Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Jun

Jun
19
2019

Pitt’s ChemE Department Recruits Energy and Climate Expert Dr. Mohammad Masnadi

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2019) —  The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering announced that Mohammad Masnadi, PhD, will be joining the faculty this fall as Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Dr. Masnadi is an expert in energy and climate science, climate policy design, and sustainable engineering. “We are excited to welcome Mohammad to our department. He brings a depth of expertise in fields that are important to the future of our department and our planet,” says Steven Little, PhD, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He was a top choice in an impressive pool of sustainability candidates, and we look forward to the great work he will pursue here at Pitt.” Before joining Pitt, Dr. Masnadi completed his postdoctoral studies at Stanford University in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental sciences. He worked with Prof. Adam Brandt on the Environmental Assessment and Optimization group and is interested in energy and environment interdisciplinary research topics, such as data-driven life-cycle assessment, sustainable processes, applied catalysis, and process integration and intensification. He earned his PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering with a sub-specialization in Management Science from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Prior to Stanford, Dr. Masnadi collaborated with the Boeing Company on an investigation into commercial scale production of aviation biofuels from lignocellulosic materials in North America. He has published numerous papers in the in leading journals in energy and climate science, including Science, Nature Energy, Applied Energy, and Energy & Environmental Science.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
19
2019

Wave the Virtual Checkered Flag: ChemE Grad Student Develops Software for Computational Nanocar Race

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 20, 2019) … In 2017 six teams of scientists from around the globe came together for the world’s smallest car race. But there were no revving engines or steering wheels in this competition - only a group of scientists behind a computer, navigating molecular vehicles on a disc 100 times thinner than a strand of hair. The International Nanocar Race, hosted by the French National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse, plans to relaunch this event in 2021, and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh want to create a way to help participants prepare. Kutay Sezginel, a chemical engineering PhD candidate at the Swanson School of Engineering, developed software that can be used to design these molecular cars and hopes to facilitate a way for scientists to come together for a computational version of the car race. This work was done in collaboration with his research advisor Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. Sezginel created a short movie about the nanocar race and how computational modeling can be used to help design better nanocars. The International Nanocar Race gives scientists the opportunity to use a special electron microscope to simultaneously study up to four molecular cars. Participants have separate monitors and controls to operate their vehicles, and each nanocar is placed on individual gold surfaces fitted with zig-zagged grooves that they must maneuver to reach the finish line 100 nanometers away. This video game-like experience is an opportunity for scientists to advance their understanding and control of molecular motion. “The drivers are not allowed to touch or push the cars with the microscope; instead, they use electrons from the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to move their molecules,” Sezginel explained. “As electrons flow through the molecule, its chemical structure determines how the nanocar moves. It affects things such as the speed and directionality of its motion.” Sezginel and Wilmer believe that their computational approach could help participants find better ways to model the motion of nanocars. They hope to host a computational version of the race that could function as a more time efficient and economical method of testing and fine-tuning design materials. “The design of the nanocar is important and has an impact on performance,” Sezginel said. “Using computation to improve our understanding of which methods and molecular designs better model diffusion will allow us to create high quality nanocars without cumbersome lab experiments.” To put these small sizes into perspective, a nanoparticle has a diameter of 4 nanometers. Multiply that by one million to get 4 millimeters, or roughly the size of an ant. To scale this to a traditional automobile race, multiply the size of an ant by another one million, and that will equal the size of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is 4 kilometers per lap.1 Their computational race may also prove useful as a training simulation for participants of the second International Nanocar Race. “Not all of the drivers in the nanocar race had experience using electron microscopes, and they had to train extensively before the event,” Sezginel said. “Running electron microscope experiments is expensive, difficult to set-up, and not always readily available as it is a common tool for research. I hope to write software that mimics the electron microscope so that the drivers can use it to prepare for the event.” In February 2018, when the second nanocar race was announced, 23 teams declared an interest in participating, and by mid-2018, 13 teams from eight countries pre-registered for the event. “It’s my sense that designing better nanocars today is at least 50 percent art and 50 percent science,” said Wilmer. “Having this nanocar race allows individuals to demonstrate that they can make non-arbitrary changes to small molecules to impart some simple function.” ### 1: https://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/nano-size

Jun
19
2019

NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt Researchers to Create Neuromorphic Vision System Mimicking Human Sight

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2019) —  Self-driving cars rely on their ability to accurately “see” the road ahead and make adjustments based on what they see. They need to, for instance, react to a pedestrian who steps out from between parked cars, or know to not turn down a road that is unexpectedly closed for construction. As such technology becomes more ubiquitous, there’s a growing need for a better, more efficient way for machines to process visual information. New research from the University of Pittsburgh will develop a neuromorphic vision system that takes a new approach to capturing visual information that is based on the human brain, benefitting everything from self-driving vehicles to neural prosthetics. Ryad Benosman, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who holds appointments in electrical engineering and bioengineering, and Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, received $500,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct this research. Conventional image sensors record information frame-by-frame, which stores a great deal of redundant data along with that which is useful. This excess data storage occurs because most pixels do not change from frame to frame, like stationary buildings in the background. Inspired by the human brain, the team will develop a neuromorphic vision system driven by the timings of changes in the dynamics of the input signal, instead of the conventional image-based system. “With existing neuromorphic camera systems, the communication between the camera and the computing system is limited by how much data it is trying to push through, which negates the benefits of the large bandwidth and low power consumption that this camera provides,” says Dr. Xiong. “We will use a spiking neural network with realistic dynamic synapses that will enhance computational abilities, develop brain-inspired machine learning to understand the input, and connect it to a neuromorphic event-based silicon retina for real-time operating vision.” This system will work more efficiently than existing technology, with orders of magnitude better energy efficiency and bandwidth. “We believe this work will lead to transformative advances in bio-inspired neuromorphic processing architectures, sensing, with major applications in self-driving vehicles, neural prosthetics, robotics and general artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Benosman. The grant will begin July 1, 2019, and is expected to last until June 30, 2022. ### About the Swanson School of EngineeringThe University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the U.S. and is consistently ranked among the top 25 public engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade with focus areas in sustainability, energy systems, advanced manufacturing, bioengineering, micro- and nano-systems, computational modeling and advanced materials development. About the University of Pittsburgh School of MedicineAs one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
18
2019

Engineering Synergy

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2019) … Following almost two years of intense investigation, research, and feedback, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is poised to begin a new chapter in the 126-year history of one of its departments. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) received approval to adopt new curricula for its two undergraduate programs (electrical engineering, computer engineering) to provide greater synergy between the two fields, create more opportunities for hands-on learning, and address the needs of employers who demand that graduates have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge. The two new curricula will begin in fall 2019 for rising sophomores in these two majors and were greatly influenced by input from faculty, alumni, industry, and students. Alan George, department chair and the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explained that the time was perfect to modernize and seamlessly integrate the two programs and encourage greater flexibility in learning. “The genesis of Pitt’s ECE program is one for the history books. The electrical engineering (EE) curriculum was born in 1893 from the minds of George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden, two of the leading engineering pioneers of the late 19th century, while creation of the computer engineering (CoE) program in 1996 was a response to the incredible growth of the industry,” Dr. George explained. “And yet, for several decades there was a disconnect between what would become two very integral fields. This split was a missed opportunity for strength from synergy, especially today when both electricity and computers are ubiquitous to everyday human life.” The beginning of the curricula redesign began shortly after Dr. George’s appointment as department chair in 2017, when there was already a growing desire by faculty and students to improve the two programs, especially in response to industry trends and new guidelines released by IEEE and ACM (the two leading professional societies in ECE). The effort then escalated in 2018 with major contributions from many ECE faculty members, and with the appointment of two new undergraduate program directors in ECE: Assistant Professor Samuel Dickerson, who would serve as the director for computer engineering; and Assistant Professor Robert Kerestes, who was appointed as director for electrical engineering. Dickerson and Kerestes are both triple alumni (B.S., M.S., PhD) of Pitt in their respective disciplines.  “We could not be more fortunate than to have Sam and Bob as outstanding young faculty and alumni, with a passion for Pitt and commitment to leading programs and teaching classes for the next generation of engineers that are even better than they had as students.” Four Strategic Curricular Changes According to Dickerson and Kerestes, the changes in each program follow four strategies: Following the students’ foundational first-year experience, the sophomore year for both majors features four, two-course sequences in analog hardware, digital hardware, software design, and applied math, with a strong balance of classroom and lab studies. A modernized suite of required courses is featured in the junior year, including six core courses and one advanced math course unique to each discipline, plus a new course on Junior Design Fundamentals for both majors. Senior year includes four discipline-specific electives, three technical electives, and one general elective, providing greater depth and the ability for students to develop specialties and explore other fields. Lastly, design concepts, skills, and experiences are greatly expanded throughout the two programs, both explicitly (new junior and upgraded senior design courses) and implicitly (design-oriented lab experiments in many new and upgraded courses). “One of the complaints we heard from recent graduates – and which we both experienced as students – is that we don’t let them have “fun” until senior year,” Dickerson said. “Like any engineering discipline, electrical and computer engineers are very hands-on people, and so it’s critical for students to engage in those activities earlier than senior year, as well as understand the integration of design with theory.” “The input of our visiting committee, alumni and industry was critical in helping us focus on integrating the electrical and computer engineering skills that decades ago were independent, but today are complementary and intertwined,” Kerestes added. “I also think that by leveraging the strengths of our department – for example, from power engineering and systems in EE to embedded computer systems and applications in CoE – we can integrate those in the junior year and better prep our students for employment in co-op or industry, or help them better decide whether they want to continue to graduate school.” Both Dickerson and Kerestes acknowledge the level of difficulty increases with the new curricula, but the changes will enable the students to do much more as electrical and computer engineers. And Department Chair George agreed that such challenges are necessary to better prepare students for an increasingly competitive global environment. “I think that, after our students graduate, each will find that the new curriculum has benefited them by making them more adaptable, nimble, and impactful engineers,” George said. “Just as Westinghouse, Fessenden, and the first computer engineers could only have theorized how our disciplines would evolve over the century, we need to prepare our students to adapt to the next technological breakthroughs that we haven’t yet imagined. It’s an exciting time for the ECE Department, and I’m looking forward to the response and success of our undergraduates.” ###

Jun
18
2019

A Forest of Nano-Mushroom Structures Keep This Plastic Clean and Stain-Free

Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2019) ­—Technologies like solar panels and LEDs require a cover material that repels water, dirt and oil while still letting plenty of light through. New flexible materials would allow these devices to be incorporated into a variety of creative applications like curtains, clothes, and paper. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have created a flexible optical plastic that has all of those properties, finding inspiration in a surprising place: the shape of Enoki mushrooms. The research, “Stain-Resistant, Superomniphobic Flexible Optical Plastics Based on Nano-Enoki Mushrooms,” was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A ( doi:10.1039/C9TA01753D). The researchers created a plastic sheet surface with tall, thin nanostructures that have larger tops, like an Enoki mushroom. Named nano-enoki polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the nano-structures in the coating make the plastic sheet superomniphobic, repelling a wide range of liquids, while maintaining a high transparency. The surface can repel a variety of liquids, including water, milk, ketchup, coffee, and olive oil.  It also has high transparency and high haze, meaning it allows more light through, but that light is scattered. That makes it ideal for integrating with solar cells or LEDs, and combined with its flexible and durability, means it could be used in flexible lighting or wearable technology. “The key thing with these structures is the shape - it keeps liquid on top of the nanostructure. This is the best in the literature so far in terms of high transparency, high haze and high oil contact angle,” explains Sajad Haghanifar, lead author of the paper and doctoral candidate in industrial engineering at Pitt. “We show that substances that usually stain and leave residue behind, like mustard and blood, fall completely off the surface, even after they’ve dried.” Videos show how the dried mustard and blood flake off the surface when the surface is tilted. “The lotus leaf is nature’s gold standard in terms of a liquid-repellant and self-cleaning surface,” says Paul Leu, PhD, associate professor of industrial engineering, whose lab conducted the research. Dr. Leu holds secondary appointments in mechanical engineering and materials science and chemical engineering. “We compared our nano-enoki PET with a lotus leaf and found that ours was better at repelling more kinds of liquids, including olive oil, blood, coffee, and ethylene glycol. The surfaces not only resist staining from various liquids, but may be adapted for medical applications to resist bacteria or blood clotting.” The paper was coauthored by Sajad Haghanifar, Anthony Galante, David Pekker and Paul Leu, from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Luke M. Tomasovic from the Georgia Institute of Technology. The work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
14
2019

CEE Undergrad Kaitie DeOre receives ASCE recognition for her leadership and volunteer service

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 14, 2019) … Kaitie DeOre, a senior civil engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive the 2019 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Region 2 Outstanding Student Award in recognition of her contributions to Pitt’s ASCE Student Chapter, the community, and the engineering profession. DeOre serves as president of Pitt’s student chapter, an award-winning section that currently has over 180 student members. Prior to her current appointment, she held the role of service/outreach chair where she established a strong volunteer base with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and other organizations. In 2019 DeOre planned Pitt ASCE’s first annual Civil Engineering Day, an event that targeted high school students interested in civil engineering and facilitated hands-on activities, lab tours, professional demonstrations, and faculty panels. “I knew that I wanted to be an engineer at a young age after attending engineering programs at Penn State Fayette, and I always wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t gotten involved in these programs prior to college,” DeOre said. “Most current civil engineering students would agree that when they entered the Swanson School, they had no idea that they would become civil engineers, much less understood what one did. When the Pittsburgh Section approached me about sponsoring an outreach event in the fall, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try to ‘bridge’ the education gap with high school students.” DeOre also contacted Keith Smith, a teacher at Connellsville Area High School, to establish a mentorship program that worked toward helping students transition to college and understand the everyday life of an engineering student. “When I started college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, especially coming from a rural area where there weren’t always a lot of resources available,” DeOre explained. “When I contacted Mr. Smith about meeting his students and becoming a resource for them, both Mr. Smith and the students were ecstatic. “I have become passionate about providing opportunities to high school students that I wish I would’ve had when I was in their shoes,” she continued. “I really hope that we can build upon this program and involve more schools in the near future.” In addition to her work with local high schools, DeOre has organized fundraising and volunteer events around the community. She led a fundraiser to benefit the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, created “puppy rugs” for a local animal shelter, and volunteered time at the Millvale Community Library and Oakland’s Family House. She also helped her peers at Point Park University (PPU) establish an ASCE chapter of their own. “We assisted in creating their constitution and helping them understand what needed to be done to get their chapter up and running,” DeOre said. “We invited them to all of our ASCE events during the spring semester, including a joint Pitt-Carnegie Mellon University-PPU technical speaking event that I organized where ASCE Pittsburgh Section Governor Pat Sullivan was invited to speak.” In 2018 DeOre’s passion for volunteer work took her out of the United States and to Central America where she visited the Embera Tribe in Panama with Daniel Budny, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. During this service-learning project, she and a group of volunteers installed a water filtration system, solar panels, a concrete footbridge, and steps to their water tanks. They also reconfigured a refrigeration circuit that was installed on a previous trip. “Traveling to Panama with Dr. Budny was an experience of a lifetime. I will never forget when we first entered the village by boat and saw it appear through the trees,” DeOre said. “This trip showed me what true ingenuity looked like: we did rough concrete calculations standing in a hardware shop, had PVC pipes explode while installing water systems, and learned the most efficient ways to kill big spiders at a distance - all things that I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere. It gave me a much broader perspective as to what engineering looks like in the real world and on a much broader, global spectrum. “Most importantly, we left the tribe with access to filtered water, a system to keep food fresh during dry fish-catching seasons, and a way to safely maneuver their community at night with no electricity,” DeOre continued. “They shared a story with us about a woman who suffered a medical emergency and was able to survive with the help of our portable solar lights that guided her safely up the river to medical attention.” DeOre will complete her undergraduate degree in December 2020. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in geotechnical engineering. ###

Jun
12
2019

MEMS Professor Anne Robertson Delivers Keynote Lecture at International Conference

Bioengineering, MEMS

Anne Robertson, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professorship of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Professor of Bioengineering, was among a prestigious group of scholars invited to give a keynote lecture at the 6th International Conference on Computational and Mathematical Biomedical Engineering. The conference was hosted by Tohoku University in Sendai City, Japan earlier this June. The title of Dr. Robertson’s lecture was “Identifying Physical Causes of Failure in Brain Aneurysms.”  A subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke with high mortality and disability rates, is often caused by the rupture of a cerebral aneurysm. However, if the aneurysm is not ruptured, treatment for this condition can be more dangerous than the risk of rupture itself.  Therefore, there is a need to develop reliable methods for assessing rupture risk. Dr. Robertson’s presentation discussed her group’s recent findings which demonstrate the need to identify the actual physical causes for wall vulnerability as a vital component of accessing rupture risk.  This research is done by using data driven computational simulations obtained from human aneurysm tissue. New tools for mapping heterogeneous experimental data for the wall to the 3D reconstructed vascular model make it possible to evaluate the associations between critical aspects of aneurysm wall structure and both hemodynamic and intramural stress. Other Pitt members of this multi-institutional research team include Dr. Spandan Maiti, who holds a primary appointment in Bioengineering and a secondary appointment in MEMS and Dr. Simon Watkins, Distinguished Professor of the Department of Cell Biology and Director of the Center for Biologic Imaging.   Doctoral students Fangzhou Cheng, Michael Durka, Ronald Fortunato, Piyusha Gade and Chao Sang as well as postdoctoral researchers Yasutaka Tobe and Eliisa Ollikainen also made substantial contributions to this work. One of the main focuses of Dr. Robertson’s research is the relationship between soft tissue structure and mechanical function in health and disease for soft tissues such as cerebral arteries, cerebral aneurysms, tissue engineered blood vessels and the bladder wall.  Her research is heavily supported by the National Institutes of Health where she is a standing member of the Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Imaging Technologies (NOIT) Study Section.

