OPs) like Legionella pneumophila, which causes the respiratory Legionnaires’ disease, can become airborne simply by turning on a faucet or flushing a toilet. This poses an additional public health threat to a world that is already in the midst of a pandemic. There are various strategies for preventing illness, but researchers have yet to discover a perfect solution. The research will take place at Haig's INHALE Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. Credit: Dr. Sarah Haig. “Water fixtures containing silver are believed to eliminate bacteria due to the antimicrobial properties of this heavy metal; however, heavy metal exposure is also known to transform some bacteria into antibiotic resistant forms,” said Gilbertson. Antibiotic resistance is a major threat to global health, food security, and development so Gilbertson and her colleagues will use this award to determine if these silver-coated fixtures provide a viable solution or are perhaps doing more harm than good. “Many aspects of both the water composition and water fixtures can influence how much and how fast silver interacts with bacteria,” explained Jill Millstone, associate professor of chemistry at Pitt. “We’ll work to quantify these factors and make connections between the presence of OPs and the amount, type, and rate of silver release. Uncovering these relationships should lead to more effective fixture design that maximizes antimicrobial activity and minimizes resistance build-up.” Janet E. Stout, president of the Special Pathogens Laboratory and an internationally recognized expert on Legionella, will also contribute to this work. “Conditions in the water systems of about 50 percent of large buildings promote Legionella growth and spread. Fatal infections occur at a rate of up to 30 percent in hospitals and 10 percent in the community. This research explores how we might interrupt the spread right at the fixture,” said Stout, who also holds and appointment as research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. The research will leverage the unique capabilities of Haig’s INHALE Lab, which houses three full-size shower stalls, each with its own water heater and three showerheads. This enables the research team to investigate the influence of different showerhead materials. The findings will reveal if silver is an effective strategy to mitigate bacteria in shower water as well as if it potentially induces antibiotic resistance. # # #

Jul
7
2020

Two Pitt Researchers Receive Manufacturing Innovation Challenge Funding for COVID-19 Response

Covid-19, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 7, 2020) — COVID-19 has spurred research partnerships across sectors and industries. Two University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering faculty members, who are partnering with Pennsylvania companies, have recently each received $25,000 in funding from Pennsylvania’s Manufacturing PA Innovation Program COVID-19 Challenge to continue addressing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic spread, the N95 masks—which include respirator filters that block out contaminants like the virus that causes COVID-19—were increasingly difficult to find. Xiayun Zhao and Markus Chmielus, assistant professors of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) at Pitt, both received funding for their projects developing alternative, reusable filters for N95 masks. “The response by the MEMS Department in aiding to address needs during this COVID-19 pandemic has been impressive, and I particularly applaud the efforts of Professors Zhao and Chmielus who are applying their expertise in advanced manufacturing in this response," said Brian Gleeson, Harry S. Tack Chair Professor of MEMS. Zhao is partnering with Du-Co Ceramics Company on a project entitled “Rapid Manufacturing of Polymer-Derived Ceramic Films for Respirators.” This partnership will use polymer-derived ceramics (PDCs) to create ceramic filter films for N95 masks. The project will take advantage of photopolymerization-based additive manufacturing to rapidly create reusable and sterilizable ceramic filters. Chmielus is working with the ExOne Company on a reusable N95 filters that uses metal binder-jet 3D printing. ExOne’s binder jetting technology is a high-speed form of 3D printing that can produce metal parts with specific porosity levels that can effectively filter out contaminants while allowing airflow. The reusable copper and stainless-steel filters are being designed to fit into a respirator cartridge for sustainable, long-term protection. Zhao and Chmielus are part of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Advanced Manufacturing (UPCAM) Materials Engineering and Processing group, which “supports fundamental research addressing the interrelationship of materials processing, structure, properties and/or life-cycle performance for targeted applications,” according to the website.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
2
2020

The Department of Energy Awards $1.9M to Swanson School Faculty and Students for Nuclear Energy Research

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (July 2, 2020) … Humankind is consuming more energy than ever before, and with this growth in consumption, researchers must develop new power technologies that will address these needs. Nuclear power remains a fast-growing and reliable sector of clean, carbon-free energy, and four researchers at the University of Pittsburgh received awards to further their work in this area. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) invested more than $65 million to advance nuclear technology, announced June 16, 2020. Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering received a total of $1,868,500 in faculty and student awards from the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP). According to the DOE, “NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.” “Historically, our region has been a leader in the nuclear energy industry, and we are trying to keep that tradition alive at the Swanson School by being at the forefront of this field,” said Heng Ban, Richard K. Mellon Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Swanson School’s Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program. “I’m thrilled that the Department of Energy has recognized the innovative work from our faculty, and I look forward to seeing the advancements that arise from this research.” The DOE supported three projects from the Swanson School. High Temperature Thermophysical Property of Nuclear Fuels and MaterialsPI: Heng Ban, Richard K. Mellon Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program$300,000 Ban, a leading expert in nuclear material thermal properties and reactor instrumentation and measurements, will use this award to enhance research at Pitt by filling an infrastructure gap.  He will purchase key equipment to strengthen core nuclear capability in the strategic thrust area of instrumentation and measurements. A laser flash analyzer and a thermal mechanical analyzer (thermal expansion) will be purchased as a tool suite for complete thermophysical property information. Fiber Sensor Fused Additive Manufacturing for Smart Component Fabrication for Nuclear Energy PI: Kevin Chen, Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer EngineeringCo-PI: Albert To, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science$1,000,000 The Pitt research team will utilize unique technical capabilities developed in the SSoE to lead efforts in sensor-fused additive manufacturing for future nuclear energy systems. Through integrated research efforts in radiation-harden distributed fiber sensor fabrication, design and optimization algorithm developments, and additive manufacturing innovation, the team will deliver smart components to nuclear energy systems to harness high spatial resolution data. This will enable artificial intelligence based data analytics for operation optimization and condition-based maintenance for nuclear power systems. Multicomponent Thermochemistry of Complex Chloride Salts for Sustainable Fuel Cycle TechnologiesPI: Wei Xiong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceCo-PIs: Prof. Elizabeth Sooby Wood (University of Texas at San Antonio), Dr. Toni Karlsson (Idaho National Laboratory), and Dr. Guy Fredrickson (Idaho National Laboratory)$400,000 Nuclear reactors help bring clean water and reliable energy to communities across the world. Next-generation reactor design, especially small modular reactors, will be smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, but they will require high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) as fuel. As the demand for HALEU is expected to grow significantly, Xiong’s project seeks to improve the process of recovering uranium from spent nuclear fuels to produce HALEU ingots. Part of the process involves pyrochemical reprocessing based on molten salt electrolysis. Hence, developing a thermodynamic database using the CALPHAD (Calculation of Phase Diagrams) approach to estimate the solubilities of fission product chloride salts into the molten electrolyte is essential for improving the process efficiency. The results will help in estimating the properties that are essential for improving the HALEU production and further support the development of chloride molten salt reactors. Two Swanson School students also received awards from NEUP. Jerry Potts, a senior mechanical engineering student, received a $7,500 nuclear energy scholarship, one of 42 students in the nation. Iza Lantgios (BS ME ‘20), a matriculating mechanical engineering graduate student, was one of 34 students nationwide to be awarded a $161,000 fellowship. Swanson School students have secured 20 NEUP scholarships and fellowships since 2009. # # #

Jun

Jun
30
2020

Is Remote Work Helping to Keep Air Pollution at Bay?

Covid-19, MEMS

In March 2020, much of the country felt like it came to a standstill: People were not commuting to and from work or class, traveling to conferences, or going on vacations. All but the most essential businesses and manufacturers shut their doors, major events were canceled, and people stayed at home. There was one other big change: The air got better. Katherine Hornbostel (Credit: Ramon Cordero) In Pittsburgh, the Group Against Smog and Pollution reported particulate matter concentrations were 23 percent lower than expected since stay-at-home orders took effect. Nitrogen dioxide pollution over northern China, Western Europe and the U.S. decreased by as much as 60 percent in early 2020 compared to the previous year. Now, as businesses begin to reopen and life seeks a new normal, what will happen to those remarkable gains in air quality? And what can any of us do about it? Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has a few suggestions. Her research focuses on carbon capture technology: novel ways to remove carbon dioxide, one of the biggest drivers of air pollution and climate change, from the air and water. “The fact that our air has improved since the shutdown makes perfect sense. Some of the biggest contributors to air pollution—flying and driving—have declined dramatically,” said Hornbostel. “Companies shutting down also improved air quality because they stopped emitting carbon dioxide and other pollutants.” Though research suggests the air quality gains the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it are likely to dissipate as business resumes and factories work overtime to make up for lost time, Hornbostel notes that the air quality improvement proved that we can make a difference relatively quickly. As the economy reopens, Hornbostel recommends three changes to help keep our air clean: 1. Remote Work Global Workplace Analytics estimated that 56 percent of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with remote work. One of the most obvious ways to protect our air long-term, Hornbostel suggests, is for employers to allow their employees to continue working from home in the future. “Remote work is an obvious way to cut emissions because people won’t have to drive so much. If companies adopt more flexible policies about employees working from home full- or part-time, it could make a big difference for the environment,” she said. Since the stay-at-home order took effect in Allegheny County, for example, traffic on the Parkway East was reduced so much that air particulates were 13 percent below normal. “Moving forward, I would love to see companies adopt a more flexible stance towards remote work. Not only will this help the environment, it will also prevent employee burnout and instill a culture of work-life balance.” 2. Find Ways Around Business Travel People whose jobs rely on frequent travel have found new ways of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a good thing, Hornbostel said. The less flying we do, the better, as air travel is responsible for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. “I think a lot of people are discovering that we don’t really need to travel as much as we do,” she said. “Virtual conferences and meetings are often perfectly adequate substitutes for traveling to a remote site. I’d love to see more conferences and workshops go virtual or at least offer a virtual option for participants who don’t wish to travel.” 3. Explore Your Own Backyard Cutting air travel’s large carbon footprint is a difficult task. However, this pandemic has proven that people are capable of getting by without getting on an airplane. Vacations to remote destinations used to be common for many Americans, but the pandemic forced us to make new plans and get creative with how we entertain ourselves and our children. Like many, Hornbostel found herself working from home while homeschooling small children. “I think we were all sort of living a frantic life before this pandemic hit, and after being forced to slow down, a lot of people are realizing how exhausting and unsustainable their previous lifestyle was,” she said. “As I’ve reflected on this change of pace and observed my children’s response to it, I’ve come to realize how much we all benefit from spending more time together at home. My kids don’t need to go to Disney World to be happy; they can still find joy by going to the park down the street. “Staying local can be fun. Staying home can be fun,” she said. “Do we really need to resume our frantic lives, or can we slow things down a bit?”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
29
2020

Reversing Drug Resistance in Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 29, 2020) … Roughly one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of  her lifetime, and HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancers represent about 25 percent of all breast cancer cases. Though multiple therapies exist, most patients will develop metastatic disease and resistance to current treatments. A collaborative research group from the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School studied the mechanisms behind tumor cell resistance to therapies targeting metastatic HER2+ breast cancer and recently published their work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2000648117). The group examined the tumor microenvironment -- a collection of cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround and influence tumor cells -- to get the full picture of what drives this resistance. They found that fibroblasts, a cell type important to tissue regeneration, play a large role. “Our study shows that fibroblasts promote drug resistance through a parallel signaling pathway in a subset of HER2+ breast cancer cells,” said Ioannis Zervantonakis, assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Cancer cells grow uncontrollably, which is partially driven by continuous activation of proteins called kinases. HER2+ breast tumors have high levels of the HER2 receptor kinase that is important for their growth and is a major drug target. Anti-cancer drugs -- like lapatinib -- work to interfere with kinases, but because of this parallel signaling, fibroblasts are able to protect tumor cells and counteract the drug’s inhibitory effects. Compare this cell-to-cell signaling process to communication through a radio. The radio antenna is analogous to a receptor in the cell that is activated when an electrical signal is received. Radios can have multiple antennas to respond to different electrical signals. “By analogy, cancer cells have multiple receptors (antennas) that can be activated by signals in their environment,” explained Zervantonakis. “In the radio example, transmission of an electrical signal produces a sound. While in cancer cells, fibroblast-derived signals stimulate cancer growth.” You can produce a series of sounds, and even amplify the volume, by receiving more than one signal at a time through activation of parallel pathways. “In this scenario, the HER2+ kinase is one signal that is continuously activating sound, and then there is another pathway through which signals emitted by fibroblasts activate sound,” he continued. “Lapatinib only blocks the HER2+ kinase signal, but through another pathway, the fibroblasts are able to transmit signals to keep the cancer cells alive or allow them to grow.” The findings in this paper are important for restoring sensitivity to breast cancer therapies and developing treatments that are more effective. “Sensitivity to these drugs can be re-established through a combination of therapies that inhibit critical proteins in the pathway activated by fibroblasts,” said Zervantonakis. “Particularly, combination therapies with the FDA-approved drug everolimus and investigational agents targeting anti-apoptotic proteins were effective in restoring drug sensitivity in fibroblast-protected cancer cells.” The next step for Zervantonakis and his lab is to create predictive mathematical models to identify the fibroblast density range in tumors that will elicit drug resistance. From there, they can develop personalized therapies to improve outcomes in HER2+ breast cancer. This research was supported by a K99/R00 grant (R00CA222554) from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health # # #

Jun
25
2020

Making a Sustainable Impact Throughout Pitt and Our Communities

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

"MCSI remains committed to addressing global sustainability issues, connecting our domestic and international pursuits to create synergies locally, nationally, and internationally. We hope you enjoy this summary of the past year’s impacts, and we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about the report's contents and MCSI's programs."

