Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Nov

Nov
7
2018

Engineering Student Athletes: Gillian Schriever

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

Gillian Schriever Sport: Cross Country and Track and Field Major: Chemical Engineering Class: Senior Hometown: West Creek, New Jersey “My sophomore year I had an 8 a.m. class, so I practiced every day at 6 a.m. I got to two national championships because I worked hard. For the most part, I love running so I did it, but I had to work hard to deserve to be there. Now, I love the flow of classes and athletics because of all the different ways you’re being engaged day to day.” “On the Right Track” When Gillian Schriever enrolled in Pitt’s chemical engineering program, she wanted to be a pharmacologist. She even did drug delivery research in Little Lab, under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Steven Little, chair of the Chemical Engineering department. It wasn’t until her junior year that she decided she was ready for a change of pace. “I went to a career fair, and I wanted practice talking to interviewers, so I approached a Navy recruiter,” Schriever says. “During our conversation, I found the work to be really interesting. I became more aware of the network of people involved in the naval nuclear program, and I wanted to be a part of it.” The following summer, Schriever interned at the Bettis Naval Nuclear Laboratory in West Mifflin, Pa. She says, “The Navy has played a huge role in developing commercial nuclear power and has an amazing safety record. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to such a prestigious program that has made major improvements to the safety and efficiency of nuclear energy. There is also a strong ethical motivation to work on technology capable of replacing fossil fuels, protecting sailors, and contributing to the country’s safety.” Schriever doesn’t know where her experiences will take her after graduation, but she does know she wants to travel. As a runner on Pitt’s Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams, she’s already off to a good start. “I grew up in a small town, and I want to move around a lot as a young adult. Pitt brought me to Pittsburgh, and running brought me to national competitions in Terra Haute, Indiana and Eugene, Oregon. They were great opportunities to travel and see beautiful cities,” Schriever says. Noteworthy 2x Division I National Championships qualification Volunteer work with PittServes Summer intern at Bettis Naval Nuclear Laboratory Drug delivery research in Little Lab A Typical Day 6:00 am: Wake up 7:00 - 9:00 am: Morning practice 10:00 - 11:00 am: Office hours/meetings 12:00 pm: Lunch 1:00 - 3:00 pm: Class 3:00 - 5:00 pm: Study 6:00 pm: Dinner 6:30 - 8:30 pm: Night class 10:00 pm:      Sleep Note: This is part four of a four-part series about student-athletes at the Swanson School of Engineering. Part One: Craig Bair, Pitt Men's Soccer Part Two: Madeline Hobbs, Pitt Women's Soccer Part Three: Jake Scarton, Pitt Football ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Nov
7
2018

AIChE Annual Meeting - Future of Energy in the Region, Nation, and World

Chemical & Petroleum

This article originally appeared on AIChE ChEnected. Reposted with permission. Karl Johnson, Meeting Program Chair for the 2018 AIChE Annual Meeting and the W.K. Whiteford Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Research Computing at the University of Pittsburgh, interviewed Kamel Ben-Naceur and TJ Wojnar. Kamel Ben-Naceur is the Chief Economist at ADNOC and TJ Wojnar is the Vice President of Corporate Strategic Planning at Exxon Mobil Corporation. They both presented as plenary speakers in the session: “The Future of Energy in the Region, Nation and World." Watch their discussion on the impact that shale gas production will have on the energy and petrochemical landscape of the region and country over the next few decades, the technological roadblocks to a long-term sustainable energy future and what fundamental science questions need to be answered to address these roadblocks, and the best way that young chemical engineers can make a positive impact on our energy future.
Kelsey Kettelhut, Engineering Specialist, AIChE
Nov
6
2018

American Chemical Society – Pittsburgh Section Recognizes Pitt Engineering Professor Steven Little with 2018 Pittsburgh Award

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (November 6, 2018) … In recognition of his “service and commitment to the field of chemistry over the years, with particular emphasis on efforts to reinvent chemical engineering education in the Pittsburgh area,” the Pittsburgh Section of the American Chemical Society has named University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven R. Little as recipient of its 2018 Pittsburgh Award. Dr. Little is the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The Pittsburgh Award was established in 1932 by the Pittsburgh Section of ACS to recognize outstanding leadership in chemical affairs in the local and larger professional community. This Award symbolizes the honor and appreciation accorded to those who have rendered distinguished service to the field of chemistry. Dr. Little will be presented with the Pittsburgh Award at the ACS annual banquet on December 6, 2018. “The Pittsburgh Section of the American Chemical Society is fortunate to be located in an area that has such a rich history in the chemical research and development fields,” noted Bradley W. Davis, PhD, Chair/Chair-Elect of ACS – Pittsburgh Section and assistant professor of chemistry at Waynesburg University.  “It is an honor for us to be able to recognize the great work that Dr. Little has conducted in the Pittsburgh area and we hope for his continued success.” Dr. Little focuses on novel drug delivery systems that mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation. This allows for dosages that are millions of times smaller than current medicine, and his next-generation treatments have shown promise for addressing a number of conditions including glaucoma, periodontal disease, wound healing, cancer, skin allergic dermatitis, and even transplantation of tissues and limbs.  New “controlled release” systems developed by Dr. Little are applied once and then released over a period of days or months, depending on the medication. His controlled release discoveries resulted in the co-founding of Pittsburgh-based Qrono Inc., which provides custom designed controlled release formulations for academic laboratories and agricultural and pharmaceutical companies. ### More About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the 2018 Controlled Release Society Young Investigator Award; the 2015 ASEE Curtis W. McGraw Research Award; elected as fellow of BMES and AIMBE, the Carnegie Science Award for Advanced Materials (2015); the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award (2012); the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award (2012); being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar (2012); being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator (2008); and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials (2013-2015). In June 2018 the Controlled Release Society appointed Little to its Board as a Director-at-Large through 2021. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award (2013) and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education (2013). Dr. Little was also named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. Chemical Engineering departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million.

Oct

Oct
26
2018

Pitt’s Susan Fullerton one of five recipients of the $50,000 AAAS Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (October 26, 2018) … In recognition of her research to develop the next generation of electronic devices, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, a recipient of the 2019 Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences. Dr. Fullerton was one of only five recipients nationwide recognized for “extraordinary contributions through their research programs and demonstrate a commitment to move their fields forward.”“Susan is extremely deserving of this honor, which is a testament to her novel, groundbreaking research in ion transport at the molecular level,” said Steven Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Department Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “She is establishing a name for herself in the field and I know she will have even greater success ahead.” First awarded in 2015, the award was made possible by a $2.2 million bequest to AAAS by chemist and long-time AAAS member, Marion Tuttle Milligan Mason, who sought to support the advancement of women in the chemical sciences and to honor her family's commitment to higher education for women. The Marion Milligan Mason Fund provides grants of $50,000 every other year to women researchers engaged in basic research in the chemical sciences. In addition to research funding, the program provides leadership development and mentoring opportunities. Dr. Fullerton’s research group at the Swanson School of Engineering 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. Current research interest include nano-ionic graphene memory (NSF-ECCS/GOALI), electrostatic double layer (EDL) gating of 2D crystals for low-power electronics (LEAST center, SRC/DARPA), exploring the strain-induced semiconductor to metal transition in MoTe2 (NSF-DMR) and polymer electrolytes for reconfigurable plasmonic and photonic elements (DARPA A2P). ### About AAASThe American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For additional information about AAAS, see www.aaas.org.

Oct
23
2018

Bridges of Opportunity

Chemical & Petroleum

For the past two years, faculty from the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering have been involved with the return of the AIChE Annual meeting to Pittsburgh. Although the conference was last in Pittsburgh only six years ago, Pittsburgh and the western Pennsylvania region have since experienced a sea change in energy research and industry. The vast Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, which were finally made accessible through hydrofracturing technology, have created the potential for another energy and manufacturing boom in a region built upon legacies of coal, iron, steel and nuclear power. The impact of this evolution was not lost on the AIChE Meeting Program Co-Chairs – Dr. Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt; and Cliff Kowall, Senior Technical Fellow in the Process Development Department and the Corporate Engineer at The Lubrizol Corporation in Wickliffe, Ohio. Since the formation of a strategic research partnership between the Department and Lubrizol in 2014, Johnson and Kowall have developed a greater philosophical understanding of academic-industrial partnerships. In particular how they not only benefit the organizations as a whole but also the regional economy and region’s workforce development. Kowall’s more than four decades in industry informed his AIChE conference session, “What the Heck Happened? Past, Present & Future Disruptions to the Chemical/Fuels Business”. Similarly, “The Future of Energy in the Region, Nation, and World” session co-chaired by Dr. Johnson is inspired by the Pittsburgh region’s history and new future in energy research and development.“From the very beginning, AIChE challenged us to develop sessions with a regional appeal and with a voice to the changes in the chemical engineering workplace,” Kowall said. “Although I’m looking at it from an industry perspective and Karl from an academic perspective, Pittsburgh presents a distinctive picture of how disruption – both bad and good – creates socioeconomic change and how a region learns to not only adapt from it but to better prepare for future occurrences.”The co-chairs have a long history in the region: Dr. Johnson has been a professor at Pitt since 1995, joining the university not long after the collapse of Pittsburgh’s steel industry, and Kowall has been in the chemical industry for more than four decades. The two agree that industrial disruptions have shaped how academia, industry, and the workforce react to seismic shifts in the economy. Today the role of energy diversification is leading that change. “Having AIChE back in Pittsburgh is a great way to highlight the evolution of the energy industry and the Pittsburgh economy,” Dr. Johnson says. “We’re at a very exciting time not only as chemical engineers but also as a country where the energy landscape has been upended just in the last decade. The national labs are still vital for exploring how we can revolutionize the industry – indeed, Pitt and many of the universities in the tri-state region are close partners with the National Energy Technology Laboratory here.“The alliances built between researchers like myself and companies like Lubrizol are identifying new opportunities to exploit those energy technologies and potentially spin them off into new areas of applied research that we couldn’t do individually.”Pittsburgh has long been the poster child for the impact of industrial revolution and disruption. The city and the surrounding ten-county region once boasted one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world. However, an inability to predict disruption – more advanced and economical steel manufacturing developed overseas, as well as an over-reliance on one industry – cratered the regional economy in the 1980s. This also led to massive depopulation as workers left for opportunity elsewhere, while those just entering the workforce also had to relocate after graduating to find employment. But since then, the region’s public-private partnerships have helped to build a more robust and diverse economy supported by industries from higher education and healthcare to energy, advanced manufacturing and finance. Kowall explains that Pittsburgh learned from that previous disruptions how manage recovery and has now better prepared itself for the next disruption created by the tremendous growth of the shale energy and manufacturing industry. “In my session, my colleagues and I will talk about how these changes shaped our careers and really made us take a second, third, and even fourth look at how we need to adapt,” Kowall, who also teaches at the Swanson School, says. “There is always a lot of angst, but also a lot of opportunity if you pay attention, do your homework and try to anticipate what the next disruption might be and how you can take advantage of it. I think we, as chemical engineers, have greater flexibility than most to make this adjustment.”Dr. Johnson adds that these disruptions have also shaped the nature of higher education in the classroom, the lab and the field. “The history of our department truly shows the impact of energy on our curriculum and our research,” Dr. Johnson says. “Ours was the first petroleum engineering program in the world in 1910. Later, we branched into polymers, materials and molecular science to the point where petroleum was almost a footnote. But today, my colleagues and I have a stronger and broader focus on energy, from carbon sequestration and catalysis to improved hydrofracturing and storage technologies.” “The growth of the shale industry in this region just in the last couple years is indicative of that. Currently the downstream opportunities are located along the Gulf, where that industry was born, so we’re shipping the resources we harvest here for use in manufacturing elsewhere,” Dr. Johnson notes. “But Shell is now building just north of the city what will be the largest ethane cracker in the U.S., if not the world. This means that we as chemical engineers will have the opportunity to exploit those resources locally, giving our students greater opportunity for careers in industry or as entrepreneurs.” Dr. Johnson and Kowall say that the experiences and opportunities discussed at both of their AIChE sessions are relevant for tomorrow’s chemical engineering student but even more so for today’s seasoned professional. “I have always had a deep belief in continuing education,” Kowall says. “Really, none of these disruptions should be surprises, so it’s important for us to teach the next generation how to identify the impact and how to prepare. These disruption events are the ultimate opportunity for growth.”“This is an exciting time to be a chemical engineer,” Dr. Johnson adds, “and I hope our colleagues from around the world can learn in Pittsburgh not only what the future brings, but how we can help our students and Institute members to learn to benefit from it.”