Jun
11
2019

Pitt Team Makes Finals in Cornell Cup

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 11, 2019) —  A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering competed as finalists in this year’s Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled with their project, V2 Communications, an inter-vehicle communication network. The Cornell Cup – Arm Enabled is a design competition that invites engineering students to submit an invention or project featuring embedded technology. It offers finalists funding, access to expert reviews, and the opportunity to present their project at a two-day expo at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. The team competed against 11 other finalist teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California - Irvine, Purdue University, Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and Drexel University from May 3-4. The goal of V2 Communications is to develop an inter-vehicle communication network so that any cars with a Controller Area Network (CAN) bus system can share real-time driving data such as speed, acceleration, and engine status with other cars within 100 meters—information that may lead to fewer accidents and greater traffic throughput capacity on the road. The system includes security measures, ensuring it is resistant to packet injection and spoofing attacks. The team consisted of Haihui Zhu, rising junior in electrical and computer engineering, and Zachary M. Mattis, who graduated this semester with a bachelor degree in computer engineering. The pair were interested in the concept of cars “talking” to one another on the road and decided to pursue the project last fall. Sami Mian, doctoral candidate, and Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Undergraduate Computer Engineering program, served as advisors for the team. Now, the team will spend time researching the market and determining what’s next for V2 Communications. “There are some technology companies already working on vehicle-to-vehicle communications. For example, Peloton Technology focuses on automated delivery and provides truck platooning,” Zhu explains. “One of the next steps is to do research on these companies and understand the market need. We also plan to improve our V2 solution with mmWave sensors and 5G beamforming.” “This was a great opportunity for our students to think critically and apply the things they’ve learned in the classroom,” says Dr. Dickerson. “We’re proud of them for representing us well at the finals and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for V2 Communications.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
10
2019

Pitt and CMU Researchers Discover How the Brain Changes When Mastering a New Skill

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2019) … Mastering a new skill - whether a sport, an instrument, or a craft - takes time and training. While it is understood that a healthy brain is capable of learning these new skills, how the brain changes in order to develop new behaviors is a relative mystery. More precise knowledge of this underlying neural circuitry may eventually improve the quality of life for individuals who have suffered brain injury by enabling them to more easily relearn everyday tasks. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University recently published an article in PNAS (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820296116) that reveals what happens in the brain as learners progress from novice to expert. They discovered that new neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning and established a causal link between these patterns and new behavioral abilities. The research was performed as part of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-institutional research and education program that leverages the strengths of Pitt in basic and clinical neuroscience and bioengineering with those of CMU in cognitive and computational neuroscience. The project was jointly mentored by Aaron Batista, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering; Byron Yu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering at CMU; and Steven Chase, associate professor of biomedical engineering and the Neuroscience Institute at CMU. The work was led by Pitt bioengineering postdoctoral associate Emily Oby. “We used a brain-computer interface (BCI), which creates a direct connection between our subject’s neural activity and the movement of a computer cursor,” said Oby. “We recorded the activity of around 90 neural units in the arm region of the primary motor cortex of Rhesus monkeys as they performed a task that required them to move the cursor to align with targets on the monitor.” To determine whether the monkeys would form new neural patterns as they learned, the research group encouraged the animals to attempt a new BCI skill and then compared those recordings to the pre-existing neural patterns. “We first presented the monkey with what we call an ‘intuitive mapping’ from their neural activity to the cursor that worked with how their neurons naturally fire and which didn’t require any learning,” said Oby. “We then induced learning by introducing a skill in the form of a novel mapping that required the subject to learn what neural patterns they need to produce in order to move the cursor.” Like learning most skills, the group’s BCI task took several sessions of practice and a bit of coaching along the way. “We discovered that after a week, our subject was able to learn how to control the cursor,” said Batista. “This is striking because by construction, we knew from the outset that they did not have the neural activity patterns required to perform this skill. Sure enough, when we looked at the neural activity again after learning we saw that new patterns of neural activity had appeared, and these new patterns are what enabled the monkey to perform the task.” These findings suggest that the process for humans to master a new skill might also involve the generation of new neural activity patterns. “Though we are looking at this one specific task in animal subjects, we believe that this is perhaps how the brain learns many new things,” said Yu. “Consider learning the finger dexterity required to play a complex piece on the piano. Prior to practice, your brain might not yet be capable of generating the appropriate activity patterns to produce the desired finger movements.” “We think that extended practice builds new synaptic connectivity that leads directly to the development of new patterns of activity that enable new abilities,” said Chase. “We think this work applies to anybody who wants to learn - whether it be a paralyzed individual learning to use a brain-computer interface or a stroke survivor who wants to regain normal motor function. If we can look directly at the brain during motor learning, we believe we can design neurofeedback strategies that facilitate the process that leads to the formation of new neural activity patterns.” ### This work was funded by NIH R01 HD071686, National Science Foundation (NSF) BCS1533672, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, NSFCAREER Award IOS1553252, NIH CRCNS R01 NS105318, NIH R01 HD090125, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation 280028, Pennsylvania Department of Health Research Formula Grant SAP 4100077048 under the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement program, Simons Foundation 543065, and NIH T32 NS07391. Image 1: Pitt and CMU researchers discovered that new neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning and established a causal link between these patterns and new behavioral abilities. This illustration shows new roots – depicted as neurons – blossoming into a flower that represents a new behavior or skill. Credit: Frank Harris for the University of Pittsburgh. Image 2: Emily Oby, a bioengineering postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh, led a study that explored what happens when the brain learns a new task. Here, she holds an electrode that measured brain activity, represented on her computer screen. The success of this study could lead to new hope for people who have suffered debilitating brain injuries that caused them to forget how to do certain tasks, like playing music or sports. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

Jun
7
2019

MEMS Professor Peyman Givi Invited to Deliver 13th Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (June 7, 2019) — In recognition of his seminal contributions to his field, Peyman Givi, PhD, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been invited to deliver the 13th Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics. The lecture is sponsored by Elsevier and its publication Mechanics Research Communications. It will be hosted by the University of Pittsburgh in 2020. “I am very honored to be selected for this distinction, and I was pleased to accept it,” says Dr. Givi. “It is an honor to bring this lecture to Pittsburgh, where mechanical engineering has such a rich industrial history, especially at Pitt, where our program has celebrated 151 years of excellence.” Dr. Givi joins a long line of distinguished lecturers, beginning with the 2008 inaugural lecture by Prof. Jan Achenbach. The lecture will be on a topic of Dr. Givi’s choosing within the field of mechanics; previous topics have included “Structural Health Monitoring,” “Isogeometric Analysis,” and “Seeking Simplicity in the Flow of Complex Fluids.” “We were glad to extend the invitation to Dr. Givi,” says Anthony Rosato, PhD, director of the Granular Science Laboratory at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and editor-in-chief of Elsevier’s Mechanics Research Communications. “This invitation recognizes his seminal contributions to the field of mathematical modeling and simulation of complex turbulent fluid dynamics.” As with all previous Elsevier Distinguished Lectures in Mechanics, Dr. Givi’s lecture will be available on Elsevier’s website after it is delivered. “Dr. Givi is a shining example of the Swanson School’s commitment to innovation and the advancement of engineering research and education,” says James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “We are looking forward to hosting the Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics and know that Dr. Givi’s lecture will be enlightening and engaging in equal measure.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
6
2019

Climbing the Ladder of Safety Success: Erika Pliner receives 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 6, 2019) … Erika Pliner, a bioengineering PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB) in recognition of her scientific achievements. Her work with Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, focuses on determining individual, environmental, and biomechanical factors that contribute to ladder fall risk. “Ladder falls are a frequent and severe source of injuries,” explained Pliner. “Environmental changes - such as ladder setup and design - have been suggested to prevent ladder falls, yet there remains a lack of knowledge on individual factors that influence ladder fall risk; in particular, individual factors that contribute to safe and effective ladder use are unknown.” According to Pliner, the majority of ladder fall research aims to mitigate factors that initiate a falling event, but individual and environmental factors and the biomechanical responses in response to a climbing perturbation are not well understood. Pliner takes a novel, multifaceted approach to determine risk factors. She has tested younger and older adults, designed occupational and domestic-based ladder experiments, and investigated factors that precede and follow a ladder falling event. This advances her long-term goal of reducing injuries by targeting a diverse range of ladder falling events. Outcomes from her work have already revealed impactful knowledge to reduce ladder fall injuries. Her work determined that ladders installed too close to a wall or surface dramatically increase slip and fall risk. She explained, “This finding puts many workers at risk, particularly truck and train operators whose ladders are often installed too close to the surface of the vehicle.” Her work also revealed the importance of upper body strength in recovering from a ladder climbing perturbation. She said, “Strength training and health screenings are safety interventions that can aid in preventing ladder falls.” In addition to her safety research, Pliner also dedicates her time to improving diversity in STEM. “There is a poor representation of women and minorities in engineering disciplines, which has a negative impact on applicability of research to different populations,” said Pliner. “For example, ladder design has been primarily based on male climbers, affecting the efficacy and inherent fall risk of ladder use for female climbers..” Pliner believes that relating engineering concepts to student interests may be a useful tool to improve engagement of underrepresented persons in STEM. She aims to promote diversity in these fields by investigating the relationship between student interests and engagement in biomechanical activities. As the recipient of the Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award, Pliner will present her work at the ASB annual meeting, July 31-August 4, 2019. She is also expected to submit a full-length manuscript for publication in the Journal of Biomechanics. “I am delighted that Erika is receiving this recognition for her research accomplishments,” said Beschorner. “Her work with ladder fall risk has the potential to prevent a substantial amount of injuries, and her passion for increasing diversity in STEM will hopefully help make the field of engineering more inclusive.” ###

Jun
6
2019

ChemE Professor Wins ORAU Junior Faculty Enhancement Award

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 6, 2019) — Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) has selected James McKone, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. ORAU is a consortium of more than 100 universities whose mission is to integrate academic, government and scientific resources globally in order to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. Dr. McKone’s recognition includes a $5,000 research award that will be matched by the University to fund his lab’s research in applied electrochemistry, specifically an emerging technology in large-scale energy storage called the redox flow battery. “Most batteries, like the ones that power electric cars, need to fit as much energy into the smallest package possible,” explains Dr. McKone. “With the redox flow battery, we are less worried about space—ultimately, our battery would probably be the size of a factory floor. It would use liquid instead of solid material to store energy, which allows us to choose components that are low-cost, safe and long-lasting. This enormous battery would be used to collect energy from power plants—including conventional fossil fuel plants and wind or solar farms—and send it out to the power grid as needed. It would provide the energy storage and regulation necessary to prevent energy waste, a problem that results from the mismatch between electricity supply and demand. For his ORAU-supported project, Dr. McKone will partner with Thomas Zawodzinski, PhD, the Governor’s Chair Professor in Electrical Energy Conversion and Storage at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville with a joint appointment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their goal is to increase the efficiency of redox flow batteries, making it easier for the power grid to accommodate massive quantities of renewable power. “This award will help us to build a scale model—about the size of a credit card—of a fully functional redox flow battery,” says Dr. McKone. “Our group will then design and implement a new type of analytical platform that we can use to understand—and then improve—its efficiency.” About James McKoneProf. James McKone earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and music from Saint Olaf College in 2008, where he began his research career pursuing synthesis of novel transition metal complexes. He holds a PhD in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where he developed materials and methods for solar-driven water electrolysis. From 2013 to 2016, Dr. McKone was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University studying electrocatalysis and battery energy storage. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh as an Assistant Professor. Dr. McKone’s research group studies fundamentals and applications of electrochemistry, photochemistry, and materials design with an eye toward improving environmental sustainability in the energy and chemical sectors.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
5
2019

Pitt ChemE Professor Wins Prestigious Distinguished Young Greek Scientist Award From Bodossaki Foundation

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 5, 2019) — Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, PhD, Bicentennial Alumni faculty fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive the Bodossaki Foundation Distinguished Young Scientists Award in Chemistry. The Distinguished Young Scientists Award honors the most outstanding scientists of Greek descent under the age of 40 and is given once every two years. The award will be presented at a ceremony on June 19, 2019, in Athens, Greece, where Dr. Mpourmpakis will be honored by the Greek president. It also includes a prize of 20,000 euros. The award takes into consideration the individual’s achievements in their field, their contribution to the cultural, scientific and economic development of Greece, and their contribution to the international promotion of Greece through their work and ethics. Dr. Mpourmpakis was nominated by Steven R. Little, PhD, chair of the chemical engineering and petroleum department, and Sunil Saxena, PhD, chair of the chemistry department. “We were honored to nominate Yanni for this prestigious award,” says Dr. Little. “Yanni has made tremendous advances in our knowledge of the chemistry of nanomaterials. We are excited that his impressive work will be recognized on the global stage.” Dr. Mpourmpakis’s Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) uses theory and computation to investigate the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnology areas, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis. Dr. Mpourmpakis earned his PhD at Theoretical and Computational Chemistry from the University of Crete and was a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Delaware. “After careful deliberation on the ten excellent nominations received, the selection committee, consisting of distinguished scientists of Greek origin working in the field of chemistry all around the globe, unanimously recommended Dr. Giannis Mpourmpakis for the 2019 Bodossaki Young Scientist award in Chemistry,” said Professor Theodoros Theodorou, Associate Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Bodossaki Foundation. “The committee appreciated Dr. Mpourmpakis’s creative use of state-of-the-art multiscale modeling and simulation methods to understand and predict the properties of materials systems ranging from colloidal metallic nanoparticles to kidney stones. Dr. Mpourmpakis’s work can guide experimental efforts towards the development of new, efficient, and environmentally friendly materials and processes. The Bodossaki Foundation will be pleased to present its 2019 Chemistry Award to Dr. Mpourmpakis.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
5
2019

DPT-PhD graduate student Anna Bailes receives award at the Rehabilitation Institute Research Day

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 5, 2019) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Anna Bailes received the Best Rehabilitation Research award in the pre-doctoral category at the 2019 UPMC Rehabilitation Institute Research Day on May 22, 2019. Bailes presented her work titled “Depression and anxiety are associated with increased healthcare utilization in low back pain.” This research was performed in the lab of her co-advisor Gwendolyn Sowa, professor and chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Co-authors on the paper include Rohit Navlani, Stephen Koscumb, Amanda Malecky, Oscar Marroquin, Ajay Wasan, Howard Gutstein, Christina Zigler, Anthony Delitto, Nam Vo, and Gwendolyn Sowa. Bailes is a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy/PhD in Bioengineering (DPT-PhD) dual-degree program, a unique offering that integrates clinical and research experiences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering. She is currently a member of the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory where she works with Rakié Cham, associate professor of bioengineering, on the quantification of functional and mobility deficits in individuals with vision loss. “My current research aims to quantify functional capabilities in individuals with macular dystrophy, with a long-term goal of creating standardized assessments to track disease progression and therapy progress,” said Bailes. “We use high-tech balance and gait assessments along with mobility and fine-motor tasks to identify areas of impairment and potential rehabilitation goals.” Bailes also has a strong interest in the psychosocial and behavioral contributors to pain and movement impairments. Her future career goals include improving physical therapy treatment for individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain using basic psychological principles alongside traditional rehabilitation interventions. “Many individuals who fear pain and have catastrophizing thoughts about it will alter movement patterns or all together avoid activities that elicit pain,” she explained. “This behavior can lead to exacerbated pain, disuse, and disability.” One of her recent research proposals will use engineering-based methods, such as dynamic balance testing and gait analysis, to determine the extent of functional and cognitive changes associated with pain anxiety in those with chronic low back pain. Bailes said, “Understanding this relationship between cognition, balance, and gait will allow us to identify treatment targets for novel rehabilitation strategies integrating cognitive, balance, and psychosocial therapies.” ###

Jun
4
2019

Postdoctoral Position in the BIONIC Lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab within the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh is seeking a post-doctoral associate. The position is funded through an active grant from the NIH to conduct leading-edge research at the frontier of neuroscience and neurobiology by developing and using novel engineered technologies and tools to disentangle long-standing basic neurobiology questions at the interface of neuroscience and engineering. Our goal is to elucidate pathways involved in neurodegeneration and brain injuries as well as the basic biology of neuro-glial-vascular coupling and functional neurostimulation, and then utilizing neurotechnologies to attenuate degeneration and enhance brain function. Applicants should hold a PhD in a related field including but not limited to Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Optics, Material Science, and Mathematics. Animal surgery experience is preferred. The candidate should have a strong research background in neural engineering, in vivo electrophysiology, or in vivo two-photon microscopy.  Expertise with in vivo two photon imaging, viral transduction in rodent brain, image processing (e.g. GCaMP) and head-fixed visual cortex experiments (V1) are desired. Experiences with biomaterial fabrication, electrochemistry, material characterization, neural tissue histology, functional/evoked electrophysiology/imaging, functional electrical stimulation, and advanced biological imaging (two-photon and confocal microscopy) are seen as advantages. Successful candidate will work on the chronic neural interface with special focus on implant-tissue interaction. He/she will be working with an interdisciplinary team of neural engineers, neuroscientists, neurosurgeon, biologists, and material scientists. The appointment is intended to be 2 years and may be renewable depending on availability of funds. To apply, please send a cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV) as a single pdf document to Takashi Kozai (tdk18@pitt.edu). The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University affirms and actively promotes the rights of all individuals to equal opportunity in education and employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other protected class.

