Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Sep

Sep
18
2020

Adding a Layer of Protection to Indoor Air

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 18, 2020) — Because the novel coronavirus spreads through the air, experts continue to recommend outdoor activities over remaining indoors. However, the right air filter can make indoor air safer and help prevent the spread of the virus. Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains how these filters work in a new exhibit at Carnegie Science Center, which employs the HEPA filters that help keep the air clean. Experts have determined that the novel coronavirus is primarily spread by droplets from someone talking, sneezing or coughing nearby. However, it is also potentially “aerosolized,” meaning it can be attached to particles so small that they remain suspended in the air. The display explains the difference between the weight of aerosolized particles versus droplets—a tiny feather versus a golf ball—and how both masks and our buildings can provide another layer of protection. Indoors, HVAC systems circulate air around the building. While research is still determining exactly how much of a role HVAC systems may play in the spread of the virus, Bilec’s display shows how filters that are at least MERV 13 or a HEPA filter can help by trapping the particles carrying the virus. “With so much mis-information about COVID-19, I hope our exhibit will teach people about the way our buildings can do some of that important work for us,” said Bilec the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. “I am passionate about ensuring my research positively impacts society and the environment, and I’m thrilled to work with the Carnegie Science Center.” Bilec’s research primarily focuses on improving the built environment, with an eye toward the effects of poor air quality and strategies to improve both indoor and ambient air quality. For the past decade she and her students have worked with underserved communities throughout Pittsburgh to help low-income families create a more sustainable home environment. Their solutions focus on projects including energy assessments and indoor air quality. The display will be featured at Carnegie Science Center as well as other Carnegie museums, including The Andy Warhol Museum. "As an advocate for science literacy, we saw the pandemic as an opportunity to combine a message about real research, current events, and museum collections in one place,” said Dennis Bateman, director of exhibits at Carnegie Science Center. "We didn't want to just dwell on the pandemic for our visitors coming to enjoy themselves as an escape from the restrictions in our lives now, but we did want to reassure them about our precautions while they are here, to connect research to real-world examples, like protecting our valuable collections—and our valued guests."
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
17
2020

Measuring Student Motivation and Stress During a Pandemic

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2020) … As universities continue to adapt to the evolving situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh want to understand how the ever-changing learning environment affects student motivation, stress, and valued experiences. Two Swanson School of Engineering faculty, Renee Clark and Samuel Dickerson, received an award from the National Science Foundation to lead a longitudinal study to determine the degree to which undergraduate engineering students are academically motivated several semesters after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team believes that the new safety measures implemented on campus may affect “valued college experiences” that increase motivation and help students maintain a work-life balance. They will survey which university experiences students value most and examine how the pandemic has impacted those experiences. They will also study students’ perceived motivation and stress levels using validated instruments in the semesters following the COVID-19 rules and restrictions. “The scope of this project is only step one,” said Dickerson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “We suspect that students are less motivated, but with this study, we can figure out what contributed to this and determine how to mitigate it in case we need to transition to a fully virtual experience again.” Conversely, the group also wants to know if some students prefer the self-paced, flexible nature of remote learning. They have created an online assessment tool with the help of Pitt undergraduate students. Participants will be able to choose up to five “valued college experiences” and then rate the degree to which COVID-19 has impacted those experiences. “College in and of itself is stressful, but I generally find what is offered on and around campus to really complete the college experience and give me the time to enjoy myself while on campus,” said Alexander Cohen, a junior history major at Pitt who is contributing to the project. “I believe that incorporating the undergraduate viewpoint on this project helps us consider what experiences are valued the most and keep us in a healthy frame of mind, both mentally and emotionally,” he continued. They will use the MUSIC Model of Motivation by Brett Jones, professor of educational psychology at Virginia Tech, and his colleagues to formally measure academic motivation. They will similarly assess stress with the Perceived Stress Scale, a well-known, established instrument by Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and his colleagues. “This instrument measures students’ perceived stress and also will provide us with baseline data from college students who were previously studied,” said Clark, assistant professor of industrial engineering. “We can use these data to determine where our students’ stress level is in comparison and try to figure out the top stressors.” Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, Clark and Dickerson have created a flexible study that can adapt to the changing structure of higher education. “It’s more than just a survey,” said Dickerson. “We are collecting real data that we hope will reveal ways to improve the college experience and motivation and decrease stress for students who, unfortunately, found themselves in this unprecedented situation.” # # #

Sep
17
2020

Plotting a Course for the Circular Economy

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2020) — Experts in sustainability warn that the current economic model, forming a straight line from resource to product to waste, is unsustainable. Researchers are instead turning to the circular economy to disrupt that line, working toward a lifecycle of products that does not end in a landfill. Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is currently leading a team of researchers studying the circular economy, the focus of another NSF Convergence grant, which received $1.3 million last year. Bilec has received $98,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to convene a panel of experts to meet for a workshop on the circular economy that will help set the research agenda for years to come. The workshop brings together experts and thought leaders in academia, industry, government and nonprofits to discuss circular economy design from molecules to the built environment. In the course of three three-hour sessions over three weeks, the workshop will be an opportunity for the wide array of invited constituents to discuss and develop ideas in circular economy research. “The NSF’s Convergence Accelerator Program selects one or two research tracks each year, and this year, and these workshops help to determine what those tracks will be,” explained Bilec, who is also the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI). “This is a fantastic opportunity to build, foster and facilitate the community around this emerging area of sustainability research. It also has the potential to shape the direction of major research in the coming years.” Bilec will team with Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor of Chemical Engineering and co-director of MCSI, and Gemma Jiang, director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at the Swanson School. They are collaborating with the University of Georgia’s Jason Locklin, professor of chemical engineering and founding director of the New Materials Institute; Jenna Jambeck, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, and Gregg Beckham, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The group will also call on the expertise of KnowInnovation, a company with extensive experience in virtual workshop facilitation. The workshops are taking place by invitation throughout the month of September.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
16
2020

Bioengineering Alumnae Establish Undergraduate Scholarship

Bioengineering, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 16, 2020) … Two bioengineering alumnae from the University of Pittsburgh established a scholarship for students, who like them, are passionate about STEM education. The Stephanie F. Coquia and Angela L. Fu Scholarship in Bioengineering will provide support for tuition and other education-related expenses for a sophomore, junior, or senior student in good academic standing in the Department of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. Preference will be given to students who reside in states outside of Pennsylvania and who have demonstrated involvement in extracurricular activities in high school. Drs. Coquia (BS BioE ‘02) and Fu (BS BioE ‘03), who became friends during their time at Pitt, want to acknowledge the program’s impact on their professional lives and provide support for current students to experience the same opportunity. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Bioengineering, and I wouldn’t have gone to Pitt or gotten a bioengineering degree if I hadn’t received a scholarship,” said Dr. Coquia. “So, this is my way of giving back. I am happy to be sponsoring this scholarship with Angela.” “The one thing that I have enjoyed most after graduating and starting my career is mentoring current students in their post graduation and career choices,” said Dr. Fu. “The scholarship will hopefully assist one student financially so they can focus on the decisions affecting their future.” The pair studied in the department during its nascent years and flourished along with the program. Since its first graduating class in 2000, the number of degrees awarded has tripled from roughly 20 in 2000 to 66 this past spring semester. “I am thankful to Stephanie and Angela for their generosity. It is wonderful to see our former students thrive in their professional careers and want to give back to the department,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of bioengineering. “I am delighted that this scholarship will help provide a Swanson School education to deserving students and contribute to the growing number of successful bioengineering alumni.” # # #

Sep
16
2020

Projects Led by Pitt Chemical Engineers Receive more than $1 million in NSF Funding

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 16, 2020) — Two projects led by professors in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have recently received funding from the National Science Foundation. Lei Li, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is leading a project that will investigate the water wettability of floating graphene. Research over the past decade by Li and others has shown that water has the ability to “see through” atomic-thick layers of graphene, contributing to the “wetting transparency” effect. “This finding provides a unique opportunity for designing multi-functional devices, since it means that the wettability of an atomic-thick film can be tuned by selecting an appropriate supporting substrate,” said Li. “Because the substrate is liquid, one can control the wettability in real-time, a capability that would be very useful for water harvesting of moisture from the air and in droplet microfluidics devices.” The current project will use both experimental and computational methods to understand the mechanisms of wetting transparency of graphene on liquid substrates and demonstrate the real-time control of surface wettability. Li and his co-PIs Kenneth Jordan, Richard King Mellon Professor and Distinguished Professor of Computational Chemistry at Pitt and co-director of the Center for Simulation and Modeling; and Haitao Liu, professor of chemistry at Pitt, received $480,000 for the project titled, “Water wettability of floating graphene: Mechanism and Application.” The second project will develop technology to help enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy, like solar and wind power. James McKone, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo to develop a new generation of high-performance materials for liquid-phase energy storage systems like redox flow batteries, one of McKone’s areas of expertise. The project, “Collaborative Research: Designing Soluble Inorganic Nanomaterials for Flowable Energy Storage,” received $598,000 from the National Science Foundation, with $275,398 designated for Pitt. McKone’s team will investigate the molecular properties of soluble, earth-abundant nanomaterials for use in liquid-phase battery systems. These batteries are designed to store massive amounts of electricity from renewable energy sources and provide steady power to the grid. “Unlike the batteries we normally think of in phones and laptop computers, this technology uses liquid components that are low-cost, safe and long-lasting,” said McKone. “With continued development, this will make it possible to store all of the new wind and solar power that is coming available on the electric grid without adding a significant additional cost.” McKone is collaborating with Dr. Ellen Matson, Wilmot Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Rochester, and Dr. Timothy Cook, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
14
2020

Following the Current From Idea to Reality

Electrical & Computer

In March 2013, representatives from Mitsubishi Electric Company arrived from Japan to meet with University of Pittsburgh electrical engineers with a proposal: they wanted to engineer a way to identify faults within the new high voltage direct current (HVDC) system they intended to manufacture in forthcoming years. Fault identification is critical as high short circuit currents will cause equipment damage, and they needed a group of experts to propose and provide evidence that novel ideas would work as planned. The Pitt researchers—led by Founding Director of the Energy GRID Institute and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Greg Reed; Assistant Professor, Associate Director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and Eaton Faculty Fellow Brandon Grainger; and ECE then-graduate student researchers Patrick Lewis and Hashim Al Hassan—were tasked with verifying power converter performance for a US market; validating the fault finding methods for Mitsubishi; and helping to take their innovation a step farther. Now, seven years later, the company announced that this technology is finally going to market with its Voltage Source Converter (VSC)-based HVDC-Diamond. The HVDC system is a utility-scale, power electronics system used to transmit megawatts of power from point to point, converting the alternating current (AC) produced by renewable energy sources, converting it to a direct current (DC) to send through the system, and converting it back to AC on the other end. As more renewable resources find a place in the power grid, systems like this one can transmit the power quickly and reliably to load centers where it will be used. “Transmitting power through high voltage DC is important. By transmitting at a super high voltage (in this case, 500,000 Volts), current levels will drop, resulting in less losses in the overall electrical system. It’s more efficient,” explained Grainger. “But, in such a large, expensive system, things can go bad very quickly if currents flow somewhere they shouldn’t. Our main tasks were to engineer a creative way to find faults in the system and to make sure the system was designed to meet the U.S. market with the help of local engineers at Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc. in Warrendale, PA.” Faults, or short-circuits, happen when equipment degrades and allows a current to flow somewhere other than the intended path. The new system would find faults within different segments of the apparatus so they can be addressed before causing damage. With a $250,000 grant from Mitsubishi, the researchers set to work validating the findings and ensuring it would work as intended. The proposed solution did not require a communication method for the HVDC system that would allow it to relay information about faults from one end of the 1000 kilometer-long units; however, that approach was ultimately left out of the final product. Communication between station to station is important when designing equipment operating at high voltage and power. In 2016, the team at Pitt published a paper in IEEE, “Fault Section Identification Protection Algorithm for Modular Multilevel Converter-Based High Voltage DC With a Hybrid Transmission Corridor,” with their findings. Prior to publication, the team filed a patent for their technology which was awarded Aug. 4, 2020. Now, the system is being manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Company, based in Tokyo, Japan. “It’s a long road for projects to go from concept to reality, but it’s always an exciting process to be a part of,” said Grainger. “We were glad to have the opportunity to work with one of the leaders in the HVDC space. Our experience is just one example of the many ways academia and industry work together to bring innovative ideas to the marketplace.”
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
10
2020