Oct
23
2018

Memo to Moms

Chemical & Petroleum

With a philosophical focus on research and recognition, international academic conferences often overlook the needs of participants attending with family, especially those who may have an infant to nurse. At the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference in Pittsburgh this October, University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton is drawing upon her experience as a mother at past conferences to make this gathering more accommodating for nursing mothers and families.Often struggling to find proper nursing stations at conferences when she was a new mom, Dr. Fullerton plans to increase the visibility and quality of such stations at the up-coming conference: “I’m a mother of two, and I’ve attended many conferences while nursing. It’s important to me as General Arrangements Chair to have this accommodation ready and welcoming to new mothers.” Though often not available or haphazardly put together, proper nursing stations are easy to implement. They consist simply of a sizeable yet private room that contains only a few items: a refrigerator, water, and breast milk storage bags. Dr. Fullerton explains the dilemma facing new mothers who do not have access to appropriate nursing accommodations: “If there is no resource at the venue that is comfortable and reasonably private and has what you need, then you return to your hotel room which could be far away. Then you miss a big portion of the technical conference. It’s a penalty to a lactating mother when it’s actually really straight forward for organizers to provide the resources to allow nursing moms to both attend to their newborns and participate in the conference.” In addition to providing a proper space, Dr. Fullerton stresses the importance of advertising the availability of a lactation room. “One of my biggest issues when I’ve gone to conferences that do provide nursing stations is an inconvenient location that is difficult to find, and when you do find it there’s a line because it’s the only facility available.” Dr. Fullerton plans to make all attendees aware of these rooms and their accessibility well before the conference begins to encourage new mothers, who may otherwise be deterred, to attend. “We are fortunate to have a fantastic Mother’s room in a central location at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center – the second floor just outside of Hall B. Graciously, the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh will sponsor the supplies in the room.”  However, even with a proper, well-advertised room, Dr. Fullerton stresses that the nursing attendees still miss a significant amount of technical content while they are pumping. On average, a nursing mother must pump every two to three hours for about 20 to 30 minutes per session. This averages out to nursing attendees missing about one hour of the conference per day, or a total of five hours per conference. To keep nursing mothers engaged in the conference, Dr. Fullerton would eventually like to provide them with a way to Skype into talks. She points out that this concept is not novel as she equates it to “cry-rooms” in church, which have been around for decades. Dr. Fullerton also hopes to make the conference more accommodating to participants attending with families. Since the conference takes place the week of Halloween, Dr. Fullerton plans to arrange trick-or-treating for those families that want to take part. In the future, Dr. Fullerton would also like to facilitate onsite childcare. Though it cannot be arranged for the upcoming meeting, Dr. Fullerton understands the struggle to find childcare during a conference: “It’s much easier to choose not to attend and skip the conference for a year or two than it is to identify legitimate, safe, local daycare in a town you’re unfamiliar with.” Though these childcare accommodations are often provided at conferences, they have never been implemented before at AIChE. When asked why Fullerton said: “I think it’s a pipeline issue. People like myself (new mothers) just haven’t risen in the ranks to make change…yet.”Fellow faculty member and AIChE board member Karl Johnson commented, “I think it’s just great what she is doing. I was the general arrangements chair a few years ago, and I never even thought of making the changes she is making.” Dr. Fullerton responded, “That makes sense – if you haven’t had this need you might never think of it! I can say that with absolute certainty because prior to having children I would have never thought of this.” A scientist at heart, she explained her lack of data on the matter: “I’ve now been a mother for five years, so prior to that I wasn’t paying attention to these issues. Even now, I really only have five years of data - or rather maternal experience.”  While women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce and STEM careers are still not widely perceived as family-compatible, Dr. Fullerton is making strides to change these statistics and perceptions through the changes she will make at the upcoming AIChE conference. “We’re in a transition period. Accommodations for nursing mothers was unheard of not very long ago. Now it’s not plentiful, but it’s emerging. I think AIChE can really make a splash by making improvements in this area.”
Author: Kelsey Sadlek MSChE ‘18
Oct
18
2018

You've Probably Never Heard of MOFs, but...

Chemical & Petroleum

Eighty years ago, few people in the world had heard of plastics. But in 1939, after its debut at the New York World’s Fair, one type of plastic—nylon—became a household word in less than a year. While nylon took the stockings market by storm, the transition to plastics becoming ubiquitous in clothing and beyond—in kitchenware, electronics, building materials, medicine and more—would take decades. We now know that plastics literally became the material that defined the 20th century. Looking ahead, metal organic frameworks (MOFs) are poised to be the defining material of the 21st century. While this group of 3-D nanocrystalline structures is still in its early days, its commercial adoption is rapidly accelerating. You have probably never heard of MOFs, but 50 years from now, we believe, they will be an ever-present part of human life just as plastics are today. Read the full article at Scientific American. The molecular structure of IRMOF-1, one of the most studied MOFs (Image: Kutay Sezginel)
Christopher Wilmer, Benjamin Hernandez and Omar K. Farha
Oct
3
2018

Stepping toward a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (October 3, 2018) … Burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas releases carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 while the production of methanol and other valuable fuels and chemicals requires a supply of carbon. There is currently no economically or energy efficient way to collect CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to produce carbon-based chemicals, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have just taken an important step in that direction.The team worked with a class of nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks or “MOFs,” which can be used to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and combine it with hydrogen atoms to convert it into valuable chemicals and fuels. Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, led the research group as principal investigator. “Our ultimate goal is to find a low-energy, low-cost MOF capable of separating carbon dioxide from a mixture of gases and prepare it to react with hydrogen,” says Dr. Johnson. “We found a MOF that could bend the CO2 molecules slightly, taking them to a state in which they react with hydrogen more easily.”The Johnson Research Group published their findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal Catalysis Science & Technology (DOI: 10.1039/c8cy01018h). The journal featured their work on its cover, illustrating the process of carbon dioxide and hydrogen molecules entering the MOF and exiting as CH2O2 or formic acid—a chemical precursor to methanol. For this process to occur, the molecules must overcome a demanding energy threshold called the hydrogenation barrier.Dr. Johnson explains, “The hydrogenation barrier is the energy needed to add two H atoms to CO2, which transforms the molecules into formic acid. In other words, it is the energy needed to get the H atoms and the CO2 molecules together so that they can form the new compound. In our previous work we have been able to activate H2 by splitting two H atoms, but we have not been able to activate CO2 until now.”The key to reducing the hydrogenation barrier was to identify a MOF capable of pre-activating carbon dioxide. Pre-activation is basically preparing the molecules for the chemical reaction by putting it into the right geometry, the right position, or the right electronic state. The MOF they modeled in their work achieves pre-activation of CO2 by putting it into a slightly bent geometry that is able to accept the incoming hydrogen atoms with a lower barrier. Another key feature of this new MOF is that it selectively reacts with hydrogen molecules over carbon dioxide, so that the active sites are not blocked by CO2. “We designed a MOF that has limited space around its binding sites so that there is not quite enough room to bind CO2, but there is still plenty of room to bind H2, because it is so much smaller. Our design ensures that the CO2 does not bind to the MOF but instead is free to react with the H molecules already inside the framework,” says Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson believes perfecting a single material that can both capture and convert CO2 would be economically viable and would reduce the net amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. “You could capture CO2 from flue gas at power plants or directly from the atmosphere,” he says. “This research narrows our search for a very rare material with the ability to turn a hypothetical technology into a real benefit to the world.”The Pitt Center for Research Computing contributed computing resources. ### About the Johnson Research GroupThe Johnson Research Group at the University of Pittsburgh uses atomistic modeling to tackle fundamental problems over a wide range of subject areas in chemical engineering, including the molecular design of nanoporous sorbents for the capture of carbon dioxide, the development of catalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels, the transport of gases and liquids through carbon nanotube membranes, the study of chemical reaction mechanisms, the development of CO2-soluble polymers and CO2 thickeners, and the study of hydrogen storage with complex hydrides.  About Dr. JohnsonKarl Johnson is an Associate Director of the Center for Research Computing and a member of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute. He received his B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, and PhD in chemical engineering with a minor in computer science from Cornell University.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Oct
2
2018

Vouching for Vonnegut

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (October 2, 2018) … In Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi classic Cat’s Cradle, ice-nine is a substance capable of raising water’s melting point from 32 to 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Once in contact with water, it spreads instantly and indefinitely, leaving frozen oceans and chilling consequences in its wake. Luckily, as Vonnegut explains in the epigraph, ‘Nothing in this book is true.’ When he wrote the novel in 1963, he may have been right.Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered the fantastic behavior of a liquid polymer capable of freezing water at room temperature. Beyond giving credence to Vonnegut’s prophetic imagination, the resulting mixture seemingly defies the second law of thermodynamics, which states that within an isolated system, entropy always increases.“When you mix two pure components together, the entropy (or the degree of disorder), always increases,” explains John Keith, assistant professor of chemical engineering and Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “That disorder almost always causes mixtures to have a lower freezing point than either of the components individually, not higher.”The mixture of salt and water, for example, freezes at lower temperatures than either salt or water individually. This quality makes salt well-suited for melting ice on roads and sidewalks in the winter. However, when a particular polymer—known as polyoxacyclobutane (POCB)— is mixed with water, it raises the mixture’s freezing point from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers published their findings in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Macromolecules (DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.8b00239).The reaction is not altogether unprecedented. Mixing certain metals in specific proportions can create alloys that have higher melting points than the individual metals. Because alloys are comprised of at least two differently sized atoms, favorable combinations of atoms can weave together to make strong chemical bonds that counteract the second law of thermodynamics.“This behavior, in which the mixture melts higher than its components, is well-known in metals. But it is very unusual, among non-metals,” says Sachin Velankar, associate professor of chemical engineering at Pitt and expert in polymer science. “To the best of my knowledge, POCB seems to be the only substance to display this behavior with water.”POCB originally came to the university from chemical manufacturer DuPont as part of a research collaboration between the company and Professor Robert Enick, vice chair of research for the chemical engineering department. A graduate student working in Dr. Enick’s lab noticed the liquid polymer got cloudy when mixed with drops of water, but more curiously, the resulting combination—or “hydrate”—was a soft paste (similar to peanut butter) when a precise amount of water was added. Even more oddly, experiments on the material showed that well-ordered crystallites were forming between two liquids. Image of the polymer-water mixture turned upside-down to show its solid state. Credit: Swanson School of Engineering/Sachin Velankar Dr. Keith and colleagues used computer modeling to find a stable hydrate structure where water molecules thread themselves throughout the polymer to form hydrogen bonds that hold the material together like tiny zippers. “It takes less than an hour for the mixture to self-assemble at room temperature, and the final texture is like lip balm,” Dr. Keith says. The Pitt researchers scoured scholarly journals to find scientific references to hydrates of POCB, which was produced by DuPont in the late 2000s with the name “Cerenol” because it’s made from corn (a “cereal” grain). At first their search came up short, but a conversation with Eric Beckman , Distinguished Service Professor of chemical engineering and co-director of Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation , tipped them off to other names the polymer might have been called in the past. Shortly after, the Pitt researchers found that the hydrate structure had already been discovered by a team of Japanese researchers in the late 1960s. “The polymer goes by four or five names, and some are non-intuitive,” says Dr. Velankar. “After we found the previous studies, we realized that we had discovered an exciting facet of an old finding.” The Japanese team, using similar X-ray techniques as those interpreted by Watson and Crick to identify the double helix in DNA, had found similar hydrate structures by melting high molecular weight forms of the polymer that were solid at room temperature. That study , which also appeared in ACS Macromolecules in 1970, has gone relatively unnoticed in the five decades since its publication. The innovation from the Pitt researchers is that similar hydrates can form spontaneously with lower molecular weight forms of the polymer that are liquid at room temperature, thus eliminating the need for melting before mixing with water. “The polymer can also gently suck out humidity from the air naturally,” says Dr. Velankar. “We felt this behavior was a curiosity, but a very interesting one. Our research has been mostly a fundamental exploration of a very unusual phenomenon, but there are many potential applications to consider.” The Pitt Engineering researchers have already collaborated with Alexander Star in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry to coat a nanotube electrode with the polymer to turn it into a computer memory device. The ACS journal Chemistry of Materials published the results of the study ( DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.8b00964). One of the potential applications will certainly not be a doomsday device like Vonnegut’s ice-nine because POCB cannot spread instantly or indefinitely throughout water sources. Instead of triggering the apocalypse, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh think discovering this polymer’s freezing behavior could herald new innovations. “Now that we know an example of a polymer-water mixture with these qualities, we can now search for other mixtures that might have other interesting properties,” says Dr. Keith. “I’m very optimistic that this is an exciting new class of crystalline materials that spontaneously form from mixtures of liquids.” ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Aug