May

May
29
2019

For Attendees of the MSCI Engineering Sustainability Conference, Bi-Annual Event Feels Like a Homecoming

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (May 29, 2019) — “A Climate for Change” was the theme at this year’s Engineering Sustainability conference, hosted by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh with the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research at Carnegie Mellon University. The conference dealt with something unique for a technical conference: It spent time talking about not only the “what” of sustainable innovations, but the “how.” How do you get people to actually change their perspective about sustainability? How do you create a climate where such changes can be successful? “The built environment helps to sustain our economy and way of life, but at the cost of heavy resource use and waste generation,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the MCSI. “Our aim at this conference is to share innovative ideas about everything from water collection and treatment systems to building materials and transportation grids, all while fostering the collaborative climate necessary to do this work well.” That sort of climate, one that creates a fertile ground for professional growth and new ideas, has always been a part of what makes this Engineering Sustainability Conference special, according to Kovalcik. Attendees past and present remark that this conference is one they return to again and again, noting its cross-disciplinary opportunities and welcoming atmosphere. This year’s conference, which took place April 7-9 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was even family-friendly, welcoming attendee’s children and offering private spaces for nursing mothers. “Gena has been instrumental in building this atmosphere at the conference,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and deputy director of the MCSI. “Her personal approach is part of what makes this conference feel so welcoming.” Since 2005, the Engineering Sustainability Conference has been an approachable place for young engineers to explore their diverse career paths, carving out a space for discovery and community in the intersection of engineering and sustainability, academia and industry. It brings together scientists from academia, government, industry and nonprofits to share research and insights for environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Sessions regularly include topics that scientists from academia and industry can both engage with and utilize, as well as a diverse set of speakers. This year, attendees explored topics such as the regenerative built environment, sustainable mobility, circular economy, engineering sustainability learning and engagement, and behavioral science for sustainability, a new feature this year. Speakers from academia and industry share inspiring perspectives. The plenary speakers this year were Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group (a marketing communications agency focused on energy and the environment), and Cyrus Wadia, former vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at NIKE, Inc. “One of the reasons it's challenging to work at the intersection of disciplines is because you still need an academic community. This conference provides that community, and has grown it over time,” says Leidy Klotz, PhD, Copenhaver Family Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia, who began attending the conference in 2007. “Now, budding scholars can refer to themselves as ‘Sustainability Engineers,’ and others recognize that as a legitimate pursuit. Creating that community in such a relatively short time is a tremendous accomplishment for a conference!” The Mascaro Center partnered with the Steinbrenner Institute at CMU to create a community where researchers interested in the emerging field of sustainability engineering could share ideas and support one another’s work. David Dzomback, PhD, Hamerschlag University Professor and head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University, has been a strong partner from the beginning. “We at Carnegie Mellon are grateful for the continuing partnership of our Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation in organizing the conference, which brings to Pittsburgh engineers and scientists from across North America,” says Dr. Dzomback. “The conference has benefitted multiple generations of students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and numerous other institutions, helping them to advance sustainability in their careers.” For Freddy Paige, PhD, the conference he attended in his second year of graduate school confirmed his ambition to pursue a doctoral degree. Today, Dr. Paige is assistant professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and assistant director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research. “This conference was the first conference in which I felt like I somewhat belonged in the rooms I was sitting in. Being there in 2015, I gained confidence and motivation toward sharing the knowledge that would improve society,” recalls Dr. Paige. “I also got a chance to see professors in a different light. While some ideas were challenged in traditional engineering format, most of the conversation I engaged in had a modern vibe that allowed for a critical conversation with a much more inviting tone.” In addition to the welcoming environment, students and new investigators can receive NSF funding for registration, travel and accommodations, a rarity at academic conferences. “When I first attended the conference in 2011, it seemed approachable and accessible, with a breadth that I found really intriguing,” says Brent Stephens, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. “I was planning to defend my dissertation within about a year, and I was starting to think about job opportunities, so it was important to get my work out there and get more experience presenting. Then all of the sudden I also received NSF support to attend, which made it easy and accessible to attend.” One of the most significant draws for attendees, however, is the camaraderie that has developed over the years. “Somehow they make it feel more like a reunion every two years and something I strongly desire to go to each time,” remarks Dr. Stephens. “It marks a sort of ‘it’s been two years already?’ moment in my mind.” Annie Pearce, PhD, Associate Professor of Building Construction at Virginia Tech, has been attending the conference since it began in 2005 and has experienced first-hand how powerful the community is. Though she had to miss it this year, she has been a featured speaker, presenter and author and has brought students to the conference, as well. She also began serving on the MCSI External Advisory Board in 2011. “You see familiar faces every time, and they introduce you to new faces that you’ll see the next time,” says Dr. Pearce. “I find that it’s a great place to establish a dialogue that continues over time.” As a featured speaker in 2007, Dr. Pearce recounts that the engagement turned out to be a fateful one for her—she was on a plane to Pittsburgh for the conference when the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings took place on her campus. “I was lucky not to be on campus, but 32 of my colleagues and students were not so lucky. While I was heartbroken for my community back in Virginia, my friends and colleagues from the Mascaro Center and the conference overall made me feel wonderfully supported,” she says. “I leaned hard on them that year, for sure.” The Engineering Sustainability Conference will be back in 2021, gathering the community back to Pittsburgh once again, a fitting place for such a conference to have developed. The city is a living example of the “Climate for Change” that this year’s conference centered around. “Pittsburgh hasn’t always been beautiful—I remember what it was like back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the mills were still running,” says Dr. Pearce, who is a native Pittsburgher. “However, it’s an amazing example of how a place can transform itself for the better when it has the right people, ideas, and investments. I miss it a lot, and I’m happy to know that I can go there with my students every two years and get ‘recharged’ with ideas.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
24
2019

New Partnership Expands Research into Rechargeable Battery Systems

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (May 24, 2019) — Energy storage influences every part of modern life, from the cell phone in your pocket to the electric car on the highway. However, seeing the chemistry of what is happening inside a battery while it is in use is indeed tricky, but it could have remarkable opportunities for identifying new materials as well as improving the battery itself. Now, the Next-Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Lab (NECSTL) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center has announced a new energy research partnership with Malvern Panalytical that will enable the lab to do exactly that. The NECSTL, headed by Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, focuses on energy conversion and storage, including rechargeable battery systems. Malvern Panalytical’s Empyrean X-ray Platform, a multipurpose diffractometer, will be used in the lab to identify solid-state materials by determining their internal structure, composition and phase while they are in use. “For example, it can be used to determine what happens to an electrode and electrolyte material as the main active component is removed and brought back during a electrochemical reaction, such as in the case of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery,” explains Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, Edward R. Weidlein Chair professor of Bioengineering. Dr. Kumta also holds appointments in chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and oral biology. “This understanding will lead to new discoveries of mechanisms and operation, which can result in new materials discovery and new designs for significantly increasing the performance of batteries and fuel cells.” Dr. Kumta also believes that the partnership will enable the design of new instrumentation for further in-situ diagnostics of energy storage and conversion systems. The new partnership and equipment was celebrated on May 23 at the Energy Innovation Center, where attendees got a first look at the Empyrean up close.
Maggie Pavlick
May
23
2019

Creating a Climate for Change

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (May 23, 2019) — “A Climate for Change” was the theme at this year’s Engineering Sustainability conference, hosted by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh with the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research at Carnegie Mellon University. The conference dealt with something unique for a technical conference: It spent time talking about not only the “what” of sustainable innovations, but the “how.” How do you get people to actually change their perspective about sustainability? How do you create a climate where such changes can be successful? “The built environment helps to sustain our economy and way of life, but at the cost of heavy resource use and waste generation,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the MCSI. “Our aim at this conference is to share innovative ideas about everything from water collection and treatment systems to building materials and transportation grids, all while fostering the collaborative climate necessary to do this work well.” That sort of climate, one that creates a fertile ground for professional growth and new ideas, has always been a part of what makes this Engineering Sustainability Conference special, according to Kovalcik. Attendees past and present remark that this conference is one they return to again and again, noting its cross-disciplinary opportunities and welcoming atmosphere. This year’s conference, which took place April 7-9 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was even family-friendly, welcoming attendee’s children and offering private spaces for nursing mothers. “Gena has been instrumental in building this atmosphere at the conference,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and deputy director of the MCSI. “Her personal approach is part of what makes this conference feel so welcoming.” Since 2005, the Engineering Sustainability Conference has been an approachable place for young engineers to explore their diverse career paths, carving out a space for discovery and community in the intersection of engineering and sustainability, academia and industry. It brings together scientists from academia, government, industry and nonprofits to share research and insights for environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Sessions regularly include topics that scientists from academia and industry can both engage with and utilize, as well as a diverse set of speakers. This year, attendees explored topics such as the regenerative built environment, sustainable mobility, circular economy, engineering sustainability learning and engagement, and behavioral science for sustainability, a new feature this year. Speakers from academia and industry share inspiring perspectives. The plenary speakers this year were Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group (a marketing communications agency focused on energy and the environment), and Cyrus Wadia, former vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at NIKE, Inc. “One of the reasons it's challenging to work at the intersection of disciplines is because you still need an academic community. This conference provides that community, and has grown it over time,” says Leidy Klotz, PhD, Copenhaver Family Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia, who began attending the conference in 2007. “Now, budding scholars can refer to themselves as ‘Sustainability Engineers,’ and others recognize that as a legitimate pursuit. Creating that community in such a relatively short time is a tremendous accomplishment for a conference!” The Mascaro Center partnered with the Steinbrenner Institute at CMU to create a community where researchers interested in the emerging field of sustainability engineering could share ideas and support one another’s work. David Dzombak, PhD, Hamerschlag University Professor and head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University, has been a strong partner from the beginning. “We at Carnegie Mellon are grateful for the continuing partnership of our Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation in organizing the conference, which brings to Pittsburgh engineers and scientists from across North America,” says Dr. Dzombak. “The conference has benefitted multiple generations of students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and numerous other institutions, helping them to advance sustainability in their careers.” For Freddy Paige, PhD, the conference he attended in his second year of graduate school confirmed his ambition to pursue a doctoral degree. Today, Dr. Paige is assistant professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and assistant director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research. “This conference was the first conference in which I felt like I somewhat belonged in the rooms I was sitting in. Being there in 2015, I gained confidence and motivation toward sharing the knowledge that would improve society,” recalls Dr. Paige. “I also got a chance to see professors in a different light. While some ideas were challenged in traditional engineering format, most of the conversation I engaged in had a modern vibe that allowed for a critical conversation with a much more inviting tone.” In addition to the welcoming environment, students and new investigators can receive NSF funding for registration, travel and accommodations, a rarity at academic conferences. “When I first attended the conference in 2011, it seemed approachable and accessible, with a breadth that I found really intriguing,” says Brent Stephens, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. “I was planning to defend my dissertation within about a year, and I was starting to think about job opportunities, so it was important to get my work out there and get more experience presenting. Then all of the sudden I also received NSF support to attend, which made it easy and accessible to attend.” One of the most significant draws for attendees, however, is the camaraderie that has developed over the years. “Somehow they make it feel more like a reunion every two years and something I strongly desire to go to each time,” remarks Dr. Stephens. “It marks a sort of ‘it’s been two years already?’ moment in my mind.” Annie Pearce, PhD, Associate Professor of Building Construction at Virginia Tech, has been attending the conference since it began in 2005 and has experienced first-hand how powerful the community is. Though she had to miss it this year, she has been a featured speaker, presenter and author and has brought students to the conference, as well. She also began serving on the MCSI External Advisory Board in 2011. “You see familiar faces every time, and they introduce you to new faces that you’ll see the next time,” says Dr. Pearce. “I find that it’s a great place to establish a dialogue that continues over time.” As a featured speaker in 2007, Dr. Pearce recounts that the engagement turned out to be a fateful one for her—she was on a plane to Pittsburgh for the conference when the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings took place on her campus. “I was lucky not to be on campus, but 32 of my colleagues and students were not so lucky. While I was heartbroken for my community back in Virginia, my friends and colleagues from the Mascaro Center and the conference overall made me feel wonderfully supported,” she says. “I leaned hard on them that year, for sure.” The Engineering Sustainability Conference will be back in 2021, gathering the community back to Pittsburgh once again, a fitting place for such a conference to have developed. The city is a living example of the “Climate for Change” that this year’s conference centered around. “Pittsburgh hasn’t always been beautiful—I remember what it was like back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the mills were still running,” says Dr. Pearce, who is a native Pittsburgher. “However, it’s an amazing example of how a place can transform itself for the better when it has the right people, ideas, and investments. I miss it a lot, and I’m happy to know that I can go there with my students every two years and get ‘recharged’ with ideas.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
23
2019

DPT-PhD students Bailey Petersen and Stephanie Rigot receive NIH F30 awards

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 23, 2019) … University of Pittsburgh graduate students Bailey Petersen, DPT, and Stephanie Rigot, DPT, received F30 Individual Predoctoral NRSA Fellowships from the National Institutes of Health. The award provides funding for students who are matriculated in a combined dual-doctoral degree training program and who intend to pursue careers as physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists. Petersen and Rigot are members of the inaugural class of the Doctor of Physical Therapy/PhD in Bioengineering (DPT-PhD) dual-degree program, a unique offering that integrates clinical and research experiences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering. “This program combines the outstanding evidence-based physical therapy education and innovative bioengineering research training that already exists at the university and builds upon synergies between faculty members of the nationally-ranked Departments of Bioengineering and Physical Therapy,” said Patrick Sparto, PT, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy and co-director of the DPT-PhD program. Petersen works in the lab of Lee Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, where her research aims to restore a sense of joint movement that mimics the feeling of the leg and foot for people with lower-limb amputations. “Individuals with lower-limb amputations face a wide range of gait impairments and have a substantially higher risk of falling than the average population,” said Petersen. “This increased fall risk can be partially attributed to a lack of the sense of touch and joint movement that are crucial for maintaining balance.” The research group uses spinal cord stimulation in the low back, which activates the nerve fibers that normally carry sensory information from the leg and foot to the brain. They use sensors to measure movement and contact pressure of the prosthetic during normal walking and stimulate the corresponding nerve fibers in real-time. “When the prosthetic touches the ground, we induce stimulation, and the participant feels their foot moving and touching the ground as they walk,” explained Petersen. “The aim of this project is to improve gait and balance, thereby improving the mobility and safety of people with lower-limb amputations.” Rigot works in the lab of Michael Boninger, PhD, Professor and UPMC Endowed Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, where she aims to develop a new measure of impairment after spinal cord injury using leg movements measured by activity monitors. “Current testing, which is primarily measured by brute tests of strength and sensation, may not be sensitive enough to provide an accurate representation of an individual’s impairment and functional abilities,” explained Rigot. “Our new measure could be used to track an individual’s recovery over time, as well as provide a novel method to predict an individual’s long-term mobility potential using data collected soon after their spinal cord injury.” The length of stay in inpatient rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury is decreasing, which forces clinicians to quickly make critical decisions about where to focus time in therapy to maximize an individual’s functional mobility. Rigot plans to develop a new clinical prediction rule that would provide clinicians, individuals with spinal cord injuries, and their families with a more accurate and descriptive estimation of the individual’s future mobility. This strategy will allow patients to tailor their therapy and focus on the ideal interventions. “If we can develop a tool to assist clinicians in determining the optimal interventions during therapy early after an injury, then we can hopefully improve the participation, quality of life, pain, and other outcomes for many of the nearly 18,000 people in the United States that experience a new spinal cord injury each year,” said Rigot. “Bailey and Stephanie exemplify the caliber of students enrolled in this first class of the DPT-PhD program,” said Patrick Loughlin, PhD, professor of bioengineering and co-director of the program. “I’m excited to see what these students will accomplish in their future careers.” ###

