Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Sep

Sep
17
2019

Modeling a Model Nanoparticle

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2019) — Metal nanoparticles have a wide range of applications, from medicine to catalysis, from energy to the environment. But the fundamentals of adsorption—the process allowing molecules to bind as a layer to a solid surface—in relation to the nanoparticle’s characteristics were yet to be discovered. New research from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering introduces the first universal adsorption model that accounts for detailed nanoparticle structural characteristics, metal composition and different adsorbates, making it possible to not only predict adsorption behavior on any metal nanoparticles but screen their stability, as well. The research combines computational chemistry modeling with machine learning to fit a large number of data and accurately predict adsorption trends on nanoparticles that have not previously been seen. By connecting adsorption with the stability of nanoparticles, nanoparticles can now be optimized in terms of their synthetic accessibility and application property behavior. This improvement will significantly accelerate nanomaterials design and avoid trial and error experimentation in the lab. “This model has the potential to impact diverse areas of nanotechnology with applications in catalysis, sensors, separations and even drug delivery,” says Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, the Swanson School’s Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, whose CANELa lab conducted the research.  “Our lab, as well as other groups, have performed prior computational studies that describe adsorption on metals, but this is the first universal model that accounts for nanoparticle size, shape, metal composition and type of adsorbate. It’s also the first model that directly connects an application property, such as adsorption and catalysis, with the stability of the nanoparticles.” The paper, “Unfolding Adsorption on Metal Nanoparticles: Connecting Stability with Catalysis” was published in Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax5101) on Sept. 13, 2019. It was authored by James Dean, Michael G. Taylor, PhD, and Giannis Mpourmpakis, PhD. The research was funded by a Designing Engineering and Material Systems grant from the National Science Foundation.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
9
2019

Makerspaces and Mindsets

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

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 9, 2019) — As with many creative projects, this one started with a doodle. Students at this year’s Makerspace Bootcamp at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering learned that to create a finished product, (in this case, a laser-cut lampshade), you must first translate the idea in your head onto paper. The 31 rising sophomore engineering students were asked to quickly sketch out a lampshade design, and then another, and another. By the end of the day, they would turn one of the sketches into a working lamp. “The project goes from physical, to digital, and back to physical. We walk through the design process, using software to create a digital model from the sketch, cutting it with the laser cutter, and assembling the lamp,” says David Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School. “The workshop helps students overcome two hurdles—one, that they don’t know that the makerspace is available to everyone, and two that they feel they need to be Tony Stark in order to create something.” The students used the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber, BioE Design, Innovation and Outreach Coordinator, to complete their lamp. The Makerspace, located in Benedum Hall, is open to students of all majors and has a wide range of equipment to design and fabricate. Current Makerspace students serve as mentors and helped the boot camp participants in the same way they guide all newcomers. “The Pitt Makerspaces provide hands-on experiences for students, with resources and support to make an idea a reality,” says Barber. “We want students to feel welcome to come in, explore, and collaborate, and the boot camp helps introduce them to a new way of thinking.” The annual boot camp began in 2013 as an entrepreneurship-focused event sponsored by the Engineering Education Research Center, but under the direction of Sanchez with the support of William (Buddy) Clark, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, and Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. Since then it has shifted its focus to the Makerspace and Sanchez and Barber now plan for it to be even more hands-on and open to more students. While the first day of the workshop focused on using the Pitt Makerspace, the final day centered on building the mindset of a creator. Sanchez presented the students with different design challenges, such as imagining how to grow a company that sells one particular product successfully, like an oven cleaner. While most pitched the idea of making “a better oven cleaner,” he helped them to see that diving deeper into the customer’s experience would yield opportunities to reinvent it with concepts like better self-cleaning ovens. “Critical thinking and empathy are important parts of the design process. Shifting your focus beyond what products do to what customers experience is essential to good design,” says Sanchez. “Our goal for the boot camp is to cultivate this approach to design and making that inspires all our students to incorporate it into their experience here at the Swanson School.”
Maggie Pavlick

Aug

Aug
23
2019

Five Pitt engineering faculty capture nearly $3 million in total NSF CAREER awards for 2018/2019

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

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2019) … Five faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have been named CAREER Award recipients by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Recognized as the NSF’s most competitive award for junior faculty, the grants total nearly $3 million in funding both for research and community engagement. The CAREER program “recognizes faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” The five awards – one each in the departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – ties the record from 2017 for the most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. “Federal funding for academic research is extremely competitive, especially for faculty just beginning their academic careers. Receiving five prestigious NSF CAREER Awards in one cycle is a reflection of our winners’ distinctive research and support by their respective departments and the Swanson School,” noted David Vorp, PhD, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Research. He added, “Since a CAREER Award is also focused on community engagement, this is an opportunity for our faculty and their graduate students to promote STEM to children in the area, especially in underserved populations, and we will be working with them to develop impactful outreach programs.”Dr. Vorp also noted that the Swanson School’s recent success with CAREER awards can be attributed to a number of factors, including the School’s Center for Faculty Excellence, directed by Prof. Anne Robertson, and the CAREER writing group developed and run by Julie Myers-Irvin, PhD, the Swanson School’s Grants Developer. “Participating faculty acknowledge that the writing group focus on early preparation, group comradery, technical feedback, and discussions of grantsmanship practices attribute to more well-rounded proposals,” Dr. Myers-Irvin says.The award recipients include:Murat Akcakaya, Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, with Carla A. Mazefsky, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology ($550,000)Title:Toward a Biologically Informed Intervention for Emotionally Dysregulated Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (#1844885)Summary: Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond to stress and other factors, none are known to couple with technology that could monitor brain response in real time and provide the patient with feedback. Drs. Akcakaya and Mazefsky are developing a new intervention using electroencephalography (EEG)-guided, non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology could complement clinical treatments and improve emotion regulation in people with ASD.Dr. Akcakaya will also develop courses related to the research and outreach activities to promote STEM and ASD research to K-12 populations and the broader public. Outreach will focus especially on individuals with ASD, their families, and caretakers. Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering ($540,000)Title:Scaling Electrolytes to a Single Monolayer for Low-Power Ion-Gated Electronics with Unconventional Characteristics (#1847808)Summary: Two-dimensional (2D) materials are being explored for their exciting new physics that can impart novel functionalities in application spaces such as information storage, neuromorphic computing, and hardware security. Dr. Fullerton and her group invented a new type of ion-containing material, or electrolyte, which is only a single molecule thick. This “monolayer electrolyte” will ultimately introduce new functions that can be used by the electronic materials community to explore the fundamental properties of new semiconductor materials and to increase storage capacity, decrease power consumption, and vastly accelerate processing speed.The NSF award will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, as well as an outreach program to inspire curiosity and engagement of K-12 and underrepresented students in materials for next-generation electronics. Specifically, Dr. Fullerton has developed an activity where students can watch the polymer electrolytes used in this study crystallize in real-time using an inexpensive camera attached to a smart phone or iPad. The CAREER award will allow Dr. Fullerton to provide this microscope to classrooms so that the teachers can continue exploring with their students. Tevis Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science ($500,000)Title:Understanding Nanoparticle Adhesion to Guide the Surface Engineering of Supporting Structures (#1844739) Summary: Although far thinner than a human hair, metal nanoparticles play an important role in advanced industries and technologies from electronics and pharmaceuticals to catalysts and sensors. Nanoparticles can be as small as ten atoms in diameter, and their small size makes them especially susceptible to coarsening with continued use, which reduces functionality and degrades performance. Dr. Jacobs will utilize electron microscopy to develop new methods to measure the attachment and stability of nanoparticles on surfaces under various conditions, allowing researchers to enhance both surfaces and nanoparticles in tandem to work more effectively together.Additionally, Dr. Jacobs and his lab group will engage with the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and a local elementary school to create and nationally disseminate surface engineering-focused curricular units for sixth- to eighth-grade students and professional development training modules for teachers. Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering ($500,000)Title:Harnessing biology to tackle fluorinated alkyl substances in the environment (#1845336) Summary: Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that are useful in a variety of industries because of their durability, but do not naturally break down in the environment or human body. Because of their useful oil- and water-repellent properties, PFAS are used in many consumer products, industrial processes, and in firefighting foams, but unfortunately, their manufacturing and widespread use has contributed to the undesired release of these chemicals into the environment. With evidence showing that PFAS may have adverse effects on human health, Dr. Ng wants to further investigate the potential impacts of these chemicals and identify ways to remove them from the environment. She plans to elevate K-12 and undergraduate education through the use of collaborative model-building in a game-like environment. Dr. Ng in particular will utilize the agent-based modeling language NetLogo, a freely available and accessible model-building tool that can be equally powerful for cutting edge research or for students exploring new STEM concepts in science and engineering. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering ($805,670)Title: Novel human-in-the loop approach to increase locomotor learning Summary: Many stroke survivors who suffer from impaired gait benefit from rehabilitation using robotics. Unfortunately, motor improvements following training are not maintained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo hypothesizes that some of these individuals have difficulty perceiving their asymmetric movement, and she will use this project to characterize this deficit and indicate if split-belt walking - in which the legs move at different speeds - can correct it. Her lab will track how patients with brain lesions perceive asymmetries in their gait. They will then measure how their perception is adjusted once their movements are adapted in the split-belt environment. In the second part of this study, the lab will use these data and a unique method to manipulate how people perceive their movement and create the illusion of error-free performance during split-belt walking. The goal is for the changes in their movements to be sustained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo will also use this project as a way to increase the participation of students from underrepresented minorities (URM) in science and engineering. She will recruit, mentor, and prepare URM students from K-12 and college to pursue advanced education, with the ultimate goal of broadening the professional opportunities for this population. ###