Jun
23
2020

Five Pitt Researchers Receive PA Department of Community and Economic Development Grants

Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (June 23, 2020) — Five researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have received grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) through the Manufacturing PA initiative. The DCED has approved more than $2.8 million in grants to 43 projects that will “spur new technologies and processes in the manufacturing sector,” according to their press release. “As engineers, we are applied scientists, and our singular goal in performing research is to produce public impact,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and John A. Swanson Professor of bioengineering. “I am proud that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania saw the potential of these projects by our Swanson School faculty and their industrial partners to have benefit to their citizens.” The five researchers to receive funding at the Swanson School are: Kevin Chen, Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering$67,991—Femtosecond Laser Manufacturing of 3D Photonics Components in Nonlinear Optical Substrates for Electro-Optic Applications Markus Chmielus, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Improving 3D Binder Jet Printed Tungsten-Carbide Parts via Strategies to Increase Green Density and Strength Jung-Kun Lee, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Smart Crucible: Monitoring Damage of Crucibles by Embedded Electric Resistance Sensor Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$69,450—A Computational Tool for Simulating the Sintering Behavior in Binder Jet Additive Manufacturing Xiayun Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science$70,000—Pushing the Boundaries of Ceramic Additive Manufacturing (CAM) with Visible light initiated Polymerization (ViP)
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
22
2020

Like Oil and Water

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 22, 2020) — In the petroleum industry, the ability to separate oil and water is critical. Oily wastewater from drilling and processing crude oil is the biggest waste stream in the oil and gas industry, which produces three times as much waste as it does product. Lei Li, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has received $110,000 from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund (PRF) for his work developing 3D-printed membranes that will aid in oil-water separation. The development could help convert the oily wastewater into purified, usable water. “The ideal case for a membrane that serves this purpose is a material that is oleophobic and hydrophilic—in other words, one that hates oil but loves water,” said Li.  “What’s new about this work is its focus on surface and in-pore topography: The texture of the surface of the material and even the texture inside of the pores of the material have a profound effect on the membrane’s effectiveness.” Current fluorinated hydrophilic and oleophobic membranes have been shown to be effective in the short-term but lose their properties in the long-term. Li’s method will instead rely on water as a thermodynamically stable material and will engineer the surface topography inside the membrane’s pores so that the water and oil remain separated. “Previously, such features were fabricated by nanolithography methods, which are slow and expensive. In this project, we propose to take advantage of two-photon polymerization 3D-printing technique,” explained Li. “Compared to traditional manufacturing technology, this provides a reasonably fast, single-step process to fabricate complicated structures.” Additionally, the high resolution that two-photon polymerization 3D-printing enables will allow the researchers to make the membrane’s pore size down to a few hundred nanometers, which is critical in separating oil-water emulsions. The grant will last for two years, beginning Sept. 1, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
19
2020

A Message from U.S. Steel Dean James Martin II on the 155th Celebration of Juneteenth

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



Jun
18
2020

Christopher Kirchhof, Coordinator of Transfer Student Services, Selected as NACADA Mentor for 2020-2022 Class of Emerging Leaders


PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2020) — NACADA, an association of professional advisors, counselors, faculty, administrators and students working to enhance the educational development of students, has named Christopher Kirchhof, coordinator of Transfer Student Services at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, as a mentor for its 2020-2022 Class of Emerging Leaders. Only ten mentors are selected internationally, and Kirchhof was selected for his commitment to the program and his involvement and leadership within the organization. The Emerging Leaders Program pairs 10 emerging leaders in the field of academic advising with an accomplished mentor who will help them gain skills, experience and knowledge that will help them fulfill leadership roles in the organization, and beyond. The program was created with the goal of encouraging members from diverse groups to become involved in leadership opportunities within the organization. “Chris’ work with transfer students is instrumental. He works across departmental lines to bring students to campus and makes them welcomed as new students who need the same level of orientation to the Swanson School as our first-year engineering students,” says Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean for academic affairs. “His nationally award-winning transfer engineering student transfer seminar was such a success that we made it required for all our SSOE transfer students.” Besterfield-Sacre is also Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Industrial Engineering and director of the Engineering Education Research Center. Each year, the Swanson School welcomes an average of 250 transfer students; approximately one-third of Pitt's engineering undergraduates are transfer students. Kirchhof has held several leadership positions within the organization since joining in 2009: He is currently serving as chair for Region 2, a two-year position that will end in October 2020, and was recently elected as Regional Division representative on the NACADA Council. He was previously chair for the Advising Community Advising Transfer Students, Western Pennsylvania Liaison, and co-chair of the 2017 Regional Conference in Pittsburgh. “To be able to attain and succeed in leadership roles in an organization like NACADA, institutional support is needed first and foremost. Associate Director and Coordinator of Advising Jill Harvey, Director of Engineering Student Services Cheryl Paul, and Associate Dean Mary Besterfield-Sacre have been supportive of my attending these conferences and other NACADA leadership activities,” said Kirchhof. As mentor, Kirchhof will provide his experience and expertise to the Emerging Leaders, but he looks forward to what he can learn from the next generation of academic advisors, as well. “I believe that willingness to share one’s promising practices, network with advisors at other schools, and volunteer to collaborate is key to putting oneself out there and becoming a leader in NACADA. I look forward to working with the new class of mentees and learning more about what the next wave of academic advisors and leaders are working on at their campuses,” said Kirchhof. “This selection is not only a strong validation of my hard work in NACADA, but also validates the work we do in helping the transfer students in the Swanson School of Engineering.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
18
2020

Researching resilience

Electrical & Computer

Grid and infrastructure resilience are increasingly important, while a relatively ‘new concept’ in terms of today’s modern grid, and its dynamic environment. With the increase in natural disasters, and as the northern hemisphere goes into what is commonly known as ‘storm season’, Smart Energy International spoke with Dr. Alexis Kwasinski, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Kwasinski specializes in grid resilience research in areas prone to natural disasters and extreme weather. Read the full article.
Smart Energy International Issue 3 2020
Jun
17
2020

New bacteria-repelling textile coating could make PPE last longer

Industrial

Listen to the broadcast at WESA-FM. New bacteria-repelling textile coating could make PPE last longer(8:48 — 13:20) The need for masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment for health care workers and those on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak has soared over the last few months, leading to shortages across the country. When the masks and gowns are reused, the textiles used to make them can absorb and carry viruses and bacteria resulting in the spread of the very diseases the wearer was trying to contain. Paul Leu, an associate professor in Industrial Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and Anthony Galante, a 4th year Ph.D. student in the same department are working on a textile coating that could help solve some of these problems that have been magnified by the coronavirus pandemic. Leu says the coating repels liquids like blood and saliva, along with some viruses. “Even though we haven’t tested it directly on SARS-CoV-2, we do think that it is likely to be able to repel this because SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted through respiratory droplets and the coating can repel droplets from saliva,” says Leu. Despite the technology’s potential promise, he says it’s difficult to predict when this technology might become available. “We need to be very careful about accelerating development of materials for actual application,” Leu tells The Confluence. “There’s an urgency to all of this right now, and that’s why we want to try to get this out quickly, but we also want to make sure, you know, that this is something that will really be useful.”
Kevin Gavin, 90.5 WESA-FM
Jun
16
2020

Department of Industrial Engineering Welcomes Nordenberg Scholar to Class of 2024

Industrial, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2020) — The Nordenberg Scholars Program, named for the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Emeritus Mark A. Nordenberg, selects five incoming first-year students from across Pennsylvania each year who demonstrate leadership skills, innovative thinking, intellectual curiosity and community involvement. This year, one of the five students, Pedro Schmitt, will pursue industrial engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. Pedro Schmitt, from Gibsonia, Pa., graduated from Aquinas Academy. In his time there, he participated in extensive community service work and in various entrepreneurial academic programs, and he completed an exchange program in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A native of Brazil, Schmitt moved to the U.S. in 2014. “We are thrilled to welcome Pedro to the Department of Industrial Engineering,” said Bopaya Bidanda, Ernest E. Roth Professor and Chair of Industrial Engineering. “I look forward to the contributions that he will make to our Department and community, both in and out of the classroom.” The Nordenberg Scholarship is a competitive, full-tuition scholarship that also covers a full-time Pitt study abroad experience and assistance securing internships. This year, nearly 900 high school seniors applied for the program, which requires an extensive application and interview process. The full list of 2020 Nordenberg Scholars is: Pedro Schmitt (Gibsonia Pa.), Industrial Engineering Kim Le (West Chester, Pa.), Microbiology Thomas Barnes (Havertown, Pa.), Pre-Social Work Samurah Curry (Clarion, Pa.), Economics Camryn Rogers (Pottstown, Pa.), Nursing
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
16
2020

A Micro Look at Metastatic Environments in Ovarian Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 16, 2020) … According to the American Cancer Society, a woman's risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 78. The majority of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed with metastatic disease that spreads to other parts of the body and have a low five-year survival rate. Ioannis Zervantonakis, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received an award from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation to develop microfluidic models of metastatic microenvironments in ovarian cancer and study mechanisms of cancer cell survival in these microenvironments. The tumor microenvironment is the collection of cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround tumor cells. Tumor growth, metastasis, and response to therapy is governed by a complex interaction network between tumor cells and those components. “We hypothesize that during the early steps of metastasis formation, ovarian cancer cells recruit macrophages that in turn disrupt mesothelial barrier function to support adhesion and invasion,” said Zervantonakis, who runs the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering. In this project, they will use microfluidic technology, which allows researchers to create precise and controlled environments that can mimic human systems. Zervantonakis will develop a novel microfluidic device that will recreate a dynamic tumor-macrophage-mesothelial 3D metastatic microenvironment. The research team will profile these metastatic microenvironments in vivo and evaluate the predictive capacity of the microfluidic device. They will also analyze ovarian cancer signaling in hopes of identifying targets that can be combined with current therapies to more effectively eliminate disease. “Understanding cell behavior in native tumor microenvironments and developing new strategies to deliver therapeutics directly to tumor cells are critical in improving and extending patients’ lives,” said Zervantonakis. # # #

Jun
15
2020

Pitt Engineer Maintains a Laser Focus to Grow Nanocarbons on Flexible Devices

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2020) … Fabrication of flexible and wearable electronics often requires integrating various types of advanced carbon nanomaterials - such as graphene, nanotubes, and nanoporous carbon - because of their remarkable electrical, thermal, and chemical properties. However, the extreme environments needed to chemically synthesize these nanomaterials means they can only be fabricated on rigid surfaces that can withstand high temperatures. Printing already-made nanocarbons onto flexible polymeric materials is generally the only option, but limits the potential customization. To overcome this limitation, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are investigating a new scalable manufacturing method for creating customizable types of nanocarbons on-demand - directly where they are needed - on flexible materials. The research is led by Mostafa Bedewy, assistant professor of industrial engineering at Pitt, who received a $244,748 EAGER award from the National Science Foundation in support of this effort. The project, “Transforming Flexible Device Manufacturing by Bottom-up Growth of Nanocarbons Directly on Polymers,” will enable patterning functional nanocarbons needed for a number of emerging flexible-device applications in healthcare, energy, and consumer electronics. Bedewy’s group is already working on another NSF-funded project that utilizes a custom-designed reactor to grow “nanotube forests” through a process called chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This enables the synthesis of carbon nanotubes from catalyst nanoparticles by the decomposition of carbon-containing gases. The process, however, is not suitable for growing nanocarbons directly onto commercial polymers. “When we grow nanocarbons by CVD on silicon, it requires temperatures exceeding 700 degrees Celsius, in the presence of hydrocarbon gases and hydrogen,” explained Bedewy, who leads the NanoProduct Lab in the Swanson School's Department of Industrial Engineering. “While silicon can tolerate those conditions, polymers can’t, so CVD is out of the question.” Instead, Bedewy’s group will utilize a laser in a similar way that common laser engraving machines function. When manufacturing flexible devices, current methods of printing carbon on polymers are limited in scalability and patterning resolution. This new laser-based method addresses these limitations. Rather than printing graphene from graphene ink, nanotubes from nanotube ink, and so on, the polymer material itself will act as the carbon source in the new process, and different types of nanocarbons can then grow from the polymer, like grass in a lawn - but instead of using sunlight, through a controlled laser. “This approach allows us to control the carbon atomic structure, nanoscale morphology, and properties precisely in a scalable way,” said Bedewy. “Our research provides a tremendous opportunity to rapidly customize the type of nanocarbon needed for different devices on the same substrate without the need for multiple inks and successive printing steps.” Producing functional nanocarbons in this manner will also enable high-rate roll-to-roll processing, which can potentially make manufacturing flexible electronics as fast and as inexpensive as printing newspapers. “The multi-billion dollar global market for flexible electronics is still in its infancy, and is expected to grow exponentially because of accelerating demand in many applications,” Bedewy said “Exploring potentially transformative carbon nanomanufacturing processes is critical for realizing cutting-edge technologies.” # # # According to the NSF, the EAGER funding mechanism may be used to support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches. This work may be considered especially "high risk-high payoff" in the sense that it, for example, involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

Jun
15
2020

A Raft That Won’t Save You

Covid-19, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2020) — A cell’s membrane acts as a natural shield, a fence around the cell that protects and contains it. It mediates processes that let nutrients through and let waste out, and it acts as a physical barrier to the entry of toxic substances and pathogens, like the viruses SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2, the one that causes COVID-19. Such pathogens, however, employ clever strategies to trick and penetrate the cell, thereby replicating themselves and infecting the human body. The virus deceives the membrane by exposing specific anti-receptors to which suitable cell's receptors normally bind. The virus tricks the receptors into believing that what’s landing is something else, namely an affine ligand, something that is safe. Such a process activates and grows thickened zones along the cell membrane, or "lipid rafts,” which are more likely to permit the virus to alter the cell’s membrane, yielding its entry into the cell. New interdisciplinary research published in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids sheds light on how and why the cell membrane forms and grows lipid rafts triggered by ligand-receptor activity. The work could lead to new strategies and innovative approaches to prevent or fight the action of the virus through the integration of biomedical and engineering knowledge. “Although lipid rafts’ influence on a cell’s response to external agents has been deeply investigated, the physical components of what takes place during ligand-binding has not yet been fully understood,” said Luca Deseri, research professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering in the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department, full professor and head of the graduate school in Engineering at DICAM-University of Trento in Italy, and corresponding author on the paper. “Our team used an interdisciplinary approach to better understand why active receptors tend to cluster on lipid rafts. More importantly, we confirm and predict the formation of the complex ligand receptors.” Through the studies of how mechanical forces and biochemical interactions affect the cell membrane, this research sheds light on the way localized thickening across cell membranes is triggered by the formation of the ligand-receptor complex. The researchers concluded that the formation of ligand-receptor complexes could not take place in thinner zones of the cell membrane; the thickening of the cell membrane provides the necessary force relief to allow for configurational changes of the receptors, which then become more prone to ligand binding Understanding the way viruses use lipid rafts to alter the cell wall could lead to new approaches to treat and prevent viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, from spreading in the body. The work is a joint effort between Deseri, Massimiliano Fraldi, full professor of solid and structural mechanics at the University of Naples-Federico II in Naples, Italy, and Nicola M. Pugno, full professor of solid and structural mechanics at DICAM-University of Trento. The research was also co-authored by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, from the University of Palermo, and from the University of Ferrara, where the experiments on the cells were performed. The paper, “Mechanobiology predicts raft formations triggered by ligand-receptor activity across the cell membrane,” (DOI: 10.1016/j.jmps.2020.103974) was published in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids. It was authored by Angelo R. Carotenuto, Laura Lunghi, Valentina Piccolo, Mahnoush Babaei, Kaushik Dayal, Nicola M. Pugno, Massimiliano Zingales, Luca Deseri and Massimiliano Fraldi. The researchers will submit related work to the Frontiers in Materials as part of a special issue, edited by Pugno, about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
15
2020

Building a Circular Chemical Economy

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2020) … Carbon dioxide is essential to plant and animal life, but in excess it negatively impacts the environment by absorbing and radiating heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. But what if we could recycle carbon dioxide by converting it into useful fuels and chemicals? The University of Pittsburgh’s James McKone is tackling this idea and was selected as a Beckman Young Investigator (BYI) by the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation for this work. “Over the last several decades, the cost of renewable electricity has dramatically decreased to the point where building a new solar or wind farm is, in many cases, more economical than continuing to run a coal-fired power plant,” said McKone, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “This is incredibly exciting because it means we can start to imagine what it would look like to power our whole society with carbon-free resources,” he said. Consider chemical manufacturing – the industry that produces most of the stuff that we use every day. The dangerous by-products and waste created by this industry adds to the massive global pollution problem - from the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean, and from backyards to beaches. According to McKone, simply improving renewable electricity is not enough to mitigate our climate impact if we do not also rethink the way we make things like plastic, steel, and textiles. He received funding from the BYI program to develop new catalysts and chemical reactors that can recycle carbon dioxide and other chemical wastes back into useful fuels and raw materials. “We ultimately want to build a circular chemical economy—a sustainable approach to chemical manufacturing where every molecule that comes out of a smokestack or a tailpipe is captured and reused hundreds or thousands of times instead of being discarded as waste,” said McKone. His team will make two major adaptations to current industrial catalysts. Rather than heat, they will use electricity to drive chemical reactions so that they can use renewable resources as the main energy input. They will also mimic the behavior of biological enzymes to improve the efficiency of chemical reactions by designing specific catalytic units, called active sites, to perform each individual step of the complex chemical reactions. “Getting these catalysts to work is an incredible challenge,” said McKone. “To meet that challenge, we are developing new experimental capabilities that will allow us to measure and manipulate catalyst materials with atomic-scale precision.” The BYI program provides research support to the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences. It challenges researchers to pursue innovative and high-risk projects that seek to make significant scientific advancements and open up new avenues of research in science. McKone is only the second Pitt professor selected for this award in the history of the BYI program. The first was Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Alex Deiters, professor of chemistry at Pitt, is a third BYI who received the award during his tenure at North Carolina State University. # # #

Jun
15
2020

Research Assistant Professor in Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering (engineering.pitt.edu/bioengineering) invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD or equivalent degree in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, or closely related disciplines for a non-tenure stream Research Assistant Professor faculty position.  Applicants should have greater than five years of postdoctoral experience carrying out independent as well as collaborative research in the field of biomaterials, host response, and regenerative medicine.  The position involves development and application of in vitro and in vivo methods for the assessment of the host response to existing and novel implantable materials. The position responsibilities include writing grant applications and contributing to scientific advances in the field. The Research Assistant Professor will also be responsible for publishing the scientific work conducted in peer reviewed journals and presenting findings at scientific meetings. Additionally, the incumbent may assist in teaching, mentoring undergraduate or graduate students, and overseeing laboratory staff performing both in vitro and in vivo experiments. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding, and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).  The Department of Bioengineering, consistently ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs, offering undergraduate (~270 students, sophomore-to-senior years) and graduate (~150 PhD or MD/PhD and ~50 MS students) degrees.  The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (mirm.pitt.edu), Computational and Systems Biology (https://www.csb.pitt.edu/), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities.  The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals must submit the following information online at apply.interfolio.com/76503: (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by July 25, 2020.  However, applications will be reviewed as they are received.  Early submission is highly encouraged. The Department of Bioengineering is fully committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/ Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EOE, including disability/vets.