May
22
2019

Let's Clear the Air

Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 22, 2019) — For the past 40 years, research has proven that people of color, low-income communities and ethnic minorities suffer the effects of environmental contamination more than other communities. The Flint, Mich., water crisis and the Dakota Pipeline protests serve as national examples of environmental injustices, but similar issues affect communities across the country. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, in partnership with the Kingsley Association and funded by the Heinz Endowments examined the impact that bottom-up, community-level initiatives have in addressing environmental justice issues. They found that the best way to address a community’s environmental injustices is to meet them where they are, integrating into the community and building trust over a long-term partnership. Pittsburgh has long struggled with air quality since its early industrial days, and the effects of environmental pollution on health are well-known. Residents in the Greater Pittsburgh region are at twice the cancer risk of surrounding counties, and disadvantaged communities see the worst of it. The East End of Pittsburgh is among the city’s most underserved boroughs, struggling with crumbling infrastructure, community disinvestment, and high traffic density. These factors all contribute to the poor air quality affecting citizens’ health and wellness, which is what their program, the Environmental Justice Community Action Matrix (EJCAM), is designed to address. “When your house is in need of repairs, it can’t effectively keep the outdoor air out. Since Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, the concentration of pollution inside the house could be a significant contributor to poor health,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “I visited one community member’s home and noticed that she was using an oxygen tank, and it struck me just how much these environmental issues are impacting people’s health inside their own homes.” Dr. Bilec and her team, with PhD student, Harold Rickenbacker as a lead, have partnered with the Kingsley Association, a community organization in Larimer, since 2007 on environmental justice initiatives. EJCAM, their most recent collaboration, went through four stages, using the Theory of Change paradigm: outreach, involvement, participatory research and consultation. It culminated in in-house air quality testing that Dr. Bilec says wouldn’t have been possible without the trust that their partnership built, especially Harold’s commitment and time spent in working with the community. EJCAM created Community Action Teams (CATs), which trained community members to become leaders who would train others and advocate for environmental issues; the Urban Transition Cities Movement (UTCM) brought together unlikely stakeholders community members, non-profit leaders, small businesses, universities, governmental agencies, youth and public officials. Because of these initiatives, community members have become more involved and aware of environmental issues, knowledgeable about green materials, infrastructure and land use practices. They’re active in the management of forthcoming landscape features in housing developments and pollution control schemes. The most important thing Dr. Bilec learned through this process was that in order to be effective, the first step must be building trust. And the way to build trust is to be visible in the community over time. Harold Rickenbacker, a PhD candidate working with Dr. Bilec on the initiative and lead author of the paper, dedicated himself to integrating with the community to truly understand its needs and the best way to fill them. He attended community meetings, church gatherings and other events. A mobile air quality monitoring bicycle campaign took researchers and community members to the streets, riding bikes mounted with air particulate counters that give a real-time map of air quality in the area. More than that, it gave the researchers a way to be visible and connect with the community, who would often stop them to ask what they were doing. “We found the most important thing we could do was to be present, to listen to the citizens and figure out how our research can help them,” says Mr. Rickenbacker. “Community-based initiatives are effective, but they have to be a sustained partnership, not a one-off event.” The team is currently performing indoor air quality assessments with the community members, counseling them on measures they can take to improve it and the supplies they’ll need to do so. They hope that their program model will be replicable in other communities in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. The project recently won the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award, and Mr. Rickenbacker won the Carnegie Science Award in the College/University Student category this year for his work on EJCAM. The paper, “Creating Environmental Consciousness in Underserved Communities: Implementation and Outcomes of Community-Based Environmental Justice and Air Pollution Research,” was published in Sustainable Cities and Society (DOI10.1016/j.scs.2019.101473) and was coauthored by Dr. Bilec and Fred Brown of the Forbes Fund.
Maggie Pavlick
May
20
2019

The New Wave of Brain-Computer Interface Technology

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 20, 2019) … Researchers have made groundbreaking strides in brain-computer interface (BCI) research, allowing paralyzed individuals to connect mind to machine and control robotic devices with their brains. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to tap into this breakthrough technology and develop a nonsurgical option that provides a new way for able-bodied individuals to interact with machines. Through the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program, the agency selected Battelle and Carnegie Mellon University to lead projects and awarded each institution funding totaling nearly $20 million over four years. Both projects include the University of Pittsburgh’s Doug Weber, Robert Gaunt, and Jennifer Collinger. The most effective neural interfaces require surgery to implant electrodes into the brain, but DARPA’s N3 program aims to develop a high-resolution, portable neural interface system that is either completely noninvasive or only minutely invasive, making the technology accessible to a wider population of potential users. Most current BCI technology helps individuals with disabilities perform everyday tasks, but DARPA wants to progress the technology to able-bodied individuals, starting with military service members. Weber, an associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, directs the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs where his group has developed systems that enable individuals to control and feel prosthetic limbs through direct connections to the nervous system. He will lead the preclinical safety and efficacy studies for designs from Battelle and CMU. “The goal of this program is to create and demonstrate new, noninvasive technologies for interfacing with the brain at high resolution,” said Weber. “The Battelle and CMU investigators are working on unique technologies that may suit this purpose, and I will work with those teams to validate and refine the technology in animal and human BCI studies.” The CMU team is led by Pulkit Grover, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), along with Maysam Chamanzar, assistant professor of ECE, and Jana Kainerstorfer, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. The group will apply novel concepts in physics, biology, and engineering to fight dispersion of waves as they enter the head. “Our team has taken on the ambitious goal of completely noninvasive sensing and stimulation at unprecedented spatiotemporal resolution,” said Grover. “The noninvasive aspect will make our solutions widely applicable, but it is also what makes our goal extremely challenging. Fundamentally, all waves - light, ultrasound, electrical currents - disperse in the head due to presence of a thick skull. To compensate for this, we are leveraging two completely new technologies being developed at CMU. In Doug Weber, Rob Gaunt, and Jen Collinger at Pitt, we have the ideal collaborators to validate and improve these technologies and bring them that much closer to practice.” Battelle is the prime on a second N3 program. Gaurav Sharma, a senior research scientist in the Medical Devices and Neuromodulation group, and his team have created a concept for the N3 program called BrainSTORMS (Brain System to Transmit Or Receive Magnetoelectric Signals). This technology involves the development of a novel nanotransducer that would be delivered through an intravenous injection and then targeted to a specific area of the brain. When the task is complete, the nanotransducer will be magnetically guided out of the brain for clearance out of the body. “This is one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have worked on,” said Sharma in a prepared statement. “With BrainSTORMS, we will again be pushing the limits engineering and physics. If successful, this technology would not only provide a safe and efficient way to facilitate human-machine interactions but also has the potential to revolutionize how the nervous system is probed and studied.” Fellow RNEL Lab members Robert Gaunt and Jennifer Collinger, assistant professors of physical medicine and rehabilitation, will help to validate these technologies in first-in-human trials. All three researchers have experience with BCI technology and neuroprosthetics; they aim to better understand how humans use sensory information to regulate actions and apply that knowledge to prosthetic devices. They will use their expertise in this field to run the human trials of the developed N3 program technologies. ###

May
14
2019

Melissa Bilec Named Director of Faculty Community Building and Engagement for PITT STRIVE Program

Civil & Environmental, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (May 14, 2019) — Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Deputy Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, has been appointed Director of Faculty Community Building and Engagement in the PITT STRIVE Program. The PITT STRIVE Program works to improve the transitions of under-represented minorities into doctoral engineering programs. In this position, Dr. Bilec will lead key Faculty-Centered Strategies and Faculty Learning Community Activities to help improve faculty engagement with under-represented minority students. “We are very blessed to have a colleague of Dr. Bilec’s caliber join the PITT STRIVE Program Leadership Team,” says Sylvanus Wosu, PhD, associate dean for Diversity Affairs. “Dr. Bilec is passionate and committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity.” Dr. Bilec’s commitment to diversity extends beyond her work with PITT STRIVE. Dr. Bilec serves on the Engineering Diversity Advisory Committee, is the co-faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers, and was co-faculty advisor the Graduate Women Engineering Network. She received the 2017-2018 Swanson School of Engineering Diversity Award and has worked in the disadvantaged local community of Larimer on projects including energy assessments and indoor air quality assessments for the past 10 years.
Maggie Pavlick
May
14
2019

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IMPACT program at Pitt

All SSoE News

The Swanson School will co-host a special three-day gathering of alumni and supporters of the Pitt IMPACT Program, June 21-23, 2019. The event includes a memorial to the late Dr. Karl Lewis, as well as a panel to discuss the program's legacy and its continuing impact at Pitt in engineering and nursing. Registration is $149 and includes events and meals. Founded in 1969, the IMPACT Program was developed by Pitt and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from engineering programs. The six-week program prepared incoming freshmen through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. The program's legacy includes two award-winning initiatives: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors; and Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field.

May
9
2019

Extraordinary Efforts Honored at Pitt’s Annual Sustainability Awards

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (May 9, 2019) — Since 2015, the University of Pittsburgh Sustainability Awards have honored those on campus who are making an extraordinary impact on sustainability and whose work contributes to the success of the Pitt Sustainability Plan. This year, one faculty member, two staff members, two students and one group received this award at the annual Sustainability Symposium on April 19. “Sustainability is up to all of us. We can’t reach our goals without working together,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “We’re pleased to recognize those in our community who are leading the impactful work that will make those goals a reality.” This year’s winners are: Emily Elliott, PhD, associate professor of Geology and Environment Science and adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Dr. Elliott was recognized for her work as an innovator who advocates for sustainability in all aspects of her work, in research, teaching, and even in the community. She received a grant from the National Science Foundation to help refocus the Geology and Environmental Science curriculum around urban systems, highlighting the importance of the underlying terrestrial and aquatic systems that support our cities. Dr. Elliott also directs sustainability-focused undergraduate research-service projects and helped to establish the undergraduate sustainability certificate. Her work can be found outside the University, such as the installation of public air-quality monitoring stations in Etna, Millvale and Sharpsburg. Corey S. Flynn, administrator for the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Flynn spearheaded the installation of a garden on the fourth-floor atrium of Forbes Tower, a space to grow food used by the department’s classes and community-focused healthy eating demonstrations.  She also set up composting in her school’s staff and faculty lounge and encouraged others to do the same. Melissa Warthen, associate director of the First-Year Experience in Student Life Warthen was honored for her dedication to implementing sustainability in the First-Year programs at Pitt, including over 15 events during Orientation Week and beyond. She has been involved in increasing compost efforts, use of the water buffalo, as well as implementing recycling efforts at events. Student winners are: Forest Goebel, College of Business Administration and Executive Director, Thriftsburgh In addition to being a senior business major, Goebel serves as the executive director of the on-campus thrift store, Thriftsburgh. The store addresses economic and environmental sustainability while serving as a resource for students. Goebel has also inspired students at national conferences like Students for Zero Waste Conference and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference, where he presented about Thriftsburgh. Isabelle Ouyang, English Writing Ouyang has been a leader in sustainability throughout her time at Pitt. She was at the forefront of the divestment campaign, is active in the Student Office of Sustainability, and is one of the board members of USAS. Advocating for diverse representation, Ouyang has taken an active role in defining what sustainability leadership looks like among students. Group: Real Food Challenge The Real Food Challenge Commitment, signed by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in March 2015, has had a substantial impact on Pitt Dining’s sustainability. Real Food Challenge students work to both educate their peers about the food system and work with Pitt Dining to increase the Real products on campus. The program is on track to shift millions of dollars from a conventional food system with numerous labor, environmental, and public health problems, toward one that is more ecologically sound, fair, humane, and community-based.
Maggie Pavlick
May
9
2019

Cooperative Education Director Maureen Barcic Elected to ASEE Board of Directors

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (May 9, 2019) … Maureen Barcic, Director of the Cooperative Education Program at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is one of eight officers elected  to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Board of Directors. She will serve a three-year term which begins at the end of the ASEE Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida, June 15-19, 2019. Barcic will chair the Professional Interest Council (PIC) V, which consists of three ASEE divisions: Continuing Professional Development, College and Industry Partnership, and Cooperative and Experiential Education. ASEE has a total of five Professional Interest Councils, which are responsible for: Providing a formal organizational structure to promote, encourage, and facilitate activities pertaining to their areas of interest; Providing forums for discussion and exchange of information about problems and experiences; Coordinating the professional interests of individual members and speaking on their behalf; and Establishing and maintaining a liaison with other organizations concerned with these areas of interest. Barcic has been a member of ASEE since 1991 and was elected as a fellow in 2013. Her main involvement is with the Cooperative and Experiential Education Division of ASEE, which focuses on the improvement and promotion of experiential learning through cooperative education, internships, and other quality work integrated learning programs. “I am grateful to be part of ASEE,” said Barcic. “I have received much guidance throughout the years from colleagues and mentors in this organization, and they have assisted us in strengthening Pitt’s co-op program.” The University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering was among the first in the United States to establish a co-operative education program in 1910. The School ended the program during the Great Depression in the 1930s, but in 1987, then-Dean Charles A. Sorber reestablished the program for a small group of engineering students and appointed Barcic as assistant director. The program quickly grew and today serves more than 1,000 students each academic year, linking them with nearly 300 employers across the U.S. “I am also thankful for the leadership I have enjoyed throughout my 32 years at Pitt,” said Barcic. “Our Deans have allowed me to engage in ASEE, first to assist us in establishing a program at Pitt, but it has also enabled me to experience leadership roles, great conferences, and lifelong friendships. ASEE has been an amazing part of my career.” “I am incredibly proud of Maureen’s election to the ASEE Board of Directors,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Nickolas A. Dececco Professor of Industrial Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “Her decades of experience and passion for engineering education have not gone unnoticed in the Swanson School. Through the Co-operative Education Program, she has helped countless students gain meaningful work experience and technical skills during their studies. She’s an invaluable member of our team and will be an excellent addition to the ASEE board.” The co-op experience is beneficial for both employers and students - average starting salary is between approximately $12-21 per hour for undergraduate students and between $16-30 per hour for graduate students. The co-op is also an employer’s potential pipeline for a future, experienced hire, and starting salaries for students who participated in co-op average $4,000 more than students who do not co-op. ###

May
6
2019

Designed with Women in Mind: Pitt researchers receive a $2.5M NIH award to create an improved repair device for pelvic organ prolapse

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 6, 2019) … Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a condition where the organs in the pelvis push against the vagina, creating a “bulge” that can extend outside of the body. It results from a weakening of the muscles and tissues that help support the pelvic organs. This disorder affects many women, but surgical treatments with polypropylene mesh - devices initially designed for hernia repairs, not vaginal use - often result in complications. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh will use a five-year, $2,500,000 award from the National Institutes of Health to create a novel repair device designed for the vagina that may improve outcomes in POP surgery. 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, will lead this effort. Abramowitch and Moalli co-direct the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health (CIRPH) where they focus on the impact of pregnancy, delivery, and other life-changing events on the structural integrity of the pelvic floor. They aim to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. “The purpose of this project is to design and develop novel solutions for POP repair since past materials were never specifically developed for the functional and material properties of the vagina,” said Moalli. “Based on our studies, the properties of most meshes are altered following implantation with tensioning and loading, which in some cases can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Ultimately, this funding mechanism will allow us to design a device with properties that more closely mimic the native properties of the vagina and its supportive tissues. We believe this approach will create a more favorable biological response compared to current mesh products.” Since polypropylene - the material used in current POP meshes - is very stiff, it is manufactured with a knitted pattern, which causes mechanical behaviors that can exacerbate inflammation and fibrosis in some women. This may ultimately result in complications including pain and/or mesh exposure, potentially requiring additional surgeries and removal of the implanted mesh. “Our group will evaluate the use of elastomeric polymers whose inherent stiffness is similar to that of the vagina but are also tough enough to meet the physiologic loading demands within the pelvis,” explained Abramowitch. “The designed solutions will contain pore geometries that provide the device with counterintuitive mechanical behaviors, such as the ability to expand rather than contract when you pull on it. We believe that this will allow for better integration between our device and the patient’s tissue.” To optimize the design, the team will test the biological response to devices with different material stiffnesses, fiber widths, and device thicknesses. “The materials we chose can be 3D printed, which allows us to adjust the geometric features of the device and design it so that we reduce issues seen in current meshes, such as wrinkling and permanent deformation,” said Abramowitch. “We will use computational modeling and laboratory testing to develop a rigorous understanding of the mechanics as it relates to the female pelvis. Ultimately, we want to use our knowledge of how the body responds to the mechanics of the device to better inform our design process.” Abramowitch and Moalli hope that their novel device, designed specifically for the vagina, will significantly improve the outcomes of prolapse surgeries while minimizing complications. “Issues that negatively impact the quality of life and are specific to women often do not get the attention that they deserve in research,” said Moalli. “This is an opportunity to develop solutions for women that are designed based on an understanding of the uniqueness of female anatomy and biology.” ### This work is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HD097187. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

May
4
2019

How Kevin Glunt Went From Struggling Student to Sending an A.I. Computer to the ISS

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

Around a decade ago, Kevin Glunt was more interested in drawing cars than paying attention in class, with his parents threatening that he would repeat a grade of school if he didn’t stop. Now aged 24, he’s in awe as SpaceX has launched his team’s creation into orbit: A radiation-tolerant supercomputer that will be used in experiments on sensing, image processing, and machine learning, aboard the International Space Station. “All of our names are on the board, like etched on it,” Glunt told Inverse this week, prior to the launch. “It’s like, your name will be in space. And it’s really, really weird to think about that.” It’s not just a name in space: the computer, made by Glunt and his fellow researchers and students from the University of Pittsburgh, could pave the way for a faster future in space. More powerful systems at lower cost, and with more efficient power usage, represent another step toward more reliable research in orbit. Read the full story at inverse.com.
Author: Mike Brown, inverse.com
May
3
2019