Aug
12
2019

Pitt ChemE Department Recruits Expert in Interfacial Transport Phenomena Dr. Thomas Schutzius as Assistant Professor

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 12, 2019) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering announced that Thomas Schutzius, PhD, will join the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering faculty as assistant professor. Dr. Schutzius is currently the group leader of Interfacial and Micro-Nanoscale Transport Phenomenon and Thermodynamics at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. His research intersects multiple fields, including energy, surface science and engineering, and thermofluidics. He investigates how material properties can be engineered to beneficially interact with micro- and nano-scale and interfacial transport phenomena. For example, recent work developed a nanoscale-thick coating made from gold and titanium dioxide that could concentrate solar energy and aid in windshield defrosting. “We were blown away by Tom’s expertise and research in his field,” says Steven Little, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He has developed innovative processes for developing nanotechnology and novel materials that are highly impactful in fields ranging from the water-energy nexus to healthcare. He will be an excellent addition to our faculty.” Dr. Schutzius has published 31 peer-reviewed papers, many of which have been published in top journals, including Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and the American Chemical Society (ACS) Nano. He currently has five U.S. non-provisional patents for his work. His research has also been featured in the media, including New Scientist, the New York Times, the Nature Podcast and PBS Newshour. Dr. Schutzius earned his bachelor of science and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in Chicago. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at ETH Zurich before his appointment as group leader there.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
2
2019

NSF Grant Funds Research at the University of Pittsburgh and Drexel University That Could Revolutionize Water Sanitation

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 2, 2019) — The National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund collaborative research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Drexel University’s College of Engineering that could transform the way we sterilize water on demand and in larger scales. The project, “Collaborative Research: Regulating homogeneous and heterogeneous mechanisms in six-electron water oxidation,” will receive $473,065, with $222,789 designated for Pitt’s team. Led at Pitt by John Keith, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, the research aims to discover a simpler and less energy-intensive way to create ozone, a molecule that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for water and food sanitation since 2001. “Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where it is,” explains Dr. Keith. “Ozone in the upper atmosphere shields the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but it's also the main ingredient in smog that damages your lungs if you breathe it.” However, what makes ozone hazardous for lungs also makes it excellent for water sanitation. When ozone is “bubbled” into bacteria-infected water, it kills the bacteria and sterilizes the water, similar to chlorine in swimming pools or sanitation facilities. But unlike chlorine, which can persist in the environment and cause problems over time, ozone safely and fully decomposes in water after a few hours. Countries like Brazil have used ozone as a substitute for chlorine disinfectants for decades, but current technologies usually require too much energy, which increases the cost. Dr. Keith’s research group will use computer modeling to study how water can react to form ozone in electrochemical cells. “Fuel cells can be used to cleanly convert molecules like hydrogen and oxygen into useful electricity to power homes and cars with little to no harmful waste,” explains Dr. Keith. “We want to find out how to flip that around and use electricity to cleanly convert water into useful ozone.” Besides making safe drinking water more accessible, energetically efficient production of ozonated water would be extremely helpful for hospitals that need a continual supply of fully sterile water. If an electrochemical process is found, it potentially could be commercialized, perhaps as portable appliances available world-wide for home and commercial use. Dr. Keith will be working with Maureen Tang, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The grant spans four years and begins in 2020.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
1
2019

Building a Better Chemical Building Block

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 1, 2019) — Olefins, simple compounds of hydrogen and carbon, serve as the building blocks in chemical industry and are important for the synthesis of materials, including polymers, plastics and more. However, creating them can be problematic: it requires the use of fossil fuels, energy intensive “cracking” facilities, and limited production control. But engineers at the University of Pittsburgh are using advanced computing to develop more efficient means of production. The National Science Foundation has awarded Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, PhD, bicentennial alumni faculty fellow and assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, $354,954 to continue his research into a promising but poorly understood method of creating olefins: the dehydrogenation of alkanes on metal oxides. The team in Dr. Mpourmpakis’s CANELa lab will use computational modeling and machine learning to understand how the reaction takes place, and use that knowledge to screen a wide range of metal oxides and their properties for use in the process. “The success of shale gas in the U.S. has transformed the chemical market and have made light alkanes a great feedstock for the production of olefins. However, there is a knowledge gap in the understanding of the mechanism behind turning alkanes into olefins,” says Dr. Mpourmpakis. “Determining how this reaction takes place will allow us to computationally screen metal oxide catalysts and identify the exact active sites on the catalyst, limiting costly and lengthy trial-and-error experiments in the lab.” The advancement of catalyst discovery will have wide-ranging impacts for the chemical industry and the U.S. economy as a whole, enabling more efficient and cost-effective chemical production using the nation’s abundant natural gas reserves. Dr. Mpourmpakis’ team will work with the RAPID Manufacturing Institute and Pitt’s Center for Research Computing on this project from September 2019 through August 2022.
Maggie Pavlick

Jul

Jul
19
2019

ChemE Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton featured in Penn State Engineering's alumni magazine

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, was featured in the spring/summer 2019 issue of Engineering Penn State, the magazine of the Penn State College of Engineering. View her spotlight on page 38.

Jul
18
2019

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

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 18, 2019) — Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, PhD, Bicentennial Alumni faculty fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, won the Bodossaki Foundation Distinguished Young Scientists Award in Chemistry and was honored at a ceremony in Athens by the president of Greece. The Distinguished Young Scientists Award honors the most outstanding scientists of Greek descent under the age of 40 and is given once every two years. The award was presented on June 19, 2019, and included a prize of 20,000 euros. The award takes into consideration the individual’s achievements in their field, their contribution to the cultural, scientific and economic development of Greece, and their contribution to the international promotion of Greece through their work and ethics. Dr. Mpourmpakis was nominated by Steven R. Little, PhD, chair of the chemical engineering and petroleum department, and Sunil Saxena, PhD, chair of the chemistry department. “We were honored to nominate Yanni for this prestigious award,” says Dr. Little. “Yanni has made tremendous advances in our knowledge of the chemistry of nanomaterials. We are excited that his impressive work will be recognized on the global stage.” Dr. Mpourmpakis’s Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) uses theory and computation to investigate the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnology areas, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis. Dr. Mpourmpakis earned his PhD at Theoretical and Computational Chemistry from the University of Crete and was a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Delaware. “After careful deliberation on the ten excellent nominations received, the selection committee, consisting of distinguished scientists of Greek origin working in the field of chemistry all around the globe, unanimously recommended Dr. Giannis Mpourmpakis for the 2019 Bodossaki Young Scientist award in Chemistry,” said Professor Theodoros Theodorou, Associate Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Bodossaki Foundation. “The committee appreciated Dr. Mpourmpakis’s creative use of state-of-the-art multiscale modeling and simulation methods to understand and predict the properties of materials systems ranging from colloidal metallic nanoparticles to kidney stones. Dr. Mpourmpakis’s work can guide experimental efforts towards the development of new, efficient, and environmentally friendly materials and processes. The Bodossaki Foundation will be pleased to present its 2019 Chemistry Award to Dr. Mpourmpakis.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
11
2019

New Superomniphobic Glass Soars High on Butterfly Wings Using Machine Learning

Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 11, 2019) — Glass for technologies like displays, tablets, laptops,  smartphones, and solar cells need to pass light through, but could benefit from a surface that repels water, dirt, oil, and other liquids. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have created a nanostructure glass that takes inspiration from the wings of the glasswing butterfly to create a new type of glass that is not only very clear across a wide variety of wavelengths and angles, but is also antifogging. The team recently published a paper detailing their findings: “Creating Glasswing-Butterfly Inspired Durable Antifogging Omniphobic Supertransmissive, Superclear Nanostructured Glass Through Bayesian Learning and Optimization” in Materials Horizons (doi:10.1039/C9MH00589G). They recently presented this work at the ICML conference in the “Climate Change: How Can AI Help?” workshop. The nanostructured glass has random nanostructures, like the glasswing butterfly wing, that are smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. This allows the glass to have a very high transparency of 99.5% when the random nanostructures are on both sides of the glass. This high transparency can reduce the brightness and power demands on displays that could, for example, extend battery life. The glass is antireflective across higher angles, improving viewing angles. The glass also has low haze, less than 0.1%, which results in very clear images and text. “The glass is superomniphobic, meaning it repels a wide variety of liquids such as orange juice, coffee, water, blood, and milk,” explains Sajad Haghanifar, lead author of the paper and doctoral candidate in industrial engineering at Pitt. “The glass is also anti-fogging, as water condensation tends to easily roll off the surface, and the view through the glass remains unobstructed. Finally, the nanostructured glass is durable from abrasion due to its self-healing properties—abrading the surface with a rough sponge damages the coating, but heating it restores it to its original function.” Natural surfaces like lotus leaves, moth eyes and butterfly wings display omniphobic properties that make them self-cleaning, bacterial-resistant and water-repellant—adaptations for survival that evolved over millions of years. Researchers have long sought inspiration from nature to replicate these properties in a synthetic material, and even to improve upon them. While the team could not rely on evolution to achieve these results, they instead utilized machine learning. “Something significant about the nanostructured glass research, in particular, is that we partnered with SigOpt to use machine learning to reach our final product,” says Paul Leu, PhD, associate professor of industrial engineering, whose lab conducted the research. Dr. Leu holds secondary appointments in mechanical engineering and materials science and chemical engineering. “When you create something like this, you don’t start with a lot of data, and each trial takes a great deal of time. We used machine learning to suggest variables to change, and it took us fewer tries to create this material as a result.” “Bayesian optimization and active search are the ideal tools to explore the balance between transparency and omniphobicity efficiently, that is, without needing thousands of fabrications, requiring hundreds of days.” said Michael McCourt, PhD, research engineer at SigOpt. Bolong Cheng, PhD, fellow research engineer at SigOpt, added, “Machine learning and AI strategies are only relevant when they solve real problems; we are excited to be able to collaborate with the University of Pittsburgh to bring the power of Bayesian active learning to a new application.” “Creating Glasswing-Butterfly Inspired Durable Antifogging Omniphobic Supertransmissive, Superclear Nanostrcutured Glass Through Bayesian Learning and Optimization” was coauthored by Sajad Haghanifar, and Paul Leu, from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; Michael McCourt and Bolong Cheng from SigOpt; and Paul Ohodnicki and Jeffrey Wuenschell from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Laboratory. The project was supported in part by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
9
2019