Jun
11
2020

Open Position: Postdoctoral Researcher - In situ Nanomechanics

MEMS, Open Positions

There is an opening for a postdoctoral researcher in the research group of Prof. Tevis Jacobs in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The research will investigate atomic-scale processes governing the mechanics of materials and interfaces at the nanoscale. Mechanical testing of nanoparticles will be performed in a transmission electron microscope (TEM) using a cutting-edge in situ nanomanipulator apparatus. The work will also involve atomic-resolution imaging and analysis of materials, as well as post-processing using numerical routines (e.g., in Matlab) to extract quantitative measurements of material response. Candidates must have a PhD in materials science, mechanical engineering, or a closely related field. Demonstrated expertise with electron microscopy is required; direct experience with in situ TEM is preferred. Also desirable, though not required, is experience with mechanical testing as well as the topic of mechanical behavior of materials (theory and application). The successful candidate should be highly motivated and able to work independently. This position will also include mentorship of graduate and undergraduate students, presentations at international conferences, and the writing of publications for peer-reviewed scientific journals. To apply, please send an email to tjacobs@pitt.edu with the subject line: Application for Nanomechanics Postdoc. Attached to the email should be a single PDF file containing a CV, copies of two relevant publications, and the names and contact information for three references. Review of applications will begin on June 30th, 2020 and continue until the position is filled. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity, and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Jun
10
2020

Pitt ECE Professor Receives $300K NSF Award to Develop 2D Synapse for Deep Neural Networks

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2020) — The world runs on data. Self-driving cars, security, healthcare and automated manufacturing all are part of a “big data revolution,” which has created a critical need for a way to more efficiently sift through vast datasets and extract valuable insights. When it comes to the level of efficiency needed for these tasks, however, the human brain is unparalleled. Taking inspiration from the brain, Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is collaborating with Duke University’s Yiran Chen to develop a two-dimensional synaptic array that will allow computers to do this work with less power and greater speed. Xiong has received a $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation for this project. “Deep neural networks (DNN) work by training a neural network with massive datasets for applications like pattern recognition, image reconstruction or video and language processing,” said Xiong. “For example, if airport security wanted to create a program that could identify firearms, they would need to input thousands of pictures of different firearms in different situations to teach the program what it should look for. It’s not unlike how we as humans learn to identify different objects.” To do this, supercomputing systems transfer data back and forth constantly from the computation and memory units, making DNNs computationally intensive and power hungry. Their inefficiency makes it impractical for them to be scaled up to the level of the complexity needed for true artificial intelligence (AI). In contrast, computation and memory in the human brain uses a network of neurons and synapses that are closely and densely connected, resulting in the brain’s extremely low power consumption, about 20W. “The way our brains learn is gradual. For example, say you’re learning what an apple is. Each time you see the apple, it might be in a different context: on the ground, on a table, in a hand. Your brain learns to recognize that it’s still an apple,” said Xiong. “Each time you see it, the neural connection changes a bit. In computing we want this high-precision synapse to mimic that, so that over time, the connections strengthen. The finer the adjustments we can make, the more powerful the program can be, and the more memory it can have.” With existing consumer electronic devices, the kind of gradual, slight adjustment needed is difficult to attain because they rely on binary, meaning their states are essentially limited to on or off, yes or no. The artificial synapse will instead allow a precision of 1,000 states, with precision and control in navigating between each. Additionally, smaller devices, like sensors and other embedded systems, need to communicate their data to a larger computer to process it. The proposed device’s small size, flexibility and low power usage could make it able to run those calculations in much smaller devices, allowing sensors to process information on-site. “What we’re proposing is that, theoretically, we could lower the energy needed to run these algorithms, hopefully by 1,000 times or more. This way, it can make power requirement more reasonable, so a flexible or wearable electronic device could run it with a very small power supply,” said Xiong. The project, titled “Collaborative Research: Two-dimensional Synapatic Array for Advanced Hardware Acceleration of Deep Neural Networks,” is expected to last three years, beginning on Sept. 1, 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
9
2020

Predicting Unpredictable Reactions

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 9, 2020) — Computational catalysis, a field that simulates and accelerates the discovery of catalysts for chemical production, has largely been limited to simulations of idealized catalyst structures that do not necessarily represent structures under realistic reaction conditions. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Catalysis and Catalytic Processes (Department of Energy) at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, advances the field of computational catalysis by paving the way for the simulation of realistic catalysts under reaction conditions. The work, published in ACS Catalysis, was authored by Raffaele Cheula, PhD student in the Maestri group; Matteo Maestri, full professor of chemical engineering at Politecnico di Milano; and Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical engineering at Pitt. “With our work, one can see, for example, how metal nanoparticles that are commonly used as catalysts can change morphology in a reactive environment and affect catalytic behavior. As a result, we can now simulate nanoparticle ensembles, which can advance any field of nanoparticles application, like nanomedicine, energy, the environment and more,” says Mpourmpakis. “Although our application is focused on catalysis, it has the potential to advance nanoscale simulations as a whole.” In order to model catalysis in reaction conditions, the researchers had to account for the dynamic character of the catalyst, which is likely to change throughout the reaction. To accomplish this, the researchers simulated how the catalysts change structure, how probable this change is, and how that probability affects the reactions taking place on the surface of the catalysts. “Catalysis is behind most of the important processes in our daily lives: from the production of chemicals and fuels to the abatement of pollutants,” says Maestri. “Our work paves the way towards the fundamental analysis of the structure-activity relation in catalysis. This is paramount in any effort in the quest of engineering chemical transformation at the molecular level by achieving a detailed mechanistic understanding of the catalyst functionality. Thanks to Raffaele’s stay at Pitt, we were able to combine the expertise in microkinetic and multiscale modeling of my group with the expertise in nanomaterials simulations and computational catalysis of Yanni’s group.” Lead author Raffaele Cheula, a PhD student in the Maestri Lab, worked for a year in the Mpourmpakis Lab at Pitt on this research. “It has been very nice to be involved in this collaboration between Yanni and Matteo” says Cheula. “The combination of my research experiences at Pitt and at PoliMi has been very important for the finalization of this work. It was a challenging topic and I am very happy with this result”. The work is funded by National Science Foundation and the European Research Council, and with computational support from the Center for Research Computing at Pitt and CINECA in Bologna, Italy. The paper, “Modeling Morphology and Catalytic Activity of Nanoparticle Ensembles Under Reaction Conditions,” was published in ACS Catalysis and featured on the cover of the print edition.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
8
2020

Shedding a New Light on 2D Materials

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 8, 2020) … In the information age, where we ditch paper files and cabinets for digital files and hard drives, there is an imminent need for affordable and efficient ways to store our information. At the beginning of 2020, the digital universe was estimated to consist of 44 zettabytes of data -- that’s 44 trillion gigabytes (GB) of information. Every time someone “googles” a question, uploads a photo to social media, or performs a variety of daily activities, that number increases. The University of Pittsburgh’s Nathan Youngblood and Feng Xiong secured a $501,953 award from the National Science Foundation to better understand how to store data more efficiently using optical and electrical techniques on two-dimensional (2D) materials. Optical storage, commonly used in rewritable CDs and DVDs, uses a laser to store and retrieve data in what is called a “phase-change material.” Heating these materials causes them to switch between two stable states, where the atoms are either randomly positioned like in glass or ordered like in a crystal. However, the amount of energy required to heat these materials is fundamentally limited by their volume. “Encoding data in 2D materials, which are atomically flat, provides a direct route to overcome this fundamental limitation,” said Youngblood, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and lead researcher on the study. “If you reduce the dimensions of the material, it becomes much more efficient because the amount of energy needed to program data is proportional to the area rather than the volume of the material,” he continued. Modern 2D materials were first studied in the early 2000s. Their crystalline structure, consisting of a single layer of atoms, demonstrated a variety of useful properties, inspiring research into hundreds of other 2D materials, including MoTe2 -- the compound used in this project. “MoTe2 is useful for this application because it is predicted to be the most energy efficient, but due to a lack of experimental data, the way that light affects this material is elusive,” said Youngblood. Youngblood and Xiong will work in collaboration with Steven Koester, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and an expert in 2D materials, to examine how MoTe2 interacts with the light used in optical storage. “Our goal is to use time-dependent light-based measurement techniques along with advanced imaging and characterization at the atomic level,” said Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Storing and retrieving data in atomically flat materials like MoTe2 could allow highly-efficient processors for machine learning where the computation physically occurs in the memory cell itself. This approach is known as “in-memory” computing and has been demonstrated to be much faster than digital computers--though up to now has used three-dimensional materials like those used in rewritable optical discs. “A better understanding of MoTe2 properties will allow us to advance this technology and improve the use of 2D materials for high-speed, reliable and efficient memory and computation,” said Youngblood. # # #

Jun
3
2020

CEE Selects Jake Kline as the inaugural John F. Oyler Fellow

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 3, 2020) … Jake Kline, a University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University undergraduate student, was selected as the first recipient of the John F. Oyler Fellowship. The award, administered by Pitt’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will provide full tuition support to a student who is in good academic standing and specializing in structures or solids. Preference is given to a student who is participating in the Engineering Accelerated Graduate (EAGr) program and/or for master’s recruitment purposes. Kline, an upcoming alumnus of the Binary Engineering Program, will receive a dual bachelor’s degree in physics and civil engineering at the end of the summer. His interests lie in structural health monitoring and structural rehabilitation of older buildings. “My time in undergraduate civil engineering has helped me discover the variety of possibilities and applications if I further my education at Pitt,” he said, “and I look forward to expanding my knowledge of structural engineering.” Kline will participate in the EAGr program which provides qualified students with the opportunity to earn a bachelor of science (BS) and a master of science (MS) degree in five years. “Once I complete my academic commitments, I plan to pursue a career with Engineers Without Borders, as I firmly believe the principal duty of an engineer is to make the world a better place,” he said. The John F. Oyler Fellowship was generously funded by a gift from the John Francis Oyler and Nancy Lee Victoria Fleck Oyler Foundation to recognize Dr. Oyler’s long standing connection to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. About John F. Oyler Dr. Oyler was a professor in the Swanson School for 25 years before retiring in 2018. He began his teaching career after 40 years in industry, where he worked for Dravo Corporation, Daxus Corporation, and his own consulting firm, Oyler Consulting Services. During his time at Pitt, he taught Statics, Mechanics of Materials, Materials of Construction, and Senior Design Projects. He hopes that this fellowship will help jumpstart students’ careers in the field in which he dedicated more than 65 years of service.

Jun
2
2020

Crafting a Better Graft

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 2, 2020) … As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, the number of Americans over 65 continues to grow. With this growth, there is a need for improved medical technology that will help clinicians more effectively treat common age-associated conditions such as heart disease -- a leading cause of death in the U.S. The University of Pittsburgh’s David A. Vorp received a $394,300 award from the National Institutes of Health to address this issue and will lead a project to improve technology for bypass grafting and hemodialysis. Vorp’s Vascular Bioengineering Lab produces small-diameter, tissue engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs), which can be used to replace blood vessels damaged by coronary heart disease or to remove and return blood during dialysis. A TEVG consists of a scaffold that provides a framework for seeded cells, which when given environmental cues, will promote tissue regeneration. These devices are an improvement on synthetic grafts which often become obstructed and fail, especially at small diameters. The degree of openness, known as patency, is a measure that defines the success of these devices. “There is a lot of promise for this technology; however, we have only observed its effects in young recipients, despite the fact that older patients are the demographic most commonly in need of arterial bypass or hemodialysis,” said Vorp, the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In this project, he seeks to understand how age affects the successful implantation of their small-diameter TEVG. “A major complication is that older populations typically have high quantities of the plasma protein plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), which could jeopardize the success of the device,” he said. “We believe that elevated PAI-1 may compromise TEVG remodeling and patency,” he continued. “If increased levels of PAI-1 are associated with age, we want to determine if middle-aged and older recipients are capable of generating a successful TEVG.” PAI-1 is a protein that comes with complications: it is important because it helps prevent premature clot removal after injury, but in elevated levels, it also increases risks for cardiovascular disease. There are FDA-approved drugs that inhibit PAI-1 production to help mitigate these issues, and as part of this project, Vorp will examine whether pharmacological intervention using these drugs will improve patency of their TEVGs. “We hope that the results of this project will not only be foundational for tailoring a translatable TEVG for those who are most in need – elderly patients – but may also be paradigm-shifting in how TEVGs and other tissue engineering-based therapies are tested preclinically,” said Vorp. # # #

Jun
1
2020

BioE Graduate Student Awarded 2020 GPSG Leadership and Service Award

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 1, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) presented Haley Fuller, vice president of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Engineering Graduate Student Organization (EGSO), with the 2020 GPSG Leadership and Service Award. Fuller is a second-year graduate student in bioengineering. The Award recognizes current Pitt graduate and professional students’ service or leadership to the University, surrounding community, and world at large. Fuller joined EGSO when she matriculated in 2018 and, within the first two months, fulfilled the Communications Officer position, which is normally held by more senior students. Driven to be more involved, she ran for and was elected Vice President of EGSO within her second year as a graduate student. She also joined the Pitt chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), where she was selected as first-year representative for her class. “When I moved to Pittsburgh from the Washington, DC, area, I was eager to make friends and get involved with my new graduate program right off the bat. EGSO accomplished exactly this for me, as well as has provided academic and professional support over the past two years of my involvement,” said Fuller. “Since EGSO is an interdepartmental organization run entirely by student volunteers, I was immediately greeted at the door by the most enthusiastic, self-driven individuals across various engineering disciplines who have since become both my friends and scientific collaborators.” In addition to her work in EGSO and BMES, Fuller serves as a program facilitator for Investing Now, an initiative that introduces Pittsburgh high school students to STEM disciplines. The role requires training throughout the spring semester in preparation for teaching self-directed two-hour sessions, four days a week, through the month of July, all while continuing her own research in Warren Ruder’s Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics Laboratory at Pitt. “Working alongside like-minded students has driven me to become involved in other organizations across campus, as well as encouraged me to pursue projects on campus in which I’ve gotten the chance to interact directly with faculty members to influence institutional direction for the future of the university,” said Fuller. Before arriving at Pitt, Fuller earned a B.S. in Biological Systems Engineering with a Biomedical Focus and spent three years working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the High-throughput and Robotics lead and bioprocess engineer at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC). “Haley has already demonstrated her leadership and commitment to service during her brief period here at the University of Pittsburgh, and resident of the community,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean for academic affairs and EGSO faculty mentor. “She has the self-awareness to understand the gaps in the system and speak up for those unable or too shy to do so.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
1
2020

MEMS Students Receive Department of Energy Awards

MEMS, Student Profiles

Two outstanding MEMS students were recently awarded a scholarship and fellowship from the Department of Energy (DOE). The awards are a part of an annual program sponsored by the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP). The recipients: Jerry Potts, a mechanical engineering senior, won a $7,500 scholarship designated to help cover education costs for the upcoming year. This summer, Potts is interning with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located in Golden, Colorado. Iza Lantgios Iza Lantgios, a second year mechanical engineering PhD student, won a $150,000 graduate fellowship for three years.  The fellowship also includes $5,000 to fund an internship at a U.S. national laboratory or other approved research facility. Lantgios is conducting research this summer while exploring topics for her thesis. Since 2009, the DOE has awarded over $44 million to students pursuing nuclear energy-related degrees.  This year, more than $5 million was awarded nationally to 42 undergraduates and 34 graduate students from 32 colleges and universities. This is the second consecutive year MEMS students were selected for these awards.