Pitt Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Sam Dickerson Wins 2019 Board of Visitors Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (May 3, 2019) — Recognizing his role in developing undergraduate programs, innovative teaching and leadership in his field, Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has won the 2019 Board of Visitors Award. “Dr. Dickerson is the epitome of a faculty member devoted to diversity for the benefits of all students, staff, and faculty, demonstrating leadership in student recruitment, student retention, community engagement, and student mentoring,” says Roberta A. Luxbacher, chair of the Board of Visitors.  “He has had a tremendous impact on the mission of the department and the school. The Board of Visitors is proud of accomplishments such as his, which are extremely important if the School is to continue to be recognized as a national force in engineering education and research." Dr. Dickerson serves as director of the undergraduate Computer Engineering program in addition to his teaching. He joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Pitt. Examples of Dr. Dickerson’s dedication to the success of all students are abundant in the department. Dr. Dickerson pushed for examination space in ECE for students with disabilities and special needs and is the faculty founder of “Chat and Chew,” a diversity program in ECE meant to engage and support URM students. He also served as faculty lead in funding female ECE students to attend the annual Grace Hopper Conference; led an NSF project to create and study new teaching methods for broad demographic groups; and led the Hands-on-Science activity for Swanson’s Investing NOW Pre-College Program. Dr. Dickerson also advises the nearly 300 undergraduate students in Computer Engineering, one of the School’s largest programs. In addition to his leadership and mentoring roles, Dr. Dickerson is nationally recognized as an innovative and passionate educator. He has received NSF funding to implement new techniques in teaching electronics and has modernized the Senior Design Project course in a way that challenges students and pushes them out of their comfort zones. Dr. Dickerson received the School’s Outstanding Educator Award this year in recognition of this work. “Dr. Dickerson is consistently ranked by students as one of the best teachers in the School, and his commitment to the teaching profession is a model for every faculty member demonstrating great passion and commitment to teaching,” says Alan George, PhD, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.  “When he was asked to assume the leadership role as director of our undergraduate program in computer engineering in 2017, his response was amazing and refreshing, replying that he would be happy to serve in this role but regretful that it would mean a reduction by one in his teaching load each year.” The Board of Visitors Award includes a $5,000 grant to support the recipient’s scholarly activities. It was presented at the Board of Visitors Dinner on May 2, 2019.
Maggie Pavlick
May
1
2019

New Pitt Supercomputer to Launch Into Space

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

This story originally appeared in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. Additional coverage at Inside HPC. A novel supercomputer developed by a University of Pittsburgh team is set to journey to the International Space Station on May 1, continuing a NASA partnership meant to improve Earth and space science. (Editor’s note: The successful launch later occurred on May 4.) It will be “one of the most powerful space-qualified computers ever made and flown,” said Alan George, department chair of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who led Pitt researchers and graduate students on the project. On the space station, the supercomputer will serve as a research “sandbox” for space-based experiments on computing, sensing, image processing and machine learning. Researchers said the main objective of these experiments is progression toward autonomous spacecraft, like a more advanced version of the self-driving cars seen in Pittsburgh. This radiation-tolerant computer cluster, called the Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing (SSIVP) system, is part of the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program-Houston 6 mission (STP-H6), developed at the National Science Foundation Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC). The system “features an unprecedented combination of high performance, high reliability, low power and reconfigurability for computing in the harsh environment of space, going beyond the capabilities of previous space computers,” said George, who’s also founder and director of SHREC. The project carries over from time’s spent with the University of Florida prior to moving to Pitt in 2017, when a pair of space computers developed by Pitt students and faculty was sent aboard the space station. Last year, the new space supercomputer embarked on a 1,400-mile land-based journey for rigorous testing, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Its final, much shorter and more meaningful trip will see it travel 250 miles skyward from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the space station with the SpaceX-17 mission on a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket. Super powered Sebastian Sabogal and Evan Gretok, PhD students in electrical and computer engineering, pose by their workstation in SHREC (Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing), where they monitor their supercomputing cluster’s progress. They’ve worked on the cluster’s design, hardware configuration and image processing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh) The new space supercomputer is more than 2.5 times more powerful than its predecessor, which was launched to the space station with STP-H5 on SpaceX-10 in February 2017. It includes dual high-resolution cameras capable of snapping 5-megapixel images of Earth, for detailed aerial shots like the city of Pittsburgh, all in a system about the size of a breadbox. The H5 system will remain on the space station, working separately from the soon-to-be-launched H6 system on a dynamic set of space technology experiments until at least 2021. The H6 system is expected to be in service for three to four years after launch. The large amounts of data the new system captures will pose their own challenge. “There are limitations in communications between ground and spacecraft, so we’re trying to circumvent these limitations with high-performance onboard data processing to more quickly transfer data,” said Sebastian Sabogal, a third-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “We also want our systems to be highly responsive to processed sensor data to enable spacecraft autonomy, which would reduce the amount of human interaction needed to operate the spacecraft and interpret data.” “Everyone in the space community wants to build sensor systems that are more powerful and autonomous,” George said. “We must process the data where it’s gathered, which requires very powerful computers, but space is the most challenging place to build and deploy powerful computers.” Space, too, is a challenging place for computers to thrive due to high fluctuations in temperatures, strong vibrations during launch and higher levels of radiation — all of which can affect performance, said Sabogal. During its time in space, the supercomputer will gather and monitor data on weather patterns, deforestation, and the effects of natural disasters on Earth and the effects of space and radiation on electronic devices, among many applications in Earth and space science. A goldmine for students SHREC also is collaborating for the first time with the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, with the latter designing, assembling and testing the system chassis to meet the structural requirements from NASA for the computing system. For students, these space missions are an opportunity to hone their engineering expertise and interact closely with experts at NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Spacecraft Supercomputing for Image and Video Processing marks the first known instance of the “Pitt Script” in space. (Courtesy of Alan George) “When I initially came in, it was one of the big projects going on here,” said Evan Gretok, a second-year PhD student studying electrical and computer engineering. “I was asked if I was up for a challenge, and I was put on developing some of the flight software for some of the secondary objectives of the mission.” These secondary objectives include studies regarding flight services, hardware configuration and studies on image processing. Gretok also earned his master’s degree in the same field at Pitt this year, and he has been working with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to certify the supercomputer’s ground-station software for mission operations that will be controlled by Pitt researchers in the SHREC lab meets NASA standards. “It’s really humbling to be part of a team that has this kind of access to such innovative technology,” Gretok said. “The amount of opportunities that open up for Earth observation for data analytics and for these students to develop their own applications and algorithms is exciting to see.” Other leading researchers for the project include Matthew Barry, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, who also works with the Center for Research Computing and was in charge of thermal modeling for the computer, and David Schmidt, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, whose team was in charge of the design and construction of the aluminum chassis to house the electronics, ensuring that it meets NASA specifications. For more information on the mission visit NASA’s missions page.
Author: Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
May
1
2019

MEMS Success at Senior Design Expo

MEMS, Student Profiles

First place from left: Jamie Laughlin, Arden Stayer, Ethan Linderman, and Jake Saletsky Second place from left: Dr. Dave Schmidt, Hunter Stept, Adam Argentine, Nicole Nduta, and Austin Gray Third place from left: Rui Xu, Frost Wang, Caroline Collopy, and Terry McLinden Fourth place from left: Dr. Dave Schmidt, Cameron Rendulic, and Shawn Kosko (not pictured: Stanley Umeweni) The Spring 2019 Swanson School Design Expo was held on April 18 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall. This semiannual event allows students to showcase their work from senior capstone design courses. The expo features almost 100 projects from more than 400 students, with the MEMS Department producing the most projects in the School. Project ideas come from industry, faculty and students. Students have 13 weeks to complete their projects on a budget of ~$400. Projects are judged by faculty, alumni and industry professionals in various categories including a People’s Choice Award, which all attendees can vote on. MEMS students have always done well at the competition in the past, and this year was no exception. The “Panther Junk Kart Club” team took first place for MEMS projects and also won the judge’s award for Best Overall Project by creating a practice FSAE go-kart. Team members were Ethan Linderman, Jamie Laughlin, Jake Saletsky and Arden Stayer. Second place went to team Pitt Sear, who developed a searing cooking system. The members of that team were Adam Argentine, Austin Gray, Nicole Nduta and Hunter Stept. A project that involved the design of a rotating camera system for stereo imaging large deformations of soft tissues took home third place. That team was Caroline Collopy, Terry McLinden, Frost Wang and Rui Xu. Finally, fourth place went to the design of carbon fiber wheels for the FSAE car. Team members were Shawn Kosko, Cameron Rendulic and Stanley Umeweni. Dr. Dave Schmidt, associate professor and instructor of the senior design course, notes that the projects serve as a bridge between undergraduate coursework and the workforce. The projects allow students to apply their class training and gives them a story to tell to potential employers in interviews. Schmidt noted that a good work environment and culture of each team is vital for success of the projects. These necessary elements are why the Department is establishing a dedicated classroom for Senior Design projects. The classroom is located on the ground floor of Benedum Hall and was sponsored by ME alum and current MEMS Visiting Committee member, Wilson Farmerie and his wife Karen. The classroom is setup with build, meeting, computation and storage spaces for the students to complete their projects.
Meagan Lenze
May
1
2019

MEMS Senior Receives NASA Fellowship

MEMS, Student Profiles

Noah Sargent, a mechanical engineering senior, received a prestigious NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) award. Sargent will begin the materials science and engineering PhD program at Pitt this coming fall where he will put the fellowship to use. According to the NASA website, the goal of the fellowship is to sponsor graduate students who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies for our Nation’s science, exploration and economic future. The award will be made in the form of a training grant accredited to the University on behalf of Sargent, where faculty advisor Dr. Wei Xiong will serve as the principal investigator. The award is for $80,000/year for up to four years. Additionally, Sargent will be matched with a technically relevant and community-engaged NASA Subject Matter Expert, who will serve as a research collaborator. Sargent is a part of the Physical Metallurgy & Materials Design Laboratory under the direction of Wei Xiong. The proposal that won him the fellowship is titled “Integrated Computational Design of Graded Alloys Made with Additive Manufacturing.” Sargent says, “Words cannot express how thankful and excited I am to receive this award. I look forward to starting graduate school in the fall and continuing my studying at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Apr

Apr
29
2019

Postdoctoral Position in Cancer Bioengineering - Zervantonakis lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is available at the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering lab in the Department of Bioengineering and UPMC Cancer Institute. We employ a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis and drug resistance. Our group has projects in three main areas: (1)  Drug-resistant microenvironments in breast cancer: modeling cellular dynamics. (2)  Metastatic dissemination in ovarian cancer: macrophages and fluid flow. (3) Localized drug release technologies and single-cell functional assays. Applicants should hold a PhD in bioengineering, biomedical sciences or related fields. A strong background in cancer biology is preferred, including experience with quantitative assay development and optimization, microscopy. Openings are also available for candidates with a computational/mathematical background with expertise in mechanistic modeling and systems analysis. The Tumor Microenvironment Engineering laboratory offers the opportunity to work at the forefront of cancer bioengineering, learn cutting edge techniques and collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians. The candidate will benefit from the rich biomedical research environment in the University of Pittsburgh, including the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the Department of Computational and Systems Biology, the Drug Discovery Institute and the Magee-Women’s Research Institute. The city of Pittsburgh is one of the “most livable” cities in the US and is a leader in medicine, engineering and high-tech industries. Openings are available starting September 2019. Please visit the website (www.zervalab.com) to find out more about research projects, publications, mentoring and collaborations. Interested applicants please submit a CV, statement of research interests and contact information for three references to: Ioannis Zervantonakis, Assistant Professor ioz1@pitt.edu. The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates. We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Zervantonakis Laboratory
Apr
26
2019

Built to Provoke, But Not to Last

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 26, 2019) — In the plaza just outside Benedum Hall, University of Pittsburgh students from architecture and engineering have installed a distinctive structure. Pillars of hollow cardboard, filled with sand for weight and support, hold up a curving fence of bamboo slats, secured with shredded plastic bottles and plywood chains. A plywood bench supported by the cardboard tubes marks the center and invites passersby to sit and take a look. But make sure to see it soon, because it won’t last forever—and that’s by design. The structure is made from nonconventional materials to better understand how each material performs in the elements. The materials include bamboo, harvested from local yards where it grew invasively; cardboard tubes donated by Sonoco Products; teak oil-treated plywood, most of which was fabricated right on campus; and recycled plastic bottles. Called “NOCMAT Pavilion,” the installation is the product of a collaboration between the Swanson School of Engineering, the Architectural Studies Program, the Pitt Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies Group (PITT-NOCMAT), and the Pitt Makerspace. It was constructed through a course led by Jennifer Donnelly, PhD, called NOCMAT Design-Build Studio. Chase Rogers, an undergraduate in civil and environmental engineering, had the idea when he and a friend realized how little experience they had working with nonconventional materials, like bamboo and cardboard, and how abundant those materials are. Rogers graduates this semester with a bachelor of science and is a registered Engineer in Training. He approached Drew Armstrong, PhD, director of Architectural Studies, and Swanson School of Engineering Professors Kent Harries, PhD, and Ian Nettleship, PhD, with the idea. Through the efforts of Dr. Armstrong, the NOCMAT studio course was initiated, and Rogers served as mentor throughout the project. “This project let us work with materials that we’re not used to getting our heads around,” said Rogers. “It’s meant to simulate construction waste. These are materials that could be recycled into housing or expedient shelters in places of need.” The Architectural Studies students enrolled in the course designed the structure themselves and worked with members of PITT-NOCMAT to build it, utilizing the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber to fabricate the parts. “We’ve been developing the Pitt Makerspaces with the intention of providing more hands-on experiences for our students and the resources and support to make those experiences possible,” says Barber. “The NOCMAT project has been a great example of how a collaboration between the architecture and engineering departments can yield impressive and creative results through the sharing of ideas and resources.” This project represents a blossoming collaboration between the Swanson School of Engineering and the Architectural Studies program, which are offering engineering and architecture students more opportunities to work and learn together. “The work produced this semester demonstrates how the two programs share a common interest in thinking about design, materials and hands-on learning. The successful completion of the project shows how resources and expertise located in different schools at Pitt can be combined to produce an unexpected outcome,” says Dr. Armstrong.  “It was a major learning experience both for the students and for the instructors; it will be the basis for thinking about future collaborative courses and projects.” At an initial meeting looking for interested students, the planning already began, but constructing with these materials brought challenges. “We had to definitely learn in the moment, and adapt our knowledge of traditional materials to fabricate these materials and put it all together,” said Rogers. “The tubes are particularly susceptible to moisture and had to be meticulously protected from the elements to last longer than a day. Fitting them together and giving them shape was another challenge that required ingenious connections like the three-ring chain link that gives the bamboo screen its curved shape.” “Modularity became very important,” said Dr. Donnelly. “You’re working with these three-inch cardboard tubes, which are all uniform, alongside natural bamboo, which behaves how it wants.” “You can design materials to do anything you want, but reuse is more challenging and teaches a different skill set,” said Dr. Harries. “The students overcame challenges to build this structure using unfamiliar materials, and that experience will serve them well in their future careers.” The purpose of the project was not just to create an interesting space in which the university community and public can gather. Though the materials went through rigorous tests to see how they’ll stand up to temperature changes and rainfall, the materials will still degrade over time. The group will monitor how the structure degrades outside, and how quickly. “This project shows us how these materials work out in the elements. We’re excited to see not only what these materials can do, but how they will age, which is as important as anything else,” said Dr. Donnelly. “We hope people will sit there and enjoy, but also read the sign explaining the project and reflect on different uses for waste.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
25
2019