NSF funds Bridges-2 supercomputer at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

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

PITTSBURGH (July 9, 2019) ... A $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. In partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), PSC will deploy Bridges-2, a system designed to provide researchers in Pennsylvania and the nation with massive computational capacity and the flexibility to adapt to the rapidly evolving field of data- and computation-intensive research. Bridges-2 will be available at no cost for research and education, and at cost-recovery rates for other purposes. "Unlocking the power of data will accelerate discovery to advance science, improve our quality of life and enhance national competitiveness," said Nick Nystrom, PSC's chief scientist and principal investigator (PI) for Bridges-2. "We designed Bridges-2 to drive discoveries that will come from the rapid evolution of research, which increasingly needs new, scalable ways for combining large, complex data with high-performance simulation and modeling." Bridges-2 will accelerate discovery to benefit science, society, and the nation. Its unique architecture will catalyze breakthroughs in critically important areas such as understanding the brain, developing new materials for sustainable energy production and quantum computing, assembling genomes of crop species to improve agricultural efficiency, exploring the universe via multimessenger astrophysics and enabling technologies for smart cities. Building on PSC's experience with its very successful Bridges system, Bridges-2 will take the next step in pioneering converged, scalable high-performance computing (HPC), artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Designed to power and scale applications identified through close collaboration with the national research community, Bridges-2 will integrate cutting-edge processors, accelerators, large memory, an all-flash storage array and exceptional data-handling capabilities to let researchers meet challenges that otherwise would be out of reach. By enabling AI to be combined with simulation and modeling and through its focus on ease of use and researcher productivity, Bridges-2 will drive a new era of research breakthroughs. "Bridges-2 is a major leap forward for PSC in high-performance computing and data analytics infrastructure and research," said Alan D. George, Interim Director of PSC. "PSC is unique in combining the strengths of two world-class universities (CMU and Pitt) and a world-class medical center (UPMC). Bridges-2 will amplify these strengths to fuel many new discoveries." "Enabling the execution of science, engineering and non-traditional workflows at scale while leveraging and further developing artificial intelligence is vital to keeping the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery now and into the future," said Paola Buitrago, Director of Artificial Intelligence & Big Data at PSC and co-PI of Bridges. "The Bridges-2 system is the way to realize this and more. I look forward to all the knowledge, discoveries and progress this new system will produce." Bridges-2's community data collections and user-friendly interfaces are designed to democratize participation in science and engineering and foster collaboration and convergence research. The Bridges-2 project includes bringing the benefits of scalable data analytics and AI to industry, developing STEM talent to strengthen the nation's workforce and broadening collaborations to accelerate discovery. The NSF is funding Bridges-2 as part of a series of awards for Advanced Computing Systems & Services. "The capabilities and services these awards will provide will enable the research community to explore new computing models and paradigms," said Manish Parashar, Office Director for the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at NSF. "These awards complement NSF's long-standing investment in advanced computational infrastructure, providing much-needed support for the full range of innovative computational- and data-intensive research being conducted across all of science and engineering." Bridges-2 will be deployed in the summer of 2020. ###

Jul
8
2019

Pitt Distance Runner and Chemical Engineering Graduate Gillian Schriever Nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (July 8, 2019) — The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has selected Gillian Schriever, distance runner and 2019 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, as one of the two ACC candidates for 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year. Duke University golfer Virginia Elena Carta also received the ACC’s nomination. The NCAA Woman of the Year honors female student-athletes whose performance in academic achievement, athletics excellence, service and leadership stands out throughout their collegiate careers. Schriever, who is originally from Tuckerton, N.J., earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Swanson School of Engineering and currently works as a Business Technology Analyst at Deloitte. During her undergraduate work at Swanson, she researched polymer microspheres as a method for treating dry eye disease under Steven Little, PhD, professor and chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, in the Little Lab. “Gillian was both a dedicated student and an exceptional athlete,” says Dr. Little. “She is a great role model for women in STEM, proving that with hard work and perseverance, they can achieve their academic and professional goals and excel in what they’re passionate about.” Schriever later interned with the Bettis Naval Nuclear Laboratory in West Mifflin, Pa., in her junior year. NCAA member colleges and universities nominated a record-breaking 585 female student-athletes for 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year. The top 10 candidates from each division will be selected in September, and the selection committee will choose top three from each to make up the nine finalists. The national winner will be announced on Oct. 20, 2019, at the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year Awards in Indianapolis.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
2
2019