Managing—Not Avoiding—Risks

Covid-19, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 10, 2020) — When COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., universities were left with a difficult situation. Classes can be moved online, but labs—particularly ones that use living things like animals or cells—could not fully operate remotely or be put on hold easily. Like many institutions, the University of Pittsburgh ramped down its research to continue only the most essential work. Now, as it starts to ramp research back up, the University is helping researchers balance the risks. “After we had been fully ramped-down for several weeks, I had a number of faculty members lamenting this in various ways and degrees,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research at the Swanson School of Engineering and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “One in particular expressed that, as engineers and researchers, we are trained to mitigate and manage risk of multiple types, so managing the risk of COVID-19 would be no different and very possible in the lab. It was a valid point.” Vorp serves on the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research’s Associate Deans for Research Council and Co-Chairs the STEM Research Restart Working Group, which are working to safely and effectively ramp up STEM research at Pitt. It took hours of discussion and hundreds of considerations to create a plan for resuming Pitt research, but that was only the beginning. For the most up-to-date information on the status of research at Pitt, visit https://www.svcresearch.pitt.edu/pitt-researchers/research-restart. Considering Every Possibility Shortly after the university ramped down onsite research, Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob Rutenbar joined with Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd to analyze what research was continuing. Overall, 80 percent of the faculty was operating at approximately 70 percent of pre-COVID research activity. The researchers at the Swanson School were at 40 percent. To begin planning for an onsite restart, he established seven working groups to create guidelines and processes for the University moving forward in research, education and employee operations. The seven working groups each have their own area of focus: The School of Medicine; Health Sciences; Animal Resources; Logistics; Remote Research; Arts, Humanities Social Sciences and Libraries; and STEM, which includes the Swanson School. Vorp co-led the STEM group with Adam Leibovich, associate dean for faculty recruitment and research development in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. By the end of April, the STEM Research Restart Working Group began considering all possible factors that would inform the decisions of when and how to restart research in the University’s STEM-based labs. The STEM group consists of 15 faculty members from across disciplines in both the Swanson School and the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, which allowed them to understand the needs of researchers in different fields. “The STEM Working Group was tremendously vested and worked very hard. There was not a single person who didn’t contribute greatly,” remarked Vorp. Certainly, one of the biggest questions the group had to address, one that would apply to all fields, is also one of the hardest: How do you enable social distancing in a lab, especially when no two labs are exactly the same? “Based on our calculations, in order to ensure people can stay six feet apart, there can only be one person per 150 square feet. That means in a lot of labs, only one or two people will have access at a time,” said Vorp. “We need to ensure that everyone has the access they need to pursue their research – a critical function of a research university – while balancing the risk of COVID-19.” Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is another consideration. Basics, like masks, are now a requirement when working in the lab, and those were procured by the University. However, the STEM group had to make other considerations, as well, such as when a lab already works with hazardous materials and has unique PPE needs. Another consideration is what happens outside of the lab. For example, what about field work? Would researchers be required to drive separately, or wear N95 masks in the car when travelling together to an off-campus location? Other shared spaces, like a lunchroom, are impossible to use without removing masks—what steps can be taken to make sure those spaces are used safely and fairly? Access and Accountability The University’s plan, resources and guidance, based on the latest health and safety recommendations, need to be flexible enough for the array of research situations that exist at Pitt. For that reason, much of the responsibility for approving individual research restarting and establishing safety measures inside the lab rests with the school’s Dean’s office. At the Swanson School, Vorp has been tasked with reviewing and approving COVID-19 mitigation plans for labs and applications to restart. “It has been a major effort and undertaking by my office, but one that we take very, very seriously,” he said. Among the broad requirements for resuming research is a daily attestation questionnaire that people must fill out and sign before coming to campus stating that they are currently healthy and have not been exposed to the virus. Before labs are allowed to resume operations, the principal investigator (PI) must submit a detailed list of all the precautions they would be taking—some of which, like wearing a mask and social distancing, are mandated. Employees and supervisors also complete safety trainings before returning to campus. Signs in Benedum Hall mark the requirements for the building—keeping six feet of distance between people, only allowing four people on the elevators at a time, washing hands frequently and wearing a mask. Inside the labs, however, the PI is responsible for making sure their lab personnel follow the protocols they set up and work safely. “How we do research will fundamentally change because of COVID-19, just like the rest of society,” said Vorp. “But what hasn’t changed is that making sure appropriate safety precautions are taken in the lab is ultimately the responsibility of individual PIs.” Moving Forward in the New Normal The planned reopening of research labs has two phases: the first seeks to begin research operations quickly with reduced personnel, and the second will slowly ramp up to full operations while taking precautions to mitigate the risk of exposure. Researchers like Tamer Ibrahim, whose lab leverages state-of-the-art 7-Telsa MRI technology to study mental health and other neurological diseases, were eager to resume work and find ways to adapt to the new normal. “My group has cleverly reengineered our devices and completely changed the way we do human imaging in order to mitigate the risk of infections and spread of the disease,” said Ibrahim, professor of bioengineering. “Despite significant difficulties, we have been conducting human studies for about two months and have scanned individuals as young as 12 and as old as 85 using our RF coil system. "The resilience of our students, post-docs, and staff is nothing short of extraordinary," he said. As with most things concerning COVID-19, resuming research is a fluid process, one that is subject to change as new challenges are discovered. Vorp notes that one thing that will not change, however, is that the processes and procedures to keep everyone safe only work if everyone honors them. “The changes we need to make to the way we work and live are difficult or at best inconvenient, there’s no denying it. But I’m confident that we’re doing the best we can for the safety of individuals in the labs and our community,” said Vorp. “We have to manage risk, not avoid it, so we can do what the University is supposed to be doing, now more than ever: education, research and public benefit.”

Sep
9
2020

When Words Aren’t Enough: EXCEL Students Reflect on Inequities in Education

Diversity, Student Profiles

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a new generation of digital age students were awakened to the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in higher education. Now, they are dedicating energy to solve those issues, in their own communities and beyond. At the University of Pittsburgh, a group of Swanson School of Engineering students and alumni plan to push for sustained change and hope that the University will unite to create a better environment for everyone. They want to help colleges and universities evolve into places that feel welcoming and accessible for students of all races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. In doing this, they hope to create a rippling effect that will contribute to equality in the workforce and society as a whole. Finding a Space to be Black One challenge that underrepresented students in STEM face is the feeling that they cannot be authentically themselves and also fit in. Many students feel that they must code-switch in order to succeed. Pitt alumnus Rodney Kizito (BS IE ‘15) lauded the Swanson School and Yvette Moore’s efforts in establishing and directing Pitt EXCEL, a diversity program for underrepresented engineering students, which gives them a space to be themselves and support one another. “EXCEL gives us that sense of family and belonging where not everybody looks like you, but you’re all connected and share a common love and respect,” he said. “You don’t find many programs like this, and I haven’t had a comparable experience in my 10 years in academia.” When students discuss an inclusive environment, among other things, they want a place where they feel represented, heard, equal, and accepted. Sam Copeland, a junior in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, worked with EXCEL’s Summer Engineering Academy (SEA), which helps students make a smooth transition from high school to college. He echoed Kizito’s sentiment and saw its impact on the students’ choice in college. “The students in SEA have been coming because of the Pitt EXCEL family,” he said. “With COVID-19 and the current racial justice movements, they’ve really felt the power of EXCEL. They understand that we’re not just trying to meet a diversity quota. We want to support you and help you be the best person you can be.” Pitt EXCEL is an example of the space and inclusivity that students seek and how that can drive participation in college programs. However, according to the students, creating a space to be Black is only one of the gears that need to shift. Representation Matters Bringing diverse faculty to the educational system is part of the change that the students want to see. Enacting that change may not only help recruit and retain underrepresented minorities, but also provide something as simple as a fresh perspective on how race and culture intersect with various disciplines. “Because engineering has a deep relationship within the public sector, racial cultures should have a larger component in the design of some structure,” said Copeland. “More often than not, it is just avoided because it makes people ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable.’” Given how engineering can impact the human condition, the students believe that the curriculum should represent and reflect the diverse global population and not assume a one-size-fits-all approach. “We aren’t written into the curriculum,” said Rene Canady (BS BioE ’20). “It’s not just Black people; in general, people of color are omitted from today’s education.” In creating a more inclusive curriculum, they believe that engineers can better serve society as a whole. A Call to Action As everyone begins to navigate the fall semester, the Swanson School students do not want the passion and drive for this movement to slow. For many, it is not simply a change of behavior; it is a change of mentality. Individuals may have to grapple with their own shortcomings and way of thinking. “I think those that acknowledge the struggle but fail to acknowledge the privilege that they have are the ones who may fall short in how far they can go to truly help us,” said Kizito. From July 28-30, the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action. Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-racist Research at Boston University and author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, delivered the keynote in which he said, “To do nothing is to be complicit because that allows for the maintenance of racism.” The students in EXCEL want to have conversations about sacrifices people are willing to make in order to help others feel like they belong. “It’s not enough just to say that you’re not racist, we should strive to be anti-racist, as Dr. Kendi discussed in the Diversity Forum,” said Yemisi Odunlami, a senior in industrial engineering. “We all have some level of privilege, and we have to be able to recognize that and be willing to lose it so we can have an even playing field. “You don’t have to personally know a person of color to feel affected and want to enact change,” she continued. “The Marathon Continues” This year’s major events are a marathon; whether discussing the pandemic or racial justice, change is not going to happen in a day, but one has to keep running and fighting. And so, as EXCEL alumna Sossena Wood (BSEE ‘11 PhD BioE ’18) says, the marathon continues. “I was in high school when Black Lives Matter started, and I remember you couldn’t have posters or even a sticker on your binder,” recalled Odunlami. “Now corporations and universities are saying it, so I definitely feel hopeful, but we need to keep things moving.” She, like many others, feels optimistic for the future but wants to experience continuous inclusivity, not just after tragedies. “Each generation has had their own contribution to getting us to where we feel that level of equality,” said Kizito. “I’m definitely hopeful, and I feel blessed to witness what’s happening right now.” These engineering students, who have had both positive and negative experiences as underrepresented minorities in higher education, hope to see a transformation and believe that these changes will make it a better environment for the university as a whole in the years to come. # # # Resources Swanson School of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) Justice in June - a resource compiled by Autumn Gupta with Bryanna Wallace’s oversight for the purpose of providing a starting place for individuals trying to become better allies. Anti-racism for beginners Other educational resources Follow @BlackOwnedPGH on Instagram to support local Black-owned businesses Literature: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt Dowd, Alicia C., and Estela Mara Bensimon. Engaging the Race Question: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2015. Harper, Shaun R. Race Matters in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming. Museus, Samuel D., and Uma M. Jayakumar. Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations. New York: Routledge, 2012. Quaye, Stephen John, and Shaun R. Harper. Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2014. Smith, Daryl G. Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making It Work. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Sue, Derald Wing. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley,