Biomimicry of Basic Instinct

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 25, 2019) … Collaboration and competition are basic instincts among biological species, from the simplest single-celled organisms to reptiles, fish and primates, as well as humans. This dynamic behavior – the result of millions of years of evolution – is difficult to replicate in synthetic systems. However, chemical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have recreated these responses in an environment of microscopic particles, sheets, and catalysts, effectively mimicking responses of feeding, fighting, and fleeing. Their research, “Collaboration and completion between active sheets for self-propelled particles,” was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1901235116). Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, the John A. Swanson Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. Lead author is Abhrajit Laskar, and co-author is Oleg E. Shklyaev, both post-doctoral associates. As a lead-up to this work, Dr. Balazs et al used computational modeling to design chemically active sheets that were able to wrap, flap and creep in a fluid-filled microchamber, leveraging the potential to create flexible or “squishy” robots for fluidic environments. For the PNAS article, the researchers designed fluidic systems that shape the catalyst-coated sheets into a form resembling a crab with four “claws,” creating the predator that can chemically “hunt” its particle prey. “As we develop future robotics and smart devices, it’s important to understand the limits to imitating biological functions in human-made machines. It is also critical to understand whether artificial systems can collaborate or compete for resources,” Dr. Balazs explained. “If we can replicate this interdependency, we can help establish the foundation for robots or other devices to work together toward a common goal.”To affect this behavior, Balazs and her associates utilized the catalyst on the sheets to convert reactants to products within a microchamber. This reaction creates variations in the chemical composition and fluid density, which change the two-dimensional sheets into 3D “crabs” and propel both the crabs and the particles in the fluid. As the crabs generate chemical gradients in one area, the particles respond by attempting to “flee” from this area, forming a highly interdependent system. This interdependency also impacted the environment when a second crab was added to the fluid – once the reactant was introduced, the two crabs mimicked cooperation to “share” particles. However, if a larger crab was introduced, it would compete with the smaller shapes to capture all the particles for itself. “In some cases, the big crab can’t catch the small particles, but when we add more crabs they appear to collaborate like a pack of wolves,” Dr. Shklyaev explains. “Likewise, when an even larger predator enters the microchamber, the “hunger” it generates with a larger catalytic surface area will dominate the behavior of the smaller predator sheets.”Dr. Laskar says that the simplicity of this system is that the only programming involved is the introduction of the chemical reagent into the system. “Once we added a reactant into the microchamber, all the biomimetic behaviors occurred spontaneously,” he said. “We can then tailor the extent to which the particles respond to chemical gradients, because different particles will respond in different ways. So changing the property of even one type of object alters the interdependency of the whole system.”According to Dr. Balazs, the new findings indicate the ability to control activity within the microchamber in space and time, thereby enabling the sheets to respond to different commands only by changing the reactants added to the solution. “Our computations reveal the ability to direct microscopic objects to perform specific functions, such as transporting cells or building complex structures,” she said. “These design rules have the potential to diversify the functionality of microfluidic devices, allowing them to accomplish significantly more complex tasks.” ### Acknowledgements: This research is made possible through funding from NSF Grant 1740630, CCI Phase I, Center for Chemo-Mechanical Assembly, and computational facilities at the Center for Research Computing at the University of Pittsburgh. Biomimicry of Feeding: The enzyme-coated sheet generates an inward flow which pulls in fleeing, self-propelled particles (yellow spheres). Within the sheet or crab, the catalase-coated nodes are marked in green, and the heavier nodes at the apexes are indicated in black. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) Survival of the Fittest: The surface area of active sites on the red crab is twice that of the green grab; therefore, the red crab draws particles away from green competitors by generating stronger inward flows (marked with black arrows). (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) To Each His Own: Two crabs, whose rates of decomposition are equal, generate comparable flows and thus gather an equal number of particles. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) Pack Mentality: Catalase-coated, movable sheets acting together can capture particles that individual sheets alone cannot. Inward fluid flows become even stronger (indicated by larger arrow sizes) as the sheets aggregate. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) A Timed Response: The pink crab decomposes glucose into two lighter products, H2O2 and gluconic acid, and the resulting inward flows drag particles toward it. However, the green crab’s catalyst decomposes H2O2, which generates a new, strong inward fluid flow that drags the particles from the pink crab, which gradually flattens as its glucose supply is depleted. This indicates the ability to “program” two sheets to perform temporal as well as spatial tasks. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs)

Apr
24
2019

ChemE Assistant Professor John Keith Receives Funding for 10-month Collaboration with University of Luxembourg

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2019) — John Keith, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received two awards to fund a 10-month collaboration with a researcher at the University of Luxembourg. Dr. Keith received the equivalent of $89,000 from the Luxembourg National Research Fund as well as a $26,746 NSF Travel Award supplement to support a 10-month visit to the University of Luxembourg, where he will work with Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko, a world expert in developing atomistic machine learning methods that use artificial intelligence to make computer simulations faster and more accurate. Together, the researchers will study complex reaction mechanisms, such as carbon dioxide conversion into fuels and chemicals, and environmentally green chemical design of molecular chelating agents. The researchers also plan to develop a modern textbook on quantum chemistry and contemporary methods to study chemical bonding that would educate the next generation of computational researchers. “I very much look forward to the work made possible by these grants,” says Dr. Keith. “It’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate with an international expert to better improve technologies that would have a positive effect on our world.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
24
2019

Sharing Eight Decades of Engineering Wisdom

All SSoE News

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2019) — When John Oyler was invited to take the stage to deliver the 2019 Landis Lecture, entitled “Eight Decades of Wisdom Gathering,” he promptly stepped back off, preferring to roam amongst the audience as he spoke. “Wisdom,” he began, “is not correlated with intelligence. It is the accumulation of thousands of experiences that are evaluated and stored subconsciously.” He explained that wisdom, not just intelligence or talent, is the reason long-time engineers can spot problems at a glance that new engineers might overlook. After decades of experience, patterns become clear and errors become obvious. Dr. Oyler, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been a professor since 1993, a position he took after retiring from 40 years in industry. Since 1953, he has worked for Dravo Corporation, Daxus Corporation and his own consulting firm, Oyler Consulting Services. “So do I have any right to talk about wisdom?” Dr. Oyler asked the crowd, rhetorically. “You bet I do.” The lecture took place at the 20th Century Club on April 11, 2019. In it, Dr. Oyler identified three traits that effective engineers possess: focus, judgment and creativity. A disaster like the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse is the result of losing focus on the fundamentals, he explained. San Francisco’s shuttered Transbay Terminal is a result of poor engineering judgment. But on the positive side, creativity, independent thinking and innovative solutions are what engineering is all about. The Bayonne Bridge, which at the time of its construction in 1932 was the longest steel arch bridge in the world, was too low to allow the new, bigger cargo ships to pass under it. Rather than demolishing the bridge, engineers raised the deck, preserving it and saving time, money and resources. “For every failure,” Dr. Oyler said of engineering, “there are thousands of successes.” Dr. Oyler ended his lecture with three pieces of advice for engineers: to not compartmentalize themselves in their specialty but to remain curious and open to learning; to be willing to take a chance and try something new, even if they think it is beyond their capabilities; and to have confidence in themselves. “We're living in a time when there is more knowledge available than ever before, and the capability to access it is in your jacket pocket,” said Dr. Oyler. “The Landis Lecture is intended to inspire. When selecting John for this honor, we had no doubt that adding John’s name to the list of distinguished recipients was not only appropriate but exceptionally well-earned,” said, Kent Harries, professor of structural engineering. The Landis Lectureship was established by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1991 in honor of Donald H. Landis, president of Epic Metals Corporation and a 1952 graduate of Pitt.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
24
2019

Entrepreneurial Engineer Brings Creative Spirit and Connections to Campus, Honda

MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Posted with permission. Read the original post at Pittwire. The tagline on Sean O’Brien’s Instagram bio reads “Dedicated to leaving an impact.” But over the course of his five years at Pitt, O’Brien is known more for making, not merely leaving, an impact — through his work at the Pitt Makerspace. O’Brien, president of the Pitt Makerspace, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a certificate in innovation, product design and entrepreneurship from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, as well as a resume that includes autonomous vehicle research made possible through several co-op rotations at Nissan. In May, he’ll start work as an innovation engineer at a brand-new Honda facility in Michigan, after fielding job offers from several auto manufacturers. He’s mapped his own career path — and paved the way for other students — admittedly not through a turbocharged grade point average, he said, but by his passion for hands-on learning, willingness to make connections and desire to solve problems. All simply “to make things work,” said O’Brien. O’Brien joined the Pitt Makerspace team early on as its sponsorship and outreach lead, a role in which he secured thousands of dollars in financial support and helped develop events designed to connect students with potential employers. “I have the ability to sell what I’m passionate about,” he said. Boosted by connections made at the Stanford University-based national University Innovation Fellows program, he has helped grow the Makerspace from a basement space with little more than a few benches and sofas, a 3D printer and some tools into a vibrant hub for creating, innovating and, importantly, for networking. O’Brien launched his own MakerHUB podcast, which has drawn notable guests — including Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher — to the Makerspace sofas for a conversation. The Pitt Makerspace served more than 1,000 students last year; a team of 30 keeps it running day to day. The suite has become a regular stop on prospective students’ campus tours, and now hosts alumni gatherings and events sponsored by industry partners. O’Brien also has made a commitment to give back as a member of Pitt’s first cohort of Panthers Forward graduates. The new Pitt program pays up to $5,000 of each student’s federal loan debt. In exchange, upon graduation, participants are asked to pay it forward in support of future Panthers Forward students. A passion in the making O’Brien knew from the time he started high school that he wanted to be an engineer. As a teen, he persuaded his parents to let him build a table large enough to seat his extended family so they could dine together rather than in separate rooms at holidays. It took 200 hours of work, but the result is a massive 11-foot-long table that is the focal point in his family’s dining room in Reading, Pennsylvania. “I realized what I could make with the proper resources and the proper help,” he said of the experience. In his senior year at Muhlenberg High School, he launched his own small business, SO’s Bows, all because he couldn’t find a bow tie in the appropriate shade of blue to match his prom date’s dress. He designed his own, then stitched it himself on a home economics class sewing machine. After perfecting the process, he began selling ties made to order. His interest in entrepreneurship led him to Pitt’s student innovation programming. He met Babs Carryer, director of Pitt’s Big Idea Center within the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute at a Startup Blitz event. He soon began working in her office — analyzing participation data in an effort to create strategies to engage students from all disciplines in Innovation Institute programming. “When students come to Pitt, they don’t necessarily know what they want to do, but they figure it out,” Carryer said. “He’s a great example of an engineering student who discovers innovation and entrepreneurship as a result of being at Pitt. It is lifechanging. He is going to be wildly successful, whatever he chooses to do.” Intrapreneurship — entrepreneurship in a company setting — suits O’Brien, Carryer said. “He wants to merge creativity and entrepreneurship with engineering,” she said, commending his motivation and skill set. “This is the dream job,” O’Brien said as he prepares for his new position in Michigan that will include creating a makerspace where his group can prototype concepts to bring to the overall organization. “I’m honored to have this opportunity. It’s a blank slate to decide what this facility means to Honda moving forward.” And the wheels already are turning in his mind: “Ultimately I’d like to create an internship program between this Honda facility and the Pitt Makerspace,” he said. “Providing value is the currency that leverages your next opportunity,” O’Brien said. “The return doesn’t need to be immediate. What I’m leaving behind is a platform for people to succeed.” Leaving an impact? Those who know his work best say O’Brien is making it happen.
Kimberly K. Barlow
Apr
23
2019

An Uphill Task: Split-belt training on an incline may be more effective for correcting gait in stroke patients

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 23, 2019) … Individuals recovering from a stroke often experience atypical movement, making previously simple tasks - such as walking - more difficult. Repeated exposure to split-belt treadmill walking, where one foot walks faster than the other, has proven to be an effective strategy to improve gait for some stroke patients, but many individuals do not benefit from this therapy. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, recently published a paper detailing her surprising discovery that inclined split-belt training increases locomotor adaptation and may be useful for helping more stroke survivors improve their gait. During split-belt training, researchers use a treadmill with two belts that move at different speeds to teach an individual to walk a new way. Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s group uses this technique to train healthy volunteers to walk with a limp and subsequently reverses the process to see if a clinical population that already has a limp can be trained to walk symmetrically. “Research suggests that the forces experienced on the feet during walking might improve how much individuals adapt or learn a new walking pattern,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “We wanted to explore this idea so we looked at propulsion demands from inclined walking and braking demands from declined walking to see if they influenced locomotor adaptation.” “We track a subject’s adaptation and learning of new walking patterns with a measure of limping called step length asymmetry,” explained Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “Larger values of step length asymmetry reflect more limping than smaller values, and a zero step length asymmetry indicates that subjects are walking symmetrically.” The research, published in Frontiers in Physiology (DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00060), was led by Carly Sombric, PhD, a recent graduate alumnus from the bioengineering program in the Swanson School of Engineering. “We previously thought that all young, healthy individuals sought a step length asymmetry value of zero during split-belt training,” Sombric explained. “But, in this study, we noticed that participants in the sloped conditions chose to limp rather than walk symmetrically.” Asymmetric stepping was selected because of the way slope and walking speed influence our gait. On a flat surface, it doesn’t matter how slow or fast a person is walking - one foot always moves in front of the person the same distance they let it trail behind them. This relationship is disrupted when walking on an inclined or declined condition at different speeds. “During split-belt training, subjects placed their legs relative to their body in a speed-and-slope-specific manner,” said Sombric. “We found that you adapt and learn more depending on the forces you need to generate. Increased adaptation and learning are achieved at the expense of stepping symmetry. In summary, inclined training caused subjects to better learn a new walking pattern.” Studies have shown that split-belt training has been an effective therapy for many patients recovering from a stroke, but there is still a large population that is not benefitting, and it is still unclear why some stroke survivors relearn better than others. Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s group wants to know if they can use this sloped strategy to adjust the degree to which people change their gait. “Before this study, it was unclear how we could control how much we adjust walking patterns in patients,” said Sombric. “Now we understand that you can augment how much subjects are learning a new walking pattern by making them generate larger propulsion forces or breaking forces, depending on how much you want them to adapt.” The team plans to examine whether or not this new knowledge can be used to increase the amount that stroke patients change their gait from this intervention. In future studies, the lab also wants to determine whether or not the patients can generalize these effects to different walking environments. ###

Apr
22
2019

Pitt Students Win First Place Overall at Ohio Valley Student Conference

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 22, 2019) —From traditional skills like geotechnical surveys and designing a water treatment system, to the extravagant like building canoes and Frisbees out of concrete, students at the annual Ohio Valley Student Conference (OVSC) are challenged on their knowledge as well as their ingenuity. This year, Students in the American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering rose to the challenge, bringing home first place overall. The conference took place on April 11-12, 2019, at the University of Akron in Ohio. Students in ASCE chapters from Ohio, Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania had a chance to take the technical knowledge they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to real-world situations. “We are proud to be an entirely student run organization from top to bottom. Our team members and team captains have done an incredible job of making this possible, and our Vice President, Matt Paradise, has worked extremely hard to coordinate this conference for our chapter. We are also very proud to say that we participate in every competition that is offered, which is a somewhat of an accomplishment in and of itself,” says Todd Allen-Gifford, CEE student and ASCE chapter president. “From these competitions, our members get hands-on engineering experience, including learning how to weld steel, how to design and form concrete, how to survey land to collect data, and much more." The group competed against 14 other schools in the Ohio Valley and were ranked first based on the results of individual competitions: Surveying: 1st place Environmental – Designing a Water-Treatment System: 3rd place Environmental Technical Paper: 1st placeTechnical Paper (Mead paper) – Ethical Importance of Diversity and Inclusion: 1st placeCivil Site Design - 2nd placeConcrete Frisbee – 2nd placeSpirit of the Competition Award In addition, the student teams participated in a balsa wood bridge competition, a geotechnical competition using soil to build water dams, and a concrete canoe competition. “Our concrete canoe team takes concrete design and construction to a new level,” says Allen-Gifford. “They spend countless hours experimenting with lightweight materials in order to make the concrete durable while ensuring the canoe is an appropriate density in order to float properly. Other considerations include the comfort of the rowers, the steering of the boat (many of the races include several turns), aesthetics of the canoe, and more.” Nearly 50 students in the Pitt ASCE chapter attend the conference every year. “We’re proud of the great work demonstrated by our students at this year’s competition,” says Anthony Iannacchione, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) and ASCE faculty advisor. “Pitt's ASCE student chapter has performed at a high level for many years. That comes from enthusiastic, forward looking chapter officers and board members, a talented student body that often numbers well over 170-members, timely assistance from the CEE faculty and staff, and a supportive civil engineering community in the Pittsburgh region. We all have come to expect this kind of exemplary performance from our student groups."
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
19
2019

Pitt ChemE Promotes Two to Associate Professor with Tenure

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 19, 2019) – Two professors in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering received promotions this week. John Keith, PhD, and Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, PhD, have both received promotions to Associate Professor with tenure. “John and Yanni have made outstanding contributions to the department, its students and our reputation,” says Steven R. Little, PhD, professor and chair of the department. “Their letters of support from around the world were truly inspiring, and they made the Promotion and Tenure Committee’s decision an easy one.” About John Keith: John A. Keith, PhD, is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His Computational Chemistry lab studies atomic scale reaction mechanisms to understand how to design solar fuels catalysts, environmentally green chemicals, and anti-corrosion coatings. Dr. Keith earned his PhD in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology and pursued postdoctoral research in electrochemistry at the University of Ulm in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. About Giannis Mpourmpakis: Giannis Mpourmpakis, PhD, is the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) uses theory and computation to investigate the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnology areas, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis. Dr. Mpourmpakis earned his PhD at Theoretical and Computational Chemistry from the University of Crete and was a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Delaware. ###
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
19
2019

Four Projects Receive Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Seed Grants