Preparing for a Sustainable Future

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 2, 2019) — When it comes to finding sustainable solutions for our planet, there is no time to waste. Luckily, students in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s (MSCI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program don’t have to wait until graduation to start working on projects that can make a big difference. From data that can help replace lead pipes here in Pittsburgh to devices that can identify and track birdsongs out in the field, students are doing work that will help solve the problems facing our planet “Our students are passionate about sustainability and truly want to make a difference in the world,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “The Undergraduate Summer Research Program gives them a chance to learn new skills while contributing to important sustainability research. Students work 40 hours a week for 12 weeks over the summer and meet weekly with their advisors. In addition to the research, students in the program have to write a final paper, produce a two-minute video detailing their work and its significance for sustainability, and give an oral presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, which will be held on July 24 this year. The program, currently in its 15th year, was started in 2004 with just five students participating. In all, there are 22 MCSI Undergraduate Summer Research Program projects across the University this year. Here is a look at five of them. Recirculating Aquaculture: Managing Water Quality in a Closed System Over-fishing is a problem in many oceans and waterways, and companies are turning to land-based fish farming (recirculating aquaculture) to provide a more sustainable protein source. But one major risk is that farmed fish can end up tasting a little off—hints of earthy, musty flavors can taint some of the fish raised this way. This summer, Mason Unger, senior civil and environmental engineering major, and his adviser David Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, are trying to solve that problem. “There’s a risk to flavor profiles of farmed fish because of an off-flavor produced by chemical compounds like geosmin. To avoid this, the fish go through ‘purging,’ where they run clean water through the tank over the fish for 7-10 days,” Mason explains. “During that time, they aren’t fed, so the fish lose mass, and it’s not great for water use. If you could figure out how the compounds are created and degrade them, it’d have economic and environmental benefits.” Using samples from fish farms across the country, Mason is working to verify protocols for collecting samples and detecting the off-flavors in the water. The ultimate goal is to find a way to eliminate the compounds causing the musty taste as soon as they are identified, saving water and keeping sustainable fish accessible and affordable. “The state of the industry is changing. Land-based farming systems have been around for a while, but there have been a lot of false starts,” says Dr. Sanchez. “This time is quite different, companies are scaling up successful operations and the World Bank projects that aquaculture will supply more than half of all fish globally by 2030.” Using Data to Improve Drinking Water: Identifying Lead Water Lines in Allegheny County Lead water pipes are an issue elevated to national attention when the horrific water quality in Flint, Mich., was discovered, but lead pipes are widely used in Pittsburgh, as well. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is replacing those lines; in the meantime, homeowners may want to test their own water’s safety. Testing your own tap water, though, is notoriously tricky, explains Michael Blackhurst, PhD, Co-Director of Urban & Regional Analysis Program and Research Development Manager at the Center for Social & Urban Research. “There is a lot of variation in the amount of lead you’d observe in your tap water, depending on whether or not you were able to capture the water that had been stagnant in the lead pipes,” he says. “Even if you do, there is a lot of evidence that lead pipes can be coated to varying degrees, affecting how much lead will leach into the pipe.” According to Dr. Blackhurst, it is important to understand how accurate these home water tests are. Arianna Heilbrunn, senior environmental studies major, will spend much of her summer with Dr. Blackhurst combing through data from PWSA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to compare home test results with the known locations of lead pipes. “We’re combining data from historical records and excavations, comparing whether the materials that we know the pipes are made from match up with the results people are getting in their homes,” she says. Generally, people are advised to test their water first thing in the morning, flushing the line by running the water for one or two minutes and then collecting a sample to send in for testing. It is not clear, however, that these guidelines provide consistently accurate results. Though previous internships put Arianna out in the field, doing water and soil testing, she wanted to learn new skills. The trove of data and the program used to sift through it will build skills that will be useful in a future career in consulting or federal environmental work, which is Arianna’s current goal for the future. By working with the PWSA and Pennsylvania DEP, the team hopes they can help lower lead exposure, something especially important for children. “From an ethics standpoint, the problem is hard to ignore,” says Dr. Blackhurst. “Lead has a greater effect on children, and they have no say in how much lead they’re exposed to.” The data the team is working with can help not only see where the city’s lead pipes are but can also predict where they’ll find lead lateral lines, which bring the water from the main line to the house, even if homeowners aren’t aware of them. “People don’t want to know [how much lead is in their water], but they should want to know,” says Arianna. “Everyone thinks of Flint’s water as a tragedy, but no one wants to hear that their own water contains lead, too.” Using acoustic sensors and machine learning to locate birds and bats in the field It took a little time for Jiade Song, senior industrial engineering major, to get used to working in the Kitzes Lab, a biology lab. But now that he has, his work will contribute to a system that can record birds in the field and, using AI and machine learning, learn to locate the sounds and tell which creatures are making them. Eventually, they hope their software will be able to pinpoint and ID species recorded in the field on a device called the AudioMoth. “I’m in industrial engineering, and we work in all types of fields. I’ve taken a variety of courses—production optimizations, coding, data analysis and physics—but this lab was different from my previous working spots in an industrial or production department,” says Jiade. “It has been really great in helping me get used to working in a new environment.” Jiade’s particular goal this summer is creating a tool called a calibration chamber that uses code to detect if the devices are working well. The team puts a batch of the AudioMoths in the box-like device, which then plays a recording. Afterward, they use Jiade’s program to see if all of the AudioMoths are “hearing” the same sounds. The method will produce a visualized report and help the team weed out malfunctioning devices before they are sent into the field, or check their quality after spending weeks outdoors. “One cool thing here is that Jiade is here as an engineer, and I’m an engineer,” says Trieste Devlin, a technician in the Kitzes Lab. “Dr. Kitzes is intentional about creating an interdisciplinary approach to biology.” What the Frack: Designing nanocatalysts for responsible use of natural gas “Fracking” is a buzzword that most people, especially in western Pennsylvania, are familiar with. It is at once an important economic driver in the state and a process that has a striking environmental impact. This summer, Albert Lopez-Martinez, a junior chemical and petroleum engineering major, is working with Götz Veser, PhD, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, to find ways to make fracking more sustainable. “When fracking happens in oil shales, natural gas is burned off using flares. Instead of combusting it we’re trying to find a way to convert it into a more viable, eco-friendly alternative by turning methane into benzene,” says Albert. “My job is to help find that catalyst, varying parameters and seeing how it is affected by microwave heating.” In collaboration with Shell, West Virginia University and the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the team is looking for a new way to convert methane to a liquid chemical like benzene. This would make it a valuable chemical resource that could be transported, lessening the environmental impact while acting as an economic boon in the region. “Here in Pennsylvania, we’re not doing as much flaring, but the issue is that our natural resources are being stripped from under us, and we are left with nothing but the pollution,” says Dr. Veser. “If we can turn natural gas into a valuable product on its own here in the region, it could balance the environmental impact with a positive economic impact.” For Albert, the project is an opportunity to get started on work he is passionate about. Now that he has gotten involved in research, he is considering pursuing a masters or even a doctorate after graduation. “I know I want to work in sustainability, giving back to the community and working against climate change,” says Albert. “The Mascaro Center’s summer research program seemed like a good fit for my future goals. Durable Antireflective, Anti-Soiling and Self-Cleaning Solar Glass When it comes to renewable energy, solar panels are perhaps the most promising. There is more energy in the sunlight that hits the earth’s surface in one hour than all of humanity uses in an entire year. But solar panels do have their challenges: conventional solar panels only convert about 20 percent of the sun’s light to electricity. The top glass on a solar panel is partially reflective, losing valuable rays that could be converted to energy as they bounce off the glass. Solar panels may also be installed in desert and urban environments, where particulates and pollutants may dirty the glass, resulting in less sunlight being converted to electricity. Sooraj Sharma, senior materials science and engineering (MSE) major, has been working with Paul Leu, PhD, associate professor of industrial engineering, since last summer on a way to make anti-reflective, anti-soiling and self-cleaning glass for solar panels. While conventional anti-reflective coatings aren’t effective against all wavelengths, the team in Leu’s lab is using sub-wavelength nano-structures to reduce broadband reflection over a wide range of incidence angles to as low as 0 percent. In addition, the glass repels water and can use naturally forming dew droplets to remove dirt. Last year, they were able to show these properties on a four-inch piece of glass, but this year, they’re hoping to improve the method so it could be used to create the glass for solar panels, which are usually over one square meter. “The end product will have the same properties, but this year, our big focus is on using larger and more scalable methods that could translate to the factory level,” says Sooraj. “The viability of this glass depends on the ability to recreate it with more robust and scalable methods.” Sooraj and the team are looking at not only the process used to coat the glass but the method used to apply it. “We’re looking at scalable methods to deposit the coating on the glass, and we’re engineering that glass to be more anti-reflective to different angles and wavelengths,” explains Sooraj. The new process Sooraj is working with is called sol-gel, an extremely powerful fabrication process that can effectively produce a large variety of material end products. For solar, this means creating a porous, antireflective coating that should achieve similar results to the conventional nanostructures. The upside is that this method is far more economical, as creating the latter requires the use of expensive machines that operate on a small scale. Though Sooraj’s original interest was in working with silicon and other semiconductor materials, he was surprised to find that he found glass so fascinating to work with. “As a sophomore, I was feeling the pressure to get a co-op, but most of the ones I found weren’t that interesting to me,” he says. “When I talked to my adviser, Dr. Nettleship, he suggested I look into the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Undergrad Summer Research Program. I found this project to be really interesting with enormous real-world potential, and I was later able to continue working on it throughout the rest of my junior year. I never knew working with glass would be so interesting to me. I think it confirmed and aligned my interests.” Last year, Sooraj won the Best Presentation Award at the Mascaro Undergraduate Research Program Symposium and later submitted his summer findings to Science 2018, where he won the Innovation Institute’s Award for Best Poster on Innovation. Sooraj presented his work this year at Allegheny SolarFest at Frick Environmental Center on June 23, marking the second year in a row they attended the event. Though the event is usually represented by community groups and solar panel vendors, Sooraj felt their contribution was valuable. “We were sort the ‘black sheep’ of the event,” says Dr. Leu. “But I know the other attendees found our research interesting and valuable, and we were excited to present again.” ### Other Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Beyond the MCSI Undergraduate Summer Research Program, students have plenty of opportunities to pursue research alongside renowned faculty before donning their caps and gowns. SSOE Summer Undergraduate Research ProgramThe decade-long program enables around 80 Pitt students to propose a topic of their choosing and work with a faculty mentor to pursue their research for 12 weeks over the summer. Contact: Mary Besterfield-Sacre (mbsacre@pitt.edu) Excel Summer Research Institute (SRI)The EXCEL program focuses on preparing under-represented minority students for graduate education and professional careers, and the EXCEL Summer Research Institute helps achieve that goal by giving students research experience in their freshman, sophomore or junior year.  The program offers eight to 10 students a nine-week summer research internship, pairing students with faculty mentors to complete a research project in their engineering field. Contact: Yvette Moore, Director of Pitt EXCEL (yvettemoore@pitt.edu) NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) ProgramsEach year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides funds for researchers to engage undergraduates in their work. Swanson has such programs in Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering. Contact: Civil Engineering: Kent Harries (kharries@pitt.edu)Chemical and Petroleum Engineering: Joseph McCarthy (joseph.john.mccarthy@gmail.com) Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) Summer Undergraduate Research Group (SURG)The NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), recently responsible for a supercomputer sent to the International Space Station, invites 24 undergraduate students in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science to work alongside researchers in this important national research center. Contact: Alan George (alan.george@pitt.edu) Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC)The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) is a joint effort between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University, founded over 30 years ago. It offers undergraduate students the opportunity to work with university, government and industrial researchers on high-performance computing, communications and data analytics. Contact: Alan George (alan.george@pitt.edu) NSF International Research Experiences for StudentsThis NSF-funded opportunity sends students to research battery-less embedded systems in Internet of Things devices in China, which has one of the world’s largest electronic industry and market. Five graduate students and two graduate students are selected each year to participate in this research at Tsinghua University for eight weeks. Contact: Jingtong Hu (jthu@pitt.edu)
Maggie Pavlick

Jun

Jun
28
2019

NSF Awards Pitt Researcher $223,093 to Study the Interaction Between Ionic Liquids and Water