May

May
27
2020

When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum

Cleaning products are flying off grocery shelves. Hand sanitizers can be hard to find. In the age of COVID-19, consumers want products that will clean, disinfect and keep them safe. But one look at the list of ingredients on the back of your favorite cleaner may leave you wishing you had paid more attention in chemistry class. “When you read a label, the names seem like a different language, and so people just see gibberish,” said Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “As a chemical engineer, I see a structure.” “Most of the things we use day-to-day that are chemicals were invented before most of us were born,” said Beckman, who also is co-director of science and technology at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “People don’t really think about them. Until now. We asked Beckman to explain some of the ingredients in cleaning products and how to choose the right one for the right job. Sodium Hypochlorite You’ll find it in: Clorox Bleach What it does: “Chlorine bleach is a blunt object—it crushes everything in its path,” said Beckman. “It chops up molecules—it destroys mold and germs, but if you drip it on your clothing, it’ll destroy the dye molecules, too.” Keep in mind: Because it’s a volatile molecule, you shouldn’t use it in strong concentrations in a closed space without ventilation. For surfaces, dilute with water according to the package’s recommendations and spray on the solution. Rinse with water after a few minutes. Never, ever mix it with other chemicals, especially ammonia. Sodium Percarbonate You’ll find it in: OxiClean What it does: These milder forms of bleach work the same way as chlorine bleach to disinfect, but they won’t ruin your clothes. Because these brands are gentler, Beckman says, they just need a little extra time to work. Keep in mind: Make sure to let the cleanser sit on surfaces 10 minutes to sanitize before wiping off. Tetra-alkyl Ammonium Halides (like alkyl ammonium chlorides, alkyl ammonium saccharinates or alkyl ammonium sulfonates) You’ll find it in: Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner What it does: “Most antibacterial cleansers use this class of compounds—tetra-alkyl ammonium halides. It’s in Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles, and a wide variety of products,” said Beckman. “What they do is worm their way into cell membranes and make them fall apart. They’ve been tested against a wide range of bacteria and viruses.” Keep in mind: These molecules aren’t volatile, so they don’t leave a strong smell in the air, and they are relatively safe, cheap and effective. Hydrochloric Acid You’ll find it in: Lysol Heavy Duty Toilet Bowl Cleaner What it does: A very concentrated, strong acid, this ingredient will obliterate rust stains and bacteria—as well as your skin, if you’re not careful. “If you want to clean bricks, it’s a good option, but it’s probably overkill for most toilets.” Keep in mind: In a lab, chemists would work with this acid under a ventilation hood, wearing lab gloves and eye protection, Beckman notes. Make sure you wear gloves, and don’t use it in an unventilated space. Ethanol and Isopropanol You’ll find it in: hand sanitizers What it does: Ethanol or isopropanol, also known as rubbing alcohol, dehydrates the cell and disrupts the cell membrane, so it kills cells that rely on water—like most bacteria and viruses. When used as a hand sanitizer, it dries out your skin cells, too, which is why it’s usually combined with other moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin from feeling dry. Beckman says 60 percent alcohol or higher is strong enough to be effective. Keep in mind: Alcohol is very flammable, especially in the concentrations used for disinfecting, so keep it away from open flames. Acetic Acid You’ll find it in:  distilled white vinegar What it does: When used with water, the mild acid in vinegar helps loosen dirt and oil from the surface. A favorite among DIY cleaners, vinegar is very gentle. Keep in mind: Because it’s so gentle, vinegar shouldn’t be relied upon for disinfecting. “Vinegar is one of the safest and smelliest options, but it is one with a high risk—we just don’t know that it’s effective against bacteria and viruses,” said Beckman. “When it comes to killing the virus, the gentler the compound is, the less effective it probably is.” Citric Acid You’ll find it in: Method All-Purpose Surface Cleaner What it does: In food, citric acid is in the coating that gives Sour Patch Kids their sour flavor. When used in a cleanser, however, the mild acid helps water clean away grime and grease, much like vinegar does. “Citric acid and vinegar are both acids, but citric acid is also a mild reducing agent, meaning it can do chemistry that acetic acid (vinegar) cannot,” said Beckman. “Reducing agents like citric acid can actually ‘denature,’ or unravel, proteins—including proteins that make viruses function.” Keep in mind: While it’s not quite as potent as some other ingredients when it comes to disinfecting, it still has an effect, making it a great, gentle option for day-to-day cleanup.
Maggie Pavlick
May
27
2020

Exploring the Neurological Male-Female Divide in Dementia

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 27, 2020) … Fifty million people worldwide are living with dementia, a broad term for diseases and conditions characterized by progressive cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, afflicts 5.8 million Americans, and nearly two-thirds are women. Despite the staggering disparity among the sexes, researchers have yet to discover how biological factors affect this disease. University of Pittsburgh faculty Bistra Iordanova believes that disease treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach. She received a $2,581,762 R01 award from the National Institutes of Health to study how sex differences contribute to cognitive impairment and dementia. “We believe that the brain vascular system -- the network of blood vessels that circulate oxygen and glucose throughout the brain -- plays an important role in dementia,” said Iordanova, a bioengineering assistant professor in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The vascular system affects cognitive impairment and dementia of both men and women with Alzheimer’s disease; however, research shows that the pathways, severity and presentation seem to be different,” she continued. These findings have illustrated the disparity among the biological sexes in Alzheimer’s disease, but a complete understanding of these differences remains elusive. “One reason it is difficult to understand the sex-based distinctions in dementia is because in a significant portion of the human studies, the gender is regressed out, and the data are pooled together to increase the effect size,” said Iordanova. “Also, until recently, the bulk of animal studies exclusively used males in an effort to keep costs low.” In this project, she will take a closer look at the brain to see how sex differences influence the connection between neural activity and changes in cerebral blood flow. She will also examine the flow of energy within the brain in real-time and how hormonal changes during aging may affect the energy consumption of the brain. “Our approach will examine the gene expression of individual cells and use brain imaging to determine the specific cell types that contribute to neurovascular resilience,” said Iordanova. “We hope that our data will uncover personalized molecular targets for therapy and improve treatment of dementia.” While Iordanova’s project looks specifically at dementia, a personalized medicine approach can be applied to other diseases as well, including COVID-19. The novel coronavirus has had different severity and presentation among not only older and younger individuals, but also among men and women. “It is important to track this information and try to understand why more men are dying from COVID-19 than women,” said Iordanova. “Much like with Alzheimer’s research, this pandemic is treated as though all humans have exactly the same physiology, and it may benefit treatment to have a person-specific approach.” # # # Image caption: A two-photon image of brain vasculature (red), neurons (green) and Alzheimer's plaques (blue). Credit: Bistra Iordanova.

May
26
2020

MEMS Faculty Member is Lead Author on Quantum Computing Article Published by NASA

MEMS

Dr. Peyman Givi, mechanical engineering Distinguished Professor, is the lead author on a recently published National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Technical Memorandum (TM).  The TM explains how quantum computers can be utilized for computational modeling and simulations. It is theorized that quantum computers will be able to conduct calculations in seconds for problems that take the current (classical) world’s largest supercomputers months to compute.  The TM details the current state of progress in quantum computing technology and how NASA and the aerospace community could potentially use this technology to perform large scale computations. Givi said he is honored to be a co-author on such an important report, noting that his collaborators are among the world’s leading researchers in quantum physics and computational fluid dynamics. He is excited to continue research in this area, stating that “the potential power of quantum computers in near-future computations is mind blowing.” The authors have been asked to publish this report as a Invited Article in the AIAA Journal.
Meagan Lenze
May
20
2020

Pitt alumna and Alabama engineer Renee Corbett '16 helping NYC homeless fight COVID-19

Covid-19, Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

This story was originally published by AL.com. In New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the virus that’s forced most people indoors is forcing the homeless outdoors. Renee Corbett, a native of Huntsville who works with the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, has seen it first-hand. Corbett, a civil and environmental engineer by training, is in New York working with an MSF team providing hygiene service and infection control to New York’s homeless population. With public bathrooms and recreation centers closed, the places where homeless people could bathe are gone. So Corbett’s team operates two mobile shower facilities for people that need it. “At our showers we are meeting many people who say that they are choosing to live on the streets instead of in shelters because they feel that they are safer from COVID-19 on the streets,” she said. Before the global pandemic, Corbett had worked primarily in Africa, providing water and hygiene to people in Ethiopia and Sudan. It seems odd that providing a simple need: clean water and a place to bathe, would be just as necessary in America’s largest city as it is in wilds of Africa. ... Read the full article here.
Author: Shelly Haskins, AL.com
May
18
2020

David Gau Receives National Cancer Center Fellowship for Kidney Cancer Research

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 18, 2020) … According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is among the top ten most common cancers in men and women. More than 73,000 new cases and nearly 15,000 deaths are predicted for in the US for 2020. Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) -- the most common subtype of tumor associated with kidney cancer -- accounts for more than 75 percent of cases. David Gau (Math BS ‘11, BioE BS ‘11, PhD ‘18), a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, will use a fellowship from the National Cancer Center to study the role of a protein in ccRCC progression. He will work with Partha Roy, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Walter Storkus, professor of dermatology and immunology in the School of Medicine. “Twenty to thirty percent of patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma will have cancer metastasis by the time of diagnosis and a third of those treated will have recurrence,” said Gau. “Our lab wants to look at the underlying mechanisms associated with this disease so that we can help develop more effective treatments.” A common theme of this type of cancer is the highly vascularized nature of the tumor environment, that is, an abundance of blood vessels in the tumor area. In this project, the research group will look at how to control a process called angiogenesis - the formation of new blood vessels. “Anti-angiogenic treatments to limit vessel formation in the tumor initially work well in patients, but many will have cancer progression due to innate resistant mechanisms to current anti-angiogenic agents,” explained Gau. “We want to evaluate the role of the protein Profilin1 in ccRCC progression.” According to Gau, current research suggests that increased Profilin1 expression in ccRCC is correlated with poor patient prognosis, and preliminary data suggests that it plays a key role in vessel formation, which would make it a candidate for a potential new therapeutic target. “Our lab has previously developed Profilin1 inhibitors, which will also be tested as a potential therapy for kidney cancer,” he said. “Completion of this project would demonstrate direct impact of Profilin1 and regulation of vessel formation in clear cell renal cell carcinoma and provide foundational evidence for targeting Profilin1 as a potential treatment for kidney cancer.” # # #

May
15
2020

Controlled Release Society Elects University of Pittsburgh’s Steven Little to Prestigious College of Fellows

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 15, 2020) … The world’s leading organization for delivery science and technology has recognized University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven R. Little with election to its College of Fellows. The Controlled Release Society elevated Dr. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, for outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of delivery science and technology over a minimum of ten years.“This year’s class of CRS Fellows is exceptional. Dr. Little is recognized for his impressive scholarly contributions to the literature, technologies based on his discoveries that are poised to make a clinical impact, and exemplary service to the CRS in building the CRS Focus Groups, and serving as its inaugural director. He is a highly respected leader in the field,” noted Justin Hanes, CRS President and the Lewis J. Ort Professor and Director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.Dr. Little’s novel drug delivery systems mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation, allowing for dosages millions of times smaller than current treatments. These systems need only be applied once and then are released over a period of days or months, depending on the medication. This year, Dr. Little published groundbreaking research revealing a new immunotherapy system that mimics how cancer cells invade the human immune system to reduce the risk of transplant rejection. Dr. Little has also made advancements to the fundamentals of delivery science with predictive models enabling rational design of drug delivery systems and leading to the founding of Qrono, Inc, a specialty pharma company in Pittsburgh, PA. “The CRS is an amazing, international organization that is led by many of the world’s leading scientists advancing the field of drug delivery.  Election to Fellow in this organization is only possible because of the many contributions by our students, postdoctoral researchers, and our collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh.” said Little. “It’s extremely humbling to me personally, because the Fellows of the CRS are people that have mentored me, and those who I have admired for my entire career.”Other notable CRS Fellows include:María José Alonso, University of Santiago de CompostelaGordon Amidon, University of MichiganPaolo Columbo, Università di ParmaAlexander “Sandy” Florence, University of LondonPaula Hammond, MITJustin Hanes, Johns Hopkins UniversityRobert Langer, MITAntonios Mikos, Rice UniversitySamir Mitragotri, Harvard UniversityKinam Park, Purdue UniversityNicholas Peppas, University of Texas at AustinMark Prausnitz, Georgia TechMore About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is a William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award from the ASEE, being elected as a fellow of the BMES and AIMBE, a Carnegie Science Award for Research, the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award, the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award, being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator, and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education. Dr. Little was also recently named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. Chemical Engineering departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. ###

May
14
2020

Start Your Engines! And Don’t Neglect Your Vehicle

Covid-19, MEMS, Student Profiles

The stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic have left many personal vehicles unattended in garages or parked along the side of the road. If you don’t want to be among the growing number of customers calling roadside assistance services, take heed of some advice from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Panther Racing student group. “Typically in vehicles, the first thing to fail during a period of unuse is the battery,” explained Bryce Merrill, a rising senior mechanical engineering student and executive director of Panther Racing (Pitt FSAE). “Batteries will lose charge over time regardless, but any small electrical draw on the battery will cause this to happen faster.” He recommends periodically driving your car to charge the battery or installing a trickle charger to top off the battery when it gets too low. “Starting your car occasionally and driving around the block or so is good for a few other reasons as well,” said Merrill. “It gives all the moving components a chance to get lubricated, gets the fluids flowing, and will remove corrosion from your brake rotors.” Word to the wise for folks in areas, like Pittsburgh, where the temperature can fluctuate more than twenty degrees in one day: check your tire pressure, too. “It is also important to check your tire pressure occasionally as they will slowly leak air and can develop flat spots if they sit in the same spot and the pressure drops too much,” said Merrill. These failures, however, aren't what sidelined their student-designed-and-built formula race car. Rather, it was the campus closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Panther Racing has been forced to put the completion of PR-032, this year's race car, on hold due to restrictions on group gatherings and the closing of the University. “This year's FSAE in-person competitions have been migrated to a virtual competition that will occur in early June,” said Merrill. “The team has stayed busy preparing for this virtual competition, planning for next year's car, and has taken this time to focus on education and knowledge transfer.” The group, like many others, has stayed connected through Zoom. A Panther Racing alumnus has held seminars about engine tuning, and they plan to hold additional seminars with other team alumni. “It is extremely disappointing to all of us to not have the opportunity to finish what we have worked so hard for all year, but we are taking this as a learning opportunity to design and manufacture a better car next year,” he said. “We will soon begin the design process for PR-033 remotely, to stay on schedule to complete it by this time next year. We also hope to finish PR-032 in time to compete at our annual Pittsburgh Shootout on August 1st at Pittsburgh International Raceway.” # # #

May
14
2020

ALung Announces Commercial Development of its Breakthrough Next Generation Artificial Lung