Aug
30
2018

Pitt alumnus and past Universidad Monteavila President Joaquin Rodriguez joins Chemical and Petroleum Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 30, 2018) … Petroleum refinery expert Joaquin Rodriquez joins the University of Pittsburgh this fall as Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Prior to Pitt, Dr. Rodriguez was President of Universidad Monteavila (2005-15) in Caracas, Venezuela, an institution with more than 400 faculty and staff, 1,500 students and 2,500 alumni that he helped to establish two decades ago. In addition to his academic tenure, Dr. Rodriguez has 15 years of technical experience in thermal conversion processes, advanced petrochemical techniques and the manufacturing of refinery specialty products including cokes, asphalts, lubricants, and waxes. As specialty products business leader for Petroleos de Venezuela, he directed technology intelligence monitoring, research, innovation, development, refinery technical assistance and international negotiations. He coauthored one US Patent, three peer reviewed papers, 19 conference presentations and more than 70 technical reports.“With the potential future growth of the petrochemical industry in the tri-state region, Joaquin’s research and business expertise greatly enhances our academic portfolio,” said Steven Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He will also coordinate efforts to develop a strategic vision and plan of activities for the Department for Outreach, and expand on our initiatives for Diversity and Inclusion.”Dr. Rodriguez received his M.S. and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, with his thesis on “Needle Coke and Carbon Fibers Production from Venezuelan Oil Residues.” He was recognized with the James Coull Award for Department’s most outstanding graduate student, and the Phillip Walker Award at the 20th Biennial Conference on Carbon. In his 20 years of various academic roles he has contributed to the development of academic contents for four careers, led the organization of seven graduate programs, promoted the foundation of 15 research centers, arranged for 50 cooperation programs, taught 22 academic courses and five seminars, and delivered 13 lectures at conferences and 40 speeches and keynotes. ###

Aug
27
2018

ChemE's Giannis Mpourmpakis Part of $800K DOE Study Targeting Safer Storage for Nuclear Waste

Chemical & Petroleum

This news release originally posted at University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. About 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States of America is generated at nuclear power plants, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This means residents in one out of every five U.S. homes turn on their lights, use refrigerators and make toast – among other things – using energy generated by nuclear power plants. Additionally, nuclear materials and technology is used in other areas, including radioactive isotopes to help diagnose and treat medical conditions; irradiation to help make pest-resistant seed varieties; and radioactive isotopes to date objects and identify elements in research. While nuclear power generation emits relatively low amounts of air pollutants like carbon dioxide, it does produce nuclear waste, which can remain radioactive “for a few hours or several months or even hundreds of thousands of years,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With 99 nuclear reactors – and two more under construction – operated by about 30 different power companies, America is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. As of May 2018, there were 450 operating reactors in 30 countries worldwide, according to NRC reports. As such, the safe storage and disposal of the radioactive waste is of paramount importance. “Whenever we deal with nuclear energy, we are always concerned about how we deal properly with the waste that is generated,” said Jeffrey Rimer, the Abraham E. Dukler Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering. “We want to make sure that the nuclear waste is going to be stored for a sufficient time and not have issues with the release of this material into the environment.” Rimer is the principal investigator on a multi-agency research team studying the corrosion behavior of glass containers often used to store nuclear waste. Its goal is to find solutions to reduce or avoid the degeneration of the containers. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $800,000 to the project, titled “Formation of Zeolites Responsible for Waste Glass Rate Acceleration: An Experimental and Computational Study for Understanding Thermodynamic and Kinetic Processes.” The basic components of the glass are also the components of crystalline materials known as zeolites – silica and alumina, which are present there initially in an amorphous state but then eventually form zeolites. “During the process of glass dissolution and recrystallization to zeolites, cavities are opened within the amorphous glass that can potentially allow the radioactive material to be released,” Rimer said. “This is detrimental to the overall goal of trying to keep nuclear waste contained.” Co-investigator is Giannis Mpoumpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “We are very excited to be part of this excellent team or researchers and try to find ways for safer storage of nuclear waste,” he added. Exploring the role of zeolites Zeolites have been used for many years as adsorbents and catalysts in a variety of chemical processes, spanning applications from gasoline production to additives in laundry detergent, among thousands of other commercial and consumer applications. Rimer, an expert on crystallization, conducts groundbreaking research in this field. His work has led to the development of drugs for kidney stones – marking the first advance in kidney stone therapy in a span of 30 years – and malaria. He has oil and gas industry-related projects that target scaling in pipes and increasing the efficiency of catalysts. “At first glance, it looks as if I am embarking on a completely new area of research. But on a basic level we are asking the same types of questions in all of our research: What are the fundamental driving forces of new zeolite formation?” said Rimer. “If you understand the mechanisms of crystal nucleation and growth, how to control these processes…then crystallization becomes a broad platform that can be applied over a wide-range of different materials and applications.” Rimer started researching zeolites in 2001 while earning his doctoral degree from the University of Delaware and continues the work at UH. His extensive research on the topic led to the first in situ evidence of how zeolites grow, which was published in Science Magazine in 2014. His interest in zeolites is also what brought him to the DOE project and he is looking forward to applying his knowledge to this new challenge. “Fortunately, we have experience working with the zeolites that are relevant to this DOE project,” Rimer said. “That knowledge gives us a foundation to move forward and start thinking about questions that we did not pose earlier: What is causing nucleation from an amorphous precursor? What are the rates of growth under a broad range of conditions? How do we tailor these properties to reduce zeolite formation?” The team Other members of the research team are: James Neeway, Radha Motkuri and Jarrod Crum, all from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); and Dr. Bourmpakis from the University of Pittsburgh. The PNNL personnel are experts on storage and glass dissolution and will be handling the assessment calculations, Rimer said. He added that his Pittsburgh collaborator brings expertise in computations and will conduct density-functional theory calculations on the progression of the aluminosilicate dissolution and zeolite nucleation. “This is a nicely formulated team in that each partner is contributing something unique to the project, but at the same time there is a lot of synergy between each of the three institutions and the roles of each participant in this project,” Rimer said. “I think the project will, as a result of our collaborative efforts, make significant headway to improve the efficiency of nuclear waste storage.”
Rashda Khan, UH Cullen College of Engineering
Aug
23
2018

Computing Catalysts

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2018) … Polyisobutylene (PIB) is a workhorse polymer that is found in a multitude of products, ranging from chewing gum, to tires, to engine oil and gasoline additives. Although commercially produced in large quantities since the 1940s, PIB chemistry was a mystery – scientists weren’t sure how the reaction mechanism that creates the polymer happens at the molecular level, which limited further potential. However, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Wickliffe, Ohio-based Lubrizol Corporation has unlocked the secrets of PIB’s reaction mechanism. The group’s findings were published this month in the journal ACS Catalysis (DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.8b01494).Principal investigator is Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering. Funding for the research was provided by Lubrizol, which in 2014 established a $1.2 million strategic partnership with the Department and Swanson School to jumpstart research innovation that also offers opportunities for undergraduates to participate. “PIB is an incredibly versatile polymer. It can have many different properties depending on how it is made. There are many different ‘recipes’ for making PIB, each employing different catalysts and reaction conditions, but it turns out that no one really knows what is happening at the molecular level. Finding out what is going on is important because it is harder to control a process that you don’t understand.” Solving this catalytic puzzle is of interest to Lubrizol, which specializes in ingredients and additives for polymer-based products. Utilizing the University’s Center for Research Computing to analyze the molecular processes, the Pitt/Lubrizol group found that the assumed reaction mechanism was not correct and that initiation of the reaction requires a “superacid” catalyst. “These findings provide fundamental insight into the PIB reaction mechanism that could potentially be used to design different catalysts and to control the reaction – and hence, the potential range of products – in ways that are currently not possible.” Dr. Johnson said. “This project shows the value of creating academic/industrial partnerships to pursue research that might not be possible if pursued independently.” The research group included students Yasemin Basdogan, Bridget S. Derksen, and Minh Nguyen Vo; Assistant Professor John A. Keith, the R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy; and Lubrizol researchers Adam Cox, research chemist, Cliff Kowall, technical fellow of process development, and Nico Proust, R&D technology manager. Image above: Representation of the superacid catalyst, discovered by the Pitt/Lubrizol team and the PIB polymer chains. (Minh Nguyen Vo/Johnson Research Group) ### About the Johnson Research GroupThe Johnson Research Group at the University of Pittsburgh uses atomistic modeling to tackle fundamental problems over a wide range of subject areas in chemical engineering, including the molecular design of nanoporous sorbents for the capture of carbon dioxide, the development of catalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels, the transport of gases and liquids through carbon nanotube membranes, the study of chemical reaction mechanisms, the development of CO2-soluble polymers and CO2 thickeners, and the study of hydrogen storage with complex hydrides. About Dr. JohnsonKarl Johnson is an Associate Director of the Center for Research Computing and a member of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute. He received his B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, and PhD in chemical engineering with a minor in computer science from Cornell University.