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 28, 2019) — Ionic liquids (ILs) are unique because they are not solid nor liquid—they are both. ILs’ distinctive properties make them useful in many applications, from electrolytes for energy storage devices to lubricants used in manufacturing. However, even a small amount of water can have a huge impact on the structure of ILs at solid-IL interfaces, where the IL meets a solid surface, limiting how they can be used. Investigators from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with Virginia Tech, have received a National Science Foundation award of $223,093 to examine how water affects the molecular structure of IL at IL-solid interfaces. “Researchers have made significant progress toward understanding solid-IL interfaces,” says Lei Li, PhD, principal investigator and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “Now, an increasing number of studies suggest that water, even in very small amounts, greatly affects the structure of solid-IL interfaces. Because water adsorption is inevitable with many applications, our research aims to better understand such effects and to potentially leverage them to achieve better performance.” Dr. Li’s group will examine how water affects the electrification of solid surfaces and the molecular structure of ILs at IL-solid interfaces. This investigation will open up a new dimension for the next generation of IL design. “If we are able to understand the fundamental mechanics behind water’s interaction with ILs, it could have a huge impact in applications,” says Dr. Li. “We could begin tailoring individual ions to fit our needs.” Dr. Li’s group will be working with Rui Qiao, PhD, and his group at Virginia Tech on this research through 2022.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
19
2019

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

Chemical & Petroleum

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

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

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

Jun
18
2019

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

Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (June 18, 2019) ­—Technologies like solar panels and LEDs require a cover material that repels water, dirt and oil while still letting plenty of light through. New flexible materials would allow these devices to be incorporated into a variety of creative applications like curtains, clothes, and paper. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have created a flexible optical plastic that has all of those properties, finding inspiration in a surprising place: the shape of Enoki mushrooms. The research, “Stain-Resistant, Superomniphobic Flexible Optical Plastics Based on Nano-Enoki Mushrooms,” was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A ( doi:10.1039/C9TA01753D). The researchers created a plastic sheet surface with tall, thin nanostructures that have larger tops, like an Enoki mushroom. Named nano-enoki polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the nano-structures in the coating make the plastic sheet superomniphobic, repelling a wide range of liquids, while maintaining a high transparency. The surface can repel a variety of liquids, including water, milk, ketchup, coffee, and olive oil.  It also has high transparency and high haze, meaning it allows more light through, but that light is scattered. That makes it ideal for integrating with solar cells or LEDs, and combined with its flexible and durability, means it could be used in flexible lighting or wearable technology. “The key thing with these structures is the shape - it keeps liquid on top of the nanostructure. This is the best in the literature so far in terms of high transparency, high haze and high oil contact angle,” explains Sajad Haghanifar, lead author of the paper and doctoral candidate in industrial engineering at Pitt. “We show that substances that usually stain and leave residue behind, like mustard and blood, fall completely off the surface, even after they’ve dried.” Videos show how the dried mustard and blood flake off the surface when the surface is tilted. “The lotus leaf is nature’s gold standard in terms of a liquid-repellant and self-cleaning surface,” says Paul Leu, PhD, associate professor of industrial engineering, whose lab conducted the research. Dr. Leu holds secondary appointments in mechanical engineering and materials science and chemical engineering. “We compared our nano-enoki PET with a lotus leaf and found that ours was better at repelling more kinds of liquids, including olive oil, blood, coffee, and ethylene glycol. The surfaces not only resist staining from various liquids, but may be adapted for medical applications to resist bacteria or blood clotting.” The paper was coauthored by Sajad Haghanifar, Anthony Galante, David Pekker and Paul Leu, from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Luke M. Tomasovic from the Georgia Institute of Technology. The work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
6
2019

ChemE Professor Wins ORAU Junior Faculty Enhancement Award

Chemical & Petroleum

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

May

May
24
2019

New Partnership Expands Research into Rechargeable Battery Systems

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

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

Apr

Apr
25
2019

Biomimicry of Basic Instinct

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Apr
24
2019

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

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2019) — John Keith, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received two awards to fund a 10-month collaboration with a researcher at the University of Luxembourg. Dr. Keith received the equivalent of $89,000 from the Luxembourg National Research Fund as well as a $26,746 NSF Travel Award supplement to support a 10-month visit to the University of Luxembourg, where he will work with Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko, a world expert in developing atomistic machine learning methods that use artificial intelligence to make computer simulations faster and more accurate. Together, the researchers will study complex reaction mechanisms, such as carbon dioxide conversion into fuels and chemicals, and environmentally green chemical design of molecular chelating agents. The researchers also plan to develop a modern textbook on quantum chemistry and contemporary methods to study chemical bonding that would educate the next generation of computational researchers. “I very much look forward to the work made possible by these grants,” says Dr. Keith. “It’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate with an international expert to better improve technologies that would have a positive effect on our world.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
19
2019

Pitt ChemE Promotes Two to Associate Professor with Tenure

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Four Projects Receive Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Seed Grants

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

PITTSBURGH (April 19, 2019) — The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has announced its 2019-2020 seed grant recipients. The grants support graduate student and post-doctoral fellows on one-year research projects that are focused on sustainability. “All of the projects we have selected this year have the potential to make a lasting, positive impact on the environment,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the Mascaro Center. “The Mascaro Center is excited to support these core teams of researchers who are passionate about sustainability.” This year’s recipients are: Towards Using Microbes for Sustainable Construction Materials:  Feasibility StudySarah Haig, civil & environmental engineeringSteven Sachs, civil & environmental engineeringMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering*Jointly funded by MCSI and IRISE Chemical Recycling of Polyethylene to EthyleneEric Beckman, chemical & petroleum engineeringIoannis Bourmpakis, chemical & petroleum engineeringRobert Enick, chemical & petroleum engineeringGoetz Veser, chemical & petroleum engineering Investigating flexible piezoelectric materials with lower water pressuresKatherine Hornbostel, mechanical engineering & materials scienceMax Stephens, civil & environmental engineering Amplifying the efficiency of Tungsten Disulfide Thermoelectric DevicesFeng Xiong, electrical and computer engineering
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
17
2019

Nine Pitt Students Awarded 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

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

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

Apr
11
2019

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

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Apr
9
2019

Pitt Chem-E-Car Team Qualifies for National Competition in the Fall

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2019) — Undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering brought two cars sailing to the finish line in this year’s Regional Chem-E-Car Competition at the 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) MidAtlantic Regional Student Conference. Their placements qualify them to compete in the AIChE Chem-E-Car International Competition at the AIChE Annual Conference, held in Orlando, Fla., in November. The Pitt team placed third and fifth for their two cars out of the 23 raced in the competition.  The qualifying teams are: 1.Virginia Tech 2.Stony Brook University3.University of Pittsburgh4.City College of New York 5.University of Pittsburgh (2)6.Rutgers University The Chem-E-Car Competition requires student teams to create a small car with chemical propulsion and stopping mechanisms such that it will travel a specified distance and carry a payload (0-500 ml of water). Prior to the competition, all teams had to complete safety training and testing and submit an engineering documentation package. Teams also had to provide a poster detailing the research they conducted for the creation of their car and pass the safety inspection to ensure that their car will compete safely. “The team was able to successfully create not only one car that placed in the top five, but two. It’s an impressive feat that they should be proud of,” says Taryn Bayles, PhD, vice chair for education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the Swanson School. “We’re excited to see what the competition in November brings.” On the day of the competition, the team received their chemicals and were provided the distance that their car must travel, which was 56 feet this year. The MidAtlantic Regional Student Conference, which included institutions in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, took place April 5-7, 2019, at Penn State University. Pitt’s Chem-E-Car team is made of a diverse group of students who range from freshmen to seniors with majors in chemical engineering, biology, and electrical and computer engineering. Chem-E-Car team members who were at the Regional Conference include:  Michael Bosley, Michael Bremer, Simon Cao, Claibourne Countess, Jean Fiore, Nicholas Hages, Pamela Keller, Harold Moll, Kevin Padgett, Anthony Popovski, Charles Robinson, Mor Shimshi, Grace Watson and Shiva Yagobian. The team was sponsored by Lubrizol and BASF. In addition to the ChemE Car competition, the ChemE Jeopardy team competed against 18 other teams, and after three rounds of competition made it to the finals to face teams from UPenn and Johns Hopkins. Jeopardy team members included Michael Bremer, Kenton Quach, Charles Robinson and Nicholas Youwakim.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
5
2019