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 19, 2019) — The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has announced its 2019-2020 seed grant recipients. The grants support graduate student and post-doctoral fellows on one-year research projects that are focused on sustainability. “All of the projects we have selected this year have the potential to make a lasting, positive impact on the environment,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center. “The Mascaro Center is excited to support these core teams of researchers who are passionate about sustainability.” This year’s recipients are: Towards Using Microbes for Sustainable Construction Materials:  Feasibility StudySarah Haig, civil & environmental engineeringSteven Sachs, civil & environmental engineeringMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering*Jointly funded by MCSI and IRISE Chemical Recycling of Polyethylene to EthyleneEric Beckman, chemical & petroleum engineeringIoannis Bourmpakis, chemical & petroleum engineeringRobert Enick, chemical & petroleum engineeringGoetz Veser, chemical & petroleum engineering Investigating flexible piezoelectric materials with lower water pressuresKatherine Hornbostel, mechanical engineering & materials scienceMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering Amplifying the efficiency of Tungsten Disulfide Thermoelectric DevicesFeng Xiong, electrical and computer engineering
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
19
2019

Freakonomics Spotlight

MEMS

Katherine Hornbostel, mechanical engineering assistant professor, was invited to be a guest on the popular podcast, Freakonomics Radio Live.  The offer came after a producer of the show came across an article published on the SSOE website last December.  The article described Hornbostel’s postdoctoral work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and her continued efforts at Pitt to find a safe, cheap and efficient method of carbon-capture. Hornbostel flew to New York City to be on the live show which was held at City Winery on March 9.  She was one of six guests on the episode called on stage to give a 15-minute interview with show creator Stephen Dubner and co-host Angela Duckworth (author of Grit, a NYT best seller). The show was recorded in front of a live audience of approximately 200 people. During her interview, which begins at 42:10, Hornbostel discusses using tiny capsules to capture carbon dioxide from the exhaust of a power plant. Hornbostel describes the method invented and studied by her team at LLNL: “…this particular combination — water and sodium carbonate — if you dissolve it in water, can react with carbon dioxide and extract it from a gas stream coming off a coal plant. And the really interesting thing that I’ve studied is that if you put these chemicals into little capsules that look like caviar, you can actually pack them into a reactor, attach it to a power plant, and selectively take out the carbon dioxide that’s being released from the exhaust.” Hornbostel and Dubner joked that the technology should be re-branded as “carbon capture caviar.” Hornbostel’s team at LLNL is currently working with small-scale partners, such as a biogas company and a microbrewery, to pilot this technology. Hornbostel’s group at Pitt is also researching how to use this “carbon capture caviar” to extract CO2 from the ocean to reverse acidification.
Meagan Lenze
Apr
18
2019

2019 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship Awarded to Ryan Brody

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 18, 2019) — Ryan Brody, a first-year MS student in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive this year’s Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship for $10,000. The scholarship is named for Peter Hammond, inventor of the Perfect Harmony drive and long-time engineer at Siemens who is now retired. Hammond’s Perfect Harmony drive is a high-power machine that controls the speed of large motors; today, it is a key part of Siemens’ medium voltage variable frequency drive portfolio. The resulting energy savings on large pumps, fans, compressors, and other industrial equipment have had an enormous environmental impact, the carbon footprint equivalent of removing millions of cars from the road. The annual scholarship, which is in its third year, is open to any student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Swanson School. Students must complete an application, supplementing it with an essay, letters of recommendation, a resume and their transcript. “Peter Hammond represents the inventive thinking and hard work that is central to engineering,” says Brandon Grainger, PhD, associate director of the Electric Power Systems Laboratory and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Swanson. “This scholarship selects students who are not only qualified academically but who also share those qualities that have made Peter a successful engineer.” The first Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship recipient was Jacob Friedrich, MS EE, who is currently working at Aptiv on electric vehicles; the second was Thomas Cook, BS, who is currently pursuing his MS at Swanson and plans to go on for a PhD. Brody says he values learning and wants to use his experience to find solutions to interesting, practical problems and to mentor others. He plans to complete his master’s degree and pursue a PhD, studying power conversion in electric vehicles. “I hope my research will find a simple, energy efficient, low-cost, lightweight active battery cell balancing system for electric vehicles by integrating the cell balancing circuitry into the drive-train power electronics,” says Brody. “I’m grateful that this scholarship will help me achieve my goals of becoming a researcher, professor and entrepreneur.” The scholarship was presented April 10, 2019 and included a presentation by Jason Hoover, director of business development at Siemens Industry, called “Using Digitalization for Motors and Drives to Improve Productivity in Process Industries.” “We’re pleased to invest in our collective future through the Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship,” says Hoover. “We know the recipients of this scholarship will go on to mold the future with the same passion and ingenuity that allowed Pete to imagine the Perfect Harmony and bring it to life.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
17
2019

The Promise of Nuclear Engineering at Pitt

MEMS, Nuclear

The nuclear industry in the U.S. is at a crossroads, as several plants are scheduled for permanent shutdown, including three in Pennsylvania, the second-largest nuclear energy-producing state. However, in his brief tenure at Pitt, Professor Heng Ban, director of the Swanson School’s Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program, sees opportunity ahead for students, alumni and faculty researchers. Dr. Ban joined Pitt in 2017 from Utah State University (USU), where he served as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and founding Director of the Center for Thermohydraulics and Material Properties. In addition to continuing to serve as principal investigator on a fuel safety research program at USU, he holds a research portfolio of nearly $1 million per year in nuclear-related research. He believes that Pittsburgh’s nuclear history – and Pitt’s distinctive program – allow the Swanson School to better compete in a global energy industry. “Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest power resources and is a vital component not only of our nation’s energy portfolio, but also the U.S. naval nuclear fleet and several countries around the world. Research is ongoing into additive manufacturing of nuclear components, smaller reactor systems as well as sensors and controls for reactor safety and machine learning for facility maintenance,” Dr. Ban says. “The Swanson School has assembled diverse faculty expertise in these areas, and so we can offer technological breakthroughs and outstanding graduates in field.” Pitt currently offers an undergraduate certificate and graduate certificate and master of science in nuclear engineering through the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Dr. Ban says that what sets the Swanson School program apart is the ability to draw upon adjunct faculty in the area who have direct ties to the nuclear industry. “Pittsburgh was the birthplace of the nuclear energy industry,” Dr. Ban notes. “The first peacetime nuclear reactor was built near here in Shippingport, and the first nuclear submarine engine was developed at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. Those current and former employees have such a combined wealth of knowledge about the industry, and are a unique feature of our curriculum. Dr. Ban adds that since many of those engineers are nearing retirement, there is a great need for a new generation of nuclear employees. “From Bettis, Westinghouse, Bechtel Marine and so many other in the supply chain, employers are telling us not only that they need engineers, but are helping us structure the curriculum so that we educate the best engineer for the field.” And the research that students engage in spans the nuclear industry. For example, Dr. Ban’s research includes a large project with participation of Westinghouse, GE, Framatome, several universities and the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory on fuel safety and advanced sensor systems for a next-generation sodium-cooled test reactor in Idaho; Professors Albert To and Wei Xiong are working industry to optimize designs of 3-D printing of nuclear parts, Professor Jeffrey Vipperman is studying vibration detection while Kevin Chen is developing optical fiber sensors for reactor environments; Sangyeop Lee is focused on molecular dynamics computational studies for molten salt reactors, Daniel Cole is working with Rolls-Royce on nuclear plant operation using machine learning; and Katherine Hornbostel is developing system analysis tools. “As long as nuclear energy remains a reliable, clean, efficient and safe energy resource, we will have a greater need for the engineers who can be competitive in the global nuclear energy marketplace, as well as who can develop the next ground-breaking technologies,” Dr. Ban says. “And the Swanson School is at the nexus of this industry that is a critical part of our national safety, from power generation to defense, and a major contributor to reducing carbon emissions worldwide.” ### Associated Awards in Nuclear Engineering Predictive Solutions for Prevention and Mitigation of Corrosion in Support of Next Generation Logistics PI/Co-PI: Brian Gleeson (PI), Heng Ban (Co-PI), Qing-Ming Wang (Co-PI)Grant Source: Battelle Memorial InstituteGrant Amount: $1,145,931Grant Period: 04/20/2018 – 05/30/2018Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR PI: Heng BanGrant Source: University of New Mexico/DOE Grant Amount: $150,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2019Transient Reactor (TREAT) Experiments to Validate MDM Fuel Performance Simulations PI: Heng BanGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,000,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018– 08/31/2020Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR PI: Heng BanGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $450,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2019Integrating Dissolvable Supports, Topology Optimization, and Microstructure Design to Drastically Reduce Costs in Developing and Post-Processing Nuclear Plan Components by Laser-Based Powder Bed Additive Manufacturing PI: Albert To Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,000,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2021Advanced Manufacturing of Embedded Heat Pipe Nuclear Hybrid Reactor PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: ARPA-E through Los Alamos national LabGrant Amount: $200,000Grant Period: 2018-2021Self-regulating, Solid Core Block “SCB” for an Inherently Safe Heat Pipe Reactor PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: ARPA-E through Westinghouse Grant Amount: $670,000Grant Period: Oct. 2018 – Sept. 2021.Radiation Effects on Optical Fiber Sensor Fused Smart Alloy Parts with Graded Alloy Composition Manufactured by Additive Manufacturing Processes PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,250,000Grant Period: Oct. 2017 – Sept. 2020Nuclear Regulatory Commission Graduate Fellowship Award PI/Co-PI: Dan Cole (PI), Heng Ban (Co-PI)Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $450,000Grant Period: 2017-2020Nuclear Regulatory Commission Faculty Development Award PI: Dan ColeGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $300,000Grant Period: 2016-2019

Apr
17
2019

Nine Pitt Students Awarded 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH—Nine University of Pittsburgh students were awarded a 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Seven Pitt students and one alumnus also earned an honorable mention. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. Fellows receive an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years, as well as a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. The support accorded to NSF Graduate Research Fellows is intended to nurture awardees’ ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. “Receipt of an NSF Fellowship award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our undergrad and graduate students, and to their faculty mentors and advisors. It is also one of the most highly recognized indicators of early success in a scientific research career,” said Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies and strategic initiatives at Pitt. “The University is committed to increasing support for future NSF-GRFP applicants through the application process while we congratulate this year’s winners.” Four Swanson School students received an award: Nathanial Buettner, a civil engineering undergraduate student, works in the Pavement Mechanics and Materials Laboratory where he aims to advance research on concrete pavements. Starting in summer 2019, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Pittsburgh under the advisement of Dr. Julie Vandenbossche. Charles Griego, a chemical engineering graduate student, works with Dr. John Keith to evaluate computational models used for high-throughput screening of catalysts that improve chemical processes. He graduated from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 2017 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He serves as President of Pitt’s Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association and plans to become a professor to fulfill his desire for teaching and inspiring students in STEM. Dulce Mariscal, a bioengineering graduate student, works in the lab of Gelsy Torres-Oviedo where she aims to identify biomechanical factors that modulate the generalization of treadmill learning to ultimately improve rehabilitation treatments for patients with gait impairments. She graduated from the Universidad del Turabo, PR in 2014 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Kalon Overholt, a bioengineering undergraduate student, has worked under the mentorship of Dr. Rocky Tuan in the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering (CCME) for the past three years. His research focused on developing a device to study how biochemical crosstalk between bone and cartilage may contribute to the mechanism of osteoarthritis. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology starting in fall 2019. Two Swanson School students received honorable mentions: Ethan Schumann graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. He worked on medical device development with Dr. Jeffrey Vipperman at Pitt and hardware design and testing of a bipedal robot with Dr. C. David Remy at the University of Michigan. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Harvard University with Dr. Conor Walsh in the Biodesign Lab starting fall 2019. Sommer Anjum, a bioengineering graduate student, is pursuing a Ph.D. in the area of computational modeling and simulation. She works in the MechMorpho lab of Dr. Lance Davidson where she aims to develop computational models capturing the complex biophysical properties of developing organisms. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2018 with a degree in Biological Engineering, where she discovered her passion for trying to understand the behaviors of biological systems through computational models. Andrea Sajewski, an undergraduate student from Duquesne University who works with Dr. Tamer Ibrahim, was also awarded a fellowship. She will join the bioengineering graduate program in the fall and continue her magnetic resonance imaging research in the Radiofrequency Research Facility. Nathan Brantly, who also recently accepted an offer to join the bioengineering graduate program, received an award and will join Dr. Jennifer Collinger's group in the fall. Current Swanson School students who hold or previously held the NSF-GRFP award include, Sarah Hemler (BioE), Angelica Herrera (BioE), Monica Liu (BioE), Patrick Marino (BioE), Erika Pliner (BioE), Donald Kline (BioE), Megan Routzong (BioE), Michael Taylor (ChemE), Drake Pedersen (BioE), Natalie Austin (ChemE), Gerald Ferrer (BioE), Alexis Nolfi (BioE), Carly Sombric (BioE), and Elyse Stachler (CEE). ###

Apr
16
2019

BioE graduate students capture top prizes at the Pitt Three Minute Thesis competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 16, 2019) … After their success in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, bioengineering graduate students Piyusha Gade and Gerald Ferrer participated in the university-wide event hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost on April 1, 2019. Gade was awarded first place while Ferrer captured the runner-up prize and the People’s Choice award. The Pitt 3MT competition was held during National Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week, a celebration to emphasize the contributions, impact, and value of graduate and professional students on campuses throughout the United States. The Provost’s Office presented four prizes for the 3MT competition: first place was awarded a $1000 travel grant, two runner-ups were each awarded a $500 travel grant, and for the first time at Pitt, a $1000 travel grant was awarded to a People’s Choice winner. “I am proud that both Piyusha and Gerald received awards at the university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Nickolas A. Dececco Professor of Industrial Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “We try to prepare our Swanson School students for successful careers in STEM, and effective communication is an important but often overlooked part of that.” Gade, who placed first in both the Pitt and Swanson School 3MT competition, is a bioengineering a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Anne Robertson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. She presented her research which involves rationally designing in situ engineered vascular grafts in young and aged hosts. “Piyusha is an outstanding researcher – extremely smart, innovative and versatile,” Robertson said. “She is always ready to take on new challenges, both intellectually and professionally. I am so proud of Piyusha and her accomplishment!” Ferrer, who was a runner-up in the Swanson School competition, presented his work from the Orthopaedic Robotics Lab of Dr. Richard Debski, professor of bioengineering. His current research is focused on quantifying location specific mechanical properties in tendons using different ultrasound techniques and understanding key biomechanical factors that influence rotator cuff tear propagation through computational models. "I enjoyed the challenge of communicating the significance and impact of our research in a way that everyone - regardless of their background - could understand and relate to, all in under 3 minutes,” Ferrer said. “Being able to communicate with a diverse audience is important because it allows us to bridge the gap between scientists and nonscientists thus increasing awareness of the societal impact of your research.” The 3MT Competition, developed by The University of Queensland, is designed to encourage students to communicate the importance of their research to the broader community. Since its launch in 2008, the 3MT competition has expanded to 67 countries, and events are currently held at more than 600 universities worldwide. ###

Apr
15
2019

Happy Retirement for Two MEMS Faculty Members

MEMS

The Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science department celebrated the retirements of two full professors this year at the faculty meeting last Friday. • Anthony DeArdo: Deardo spent 43 years teaching at Pitt, plus one year as an emeritus professor. He served as director of Pitt’s Basic Metals Processing Research Institute (BAMPRI).  He has received numerous awards, included one at the Prof. A.J. DeArdo Symposium on Microalloyed Steels, International Conf. Thermec, Las Vegas, 2013. • Gerald Meier: Meier served 49 years at Pitt, plus one year as an emeritus professor.  He published two successful books, Introduction to the High-Temperature Oxidation of Metals in 2006 and Thermodynamics of Surfaces and Interfaces: Concepts in Inorganic Materials in 2014. The MEMS department would like to congratulate Tony and Jerry on successful careers!
Meagan Lenze
Apr
12
2019

Swanson School Professor Leanne Gilbertson receives ASEE Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 12, 2019) … Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was selected to receive the Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Women in Engineering Division (WIED). The award recognizes her contributions to engineering education and will provide travel to the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, June 15-19. The Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant honors and supports women who at the beginning of their academic career have the potential to contribute to the engineering education community and support the mission of WIED. In 2019 a total of four awards were presented to female faculty and students who have a demonstrated commitment to innovation in teaching and/or potential for substantial contributions to the field. Gilbertson earned her PhD in environmental engineering from Yale University in 2014 with support from a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and an Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship. She joined Pitt in 2015 after completing her postdoctoral research in Yale’s Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Hamilton College in 2007 and was a secondary school teacher for several years before going to graduate school. Gilbertson’s research group aims to inform sustainable design of existing and novel materials to avoid potential unintended environmental and human health consequences while maintaining functional performance goals. Her research includes both experimental and life cycle modeling thrusts. “Leanne is an advocate for STEM education and is dedicated to making science and engineering fun, challenging, and accessible to students of all ages,” said Radisav Vidic, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering. “Through her research, coursework, and mentorship, she has been a major asset to our department and the Swanson School. She is most deserving of this award!” ### Background of Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant Dr. Mara H. Wasburn (February 22, 1941 –  March 27, 2011) was a professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership/Supervision at Purdue University; her work on mentoring is recognized worldwide. Her mentoring model, Strategic Collaboration, was copyrighted and has been applied to both business and academic environments internationally. Dr. Wasburn was very active in ASEE, particularly in WIED. Through this grant, we honor Dr. Wasburn's commitment to mentoring and the academic advancement of women in engineering/technology. The applicants and awardees represent an embodiment of Dr. Wasburn’s legacy.