Covid-19, Bioengineering

Reposted from Business Wire. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH–(BUSINESS WIRE)– April 4, 2020 ALung Technologies, Inc., the leading provider of low-flow extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) technologies for treating patients with acute respiratory failure, announced the recent initiation of commercial development of its next generation artificial lung, which expands the Company’s focus on highly efficient gas exchange devices and also broadens its applicable market. The Company’s current product, the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS), is the only fully comprehensive extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) system specifically designed and manufactured for this therapy, as compared to complex competitive products that are modifications of existing technologies designed for other purposes. The Hemolung continues to be the most highly efficient and simple to use ECCO2R system on the market today. The next generation Hemolung RAS is based upon intellectual property recently licensed to ALung from the University of Pittsburgh. Developed by Professor William Federspiel, PhD and colleagues at the Swanson School of Engineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, this new technology platform significantly enhances gas exchange efficiency while reducing the deleterious hematologic effects from extracorporeal blood circulation. The licensed research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Federspiel has an equity holding in the company and is compensated as an advisory board member. “The next generation Hemolung RAS is a direct result of the continued collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and ALung Technologies. This collaboration, spanning 20+ years, has resulted in a rich pipeline of innovation for ALung that will accelerate the development of highly efficient, simple to use artificial lung devices for the treatment of acute respiratory failure. The foundation of our next generation system is an integrated artificial lung cartridge/blood pump that will be unparalleled in the industry as the most efficient carbon dioxide removal and oxygen delivery system, which will address the needs of acute respiratory failure patients that require ECCO2R and/or ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). All of this will again be consolidated in a comprehensive, easy to use system without all of the complexities represented in competitive systems,” stated Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies. Jeremy Kimmel, PhD, Vice President of New Technology at ALung Technologies stated, “Professor Federspiel and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh have rapidly advanced this technology toward commercial readiness through state of the art computational, in vitro and in vivo testing, including successful 7-day and 30-day large animal studies. ALung has initiated commercial development of the next generation Hemolung RAS to provide clinicians with the flexibility to support patients across the full spectrum of acute and acute-on-chronic respiratory failure using a single integrated device. The system design will accommodate bedside therapy as well as portability and wearability, further enhancing device usability and expanding potential clinical indications.” Key features and benefits of the next generation Hemolung RAS will include: Patent-pending technology that generates superior blood flow uniformity to maximize gas exchange efficiency. A custom designed centrifugal pump integrated with a low surface area (0.65 m2) gas exchange membrane without the need for additional components (e.g. heat exchanger, pressure ports) that will reduce operational complexity of the system. Low flow ECCO2R (250 – 700 mL/min) as well as full ECMO (2 – 4 L/min) using a single integrated pump and gas exchange membrane. The highest efficiency oxygenation of any ECMO device on the market providing full oxygen saturation at ≤4 L/min blood flow with membrane surface area of 0.65 m2. COPD affects 30 million Americans1 and is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease.2 Acute exacerbations, defined as a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in COPD patients. ARDS is estimated to affect more than 10% of intensive care unit patients globally, has a mortality rate as high as 45% and requires invasive mechanical ventilation in the majority of cases.3,4 Combined, these disorders represent a significant need and a global market for innovative respiratory assist devices. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example of such a dramatic need. Currently, the Hemolung RAS has European marketing clearance (CE Mark). In addition, it is the only system that has been studied for safety and efficacy in two large landmark pivotal trials; the FDA approved VENT-AVOID trial and the U.K. REST trial. The Hemolung RAS was recently granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by FDA for the treatment of acute respiratory failure caused by COVID-19. About ALung Technologies ALung Technologies, Inc. is a privately held Pittsburgh-based developer and manufacturer of innovative lung assist devices. Founded in 1997 as a spin-out of the University of Pittsburgh, ALung has developed the Hemolung RAS as a dialysis-like alternative or supplement to mechanical ventilation. ALung is backed by Philips, UPMC Enterprises, Abiomed, The Accelerator Fund, Allos Ventures, Birchmere Ventures, Blue Tree Ventures, Eagle Ventures, Riverfront Ventures, West Capital Advisors, and other individual investors. For more information about ALung and the Hemolung RAS, visit www.alung.com. For more information on the VENT-AVOID trial, and a list of enrolling sites, please visit clinicaltrials.gov. For more information about the REST Trial, please visit UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – REST Trial Project Website. For more information on the use of the Hemolung RAS for COVID-19 patients, please visit https://www.alung.com/covid-19/covid-19-us/ CAUTION: The Hemolung RAS is an Investigational Device and limited by United States law to investigational use. This press release may contain forward-looking statements, which, if not based on historical facts, involve current assumptions and forecasts as well as risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from the results or events stated in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, certain events not within the Company’s control. Events that could cause results to differ include failure to meet ongoing developmental and manufacturing timelines, changing GMP requirements, the need for additional capital requirements, risks associated with regulatory approval processes, adverse changes to reimbursement for the Company’s products/services, and delays with respect to market acceptance of new products/services and technologies. Other risks may be detailed from time to time, but the Company does not attempt to revise or update its forward-looking statements even if future experience or changes make it evident that any projected events or results expressed or implied therein will not be realized. References 1. https://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/COPD-Facts/Statistics.aspx 2. http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/research/copd-trend-report.pdf 3. Bellani. Epidemiology, Patterns of Care, and Mortality for Patients With Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Intensive Care Units in 50 Countries. JAMA. 2016;315(8):788-800. 4. Walkey A. Acute respiratory distress syndrome: epidemiology and management approaches. Clinical Epidemiology 2012:4 159–169.

May
13
2020

Pitt Researchers Create Durable, Washable Textile Coating That Can Repel Viruses

Covid-19, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (May 13, 2020) — Masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential for protecting healthcare workers. However, the textiles and materials used in such items can absorb and carry viruses and bacteria, inadvertently spreading the disease the wearer sought to contain. When the coronavirus spread amongst healthcare professionals and left PPE in short supply, finding a way to provide better protection while allowing for the safe reuse of these items became paramount. Research from the LAMP Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering may have a solution. The lab has created a textile coating that can not only repel liquids like blood and saliva but can also prevent viruses from adhering to the surface. The work was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. “Recently there’s been focus on blood-repellent surfaces, and we were interested in achieving this with mechanical durability,” said Anthony Galante, PhD student in industrial engineering at Pitt and lead author of the paper. “We want to push the boundary on what is possible with these types of surfaces, and especially given the current pandemic, we knew it’d be important to test against viruses.” What makes the coating unique is its ability to withstand ultrasonic washing, scrubbing and scraping. With other similar coatings currently in use, washing or rubbing the surface of the textile will reduce or eliminate its repellent abilities. “The durability is very important because there are other surface treatments out there, but they’re limited to disposable textiles. You can only use a gown or mask once before disposing of it,” said Paul Leu, co-author and associate professor of industrial engineering, who leads the LAMP Lab. “Given the PPE shortage, there is a need for coatings that can be applied to reusable medical textiles that can be properly washed and sanitized.” Galante put the new coating to the test, running it through tens of ultrasonic washes, applying thousands of rotations with a scrubbing pad (not unlike what might be used to scour pots and pans), and even scraping it with a sharp razor blade. After each test, the coating remained just as effective. The researchers worked with the Charles T. Campbell Microbiology Laboratory’s Research Director Eric Romanowski and Director of Basic Research Robert Shanks, in the Department of Ophthalmology at Pitt, to test the coating against a strain of adenovirus. “As this fabric was already shown to repel blood, protein and bacteria, the logical next step was to determine whether it repels viruses. We chose human adenovirus types 4 and 7, as these are causes of acute respiratory disease as well as conjunctivitis (pink eye),” said Romanowski. “It was hoped that the fabric would repel these viruses similar to how it repels proteins, which these viruses essentially are: proteins with nucleic acid inside. As it turned out, the adenoviruses were repelled in a similar way as proteins.” The coating may have broad applications in healthcare: everything from hospital gowns to waiting room chairs could benefit from the ability to repel viruses, particularly ones as easily spread as adenoviruses. “Adenovirus can be inadvertently picked up in hospital waiting rooms and from contaminated surfaces in general. It is rapidly spread in schools and homes and has an enormous impact on quality of life—keeping kids out of school and parents out of work,” said Shanks. “This coating on waiting room furniture, for example, could be a major step towards reducing this problem.” The next step for the researchers will be to test the effectiveness against betacoronaviruses, like the one that causes COVID-19. “If the treated fabric would repel betacornonaviruses, and in particular SARS-CoV-2, this could have a huge impact for healthcare workers and even the general public if PPE, scrubs, or even clothing could be made from protein, blood-, bacteria-, and virus-repelling fabrics,” said Romanowski. At the moment, the coating is applied using drop casting, a method that saturates the material with a solution from a syringe and applies a heat treatment to increase stability. But the researchers believe the process can use a spraying or dipping method to accommodate larger pieces of material, like gowns, and can eventually be scaled up for production. The paper, “Superhemophobic and Antivirofouling Coating for Mechanically Durable and Wash-Stable Medical Textiles” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b23058), was co-authored by Anthony Galante, Sajad Haghanifar, Eric Romanowski, Robert Shanks and Paul Leu.
Maggie Pavlick
May
13
2020

Industrial Engineering Professor Wins Outstanding Young Investigator Award in Manufacturing and Design

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (May 13, 2020) — The Manufacturing & Design (M&D) Division  at the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers (IISE) has selected Mostafa Bedewy, PhD, as winner of the 2020 M&D Outstanding Young Investigator Award. Bedewy is assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. The award recognizes outstanding early-career M&D Division members, who have made “high impact scientific contributions to the manufacturing and design field as evidenced by their research endeavors including publications, intellectual property and other funding and dissemination activities.” “Mostafa is an outstanding researcher and teacher and has contributed to a range of modern manufacturing methods,” said Jayant Rajgopal, PhD, professor of industrial engineering at Pitt and IISE Fellow, who nominated Bedewy for this award. “As the junior most member of our department’s outstanding manufacturing group, he is well on his way to becoming a star in his own right. He is already recognized around the country by his peers, and this award is a validation of this recognition.” Bedewy leads the NanoProduct Lab at Pitt, which focuses on fundamental research at the intersection of nanoscience, biotechnology and manufacturing engineering.  The lab’s research aims to bridge the gap that currently exists between promising proof-of-concept functional nanostructures/biomaterials (in lab-scale environment) and mass-produced products (in industry). “The societal impact of nano-/biosciences sometimes hinges on our ability to develop novel manufacturing methods that transform discoveries into viable technological solutions, especially those impacting energy, healthcare, and the environment,” said Bedewy. “Hence, our work is highly interdisciplinary, and that’s why it has been published in scientific journals specialized in physical chemistry, as well as in manufacturing and process engineering.” Bedewy's research interests include nano- and micro-manufacturing; biology-assisted manufacturing; cybermanufacturing and data analytics; chemical vapor deposition (CVD); patterning/processing of biomolecules and biointerfaces; surface engineering and coating technology; bottom-up synthesis and self-assembly of nanoparticles and nanofilaments; and in situ materials characterization and metrology. He joined the Swanson School of Engineering in Fall 2016 after a postdoctoral associate position in bionanofabrication at MIT. He completed his doctorate at the University of Michigan in 2013. His work has been previously recognized by the Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) in 2018; the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in 2017; and the Robert A. Meyer Award from the American Carbon Society in 2016.
Maggie Pavlick
May
12
2020

Using a Smartphone to Diagnose COVID-19 at Home

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer

In Pennsylvania and other U.S. states, one of the keys to safely reopening society amid the COVID-19 pandemic is providing sufficient testing so that new cases of the disease do not overwhelm the public healthcare system. University of Pittsburgh professors are reimagining testing using a device that nearly every American owns -- a smartphone. Using the existing hardware and computing power of commodity smartphones, this project aims to perform non-invasive at-home testing for COVID-19 infection, and it was selected for funding by the National Science Foundation through its RAPID award program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this work is to provide an easy and low-cost way to monitor and diagnose a large population without the need for special equipment or the involvement of clinicians. It can ultimately be applied to other acute or chronic respiratory diseases, in addition to the novel coronavirus. “In this project, we will develop new mobile sensing and artificial intelligence techniques for in-home evaluation of COVID-19 in an effort to quickly and effectively identify viral disease carriers,” said Wei Gao, lead researcher and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “We hope this work will also help identify negative cases caused by other diseases with similar symptoms, and therefore, help eliminate unnecessary hospital visits during this pandemic,” he said. Gao and his team will build upon smartphones’ microphones and speakers to develop acoustic sensing that can measure changes in human airway mechanics, which are uniquely correlated to COVID-19 infection. “We will begin by designing new acoustic waveforms to minimize acoustic signal distortion in human airways,” Gao said. “We will then develop new signal processing techniques for accurate measurements and eventually apply deep learning techniques to create generic models that depict the core characteristics of airway mechanics.” The system will be implemented as a smartphone app that a user can easily download, install, and operate. Users will need to use a smartphone adapter as a mouthpiece so that the phone’s microphone and speaker can transmit and record acoustic signals from human airways. If successful, this research will help accurately identify cases of COVID-19 without a visit to the hospital, which could subsequently help contain the spread of the highly contagious virus. This project is a collaborative effort with Heng Huang, John A. Jurenko Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt, and clinicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital. # # #

May
11
2020

Working Through Crisis

All SSoE News, Covid-19, MEMS, Student Profiles

COVID-19 has left the University and world at large in an unprecedented situation. This situation introduced many new challenges for all, including how to adapt classes such as Senior Design, which is largely based on teamwork, to a remote setting. In addition to the normal challenges and problem solving nature of a given course, the stay-at-home order created an added challenge for this semester’s Senior Design teams; how to reclaim a project in the middle of the semester when you are no longer able to come to campus. One team was able to engineer a creative solution.  The team’s sponsor is Abram’s Nation. They produce hospital bed equipment, and due to their essential status, they are still open for business during this time.  Abram’s Nation is a long-time partner and friend of the University of Pittsburgh, particularly the Swanson School of Engineering. Abram's Nation makes medical-grade safety beds that provide those with special needs or dementia a safe and fully enclosed sleeping space. Their current product line under The Safety Sleeper® brand is designed to keep the occupant safe from night wandering and reduce risks from uncontrolled movement, falls, and self-harming behavior such as headbanging. The current model of The Safety Sleeper is effective for regular mattresses and has a rigid frame. This frame imposes limitations on where the current design can be used. In 2019, Abram’s Nation completed an internal design and process overhaul of their main product lines. It was here the company realized there was a need to create a device compatible with an articulating base bed. Craig Van Korlaar, Director of Operations at Abram’s Nation was the design team’s point of contact.  He said, “We hope to bring an articulating model to market in late 2020/early 2021, but also knew that we did not have the skills or capacity to accomplish the frame design on our own. By once again partnering with Pitt on the frame, we have been able to stay on track with this timeline.” 3D model of the team’s design. The senior design team’s original goal was to expand on the current model of The Safety Sleeper to create a product capable of interfacing with hospital and facility beds. The results were planned to be a full-scale prototype, fitting the dimensions of the bed and to be able to handle the articulation of the bed without sacrificing the integrity of The Safety Sleeper enclosure. Early into the project, the team ran into its first challenge. Due to legal issues, the team was unable to see a hospital bed and acquire the necessary measurements until five weeks into the semester. So instead, the team worked from an articulating bed frame supplied by Abram’s Nation located at the company’s manufacturing facility. Team coordinator and ME major, Matthew Warner explains, “This bed-frame is meant for households, so it has very little resemblance to a hospital bed. It does, however, possess a level of articulation similar to that of a hospital bed, so our design will serve as a basis for the final product meant to integrate with a hospital bed.” Pre-shutdown, Van Korlaar and his colleagues at Abram’s Nation were very pleased with the design team’s progress. They were at the stage of testing their initial prototype. While this frame prototype worked as intended, it became clear there were issues with the enclosure's ability to adapt to the different positions that placed excess forces on the frame. While these weak points had been anticipated and were planned to be addressed in the revised model, there was enough concern to warrant a complete redesign. This led the team to pivot to an alternative design using a fixed frame surrounding an independently articulating platform.  Van Korlaar said, “This pivot is a better solution in the long run as it addresses all of the enclosure issues we encountered and allows the articulating platform to hold all the occupant's weight instead of some of it transferring to the frame itself.” The team and Craig Von Korlaar discussing their project over Zoom. Then, over spring break, the team faced its second major challenge when the announcement came from the University that facilities were shutting down and students were advised not to return to campus. Warner said his team’s in-person meetings transitioned to online Zoom meetings, which was sufficient for some aspects of the project, but became an issue when brainstorming ideas for the new design. Warner made a rough 3D model of the intended design using Paint 3D. Through screen sharing, the team then used the annotation tools on Zoom to draw on the model to better convey ideas. Prior to spring break, the design team was using the Swanson Center for Product Innovation (SCPI) to fabricate custom parts for their design and had access to Abram’s Nation production facility. Since Abram’s Nation manufactures their current products internally, they would cut the sections of aluminum tubing the team needed in-house using schematics the team provided the company with. Matt Warner creating parts for the new Safety Sleeper design at home. Luckily, Warner’s father has a machine shop at home with a 3D printer. So, Warner began producing custom parts for the new design at home and shipping them to Abram’s Nation, who are currently operating with a skeleton crew. The team at Abram’s Nation is, “...able to cut the sections of tubing that we require, as well as assemble and test the new physical prototype themselves with instructions from our group” says Warner. As a side note, Abram’s Nation has textile equipment and material that they use to make the fabric and mesh enclosures on their current product, so with some retooling they have been producing face masks for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) during the pandemic. The design team is disappointed there will not be a Senior Design Expo this year to present their work.  However, learning to overcome the various challenges they faced proved to be a valuable experience. Warner says, “One of the biggest learning points from this experience for me was that it really showed just how valuable in-person communication can be while brainstorming ideas. While it is very much possible to convey these ideas through an online, digital medium, nothing beats a pen and paper or a marker and a whiteboard.” Dr. David Schmidt, the Senior Design course instructor, notes, “The team’s effort and initiative exemplifies the spirit of ownership students develop during their capstone experience.” Warner and Van Korlaar remained in daily contact with one another throughout the project, with updates on design and fabrication processes and discussing key decisions for the project. Despite some initial skepticism about the ability to complete the project, the team remained dedicated to their goals. The team is grateful to Abram’s Nation for remaining a professional partner despite the ongoing changes within their company, and for maintaining contact and providing helpful input and feedback when needed. Likewise, Van Korlaar speaks very highly of Warner and the rest of the team, noting the initiative and work ethic of the group despite the challenges they have faced. He says, “I was blown away with the final delivery package, which was of higher quality and thoroughness than what I've seen from some established engineering firms.” Van Korlaar is already looking forward to partnering with another group of Pitt students this fall to tackle their next project.
Meagan Lenze
May
8
2020