For Those Too Tired to Brush

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Reposted with permission from Pittwire. Emily Siegel, a Pitt senior majoring in chemical engineering and biological sciences, admits she’s part of a generation of ever busy, on-the-go multitaskers. Like many people her age, she’s fallen into bed after a long day of classes and late night of studying without even brushing her teeth, too drained to get up. The exhausting experience has propelled Siegel’s entrepreneurial path. In a product design class last fall, chemical engineering professor and veteran innovator-entrepreneur Eric Beckman gave an assignment: “He challenged us to think of a problem and come up with a product to solve it,” she said. The memory of those multiple late nights sparked her idea. “If I had something on my nightstand that I could use right then…” she thought. Her solution: Trek, a biodegradable chewing gum that kills bacteria and removes and prevents plaque, marketed initially toward busy young adults. Siegel’s attention-grabbing pitch cites a study by insurer Delta Dental that leaves little doubt that there’s a real problem for Trek to solve: The research found that 37 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 have gone two or more days without brushing their teeth. Siegel pitches Trek as better than what’s on the market today: It removes and prevents plaque, something ordinary gum can’t do, she said. “And it’s better for the environment because it creates no plastic waste, unlike disposable single-use toothbrushes. It’s 100% biodegradable.” Siegel envisions that this product not only will benefit busy millennials, but also will appeal to travelers, members of the military and people in places where clean water is difficult to come by. It’s a winning idea that’s being advanced through the Big Idea Center, the Pitt Innovation Institute’s hub for student entrepreneurship programming. Trek took the top prize in the most recent Big Idea Blitz, a 24-hour event in which student innovators recruit fellow students to their teams and work with Innovation Institute entrepreneurs-in-residence to develop their ideas, understand the market need and hone their pitches. More big ideas The Randall Family Big Idea competition, coordinated by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute, is open to all Pitt students from first-year through postdoc. Established in 2009 by Pitt alumnus Bob Randall (A&S ’65) and family, the competition is the region’s largest student innovation and entrepreneurship program. The annual competition kicks off in February, and culminates in a final round in March, in which 50 teams vie for a total of $100,000 in prize money. That’s where the product became Trek, as Siegel — with only five minutes left to complete her pitch — hurriedly searched for synonyms for “on-the-go” and found the short and sweet name that connotes being on the move. In March, Siegel paired up with Lauren Yocum, a biology major, as Team Trek to compete in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. They finished first among 50 finalists. Sam Bunke, a chemical engineering major, who, like Siegel and Yocum will graduate in December, has joined the team to further advance the product. Trek’s prize money — $1,500 from the Big Idea Blitz and the $25,000 Randall Family Big Idea Competition grand prize — are going toward further development of this idea around which Siegel intends to create a company and an entrepreneurial career. Her summer plans include participating in Pitt’s Blast Furnace student accelerator. Babs Carryer, director of the Big Idea Center, said, “We offer award money to teams like Trek to encourage and support them in their innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. I have high hopes for Trek being one of the Big Idea Center’s latest student startups.” Siegel’s drive and desire to take this product to market were key factors in the Big Idea Center’s decision to send Trek to represent Pitt in the ACC InVenture Prize competition set for April 16-17 at North Carolina State University. The choice was made before the Randall Family Big Idea Competition winners were selected. “The Randall judges’ agreement is added confirmation that Trek is a strong competitor,” Carryer said. In 2018, Pitt’s Four Growers team, which is developing a robotic tomato harvesting system, placed second in the ACC competition after winning the Randall Family Big Idea competition. The company recently moved into offices on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The ACC InVenture Prize is an innovation competition in which teams of undergraduates representing Atlantic Coast Conference universities pitch their inventions or businesses to a panel of judges in front of a live audience. Five finalists will compete for a total of $30,000 in prizes. Innovation Institute entrepreneur-in-residence Don Morrison, who mentored Trek through the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, is helping the team hone its pitch and business model in anticipation of this next challenge. Morrison, former CEO of American Eagle Outfitters, is committed to helping young entrepreneurs by being the mentor he never had. “I had great business mentors who helped me understand retail, but I didn’t have an entrepreneurial mentor. Throughout my career I developed innovations that solved real problems for my companies. My solutions could have been taken to market to solve the same problem for other retailers. That’s why I’m passionate about paying it forward through entrepreneurial mentorship,” Morrison said. “The Trek team is very coachable and passionate about what they’re doing. Their idea solves a real problem. These are key ingredients for success,” he said. “I think that Trek really is a big idea.” The Randall Family Big Idea competition, coordinated by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute, is open to all Pitt students from first-year through postdoc. ### Established in 2009 by Pitt alumnus Bob Randall (A&S ’65) and family, the competition is the region’s largest student innovation and entrepreneurship program. The annual competition kicks off in February, and culminates in a final round in March, in which 50 teams vie for a total of $100,000 in prize money. Read more about this year’s winning teams on the Innovation Institute blog, or take a peek at the finalists’ pitch videos.
Kimberly K. Barlow, University Communications

Mar

Mar
28
2019

Northwestern Engineering Dean Julio M. Ottino Selected as 2019 Covestro Distinguished Lecturer at Pitt

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 27, 2019) — In honor of his influential work in diverse fields from fluid dynamics to geophysical sciences, Northwestern University’s Julio M. Ottino, PhD has been chosen as this year’s Covestro Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Dr. Ottino is currently the dean of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University and Applied Science at Northwestern University. He also holds the titles of Distinguished Robert R. McCormick Institute Professor and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His research has been featured on the covers of Nature, Science, Scientific American, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, and other publications. The Covestro Distinguished Lectureship (a continuation of the Bayer Distinguished Lectureship) is presented annually by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and recognizes excellence in chemical education, outreach and research. The lecture is sponsored by Covestro LLC, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials. “The effects of Dr. Ottino’s work have rippled through so many fields, including fluid dynamics, granular dynamics, microfluidics, geophysical sciences, and nonlinear dynamics and chaos,” says Steven R. Little, PhD, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School.  “Our department is honored to welcome such a widely influential scientist to our campus.” “Covestro is proud to sponsor the Distinguished Lecture Series through our continued partnership with the Swanson School of Engineering, and we join the university in extending a warm welcome to this year’s deserving honoree,” said Don S. Wardius, Senior Manager of University Relations, Covestro LLC. “Dr. Ottino’s impressive career reflects a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability – all of which align with Covestro’s vision to make the world a brighter place.” Dr. Ottino received his PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota and held positions at UMass/Amherst and chaired and held senior appointments at Caltech and Stanford. He has been recognized by AlChE with the Alpha Chi Sigma Award, the William H. Walker Award, the Institute Lecture, and was named one of the “100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Area.” He was awarded the Fluid Dynamics Prize from the American Physical Society. In 2017, Ottino was awarded the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education from the National Academy of Engineering, the nation’s highest award for engineering education, for the development of Whole-Brain Engineering at Northwestern. He is a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Covestro lectures will be held on Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m. with a reception to follow, and on Friday, April 5, at 9:30 a.m. Both lectures will be held in 102 Benedum Hall, 3700 O’Hara Street. The lectures are open to the public. For more information, email che@engr.pitt.edu or call 412-624-9630. Lecture 1: When Art, Technology, and Science Were One: Why They Split, and Why They May Join AgainThursday, April 4, at 5 p.m. – Benedum 102 (Reception follows) There was a time before science and technology were known by those names. Art, technology, and science formed a continuum, and the modes of thinking enriched each other. The 16th century has many examples of cooperative enterprises between scientists and artists; Galileo Galilei may be the clearest case of Italian Renaissance art affecting the course of science. Galileo is also associated with birth of the scientific method, and the scientific method changed everything: science broke company with art, and mixing imagery with analytical thinking became suspect (at least by some). This view is far too narrow—visual imagination is a central element of scientific imagination. This talk with cover the links between art, technology, and science through time, starting when people had a foot in two camps and when new technologies appeared and the scientific basics of those technologies were still evolving, until reaching examples of the present time. It closes with lessons that can be transferred across domains. Lecture 2: The Evolution of Mixing: From Stretching and Folding to Cutting and Shuffling: Parallels, Divergences, and LessonsFriday, April 5, at 9:30 p.m. – Benedum 102 The birth of mixing of fluids and some of the first incursions into granular matter and segregation offer valuable insights and lessons. These two topics developed in wildly different ways and serve as examples of the power of couching ideas in mathematical formalisms, but also of the challenges that ensue when a general formalism is elusive. We present an array of results, spanning fluid mixing at one extreme and granular matter and segregation at the other. Examples cover vibration, surface flow, segregation, and pattern formation, and serve to illustrate how fundamental work can affect fields as far apart as multiple branches of engineering and geophysical sciences. ### About Covestro LLC Covestro LLC is one of the leading producers of high-performance polymers in North America and is part of the global Covestro business, which is among the world’s largest polymer companies with 2018 sales of EUR 14.6 billion. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, electrical and electronics, and healthcare industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employed approximately 16,800 people at the end of 2018. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty has a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department’s  research expenditures exceeded $9 million in 2018.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
26
2019