Sep
7
2020

Pandemic shutdown sparks innovation at ISE schools

Covid-19, Industrial

As COVID-19 spread worldwide in early March, businesses shuttered, public places emptied and schools closed for weeks to enforce physical distancing restrictions.The impact was keenly felt by colleges and universities, where officials were quickly thrust into crisis mode. In mere days, they had to close campuses and adjust to online learning platforms while addressing the various needs of students and faculty.Mary Besterfield-Sacre was among those caught in the tempest. As University of Pittsburgh students left for spring break, officials at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering began planning how to react to the virus’ approach. By midweek, the decision was made to close the campus before students returned. “By that time, what I’d already started doing was rallying the troops,” Besterfield-Sacre, a professor of industrial engineering and associate dean for academic affairs, told ISE. “We said, ‘This is what we’ve got to do – we’ve got to get the entire school up and running in a remote mode.’ ... The goal was to do the best we could for the last five weeks, and get over the finish line.” In the blink of an eye, instructors scrambled to adopt remote teaching techniques while students tried to complete research projects and fulfill summer internships and postgraduate job options. Yet amid the chaos, industrial and systems engineering faculty devised solutions to deliver class material online and students found innovative ways to stay connected and maintain their academic standing. In doing so, everyone learned what worked and what didn’t, and sought to improve remote learning procedures as fall semester approached. Read the full story at ISE Magazine.
Author: Keith Albertson, managing editor of ISE magazine
Sep
7
2020

Pitt's Construction Management Program Featured on the "Building PA" Podcast

Civil & Environmental

John Sebastian, director of Construction Management Program at the University of Pittsburgh joins co-hosts Chris Martin and Jon O'Brien to discuss how students are learning. Sebastian shared how the program has evolved and what students at the University of Pittsburgh are learning and engaging with industry professionals.Sebastian adds, "the key is to get involved early and engage with our students and the program to learn more of the opportunities that these students bring from the program." He is always looking for opportunities to engage with industry professionals, contractors, architects and engineers. In fact, the university has announced two programs allowing personal development opportunities - certification program and a Master's degree.Listen to the podcast below.
Building PA Podcast
Sep
4
2020

MEMS Staff Member Retires after 53 Years of Service

MEMS

Cole Van Ormer, mechanical engineering and materials science technical staff member worked his final day at the University of Pittsburgh last week, after an impressive 53 years of service. Van Ormer was first hired by the Pitt School of Engineering shortly after returning from his second Vietnam War combat tour, where he served as a gun fire control technician and an aviation ordinance man simultaneously while aboard the USS Intrepid. He was initially hired by Pitt as an electronics technician for a project testing naval air weapons equipment. Eventually, the Pitt Defense Department contract was canceled, but Van Ormer was asked to stay on to build electronic equipment from scratch as a part of the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department. He also assisted other School faculty with projects such as building medical diagnostic equipment. Former MSE Department Chair, Dr. Harold Brody, asked Van Ormer to learn metallography and photography which led to him assisting in teaching laboratory classes in those subjects and a new found love for photography. He purchased equipment for his new hobby and began photographing commercial catalog work on the side. His photography skills also led to helping graduate students in other departments with compute-generated animation. Additionally, Van Ormer was asked to photograph for former Studio Arts Department Chair, Virgil Cantini, whose sculptures and enamel murals are found all over campus. Throughout his career, Van Ormer never stopped learning and took continuing education courses in electron microprobe at JEOL and Lehigh University. He has a degree in Economics, plus postgraduate work in Computer Science and Engineering. He learned and then trained others in the Pitt MSE department in TEM, SEM and EM. After the Benedum Hall renovation, Van Ormer’s primary responsibility was working and training in the Materials Micro-Characterization Lab (MMCL) plus training undergraduates in optical microscopy, metallography and lab safety. Van Ormer was one of the founders of the Staff Advisory Board and Staff Association Council for which he served as President and also Chaired the Grievance Committee.  He also served on University Staff Grievance Mediation Boards and Campus Police Citation appeals hearings plus as Jury Foreman for the School of Law student mock trials. In the Naval Reserve, he was trained as a Damage Control Fire Fighting Scene Leader.  Together with the Chatham College Police Department, he received law-enforcement training in a class given by the Pitt Police Academy. In addition, he attended the Pittsburgh Police Citizens Police Academy, Pittsburgh Citizen Emergency Response Team training and the National Outdoor Leadership School for Wilderness Medicine First Aid. Van Ormer served as Benedum Hall’s Emergency Marshal for several years where he responded to several accidents and medical emergencies in the building.  He also represented the School of Engineering at the University-Wide Safety Committee. Van Ormer and his late wife, Susan, have a son who received an Engineering Physics degree in MEMS, and a daughter who received a Communications degree at the Pitt Greensburg campus.   He also has a grandson and a granddaughter. Van Ormer is no doubt an upstanding citizen to the country, the community, and the University of Pittsburgh. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher describes Van Ormer as, “…one of those rare, yet vital, people whose consistent dedication and commitment have enhanced the University – and the lives of the students who have come through the University - in a way that we can all see and appreciate.”  On behalf of the MEMS department and entire University of Pittsburgh, we thank Van Ormer for his service and congratulate him on his retirement!
Meagan Lenze
Sep
3
2020

Perceiving Health as a “Newcomer”


PITTSBURGH (Sept. 3, 2020) — The communities to which we belong can play an important role in our health. A member of the Swanson School community, Jaime Turek, recently co-authored an article in the Journal of Community Health that explores and quantifies the effect of community events on health. More specifically, the paper examines the impact of a community health fair on the social determinants of health and wellness for the immigrant and refugee population in Pittsburgh. Turek is the administrative office coordinator in the Office of the Associate Dean of Research. The research was completed when Turek was senior program coordinator at the Northern Area Multi-Service Center’s Community Assistance and Refugee Resettlement Department. There, she was responsible for resettling newly arrived refugees and immigrants, helping them access essential services, and assisting with cultural adjustment—even helping them learn the public transit systems in the city. Setting up the newly arrived clients with primary health care and specialized health care as needed was an important aspect of the role. “In 2016, I saw the need to host a refugee and immigrant health fair because while we were connecting our clients to primary care and specialized treatment, there were myriad other health and wellness related resources available that they weren’t aware of or connected to,” said Turek. The first fair was a success, leading to an annual, growing event and even the declaration of “Refugee and Immigrant Health & Wellness Day” in Pittsburgh. But even though the fairs were well-attended, they wanted to ensure that all the attendees’ needs were being met. “In 2018, several of my former colleagues and I were having a discussion about how we think we know what the refugees and immigrants want in regards to their health and wellness, but in order for the fair to continue to be effective, we really need to ask them what they want, to involve them, to hear them,” said Turek. “And so we set out to develop a survey to capture their wants and needs, their perceptions of their health status and health needs.” Their research found that participants’ health perception varied by ethnicity and was influenced by the individual’s proficiency in English, as well as their access to healthcare, employment and regular checkups. They found that an annual health fair—an informal, open event that offered health services like immunization and diabetic screening—was a successful strategy to break down structural barriers between the newcomers and healthcare providers. “Social support is very important for psychosocial well being, and we suggest that special consideration should be given to newcomers who belong to small ethnic groups, as they reported high social isolation and loneliness,” said Turek. “I think, more broadly, I would like to encourage people to feel positively about accepting and welcoming ‘newcomer’ populations to our region. Many of them are just like us – they want peace, safety, freedom, the things that we, as Americans, hold near and dear.” The paper, “Community Health and Wellness Fair: A strategy for Assessment of Social Determinants of Health, Inclusion and Engagement of Newcomers” (DOI: 10.1007/s10900-020-00901-0) was co-authored by Khlood Salman, associate professor at the Duquesne University School of Nursing; Turek; and Caley Donovan, refugee caseworker at JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services in Pittsburgh.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
3
2020

Three Pitt Professors Selected as 2020-21 MCSI Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 3, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) announced three new Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows in Sustainability. The Fellowships provide opportunities for Pitt faculty members focused on sustainability to contribute to strategic MCSI goals, including their mission of interdisciplinary excellence in sustainability research and education. The 2020-21 Leonard Peters Faculty Fellows are Michael Blackhurst, co-director of the Urban & Regional Analysis Program; Tony Kerzmann, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science; and Danielle Andrews-Brown, lecturer and coordinator of the Environmental Studies Program in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science. The Fellowship recognizes the late Leonard “Len” Peters (BSChE ’62, MSChE ’69, PhD ’71), a distinguished alumnus of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and a founding and long-time member of MCSI’s external advisory board. Peters’ notable career included academic positions at the University of Kentucky and Virginia Tech, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Cabinet Secretary for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. About Michael BlackhurstMichael Blackhurst is a research scientist and professional engineer at the Center for Social and Urban Research at Pitt. Co-director of the Urban & Regional Analysis Program, he oversees research in the energy, water and climate sectors. His current work involves energy and water efficiency, renewable energy, regional climate change mitigation and adaptation, regional water resource planning, and urban stormwater management. As part of his Fellowship, Blackhurst will be co-teaching the course “Current Issues in Sustainability” and will assist with the Sustainability Capstone Course project recruitment and mentoring. About Tony KerzmannTony Kerzmann is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. Kerzmann’s research focuses on the energy sector, leading projects relating to energy and sustainability, including solar energy. As part of his Fellowship, Kerzmann will help to co-teach the “Current Issues in Sustainability” and the “Sustainability Capstone Courses.” About Danielle Andrews-BrownDanielle Andrews-Brown is assistant dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the Environmental Studies program coordinator in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science. She has conducted lab and field scale research as it pertains to water and soil quality for over 14 years, focusing on carbon, nitrogen and emerging contaminants like estrogens and antibiotics. Her research interests also include formal and informal science education. As part of her Fellowship, Andrews-Brown will help to implement a focus on sustainability in the curriculum.

Sep
3
2020

PhD student Lee Maccarone wins 2020 Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Award

MEMS, Student Profiles, Nuclear

CANYON, TX (September 3, 2020) ... Lee Maccarone, a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, has been awarded a Second Place prize in the Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Technology R&D. Maccarone's award is in the Open Competition in the category of Energy Policy. His award-winning research paper, “Toward a Game-Theoretic Metric for Nuclear Power Plant Security,” was presented at the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security in February 2020.In order to be successful and retain its leadership role in nuclear technologies, the United States must foster creativity and breakthrough achievements to develop tomorrow’s nuclear technologies. The Department of Energy has long recognized that university students are an important source of breakthrough solutions, and a key component in meeting its long-term goals. The Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards program was developed for this purpose. The Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards program is designed to: 1) award graduate and undergraduate students for innovative nuclear-technology-relevant research publications, 2) demonstrate the Department of Energy’s commitment to higher education in nuclear-technology-relevant disciplines, and 3) support communications among university students and Department of Energy representatives.The program awarded 24 prizes in 2020 for student publications relevant to innovative nuclear technology. In addition to cash awards, award-winning students will have a variety of other opportunities.For more information on the Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D Awards program, visit www.nucleartechinnovations.org.