MEMS Faculty Member Elected to Canadian Academy of Engineering Fellows

MEMS

Scott Mao, the John A. Swanson Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, was recently elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE). Mao is one of 50 highly accomplished individuals selected from a competitive nomination and selection process this year and was chosen in recognition of his outstanding contributions in fracture and mechanical behavior of materials, leading to significant progress and breakthroughs in the damage evaluation of engineering structures. He was nominated by Dr. David S. Wilkinson, Distinguished University Professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. An induction dinner for new fellows is typically held at the AGM Technical Symposium in June. This will be a virtual event this year with plans to postpone the in-person event to 2021.
Meagan Lenze
May
5
2020

Swanson School of Engineering Names Natasa Vidic as 2020 Outstanding Educator

Industrial, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (May 5, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recognized Natasa Vidic, PhD, assistant professor of industrial engineering, with the 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes her excellence in teaching and innovative work in improving learning methodologies for undergraduate students. The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. Vidic received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 and hired as a Visiting Professor immediately after. She joined the Department of Industrial Engineering as an assistant professor in 2010. Since then, she has taught over 3,500 engineering students and frequently has more than 200 students per semester. “Natasa has worked tirelessly as a valued member of the Undergraduate Committee to make sure our students receive the best possible learning experience,” said Bopaya Bidanda, PhD, Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering. “She is always working towards improve her courses each year both in content and technique, and has led the effort to review core course content in the entire curriculum to ensure that there is no duplication, and that technical material is integrated in a logical progression.” In addition to her course load and committee work, Vidic has spent the past decade researching engineering education, where she focuses on improving engineering students’ learning strategies through models and modeling. “This award reaffirms my past efforts to improve student learning outcomes,” said Vidic. “It inspires me to work even harder to make sure that we continue to offer outstanding education to our students and help them reach their potential.” Vidic was one of the first faculty members in the Swanson School to “flip” her class, a teaching method that presents the lecture content online for students to watch before class, leaving class time for discussing and applying the material. “Since the very first course I took from Dr. Vidic, I admired her ability to engage a classroom.  Even in a setting of over eighty students, you never felt as though you were just sitting through another hour and a half lecture,” said Sean Callaghan, who graduated with his BS in industrial engineering in 2019. “Most of the time, you were having a conversation with either a small group or the entire room and talking through the complex theories and problems that Dr. Vidic had just presented that day.” Vidic’s open-door policy has solidified her role as a mentor and advisor to a growing number of undergraduates. Among them is senior industrial engineering student Jacob Richards, who said, “I fervently believe that there is no faculty member like her, that she is one of those special cases that mean so much to people like me and that without her, I would not be where I am today.” The Outstanding Educator Award is usually presented in person at a meeting for faculty; however, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the award was announced by U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II in his address to the graduating industrial engineering class. “Improving the way we teach and serve students is a goal toward which we strive, and Natasa has been a tremendous role model in that respect,” said Martin. “The Swanson School is proud to have her among our faculty as she emboldens the next generation of the engineers to solve the toughest problems and advance the human condition.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
4
2020

Pitt ASCE Chapter Once Again Wins Distinguished Chapter Award and is Ridgway Award Finalist

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (May 4, 2020) ­— The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) received the organization’s Distinguished Chapter Award for Region II. The chapter is also one of five selected as a finalist for the Robert Ridgway Student Chapter Award, presented annually to the single most outstanding ASCE student chapter nationwide. “The chapter’s dedication to our profession and our department is truly inspiring,” says Radisav Vidic, PhD, professor and department chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Their accomplishments are a credit to them, our department, the Swanson School and Pitt.” The Distinguished Chapter Award is based on the chapter’s annual reports from the previous year. Among the highlights of this year was the chapter’s first Civil Engineering Day, which introduced high school students in the area to civil engineering through hands-on experiences. Students from Pitt ASCE won first place overall at the 2019 Ohio Valley Student Conference, attended the ASCE National Conference in Miami, presented at the Environmental & Water Resources Institute Conference, and sent seven students to the Region II Assembly at Drexel University. “As president, I could not be prouder of the students that make up this group. Every member should be very honored about what they've done and been a part of. They put their heart and soul into what they do, and this award really showcases that determination and drive on an national stage,” says 2019-2020 Pitt ASCE President Kaitie DeOre, who won the 2020 ASCE Bridge Leadership Award. “There were a lot of special moments this year, and I'm just really proud to say that I was a part of it. Being a finalist for the biggest award that a student chapter can win is the best possible way to end my tenure as president of Pitt ASCE; being chosen for this award is every president's dream.” The Ridgway Award was named for Robert Ridgway, past president of ASCE, and has been awarded annually since 1963. The Pitt ASCE Student Chapter has been a finalist for this award three times in five years and has received the Distinguished Chapter Award for Region II four times in five years. “This organization has done an excellent job of enhancing the experience of civil engineering undergraduates at the Swanson School,” said Anthony Iannacchione, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty advisor to the chapter. “Their passion for the field is evident in the events they organize and the way they welcome anyone who wants to be involved.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
4
2020

Innovating for Impact with Health Technology Entrepreneurship

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Equipped with a degree in bioengineering, four years of research and development experience, and an award-winning design process, Jacob “Jake” Meadows (BioE ’20) is prepared to embark on a new journey to the United Kingdom, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. Initially inspired to help individuals with fine motor control issues, Meadows and his classmate Tyler Bray (BioE ‘20) spent the last two years working on their project to help older individuals and people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. “In the Art of Making course, Tyler and I learned how to create solutions to complex real-world problems with human-centered design” said Meadows, a recent University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering alumnus. “Since then, we’ve worked with over 100 individuals with Parkinson’s, physical therapists, and physicians to continue developing a wearable device that detects and alerts poor posture.” The project, Posture Protect, has since received a series of awards and funding, including Best Overall Project at the Swanson School Design Expo and first place at the Innovation Institute’s Startup Blitz. Meadows and Bray also participated in the University’s student accelerator, Blast Furnace, and were part of the first cohort of the University’s new student startup incubator, the Forge. Continuing this project outside of the classroom also motivated Meadows, Bray, and their mentor Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering, to start Classroom to Community, a program that seeks to bridge the gap between academic projects and real-world impact. As Design & Innovation Manager, Meadows helped grow the program to support six student teams comprising more than 30 students in a collaborative community space on the fourth floor of Benedum Hall called “Studio 437.” Meadows also worked in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at Pitt, where he helped build products to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities. On campus, he was involved in student organizations and served as president of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, and as the public relations chair of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Meadows will use the Fulbright scholarship to attend University College London (UCL), where he will pursue a one-year master’s degree in entrepreneurship with the goal of starting a health technology company that focuses on healthy aging. “Studying in London, one of the world's leading centers of entrepreneurship, will empower me with an international Meadows at a user outreach session at the Fit4Boxing Gym in Allison Park after one of the RockSteady Parkinson’s Boxing classes. network of people that are excited to make health technology more accessible, affordable and effective,” said Meadows. “These relationships will enable me to begin a career dedicated to improving the lives of older individuals and people with chronic conditions through international collaboration.” He plans to connect with the Global Disability Innovation Hub, an organization at UCL whose goal is to challenge how the world thinks about disability through co-design, collaboration and innovation. He will also continue participating in the “maker movement” by joining UCL’s Institute of Making. “I care a lot about inclusive design, and I am excited to continue promoting it in both engineering and entrepreneurship,” he said. Meadows’ creativity doesn’t stop at health technology design. In addition to his studies, he hopes to explore different regions of the U.K. and continue to practice another passion -- photography. “I am excited to explore the culture, architecture and landscapes of the United Kingdom through the lens of my camera alongside fellow photographers I meet in Britain,” he said. When Meadows returns to the U.S., he plans to continue addressing issues in aging by starting a health technology company that will combine empathetic design and advanced technologies to benefit the public good. He hopes that this experience will give him the global perspective needed to apply different approaches to medical care and help individuals age in a healthy way. “My studies in the UK will ultimately help me promote the global shift in health technology from expensive and intimidating to affordable and empowering,” he said. # # #

May
4
2020

Czech You Later: BioE Alumna Receives Fulbright Scholarship to Teach English Abroad

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Following a well-rounded four years at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering alumna Madeline Hobbs (BioE ‘20) will use a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an English teaching assistantship (ETA) position in the Czech Republic. In addition to her engineering studies at Pitt, Hobbs was a member of the Blue and Gold Society, served as a Swanson School ambassador and was a defensive player on Pitt’s varsity D1 women’s soccer team. During her time at Pitt, Hobbs also capitalized on opportunities to travel abroad. In 2018, she used a Gilman Scholarship to study at the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon, France, and this past summer she had an internship in Cape Town, South Africa. These unique experiences helped influence her decision to apply to the Fulbright scholarship. “In France, I learned about engineering from an entirely new perspective and the influence technology and language can have on a culture,” she said. “In South Africa, I learned about the impact of teaching English and math, doing engineering outreach, and the barriers so many girls around the world are facing in accessing education and sports. “In their own way, both experiences taught me to be humble for the multitude of opportunities I have been given in my life and at Pitt,” she continued. Though her athletic experience doesn’t define her, there are lessons that Hobbs has learned through sports that she would like to spread to students across the globe. “I have learned about sacrifices, time management and pushing myself to limits I never thought were possible,” said Hobbs about her time on the soccer team. “Most importantly it taught me to believe in myself when no one else does.” Her unique background will be an asset in her upcoming role. One of the things that drew her to the Czech Republic is its specialized secondary school structure and the need for ETAs with a STEM background, an uncommon combination that she owns. “I am excited to make one-on-one connections in the community, and I hope to expand my role outside of the English classroom to provide math and science academic assistance and become involved with the local youth soccer program,” she said. Hobbs believes that the Swanson School has been instrumental in preparing her for the future and has helped shape her post-graduate plans. “I have learned fundamental problem-solving skills, which will be vital in managing roadblocks in my role ahead,” she said. “I have also learned the importance of teamwork and how much more successful we can all be by combining our knowledge and supporting one another. I have learned about the power of an idea and where it can take you. I want to thank everyone at the Swanson School and Pitt for preparing and supporting me for this next opportunity.” # # #

Apr

Apr
29
2020

Engineering a New Model for Respiratory Infection Treatment

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 29, 2020) — When a person contracts a respiratory viral infection like COVID-19 or influenza, the immune system responds in a myriad of ways to eliminate the virus. Respiratory viral infections are so dangerous, however, because excessive immune responses may cause extreme lung inflammation. However, new modeling research may help doctors better predict and treat patients who are most at risk to that extreme response. Jason Shoemaker, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, believes engineering-based mathematical modeling can help clinicians understand why some people’s immune systems react so severely, predicting the risk factors and pinpointing the most effective treatments to reduce inflammation. The National Science Foundation granted Shoemaker a CAREER Award for $547,494 over five years to create computational models of the immune response to seasonal, deadly (avian) influenza viruses, which can help identify the best way to suppress immune activity and reduce tissue inflammation. Since this work targets the immune system and not the specific virus, the models are expected to impact many respiratory infections, including COVID-19 “The immune system is a complex, interactive, dynamic system. Its goal is to clear the infection while minimizing collateral damage to the lungs and other organs in the process. But when it comes to respiratory infections, it’s been known that your immune response can do more damage than it should,” says Shoemaker. “Engineering-based mathematical modeling approaches are ideal for simulating such a complex system and predicting the system’s response to viral infections and treatment.” Even outside of the current pandemic, respiratory virus infections are a constant threat to public health. Seasonal influenza can result in up to 700,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths in the United States. Shoemaker’s models will enable researchers to uncover the biochemical markers that lead to excessive immune responses in respiratory infections and will help identify the best method for suppressing immune activity in those cases. In addition to this research, Shoemaker and his team will develop virtual reality (VR) games to teach the public about the immune system. “Our computational work is not tangible, and it’s hard to engage our community with something they can’t see or touch,” says Shoemaker. “The idea behind our VR games is to create a virtual environment to allow someone to dive in and observe the chemical behaviors of the immune system, seeing up close how they can lead to a dysregulation of the immune system and severe disease.” The award, titled “CAREER: Enabling Immunomodulatory Treatment of Influenza Infection using Multiscale Modeling,” begins on May 1, 2020. The NSF CAREER award program honors “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
27
2020