Aug
22
2018

Swanson School and Center for Energy Partner with Leidos on Contract Award to Provide Research Support to NETL

Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (August 22, 2018) … To leverage its expertise in energy research, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Center for Energy will partner with Leidos on a ten-year, $365 million Research Support Services Contract awarded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). As part of the agreement, Pitt will be part of a multi-disciplinary subcontracting team for Leidos, with NETL committing $20 million per year through Leidos to the subcontracting partners, which include Pitt. The contract is in a transition phase through the rest of 2018, with a formal start date of December 31, 2018.Pitt’s Center of Energy is a University-wide endeavor that leverages the energy-related expertise of approximately 100 faculty members across campus from multiple disciplines and departments across the Swanson School of Engineering, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Law School, Business School and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. The Center has a successful history collaborating with the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and NETL, especially through the former NETL Regional University Alliance.“Our multi-disciplinary research has encompassed many coal, oil, and natural gas program areas managed by FE and NETL, so this is a natural partnership for us,” noted Gregory Reed, director of the Center for Energy. “We’re excited to help NETL and Leidos access our array of talented faculty for this critical program.” “We look forward to continuing a long standing NETL relationship through Leidos,” said David Vorp, associate dean for research at the Swanson School. “This contract will be critical in helping NETL maintain best-in-class research and development operations and continue to position NETL as a world-class DOE National Laboratory.” ###

Jul

Jul
31
2018

ChemE Undergraduates Take Their Research to Italy

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

Jul
16
2018

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

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

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

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

Chemical & Petroleum

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

Jul
3
2018

Chemical Science Features Stunning Artwork from John Keith’s Lab

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

Jun

Jun
19
2018

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

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

May

May
30
2018

Pitt Engineering Professor Steven Little receives international Young Investigator Award for development of novel drug delivery systems

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 30, 2018) … The Controlled Release Society has announced that University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven Little is the recipient of its 2018 Young Investigator award. The honor annually recognizes one individual in the world, 40 years of age or younger, for outstanding contributions in the science of controlled release. Dr. Little is the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.Dr. Little’s focuses on novel drug delivery systems that mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation.  This allows for dosages that are millions of times smaller than current medicine, and his next-generation treatments have shown promise for addressing a number of conditions including glaucoma, periodontal disease, wound healing, cancer, skin allergic dermatitis, and even transplantation of tissues and limbs.  New “controlled release” systems developed by Dr. Little are applied once and then released over a period of days or months, depending on the medication. His controlled release discoveries resulted in the co-founding of Pittsburgh-based Qrono Inc., which provides custom designed controlled release formulations for academic laboratories and agricultural and pharmaceutical companies.Previous Young Investigator Award recipients include:2017   Zhen Gu2016   Ryan Donnelly2015   Twan Lammers2014   Suzie Pun2013   Ali Khademhosseini2012   Cory Berkland2011   Molly Stevens2010  Krish Roy2009   Justin Hanes2008   Samir Mitragotri2007   David Putnam2006   Stefaan De Smedt2005   Mark Prausnitz2004   Jean-Christophe Leroux2003   Duncan Craig2003   Glen Kwon2002   Steve Schwendeman2001  Jeffrey Cleland2001   Saghir Akhtar2000   Claus-Michael Lehr1999   Derek O'Hagan1998   Antonios Mikos1997   Martyn Davies1996   W. Mark Saltzman1996   Joke Bouwstra1995   Rainer Mueller1994   Kam Leong1993  Ruth Duncan1992   Joachim Kohn1992   Kinam Park1991   Vincent Lee1990   Patrick Couvreur1989   Ronald Siegel1988   Richard GuyMore About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is a William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award from the ASEE, being elected as a fellow of the BMES and AIMBE, a Carnegie Science Award for Research, the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award, the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award, being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator, and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education. Dr. Little was also recently named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. Chemical Engineering departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. ###

May
4
2018

Planet Philadelphia interviews Dr. Eric Beckman for segment, "What To Do About Plastic?"

Chemical & Petroleum

Visit the Planet Philadelphia Radio Show for the original post. Plastic has innumerable good uses in our modern world, but we’re drowning in plastic waste. What should we do about it? Tune in to this Planet Philadelphia environmental radio show to find out about what we can do, as the guests discuss new, environmentally sensitive approaches to waste. Reducing waste and saving businesses money: Alisa Shargorodsky, founder and chief source reductionist at Echo Systems, a consulting business, will talk about ways to help businesses and organizations move towards zero waste while saving money in their operations. She specializes in group empowerment, leadership and shifting the culture of the work force. Using nanotechnology to make unrecyclable packing recyclable: Dr. Eric Beckman, professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He was recently awarded a large grant by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma as one of the five University of Pittsburgh Departmental winners of the Circular Materials Challenge. (Dr. Beckman's segment begins at 00:23:48.)

May
3
2018

“Doping” to Reduce Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (May 3, 2018) …  A recent article in the sustainable chemistry journal ChemSusChem revealed researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are “doping” nanoparticles to enhance their ability to capture carbon dioxide and provide a raw source of carbon for industrial processes. Not to be confused with its negative use in athletics, “doping” in chemical engineering refers to adding a substance into another material to improve its performance.Along with global temperatures, research into the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) is on the rise. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a historic high of 408 parts per million, according to the latest measurements by NASA. Previous studies have shown the connection between greenhouse gases like CO2 and the warming trend, which began around the turn of the 20th century.“Many of our industrial processes contribute to the alarming amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, so we need to develop new technologies to intervene,” says Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it to useful chemicals can be both environmentally and industrially beneficial.”Dr. Mpourmpakis co-authored the study titled “Design of Copper-Based Bimetallic Nanoparticles for Carbon Dioxide Adsorption and Activation” (DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201702342) in ChemSusChem, with other researchers in Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering including Professor Götz Veser and three PhD students: James Dean, Natalie Austin, and Yahui Yang. An artistic depiction of the zirconium-doped copper nanomaterials appeared on one of the journal’s covers for Volume 11, Issue 7 in April 2018.Through a series of computer simulations and lab experiments, the researchers designed and developed a stable catalyst for the capture and activation of CO2 by doping copper nanoparticles with zirconium. The researchers believe the nanoparticles have large potential for reducing the carbon footprint of certain processes such as burning fossil fuels. However, CO2 molecules are rather reluctant to change.“CO2 is a very stable molecule which needs to be 'activated' to convert it. This activation happens by binding CO2 to catalyst sites that make the carbon-oxygen bond less stable. Our experiments confirmed the computational chemistry calculations in the Mpourmpakis group that doping copper with zirconium creates a good candidate for weakening the CO2 bonds,” explains Dr. Veser. Mpourmpakis’ group used computational chemistry to simulate hundreds of potential experiments vastly more quickly and less expensively than traditional lab methods and identified the most promising candidate dopant which was then experimentally verified. Copper nanoparticles are well-suited for the conversion of CO2 to useful chemicals because they are cheap, and they are excellent hydrogenation catalysts. Through hydrogenation, CO2 can be converted to higher-value chemicals such as methanol (CH3OH) or methane (CH4). Unfortunately, converting CO2 also requires its activation which copper is not able to deliver. Zirconium gets along well with copper and naturally activates CO2.“To have an effective dopant, you need to have sites on the catalyst surface that pass electrons to CO2,” says Dr. Mpourmpakis. “The dopant changes the electronic characteristics of materials, and we found zirconium is particularly effective at activating the CO2.”The Pitt researchers tested a number of different nanoparticle configurations and found the zirconium-doped copper nanoparticles particularly promising catalysts for hydrogenating CO2 and have already begun testing their effectiveness. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Apr

Apr
26
2018

Expanding Boundaries: Pitt undergraduate Nadine Humphrey wins Vira I. Heinz award to study abroad

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 26, 2018) … Each year, the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership (VIH) admits undergraduate women from 15 institutions across Pennsylvania into a one-year leadership development program that includes an opportunity to study abroad. One of this year’s recipients from the University of Pittsburgh is Nadine Humphrey, a chemical engineering sophomore in the Swanson School of Engineering who will participate in the Pitt in Japan program this summer. The VIH program provides funding for women who have never traveled internationally and prepares them for tomorrow’s global challenges. In addition to international experience, recipients are required to attend two leadership development retreats in Pittsburgh and "create a Community Engagement Experience” designed to use their new-found skills to impact their local community in a positive way. Humphrey will be spending her time abroad in Kobe, Japan where she will explore the language and culture. During the VIH Spring Retreat, participants established goals in a specific area of focus, and she chose to examine economic opportunity in Japan. “The Pitt in Japan program offers a class called ‘Doing Business in Japan,’ where we will learn about Japanese business practices and visit a company abroad. I plan to observe their work culture and compare it to the American experience,” said Humphrey. “I would also like to interact with Japanese university students to understand how they value a college education and compare their views of the working world to those of my peers.” She hopes these interactions will help improve her Japanese language skills. “I was eager to study in Japan because I have been interested in the language for a long time, but it is difficult to learn without some kind of formal education,” said Humphrey. “During this program, I want to develop my speaking and listening skills to function on a conversational level. Being able to communicate with people from another country will give me a more global perspective and will help me get a picture of current events from the eyes of another culture.” In addition to the international experience, Humphrey hopes to take away new skills from the leadership component of the program. “I heard about this opportunity from a poster in my dorm freshman year. I thought it was neat that I could travel abroad, gain leadership skills, and use what I learned to effect change back home,” said Humphrey.  “I have enjoyed participating in volunteer opportunities as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and I hope that my experience in this program will help me find new ways to get involved around the city.” The program’s namesake, Vira I. Heinz, was an active member of the Pittsburgh community and engaged in philanthropic and civic work around the region and internationally. She left a lasting mark in Pennsylvania by funding international opportunities to generations of women after her. ###

Apr
26
2018

McGowan Institute Director William Wagner Named Inventor of the Year

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

UPMC News Release Dr. William Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, has been honored with the 2018 Inventor of the Year award by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association. He received the award at a recent event in Pittsburgh. “It’s an honor for my team and me to be recognized by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association,” Wagner said. “This is a welcome recognition of our work in translating research from the bench to the bedside and developing technologies that address unmet clinical needs.” The award also recognizes the positive, significant economic impact the McGowan Institute has had within the western Pennsylvania region. Under Wagner’s direction, the McGowan Institute is a leader in medical device commercialization and regenerative medicine technologies. The institute has made an international impact on healthcare with its development of circulatory assist devices, pulmonary assist devices and extracellular matrix-based materials for regenerative repair and healing. In addition to leading the McGowan Institute, Wagner also co-founded Neograft Technologies, which is developing new treatment options for coronary artery bypass surgery, and has raised over $34 million in funding. Wagner has 26 issued patents and 27 additional patent filings to his name. Wagner and his colleagues’ most recent invention includes a fluid material that gels upon injection into tissues and then acts to control inflammation and direct tissue healing. He also has invented a series of new biodegradable, elastic polymers that can be used to slow the dilatation of the heart following a heart attack as well as be used in other applications, such as creating heart valves. ###
Madison Brunner, Communications Specialist
Apr
25
2018

Formula Won: Pitt Chem-E-Car Revs up for National Competition

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 25, 2018) … Runners, cyclists, and race car drivers can all benefit from visualizing themselves crossing the finish line before a competition. But what happens when they don’t know where the finish line will be? During the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Chem-E-Car Competition, student engineers spend months designing a shoebox-sized car powered by chemical reactants that can travel a distance between 50 and 100 feet, but judges don’t reveal that distance until an hour before the competition.A team of undergraduate students from the Swanson School of Engineering entered the Chem-E-Car Competition at the AIChE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference on April 6 - 7 at Princeton University. Their car, “The Volts Wagon,” finished in the top five, earning a spot in the National Chem-E-Car Competition at the annual AIChE conference in Pittsburgh this October. Before the conference, the teams only knew they had to create a car able to travel somewhere between 15 and 30 meters (about 50 – 100 feet) while carrying a payload between zero and 500 milliliters of water (about zero – 1.1 pounds). The car had to be powered by chemical reactants and include a second chemical reaction as a stopping mechanism. It had to go the distance, but it would be disqualified for overshooting the distance by too much.On the day of the competition, the judges revealed the target distance would be 60.4 feet and the cars had to carry a payload of 400 milliliters of water. The Pitt students’ car featured a zinc air battery and a chemical chameleon stopping mechanism. It passed safety tests for pressure, gases, temperature, exhaust, and chemicals. The judges also evaluated the cars based on creativity of the design and incorporation of green engineering principles. Students completed safety training and submitted an Engineering Documentation Package containing equipment specifications, material safety documentation sheets, and other information about their design. The morning of the competition, the teams presented posters detailing research they conducted to create their cars.After the judges gathered all of their evaluation data and The Volts Wagon completed its run, the Pitt students finished in fourth place in a field of 19 teams.During the conference, another Pitt team came in third place of 18 teams in a chemical engineering-themed Jeopardy Competition. Twenty Pitt students attended the conference in total, and teams for both competitions comprised a diverse group of chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering undergraduate students.Members of the Pitt AIChE student chapter received donations from alumni, family, and friends to pay for conference expenses through the Pitt ENGAGE crowdsourcing platform. The Chem-E-Car team also received support from Lubrizol, BASF Corporation, the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department, and the Student Government Board (SGA). The AIChE Mid-Atlantic Region includes professional chapters and universities throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.About AIChEFounded in 1908, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) is a nonprofit organization providing leadership to the chemical engineering profession. Representing 57,000 members in industry, academia, and government, AIChE provides forums to advance the theory and practice of the profession, upholds high professional standards and ethics, and supports excellence in education. Institute members range from undergraduate students, to entry-level engineers, to chief executive officers of major corporations. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Apr
20
2018