Sep
3
2020

How to Handle a Zombie Outbreak

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Investing Now

In the middle of the Atlantic lies Grimmsport, a fictional island that has identified an outbreak of Zom-B13 which turns the island residents into mindless zombies. This thinly veiled theme for the 2020 Summer with Swanson camp helped teach high school students about the scientific aspects of a pandemic. The University of Pittsburgh’s CampBioE and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation joined efforts to create a virtual camp that served underrepresented pre-college students in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Investing Now program. The students’ mission was to contain and treat the zombie outbreak, and the first step was to mitigate the spread. “We discussed the importance of a mask and its ability to help filter cleaner air for individuals to breathe,” said Ankith Rao (BioE ‘21). “They learned about human factors in product development and how to create a mask for a universal user. The students then sketched designs and physically prototyped masks with objects from around the house.” With a protective measure in hand, the students then learned how to research reliable information on the outbreak. The camp counselors demonstrated the CRAP test to help students consider four critical areas in identifying a trustworthy source: currency, reliability, authority and purpose. They used these new skills to complete an online scavenger hunt to learn more about vaccines. As part of the overall theme, the students also had to use engineering concepts to solve a series of puzzles that would aid in eliminating the virus. “In one of our modules, the students intercepted an email from zombie island, but they first had to learn how to use ASCII code to translate a clue that was coded in binary notation,” said Lucy Kress (BioE ‘21). One of the other clues included a circuit with a hidden DNA sequence to decode. “Students used software to figure out the protein sequence of the DNA, which was subsequently used to create a 3D model of the protein that served as the antigen for the vaccine,” said Pooja Chawla (BioE ‘22). “They then participated in a detailed virtual lab that demonstrated how vaccines are made.” After gaining a better understanding of how vaccines are developed, the students put their efforts toward creating a way to figure out who is infected. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology can rapidly detect viral DNA using primers – short, single-stranded DNA sequences that are specific to the disease. “Any time there is a new virus, you have to be able to identify if a person has been infected,” said Patricia Donehue, a Pitt biological sciences alumna. “We designed primers and introduced the students to PCR and gel electrophoresis as one means of identifying infection. They applied this technique to the clues to discover who may have been exposed to the disease.” The group also used artificial intelligence to set up a classifier that could identify if a face was human or zombie. In this exercise, they demonstrated bias in AI and discussed its implications in modern technology. Finally, the students learned about the pathology of the virus through a series of escape rooms that represented different stages of infection. “Each room had a patient chart with symptoms, and they used a website with a human anatomy model to solve the clues and figure out who was infected,” said Garima Patel (BioE ‘22). In the end, the students successfully created a vaccine, treated the population, and eradicated the zombie outbreak at Grimmsport. While the overall feedback for Summer with Swanson was positive, the counselors encountered a variety of obstacles along the way. Many of the issues involved access to technology and an internet connection. “Some students only had access to phones and tablets while others were limited by website restrictions on their school’s technology,” said Donehue. “Adaptability was an important aspect of this year’s camp. We had to make sure that the students were able to participate in each of the activities, regardless of what technology was available.” The Department of Bioengineering’s CampBioE, like many other programs, had to reframe their curriculum to adapt to coronavirus restrictions. The changes were challenging in many ways, but the solutions also opened new doors. “While the need to do everything virtually created some significant barriers, it also broke down some barriers,” said Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and director of CampBioE. “Physical distance was no longer a factor, which allowed us to extend our programming out-of-state and reach audiences that would not have been able to participate otherwise.” The group plans to eventually package their activities on their website so that middle and high school educators across the nation can continue to “inspire tomorrow’s engineers.” # # #

Sep
3
2020

Plexiglass Alone Can't Protect Against Aerosolized Virus

Covid-19, Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to view the original story. In settings where personal protective equipment (PPE) is in short supply, inserting a breathing tube down a patient’s throat poses a major risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposure for doctors and nurses as viral particles are released into the air. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory created an individual biocontainment unit, or IBU, to keep front line health care workers safe while they provide life-saving care. The device is described in a study published Sept. 3 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. Authors on the study include Benjamin Schilling, a pre-doctoral fellow in bioengineering at Pitt; Heng Ban, Richard K. Mellon professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; Robert Turer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Nicholas Karlowsky of Filtech; and Lucas Dvoracek, Jason Chang and J. Peter Rubin of UPMC. Earlier attempts to minimize exposure to health care workers involved placing a plexiglass intubation box over a patient’s head and shoulders. Clinicians place their hands through two large holes in the box to intubate the patient inside. While such a device may contain the worst of the splatter, it can’t keep aerosols from leaking out. The IBU is designed to suck contaminated air out of the box with a vacuum and trap infectious particles in a filter before they seep into the room. Simulating a COVID-19 patient, the researchers placed a mannequin inside the IBU as well as in a commercially available intubation box. Near its mouth, they piped in an oil-based aerosol which formed tiny droplets in the air, similar in size to the SARS-CoV-2 particles in breath that spread COVID-19. The IBU trapped more than 99.99% of the simulated virus-sized aerosols and prevented them from escaping into the environment. In contrast, outside of the passive intubation box, maximum aerosol concentrations were observed to be more than three times higher than inside the box. “Having a form of protection that doesn’t work is more dangerous than not having anything, because it could create a false sense of security,” said Turer, the study’s co-lead author and a plastic surgeon who recently completed his residency at UPMC. Because of concerns about the potential of airborne viruses to leak from the plexiglass boxes, the Food and Drug Administration recently revoked their Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for these enclosures. Several months ago, Turer and colleagues submitted an EUA application for the IBU and are preparing to manufacture the devices for distribution. “It intentionally incorporates parts from outside the medical world,” said Turer. “So, unlike other forms of PPE, demand is unlikely to outstrip supply during COVID-19 surge periods.” Besides protecting providers during intubation, the IBU can also provide negative pressure isolation of awake COVID-19 patients, supplying an alternative to scarce negative pressure hospital isolation rooms, as well as helping isolate patients on military vessels. “The ability to isolate COVID-19 patients at the bedside is key to stopping viral spread in medical facilities and onboard military ships and aircraft,” said study co-lead author Cameron Good, a research scientist at the Army Research Laboratory. Devices similar to IBUs were first used in practice by military personnel in the Javits Center field hospital in New York City when local hospitals were overrun with COVID-19 patients during the first wave of the pandemic. Once the EUA is granted, hospitals and military units will be able to use the IBU to protect health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients. Additional authors on the study include Benjamin Schilling and Heng Ban of the University of Pittsburgh; Robert Turer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Nicholas Karlowsky of Filtech; and Lucas Dvoracek, Jason Chang and J. Peter Rubin of UPMC. This work is supported by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation.

Sep
1
2020

Bioengineering Student Plugs in to Complex Tech

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to see the original story. When Audrey Case was 19 years old, she suffered her third concussion while playing intramural soccer. She was carried off the field and rushed to the hospital. “I just kept quietly repeating, ‘Not again, I can’t do this again,’” said Case, now a third-year, bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “But that one little injury changed the course of my college career.” Case recalled the incident, as well as her prior two concussions in her first published book, “Plugged In: The Past, Present, and Future of Brain Computer Interfaces,” which breaks down research in a lay-friendly way. The book was released on Amazon Kindle in late July. Although she recovered from each concussion, the most recent injury changed Case's course of study by interesting her in the human brain and the science behind its recovery from injuries. It may not be as iconic as Isaac Newton’s mythical “a-ha” moment with the apple tree, but her recovery did bring her to Pitt’s Rehab Neural Engineering Labs in 2018. There, she learned more about new rehabilitation technologies aimed toward helping people regain lost mobility and function, including brain-computer interface (BCI) research. “I started to think, ‘What if I hadn’t recovered?’ or ‘What if it was a more permanent injury?’” she said. Case’s current work uses magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to map out brain activity related to movements and sensations of individual fingers in people with spinal cord injury. She said she eventually hopes to work in biotechnology research after completing her studies. Jennifer Collinger, assistant professor and research operations director of the labs, said she was surprised when Case told her she was writing a book on the topic with only months of experience. However, it was clear to her that Case was “a quick learner” and was genuinely excited and curious about the work. “She did a great job with being able to communicate this information to a general audience,” Collinger said. “I was impressed to see the number of references provided in each chapter and how she hit on a lot of the major topics in this field right now.” One topic she covers is testing performed with Nathan Copeland, a man with paralysis who collaborated on Pitt research. In a 2016 first in humans, he demonstrated a technology that allowed him to experience the sensation of touch through a robotic arm that he controlled with his brain. This led to him presenting at a science conference in Japan and meeting President Barack Obama. “He started spinning the robotic arm with its extra joints, and the principal investigators had to tell him to stop,” Case said. “He said, ‘But it’s like I have two wrists and it’s so cool.’ I met him during a break in testing, but he was funny, bright and interesting.” For her book, Case drew on previous experiences speaking with friends and family about brain-computer interface technology, as well as reading what was available about it. She said she hopes the general public will have a better understanding of BCI research and the progress being made for people with limited mobility. “It was really difficult to speak with people, because they weren’t understanding what I was saying,” she said. “The language I was reading about this research was so vague and there was so much technical jargon. I also read about how people were so afraid of driverless cars, because they didn’t know how they worked. I was worried something similar would happen with BCI technology.” Fang Liu, a research engineer in the labs, and Case’s primary mentor, agreed. “It’s great to give people some knowledge about this,” Liu said. “We work with spinal cord injury patients and stroke patients, and it’s hard for them to adjust to everyday life. We try to make people realize what we can do in the labs to help them.”