Giving Distressed Lungs a Safer Fighting Chance

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 27, 2020) … A device designed at the University of Pittsburgh could help improve outcomes as a treatment for COVID-19 when used in conjunction with non-invasive or mechanical ventilation, and it recently received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health records from a New York study showed that close to 90 percent of patients who were placed on mechanical ventilation did not survive.1 Some intensive care units are now considering mechanical ventilation as a last resort because of the complications and side effects associated with the process, and researchers believe this device could help. The Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System is a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide directly from the blood, much as a dialysis machine does the work of the kidneys. The device was developed by William Federspiel, PhD, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and the Pittsburgh-based lung-assist device company ALung Technologies, co-founded by Federspiel. A public health emergency related to COVID-19 was declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on February 4, 2020, and the FDA issued ALung the EUA to treat lung failure caused by the disease. Hemolung could help eliminate damage to the lungs caused by ventilators and does not require intubation or sedation, which allows patients to remain mobile during treatment. “Ventilation can cause serious issues in lungs that are already being damaged by the disease itself,” said Federspiel. “The Hemolung would allow the lung to rest and heal during the ventilation process by allowing for gentler ventilation. It could also prevent certain patients, who have less severe symptoms, from having to go on ventilation in the first place.” Mechanical ventilation requires patients to be sedated and intubated, and a myriad of complications can arise from the treatment, including collapsed lung, alveolar damage, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. For these more critically ill patients, the Hemolung could be used to help remove CO2, which would allow the mechanical ventilation process to be done more gently. Before resorting to mechanical ventilation, less severe COVID-19 cases can use non-invasive ventilation, which uses a mask to help support breathing, but sometimes this treatment is not sufficient. In this case, the Hemolung device could be used to support the non-invasive methods and prevent mechanical ventilation altogether. Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies, stated, “With published mortality rates as high as 90% for patients receiving invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), we believe that the Hemolung can be a valuable tool for physicians to be used in conjunction with IMV, by reducing or eliminating the potential of further lung damage caused by high ventilator driving pressures, often referred to as Ventilator Induced Lung Injury. Many of the academic medical centers involved with our clinical trial have already requested the use of the Hemolung RAS for treatment of their COVID-19 patients.” Created to help chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients, Hemolung has already been used on thousands of patients in Europe, where it was approved in 2013, and it is currently in clinical trials in the United States. Since the onset of the pandemic, the device has been used on some COVID-19 patients with success; however, set-up of the Hemolung is not trivial. Medical professionals would need to be trained to use the technology, and it would take time to supply a significant number of devices. Federspiel also holds appointments in the School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) at Pitt and is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. “This technology developed by Dr. Federspiel and ALung Technologies is a perfect example of how collaborative research at the McGowan Institute can impact human lives,” said William Wagner, director of MIRM and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at Pitt. “A clinical viewpoint is necessary, but medical training doesn’t give you an engineer’s perspective of design and manufacturing. You need a solid foot in both camps to make progress.” # # # 1: Most COVID-19 Patients Placed on Ventilators Died, New York Study Shows, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-04-22/most-covid-19-patients-placed-on-ventilators-died-new-york-study-shows

Apr
27
2020

ExOne and Pitt Collaborate to Produce Promising Reusable Respirators with 3D Printed Metal Filters

Covid-19, MEMS, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

News release originally published by ExOne. Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH (April 27, 2020) ... The ExOne Company and the University of Pittsburgh have partnered to develop reusable metal filters that fit into a specially designed respirator cartridge for sustainable, long-term protection against contaminants, such as COVID-19. ExOne’s binder jetting technology is a high-speed form of 3D printing that can produce metal parts with specific porosity levels that can effectively filter out contaminants while allowing airflow. ExOne has 3D printed respirator filters in two metals — copper and 316L stainless steel — and a range of porosity levels for use inside a unique cartridge designed by the Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science department in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Initial testing for airflow and filtration efficiency is currently underway, and the filters are being optimized with the goal of adhering to an N95 respirator standard. “Our team has been working urgently to expedite this promising and reusable solution for medical personnel on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Hartner, ExOne CEO. “Our customers routinely print porous metal filters for a variety of purposes, and we are confident that we’ll have a solution soon that can enable medical personnel to sterilize metal filters for repeated reuse, eliminating waste. Once approved, we can print these filters in a variety of sizes for respirators, ventilators, anesthesia masks or other equipment.” “The advantage of binder jet 3D printing over other additive manufacturing methods for this filter application is the ability to utilize the porosity of the printed part and then fine tune it during the high temperature densification or sintering process to achieve optimum filtering and airflow performance,” said Markus Chmielus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the Swanson School. 3D Printed Metal Filter Project Details ExOne’s binder jetting technology uses an industrial printhead to selectively deposit a liquid binder onto a thin layer of powdered material, layer by layer, until a final object is formed. After 3D printing powdered metals, the object is then sintered in a furnace to dial in a specific level of porosity. While binder jetted metal is typically sintered to full density, some applications require a specific level of porosity, such as filters. To test filters in different metals and porosities, Dr. Chmielus’ research group is using CT scanners to analyze the microstructure and porosity of the filters. Ansys, the global leader in engineering simulation, also based near Pittsburgh, is providing additional computer simulation support to analyze and optimize the performance of the filters. While copper and stainless steel filters are currently being tested, copper has been known to have antibacterial properties since ancient times. The first recorded use of copper to kill germs was in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the oldest known medical document in history, according to the Smithsonian. Many studies have proven copper’s disinfectant powers. One landmark 2015 study, funded by the Department of Defense, revealed that copper alloys contributed to a 58% reduction in infections. COVID-19 research also suggests the virus dies faster on copper than on other surfaces. ###
Author: Sarah Webster, ExOne Global Marketing Director
Apr
24
2020

Shaniel Bowen Receives Ford Foundation Fellowship for Women’s Health Research

Bioengineering, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2020) … Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women’s health continues to be an underserved area of research in science and medicine. Shaniel Bowen, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, is doing her part to narrow that gap by studying the biomechanical roots of a common pelvic floor disorder, and she has received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to support these efforts. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken and allow the organs to push against the vagina. This common condition adversely affects women’s quality of life, including their body image, sexual function and personal relationships. Surgical repair for POP often fails within five years and requires reoperation, but the exact causes of this failure are unknown. The goal of Bowen’s research is to create a tool to better assess POP repairs. “The standard tool used to evaluate POP repairs is limited to external vaginal examination,” explained Bowen. “As a result, it cannot detect the internal changes and interactions of pelvic structures involved in POP recurrence.” This work is led by her advisor, Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Abramowitch’s research uses experimental and computational methods to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. He has a background in biomechanics, which he and the lab believes will play an important role in better understanding the causes of failed surgery. “Nearly one-third of POP repairs fail due to abnormal mechanical behavior of the muscles, connective tissues, and nerves that help provide pelvic floor support following surgery,” said Bowen. “Failure of POP repair is fundamentally a biomechanical process; therefore, a biomechanical understanding of how and why repairs fail is needed to better treat POP and prevent its recurrence after surgery.” Bowen’s goal is to create a novel assessment tool to evaluate and predict surgical outcomes of POP repairs based on patient anatomy. The project uses magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to get a better idea of the internal changes after POP surgery. She will apply statistical shape analysis and finite element modeling to the MRIs of 89 women with POP that underwent native tissue repair or mesh repair 30-42 months post-surgery. She will then use these data to identify anatomic descriptors and predictors of surgical outcomes and quantify the relationship between the mechanical demand required for POP repair to successfully correct prolapse. “We need to address the gaps in scientific knowledge about women’s health,” said Bowen. “If this research is successful, it will advance our biomechanical knowledge of how and why failures occur after POP surgery. We hope that this tool will provide useful data to clinicians and help guide and optimize surgical decision-making to improve POP repair.” # # # About the Ford Foundation Fellowship Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Predoctoral, Dissertation, and Postdoctoral fellowships will be awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

Apr
22
2020

Giving Virtual Recruitment the Personal Touch

Covid-19, Diversity, Student Profiles, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (April 22, 2020) -- During this time of year, the staff at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering would be busy welcoming prospective and admitted students and their families to campus. Calendars would be filled with tutoring and mentoring sessions, events like Admitted Student Day, tours of Benedum Hall and Q&A sessions about life as an engineering student. Except this year, since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented those in-person events from taking place, the staff has shifted to using the technology at hand to welcome students virtually. While there has been an adjustment period, student support services are reporting positive results, and some are even considering keeping remote activities as an option for families and students who aren’t able to attend the in-person events. From In-Person to Virtual-Person Lauren Byland, associate director for the First-Year Engineering Program Office, has been organizing virtual information sessions for admitted students for about a month now, with between 40 and 80 students and their families joining each one. Despite the pandemic, recruitment numbers are approximately 50 percent ahead of where they were at this time last year. “The virtual sessions have been going very well. They feature a professional recruitment team staff member such as myself or Beth Scott, the campus visit and recruitment coordinator for the Swanson School,” says Byland. “One of our senior-level Engineering Ambassadors presents, too, so they can get a student perspective.” The team hosted its first virtual Admitted Student Day on April 13 on YouTube Live, and they’ve ramped up social media efforts to connect with students. The Pink Panthers Mentorship program, which started last year, is continuing to pair admitted female students with a mentor at the Swanson School. The group had conducted eight of the 12 scheduled events, and when asked if the admitted students would be interested in virtual events, 25 of 37 signed up. “These events will be smaller and more personalized, and we are happy that technology allows us to make these connections. Nothing can replace a personalized on-campus visit, but these programs certainly help them see themselves as Pitt Panthers and feel connected to our School,” says Byland. “We were forced into this virtual recruitment world, but now that we are doing it, we plan to still do virtual sessions or meetings after we come back to campus for families that may not be able to visit us in person.“ Christopher Kirchhof, coordinator of transfer student services at the Swanson School, has also begun using virtual alternatives to the small, in-person meetings usually held at this time of year. A majority of transfer students come from within the University of Pittsburgh’s Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, but Kirchhof also spends time visiting other schools to meet with transfer students there in groups. Those group meetings have become one-on-one Skype calls. “To me, I think students and families have been understanding that this is a pivot from the norm and have been appreciative of the one-on-one outreach. I keep going back to the quote, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention;’ we have had the technological capabilities to do virtual outreach, but this situation has forced us to rethink our practices,” says Kirchhof. “While nothing can replicate an on-campus or in-person meeting, I’m thinking that once we are back on campus, virtual advising for students at other campuses may become the norm, at least for the first interaction.” Excelling in the Digital Space Serving more than 250 undergraduate students, Pitt EXCEL is a diversity program that provides academic support, mentoring and career development for underrepresented minorities. More than that, they help students develop a community and professionally grow together. As campus closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, program staff had to quickly adapt these services to remote learning. “The transition to remote learning has been quite difficult academically,” said Halima Morafa, a sophomore mechanical engineering student. “Many of my teachers have been quite accommodating; however, it is still a big change now that I’m back at home, and a lot of the resources that I would utilize at Pitt are not available.” Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, and the engineering student support staff have been developing new ways to implement their programs and services. “I think the students realize what they had on campus was something special, and we’re collectively doing everything we can to recreate it,” said Moore. “Pitt EXCEL is having virtual one-on-one meetings, and the student organizations have jumped right in with tutoring and ‘lounges’ where they can meet as a group and discuss tips for working from home.” Student groups like the National Society for Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers have held virtual elections, while DIVA and Brotherhood have continued to provide virtual workshops. “It has been business not-as-usual, but it has been great,” said Moore. “At first I thought it was going to be hard for us to change everything to virtual so quickly, but it wasn’t. The students, to their credit, are resilient.” The program has bolstered its presence on social media, where Moore holds weekly Instagram Live (@PittEXCEL) events called, “Fabulous Friday.” The virtual gatherings are a widely attended 15-minutes of motivation on subjects varying from “The What-ifs of Life” to “Flying Without Wings.” They have also planned an Instagram Live cooking show with alumni so that they can discuss healthy eating habits during the quarantine. “One thing that has remained consistent is our alumni engagement,” said Moore. “They have great wisdom and advice to give our students about how they can navigate these uncertain times.” Another recent development established by the undergraduate coordinators is an engineering hotline. Students can fill out an online form to discuss any topic, such as co-op, tutoring, or professional development, and they are paired up with someone who can help. Alumni are available to give advice and prepare students to enter the workforce, and upperclassmen are available to assist them with challenging coursework or discuss their personal experiences as an engineering student. The hotline is available from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. on weekends. “The Instagram Lives, the hotline, and Ms. Moore’s online advising sessions have been so helpful because it gives this scary time a nice sense of normality and stability,” said Anaya Joynes, a sophomore industrial engineering student. “She reminds me that I will still reach my goals and we are still a family, though we are far away.” Moore said, “For some students, life looks different when they go home, but they know that they also have a home at Pitt, and we can provide that extra support and help them process all of this.” Investing in Future Students INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program that welcomes and supports high school students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields, has shifted their operations online, as well. They have continued to offer advising, tutoring and workshops but have also added virtual meet-up groups with Pitt undergraduates who are also INVESTING NOW alumni. When it was clear the University would be moving to online interactions, INVESTING NOW sent instructions for families on how to use Zoom, and advisors and students reached out to contact students individually to schedule sessions. “Smaller group interactions are best, and relationships matter. Because our college student employees (both student coordinators and tutors) already had relationships with our pre-college students, it was easier to make the connection,” says Alaine Allen, PhD, director of Educational Outreach and Community Engagement at the Swanson School and a co-director of the Broadening Equity in STEM Center at Pitt. “These relationships that were built on trust make the connections stronger and allow our pre-college students to see interacting with the college students as a treat.” In addition to the usual tutoring and mentoring activities, INVESTING NOW has also begun holding regular meet-up groups with Pitt students where they discuss topics like “quaren-things to do,” college planning, games, time management and more. Yet, Allen has noticed a disparity in the students’ technological skills and preparation, which has presented additional challenges. “We have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly our high school students and our undergraduate tutors and mentors adjusted to the virtual space,” says Allen. “However, we have been alarmed by the difference of experience our students are having based on the school they attend. Our biggest challenge has been the academic expectations of students, depending on their school and/or district.” Luckily, Allen says most students have access to a computer or smartphone, and they’re in touch with community organizations who can support student technology needs if necessary. However, while some districts were prepared with online curricula, not all of them were able to immediately make a smooth transition. “Because of the difference, not all of our students are as engaged as possible,” says Allen. “This experience has made us realize the importance of assessing students access to technology in advance. We are very concerned that various levels of access have only increased the educational inequity and challenges present.” # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Apr
20
2020

Twelve Pitt Students Awarded 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2020) … Twelve University of Pittsburgh students were awarded a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is the highest number of students to receive this competitive award since 2015 when the University had a total of 13 recipients. An additional sixteen Pitt students also earned an honorable mention. For the past two years, the University’s Honors College has been working with the Office of the Provost to host informational workshops and boost participation in the fellowship program. Patrick Loughlin, professor of bioengineering, also holds workshops in the Swanson School of Engineering to encourage graduate students to apply to external fellowships. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. GRFP supports the graduate study of U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents attaining research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education at institutions located in the United States. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. Four Swanson School students and three alumni are among this year’s cohort. Three current students and three alumni received honorable mentions. Award Recipients Janet Canady, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. George Stetten’s lab where she helps design and test FingerSight, a device for the visually impaired. Zachary Fritts, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Tamer Ibrahim’s lab where he helps design and build multi-channel transmit arrays for ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Brian Gentry, a mechanical engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab where he investigates local solvent effects on density functional theory energy calculations applied to a class of organic compounds called chelating agents. Evan Miu, a chemical engineering graduate student, works with Drs. James R. McKone and Giannis Mpourmpakis. His research explores combined thermo- and electro-catalytic processes through experimental electrochemistry and density functional theory. Honorable Mentions Evan Becker, an electrical and computer engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov’s lab where he has designed representation schemes for modeling and simulating dynamic behavior in systems such as intracellular networks and geopolitical systems. Dr. Miskov-Zivanov’s lab uses discrete logic techniques, allowing him to rapidly assemble these models from scientific literature. Alexander Maldonado, a chemical engineering graduate student, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab to develop novel ways to accurately and quickly predict how complicated chemical reactions occur in solvents using state-of-the-art quantum chemistry and machine learning. Jordyn Ting, a bioengineering graduate student, works in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs with Dr. Douglas Weber where her work focuses on investigating the spared connection between the motor cortex and muscles. Swanson School alumni Kiara Lee (BioE, Brown University), Harrison Douglas (ChemE, Michigan State University) and Katarina Klett (BioE, Stanford University) also received awards. The alumni to receive honorable mentions include Katreena Thomas (IE, Arizona State University), Richard Hollenbach (MEMS, Duke University) and Arjun Acharya (BioE, University of Utah). # # #

Apr
20
2020

Engineering a (Sanitizing) Solution

Covid-19, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Repurposed from Pittwire. When labs at the Swanson School of Engineering closed for research purposes, Götz Veser, the Nickolas DeCecco Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and associate director of the Center for Energy, looked for a way his equipment could be put to use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Riddhesh Patel, one of Veser’s graduate students, had an idea: Use the lab’s large-scale batch reactors—essentially enormous stirred glass containers—to blend hand sanitizer for UPMC, which is experiencing a severe shortage for their medical personnel. After receiving permission to return to the Pittsburgh campus, Veser, Patel and graduate student Nasser Al Azri set to work. Al Azri maintains and cleans the equipment with support from Patel, as the scope of the effort has increased. Veser supervises production, solicits donations of chemicals needed and shuttles the sanitizer to UPMC’s South Side operation. “I do what any good professor does: Stay out of the way and make sure that my students have what they need to do their good work,” he said. To date, the lab has produced more than 150 gallons of sanitizer and plans to continue to produce sanitizer as long as it can get supplies. For more information or to contribute supplies, contact Dr. Götz Veser.