Apr
11
2019

New Research Adds to Work of Prandtl, Father of Modern Aerodynamics

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... In 1942, Ludwig Prandtl—considered the father of modern aerodynamics—published “Führer durch die Strömungslehre,” the first book of its time on fluid mechanics and translated to English from the German language in 1952 as “Essentials of Fluid Dynamics.” The book was uniquely successful such that Prandtl’s students continued to maintain and develop the book with new findings after his death. Today, the work is available under the revised title “Prandtl—Essentials of Fluid Mechanics,” as an expanded and revised version of the original book with contributions by leading researchers in the field of fluid mechanics. Over the years, the last three pages of Prandtl’s original book, focusing on mountain and valley winds, have received some attention from the meteorology research community, but the specific pages have been largely overlooked by the fluid mechanics community to the point that the content and the exact mathematical solutions have disappeared in the current expanded version of the book. But today in the age of supercomputers, Inanc Senocak, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is finding new insights in Prandtl’s original work, with important implications for nighttime weather prediction in mountainous terrain.Drs. Senocak and Cheng-Nian Xiao, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Senocak’s lab, recently authored a paper titled “Stability of the Prandtl Model for Katabatic Slope Flows,” published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics (DOI: 10.1017/jfm.2019.132). The researchers used both linear stability theory and direct numerical simulations to uncover, for the first time, fluid instabilities in the Prandtl model for katabatic slope flows. Katabatic slope flows are gravity-driven winds common over large ice sheets or during nighttime on mountain slopes, where cool air flows downhill. Understanding those winds are vital for reliable weather predictions, which are important for air quality, aviation and agriculture. But the complexity of the terrain, the stratification of the atmosphere and fluid turbulence make computer modeling of winds around mountains difficult. Since Prandtl’s model does not set the conditions for when a slope flow would become turbulent, that deficiency makes it difficult, for example, to predict weather for the area around Salt Lake City in Utah, where the area’s prolonged inversions create a challenging environment for air quality.“Now that we have more powerful supercomputers, we can improve upon the complexity of the terrain with better spatial resolutions in the mathematical model,” says Dr. Senocak. “However, numerical weather prediction models still make use of simplified models that have originated during a time when computing power was insufficient.”The researchers found that while Prandtl’s model is prone to unique fluid instabilities, which emerge as a function of the slope angle and a new dimensionless number, they have named the stratification perturbation parameter as a measure of the disturbance to the background stratification of the atmosphere due to cooling at the surface. The concept of dimensionless numbers, for example the Reynolds number, plays an important role in thermal and fluid sciences in general as they capture the essence of competing processes in a problem.An important implication of their finding is that, for a given fluid such as air, dynamic stability of katabatic slope flows cannot simply be determined by a single dimensionless parameter alone, such as the Richardson number, as is practiced currently in the meteorology and fluids dynamics community. The Richardson number expresses a ratio of buoyancy to the wind shear and is commonly used in weather prediction, investigating currents in oceans, lakes and reservoirs, and measuring expected air turbulence in aviation.“An overarching concept was missing, and the Richardson number was the fallback,” says Dr. Senocak. “We’re not saying the Richardson number is irrelevant, but when a mountain or valley is shielded from larger scale weather motions, it doesn’t enter into the picture. Now we have a better way of explaining the theory of these down-slope and down-valley flows.”Not only will this discovery be important for agriculture, aviation and weather prediction, according to Dr. Senocak, but it will also be vital for climate change research and associated sea-level rise, as accurate prediction of katabatic surface wind profiles over large ice sheets and glaciers is critical in energy balance of melting ice. He notes that even in the fluids dynamics community, the discovery of this new surprising type of instability is expected to arouse a lot of research interest.Next, Dr. Senocak is advising and sponsoring a senior design team to see if researchers can actually observe these fluid instabilities in the lab at a scale much smaller than a mountain. ### The paper was published online in February and will appear in print April 25, 2019. Acknowledgements Research was sponsored by the Army Research Office and was accomplished under Grant no. W911NF-17-1-0564 with Dr J. G. Baryzk as the program manager. This research was supported in part by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing through the resources provided.
Maggie Pavlick, Senior Communications Writer
Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Presents Ruthann Omer with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is Ruthann Omer, P.E., BSCE ‘83, President and CEO of Omer Advisors. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “For more than 150 years, civil engineering alumni from Pitt have made outstanding contributions to society and human life, and Ruthann is no exception,” said Dean Martin. “We would like to recognize her for her impact on the field of civil engineering in the region, as well as her philanthropic support of the next generation of women engineers.” About Ruthann L. Omer Ms. Ruthann Omer was the President of The Gateway Engineers, for 25 years where she helped create and implement successful business strategies. The company has over 150 employees and three offices in the region. Ms. Omer spent over three decades serving on the Board of Directors while also managing a wide range of civil engineering projects for seven municipalities in Southwestern PA. She has broken barriers in the engineering business as the first female municipal engineer in Allegheny County. As a female executive in a historically male-lead industry, Ms. Omer implemented creative strategies that allowed a boutique local engineering firm to grow into a full service engineering company that ranked consistently among the ENR’s top 500 A/E firms. Ms. Omer was the youngest graduate of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Leadership Pittsburgh Program Year VIII. After taking her EIT in college, she went on to obtain her Professional Engineers license from Pennsylvania. She has received numerous accolades for her achievements including the “Pennsylvania State Engineer of the Year” and the “Pittsburgh Business Times Woman of Influence Award,” and is touted as an expert in local government relations and infrastructure systems regional planning and implementation. After 40 years with Gateway Engineers, Ms. Omer retired and started another consulting firm, Omer Advisors, Inc., where she continues to work in the government relations field. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Presents Hanwant Singh with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering is Hanwant Singh, MS ’70, PhD ChE ‘72, Scientist (retired) at the NASA Ames Research Center and Director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory at SRI. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “For the past 25 years, Dr. Singh has applied the knowledge he gained from the Indian Institute of Technology and Pitt to better understand the composition and chemistry of our atmosphere,” said Dean Martin. “We would like to acknowledge him for his contributions in the field of climate science and in recognition of his research legacy at NASA.” About Hanwant B. Singh Hanwant Singh graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, India in 1968 and earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1972. He completed further postdoctoral research at Rutgers University. His research focus shifted from engineering to the environment. His primary research goal has been to better understand the impact of human activities on the chemistry and climate of the earth's atmosphere through direct observations and data analysis. Together with his co-workers, Dr. Singh has published over 220 scientific papers (h-index: 84; 21000 citations) and one textbook in this area. An environmental focus has provided him the opportunity to dedicate his efforts towards a highly relevant societal concern as well as the privilege of collaborating with partners from around the world. He shared the HJ Allen Prize for best paper with Nobel Laureate P. Crutzen. Prior to his recent retirement, Dr. Singh led a group of scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center and was a Director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory at SRI, formerly the Stanford Research Institute. Dr. Singh believes the rigorous scientific training he received at the University of Pittsburgh has provided him with the solid foundation to embrace new ideas and challenges. Being recognized by the Chemical Engineering Department and receiving the “225 medallion” from the University of Pittsburgh are “momentous.” ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering Presents Thomas Gilbert with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Bioengineering is Thomas Gilbert, PhD BioE ‘06, Chief Science Officer at ACell, Inc. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “Dr. Gilbert’s research in scaffold materials for regenerative medicine led him to faculty positions in surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, and bioengineering here at Pitt,” said Dean Martin. “His fascinating work shows how the engineering principals we studied for complex systems can just as easily, and successfully, be applied to healing the human body.” About Thomas W. Gilbert Thomas Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Gilbert has served as Chief Science Officer at ACell, a leading regenerative medicine company, since 2015 and provides leadership to the Research and Development, Clinical Research, and Quality organizations.  In this role, Dr. Gilbert has responsibility for the continuum of product development from concept through clinical evaluation, with careful attention given to regulatory requirements.  Previously, he served as ACell’s Vice President of Research and Development from 2012-2015. During his time at ACell, Dr. Gilbert has provided technical and organizational leadership, and has overseen renewal within each of his departments. Before joining ACell, Dr. Gilbert was Assistant Professor of Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. His research includes the study of processing and use of extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold materials for the development of regenerative medicine strategies in a variety of body systems. Dr. Gilbert has co-authored several book chapters and more than sixty peer-reviewed articles. In addition, he has received five patents related to ECM technology. His research funding sources include the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. He has also worked as a Metallurgist for the Perryman Company in Houston, PA. ###

Apr
11
2019

The Swanson School Presents David Toth with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. The distinguished alumnus chosen to represent the Swanson School of Engineering overall in 2019 is David Toth, BSEE ’78, President and CEO (retired) of NetRatings, Inc. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards.  James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “We may not think about it, but in some ways the Internet itself is not a product. It is a conduit, a medium. And we are not its customers,” said Dean Martin. “We, its users, are the product, and David and his peers were the first to realize that how people use the internet could provide an amazing amount of information, maybe even more so than more traditional media such as television, magazines, and newspapers.” About David Toth Mr. Toth, the Swanson School’s Distinguished Alumnus, has held several senior executive roles throughout his career. He co-founded NetRatings, Inc. in 1997 and served as President & CEO, leading the company to its position as the foremost provider of Internet audience information and analysis. Mr. Toth formed strategic partnerships with Nielsen Media Research and ACNielsen; together, the three companies developed Nielsen//NetRatings service, the leading global Internet Audience Measurement service with deployments in 29 countries throughout the world. Prior to forming NetRatings, Mr. Toth was Vice President at Hitachi Computer Products where he led the Network Products Group and was responsible for the development, sales and marketing of numerous hardware and software products. Other former affiliations include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Interlink Computer Sciences and PPG Industries. Mr. Toth is currently a member of the Board of Directors at HiveIO, LeadCrunch.AI, and GutCheckIt.com. He was formerly a Director at NexTag (acquired by Providence Equity Partners), TubeMogul (acquired by Adobe) and Edgewater Networks (acquired by Ribbon Communications). In 2003, Mr. Toth was recognized as the Swanson School Distinguished Alumnus for the Department of Electrical Engineering, having graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1978. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Presents Robert Van Naarden with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is Robert Van Naarden, BSEE ’69, CEO of Delta Thermo Energy. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “We like to ask our alumni what they remember most while at Pitt, and Robert said that his Pitt engineering education ‘prepared me for the real world not only for design engineering, which is how I started my engineering career, but even more importantly the discipline of critical thinking,’” says Dean Martin. “That education is apparent from the many things Robert has achieved—from the first minicomputer that he worked on in 1970 to the leadership in sustainable energy he provides today.” About Robert Van Naarden Robert Van Naarden began his technology career after earning Bachelor of Science degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering (University of Pittsburgh) and Master of Science degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. While pursuing his PhD he was offered a position with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to design defense critical systems computers. He was on the original design team of the PDP 11, which became the world’s most successful mini-computer. After migrating through various engineering and engineering management roles, he originated the idea to design and bring to market the world’s first microcomputer, the PDP 16, based partially on the successful PDP 11 design. He grew to be the youngest Profit and Loss Group Manager at DEC and managed its fastest growing business. While in Philadelphia, Mr. Van Naarden earned an Executive Master of Business Administration degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, sponsored by Digital. In 1979, he co-founded Convergent Technologies (CT). CT became the fastest growing company in the computer industry. He and his partner at Convergent started another company, Ardent Computer, which was focused on the single user supercomputer space. After four years, the company merged with its principal competitor, Stellar Computer, to form Stardent Computer. Two years later, at Rob’s direction, the company was sold by splitting it up into its four components/divisions. Mr. Van Naarden moved on to start and fix a variety of other companies: Supermac, Firepower, Netframe, AMT, Sensar and Authentidate, where he started the company as its founder and CEO. In 2004, Mr. Van Naarden became CEO of Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc, turning it into a profitable company within nine months after running at a loss for seven years. After four years, Mr. Van Naarden returned to his roots in technology and is currently the CEO of Delta Thermo Energy an alternative energy company which uses innovative technologies for converting waste materials to energy. Mr. Van Naarden also serves as a General Partner at BVB Capital Group and on the boards of several technology companies. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Industrial Engineering Presents Kevin D. Braun with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Industrial

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Industrial Engineering is Kevin D. Braun, BSIE ’90, MBA, Vice President of Industrial Coatings at PPG. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “Our Industrial Engineering program is the second oldest in the U.S., and one of the top ten public programs. It has graduated outstanding IEs throughout its history, and Kevin is no exception,” says Dean Martin. “What especially is remarkable about Kevin is his understanding of disruption, and how it affects change, both good and bad. The coatings industry is no different in this regard.” About Kevin D. Braun Kevin D. Braun earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Braun joined PPG, in 1991 as a Production Engineer at the Coatings Manufacturing Facility in Delaware, Ohio. He joined the industrial coatings business in 1994 as a Sales/Service Representative in the Appliance Division. In 1997, he moved to the fiber glass business, serving as a Market Development Manager before returning to industrial coatings in 2000 as a Market Manager in Consumer Electronics. In 2001, he became a Regional Sales Manager for Industrial Coatings. Starting in 2003, Mr. Braun joined the architectural coatings business as a National Sales Manager for the Lowe’s account. He held this position until 2007 when he was named the Zone Sales Director for Midwest Dealers and Stores. Later that year, Mr. Braun relocated to Sydney, Australia as a General Manager of Architectural Coatings, ANZ (Australia and New Zealand). He was appointed the General Manager of Silica Products in 2011, then promoted as the Vice President of Global Raw Materials and Americas Purchasing in 2013. He has been in his current position as Vice President of Industrial Coatings since 2013. For the past three years, Mr. Braun has served on the Board of Directors for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and sits on the business development and nominating sub committees. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Presents Kevin McAllister with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science is Kevin McAllister, BSMEMS ‘ 86, executive vice president of The Boeing Company and president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA). The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “An degree in MEMS from Pitt is an invitation to create and influence things that affect our everyday lives, and Kevin is a great example of that,” says Dean Martin. “The knowledge and skills he learned here at Swanson gave him a solid foundation. From his aviation work at GE and Boeing to his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of ORBIS International, dedicated to preserving and restoring eyesight worldwide, he’s expanding he is influential both on and off the tarmac.” About Kevin McAllister Kevin McAllister is Executive Vice President of The Boeing Company and President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA). He is a member of Boeing’s Executive Council and serves as Boeing’s senior executive in the Pacific Northwest. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Named BCA president and CEO in November 2016, he is responsible for delivering on a record backlog and overseeing the growth of its commercial airplane programs. Before joining Boeing, McAllister was President and Chief Executive Officer of GE Aviation Services, a more than $9-billion business committed to helping operators of the more than 34,000 GE and CFM commercial engines achieve the lowest lifecycle cost of ownership via a fully customizable suite of products and offerings. Prior to leading GE Aviation Services, McAllister was Vice President and General Manager, Global Sales and Marketing, leading record growth in the GE Aviation backlog. He was appointed an officer of the General Electric Company in 2008 and was appointed as a member of GE Company's Corporate Executive Council in 2013. He was honored with the Chairman's Leadership Award in 2012 and Heroes of Growth Award in 2010. McAllister first joined GE Aviation Services in 1998 as a Master Black Belt leading Six Sigma productivity improvements across the global network of Component Repair Operations. Later that year, he was selected to lead Six Sigma program across Services, including Overhaul & Repair Operations, Materials, Engineering and Marketing & Sales. In 2000, he became General Manager of a newly formed GE Engines Services Customer Satisfaction Organization. From 2001 to 2005, McAllister was general manager of global Customer & Product Support Operations. McAllister joined GE Aviation from Howmet Corporation in 1989 and held various materials engineering leadership roles. ###

Apr
10
2019

Quality Tour, Quality Steels

MEMS

Five faculty members, three graduate students and thirteen undergraduates traveled to New Castle, PA last Saturday to visit Ellwood Quality Steels (EQS), part of the Ellwood Group.  Three of the tour guides were recent graduates from the MEMS Department, including Brendon Connolly, who helped organize the trip. Connolly is the manager of steelmaking technology at EQS and is also a member of the MEMS Department’s Visiting Committee. The tour began with a video introducing the company and facilities as well as providing safety information.  After suiting up in personal protective equipment, the group then visited the electric arc furnace (EAF) shop, the ingot pouring area, the forging area, and a new building nearing completion, which will house new electroslag remelting (ESR), vacuum arc remelting (VAR), and grinding facilities. The tour concluded with a question and answer session, where the three Pitt graduates spoke about their experiences working in the steel industry and what a typical day working at EQS entails. The tour was a very positive experience for everyone involved.  Materials science and engineering junior, Joseph Damian, describes the trip, “I really enjoyed the tour, it was interesting to see some of the processes that I learned about in my classes in person.  I was surprised by how big the furnaces, ladles, and ingots were and how much power the plant consumed.  The tour guides were also very knowledgeable about the operations of the plant and offered valuable information about the equipment and processes.  Overall, it was a great experience.”