Aug

Aug
31
2020

Pork Dumplings with a Side of Wisdom, on ‘Seasoned’

Diversity, Student Profiles

Nse O’Dean had prepared some of his ingredients ahead of time: He had chicken in a plastic bag, coated with a vibrant blend of curry spices; a bag of frozen vegetables on stand-by; and a pan on the back burner. He adjusted the camera (his phone, propped up on the counter), poured some oil into a hot pan, and began chatting about his job, his car and his future plans. With his face ever-so-slightly out of frame, the recent graduate of University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering shared his cooking steps with all the ambiguity of a true family recipe. All the while, he fielded live questions from an audience of Pitt EXCEL students and friends: “What gave you the most anxiety when you got out of college?” “How do you get back to your focus if you find yourself feeling lost?” and “How do you get comfortable with the unknown?” It’s true across cultures and throughout time: Cooking brings people together. It’s a way of sharing traditions and culture while caring for the people closest to us. It was with that in mind that Pitt EXCEL, the undergraduate diversity program at the Swanson School, created the Seasoned video series on Instagram. Each 45-minute, biweekly Instagram Live video welcomes a member of the Pitt EXCEL community to share wisdom on a given topic while cooking a dish of their choosing. Delicate red velvet waffles, tidy pork dumplings and spicy Tuscan shrimp pasta were created live on camera while the chefs answered questions about careers, identity and navigating today’s world. The mind behind the series is Halima Morafa, a Pitt EXCEL member and a junior studying mechanical engineering. She worked with Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, to develop the idea. They wanted to showcase both the wisdom inherent in the community and the cooking skills developed during quarantine. “Seasoned came to me as an expression that no matter what, food and conversation will bring people together. The connection is bigger than the divide,” said Moore. “It was a time for the young Pitt EXCEL Scholars to learn from some of their legacies. “Sometimes, as people of color we forget we have a legacy that is strong and rich. This is what Seasoned created while we all were able to sit around our virtual kitchens,” she added. Seasoned has been a perfect antidote to the fatigue caused by the pandemic, the loneliness of quarantining and the stress around the Black Lives Matter movement.  “I’ve always seen food as the center of a community. Seasoned was something lighthearted and gave us a time to connect with family and be there for each other,” said Morafa. “With everything being virtual, it feels good to have community engagement, but with real conversations about real things.” The videos themselves feel casual and personal—as if the host, who relays questions and provides comment, is chatting with a friend who happens to be making dinner—but the topics make for impactful discussions. “I loved listening in on conversations as there were always nuggets of wisdom I took from them,” said Ruby DeMaio (ChemE ’22), a current EXCEL student. “Pitt EXCEL has a really great relationship with our alumni, and this was definitely a different way of getting to hear from them. Overall the series came across as very organic and I can't wait for it to come back!” Seasoned created a space for alumni to connect with their friends and support one another, as well. “I kept tuning in because each person featured was someone that I had the chance to get to know during my time at Pitt so I got the chance to hear from them and watch them make a new cuisine at the same time,” said Jahari Mercer (IE ‘20), an EXCEL alum. “Pitt Excel really is one big family, and so I tuned in to be around my family. I had the chance to see others tuning in and chat with them while we were all online. “For me, it was fun just to laugh and hear from others that you don't get to physically see during this time.” So far, viewers have heard from several EXCEL alumni: Rene Canady about growing pains while learning to make red velvet waffles; Nse O’Dean created his feast of curried chicken, peas and rice and chow mein while discussing being comfortable with the unknown. Christine Nguyen talked about giving back to the community while sharing her take on bun rieu, a Vietnamese crab noodle soup, and Kiara Lee showcased her colorful salad techniques while chatting about work-life balance. Current students also shared their wisdom. Morafa chatted about the importance of good communication while preparing Tuscan shrimp pasta with an added kick, and Sydney Anderson, a senior studying chemical engineering, shared her insights on building self-confidence, while creating pork dumplings. “All the chefs have been great with a plethora of knowledge,” said Morafa. “All around, it’s a fun show to tune into and learn something from peers. It lets us connect with our family over the summer.” Though the series was set to run only until the end of the summer, the videos remain on Instagram to inspire. Find all of the Seasoned videos on Pitt EXCEL’s Instagram (@PittEXCEL).
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
26
2020

EE Graduate Student Nathan Carnovale Receives IEEE Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship

Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 26, 2020) — The IEEE Educational Activities Board (EAB) has selected Nathan (Nate) Carnovale, graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the Charles LeGeyt Fortescue Graduate Scholarship. The scholarship was named for Charles LeGeyt Fortescue (1876-1936), an electrical engineer who spent his career at the Westinghouse Corporation, in recognition of his contributions to the field of electrical engineering. The award is given to a beginning graduate student for one year of full-time graduate work in electrical engineering. “Nate is one of the most outstanding students in our department, and we are most excited for his ECE graduate studies sponsored by this prestigious scholarship,” said Alan George, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nate Carnovale graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a concentration in electric power and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in electric power engineering at Pitt. His current research deals with system and fault identification methods in microgrids and inverter-based generation power systems. “In his time at Pitt so far, Nate has proven to be an outstanding student and engineer,” said Brandon Grainger, Eaton Faculty Fellow, associate director of the Pitt Energy GRID Institute, and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “I look forward to his continued work in the Department and in the field of electrical engineering.” During his undergraduate career, Carnovale interned with Eaton for two summers, working at Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center for Eaton’s Power Systems Automation and Controls services groups in Warrendale, PA. There, he gained experience in power systems metering and monitoring and microgrid control systems, as well as experience installing, wiring, and programming Eaton demos at the Experience Center.  This past summer, he interned with Eaton’s Digital Office team testing and developing software for smart circuit breakers used in electric vehicle charging applications. For four semesters at Pitt, Carnovale was a teaching assistant for the Art of Making, an introductory engineering course to hands-on systems design. During his time as an undergrad, he worked to develop an adapted physical education learning tool for students with physical and mental challenges at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh, a project he started during his time as a student in the Art of Making course. “To be recognized by the organization at the foundation of my industry is a great honor and means a lot to me,” said Carnovale. “I am excited that this scholarship will not only help me in my own pursuits but also my department at the University of Pittsburgh as we strive toward innovation in the electrical engineering field.”
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
21
2020

Smartphones can tell when you’re drunk by analyzing your walk

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

Ervin Sejdic, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering with appointments in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Bioengineering, recently coauthored a paper published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (JSAD) that investigates the use of smartphones to detect alcohol intoxication. The research uses a smartphone's sensors to measure the user's gait as they walk, and they were able to correctly determine when the person's blood alcohol concentration exceeded the legal limit 90 percent of the time. “Many of us use smartphones as a source of entertainment and an occasional source of information. However, these devices are packed with high-quality sensors, and it is in our best interests to explore these sensors to enhance our daily lives," said Sejdic. "A combination of sophisticated sensors and artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning will provide us great opportunities to develop solutions that otherwise were only accessible in research or clinical settings. Our newest paper is just one example how we can use smartphones for the benefit of general public. With the ongoing pandemic, I’m sure many more novel solutions will pop up that will drastically expand the use of smartphones beyond entertainment apps.” News release from JSAD republished with permission. ### Smartphones can tell when you’re drunk by analyzing your walk By Paul CandonPISCATAWAY, NJ – Your smartphone can tell when you’ve had too much to drink by detecting changes in the way you walk, according to a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.Having real-time information about alcohol intoxication could be important for helping people reduce alcohol consumption, preventing drinking and driving or alerting a sponsor for someone in treatment, according to lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, M.D., who was with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine when the research was conducted and is now with Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine.“We have powerful sensors we carry around with us wherever we go,” Suffoletto says. “We need to learn how to use them to best serve public health.”But for Suffoletto, this research is much more than academic. “I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college,” he says. “And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.”For the study, Suffoletto and colleagues recruited 22 adults ages 21 to 43. Volunteers came to a lab and received a mixed drink with enough vodka to produce a breath alcohol concentration of .20 percent. They had one hour to finish the alcohol.Then hourly for seven hours, participants had their breath alcohol concentration analyzed and performed a walking task. For this task, researchers placed a smartphone on each participant’s lower back, secured with an elastic belt. Participants walked a straight line for 10 steps, turned around, and walked back 10 steps.The smartphones measured acceleration and mediolateral (side to side), vertical (up and down) and anteroposterior (forward and backward) movements while the participants walked.About 90 percent of the time, the researchers were able to use changes in gait to identify when participants’ breath alcohol concentration exceeded .08 percent, the legal limit for driving in the United States.“This controlled lab study shows that our phones can be useful to identify ‘signatures’ of functional impairments related to alcohol,” Suffoletto says.Although placing the smartphone on the lower back does not reflect how people carry their cell phones in real life, the research group plans to conduct additional research while people carry phones in their hands and in their pockets.And although it was a small investigation, the researchers write that this is a “proof-of-concept study” that “provides a foundation for future research on using smartphones to remotely detect alcohol-related impairments.”“In 5 years, I would like to imagine a world in which if people go out with friends and drink at risky levels,” Suffoletto says, “they get an alert at the first sign of impairment and are sent strategies to help them stop drinking and protect them from high-risk events like driving, interpersonal violence and unprotected sexual encounters.”Going forward, Suffoletto and his colleagues plan to not only build on this research detecting real-world signatures of alcohol-related impairment but also identify the best communication and behavioral strategies to influence and support individuals during high-risk periods such as intoxication. ### Suffoletto, B., Dasgupta, P., Uymatiao, R., Huber, J., Flickinger, K., & Sejdic, E., (2020). A preliminary study using smartphone accelerometers to sense gait impairments due to alcohol intoxication. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 81, 505–510. doi:10.15288/jsad.2020.81.505 ### To arrange an interview with Brian Suffoletto, M.D., please contact Mandy Erickson at +650-245-8491 or merickso@stanford.edu. ### The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs is published by the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It is the oldest substance-related journal published in the United States. ### To learn about education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, please visit https://education.alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/education-training.###The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs considers this press release to be in the public domain. Editors may publish this press release in print or electronic form without legal restriction. Please include proper attribution and byline.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
20
2020

A Blueprint for Greener Catalysis

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 20, 2020) — Platinum, rhodium, and other precious metals are used as catalysts that make modern life possible, from the catalytic converters in cars to the production of many useful chemicals. These metals are stable and strong, but they are a very limited and expensive resource. Data scientists have estimated that all the platinum ever mined in the world amasses to just about 9,800 metric tons, a volume that would fit within just three standard semi-truck trailers. That is why researchers around the world, including John Keith at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, are looking to nature for ways to use far more earth-abundant metals (EAMs), like iron, instead. “Humans have developed portfolios of rare metals that work in industrial catalysis, but nature has its own portfolios of biological enzymes that use complex combinations of EAMs,” said Keith, who is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering. “When we decipher nature’s blueprints for catalysis based on EAMs, we can engineer new EAM-based catalysts to dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes needed for making materials, medicines, fuels and chemicals.” The U.S. Department of Energy brought together a team of international experts in catalysis, including Keith, to write an authoritative review to lay the groundwork for the discovery of cheaper, quicker and more sustainable catalysts. That review article was recently published in Science, one of the top-ranked scientific journals in the world. The article discusses the background, advances, and promising outlook of bio-inspired EAM catalysis. More research will be needed to better understand how industrial processes can be developed to run in less harsh conditions that EAM catalysts require. Keith is an expert in computational chemistry, which uses computer simulations of atoms rooted in the laws of quantum mechanics, and this field is considered a key to progress in EAM catalysis development. Researchers in the Keith Lab use computational chemistry to rapidly explore and deeply analyze hypothetical catalysts that otherwise are too slow or expensive to test in the lab. A recent research compilation featured in Interface, a quarterly magazine of The Electrochemical Society, described the lab’s approach for predicting novel electrocatalysts. “Catalyst development historically has been based on trial and error experimentation, and that becomes a problem when each trial can take months of time and cost huge sums of money,” said Keith. “When experimentation is teamed with state-of-the-art computational modeling, researchers can be thousands of times as productive. With that framework in place, we can focus on much harder questions like, how do we optimize the right ensemble cast of chemicals, materials, and reaction conditions for safer, more profitable, and more environmentally sustainable industrial processes?” The article, “Using nature’s blueprint to expand catalysis with Earth-abundant metals” (doi: 10.1126/science.abc3183), was led by R. Morris Bullock, director of the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and was coauthored by 18 researchers representing 18 institutions and laboratories. ### Graphic credit: Nathan Johnson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
19
2020

Naugle Fellowship Awardee Named

MEMS, Student Profiles

Sarah Wielgosz, mechanical engineering junior, has been awarded a Naugle Fellowship in Mechanical Engineering for 2020. The $7,500 fellowship will be used to offset tuition fee. Wielgosz was selected based on a glowing recommendation provided by Prof. Matt Barry. Wielgosz served as a teaching assistant for two of Dr. Barry’s classes this summer where, according to Barry, she went above and beyond to provide her peers with the best learning experience possible by not only grading papers, but by creating weekly TopHat worksheets and holding extensive office hours for the students. This is particularly noteworthy since all teaching was delivered online because of covid-19 restrictions. Through Wielgosz’s dedication, the students were provided an outstanding learning environment. The University’s goal is to assist students in obtaining the highest quality education possible.  Part of this assistance includes financial support in the form of fellowships such as this one.