Ipsita Banerjee Wins 2019 Faculty Diversity Award

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2019) — Ipsita Banerjee, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is the recipient of the School’s 2019 Faculty Diversity Award. “It would be an understatement to say that Ipsita earnestly strives each year to improve the academic environment fostering the success of under-represented minority students at the graduate, undergraduate and high school levels,” says Steven Little, department chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. The Faculty Diversity Award Committee cited Dr. Banerjee’s accomplishments as: Commitment to community engagement through active participation in INVESTING NOW program, as well as collaboration the Carnegie Science Center and REU programs; Leadership and mentorship for women in STEM, through participation in the Women in STEM Conferences and AlChE Women’s Initiative Committee (WIC); Recognized excellence in mentorship, including the 2016 Summer Research Internship (SRI) Faculty Mentor Award by PITT EXCEL program; Service to the Swanson School in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students through various internal and external programs. Beyond her work with organizations on campus, Dr. Banerjee devotes time and effort into programs like the Carnegie Science Center’s CanTEEN Career Exploration Program, sharing her experience with middle school girls and encouraging them to pursue an education in STEM.  She has also been involved with the Women Student Networking conference, AlChE Women’s Initiatives Committee, and in panels for Women in Science and Medicine organized by UPMC. In addition to the award, Dr. Banerjee will receive a $2,000 grant and induction into the Office of Diversity’s Champions for Diversity Honor Roll. Dr. Banerjee’s mentees endorsed her nomination for this award because of her thoughtful support, encouragement and motivation. Her own professional success, they noted, makes her a valuable role model for other women and under-represented minorities in STEM. “Being a Hispanic woman in the field of science and technology, it is sometimes hard to find examples of other women and/or minorities who have gone through the process of pursuing a career in academia with as much success as Dr. Banerjee has,” says Dr. Maria Jaramillo, a senior scientist at IVIVA Medical and the first graduate student to work with Dr. Banerjee at Pitt. She adds that Dr. Banerjee’s help and encouragement to network, collaborate with other scientists at Pitt and beyond, and present her research are among the things that have been most influential to her career. “These opportunities were instrumental for the continuance of my career in academia, and even today, several years after finishing my PhD under her supervision, Dr. Banerjee still provides great support.” “Dr. Banerjee embodies the phrase ‘women empowering women,’” says Brittany Givens Rassoolkhani, a former PITT EXCEL Summer Research Intern who is now a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa. “Throughout my time working with her, it was apparent that she was both brilliant and dedicated. Most importantly, I was encouraged to also be dedicated and brilliant in my own work via the way she mentored myself and other students in the laboratory.” Not only did Dr. Banerjee’s mentorship inspire her students to conduct their own research and find their professional paths, but it also inspired them to be better mentors themselves. Brittany Givens Rassolkhani notes that now she is also a mentor and never forgot the lessons Dr. Banerjee taught. “Throughout this process, Dr. Banerjee has been instrumental in reminding me how important it is as a woman, particularly a woman of color, in the sciences and engineering to be cultivated in an environment that encourages women to be equal, if not better than, their male counterparts,” she says. “Dr. Banerjee never let my goals be big and scary, as I so often saw them; instead, in her eyes our goals as researchers were always achievable. I hope that when I become a professor and start my own laboratory, I am able to provide even half as much support to and faith in my students as I witnessed from Dr. Banerjee.” ###

Feb

Feb
14
2019

A New Wrinkle on Vascular Implants

Chemical & Petroleum

Joe Pugar has always been fascinated with the elegant structures, systems and mechanics of nature.  From the tensile strength of spider silk to the energy conversion ability of photosynthesis, he has been intrigued at adapting the genius of natural design to engineering challenges. That’s what attracted him as a sophomore student in chemical engineering to a summer research project in the lab of Sachin Velankar at the Swanson School of Engineering. The project was a collaboration between Valenkar, professor of chemical engineering, and Luka Pocivavsek, at the time a cardiovascular surgical resident at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, who is now at the University of Chicago. Pocivavsek had the initial idea of developing a vascular implant that mimics the natural surface “wrinkling” that occurs in real blood vessels to keep blood from clotting on the interior vessel walls. What Pugar couldn’t have imagined then is that within three years he would be taking this research out of the university in a startup company called Aruga Technologies with him spearheading the effort as CEO. Read the full article from Pitt's Innovation Institute.
Michael C. Yeomans Marketing and Special Events Manager, Innovation Institute

Jan

Jan
25
2019

Penn State Chemical Engineering features Pitt Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton in its "Alumni Spotlight"

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity

Our latest Alumni Spotlight features Susan Fullerton, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Fullerton earned her bachelor of science and PhD in chemical engineering at Penn State (2002 and 2009, respectively) and currently leads a research group that seeks to establish a fundamental understanding of ion-electron transport at the molecular level to design next-generation electronic devices at the limit of scaling for memory, logic, and energy storage. Among her most recent recognitions include the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2019 Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences, and the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Early Career (CAREER) award. Read the full spotlight here.

Jan
22
2019

New method uses ultraviolet light to control fluid flow and organize particles

Chemical & Petroleum

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (January 22, 2019) ... A new, simple, and inexpensive method that uses ultraviolet light to control particle motion and assembly within liquids could improve drug delivery, chemical sensors, and fluid pumps. The method encourages particles—from plastic microbeads, to bacterial spores, to pollutants—to gather and organize at a specific location within a liquid and, if desired, to move to new locations. A paper describing the new method appears in the journal Angewandte Chemie ("Organization of Particle Islands Via Light‐Powered Fluid Pumping," DOI: 10.1002/anie.201811568.) “Many applications related to sensors, drug delivery, and nanotechnology require the precise control of the flow of fluids,” said Ayusman Sen, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Penn State and senior author of the paper. “Researchers have developed a number of strategies to do so, including nanomotors and fluid pumps, but prior to this study we did not have an easy way to gather particles at a particular location so that they can perform a useful function and then move them to a new location so they can perform the function again. “Say for example you want to build a sensor to detect particles of a pollutant, or bacterial spores in a water sample,” said Sen. “With this new method, we can simply add nanoparticles of gold or titanium dioxide and shine a light to encourage the pollutant particles or spores to gather. By concentrating them in one spot, they become easier to detect. And because light is so easy to manipulate, we have a high degree of control.” Just as pollutant particles could be gathered at a particular location, the method could be used to gather silica or polymer beads that carry a payload, like antibodies or drugs, at particular locations within a fluid. The new method first involves adding a small amount of titanium dioxide or gold nanoparticles to a liquid, like water, that also contains larger particles of interest, like pollutants or beads carrying a payload. Shining a light at a specific point in the liquid heats up the tiny metal nanoparticles, and the heat is then transferred to the fluid. The warmer liquid then rises at the point of light —just as warm air rises in a chilly room—and cooler water rushes in to fill the space that the warm water just left, bringing the larger particles with it. “This causes the larger particles to collect at the point of UV light, where they form closely packed, well-organized structures called colloidal crystals,” said Benjamin Tansi, graduate student in chemistry at Penn State and first author of the paper. “Changing the intensity of the light or the amount of titanium dioxide or gold particles alters how quickly this process occurs.” When the light is removed, the larger particles randomly diffuse through the liquid. But if the light is instead relocated, the larger particles move toward the new point of light, mostly maintaining their structure as they move. This dynamic assembly, disassembly, and movement of organized particles may have important implications for sensing and drug delivery. Using the new method, the researchers gather particles of interest into an organized structure at the point of light (left). When the light is moved to a new location (right), the particles move toward the new point of light, as depicted in this video. Credit: Sen Lab, Penn State “This process is most efficient when gold nanoparticles are used, but we wanted to find an alternative that was less expensive and more accessible,” said Tansi. “We were pleased to find that this method also works with titanium dioxide, an inexpensive and harmless nanoparticle used in cosmetics and as a food additive.” In addition to water, the researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of this method in hexadecane, an organic liquid. “Particles usually don’t assemble very well in salty or non-aqueous environments because everything sticks together,” said Sen. “But here we show that particles can assemble using this method in hexadecane, which suggests we may be able to apply this technique in, for example, biological fluids. To our knowledge this is the first demonstration of light-driven fluid pumping in an organic medium.” Members of the research team at the University of Pittsburgh led by Anna Balazs used mathematical models to describe the dynamics of the system. In addition to describing how particles move in the system, the models confirm that only a minor change in temperature—less than a degree Celsius—from the ultraviolet light is required to induce the fluid flow. The research team is currently testing the limits of this method, for example if particles can move uphill toward the light source or if the method can be used to sort particles by size. “We knew that heating gold nanoparticles in suspension could create a fluid flow,” said Tansi, “but prior to this study no one had looked to see if these kinds of thermally-driven fluid flows could be used to do anything useful. Because ultraviolet light and titanium dioxide are so easy to control, we think this method could be harnessed in various technologies in the future. For example, a fluid pump that relies on this method could potentially replace the bulky and more expensive traditional pumps that require a power source or that rely on magnetics or mechanical movement to function.” In addition to Sen, Tansi, and Balazs, the research team includes Matthew Peris at Penn State and Oleg Shklyaev at the University of Pittsburgh. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-CCI Award Number 1740630). ### Originally published by Penn State University. Reposted with permission.
Gail McCormick, Penn State University
Jan
18
2019

Tenure-Stream Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering with a Focus in Regenerative Medicine

Chemical & Petroleum, Open Positions

The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering (www.engineering.pitt.edu/Departments/Chemical-Petroleum) invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering or a closely related discipline.  This is a tenure-stream faculty position at the rank of assistant professor in the research area of regenerative medicine including focus areas of tissue engineering, organ engineering, organ/ disease on a chip, biomaterials, medical devices, synthetic biology, and immunotherapy. The candidate should have a strong interest in the translation of their research through the generation and licensing of intellectual property. This unique position will be supported by two personalized mentoring teams. One comprising a group of physicians focused on clinical need in the candidate’s topic areas, and a second group of experts in technology transfer in the medical space. The laboratories for the successful candidate will be within the highly collaborative and clinically-focused McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In addition, the candidate must be committed to contributing to the high quality education of a diverse student body at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and collaborations with Carnegie Mellon University.  The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs. The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (www.mirm.pitt.edu), Musculoskeletal Research Center (www.pitt.edu/~msrc), Center for Neuroscience (www.cnup.pitt.edu), Drug Discovery Institute (www.upddi.pitt.edu), Vascular Medicine Institute (www.vmi.pitt.edu), and the Cancer Institute (www.upci.upmc.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities. Interested individuals should send the following as a single PDF attachments via email to che@pitt.edu (include REGENERATIVE MEDICINE CHEME POSITION in the subject line): (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement and (5) list of four references (names and complete contact information).  Applications will be reviewed beginning February 1, 2019. The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. One of the major strategic goals of The University of Pittsburgh is to “Embrace Diversity and Inclusion”; therefore, the candidate should be committed to high quality teaching and research for a diverse student body and to assisting our department in enhancing diversity in all forms. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vet/Disabled employer.