Apr
20
2020

Mind Over Body: The Search for Stronger Brain-Computer Interfaces

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from Pittwire. Click here to read the original story. When people suffer debilitating injuries or illnesses of the nervous system, they sometimes lose the ability to perform tasks normally taken for granted, such as walking, playing music or driving a car. They can imagine doing something, but the injury might block that action from occurring. Brain-computer interface systems exist that can translate brain signals into a desired action to regain some function, but they can be a burden to use because they don’t always operate smoothly and need readjustment to complete even simple tasks. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are working on understanding how the brain works when learning tasks with the help of brain-computer interface technology. In a set of papers, the second of which was published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the team is moving the needle forward on brain-computer interface technology intended to help improve the lives of amputee patients who use neural prosthetics. “Let’s say during your work day, you plan out your evening trip to the grocery store,” said Aaron Batista, associate professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “That plan is maintained somewhere in your brain throughout the day, but probably doesn’t reach your motor cortex until you actually get to the store. We’re developing brain-computer interface technologies that will hopefully one day function at the level of our everyday intentions.” Batista, Pitt postdoctoral research associate Emily Oby and the Carnegie Mellon researchers have collaborated on developing direct pathways from the brain to external devices. They use electrodes smaller than a hair that record neural activity and make it available for control algorithms. In the team's first study, published last June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group examined how the brain changes with the learning of new brain-computer interface skills. “When the subjects form a motor intention, it causes patterns of activity across those electrodes, and we render those as movements on a computer screen. The subjects then alter their neural activity patterns in a manner that evokes the movements that they want,” said project co-director Steven Chase, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Neuroscience Institute at Carnegie Mellon. In the new study, the team designed technology whereby the brain-computer interface readjusts itself continually in the background to ensure the system is always in calibration and ready to use. “We change how the neural activity affects the movement of the cursor, and this evokes learning,” said Pitt’s Oby, the study’s lead author. “If we changed that relationship in a certain way, it required that our animal subjects produce new patterns of neural activity to learn to control the movement of the cursor again. Doing so took them weeks of practice, and we could watch how the brain changed as they learned.” In a sense, the algorithm “learns” how to adjust to the noise and instability that is inherent in neural recording interfaces. The findings suggest that the process for humans to master a new skill involves the generation of new neural activity patterns. The team eventually would like this technology to be used in a clinical setting for stroke rehabilitation. Such self-recalibration procedures have been a long-sought goal in the field of neural prosthetics, and the method presented in the team’s studies is able to recover automatically from instabilities without requiring the user to pause to recalibrate the system by themselves. “Let’s say that the instability was so large such that the subject was no longer able to control the brain-computer interface,” said Yu. “Existing self-recalibration procedures are likely to struggle in that scenario, whereas in our method, we’ve demonstrated it can in many cases recover from even the most dramatic instabilities.” Both research projects were performed as part of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. This cross-institutional research and education program leverages the strengths of Pitt in basic and clinical neuroscience and bioengineering with those of Carnegie Mellon in cognitive and computational neuroscience. Other Carnegie Mellon collaborators on the projects include co-director Byron Yu, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, and also postdoctoral researchers Alan Degenhart and William Bishop, who led the conduct of the research.

Apr
17
2020

IE Senior Samy Helmbacher Earns Second All-ACC Academic Recognition

Industrial, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Originally posted at Pitt Athletics. PITTSBURGH (April 17, 2020) ... Three members of the University of Pittsburgh swimming & diving team were selected to the 2020 All-ACC Academic Team. Pitt senior swimmer Samy Helmbacher earned his second All-ACC Academic recognition, while senior swimmer Eben Vorster and sophomore diver Serena Buchwald were both first-time honorees. "We are extremely proud of these three tremendous student-athletes," said Pitt head coach John Hargis. "This recognition highlights the continued level of accomplishment for each of these athletes as well as our entire program – both in the pool and in the classroom. They are the true definition of the Pitt student-athlete." The ACC has now named 13 Pitt swimmers or divers as worthy of All-ACC Academic Team honors during Coach Hargis' four seasons at the helm of the program. Helmbacher becomes the fourth member of the Pitt swimming & diving program to earn multiple All-ACC Academic Team recognitions since the Panthers joined the conference in 2013-14, following in the footsteps of Kinga Cichowska, Zach Lierley and Meme Sharp. The graduating senior from Rosheim, France, finished his Pitt career as one of the most decorated swimmers in program history. Along with his two All-ACC Academic honors, the individual-medley standout qualified for several ACC championship finals during his four-year collegiate career, earned an ACC medal and qualified for the NCAA Championships – all while studying industrial engineering. The holder of three Pitt records, Helmbacher is also a three-time domestic national champion in his native France and represented his homeland at the 2019 World University Games last summer in Italy. A fellow men's swimming senior, Vorster received his first selection to the All-ACC Academic Team. A film and media studies major, Vorster has been a four-year star for the Panthers in the pool and finished his Pitt career by setting the program record in the 200-yard freestyle and earning his first appearance in an ACC championship final when he qualified for the top heat in the 400-yard individual medley. The Bloemfontein, South Africa native won a domestic national title in his homeland last year and represented South Africa at the World University Games and the World Championships in South Korea. For Buchwald, her first All-ACC Academic Team selection comes after she was named an All-American for this season by the CSCAA in platform diving. Buchwald scored in multiple events at her first ACC Championships, then qualified for the NCAA Championships for the first time after a great performance on platform at the NCAA Zone Diving Meet. The sophomore diver from Winnipeg, Canada, is enrolled in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

Apr
15
2020

Pitt’s Manufacturing Assistance Center Partners with PPE Connect PGH to Manufacture Face Shields

Covid-19

PITTSBURGH (April 15, 2020) ­— The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has launched makerspaces onto the front lines for PPE production. Makerspaces across the country are stepping up with 3D-printed or laser-cut face shields to help fill the gaps in the supply of PPE as hospitals and clinics fight the coronavirus. The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) Makerspace in Homewood is no exception. The Makerspace is partnering with PPE Connect PGH, a local initiative that seeks to connect donated or locally manufactured PPE with the healthcare providers who need it, to produce as many as a few hundred 3D-printed face shields each day. “The opportunity to use our privilege to support our community, healthcare system, and planet through manufacturing aligns exactly with the MAC’s mission. Makerspaces, especially those that are part of educational institutions, foster communities of creative problem solvers who are continuously seeking new ideas to solve our world’s biggest problems,” said Caleb Ashcraft, supervisor at the MAC Makerspace. “So, when something as devastating and universal as this situation arose, there’s no surprise that the Maker community was one of the first responders.” The MAC Makerspace is among several partners in Pittsburgh working with PPE Connect PGH to produce face shields. PPE Connect PGH was founded by Alejandro Sklar and Pitt alumnus Davit Davitian to help address the PPE shortage in Pittsburgh. Sklar has been active in the start-up manufacturing community in Pittsburgh and realized the role he could play in addressing the PPE shortage. “I was part of a lot of conversations with others in the start-up community about how we can help connect the already-produced PPE that people wanted to donate with the facilities that could use them. I believe if you’re in a position to help, you help,” explains Sklar. “We started taking donations and requests on our website, and the initiative grew from there.” The company’s website accepts donations of items like N95 masks, surgical masks, goggles, isolation gowns, and nitrile gloves. (Learn more about donations here.) It also allows medical facilities to submit requests for needed items. PPE Connect PGH found that many medical practitioners were eager to receive face shields as well as the hard-to-acquire masks. Because facilities are told they need to start reusing respirator masks rather than getting a new one before each patient is seen, face shields are a second line of defense that can help stop airborne particles from reaching the mask, protecting the wearer and prolonging the life of the respirators. The company began partnering with makerspaces and small manufacturers in the city to create and produce the shields, which are quicker and easier to produce than respirator masks. Pitt’s MAC Makerspace is one of several partners in the area working to ramp up production and meet the initial demand for face shields. At the MAC Makerspace, the team is using an 80W laser cutter to create the shields, but other partners are also 3D-printing shield parts. “The entire global makerspace community has contributed to the design and execution of these shields, as we share a lot of the same style of equipment,” explained Ashcraft. “If there are issues, or best practice improvements, the news spreads fast across Pittsburgh.” The collaboration is but one example the Swanson School’s efforts to help with the PPE shortage. The Pitt Makerspace, part of the undergraduate program, created an open-source face shield that is available for anyone to download and create with a die- or laser-cutter and a single sheet of clear plastic material; they, too, are working with local partners to produce as many shields as they can. Götz Veser, PhD, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and graduate student researcher Nasser al Azri, have produced over 100 gallons of hand sanitizer in their lab from donated materials. Researchers from every department at the Swanson School were able to donate a combined five pallets of PPE and sanitizing equipment from their labs; the University of Pittsburgh has implemented a university-wide process to handle the growing number of donations coming from across the Pitt community. “Who we are as a university and a city is a special player in all of this. Within the technology boom rapidly growing, there is the seed of creativity and grit that has defined Pittsburgh. This opportunity to partner with other public organizations, makerspaces, and universities on behalf of the Swanson School is a demonstration of what can be accomplished when we leverage our resources and work together,” said Ashcraft. “There has never been a situation such as this, and we are figuring this out as we go, but when it’s all said and done, there will remain a blueprint for how universities and the public can work together to solves our world’s most consequential problems.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
15
2020

Peering Into Undergraduate Research at Pitt: Swanson School of Engineering Publishes Sixth Edition of Ingenium

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

PITTSBURGH (April 15, 2020) … Demonstrating the diverse and exceptional undergraduate research in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Associate Dean for Research David A. Vorp recently released the sixth edition of Ingenium. This edition features a collection of 26 articles that highlight work performed throughout the 2019-20 academic year and during the school’s 2019 summer research program. Ingenium mirrors the peer-review process of scientific journals by inviting undergraduate researchers to submit manuscripts to a board of graduate students. The review board provides feedback to which the undergraduates are required to respond before their work is accepted. The co-editors-in-chief for this edition were Monica Liu, a bioengineering graduate student, and Jianan Jian, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student. “I think Ingenium is a great experience for undergraduates,” said Liu. “They have been diligently working on research all year, and Ingenium is a great way for them to present it to a larger audience and get experience writing a scientific paper.” While the publication is designed to help prepare undergraduates, members of the graduate review board also benefit from a different point of view in the academic writing process. “Graduate students spend so much time writing about their research and incorporating feedback,” said Liu. “Ingenium is a great way to experience the other side of things -- taking the time to review others' work gives us a broader perspective when we review our own work.” Ingenium features research from each department in the Swanson School and is divided into five categories: experimental research, computational research, device design, methods, and review. The publication is sponsored by the school’s Office of Research. “With each year and with each edition of Ingenium, we continue to see notable and impressive academic and professional growth and development in our undergraduate students when given opportunities to engage in scientific research,” said Vorp. “We witness students taking the knowledge, skills, and information that they learn in their coursework and apply it in a meaningful and intentional manner outside of the classroom. These thriving students are our future -- of both our highly accredited institution and our world.” ###

Apr
14
2020

Michelle Heusser Receives Scholarship from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 14, 2020) … Michelle Heusser, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, received a scholarship from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement (NCM). Although the 2020 meeting did not take place, the society recently recognized the scholarship winners and celebrated their work. Members of the NCM pursue the common goal of engaging in research to better understand how the brain controls movement. Heusser works under the direction of Neeraj Gandhi, professor of bioengineering, in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Cognition and Sensorimotor Integration lab. She is studying how neurons in the superior colliculus of the brain signal different types of information. “We know that neurons in the superior colliculus sometimes send a ‘visual’ signal, indicating that there is an object of interest in our field of view. We also know that these neurons can send a ‘motor’ signal, indicating our desire to make an eye movement towards that object,” she explained. “In this project, I asked the question, ‘What signals are represented in the time between seeing an object and making an eye movement towards it?’” Heusser found that the type of information represented by these neurons during this period is distinct from both a ‘visual’ and a ‘motor’ signal and could be related to yet another signal type. This work can be applied to many disorders, such as ADHD, in which individuals can lose control over their ability to properly move their eyes. “The results of this study give us additional knowledge about the typical types of information conveyed by these healthy neurons and may, in the future, allow researchers to compare these patterns to those exhibited by the neurons of individuals with eye movement disorders,” she said. Heusser is also one of 20 graduate students from across the University to participate in this year’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition. In addition to a first place and runner-up prize, the competition awards a People’s Choice prize that is selected by the general public. Voting for the award closes on Friday, April 17th, and the Office of the Provost plans to announce the winners on Monday, April 20th. A total of six Swanson School graduate students are participating in the 2020 competition. # # #

Apr
7
2020

Pitt Makerspace Creates Open Source Face Shield to Fill Local PPE Need

Covid-19, Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) — The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) caused by the spread of the coronavirus has inspired a fleet of makers in the community to pitch in and make items like masks and face shields to be used in hospitals. The Pitt Makerspace at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is no exception—a team there has partnered with a local printing company and the UPMC 3D Print Lab to create a single material plastic shield, and they have made the details free for anyone to use. The project was led by Brandon Barber, the design, innovation and outreach coordinator in the Department of Bioengineering at Pitt, and Dan Yates (BSME ’19), innovation project coordinator for the Pitt Makerspace. The Pitt team worked closely with Ken Mattheis and Steve Reed from the Pittsburgh-based printers Reed & Witting to develop the design, and they utilized input from medical professions to ensure the shields would meet their needs. Single material face shield on a mannequin head. The shields are made of a single piece of material and are then folded into place to form the shield; because of this, can be made with any thin, clear plastic and do not require any other materials, like foam or elastic. They were designed with high-volume die-cutting in mind, and many commercial print shops already have the equipment and materials to make thousands of these shields in a short period of time, according to Barber. Reed & Witting is set to make as many as 5,000 shields a day. “We were inspired to act when we saw the shortage of PPE in our community and realized how impactful something like this could be,” said Barber. “The Makerspace is all about finding innovative designs that positively influence the world around us, and we hope that’s what we have been able to do with this project.” You can find the open source face shield here. ### The Pitt Face Shield has not been medically certified for use as PPE. The creators make no warranties of any kind (express or implied) relating to accuracy, usefulness, usability, marketability, performance, or otherwise of the content release.

Apr
7
2020

Let’s Do the Twist

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Apr
7
2020

Uncovering Stimulation’s Impact on Neurons

Bioengineering

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

Apr
6
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

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

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

Bioengineering, Open Positions

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

Mar

Mar
31
2020

Heng Huang Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Electrical & Computer

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

Mar
31
2020

Undergraduate Spotlight: Clement Ekaputra

MEMS, Student Profiles

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

Engineering Technology to Explore the Human Mind

Bioengineering

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

Mar
31
2020

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

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

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

Douglas J. Weber Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Bioengineering

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

Mar
30
2020

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

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

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

A Donation in Flight

MEMS

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

Mar
27
2020

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

All SSoE News, Covid-19

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

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

Industrial

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

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

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

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