Covestro Distinguished Lecture honors Harvard Professor George Whitesides

Chemical & Petroleum

From The Pitt News Harvard University professor George Whitesides spoke to a crowd of about 150 people Thursday night in Benedum Hall about how chemistry can be utilized in all industries to bring opportunities for invention and productivity. “The tools from the health care and manufacturing industries can provide what we need in the real world in order to bring more opportunities that involve chemistry and innovation,” Whitesides said. The department of chemical engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering named Whitesides the 2018 Covestro distinguished lecturer — an award that recognizes excellence in chemical education, outreach and research. The lecture was sponsored by Covestro LLC, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials, and has been given annually at Pitt since 1992. ... “We research the question of our environmental maintenance in order to understand how to make the world run,” Whitesides said. “These aspects all involve chemistry.” Read the full article at The Pitt News.
Briana Canady, Staff Writer, The Pitt News
Apr
17
2018

Full of Hot Air and Proud of It

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 17, 2018) … Of the four states of matter, gases are the hardest to pin down.  Gas molecules move quickly and wildly and don’t like to be confined. When confined, heat and pressure build in the container, and it doesn’t take long before the gas blows the lid. Luckily, gases are superficial. Provide them with an attractive internal surface area, and they’ll pin themselves down in no time. No, it’s not love at first sight, it’s adsorption.“Adsorption is the processes of gas pinning to the surface of another material—the inside walls of a container, for example,” says Chris Wilmer, assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “When adsorption occurs, the gas molecules stop bumping into each other, reducing pressure. So, by increasing a container’s internal surface area, we can store more gas in less space.”Dr. Wilmer directs the Hypothetical Materials Lab, where he and his research group develop new ways to store, separate, and transport gases. The study, “Thermal Transport in Interpenetrated Metal-Organic Frameworks” (DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.7b05015), published in the American Chemical Society journal Chemistry of Materials, was featured on the journal cover with an image designed by Kutay Sezginel, a chemical engineering graduate student in Dr. Wilmer’s Lab, depicting interpenetrated metal organic frameworks or MOFs.MOFs are a promising class of porous materials, made of metal clusters bound to organic molecules. Discovered fewer than two decades ago, MOFs help rein in gases because their porous nanostructure has an extremely high surface area and can be custom engineered to be particularly sticky to certain gas molecules. MOFs are used for a variety of functions including gas storage, gas separation, sensing, and catalysis.In the study, the researchers discovered that MOFs can dissipate even more heat from confined gases when they are woven into each other or “interpenetrated.” In fact, parallel, interpenetrated MOFs can cool off gases roughly at the same rate of two MOFs individually. In other words, gases don’t mind close quarters if those quarters are MOFs.More efficient gas storage could lead to new possibilities in sustainable energy production and use. Oil remains the preferred power source for most transportation vehicles, but natural gas is a cheaper, more abundant, and cleaner alternative. Compressed natural gas tanks are too heavy and expensive to replace traditional gasoline tanks, but adsorbed natural gas tanks are both light and cheap. A MOF tank can store same amount of fuel as typical gas tanks but with a quarter of the pressure. That’s only one potential application.“Medical oxygen tanks, storing hazardous gases from semiconductor manufacturing, and technologies that aim to capture, separate, and store carbon from the air can all benefit from MOFs,” says Dr. Wilmer. “We believe MOFs have the same potential impact on the 21st century as plastics did in the 20th.” Idealized interpenetrated MOF structure. The entangled MOF can dissipate heat roughly two times faster than the constituent MOFs could separately, potentially enabling more efficient gas storage. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Apr
9
2018

Harvard Chemist George Whitesides Named 2018 Covestro Distinguished Lecturer at Pitt

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2018) … In recognition of his exemplary research in the fields of surface chemistry, microfluidics and nanotechnology, Harvard University’s George Whitesides has been named the 2018 Covestro Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Dr. Whitesides currently is the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. 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. “From his groundbreaking research in surface chemistry, Dr. Whitesides advanced the field of nanoscience and impacted diverse fields from electronics to medicine,” said Steven R. Little, PhD, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. “His innovations have helped to bridge so many disciplines and impacted the careers of several of our faculty, and so our department is honored to welcome him.”“Covestro is proud to sponsor this event in partnership with the Swanson School of Engineering, and we join the university in welcoming Dr. Whitesides back to Pittsburgh,” said Don S. Wardius, Manager of University Relations, Covestro LLC. “Through his pioneering contributions to diagnostics, chemistry, biology and polymer science, Dr. Whitesides embodies Covestro’s passion for pushing boundaries in the pursuit of innovation. We’re honored to support a platform where he can share his insights with the next generation of innovators.”Dr. Whitesides received his AB degree from Harvard University in 1960, and PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1964 (with J.D. Roberts). He began his independent career at M.I.T., and is now the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University. His current research interests include physical and organic chemistry, materials science, biophysics, water, self-assembly, complexity and simplicity, origin of life, dissipative systems, affordable diagnostics, and soft robotics.The Covestro lectures will be on Thursday, April 19 at 5:00 pm with a reception following, and Friday, April 20 at 9:30 am. Both lectures will be presented in Benedum Hall Room 102, 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: How to Think About “Who Cares?” in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering  Thursday, April 19, 5:00 p.m. - Benedum 102 (Reception follows) ABSTRACT: Chemistry, and the world of science and technology of which it is a part, are changing dramatically.  Biology, materials, nanotechnology, and other less familiar/popular areas offer opportunities; the decline in invention in the chemical industry, and of productivity in the pharmaceutical industry, limits opportunities. One future for chemistry is the emergence of new fields; another is absorption by other disciplines. Every area of science faces periods of maturation and reinvention. What are the indicators for chemistry at this time? Does the history of other fields offer useful lessons?Lecture 2: Simplicity as a Strategy in ResearchFriday, April 20, 9:30 a.m. - Benedum 102ABSTRACT: “Simplicity” as a Component of Invention. “Complexity” is relatively simple to think about (at least for academics); “simplicity” is more complex. This seminar will consider “simplicity” (together with an idea we call “stackability”) as a parameter to guide strategy in research, using two examples--one from ongoing large-scale technology, and one from our own research. ### About Covestro LLCCovestro 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 2017 sales of EUR 14.1 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 medical industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employed approximately 16,200 people at the end of 2017.About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe 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 ranks within the top 25 U.S. ChE departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million.

Apr
6
2018

Eleven Pitt Students Awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Fellowships

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

University of Pittsburgh News Release PITTSBURGH – Eleven University of Pittsburgh students and four alumni were awarded the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Eleven Pitt students and four alumni also received honorable mentions. 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 a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. The fellowship program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The support accorded NSF Graduate Research Fellows nurtures their ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Among this year's Pitt cohort, eight undergraduate and graduate students were awarded fellowships, joined by two Swanson School alumni now in graduate school. Four undergraduate and graduate students and one alumnus received honorable mentions. Mary Besterfield-Sacre, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, attributed this year's increase in winners from engineering to a strategically focused mentor-mentee program. “The program diversity among this year’s Swanson School NSF fellows is thanks in great part to Bioengineering Professor Pat Loughlin for working with each department to identify strong candidates and faculty mentors to help them build winning portfolios,” Dr. Besterfield-Sacre said. “The NSF Graduate Research Program is incredibly competitive and we’re especially proud that undergraduates make up half of our fellows.” Current Pitt students who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship are seniors from: - Swanson School of Engineering: Abraham Charles Cullom (civil and environmental engineering), Vani Hiremath Sundaram (mechanical engineering and material science), Adam Lewis Smoulder (bioengineering) and Henry Phalen (bioengineering); and graduate students Megan Routzong (bioengineering), Monica Fei Liu (bioengineering), Angelica Janina Herrera (bioengineering) and Sarah Hemler (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: Graduate students Brett Baribault Bankson (psychology), Stefanie Lee Sequeira (psychology) and Alaina Nicole McDonnell (chemistry). Current Pitt students who received honorable mentions are from: - Swanson School of Engineering: seniors Anthony Joseph O’Brian (chemical and petroleum engineering), Anthony Louis Mercader (mechanical engineering and material science), Zachary Smith (electrical and computer engineering); and graduate student Maria Kathleen Jantz (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: graduate students Amy Ryan (chemistry), Kathryn Mae Rothenhoefer (neuroscience), Andrea Marie Fetters (biological sciences), Mariah Denhart, (biological sciences), Timothy Stephen Coleman (statistics), Hope Elizabeth Anne Brooks (biological sciences), Mary Elizabeth Rouse Braza (geology and environmental science). Alumni who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include Thomas Robert Werkmeister (engineering science) and Luke Drnach (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, and Julianne Griffith (psychology and sociology) and Aleza Wallace (psychology) from the Dietrich School. Alumni who received honorable mentions include Corey Williams (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, Sarah Elise Post (biological sciences), Hannah Katherine Dollish (neuroscience and Slavik studies) and Krista Bullard (chemistry), the latter three from the Dietrich School. Visit https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do for a full list of fellows and honorable mentions and to learn more about the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. # # #
Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Apr
4
2018

Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Presents James M. Pommersheim with 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (April 4, 2018) … 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 James M. Pommersheim, BSCHE ’60, MS ’62, PhD ’70, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. Gerald D. Holder, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the final time before his return to the faculty this fall. “An accomplished researcher, Jim is also a passionate teacher and has worked to recognize our outstanding educators,” said Dean Holder. “His teaching awards at Bucknell are numerous, and in kind, he established the James Martin Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching here at our Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. We thank Jim for his dedication to teaching both the countless students of the past and our Pitt students of tomorrow.” About James M. Pommersheim James M. Pommersheim received three degrees from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Chemical Engineering: his BSCHE in 1960, his MS in 1962, and his PhD in 1970. He first became interested in teaching while serving as a teaching assistant at Pitt where he had many opportunities to interact with the faculty of the department, most notably its chair, Edward Stuart. These engagements led to his successful tenure as Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University from 1965 to 2003 and the fall semester of 2006. Dr. Pommersheim specialized in conceptual and mathematical modeling in chemical engineering with research centered on transport in cementitious systems. At Bucknell he was instrumental in establishing the transport theory sequences of courses as well as a course in applied mathematics which emphasized modeling along with mathematical methods. He also taught operations research in the Management Department. He served as Visiting Research Professor at The Pennsylvania State University in the summer semesters of 1988 and 1989. At Syracuse University, he served as Visiting Professor, Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, in the Spring semesters of 2005, 2006, and 2011. In 2014, Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering established the James Martin Pommersheim Award for Excellence in Teaching in honor of a significant legacy gift made by Dr. Pommersheim. The award recognizes one outstanding departmental faculty member annually in the areas of lecturing, teaching, research methodology, and research mentorship of students, as well as the conduction of seminars, tutorials, and recitations. In addition to his extensive teaching career, Dr. Pommersheim served as a research associate for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Occidental Research and Petroleum, Mobil Oil, and NASA. He provided consulting services for the Center for Building Technology and for the Materials Research Institute at Penn State. He has authored a number of publications and held many presentations at national and international meetings. Dr. Pommersheim is a member of AIChE as well as several other professional and honorary societies. His specific honors and awards include: Faculty Advisor to Outstanding Senior Design Teams in the Smith College of Engineering, Syracuse University (2005 and 2006); Outstanding Paper Award from the Society of Coating Technology (1996); ASEE Mid-Atlantic Region Award for Excellence in Instruction of Engineering (1984); Class of 1956 Award for Inspirational Teaching, Bucknell University (1985); Invited Scholar, Faculty Development Program of Queen’s University (1982); and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, Bucknell University (1979). ###