Aug
11
2020

Investigating a Thermal Challenge for MOFs

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH(Aug. 11, 2020) — To the naked eye, metal organic frameworks (MOFs) look a little like sand. But if you zoom in, you will see that each grain looks and acts more like a sponge—and serves a similar purpose. MOFs are used to absorb and hold gases, which is useful when trying to filter toxic gases out of the air or as a way to store fuel for natural gas- or hydrogen gas-powered engines. New research led by an interdisciplinary team across six universities examines heat transfer in MOFs and the role it plays when MOFs are used for storing fuel. Corresponding author Christopher Wilmer, William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, coauthored the work with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Northwestern University, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. The findings were recently published in Nature Communications. “One of the challenges with using MOFs for fuel tanks in cars is that you have to be able to fill up in a few minutes or less,” explains Wilmer. “Unfortunately, when you quickly fill these MOF-based tanks with hydrogen or natural gas they get very hot. It’s not so much a risk of explosion—though there is one—but the fact that they can’t store much gas when they’re hot. The whole premise of using them to store a lot of gaseous fuel only works at room temperature. For other industrial applications you face a similar problem - whenever gases are loaded quickly the MOFs become hot and no longer work effectively.” In other words, for MOFs to be useful for these applications, they would need to be kept cool. This research looked at thermal transport in MOFs, to explore how quickly they can shed excess heat, and the group found some surprising results. “When you take these porous materials, which to begin with are thermally insulating, and you fill them with gas, it appears that they become even more insulating. This is surprising because usually, empty pockets like those in insulation or double-paned windows provide good thermal insulation,” explains Wilmer. “By taking porous materials and filling them, thereby removing those gaps, you would expect the thermal transport to improve, making it more thermally conductive. The opposite happens; they become more insulating.” To reach their conclusion, researchers conducted two simultaneous experiments using two different methods and MOFs synthesized in two different labs. Both groups observed the same trend: that the MOFs become more insulated when filled with adsorbates. Their experimental findings were also validated by atomistic simulations at Pitt in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. “Our work indicates potential challenges ahead for the use of MOFs outside of research labs, but that is a necessary step in the process,” says Alan McGaughey, professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “As these materials advance toward broad, real-world usage, researchers will need to continue investigating once-overlooked properties of these materials, like thermal transport, and find the best way to use them to fit our needs.” The paper, “Observation of Reduced Thermal Conductivity in a Metal-Organic Framework,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17822-0) was published in Nature Communications. Coauthors include Hasan Babaei (Pitt), Mallory E. DeCoster (UVA), Minyoung Jeong (CMU), Zeinab M. Hassan (KIT), Timur Islamoglu (Northwestern), Helmut Baumgart (Old Dominion), Alan J. H. McGaughey (CMU), Redel Engelbert (KIT), Omar K. Farha (Northwestern), Patrick E. Hopkins (UVA), Jonathan A. Malen (CMU), and Christopher E. Wilmer. ### AcknowledgementsH.B. and C.E.W. gratefully acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), awards CBET-1804011 and OAC-1931436, and also thank the Center for Research Computing (CRC) at the University of Pittsburgh for providing computational resources. J.A.M. gratefully acknowledges support from the Army Research Office, grant W911NF-17-1-0397. A.J.H.M. gratefully acknowledges support from the NSF, award DMR-1507325. O.K.F. gratefully acknowledges support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, HDTRA1‐18‐1‐0003. P.E.H. appreciates support from the Army Research Office, Grant. No. W911NF-16-1-0320. Financial support by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the COORNET Priority Program (SPP 1928) is gratefully acknowledged by E.R. and He.B. (Helmut Baumgart). Z.M.H. acknowledges financial support from the Egyptian Mission Foundation. We would also like to thank Ran Cao for collecting additional PXRD data for this study.
Maggie Pavlick, Senior Communications Writer
Aug
11
2020

Improving Ladder Safety, One Rung at a Time

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (August 11, 2020) … When using a ladder, whether you are a professional roofer or an everyday homeowner, safety should always be the first step. There is an estimated $24 billion annual cost of ladder injuries in the U.S., where falls account for 26 percent of nonfatal and 16 percent of fatal workplace injuries. When the fall is not fatal, it often leads to serious injury, and workers who experience a ladder-related fall have a median time of 20 days away from work. Losing one’s footing is a common accident and can lead to serious injury; yet, research on falls from ladders is lacking. The University of Pittsburgh’s Kurt Beschorner will use a $1,840,869 grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop safer ladder designs and individual risk factors of ladder falls. The work will focus on measuring friction as the pathway for the ladder and individual to influence slip and fall risk. “A slip happens when there is insufficient friction between the shoe surface and ladder rung, but little is known about how ladder design or an individual’s body affects slip and fall risk,” said Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Previous award-winning work from students Erika Pliner and Ellen Martin in the Human Movement & Balance Laboratory provided foundational understanding on ladder fall risk factors. Some groups at increased risk are older adults, inexperienced climbers, and people with lower body strength. The researchers will build on these preliminary findings with this larger study. The lab will use two measurements to determine the impact of ladder design and individual factors on slip and fall risk: required friction and available friction. “The available friction is the amount that occurs between a shoe and rung,” Beschorner explained. “When that value is less than the amount of friction that is required to complete a task, there is a risk of a slip-and-fall event.” To measure the required friction, the research group will install force plate technology onto rungs and build a ladder around it. They will combine force data with motion data to better understand how various factors affect slips and falls. For the available friction, they will use a device that simulates a slip under controlled conditions and measure how much friction is generated. They will create a slippery rung scenario with a harnessed participant to test whether an individual slips under these specific conditions. “While falls are dangerous occupationally, ladders are also a consumer product, and accidents at home contribute to the annual number of injuries and fatalities,” said Beschorner. “This award gives us an opportunity to develop a mechanistic model to see how these individual factors influence fall risk,” he continued. “We will study these measurements of friction and how they relate to slipping in order to establish safety guidelines, which will hopefully lead to a significant reduction in severe injuries and fatalities in both the workplace and at home.” This study will extend the lab’s prior work on friction between shoes and walking surfaces to ladder slipping. # # #

Aug
5
2020

Sustainable Chemistry at the Quantum Level

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 5, 2020) … Developing catalysts for sustainable fuel and chemical production requires a kind of Goldilocks Effect – some catalysts are too ineffective while others are too uneconomical. Catalyst testing also takes a lot of time and resources. New breakthroughs in computational quantum chemistry, however, hold promise for discovering catalysts that are “just right” and thousands of times faster than standard approaches. University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor John A. Keith and his lab group at the Swanson School of Engineering are using new quantum chemistry computing procedures to categorize hypothetical electrocatalysts that are “too slow” or “too expensive”, far more thoroughly and quickly than was considered possible a few years ago. Keith is also the Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The Keith Group’s research compilation, “Computational Quantum Chemical Explorations of Chemical/Material Space for Efficient Electrocatalysts (DOI: 10.1149.2/2.F09202IF),” was featured this month in Interface, a quarterly magazine of The Electrochemical Society. “For decades, catalyst development was the result of trial and error – years-long development and testing in the lab, giving us a basic understanding of how catalytic processes work. Today, computational modeling provides us with new insight into these reactions at the molecular level,” Keith explained. “Most exciting however is computational quantum chemistry, which can simulate the structures and dynamics of many atoms at a time. Coupled with the growing field of machine learning, we can more quickly and precisely predict and simulate catalytic models.” In the article, Keith explained a three-pronged approach for predicting novel electrocatalysts: 1) analyzing hypothetical reaction paths; 2) predicting ideal electrochemical environments; and 3) high-throughput screening powered by alchemical perturbation density functional theory and machine learning. The article explains how these approaches can transform how engineers and scientists develop electrocatalysts needed for society. “These emerging computational methods can allow researchers to be more than a thousand times as effective at discovering new systems compared to standard protocols,” Keith said. “For centuries chemistry and materials science relied on traditional Edisonian models of laboratory exploration, which bring far more failures than successes and thus a lot of wasted time and resources. Traditional computational quantum chemistry has accelerated these efforts, but the newest methods supercharge them. This helps researchers better pinpoint the undiscovered catalysts society desperately needs for a sustainable future.” ### About John Keith Dr. Keith is an associate professor and R. K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained a BA degree from Wesleyan University (2001) and a PhD from Caltech (2007). He was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ulm (2007-2010) and later an associate research scholar at Princeton University (2010-2013). Keith is an expert in applying a wide range of computational quantum chemistry methods to understand molecular scale phenomena across broad areas of science and engineering. He has more than 65 research publications and was the recipient of a U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER award. From 2019-2020, he was funded by the U.S. and Luxembourg science foundations as a visiting researcher at the University of Luxembourg, where he studied state of the art chemical physics and atomistic machine learning methods.

Aug
5
2020

Katherine Hornbostel Selected as Fellow for RCSA’s Scialog: Negative Emissions Science

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 5, 2020) — The Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) has named Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, as a Fellow for Scialog: Negative Emissions Science. RCSA’s new initiative gathered more than 50 early-career scientists to tackle the issue of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere and oceans. Scialog: Negative Emissions Science will kick off with a virtual conference on Nov. 5-6, 2020. Hornbostel’s research focuses on carbon capture technology for both the air and the ocean. She recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Flexible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program to design a natural gas/direct air capture hybrid plant that will ideally be carbon negative. Hornbostel also recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL’s) University Coalition for Fossil Energy Research (UCFER) program to investigate novel solid sorbents for direct air capture. She is also pursuing research on direct ocean capture, an alternative to direct air capture that hasn’t been explored much to date. Hornbostel will be part of an interdisciplinary team from chemistry, engineering, materials science, physics, and other related disciplines. Together, they will explore methods for removing and utilizing or sequestering greenhouse gases in a way that is globally scalable. “I’m honored to be a part of this cohort of early-career engineers and scientists, and I’m looking forward to getting together to brainstorm potential solutions for climate change with people whose interests resemble my own,” said Hornbostel. “I hope that we will come together and foster ideas that will help to end and reverse carbon emissions.” Scialog, short for “science + dialog,” is a multi-year initiative with fellows from across the U.S. and Canada. The Scialog: Negative Emissions Science is sponsored by RCSA and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
3
2020

Bioengineering Undergrads Receive BMES Outstanding Chapter Industry Program Award