Jan
10
2019

Pitt’s Susan Fullerton recognized with James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching Chemical Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 10, 2019) … Marking her ability to inspire students through novel demonstrations of complex subjects as well as her mentoring of women and underrepresented minorities, the University of Pittsburgh’s Susan Fullerton was awarded the 2018 James Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum  Engineering. Dr. Fullerton, an assistant professor at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, was recognized at the end of the fall semester.The Pommersheim Award was established by the Department and James M. Pommersheim '70 to recognize departmental faculty in the areas of lecturing, teaching, research methodology, and research mentorship of students. Dr. Pommersheim, formerly Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University, received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in chemical engineering from Pitt.“Susan’s accomplishments in teaching over such a short period of time speak to the heart of the Pommersheim award. Her imaginative use of hands-on experiments and demonstrations create a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among our students and generate her impressive teaching scores to match,” noted Steven Little, department chair and professor. “Also, Susan’s presentations on the “imposter syndrome” and achieving work-life balance have generated tremendous campus interest.  She has candidly shared her own experiences to help our students understand that feeling like an imposter is normal, and can drive further successes.”In addition to her commitment to the University classroom, Dr. Fullerton will extend her teaching passion to area K-12 students thanks to a coveted National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which recognizes exemplary young faculty and encourages outreach to children and underrepresented students. The CAREER Award will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, as well as an outreach program to inspire curiosity and engagement of K-12 and underrepresented students in materials for next-generation electronics. Specifically, Dr. Fullerton has developed an activity where students can watch the polymer electrolytes used in her NSF study crystallize in real-time using an inexpensive camera attached to a smart phone or iPad. The CAREER award will allow Dr. Fullerton to provide this microscope to classrooms so that the teachers can continue exploring with their students. ### About Susan FullertonDr. Fullerton and her research group use the interplay between ions and electrons to design next-generation electronic devices at the limit of scaling for memory, logic and energy storage. In addition to the NSF Career award, she has also been awarded the AAAS Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in Chemical Sciences (2018), and an ORAU Ralph E. Powe Jr. Faculty Award (2016). Prior to joining Pitt in fall 2015, Fullerton was a Research Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She earned her bachelor of science and PhD degrees in chemical engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.

Jan
8
2019

Pitt Engineers Identify Novel, Affordable CO2 Capture Materials for Coal Power Plants

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 8, 2019) … A computational modeling method developed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering may help to fast-track the identification and design of new carbon capture and storage materials for use by the nation’s coal-fired power plants. The hypothetical mixed matrix membranes would provide a more economical solution than current methods, with a predicted cost of less than $50 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed. The research group - led by Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, in collaboration with co-investigator Jan Steckel, research scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Pittsburgh-based AECOM - published its findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy & Environmental Science (“High-throughput computational prediction of the cost of carbon capture using mixed matrix membranes,” DOI: 10.1039/C8EE02582G). “Polymer membranes have been used for decades to filter and purify materials, but are limited in their use for carbon capture and storage,” noted Dr. Wilmer, who leads the Hypothetical Materials Lab at the Swanson School. “Mixed matrix membranes, which are polymeric membranes with small, inorganic particles dispersed in the material, show extreme promise because of their separation and permeability properties. However, the number of potential polymers and inorganic particles is significant, and so finding the best combination for carbon capture can be daunting.”According to Dr. Wilmer, the researchers built upon their extensive research in metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which are highly porous crystalline materials created via the self-assembly of inorganic metal with organic linkers. These MOFs, which can store a higher volume of gases than traditional tanks, are highly versatile and can be made from a variety of materials and custom designed with specific properties. Dr. Wilmer and his group explored existing databases of hypothetical and real MOFs for their research, resulting in more than one million potential mixed matrix membranes. They then compared the predicted gas permeation of each material with published data, and evaluated them based on a three-stage capture process. Variables such as flow rate, capture fraction, pressure and temperature conditions were optimized as a function of membrane properties with the goal of identifying specific mixed matrix membranes that would yield an affordable carbon capture cost.  The potential implications for the Wilmer group’s research are tremendous. Although coal-generated power plants in the U.S. alone currently represent only 30 percent of nation’s energy portfolio, in 2017 they contributed the largest share of 1,207 million metric tons of CO2, or 69 percent of the total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions by the entire U.S. electric power sector. (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)“Our computational modeling of both hypothetical and real MOFs resulted in a new database of more than a million mixed matrix membranes with corresponding CO 2 capture performance and associated costs,” Dr. Wilmer said. “Further techno-economic analyses yielded 1,153 mixed matrix membranes with a carbon capture cost of less than $50 per ton removed. Thus, the potential exists for creating an economically affordable and efficient means of CO2 capture at coal power plants throughout the world and effectively tackling a significant source of fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” ### This technical effort was performed in support of the National Energy Technology Laboratory's ongoing research under RES contract DE-FE0004000. Funding was provided in part from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF award CBET-1653375).DisclaimerThis project was funded by the Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, an agency of the United States Government, through a support contract with AECOM. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, nor AECOM, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Jan
2
2019

A Catalytic Flying Carpet

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 2, 2019) … The “magic carpet” featured in tales from "One Thousand and One Nights” to Disney’s “Aladdin” captures the imagination not only because it can fly, but because it can also wave, flap, and alter its shape to serve its riders. With that inspiration, and the assistance of catalytic chemical reactions in solutions, a team from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has designed a two-dimensional, shape-changing sheet that moves autonomously in a reactant-filled fluid. The article, “Designing self-propelled, chemically-active sheets: Wrappers, flappers and creepers,” was published recently in the AAAS journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1745). Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, the John A. Swanson Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. Lead author is Abhrajit Laskar, and co-author is Oleg E. Shklyaev, both post-doctoral associates.“It’s long been a challenge in chemistry to create a non-living object that moves on its own within an environment, which in turn alters the object’s shape, allowing it to carry out brand new tasks, like trapping other objects,” Dr. Balazs explained. “Researchers previously have made chemically active patches on a surface that could generate fluid flow, but the flow didn’t influence the location or shape of the patch. And in our own lab we’ve modeled spherical and rectangular particles that can move autonomously within a fluid-filled microchamber. But now we have this integrated system that utilizes a chemical reaction to activate the fluid motion that simultaneously transports a flexible object and “sculpts” its shape, and it all happens autonomously.”The group accomplished this feat of self-propulsion and reconfiguration by introducing a coating of catalysts on the flexible sheet, which is roughly the width of a human hair. The addition of reactants to the surrounding fluid initiates both the carpet’s motion and the changes of its form. “To best of our knowledge, this is the first time these catalytic chemical reactions have been applied to 2D sheets to generate flows that transform these sheets into mobile, 3D objects,” Dr. Balazs said. Further, by placing different catalysts on specific areas of the sheet and controlling the amount and type of reactants in the fluid, the group created a useful cascade of catalytic reactions where one catalyst breaks down an associated chemical, which then becomes a reactant for the next of the set of catalytic reactions. Adding different reactants and designing appropriate configurations of the sheet allows for a variety of actions – in this study, enwrapping an object, making a flapping motion, and tumbling over obstacles on a surface. “A microfluidic device that contains these active sheets can now perform vital functions, such as shuttling cargo, grabbing a soft, delicate object, or even creeping along to clean a surface,” Dr. Shklyaev said. “These flexible micro-machines simply convert chemical energy into spontaneous reconfiguration and movement, which enables them to accomplish a repertoire of useful jobs.”Dr. Laskar added that if the sheet is cut into the shape of a four-petal flower and placed on the surface of a microfluidic device, the chemistry of the petals can be “programmed” to open and close individually, creating gates that perform logic operations, as well as generate particular fluid flows to transport particles throughout the device.“For example, like a catcher’s mitt you can use the petals of the flower to trap a microscopic ball and hold it for a finite time, then initiate a new chemical reaction on a different set of petals so that the ball moves between them in a chemically-directed game of catch,” Dr. Laskar explained. “This level of spatial and temporal control allows for staged reactions and analyses that you otherwise couldn’t perform with non-deformable materials.” The group also experimented with the placement of the catalyst on different parts of the sheet to create specific motions. In one experiment, placing the catalyst on just the body of the sheet, rather than the head and tail, triggered a creeping movement eerily similar to the movement of an inchworm. In another realization, when obstacles were placed in front of the coated sheet, it would tumble over the obstacle and continue moving, allowing it to traverse a bumpy terrain. “This research gives us further insight into how chemistry can drive autonomous, spontaneous actuation and locomotion in microfluidic devices,” Dr. Balazs said. “Our next task is to explore microfabrication by using the interaction and self-organization of multiple sheets to bring them together into specific architectures designed to perform complex, coordinated functions. Also, by experimenting with different stimuli such as heat and light, we can design mobile, 3D micro-machines that adapt their shape and action to changes in the environment. This level of responsive behavior is vital to creating the next generation of soft robotic devices.” ###