Apr
2
2018

Swanson School students capture top prize and more at tenth annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles

Innovation Institute News Release With a blast of confetti falling from above the stage at the Charity Randall Theater, the participants in the 2018 Randall Family Big Idea Competition celebrated the culmination of two months of extra-curricular work on ideas for new products ranging from a software platform to connect hunters to landowners to a new insulin pump for diabetics, to a wearable earbud for helping disabled people control devices with eye movement. And 13 of the 40 finalist teams celebrated sharing the $100,000 in prize money. This year’s competition was the largest yet, with more than 300 students of all levels, from freshman to doctoral, participating in the initial round comprising more than 100 teams. Teams led by Swanson School of Engineering students captured at least one win in every place. The winner of the $25,000 top prize was Four Growers, an interdisciplinary group of students led by Dan Chi of the Swanson School of Engineering. They are developing a robotic system for harvesting tomatoes in commercial greenhouses. Next up for Four Growers will be representing Pitt as its entrant in the ACC InVenture Prize competition April 4-6, 2018, at Georgia Tech University, where each university in the Atlantic Coast Conference competes against each other in an innovation pitch competition. Four Growers is one of two Pitt teams that have been accepted into the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition the same weekend, meaning they will have to split the team to compete both in Atlanta and Houston. The other Pitt entrant is FRED, which has developed a flexible platform for dynamic social science modeling. “This is the first time Pitt has had a team accepted in the Rice competition in its 17-year history, so having not one but the maximum allowed of two teams from the university accepted is a big deal,” said Babs Carryer, Director of Education and Outreach for the Innovation Institute, who oversees the Big Idea Competition. This years’ competition marked the 10th anniversary and it included the announcement that Pitt trustee Bob Randall and his family are donating $2 million to establish the Big Idea Center at the Innovation Institute to support student entrepreneurship. See that full story here. Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher credited Bob Randall’s vision for embedding entrepreneurship into the fabric of the university with bringing about a culture change that has witnessed a dramatic increase in the experiential learning opportunities in entrepreneurship that have been built around the Big Idea Competition in the past four years. “Bob’s vision has transformed this campus in so many powerful ways. We thank you and your family for not only being a great friend and a generous benefactor but for being a catalyst for change,” he said. Chancellor Gallagher said the crucible of the Big Idea competition will serve the participants well in whatever career route they take, whether it’s launching a startup or leading new initiatives in a larger organization. “If you think about the experience of being an entrepreneur, there’s almost nothing like it. Conversion of a thought into something that’s tangible and real and of value is the magic of entrepreneurship, and to do it is a seminal learning experience,” he said. The Big Idea prize winners will proceed into the Blast Furnace student accelerator beginning in May to further develop their ideas with the goal for some of creating startup companies around their ideas. The winning Swanson School of Engineering teams include: 1st place: $25,000Four GrowersTeam: Brandon Contino (ECE), Daniel Chi (MEMS), Daniel Garcia (Neuroscience), Jiangzi Li (Katz), Rahul Ramakrishnan (CMU)Idea: Automation of tomato harvesting in commercial greenhouses 2nd place: $15,000 (1 out of 3 winners)Re-VisionTeam: Yolandi van der Merwe (BioE), Mark Murdock (Pathology/Badylak Lab)Idea: Therapeutic platform to promote ocular tissue healing after injury 3rd place: $5,000 (2 out of 4 winners) Aqua Bio-Chem DiamondTeam: Mohan Wang (ECE), Jingyu Wu (ECE)Idea: Environmentally friendly removal of pollutants from contaminated waste water PCA BuddyTeam: Akhil Aniff (BioE), Patrick Haggerty (BioE), Sarah Cummings (Nursing), Tyler Martin (BioE)Idea:  Pump that gives children the ability to self-administer medication 4th place: $2,000 (2 out of 4 winners) Steeltown RetractorTeam: Chris Dumm (MEMS), Jack Bartley (MEMS)Idea: Allows surgeons to operate more efficiently and naturally by simplifying surgical tool placement and adjustment GlucaglinTeam: Shane Taylor (ChemE), Evan Sparks (ChemE), Jake Muldowney (ChemE)Idea: Multifunctional pump for diabetics Best Video Award EXG H+TechnologiesTeam: Ker Jiun Wang (BioE), Nicolina Nanni (IE), Yu Liu, Yiqiu Ren (ECE), Kaiwen You (ECE), Xiangyu Liao (ECE), Quanbo Liu (ECE)Idea: System to use eye movement for control of a powered wheelchair, cell phone, or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices
Michael C. Yeomans, Marketing and Special Events Manager, Innovation Institute

Mar

Mar
20
2018

City of Pittsburgh, Pitt and Danish government announce agreement to collaborate on energy planning and research

Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 20, 2018) … The City of Pittsburgh enjoyed three “renaissance” periods in the 20th century that transformed its environment, architecture, and quality of life. Following that legacy of innovation, a new working group announced today seeks to create an energy renaissance for Pittsburgh in the 21st century. The University of Pittsburgh and the Danish Energy Agency are joining forces to collaborate on designing and demonstrating smart energy systems in the City of Pittsburgh. The partnership will focus on: Energy planning for renewables (e.g., wind, solar, thermal, biomass) District heating planning and microgrid feasibility assessments Socioeconomic (community net benefit) analysis of district energy projects Energy infrastructure investments Policy and regulatory structures for district-scale energy approaches The Danish government is globally recognized for its energy leadership, whose objectives include creating security of energy supply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and whilst furthering economic development. Through these initiatives, Denmark expects to be the first country in the world to be independent of fossil fuels by 2050, yet is simultaneously attracting technology companies interested in building power-dense data centers like Facebook, Google, and Apple by virtue of Denmark’s clean energy. Pittsburgh is the first city the Danish government chose to collaborate with under this program in the United States, and will join the DEA in celebrating and discussing energy and innovation. The Danish ambassador to the US, Lars Gert Lose, is optimistic about the possible outcomes of the cooperation. “Denmark is proud to work with an American city undergoing such rapid change. I hope this cooperation can help Pittsburgh replicate the clean energy initiatives we have established in Denmark, and create economic growth that supports sustainability and resiliency.” In its agreement with the University of Pittsburgh, the Danish Energy Agency will develop workshops for regional entities from the public and private sectors, as well as a familiarization tour for stakeholders to experience successful energy initiatives in Denmark. “Large-scale energy projects are logistically challenging for American cities like Pittsburgh, which unlike peer cities and countries in Europe, lack an overarching environmental- or energy-specific entity that both regulates and finances such ventures,” explained Rebecca Bagley, Vice Chancellor for Economic Partnerships at Pitt. “But in partnership with the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) and Danish utilities, we can develop a roadmap toward next-generation energy leadership and infrastructure priorities for Pittsburgh to benefit residents, businesses, government entities and utilities.” The University will provide faculty expertise through its Center for Energy, housed in the Swanson School of Engineering, and the Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute. “This melding of international expertise across diverse energy sectors will help to advance a new “smart cities” concept for Pittsburgh, one based in philosophical experience yet backed up by hard data,” noted Gregory Reed, director of the Center for Energy and the Energy GRID Institute. “In the end, we hope that this endeavor will not only benefit Pittsburgh’s energy renaissance, but provide a baseline for other American cities to follow.” “Like our past city renaissances, Pittsburgh has benefited tremendously from strong public-private partnerships that can see past the red tape and politics to develop transformative change,” noted Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “Pittsburgh already has a head start with the creation of the District Energy Initiative to address Pittsburgh’s challenge of creating 21st century energy systems,” the Mayor added. “But now by collaborating with Denmark, we can combine their international success with our own domestic expertise and establish more sustainable energy policies that help reduce our carbon footprint, and at the same time, increase the affordability and accessibility of our energy supplies here in Pittsburgh. Together we will show combining energy and environmental planning can provide a win-win for the economy.” ###

Mar
8
2018

Cooking up Change for Rust Belt Chemical Manufacturers

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (March 8, 2018) … Economic hardship, population decline, and the rapid decay of the manufacturing industry afflicted much of the Midwest and Great Lakes region in the 1980s earning it the nickname America’s “Rust Belt.” Around the same time across the Atlantic, chemical manufacturers in the United Kingdom were developing new technologies to compete in the global economy.“The trend began in the U.K. and quickly spread to other parts of Europe like the Netherlands and Germany, but the U.S. stagnated,” says Götz Veser, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The chemical industry is extremely risk averse to begin with, and American manufacturers continue to view unproven, new technologies as much too risky at an industrial scale.”Despite other economic sectors like higher education and healthcare embracing new technology in the region, manufacturers often tighten their rusty belts rather than invest in innovation. The reluctance to change has dulled their competitive edge for decades; however, Dr. Veser’s two new research collaborations between academia and industry, backed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and totaling nearly $10 million, look to give American manufacturing a long overdue overhaul.“The focus is on novel process technology, i.e. our goal is to create the same products but much more efficiently. The U.S. has seen many incremental updates to technology over the years but very little real innovation. Jointly with our industry partners, we are trying to show the chemical industry that it doesn’t have to lock itself into technology from the 1950s and that we can implement new techniques without disrupting the entire economy,” explains Dr. Veser. Dr. Veser leads a team of researchers from Pitt and Ohio-based chemical manufacturer Lubrizol in a collaboration totaling $8 million over four years. Funding for the research comes from Lubrizol and the DOE’s Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute—a five-year, $70 million commitment to improving energy efficiency and lowering investment requirements for American manufacturers looking for upgrades.A main goal of the Pitt-Lubrizol collaboration is to replace Lubrizol’s current practice of batch processing chemicals with continuous processing. Continuous processing uses tubular reactors to provide much greater control of process conditions. It works like an automated assembly line, whereas batch processing is like a single, overworked mechanic.“Batches are essentially big pots. You put in all the reactants, mix, heat, and pray. They can be as big as 50,000 gallon pots. Controlling this monster of ingredients is difficult. As a result, the efficiency is low, and you can lose a whole batch if something goes wrong,” says Dr. Veser.The researchers will be transitioning Lubrizol’s production of succinimide—an oil additive that keeps fuel-burning byproducts from damaging engines. Dr. Veser hopes continuous processing will improve energy efficiency by more than 20 percent, not only in the lab but also in the manufacturing plant.“Ideally, at the end of the grant period the result will be industrial implementation, not just the development of a new technology but immediate deployment. We will use Lubrizol’s pilot plant facilities for testing the technology, and they have committed to building a full-scale extension plant if the technology works as anticipated,” says Dr. Veser.Continuous processing is one example of process intensification—a chemical engineering approach to rethinking manufacturing with an emphasis on sustainability. Dr. Veser will lead Pitt in another $4.6 million DOE grant. The project will apply similar process intensification approaches to finding an efficient way to convert methane to benzene. The technology could have even greater appeal in the region as the new Shell cracker plant comes online in Beaver County. The current cracker plant only uses ethane, a much smaller fraction of natural gas, leaving methane to be burnt.“Methane, the main component in natural gas, can be converted into valuable chemical intermediates called aromatics,” says Dr. Veser. “This is a well-known process that has, however, not been commercialized because of very low efficiency of the conventional process routes. We believe the use of microwave radiation instead of conventional heating can result in drastic improvements to efficiency and may render the process economical.” The principal investigator of the study is John Hu, Statler Chair in engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University. Dr. Hu and his team at WVU will work with researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory to test the efficacy of the microwave reactors while Dr. Veser and his team will design new catalysts and materials to enable the process. As part of the academic/industry partnership encouraged by RAPID, Shell will join the study to evaluate process economics and industrial viability. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Mar
1
2018