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 3, 2020) … For many students, part of a fulfilling undergraduate experience is engaging with like-minded peers and interacting with professionals who can help guide and advance their careers. Bioengineering undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh cultivate these connections through the student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and the group was recently recognized for their efforts. BMES awarded Pitt’s undergraduate chapter the 2020 Outstanding Chapter Industry Program Award, which recognizes “chapters who demonstrate outstanding partnership with industries in their community.” It also acknowledges groups that “go above and beyond by creating joint programs with academic and industry leaders in the BME field in order to give their members a headstart upon graduation.” Pitt BMES’ interactions with local industry along with professional development activities throughout the year landed them the highest score among a nationally competitive roster. “Through professional networking events, social outings, and outreach opportunities, we have helped solidify a true undergraduate biomedical engineering community that makes students’ time at Pitt both more valuable and enjoyable,” said Tyler Bray (BioE BS ‘20), who led the chapter as president during the 2019-2020 academic year. The group provides an opportunity to learn and network with local leaders in the field through biomedical industry site visits, clinical and industrial panel presentations, and networking dinners with both industry and academic professionals. “Networking is an essential part of what we do in our chapter of BMES,” said Daniela Krahe, a senior bioengineering student at Pitt and the elected president for the 2020-2021 academic year. “It gives students the confidence to navigate the post-grad career life and helps build their professional skills. When they graduate, they are less anxious about their first job in bioengineering because they’ve already been exposed to many aspects of industry.” Among the professional development opportunities is a career fair tailored to bioengineering students. This past year, they hosted 11 companies who offered cooperative education, internship, and full-time positions. More than 150 students attended the 2019 event, and the group plans to make the 2020 event even larger. “Organizing the 2019 career fair was very rewarding, and working with the leadership team, particularly Tyler, on the career fair was a blast. The enthusiasm shown by the BMES officers was indeed invigorating and a key aspect in the event’s success,”  said Arash Mahboobin, assistant professor of bioengineering, BMES chapter advisor, and director of the undergraduate program. “Considering that close to half of our graduates opt for an industry position, this award is very timely and, in my opinion, deserved as it reflects the tremendous effort our undergraduate BMES chapter leadership team has put in place towards partnering with industry leaders. I am extremely proud of this achievement and applaud Pitt BMES’ efforts wholeheartedly,” he continued. The chapter provided additional professional development opportunities such as mock interviews, resume reviews, and Bioengineering Day -- a research showcase and networking event, in collaboration with the graduate BMES chapter. These events gave students more opportunities to connect with faculty and prepare for life after graduation. “BMES has opened up a lot of professional doors for me, and I’m really excited we were able to continue doing that for our peers this year,” said Bray. “BMES strives to provide an all-around experience for the bioengineers at Pitt, and this year we focused on amplifying our exposure to industry. “We’re fortunate to have top-notch talent in Pittsburgh and around the country, from startup co-founders to design engineers at Fortune 500 companies, who all love to be involved with Pitt BMES,” he continued. “Our student body, myself included, has a jump-start on our careers because of the relationship-building opportunities BMES has facilitated with these awesome industry partners.” As the winning chapter, the undergraduate group will be asked to lead a best practice panel at the virtual BMES Annual Meeting in October 2020. They will also participate in a webinar featuring their successes. # # #

Jul

Jul
29
2020

Engineering a Carbon-Negative Power Plant

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) — As renewable power generation increases, conventional energy sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power will still be required to balance the nation’s energy portfolio. Traditional power plants will not, however, need to produce as much energy as they do now, leaving them to sit idle some of the time. Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and her team received $800,283 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Flexible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program to design a natural gas/direct air capture hybrid plant that will take advantage of those idle periods. The proposed design will not only eliminate carbon emissions from the power plant when it is producing electricity for the grid but will also capture carbon from the atmosphere during idle periods, ideally making the plant carbon negative. “We still have a large fleet of natural gas and coal plants in our country. As we add renewables, which provide intermittent energy, we’ll still need those fossil power sources to make sure the grid is consistently powered,” explained Hornbostel. “The FLECCS funding call asks how we can make those fossil sources cleaner and even use them to improve air quality.” For the project, Hornbostel will partner with Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toledo; Debangsu Bhattacharyya, professor of chemical engineering at West Virginia University; and Michael Matuszewski, founder of Aristosys LLC in Venetia, PA. The team has proposed a system design that integrates natural gas with two carbon capture technologies: a membrane system that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from the plant’s exhaust, and a sorbent system that will absorb leftover CO2 from the exhaust and CO2 from the air outside. During normal operations, the hybrid plant will capture about 99 percent of the CO2 it generates; during off-peak hours, the plant will use its power to run the carbon capture systems to remove CO2 from the air. “This is a very exciting and important project, and I’m pleased – but not surprised – to see this innovative research is being undertaken in Pittsburgh,” said Congressman Mike Doyle. “The world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions in a few short decades, or the impact on the environment and our society will be devastating. It’s essential that, as we make the transition to carbon-free energy, we also make efforts like this to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants that use fossil fuels – and explore technology that could reduce the carbon already in our atmosphere. ARPA-E is playing a critical role in promoting groundbreaking research on all aspects of energy production and consumption, and I strongly support its important work.” The highly competitive ARPA-E FLECCS Program awarded $11.5 million in Phase 1 funding to 12 projects that develop carbon capture and storage processes. Hornbostel will be the second in the Swanson School to receive an ARPA-E award, following Assistant Chair of Research and Professor of Chemical Engineering Robert Enick. “ARPA-E grants are very prestigious and are only awarded to the most innovative applications that propose high impact projects,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Dr. Hornbostel and her team will use this FLECCS funding to address several important gaps in the field, and we could not be prouder of her for winning this award.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
29
2020

Uncovering the Nitty-Gritty Details of Surface Tension and Flow Behavior

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) — Dry sand can be poured out of a bucket almost like a liquid; if you try to build a sandcastle with dry sand, you won’t have much luck. However, if you add just a little bit of water, everything about the sand’s behavior changes: It cannot be poured like a liquid and, instead, holds together well enough to build something. That difference is an example of how surface tension affects flow behavior, an element that is crucial in a variety of physical processes that involve mixing together liquid and solid particles. Sachin Velankar, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, received $291,968 from the National Science Foundation for his collaborative research that seeks to better understand these phenomena. Velankar holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “Dry sand is really a mix of sand particles and air. The reason wet sand behaves so differently from dry sand is that water wants to wet the sand particles more than air does,” explained Velankar. “If you take the wet sand and look under microscope, you’ll see that between each pair of sand particles is a ring of water – a meniscus –sticking them together. That’s why the wet sand can’t be poured: the granules just won’t separate easily. We want to understand how such wet particles separate under flow.” Velankar will partner with Charles Schroeder, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, on the project. The two will not be looking at sand, however. Instead, they will use state-of-the-art technology to manipulate microscopic particles suspended in fluid to study their behavior, the conditions that bind them together and the force necessary to break them apart. “I’ve been working in this area for more than 10 years and thought about questions of micromechanics for a long time but didn’t know how to approach it,” said Velankar. “It’s hard to manipulate particles precisely at this scale. That’s where the collaboration comes in.” Schroeder’s method involves a small microfluidic device, called a Stokes trap, with strategically placed channels for incoming and outgoing liquid streams. The particles, suspended in the chamber, are manipulated as liquid flows through the different channels. The research will provide a fundamental understanding of the dynamics and rupture of particle clusters in well-defined flows. Understanding the micromechanics of this phenomenon will inform the way materials are mixed and separated in many industries that rely on the mixing of solids and liquids, from oil drilling to 3D printing to the food industry. The project, titled “Collaborative Research: Micromechanics of Meniscus-bound Particle Clusters,” received a total of $510,000 with $291,968 assigned to Pitt. It begins Sept. 1, 2020, and is expected to last 3 years.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
29
2020

Training Algorithms to Identify COVID-19 in CT Scans

Covid-19, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2020) … As COVID-19 cases in the United States continue to surge, there is an ongoing search for quick and reliable testing. Though there are conflicting opinions on using chest computerized tomography (CT) scans as a method of screening in the United States, the technology has been successfully used to identify the disease in other parts of the world. The University of Pittsburgh’s Jingtong Hu received funding from the National Science Foundation to improve CT scan screening by training a computer to analyze images and do the diagnostic heavy lifting. “Several works have recently demonstrated the potential of deep neural networks in identifying typical signs or partial signs of COVID-19 pneumonia,” said Hu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our goal is to train an algorithm to be able to tell the difference between regular pneumonia and the type of pneumonia caused by COVID-19.” Deep neural networks are sets of algorithms, inspired by the human brain, that recognize patterns and learn to complete a task by training on sample data -- in this scenario, CT scans with confirmed pneumonia caused by COVID-19. This approach has the potential to drastically speed up the screening process and reduce the burden on radiologists, who are challenged to accurately screen the volume of incoming images. Hu will collaborate with Yiyu Shi, associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, to address some of the current limitations with this technology. “Though deep neural networks work well on 2D images, they are not well equipped to handle the amount of data associated with 3D images,” said Hu. “We will explore various hardware and software solutions that will allow the technology to adapt to these larger files.” Since deep neural networks require significant processing power, the research group will use a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), which is a high performance integrated circuit that is designed to be reconfigured by the user. This type of device also provides the flexibility needed to handle the evolving structure of neural networks. “The first step of this project is to create the algorithm and allow it to learn from the current data,” Hu explained. “We will use FPGAs to make the computation faster and more energy efficient. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a mobile scanning device that can screen for signs of COVID-19 in highly populated places, like an airport or university.” The diagnostic standard in the U.S. is the RT-PCR test kits, which are not widely available and can take days to deliver results, many of which are inaccurate. Hu and his team hope that the results of this project can help effectively address some of the issues associated with testing in the U.S. This work will be made open source so that the developed techniques can be applied beyond COVID-19 where neural networks need to handle large volumetric data. # # #

Jul
28
2020

Badie Morsi Receives SPE Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 28, 2020) — In recognition of his contributions to the field of petroleum engineering, Badie Morsi, professor and director of the Petroleum Engineering Program at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was awarded the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ (SPE) Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty. The Award is given to a SPE member in recognition of their excellence in classroom teaching, research, advising and guiding students, and contributions to the field of petroleum engineering. Morsi is the long-standing director of Pitt’s petroleum engineering program, which offers undergraduate electives, a minor, a concentration, and an MS degree. “Badie is an outstanding and devoted teacher who is admired by the undergraduates. He has been an enthusiastic mentor for students who have expressed an interest in petroleum engineering career,” said Steven R. Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Badie is also an incredibly dedicated mentor to graduate students; he challenges them to excel, he spends a great deal of time providing them with valuable insights, and he guides them as they become top-notch graduates with outstanding career opportunities." Morsi has taught at the Swanson School for 38 years, joining the faculty in 1982 after receiving his PhD in chemical engineering from the École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC) at the Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine in Nancy, France. He developed and introduced several courses in chemical and petroleum engineering and won the Beitle-Veltri School of Engineering Teaching Award in 1999. Morsi’s research focuses primarily on the design and scaleup of multiphase reactors; modeling, simulation and optimization of industrial processes; CO2 capture from flue gas, fuel gas and natural gas streams using chemical and physical solvents; CO2 sequestration in depleted gas/oil reservoirs and deep coal seams; and enhanced oil recovery using CO2 and alcohols. He leads the Reactor and Process Engineering Laboratory (RAPEL), which specializes in the characterization of the hydrodynamic and gas-liquid mass transfer parameters in industrial processes. In addition to his teaching and research, Morsi serves as executive director of the Annual International Pittsburgh Coal Conference. “Under his leadership the Pittsburgh Coal Conference has become the world’s foremost international gathering of scientists and engineers with coal-related research interests. Badie remains one of the foremost experts on hydrodynamics and mass transfer as it relates to multi-phase reactors; his high-pressure laboratory facilities are world-class systems,” said Little. “His expertise is also valued by industry experts working in large chemical plants, who turn to him for assistance in reactor design. He has also made remarkable contributions to carbon capture and geologic sequestration in coal seams and conventional reservoirs undergoing enhanced oil recovery while working extensively with researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.” Morsi serves as the editor-in-chief of Fuels, associate editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Clean Coal and Energy and is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Chemical Engineering and the Journal of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. Among his numerous appointments, Morsi was selected as a fellow of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education from 1999 to 2002, from 2005 to 2008 and from 2018 to 2019. “Simply put, every facet of Dr. Morsi’s activities, research, academic and career advising, undergraduate and graduate education, and professional service to the scientific community, has flourished out of his knowledge, experience and passion for petroleum-related science and technology,” Little added. Due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SPE’s 2020 awards will be presented at a yet undetermined future date.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
23
2020

Infant Heart-Assist Pump Secures $4.7M from the DOD

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 23, 2020) … The Center for Disease Control estimates that roughly 40,000 infants are born with congenital heart defects (CHDs) each year. Among that population, 25 percent are critical cases that require cardiac surgery. The waitlist for a heart transplant continues to grow; yet, the only FDA-approved life-saving device for CHD has shortcomings and is based on technology from the 1970s. A multi-institutional team, including faculty and students from the Swanson School of Engineering (SSoE) and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM), recently received funding to advance this technology. The PediaFlow® Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), a heart-assist pump for infants and young children, received a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The device, originally developed at the University of Pittsburgh, is intended to support patients with congenital and/or acquired heart disease. James Antaki, the Susan K. McAdam Professor of Heart Assist Technology at Cornell University’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, will lead the project’s development and preclinical validation. (See Cornell University’s announcement) “It is a new lease on life for this device for children who have no other alternative,” said Antaki. The device is a miniaturized, magnetically levitated, rotary VAD that is roughly the size of a AA battery and can provide sufficient blood flow for infants and small children. Implantation of the device could also potentially rehabilitate a child’s heart back to health, thus obviating the need for a cardiac transplant. The project began in 2002 at Pitt and builds upon blood pump technology developed by several SSoE and MIRM faculty and students over the past decade. After evaluating three pump topologies, the research group chose a mixed-flow configuration and applied a computational fluid dynamics approach to optimize the design from the point of view of outstanding biocompatibility. Bench and preclinical studies have demonstrated outstanding biocompatibility of the PediaFlow VAD. “Despite the clinician mantra that ‘babies are not just tiny adults,’ pediatric heart pump development has been historically limited to the miniaturization of existing adult devices with minimal success,” said Salim Olia (BioE PhD ’18), adjunct assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Olia conducted the crucial bench and preclinical PediaFlow tests as part of his PhD dissertation in the Department of Bioengineering at Pitt and is continuing his work for the DoD award. “PediaFlow represents a clean slate approach of designing from the ground up with the primary objective of maximizing patient safety by minimizing blood damage,” he continued. Pitt’s subcontract on this DoD award is a collaboration between SSoE and MIRM. In particular, Marina Kameneva, research professor of surgery and bioengineering, and William Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute and distinguished professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering, will direct studies assessing the biocompatibility and overall suitability of the PediaFlow pumps developed under the DoD award for clinical use. According to Harvey Borovetz, Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering and the Robert L. Hardesty Professor of Surgery, “It is our goal at the end of the three-year DoD award to have completed development of the PediaFlow heart-assist pump, in anticipation of submitting an Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) application to the FDA and initiating clinical feasibility studies in these very special patients.” # # #

Jul
22
2020

Understanding the Microbial Community Hiding in Our Showers

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (July 22, 2020) — In Benedum Hall at the University of Pittsburgh, nine shower heads in three brand new shower stalls run for eight minutes every day. Eight minutes is the average time an American spends in the shower, though no one is using these showers for their typical purpose. Instead, they’re part of the Investigating Home Water and Aerosols’ Links to Opportunistic Pathogen Exposure (INHALE) Lab, led by Sarah Haig, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. Prior to joining the Swanson School, Haig worked with cystic fibrosis patients and their families, testing their plumbing for opportunistic pathogens (OPs) that could pose danger to their compromised immune systems, like nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. “Parents would ask me a lot of questions about how to clean their shower head and what kind of shower head helps limit bacterial growth and exposure. I didn’t have good answers for them—we just don’t know,” said Haig. “That was part of the inspiration for the INHALE Lab, where we can compare how materials and in-home disinfection strategies impact microbes so that we can find those answers. The research can empower the public to make their own decisions regarding reducing microbial exposure at the final point of exposure: the fixtures in their homes.” The 250 square foot lab has its own water heaters and its own plumbing. The shower heads are a mix of standard plastic and metal shower heads and shower heads embedded with antimicrobial silver. Because the lab is new and has sat idle since the lockdowns began in March 2020, the lines need to be flushed daily to condition the pipes—and to allow bacteria to take up residence—before research can begin again in earnest. However, several projects will utilize the lab’s unique capabilities. One current project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will look at the effect of silver in shower heads on the OP Legionellaand whether antibiotic resistance is induced due to silver exposure.Another project, which has received seed grant funding from the Central Research Development Fund at Pitt, will examine the effectiveness of several prevention methods on the number of OPs that can become airborne when the shower is running—the most common way users are exposed to the OPs. The work will assess the effectiveness of disinfection strategies as well as different kinds of shower heads, including standard shower heads and ones modified with antimicrobial compounds or filtration devices. “It’s a scary thought, one I’d bet you’d never had before: You might be taking a shower in waterborne pathogens!” said Janet E. Stout, president of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt, and internationally recognized expert on the management and control of waterborne pathogens. “The INHALE lab will help us understand the microbes in our showers, how they’re disseminated, and most importantly, how to control them under conditions that replicate your own shower.” Eventually, Haig hopes the INHALE Lab’s research will help families, hospitals and other facilities make decisions that will keep vulnerable populations safe from potentially harmful OPs. “For healthy individuals, these OPs are not generally a problem. Water is not—and isn’t meant to be—sterile. But for people who are immunocompromised or have existing pulmonary conditions, they can be deadly,” she noted. “Opportunistic pathogens are natural members of the water community, so you can’t feasibly eliminate them, but it’s a numbers game. When you reduce the number of pathogens, you can reduce your risk – we now just need to focus on understanding how to do this.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
21
2020

Leading by Example

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 21, 2020) — Taryn Bayles, vice chair for undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has dedicated her career to sharing the joy of engineering with others. In recognition of her myriad contributions to the field of engineering education, she was honored with the ASEE 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award during the organization’s virtual conference on June 23, 2020. The award is presented to a Pre-College Engineering Education Division member who has “provided a high standard of service in alignment with the Division Vision, Mission and Core Beliefs and in support of pre-college engineering education efforts within the American Society of Engineering Education), and who has made significant and sustained contributions to the field of pre-college engineering.” Bayles’ research primarily focuses on engineering pedagogy, with the aim of making science and engineering more engaging and accessible for students from kindergarten through college. She has taught 7,200 instructors through more than 150 workshops how to introduce students to engineering principles. As part of her chemical engineering classes, her undergraduates share their knowledge with the local community through hands-on outreach activities. These efforts of Bayles’ 1000+ engineering students have benefitted more than 10,000 participating K-12 students. Bayles knows that early encounters can be an important first step toward a career in engineering. Her own first encounter with engineering was in high school when she received a scholarship to work at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, N.M. This experience and several more internships during college cemented her interest in chemical engineering. But her industry job after graduation revealed a passion for teaching. “When I worked in industry, I led activities for young students during Engineers’ Week and through Junior Achievement, and it became addictive.” she said. “Every time I’ve gotten to teach, it has been so rewarding.” For more than two decades, Bayles has taught chemical engineering at institutions including Pitt, the University of Nevada Reno, the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In the classroom, she regularly draws on her own industrial engineering experience, which has included process engineering, computer modeling and control, process design and testing, and engineering management at Exxon, Westinghouse and Phillips Petroleum. In between her career in industry and her career in academia, Bayles formatively stayed at home with her two children. When her daughter came home from school in the second grade with a note about cuts to the science curriculum, she wanted to make sure the students wouldn’t miss out on opportunities to learn about science and engineering. She started an after-school program with hands-on STEM activities; even when her daughter was no longer in elementary school, she continued the program while her son was still in elementary school — and her daughter would help to co-lead the activities. “Those experiences made me realize how few resources there are for getting kids into engineering,” she said. “It drove me to create opportunities to encourage STEM learning. It sparked a passion and desire, and from there I set a course.” In addition to teaching students directly about STEM, Bayles’ research and workshops have also taught teachers ways to make STEM accessible to their students. She has led middle school and high school teacher professional development for Project Lead the Way, and co-authored the INSPIRES (INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering & Science) curriculum, which introduces high school students to engineering design through hands-on experiences and inquiry-based learning with real world engineering design challenges. In her courses she incorporates her industrial experience by bringing practical examples and active learning to help students grasp fundamental engineering principles. Last year, Bayles was awarded the Department’s James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching Chemical Engineering, and she has served as the Chair of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Education Division. In addition to her impressive teaching record and education research, Bayles has been a supportive advisor for Pitt’s AIChE Chem-E-Car team, which has excelled in recent years. “Taryn Bayles is quite simply a juggernaut in Engineering Education. She is a national leader and pioneer that is admired by the most distinguished engineering educators in our field,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “She is highly deserving of this award and the Department could not be more proud of her.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
20
2020

Working on the Frontier of Nanoparticle Research

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 20, 2020) — A field studying something very small is becoming very big: In the last decade, the field of nanoparticle research has exploded. At about one nanometer in size, nanoparticles are 100,000 times smaller than the width a strand of human hair and cannot be seen with the naked eye, but researchers are discovering broad uses for them in fields ranging from bioimaging to energy and the environment. Working at this scale, it is difficult to be precise; however, the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is advancing the field, modeling metal nanoclusters that are atomically precise in structure. An article highlighting their work and its influence on the field of nanoparticles is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Dalton Transactions. “One major benefit of these very small systems is that by knowing their exact structure, we can apply very accurate theory,” said Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical engineering, who leads the CANELa. “With theory we can then investigate how properties of nanoclusters depend on their structure.” Ligand-protected metal nanoclusters are a unique class of nanomaterials that are sometimes referred to as “magic size” nanoclusters because of their high stability when they have specific compositions. One of the key advances their lab has made to the field, with funding from the National Science Foundation, is in modeling the specific number of gold atoms stabilized by a specific number of ligands, on the surface. “With larger nanoparticles, researchers may have an estimate of how many atoms exist on each structure, but our modelling of these nanoclusters is exact. We can write out the precise molecular formula,” explained Michael Cowan, graduate student in the CANELa and lead author on the article. “If you know the exact structure of small systems you can tailor them to create active sites for catalysis, which is what our lab focuses on most.” Predicting new alloys and previously undiscovered magic sizes is the next step that the field—and the lab—will need to tackle. The lab uses computational chemistry methods to model known nanoclusters, but creating a complete database of nanocluster structure, property and synthesis parameters will be the next step to apply machine learning and create a prediction framework. The Frontier article, titled “Toward elucidating structure of ligand-protected nanoclusters,” (DOI: 10.1039/D0DT01418D) was published in the journal Dalton Transactions by the Royal Society of Chemistry and was authored by Cowan and Mpourmpakis.
Maggie Pavlick