Pitt Alumnus and Veteran Energy Research Leader Named Acting Director of NETL

Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

NETL News Release. Posted with permission. Pittsburgh, Pa. – Sean I. Plasynski, Ph.D., a 28-year veteran of federal fossil energy research, has been named acting director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). Plasynski was named to the leadership post by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg following the retirement of Grace Bochenek, Ph.D., who served as director for three years. “This Laboratory has a long history of helping to provide energy security for the people of the United States,” he said. “It is a history accentuated by bold research and solid contributions that have had long-lasting impacts. It is an honor to have the privilege of working with a roster of talented researchers and administrators who have the skills and expertise to continue moving our nation forward.” Plasynski comes to the assignment after having served as the executive director of NETL’s Technology Development and Integration Center where he was responsible for overseeing NETL’s national programs with sister DOE National Laboratories, universities and industrial partners. In the role, he led integrated technical and business teams in managing federally sponsored, extramural research in coal, oil, and gas, and energy technology development. He has held numerous management and technical positions over his NETL career, including acting deputy director and chief operating officer, director of the Strategic Center of Coal, director of the Office of Coal and Power R&D, and Sequestration Technology manager. He has been involved in a wide spectrum of energy technology development, including advanced power and environmental systems, solids transport, biomass co-firing, and carbon capture and storage. Plasynski holds a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. NETL, part of DOE’s national laboratory system, supports the DOE mission to advance the energy security of the United States. The Laboratory implements a broad spectrum of energy and environmental research and development programs. NETL, with research sites in Pittsburgh, Morgantown, W.Va., and Albany, Ore., has expertise in coal, natural gas, and oil technologies; contract and project management; analysis of energy systems; and international energy issues. The Laboratory had an FY 17 federal budget of $927 million with a research portfolio that includes more than 900 projects and activities in all 50 states, with a total value that exceeds $7 billion. More than 1,200 employees work at NETL. In addition to research conducted onsite, NETL’s project portfolio includes R&D conducted through partnerships, cooperative research and development agreements, financial assistance, and contractual arrangements with universities and the private sector. Together, these efforts focus a wealth of scientific and engineering talent on creating commercially viable solutions to national energy and environmental problems. NETL’s current mission is to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations. NETL is the only national lab dedicated to fossil energy. Over the past 20 years, NETL’s scientists have earned 46 R&D 100 Awards, and 33 regional and national awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium. These awards, along with the many other individual awards won by NETL scientists and research partners, recognize NETL’s contribution to the nation’s energy future. ###
Shelley Martin, DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory
contact.publicaffairs@netl.doe.gov

Feb

Feb
27
2018

ChemE’s Judy Yang Named Microscopy Society of America Fellow

Chemical & Petroleum

RESTON, Va. (February 27, 2018) … The Microscopy Society of America (MSA) will induct Judith Yang, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, into its 2018 class of Fellows at its Annual Meeting in Baltimore from August 5-9, 2018.The MSA recognizes fellows as the most distinguished members of the Society who have made contributions to the advancement of the fields of microscopy and microanalysis. Dr. Yang’s citation for fellowship reads: For world leading research in gas-surface reactions, especially oxidation, and catalytic reactions using innovative in situ electron microscopy techniques. “Election to MSA Fellowship is limited to a small fraction of Society members each year and is major recognition by Judy’s peers,” says Steven Little , chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Her expertise in electron microscopy pays tribute to an outstanding career and the world-class research regularly conducted at the Swanson School.” Nominees for fellowship must have a minimum of 10 years of membership with MSA, and fellowship is determined by a nine-member committee representing both the biological sciences and the physical sciences. Fellows must demonstrate contributions to both science and service. The number of MSA members elected to Fellowship each year is restricted to no more than 0.5 percent of the total MSA membership, and fellows represent a broad cross-section of the MSA membership. About Dr. Yang Dr. Yang received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California and her master’s degree and PhD from Cornell University. After graduation, she became a post-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Metallforschung in Stuttgart, Germany. She continued her post-doctoral research and became a visiting lecturer when she joined the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign. She joined the University of Pittsburgh faculty in 1999 and has received numerous awards including the 2005 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award and fellowship with the American Physical Society . About MSA The Microscopy Society of America is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and advancement of techniques and applications of microscopy and microanalysis in all relevant scientific disciplines. It has provided leadership for the discovery and dissemination of information about microscopy and microanalysis since its founding in 1942. Currently, there are approximately 3000 members. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Feb
16
2018

Undergraduate Students Awarded at the Engineers’ Society of Western PA Annual Banquet

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

PITTSBURGH (February 16, 2018) … Last night as engineers from across the region gathered to attend the 134th Annual Engineering Awards Banquet of the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP), the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering announced its recipients of the George Washington Prize. This year’s recipient is Le Huang, an undergraduate student in bioengineering and an active member of the Swanson School community during her time at Pitt. Huang works as a research assistant in the Cardiovascular Systems Laboratory where she is developing a MATLAB-based mathematical model of the human cardiovascular system. Prior to that, she worked in the Cognition and Sensorimotor Integration Laboratory and has been a teaching assistant for several bioengineering and chemistry courses. Additionally, Huang is involved in Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) where she serves on the executive board, co-chairs the Women in STEM Conference, and acts as an outreach activity leader for K-12 students. Pitt’s award-winning SWE chapter organizes events around the city of Pittsburgh to young women to explore STEM opportunities. Finalists for the George Washington Prize are Isaac Mastalski (Chemical Engineering) and Adam Smoulder (Bioengineering). Semi-finalists are Jennifer Cashman (Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science) and Sean Justice (Electrical and Computer Engineering). “The Swanson School is proud to recognize Le and the other finalists for their outstanding accomplishments at Pitt,” said Gerald D. Holder, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt. “Le and her colleagues are very deserving of this competitive award, and we think they will be successful Pitt Engineering alumni.” The George Washington Prize, founded in 2008, honors the first President of the United States and the country’s first engineer. Its mission is to reinforce the importance of engineering and technology in society, and the enhance the visibility of the profession across the Swanson School’s engineering disciplines. The annual award recognizes Pitt seniors who display outstanding leadership, scholarship and performance as determined by a committee of eight professional engineers and Swanson School faculty. Winners receive a $2500 Dean’s Fellowship and award plaque. An additional $7,500 is awarded to the winner if he or she attends graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1880, ESWP is a nonprofit association of more than 850 members and 30 affiliated technical societies engaged in a full spectrum of engineering and applied science disciplines. Now in its 134th year, the annual Engineering Awards Banquet is the oldest award event in the world - predating the Nobel Prize (1901), the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1907), and the Pulitzer Prize (1917).

Feb
13
2018

NEW RESEARCH FINDS CAUSE OF ALLOY WEAKNESS

Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

Reprinted with the permission of Binghamton University By Rachael FloresNovember 27, 2017Sometimes calculations don’t match reality. That’s the problem faced by materials scientists for years when trying to determine the strength of alloys, resolving the disconnect between the theoretical strength of alloys and how strong they actually are. So, what has been missing?New research has found the answer with a collaboration between researchers at Binghamton University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Michigan and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science also supported the work.Researchers used advanced technology to look at alloys on an atomic level in order to understand what has been affecting the strength and other properties. Binghamton University materials science and engineering professor Guangwen Zhou was one of the scientists working on the project. The Pitt team included Jörg Wiezorek and Guofeng Wang from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Judith Yang in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.Zhou and his team used a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) for the study, a tool that has been around since 1935 and has evolved dramatically in recent years with the incorporation of aberration correction techniques and environmental capabilities. It’s powerful enough to look deep into the structure of atoms.“We were able to observe that the changes in alloys from surface segregation were accompanied by the formation of dislocations in the subsurface,” explained Zhou. “Atoms typically make patterns, but when there’s a dislocation, that means the pattern has been interrupted.”Dislocations are what make the alloys weaker than the theoretical calculations predict and Zhou’s research found that surface segregation is what leads to those dislocations.“By understanding how the dislocation forms, we can start to control it,” said Zhou.This could lead to strengthening a variety of alloys that are valued specifically for their strength and light weight.According to Zhou, this groundbreaking research provides insight into what needs to change in order to strengthen the variety of alloys used in airplanes, jewelry, medical tools, bridges, cookware and other common objects.The study, “Dislocation nucleation facilitated by atomic segregation,” was recently published in Nature Materials.https://www.binghamton.edu/news/story/904/new-research-finds-cause-of-alloy-weakness ### Jörg Wiezorek, professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceDr. Wiezorek was involved in the inception stage, the drafting, and writing of the manuscript. He provided continuum elasticity-based dislocation theory calculations. His contributions helped evaluate the energetic feasibility of the apparently observed dislocation nucleation events, which were initiated by solute atom segregation and surface phase formation-related local crystal lattice strain build-up. The calculations also facilitated distinction between the numerous possible scenarios for their mutual strain field interaction to identify the most likely ones that control the dislocation motion after formation. Dr. Wiezorek also contributed to the Burgers vector and dislocation core character determination and interpretation of the atomic resolution transmission electron microscopy images and movies. Guofeng Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials scienceDr. Wang’s group participated in this project right from the beginning when the collaborators at SUNY Binghamton observed some interesting phenomena in CuAu thin films but not in pure Cu thin films. The researchers hypothesized that the Au surface segregation process is responsible for the observed dislocation nucleation. To examine this hypothesis and complement the experimental study, Yinkai Lei and Zhenyu Liu—two PhD students from Dr. Wang’s group who have since graduated—performed extensive atomistic simulations to predict the dislocation core structure, the slip plane of the 1/2[110] dislocation, and the equilibrium structure of the Au segregated CuAu alloy surfaces. The theoretical predictions agreed excellently with the HRTEM images. Hence, these simulations provide much insight into and good explanation of the observed dislocation nucleation process at an atomic scale.Judith C. Yang, professor chemical and petroleum engineeringDr. Yang’s group hosted Lianfeng Zou, a PhD student from Dr. Guangwen Zhou’s group at the University of Binghamton, for a few years at the University of Pittsburgh, where he learned transmission electron microscopy (TEM), including in situ environmental TEM, as well as creating the thin films of CuAu alloy. Lianfeng Zou used in situ environmental TEM to visualize the unusual dislocation nucleation and migration of the copper-gold alloy at the atomic scale in real time. Dr. Yang also facilitated the interactions with Drs. Wiezorek and Wang at Pitt. Before becoming a professor at SUNY Binghamton, Dr. Zhou was the first PhD in Dr. Yang’s group.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Feb
8
2018

Pitt Undergraduates Finish in Second Place of Ergonomics Design Competition for Third Consecutive Year

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (February 8, 2018) … Undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering finished in second place overall for the third year in a row at the International Ergonomics Design Competition hosted by Auburn Engineers, Inc.“We entered six teams this year, and two of them finished in the top five with one team finishing as the runner-up again,” said Joel Haight, associate professor of industrial engineering and director of Pitt’s Safety Engineering Program. Dr. Haight is faculty advisor to the Ergonomic Design Competition teams.Throughout the fall semester, students worked on a Preliminary Design Project to identify workplace stressors and apply ergonomic design principles to alleviate them. This year’s challenge centered on improving an operating room for veterinarians treating large dogs. The Final Design Project, which the students had to complete in 48 hours, involved the evaluation and redesign of a work station at a small engine repair shop.The Pitt teams comprised students from the departments of industrial engineering, bioengineering, chemical engineering, and psychology. According to Dr. Haight, the competition came down to the wire, with the Pitt students just barely edged out of the first place spot.“Our students were up against graduate students at almost all of the schools, and our top team came in just behind a team of graduate students from the University of Buffalo,” noted Dr. Haight.In addition to the two top five teams, the four other Pitt teams received honorable mentions, meaning they finished among the top 14 teams. A total of 28 teams competed, including students from the University of Michigan, Auburn University, Texas A&M, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (Mexico), Virginia Tech, Concordia, and others.In response to the success of Pitt’s undergraduate students’ performance over the past three years, David C. Alexander, president of Auburn Engineers and competition director, collaborated with Dr. Haight to write a joint paper about the competition and its contribution to education.“We submitted the paper to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers’ annual conference in Orlando, and it’s been accepted. We will talk about the competition and industrial engineering education at Pitt to conference attendees this May,” said Dr. Haight. Image (left to right): Top five finishers Dr. Haight, Rip Rucker (IE), Lauren Czerniak (IE), Sean Callaghan (IE), and Connor Bomba (IE) Image (left to right): Dr. Haight, James Oosten (BioE), Katelyn Axman (BioE), and Matt Astbury (BioE) Image (left to right): Dr. Haight, Mackenzie Cavanaugh (IE), Aster Chmielewski (IE), Tom Kramer (IE), and Chris Herrick (IE) Image (left to right): Matt Jones (Psy), Charlie Gates (IE), and Dr. Haight, missing from photo: Jack Clark (ChemE) Image (left to right): Evan Poska (IE), Matt Hoge (IE), Chris C.J. Luther (IE), and Dr. Haight ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Jan

Jan
29
2018

Swanson School Students Succeed at the Startup Blitz

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute hosted its biannual Startup Blitz where nearly 50 students from across the University presented their ideas and innovations to a panel of peers and entrepreneurial experts. The Swanson School of Engineering students had a strong showing and were represented in each of the top three teams. These teams demonstrated interdepartmental collaborations that proved successful in creating ideas that spoke to fellow entrepreneurs. The top prize went to a project that may look familiar to those who attended the School’s fall semester Design Expo. The Posture Protect team of bioengineering students Tyler Bray, Raj Madhani, Jacob Meadows, and Vaishali Shetty came out on top again. They pitched their prototype for a device that helps improve posture for individuals with Parkinson’s disease to the panel of judges and were presented the first place award of $1,500. The Beacone team pitching their idea. (Photo credit: Pitt Innovation Institute) “I am delighted this team of students and their project from our fall 2017 ENGR 1716 Art of Making class won 1st place at Startup Blitz,” said Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering and course director of The Art of Making. “In our course we promote human-centered design, the ability to frame and innovatively solve real-world problems, and how to effectively communicate your ideas to others,” said Samosky. “The Posture Protect team pursued an outstanding design thinking process, and they richly deserve the accolades they’re getting. Their project has real potential to help people with Parkinson’s.” The first runner up team included chemical engineering and Pitt STRIVE student, Henry Ayoola and electrical and computer engineering student, Teddy Valinski. They created Beacone, a safety program for manufacturing plants and construction sites that utilizes a smart device. The team was awarded a prize of $1,000. The Four Growers team presented with their award. (Photo credit: Pitt Innovation Institute) The second runner up team included electrical and computer engineering student, Dan Chi and bioengineering student, Ruben Hartogs. They created Four Growers, an automated device for harvesting tomatoes in commercial greenhouses. They were awarded $500 for their innovation. The Innovation Institute encourages students with entrepreneurial aspirations to apply to the upcoming Randall Family Big Idea Competition. Applications are due February 5. Read the entire news release from the Innovation Institute.

Jan
23
2018

Pitt Chemical Engineering research group is one of five winners of international Circular Materials Challenge

Chemical & Petroleum

DAVOS, Switzerland (January 23, 2018) … Each year more than eight million tons of plastics pollute the ocean, forming mammoth, so-called “garbage patches” via strong currents. Even with new collection methods, only 0.5 percent out of that volume is currently removed from the seas. One solution to this growing crisis is to prevent plastic from becoming waste to begin with – and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are one of five international teams awarded for their novel solutions to this problem. Today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma announced the winners of the Circular Materials Challenge. The winners will each receive a $200,000 share of the $1 million prize. Together with the winners of the earlier $1 million Circular Design Challenge last October, these innovations will join a 12-month accelerator program in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, working with experts to make their innovations marketable at scale. The Pitt team represents the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and includes Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor and Co-Director of the University’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton, and Associate Professor Sachin Velankar. The group was one of two winners in Category 1: “Make unrecyclable packaging recyclable,” and proposes using nano-engineering to create a recyclable material that can replace complex multi-layered packaging – mimicking the way nature uses just a few molecular building blocks to create a huge variety of materials. “Over the past few years I had noted with interest that industries such as automotive, home appliance, and even aluminum cans were transforming their business models from traditional products to services, where goods are designed to be recovered and reused,” Dr. Beckman said. “By contrast, the paradigm of the chemical industry has, for 150 years, been short lifetime and single use. In fact, one study found that the United States only recycles nine percent of its plastic waste, well behind Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent). 1 “Since simple plastics are composed of molecules that can be manipulated to perform various functions, I wondered whether we could transform a molecule from a product to service, with the most interesting applications of this being textiles and packaging.” According to Dr. Beckman, current packaging layers for food products and drink containers are made of several different materials that are responsible for maintaining freshness, blocking UV light, holding inks for labeling, etc. Because the initial manufacturing process, the layers cannot be easily separated and therefore cannot be recycled. The Pitt team’s solution is to alter the nano-structure of polyethylene – simple plastic – to mimic the properties of other complex materials (such as PET, EVOH, or even aluminum) in current laminate packaging. Since the basic chemistry of each layer would remain polyethylene, the packaging can then be collected with other plastics and recycled using traditional methods, removing it from the waste stream. The importance to reducing and reusing plastic is clear: according to the foundation’s 2016 New Plastic Economy report, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20 percent of total oil production, and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget. Wendy Schmidt, Lead Philanthropic Partner of the foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, noted, “The technical innovations developed by our winners are exactly what is needed to begin to address the wasteful material culture of the past century that is creating increasing amounts of microplastics and plastic debris on our shorelines, in our oceans, landfills and even our own bodies.” “Creating recyclable packaging is one of the toughest challenges if we want to create a true circular economy in the U.S., since tens of millions of tons of packaging waste go straight to the landfill each year,” Dr. Beckman said. “We hope that our design not only can set a new standard for high-performing and recyclable plastics, but will stimulate people to think about other ways in which we can transform molecular products to services by mirroring nature and taking advantage of nanostructure building blocks.” ### 1“Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science 13 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771. DOI: 10.1126/science.1260352 View/download the full-scale image above. Read the Circular Materials Challenge news release from the New Plastics Economy. Read the Ellen MacArthur Foundation news release.

Jan
22
2018

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical devices with $115,000 total Round-2 2017 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (January 22, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $115,000 to five engineering and medicine groups through its 2017 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include proposed solutions to conditions such as peripheral artery disease, pulmonary fibrosis, improving auditory pathology detection, improved wound healing and repair, and a better means to perform root canal surgery. The Center for Medical Innovation, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “We have an extremely strong cohort from our 2017 Round 2 funding,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “The collaboration between engineering and medicine at Pitt provides a fertile setting for novel medical technology, and so we’re proud to give these researchers funding to take their ideas to the next level.” AWARD 1: A structurally and mechanically tunable Biocarpet for peripheral arterial diseaseDevelopment of a prototype “Biocarpet” that is mechanically and topographically tunable and can be used to treat complex peripheral artery disease. This will help treat long lesions in peripheral arteries that have multiple stenoses. Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Kang Kim, PhD Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and secondary appointment in Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering William R. Wagner, PhD Professor of Surgery University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Director, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and secondary in Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering John J. Pacella, MD, MS Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Vascular Medicine Institute Kenneth J. Furdella Graduate Student, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 2: FibroKineTM: CXCL10 Biomimetic Peptides for Treatment of Pulmonary Fibrosis Development of an inhaled aerosol delivery system will achieve target organ specificity and efficient delivery to the lung. This will specifically aid patients who suffer from Pulmonary Fibrosis. Cecelia C. Yates, PhD Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Development, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Timothy E. Corcoran, PhD Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and secondary appointments in departments of Bioengineering and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Zariel I. Johnson, PhD Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Health Promotion and Development, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Christopher Mahoney, M.S. PhD Candidate, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 3: Hearing for Health: Single Unit Hearing Screener and AmplifierDevelopment of a wearable product that will allow health care professionals to quickly screen individuals for hearing loss. The device would also further provide sound amplification for those individuals with difficulty hearing. Catherine V. Palmer, PhD Program Director and Associate Professor, Audiology Program, Department of Communication Science & Disorders, University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Department of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Jeffrey S. Vipperman, PhD Professor and Department Vice-Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 4: Gel-based reconstructive matrix for treating orbital trauma and periocular woundsDevelopment of a novel ocular trauma management system, for immediate response to injuries that occur to the areas including and surrounding the eye. Morgan Fedorchak, PhD Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Clinical & Translational Sciences, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; secondary appointment in Chemical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration Jenny Yu, MD, FACS Assistant Professor and Vice Chair for Clinical Operations Department of Ophthalmology, UPMC Eye Center; and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology,  University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Michael Washington, PhD Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine AWARD 5: Vital-Dent, a Revitalizing Root Canal SolutionDevelopment of a novel device to regenerate vital tooth pulp after root canal therapy. Vital pulp will help protect the tooth from future infection and injury, reducing the need for tooth extraction, implants and dentures. Juan Taboas, PhD Department of Oral Biology, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine; secondary appointment, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine Herbert Lee Ray Jr., DMD Assistant Professor of Endodontics and Director, Graduate Endodontic Residency Program, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine Jingming Chen, B.S. Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine ### About the Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation at the Swanson School of Engineering is a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2011 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 50 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1 million since inception.

Jan
11
2018

Back-to-back Journal Covers for Pitt Research Teams

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (January 11, 2018) … The covers of the Tissue Engineering, Part A and Advanced Healthcare Materials scientific journals in December highlighted two projects originating from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Little Lab, which focuses on developing biomimetic therapies for human injury and disease. “While it’s a coincidence that the two covers appeared in the same week, this achievement showcases the excellent work to change the paradigm of how we treat disease being done by all the team members of the Little Lab and its collaborators,” said Steven R. Little, chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and co-author of the two papers. Both projects—one a research paper and the other a review—dealt with topics in “controlled delivery” and involved multi-disciplinary teams of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh departments of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Ophthalmology. “The research paper proposes a cell-free approach to bone engineering based on the directing the migration of the body own stem cells, while the review discusses innovative approaches to treat inflammatory eye diseases,” said Riccardo Gottardi, research assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and a co-author of the two papers. Dr. Gottardi has a second appointment in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and helps Dr. Little run the Little Lab. The cover of Tissue Engineering, Part A featured an image from the study “Programmed Platelet-Derived Growth Factor-BB and Bone Morphogenetic Protein-2 Delivery from a hybrid Calcium Phosphate/Alginate Scaffold” (DOI: 10.1089/ten.tea.2017.0027). The research paper described using a three-dimensional scaffold for releasing growth-stimulating proteins in a controlled manner to treat bone fractures that aren’t healing properly. The lead author of the paper was Emily Bayer, who recently graduated from her position as a trainee in the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Cellular Approaches to Tissue Engineering and Regeneration (CATER) Training Program. Bayer was a member of the Little Lab while working on the paper. The research team was joined by Abhijit Roy, research assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering, and Prashant N. Kumta, the Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor with tenure at the Swanson School of Engineering and School of Dental Medicine.The cover of Advanced Healthcare Materials featured a graphic for the study “Ocular Therapeutics: Modern Therapeutic Approaches for Noninfectious Ocular Diseases Involving Inflammation” (DOI: 10.1002/adhm.201700733). The paper reviewed inflammatory eye disease treatments and was led by co-first authors Michelle L. Ratay and Elena Bellotti. Ratay, a graduate student researcher in the Department of Bioengineering, and Dr. Bellotti, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, are both members of the Little Lab. Both projects examined topics in "controlled delivery" and involved multi-disciplinary teams of researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer