Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Oct

Oct
16
2019

Civil Engineering Professor Kent Harries Named ASCE Fellow

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 16, 2019) — Kent Harries, PhD, FASCE, FACI, P.Eng., associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) this month. The Fellow status, FASCE, signifies members of the organization who have made celebrated contributions to the field and developed creative solutions that have enhanced lives. Fellows make up just three percent of ASCE’s members. The election recognizes Harries’ work on international standards-writing committees and on the use of nonconventional materials, like carbon and glass fiber-reinforced polymers, for structural repair, the structural application of full-culm bamboo, and his design-oriented teaching that teaches students to use both conventional and nonconventional materials. Harries' research interests also include the seismic design and retrofit of building structures, the design and behavior of high-rise structures, applications of full-scale structural testing and the history and philosophy of science and technology. He received his bachelor's, master's and PhD in civil engineering - structures from McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Harries currently serves as a vice-president of IIFC, Senior Editor of Journal of Construction and Building Materials, chair of ACI Committee 440F (Repair of Concrete with FRP) and on numerous other U.S. and international codes and standards development committees including ASCE FCAPS. Harries is presently leading the effort to revise ISO 22156 Bamboo Structural Design. A Fellow of both ACI and IIFC, Harries is a professional engineer in Ontario, Canada, and was Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Bath (UK) in 2018.
Maggie Pavlick
Oct
2
2019

Battling BPA with Biofilms

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 2, 2019) — Chemicals found in many common plastic consumer items have the potential to contaminate drinking water. One in particular, bisphenol A (BPA), could contribute to fertility problems, male impotence, heart disease and other conditions.1 Biofilms, although a common tool used by engineers to combat contaminants in water, often need the support of other technology to remove chemicals like BPA. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has received $420,000 from the National Science Foundation to combine biofilms and electrodes to degrade BPA. The project, titled “Collaborative Research: Engineering Biofilm-Electrode for Organic Contaminant Degradation,” will be led by Pitt’s David Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. Sanchez and his team will collaborate on the project with Seok Hoon Hong, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Combining biofilms and electrochemistry can enhance our methods for removing contaminants from water,” explains Sanchez. “By finding the right combination of electrode morphology and microorganisms, we can ‘supercharge’ the ability of the microorganisms to degrade BPA.” BPA is commonly used in food packaging, such as plastic food and drink containers and as a lining in metal food cans to prevent corrosion. It has an estimated production of 5 million tons per year and is used in everyday items from receipt paper to dental sealants. Because of its prevalence, BPA frequently shows up in the human body: the EPA found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of the urine samples they tested in the U.S. Biofilms are collections of microorganisms growing on surfaces - in this case, an electrode. The primary goal of the research is to increase the amount of BPA they can degrade by creating a perfect match between organism and electrode.  Sanchez will be developing an electrode that gives the bacteria the ideal environment to thrive, while Hong will engineer and select the bacteria themselves. “I believe there’s a ‘Goldilocks’ condition, where the properties of the electrode are just right to select for these microorganisms, and my goal is to find it,” says Sanchez. “If we’re successful, this will be a more effective and sustainable way to target the removal of these types of contaminants from water.” The National Toxicology Program has expressed concern about the potential effects of BPA on human reproductive and development—another study showed that such exposure to BPA in zebrafish disrupted their bodies’ microbial communities, and similar disruption has also been observed in people with gastrointestinal diseases and autism spectrum disorder. “It is critical that we as a society prevent the impact chemical pollutants are having on our bodies and our planet,” says Sanchez. “We hope our research is a step toward developing effective technologies that reduce our exposure to BPA, among other contaminants.” The grant began on Sept. 1, 2019, and is expected to last through August 2022. ### 1Brazier, Yvette and Falck, Suzanne MD, FACP. Medical News Today, 25 May 2017.
Maggie Pavlick
Oct
1
2019

CEE Faculty Environmental and Water Resources

Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh invites applications for tenure-track faculty positions with an anticipated start date of September 1, 2020. These positions are part of a strategic expansion intended to support the research and teaching activities of the Sustainability and Environmental Engineering Group in two areas: Water Resources Engineering: Research areas of particular interest include: surface water and groundwater interactions, coastal flooding, multiphase flow in porous media and its interactions with river systems, computational fluid dynamics, mixing and dynamic behavior of fluids in natural and engineered systems, sediment transport, engineering fluid mechanics related to climate change, or similar areas. Environmental Engineering: Research areas of interest include: biological and chemical processes relevant to resource use and recovery from water or solid waste, and development of environmental engineering processes and technologies for adaptation to global environmental change. Environmental data analytics will be considered within the context of rigorous domain-specific research and applications in traditional and emerging environmental engineering areas. Candidates with outstanding analytical, computational, and/or experimental skills that complement the existing strengths within the department (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/Departments/Civil-Environmental/) and across the University of Pittsburgh (https://www.pitt.edu/research) are encouraged to apply. Ability to collaborate with existing centers, such as the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/MCSI), the Center for Energy (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/cfe), and the Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering (IRISE) Consortium (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/irise/) is highly desirable. Minimum requirements to be considered for the positions are: 1) an earned doctorate in civil engineering or a closely related field; 2) a viable plan to develop and sustain a strong, externally funded research program within the applicant’s area of expertise; 3) strong indication to contribute to the teaching mission of the Department’s graduate and undergraduate programs; 4) evidence of good communication skills; 5) commitment to support service and diversity initiatives in the Department, Swanson School of Engineering and the University of Pittsburgh. Preference will be given to appointees at the Assistant Professor level, but applicants with outstanding credentials may be considered at other levels. Interested applicants should submit: (1) cover letter, (2) CV, (3) teaching statement, (4) research interests and future plans, (5) statement of diversity and inclusion, (6) copies of three representative publications, and (7) the names and contact information for at least three references. Applicants should submit their applications through Interfolio at the following link: http://apply.interfolio.com/69279. Candidates should prominently note in their cover letter if they are applying for the Environmental Engineering or Water Resources position. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until positions are filled. For full consideration candidates are strongly encouraged to apply before December 1, 2019. We actively encourage candidates from underrepresented US minority groups and women to apply for this position.  The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled. Outstanding candidates will have the opportunity to join our vibrant and growing department of 22 full-time faculty members, 300 undergraduate and 130 graduate students (50 of whom are PhD students). University of Pittsburgh faculty receive a comprehensive package of benefits, including medical, dental, vision, and life insurance; retirement savings/pension plans; and tuition scholarships for dependents. Details are available at: http://www.hr.pitt.edu/benefits.

Sep

Sep
30
2019

Modeling the Complexity of the World’s Water

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH(­­Sept. 30, 2019) — Understanding the earth’s water systems is a complicated endeavor. Factors like climate, air and water quality, ecosystem, droughts, erosion, sediments and the impact of human activity need to be taken into account when creating a model that would accurately predict, for example, how the scale and frequency of floods and droughts will be affected by climate change in the coming years. Yet such a model would require tremendous amount of valuable and diverse data that are not always readily available; specialized models from across diverse disciplines; high-performance computing (HPC) resources to develop integrated model simulations and store the massive outputs; and a sizable group of researchers to orchestrate it. Now, a national, cross-disciplinary team of researchers, led by Xu Liang, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received a combined $1.3 million from the National Science Foundation to create a new cyberinfrastructure framework that can build such a model, with $437,232 designated for Pitt. CyberWater, an open framework of cyberinfrastructure, will enable easy integration of diverse data sets and models for investigating water resources and climate-related environmental issues. It will allow users to integrate many different models without the need for coding, and it will enable reproducible computing and seamless, on-demand access to various HPC resources. “Understanding environmental issues, like flooding, depends on so many factors—topography, soil, changes in land cover and vegetation, human activity, and more,” says Liang. “Critical questions like this one can only be answered by looking at all these factors and how they interact, but before CyberWater, they couldn’t easily be considered together without the benefit of a large team of researchers from different disciplines, working together over multiple years.” The new cyberinfrastructure framework will allow scientists to discover, access and use diverse sets of data, and link that data to multiple models at once. The user can then assess and evaluate how the models interact and, ultimately, test comprehensive hypotheses and alternate process representations using the coupled models. Liang will work with a team of experts to create this modeling platform: computer scientists and cyber experts from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana University, and Ball State University; climate scientists from North Carolina State University; and hydrologists from Iowa University and the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI). The grant, titled “Collaborative Research: CyberWater—An open and sustainable framework for diverse data and model integration with provenance and access to HPC,” will continue through 2022.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
27
2019

Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering Introduces New and Promoted Faculty

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (September 27, 2019) ... With expertise from biomaterials and autonomous sensing to cyber-physical systems, neural networks and renewable energy, 14 new faculty joined the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering this fall. "Here in the Swanson School, we have established our transformative purpose to create new knowledge for the betterment of the human condition. I’m excited that these outstanding new faculty will contribute toward that interdisciplinary pursuit," noted James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering.  "Our new faculty bring incredible skill-sets that will help us address 21st-century challenges. In particular, the United Nations has outlined 17 sustainable development goals as a call to action for global socioeconomic and environmental sustainability by 2030. And we’re using those goals to track our own progress and inform our transformative purpose. I look forward to these new faculty joining in that important endeavor.” The new faculty include: Department of Bioengineering Elisa Castagnola, Research Assistant ProfessorDr. Castagnola received her PhD in robotics, neurosciences and nanotechnologies at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and continued her postdoctoral research on neurotechnologies at IIT in the departments of Robotics Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and the Center for Translational Neurophysiology for Speech and Communication. Prior to Pitt, she was a senior postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering at the Center for Neurotechnology (NSF-ERC) and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University.For the last 10 years, Dr. Castagnola’s work focused on combining research in material science and new microfabrication techniques for the development of innovative neurotechnology, advancing state-of-the-art implantable neural devices and bringing them to a clinical setting. She is now conducting research with Dr. Tracy Cui, Professor of Bioengineering, in the Swanson School’s Neural Tissue Engineering (NTE) Lab. She is currently working on the development and in-vivo validation of innovative neural probes with superior capability in neurochemical and neurophysiological recordings. Her main interests are in material science, electrochemistry, neurochemistry and microfabrication. Mangesh Kulkarni, Research Assistant ProfessorDr. Kulkarni received his bachelor degrees in medicine and surgery from Grant Medical College, University of Mumbai, his MTech in biomedical engineering and science from the Indian Institute of Technology, and a PhD in biomedical engineering and science from the National University of Ireland, Galway.While pursuing his PhD he served as a graduate research fellow at the University of Ireland’s Network of Excellence for Functional Biomaterials where he developed spatiotemporally controlled gene delivery system for compromised wound healing.  He then joined The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, MR Division, Institute of Cell Engineering as a postdoctoral fellow where he was involved in development of MRI based non-invasive system to track the pancreatic islets transplants, and later was a postdoctoral scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Department of Biomedical Sciences and Regenerative Medicine Institute where he worked to unravel molecular signatures in corneal regeneration. At Pitt Dr. Kulkarni works with Dr. Bryan Brown associate professor of bioengineering and core faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Kulkarni’s research interests focus on the development of biomaterials-based delivery systems; molecular diagnostics and therapeutics (particularly involving non-coding RNA); and cell-free therapeutic strategies such as stem cells secretome therapy. Ioannis Zervantonakis, Assistant ProfessorDr. Zervantonakis  received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, master of science in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich, and PhD in the lab of Dr. Roger Kamm at MIT, where he engineered an array of microfluidic devices to study the tumor microenvironment. For his postdoctoral studies, he joined the lab of Dr. Joan Brugge at Harvard Medical School and developed systems biology approaches to study drug resistance and tumor-fibroblast interactions. He is a recipient of a 2014 Department of Defense Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Fellowship and a 2017 NIH/NCI Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award.In his Tumor Microenvironment Engineering Laboratory, Dr. Zervantonakis employs a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis and drug resistance. His research interests include cell and drug transport phenomena in cancer, mathematical modeling of cell-cell interactions, microfluidics, and systems biology of cell-cell interactions.Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Amir H. Alavi, Assistant ProfessorPrior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Alavi was an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Missouri. Dr. Alavi’s research interests include structural health monitoring, smart civil infrastructure systems, deployment of advanced sensors, energy harvesting, and engineering information systems. At Pitt, his Intelligent Structural Monitoring and Response Testing (iSMaRT) Lab focuses on advancing the knowledge and technology required to create self-sustained and multifunctional sensing and monitoring systems that are enhanced by engineering system informatics. His research activities involve implementation of these smart systems in the fields of civil infrastructure, construction, aerospace, and biomedical engineering. Dr. Alavi has worked on research projects supported by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Missouri DOT, and Michigan DOT. He has authored five books and more than 170 publications in archival journals, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and has received several award certificates for his journal articles. Recently, he was selected among the Google Scholar 200 Most Cited Authors in Civil Engineering, as well as Web of Science ESI's World Top 1% Scientific Minds. He has served as the editor/guest editor of several journals such as Sensors, Case Studies in Construction Material, Automation in Construction, Geoscience Frontiers, Smart Cities, ASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, and Advances in Mechanical Engineering. He received his PhD in civil engineering from Michigan State University.Aleksandar Stevanovic, Associate ProfessorDr. Stevanovic previously served as an associate professor of civil, environmental and geomatics engineering at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU)., where he was also the director of the Laboratory of Adaptive Traffic Operations and Management (LATOM) and the Program Leader in Infrastructure Systems within the FAU Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE). At Pitt, he teaches courses in transportation and traffic engineering, transportation planning, and operations research and conducts research in a variety of subjects including traffic signal control systems, intelligent transportation systems, multimodal and sustainable operations, transportation simulation modeling, etc. Although Dr. Stefanovic’s main research interests emphasize arterial operations and traffic signal control, he is best known for his contributions in Adaptive Traffic Control Systems (ATCS). He is the sole author of the NCHRP 403 Synthesis Study – Adaptive Traffic Control Systems: Domestic and Foreign State of Practice and has been invited to present and teach about ATCSs, both nationally and internationally. He has published more than 150 journal and conference papers and presented at more than 80 international, national, and state seminars and professional meetings. He has been principal investigator on 31 research projects for a total of ~ $3.9 million in funding and has authored more than 30 technical reports for various transportation agencies including TRB/NAS, NSF, UDOT, UTA, FLDOT, NJDOT, and others. He is a member of TRB AHB25 Committee for Traffic Signal Systems and he is also a member of ITE, TRB, and ASCE. He serves as a paper reviewer for 30 scientific journals and conference proceedings, has advised more than 35 graduate students and five post-doctoral associates, and has served on PhD committees of several international university graduate programs. He has been awarded a position of Fulbright Specialist, in the area of urban network traffic control, for 2018-2021. He earned his bachelor’s in traffic and transportation engineering at the University of Belgrade (Serbia) followed by a master’s and PhD in civil engineering at the University of Utah. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mai Abdelhakim, Assistant ProfessorDr. Abdelhakim received her PhD in electrical engineering from Michigan State University (MSU) and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electronics and communications engineering from Cairo University. Her current research focuses on securing cyber-physical systems by leveraging machine learning, networks design, stochastic modeling and information theory. Following her PhD, she was a postdoctoral research associate at MSU where she worked on developing reliable communication networks and distributed decision making in sensor networks and high-speed communication systems. She later was a research scientist at OSRAM research center working on Internet of Things applications, security mechanisms, wireless optical communications and indoor positioning systems. Prior to her appointment at the Swanson School, she was a faculty member in Pitt’s School of Computing and Information. Her research interests include cyber-physical systems, cybersecurity, machine learning, wireless communications, networks design, stochastic systems analysis and information theory.Mohamed Bayoumy, Assistant ProfessorDr. Bayoumy received his bachelor's degree in electronics and electrical communications engineering and a master's in engineering physics from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University. He then joined the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as a graduate research and teaching fellow, and received his doctoral degree in 2019. His research features the development of optical fiber-based sensors for monitoring harsh environments. He is a recipient of the Swanson School of Engineering Dean’s Fellowship and multiple research and teaching awards. Since 2016 he has been appointed to the Postgraduate Research Program at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) administered through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).Theodore Huppert, Research Associate ProfessorDr Huppert received his bacehlor’s in biochemistry and genetics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and PhD in biophysics at Harvard University and the A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging of the Massachusetts General Hospital on the topic of statistical analysis models for multimodal brain imaging and models of the cerebral neural-vascular unit. Prior to joining the Swanson School, he served in the School of Medicine Department of Radiology and worked as one of the core MRI physicists in the MRI Research Center.Dr Huppert’s lab develops data analysis methods for brain imaging including near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and functional MRI with a focus on multimodal analysis and data fusion approaches. His lab also supports the NIRS brain imaging program at Pitt, which currently has over two dozen funded projects and more than a dozen different labs on campus working on projects ranging from infant development to gait impairments in the elderly. His lab also authored several open source data analysis packages for NIRS, with more than 1,400 users worldwide, and is a founding member of the Society for NIRS.   In Hee Lee, Assistant ProfessorDr. Lee received his PhD degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Michigan and served there as a postdoc and research scientist. His research interests include low-power energy-efficient circuit design to develop millimeter-scale energy-autonomous sensing/computing systems for biomedical, ecological, and industrial applications.In addition to publications and presentations, Dr. Lee holds six patents on technologies including analog to digital conversion, switched capacitor circuits, resistance detection and ultra-low-power temperature current sourcing. Amr Mahmoud, Visiting Assistant ProfessorDr. Mahmoud received his bachelor’s in electronics and electrical communications engineering and master’s in engineering physics from Cairo University, and a PhD in computer engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include, but are not limited to, machine learning, especially deep learning for image processing; memristor-based neuromorphic computing systems; and video prediction using generative adversarial recurrent neural networks. He has published five conference papers, one book chapter, and one journal paper in prestigious conferences and journals, including IEEE EMBC, ACM-DATE, IEEE IJCNN, and IEEE TNANO.Nathan Youngblood, Assistant ProfessorDr. Youngblood received his bachelor’s in physics from Bethel University and master’s and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, where his research focused on integrating 2D materials with silicon photonics for high-speed optoelectronic applications. Following, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford developing phase-change photonic devices for integrated optical memory and computation. His research interests include bi-stable optical materials, 2D material optoelectronics, and photonic architectures for machine learning. At his Photonics Lab, his research combines unique optoelectronic materials with nanophotonics to create new platforms for high-efficiency machine learning and high-precision biosensing. Principal to this is a fundamental understanding of light-matter interaction at the nanoscale and use of advanced nanofabrication techniques to address major challenges facing these disciplines.Department of Industrial Engineering Hyo Kyung Lee, Assistant ProfessorDr. Lee received her bachelor’s in information and industrial engineering from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, master’s in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, and. PhD in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research investigates healthcare analytics, data-driven decision support, and operational planning and management in the context of clinical data and practice. She has experience collaborating with medical professionals in UW Health, Mayo Clinic, Baptist Memorial Health System, SSM Health, and Dean Medical Group. She is the recipient of the Grainger Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship from the College of Engineering at UW Madison.Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Nikhil Bajaj, Assistant ProfessorDr. Bajaj earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, and has held research assistant positions on several projects in the areas of nonlinear dynamics, control systems, sensing and machine learning, computational design, and heat transfer. He has held a summer research position with Alcatel-Lucent Bell Laboratories and has also served as a consulting mechatronics engineer with two startup technology companies, in the areas of force sensing in gaming devices and the control of multi-actuator haptics. His research interests include nonlinear dynamical and control systems, and the analysis and design of mechatronic systems, especially in the context of cyber-physical systems—in particular making them secure and resilient.Tony Kerzmann, Associate ProfessorDr. Kerzmann received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Duquesne University followed by a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Following his PhD, he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Robert Morris University where his research focused on developing alternative vehicle fueling station optimization simulations. He advised student groups that won regional and international awards; the most recent team won the Utility of Tomorrow competition, outperforming 55 international teams. Additionally, he developed and taught thirteen different courses, many in the areas of energy, sustainability, thermodynamics, and heat transfer. He served as the mechanical coordinator for the Engineering Department for six years and was the Director of Outreach for the Research and Outreach Center in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. Additionally, several faculty received promotions and named professorships and fellowships:Faculty PromotionsBioengineeringBryan Brown, Associate ProfessorTamer Ibrahim, ProfessorSpandan Maiti, Associate ProfessorWarren Ruder, Associate ProfessorChemical & PetroleumGiannis Mpourmpakis, Associate ProfessorJohn Keith, Associate ProfessorCivil & EnvironmentalJulie Vandenbossche, ProfessorElectrical and ComputerWei Gao, ProfessorMechanical & Materials ScienceMarkus Chmielus, Associate ProfessorAlbert To, Professor Professorships and FellowsWilliam Kepler Whiteford ProfessorsAlbert To (MEMS)Anne Robertson (MEMS)Lance Davidson (BioE)J. Karl Johnson (ChemE)   Julie Vandenbossche (CEE)William Kepler Whiteford FellowsWarren Ruder (BioE)Chris Wilmer (ChemE)Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty FellowSusan Fullerton (ChemE)CNG Faculty FellowGuofeng Wang (MEMS)Wellington C. Carl Faculty FellowVikas Khanna (CEE) ###

Sep
26
2019

Applying Structural Monitoring Technology to the Human Spine

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 26, 2019) — Amir H. Alavi, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has spent much of his career developing sensors to monitor the health of large, complex structures like bridges and roads. Now, he has applied those skills to a smaller and even more complex structure—the human spine. Alavi received $393,670 in funding from the National Institutes of Health to design and test a miniature, implantable, and battery-free sensor to monitor spinal fusion progress after surgery. Spinal fusion is performed to treat a wide variety of spinal disorders. During the spinal fusion surgery, a special type of bone screw and symmetrical titanium or stainless-steel rods are implanted to stabilize vertebrae movement, which allow bone grafts to incorporate into the adjacent vertebra. Of the more than 400,000 lumbar spinal fusion surgeries performed each year, approximately 30 percent of cases experience post-operative complications. A clear understanding of the spinal fusion rate is essential for better surgical outcomes. Currently, spinal fusion progress is assessed using radiographic images, such as X-ray and CT scans, which are costly, expose the patients to significant radiation, and, more importantly, do not provide a continuous history of the spinal fusion process. To avoid relying on radiographic imaging, Alavi’s team is developing wireless sensors that will be attached to the spine fixation device to monitor the spinal fusion process and will completely rely on the energy harvested from the spine’s natural micromovements for operation. “This implantable sensor has a major advantage over other existing spinal implants in that it does not rely on batteries, which are not really suitable for biomedical implants due to their limited lifetime, large size, and chemical risks. If there is spine movement, the sensor will self-power itself and track the progress of spinal fusion,” says Alavi. “Also, the data from the sensor can be wirelessly interrogated using a diagnostic ultrasound scanner, rather than the commonly-used RFID technology, which faces severe limitations inside the tissue.” Clinicians can read the generated time-evolution curves using the ultrasound scanner to properly assess the bone fusion period, and for more accurate implant removal scheduling. “Surgeons will be able to monitor the fusion process consistently over time simply with a portable scanner,” continues Alavi. “While CT scans and X-rays present only a ‘snapshot’ at the time where the measurements are taken, our sensor will give a clearer picture of the entire course of fusion.” In addition to avoiding the costly imaging appointments, the sensor itself is expected to be inexpensive to produce—less than $5 in raw materials each. Shantanu Chakrabartty, PhD, Clifford Murphy professor of electrical and systems engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, and Richard Debski, PhD, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh and the co-director of the Orthopedic Robotics Laboratory, will lend their expertise to the project. The two-year grant is titled “Wireless, Self-Powered Sensors for Continuous and Long-Term Monitoring of Spinal Fusion Process” and began on Sept. 1, 2019.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
26
2019

CEE Faculty Advanced Infrastructure

Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh invites applications for tenure-track faculty positions effective September 1, 2020. Preference will be given to appointees at the Assistant Professor level, but applicants with outstanding credentials will be considered at other levels.These positions are part of a strategic expansion intended to support the research and teaching activities of the Advanced Infrastructure Group in the broad areas of structural engineering and mechanics, civil engineering materials, infrastructure, and transportation. We seek candidates with fundamental expertise, research and teaching interests in one or more of the following areas: computational mechanics, materials, data analytics, machine learning, resilient infrastructure systems, intelligent infrastructure, structural engineering, and sustainable urban engineering. Further, we seek candidates with outstanding analytical, computational, and/or experimental skills that can interface and complement the existing strengths and Initiatives within our Department (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/Departments/Civil-Environmental/), and across the University of Pittsburgh (https://www.pitt.edu/research) in order to break traditional discipline silos to better address the complex challenges of modern societies. These Initiatives include nanomaterial fabrication, additive manufacturing, computational modeling, advanced materials development, sustainability, and energy. The ability to collaborate with existing centers, such as the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/MCSI), the Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering (IRISE) Consortium ( https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/irise/), and the Center for Energy  (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/cfe) is highly desirable. Outstanding candidates will have the opportunity to join our vibrant and growing department of 22 full-time faculty members, 300 undergraduate and 130 graduate students (50 of which are PhD students) Minimum requirements to be considered for the positions are: 1) an earned doctorate in civil engineering or a closely related field; 2) a viable plan to develop and sustain a strong, externally funded research program within the applicant’s area of expertise; 3) strong indication to contribute to the teaching mission of the Department’s graduate and undergraduate programs; 4) evidence of good communication skills; 5) commitment to support service and diversity initiatives in the Department, Swanson School of Engineering and the University of Pittsburgh. Interested applicants should submit: (1) cover letter, (2) CV, (3) teaching statement, (4) research interests and future plans, (5) statement of diversity and inclusion, (6) copies of three representative publications, and (7) the names and contact information for at least three references. Please submit the application through Interfolio at the following link: http://apply.interfolio.com/69185.Review of applications will begin December 1, 2019 and will continue until the positions are filled. We strongly encourage candidates from underrepresented US minority groups and women to apply for this position. The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.University of Pittsburgh faculty receive a comprehensive package of benefits, including medical, dental, vision, and life insurance; retirement savings/pension plans; and tuition scholarships for dependents. Details are available at: http://www.hr.pitt.edu/benefits.

Sep
26
2019

Bilec Lab Post Doc

Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

A postdoctoral appointment is available for a Convergence Research and the Circular Economyproject with Dr. Melissa Bilec’s Built Environment and Sustainable Engineering Lab at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation.Seeking a highly motivated and organized person for a unique opportunity to conduct research on the circular economy on the recently award National Science Foundation project.  Given the large project team and focus on convergence, the person should demonstrate exceptional project management skills. The successful applicant will possess a PhD in civil and environmental engineering, chemical engineering, or related fields, have an excellent academic record, and work well in a collaborative research environment.  The candidate should have completed the Ph.D. prior to the date of joining. Strongly encourage candidates from underrepresented minority groups and women to apply for this position.   Applicants with experience and interest in fields such building science, architectural engineering, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, material flow analysis, statistics, and/or complex systems. The initial appointment will be for one year with the strong possibility for an extension. The start date is flexible, with a preference for candidates ready to begin as soon as possible. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled. Your application should include: - Cover letter- Curriculum Vitae- 1-page statement of your career goals and how this postdoc experience will help you achieve   your goals - Contact information for three references. Please apply to position 19007870 at https://www.join.pitt.edu and e-mail your materials to mbilec@pitt.eduFor further information or questions about this position you may contact: Dr. Melissa Bilec(mbilec@pitt.edu).The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and valuesequality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Sep
25
2019

Converging on a Global Waste Solution

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (September 25, 2019) … In less than a generation, the plastic bottle has evolved from inexpensive convenience to scourge. What once was an accessory on the fashion runway has polluted the earth’s oceans, while plastic microparticles have been found in many living organisms. Recycling efforts have attempted to curb plastic overuse and misuse, but in the U.S. alone only 30 percent of plastic is recycled, while globally almost 20,000 plastic bottles are produced every second.1 And plastic is only one of the many types of waste – from construction materials to electronics and paper – that industries and government are attempting to reroute from landfills. However, recycling is only part of the solution to control, let alone mitigate, the proliferation of waste. A five-university team, led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, will utilize convergence research to address this complex challenge. Their proposal, Convergence Around the Circular Economy, received a two-year, $1.3 million award from the National Science Foundation’s new Growing Convergence Research program. The award has the potential to be extended to five years and $3.6 million. “Convergence research is one of NSF’s “Big Ideas” to bring together a diverse team that can break apart silos and develop novel research paradigms to solve pressing societal challenges,” explained Melissa Bilec, deputy director of the Mascaro Center, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow at Pitt, and the award’s principal investigator. “I am personally interested in high-impact research that addresses significant societal challenges. Circular economy offers promising solution as it aims to cycle products and materials back into production through creating new products or benign degradation. “With our project, we are aiming to advance the much needed fundamental science behind circular economy solutions by not only designing products with an eye towards circularity, but also in  alignment with sustainability goals.” Within the Swanson School and the Mascaro Center, Dr. Bilec, an expert in high-performance buildings and environmental impacts, assembled experts in polymers and green molecular design, life cycle assessment, industrial ecology, blockchain, and complexity leadership theory. External members were recruited from Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Maine. “For centuries, the global consumption model for any product has been linear – “take, make, waste.” As the global population continues to grow, this places enormous pressures on all parts of the supply chain and ultimately results in a negative environmental impact, as we’ve seen with plastic bottles and containers,” explained Eric J. Beckman, Co-Director of the Mascaro Center and Distinguished Service Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt. “This, however, is a difficult philosophy for the chemical industry, whose production processes and inside-the-box thinking have remained virtually unchanged for more than 70 years,” Dr. Beckman added. “What has changed – and what industry wasn’t prepared for – is that consumers are demanding a fix.” Circling the Research Wagons Dr. Bilec’s convergence research team includes engineers, economists, anthropologists, and environmental assessment experts, each of whom will leverage their own expertise toward addressing this global waste crisis through circular economy fundamentals. Rather than focusing solely on creating a better plastic or improving recycling methods, the researchers will seek to develop novel business models, engagement approaches, policy options, and innovative technical and science-based advances that potentially could impact the entire lifecycle of plastics and construction materials. “The problem with simply reusing or recycling stuff is knowing what’s in it, where it came from, where it is now. This is the reason why some plastic packaging, although made with components that individually are recyclable, has to be thrown away because there is no way to separate these parts,” noted Vikas Khanna, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow at Pitt. “To determine a product’s life cycle, there is a tremendous amount of data that needs to be collected, sourced and distributed to even begin finding sustainable solutions.” One approach to tracking that data is utilizing blockchain, which is making inroads in healthcare, supply chains, law and more, beyond its more well-known use in cryptocurrencies. “Blockchain is ideal for establishing provenance and can assist with the development and reuse of materials,” explained Christopher Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow at Pitt and founder of Ledger, the first peer-reviewed scholarly journal dedicated to blockchain and cryptocurrency. “Blockchain provides a secure, immutable series of data that can establish a firm foundation for life-cycle assessment.” To leverage additional expertise toward the challenge, Dr. Bilec recruited researchers from four other universities: Callie Babbitt, Associate Professor, Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology Don Fullerton, Professor, Finance, Economics & Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Gies College of Business, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Cindy Isenhour, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Climate Change, University of Maine Thomas L. Theis, Director, Institute for Environmental Science & Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago And to determine whether their work is indeed converging toward a solution, Gemma Jiang, director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at Pitt, will monitor the researchers’ organizational functions, structures and processes to better review progress and implement any course corrections. “Solving the global waste problem demands a sea-change of thought and accepted practices across so many disciplines and industries, which is why this NSF funding is critical,” Dr. Bilec said. “This will require potentially disruptive change, but with a convergence approach we can create a more equitable and sustainable set of solutions that benefit the planet as a whole.” ### Eindhoven, The Netherlands, May 23rd 2019. Re-imagining the shipping container, here housing an architectural firm and store featuring upcycled goods from used materials. (Lea Rae/Shutterstock) 1Sources: Euromonitor International, The Guardian.

Sep
10
2019

Adding a Human Touch to Engineering

Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (September 10, 2019) … During his undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Isaiah Spencer-Williams (BSCEE ’19) traveled across the globe, witnessing the impact of engineering in places like Flint, Michigan and South Africa. These experiences left a lasting impression and inspired him to reframe his approach to engineering. Spencer-Williams, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, wants to remind his peers that they are designing for humanity and has worked to create an environment where students can focus on their wellbeing and grow to better understand the needs of others. “Human needs and problems often direct technological developments, so I think that we need a better understanding of human values and emotions to create the most effective designs,” said Spencer-Williams. “I think this concept is underrepresented in our undergraduate curriculum so I wanted to create a space for students to express themselves and learn to connect with their peers.” CREATING A SAFE SPACE Spencer-Williams and a friend founded The I.N.N.A.T.E. Project, which is dedicated to providing a space in which community members, specifically youths and young adults, can network with artists, challenge normalcy, and spark impactful conversations using natural and developed artistic abilities. The project not only provides a venue for students to have healthy discussions surrounding mental health, societal normalcies, and community engagement, but it also pushes them to explore their creativity, which Spencer-Williams encourages. “Whether it be writing, drawing, painting, or dancing, everyone should find something to distract themselves from the stress of their academic career,” he said. “People really value having this space to create. Engineering students have very rigorous curriculums and often feel siloed in the STEM world. This venue provides a safe space for many of us to branch out and connect with students from across the university and in the greater Pittsburgh community.” The I.N.N.A.T.E. Project holds their events at The Corner in West Oakland and has grown from a small gathering to a group of more than 40 students. They have recently been on hiatus but are working to restart and revamp programming in fall 2019. Finding Inspiration Away from Home Spencer-Williams started writing poetry in 2012, using music as inspiration for his work. He later began performing his poetry during his freshman year at Pitt and has since taken inspiration, in part, from experiences during his undergraduate studies. After his sophomore year, he had the opportunity to travel to South Africa through the Global Engineering Preparedness Scholarship (GEPS), where students are encouraged to think both locally and globally in terms of how to approach different problems in the classroom. New to international travel, this trip inspired him to write Aquatic Rose and Moonlit Lotus, his first poetry collection. Including pieces like “Orchid’s Obituary” and “No Longer With Us,” Spencer-Williams highlighted critical, recent American events in a creative way and called for us to remember our purpose in order to make positive change. “… I pray that our world mirrors your beautiful image, grasps onto your heavenly traits, and realizes that though you are no longer with us physically, you are eternally in the purity of our hearts.” - A line from "No Longer With Us" “My experience in South Africa really expanded my mindset and made me question how engineers can design for a larger community in a way where they balance the impact on the environment with the needs of the people they are serving,” said Spencer-Williams. “The trip also made me reflect on the privileges that we have in America and wonder how we can use that as a platform to better serve those who may be less fortunate.” After his junior year, Spencer-Williams traveled to Flint, MI, a city that has been in the national spotlight for its 2014 water crisis where insufficient water treatment exposed residents to lead and other toxins. Though this experience was difficult for him to write about, it further demonstrated the impact that engineering can have on a community. The Art of Communication “Taking poetry classes alongside my engineering coursework helped me manage my mental health,” Spencer-Williams explained, “but in addition to that, it has also made me a better communicator and has really helped elevate my academic career.” During the 2017 Fall Regional Conference of the National Society of Black Engineers, he participated in the Art of Technical Communication, a competition that challenges future engineers to develop innovative and imaginative techniques to express their knowledge of STEM. He presented Push, a poem communicating engineering principles and the black engineering experience and was awarded first place and the People’s Choice award for his performance. “…ultimately, what I'm trying to say, is that understanding the difficulty of being a black engineer is something on the orders of quantum mechanics…” - A line from "Push" “Developing my writing skills has helped me more effectively communicate my research, which is an important skill to have when trying to teach the general public about engineering,” he said. Spencer-Williams matriculated at the Swanson School’s civil engineering graduate program in August 2019. His goal is to become a professor so that he can encourage students to focus not only on academics but also on developing a stronger sense of self and understanding of how one’s work can impact the lives of others. He believes that fostering a greater sense of community, self-care, and global-mindedness may not only benefit society but also influence the way we teach, learn, and create. ###

Sep
9
2019

Makerspaces and Mindsets

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

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

Aug

Aug
27
2019

Using Nature to Protect Cities from Extreme Weather

Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 27, 2019) — As the planet warms, communities will continue to face the sometimes crippling aftermath of flooding and increasingly common extreme weather events. The U.S.’ failing infrastructure exacerbates the problem, leaving engineers in search of solutions that are both sustainable and future-proof. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Northwestern University $2 million to study nature-based strategies that can help prevent urban flooding and give under-resourced communities the ability to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to extreme weather events. The project, entitled “Catalyzing Resilient Urban Infrastructure Systems: Integrating the Natural & Built Environments,” is part of the NSF’s Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI) program, which has awarded five projects a total of $9 million this year. The Swanson School of Engineering’s Carla Ng, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Murat Akcakaya, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will work with principal investigator Kimberly Gray, PhD, Kay Davis Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University, on the project. Daniel Bain, PhD, assistant professor of geology and environmental science and associate director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Water Collaboratory, will also contribute his expertise to the Pitt team. “Cities across the country experience flooding when severe weather strikes due to their overtaxed and aging stormwater infrastructure,” says Dr. Ng. “Here in Pittsburgh, a combined sewer system means water quality is often hit as well. We want to give cities the ability to use natural features that will not only improve water management and enhance the livability of the surrounding community, but are also more adaptive, robust and resilient than current systems.” Linda Young, Dr. Peter Haas and Drew Williams-Clark at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago; and Nicole Chivaz and Laura Brenner Kimes at Greenprint Partners in Chicago, are also on the team. Sarah States, PhD, director of research and science education at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, will contribute expertise towards biodiversity assessments and outreach activities in Pittsburgh. The goal is to develop the engineering tools that will allow communities to integrate nature-based green infrastructure, such as green roofs, rain gardens and porous pavements, with existing built infrastructure to manage storm water in ways that help prevent flooding while improving water quality and ecological health. The collaboration will fundamentally reinvent the urban water cycle using a systems approach that will be designed to operate with predictive and expanded performance metrics tailored to local conditions. The researchers will use two topographically different cities with ongoing stormwater issues—Pittsburgh and Chicago—to establish a model that can be replicated in communities across the country. Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of only a handful of certified Living Buildings in the United States, will provide historical data from several of its existing green infrastructure installations from which the team will build new models and understanding of green infrastructure function within the landscape. “Using green infrastructure alongside the built environment can benefit the entire ecosystems, including humans, wildlife and vegetation,” says Dr. Ng. “We aim to identify and resolve the hurdles that have limited green infrastructure to single installations with limited real-time performance data or to plans that remain unrealized. Our goal is to apply engineering tools to real communities with real outcomes affecting real lives.” The grant began on Aug. 1, 2019 and is expected to last until 2024.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
23
2019

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

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

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

Aug
19
2019

MCSI Summer Research Symposium Showcases Undergrad Sustainability Research

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 19, 2019) ­— From using machine learning to identify birdsongs to finding a way to use silk as a plastic alternative, students in the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s (MCSI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program have been working hard all summer on research that contributes to sustainability. On Wednesday, July 24, the 12-week program culminated in the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, where 21 students in the program presented their research with a poster, a 10-minute presentation and a two-minute video. Attendees voted at the end of the symposium, and Mason Unger’s presentation “Recirculating Aquaculture: Managing Water Quality in a Closed System” won first place. Kareem Rabbat’s presentation “Small & Mighty: Exploring Nature to Identify Bacteria Capable of Degrading a New Generation of Environmental Contaminants,” was awarded second place. “All of the students have done amazing work and learned a great deal about the future of sustainability,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of MCSI. “Our planet depends on the innovative thinking that the students practiced this summer.” First Place: Recirculating Aquaculture: Managing Water Quality in a Closed SystemMason Unger, who is majoring in civil and environmental engineering, worked with David Sanchez, PhD, on a project related to land-based fish farming, or recirculating aquaculture. This fishing method helps reduce overfishing in the oceans, and it is a way to provide a sustainable protein source. However, one major issue is that the fish can take on an unpleasant flavor due to the chemical compounds that build up in the water. Mason and Dr. Sanchez have worked toward a way to identify and, eventually, remove the compounds causing the unpleasant flavors without creating additional waste water. Second Place: Small & Mighty: Exploring Nature to Identify Bacteria Capable of Degrading a New Generation of Environmental ContaminantsKareem Rabbat, who is majoring in civil and environmental engineering, worked with his advisor Sarah Haig, PhD, to identify and isolate bacteria that are capable of degrading emerging contaminants—namely, nonylphenol and bisphenol (BPA)— in the environment. These contaminants are unregulated in Pennsylvania, allowing companies to release as much as they need to meet production. The team hopes that these bacteria, once found, can sustainably remove nonylphenol and BPA from contaminated water and soil, replacing current cleanup methods that include removal and incineration of thousands of tons of soil.
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
14
2019

Making a Sustainable Mark in Pittsburgh

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (August 14, 2019) ... From the hazy industrial city it once was to the city it is today, Pittsburgh’s environmental outlook has come a long way, thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of its people. The Incline recognized 13 of the people who are making Pittsburgh a greener city in its inaugural Who’s Next: Environment and Energy class, including three from the Swanson School of Engineering: Kareem Rabbat (CEE ’20), Noah Snyder (PhD BioE ’15) and Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainability at the University of Pittsburgh.“These three individuals are true innovators, and we are exceptionally proud of their connection to the Swanson School.” says U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin. “Our community has proven a clear dedication to pursuing new ideas and technologies that will make the city and the planet more ecologically sound.”Kareem Rabbat, Chief Innovation Officer, Ecotone RenewablesKareem’s company, Ecotone Renewables, earned him a spot in the Who’s Next class. The company converted shipping containers into biodigesters and greenhouses throughout the city. In addition to Ecotone Renewables’ work, his research at Pitt looks at ways to use bacteria and fungi to naturally and sustainably remove contaminants from soil and water.“I was always fascinated by the natural world growing up and I have decided to dedicate my life to preserving its integrity for generations to come,” Rabbat told The Incline. “… we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors but we borrow it from our children.”Noah Snyder, President & CEO, Interphase MaterialsNoah founded Interphase Materials in 2015 when he realized the impact that biodegradable materials used for the medical brain implants he was researching could have on industrial and commercial heat exchangers. His company’s shown that commercial applications of the materials reduces energy consumption of large water-cooled HVAC units and heat exchangers, which has a positive impact on the local environment as well as the energy grid.Aurora Sharrard, Director of Sustainability, University of PittsburghAurora’s work at Pitt has had a far reaching impact in making the school greener. She enabled Pitt’s first Sustainability Plan and created the Office of Sustainability to make the plan a reality. The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and landfill waste and focus on using renewable energy on campus. She’s also worked with the Green Building Alliance, co-founding Pittsburgh’s 2030 District, which aspires to reduce energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions 50 percent by 2030. ###
Maggie Pavlick, Senior Communications Writer

Jul

Jul
9
2019

NSF funds Bridges-2 supercomputer at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

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

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

Jul
8
2019

Civil Engineering Professor Piervincenzo Rizzo Selected for 2020 A. J. Durelli Award

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (July 8, 2019) — The Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM) has selected Piervincenzo Rizzo, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the 2020 A. J. Durelli Award. The award is named for an experimental stress analyst known for seeking new methods to solve problems, rather than relying on existing methods. The award recognizes “a young professional who has introduced, or helped to introduce, an innovative approach and/or method into the field of experimental mechanics,” according to the SEM. “Piervincenzo has made remarkable contributions to his field, and we are proud that the SEM is recognizing his achievements with this award,” says Radisav Vidic, professor and chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “His innovations in nondestructive evaluation and structural health monitoring set him apart among his peers.” The award will be presented at an Awards Luncheon on June 10, 2020, during the SEM Annual Conference and Exposition on Experimental and Applied Mechanics in Orlando, Fla.
Maggie Pavlick
Jul
2
2019

Preparing for a Sustainable Future

Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, MEMS

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

Jun

Jun
28
2019

Two Swanson School Alumni Elected to Pitt's Board of Trustees

Civil & Environmental, MEMS, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (June 28, 2019) ... The University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees elected five new trustees during its annual meeting on Friday, June 28. The new members, all distinguished Pitt alumni, bring to the board a range of experience that spans decades in industry and public service. The five new trustees are: Robert O. Agbede (ENGR ’79 G ’81) SaLisa L. Berrien (ENGR ’91) Sundaa Bridgett-Jones (GSPIA ’95) Wen-Ta Chiu (GSPH ’89) Adam C. Walker (A&S ’09) Their terms are effective July 1. The board also re-elected Eva Tansky Blum to her fifth and final term as chair of the board, a position she has held since 2015. Thomas E. Richards, a long-serving Pitt trustee and executive chair of the board of directors for the technology services corporation CDW, was named chair-elect of the University’s Board of Trustees. In this capacity, he will become chair after Blum’s final term, which will conclude in June 2020. The board also nominated Richards, Vaughn Clagette, James Covert and John Verbanac to serve on the UPMC Board of Directors. Biographical information for the new members follows:Robert O. Agbede currently serves as vice chair of Hatch USA, a global management, engineering and development consulting firm. He is the former CEO and owner of Chester Engineers, which merged with Hatch Ltd., in 2017. Agbede built Chester Engineers into one of the largest African American owned water/wastewater, energy and environmental engineering firms in the United States. There, he developed a work culture that emphasizes the importance of giving back and viewing corporate social responsibility as good business. He has earned several awards, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year—Business Services, the Minority Enterprise Development Agency’s Minority Small Business Award and the NAACP Homer S. Brown Award. In 2000, Agbede was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Swanson School of Engineering, where he is currently a member of the Board of Visitors and chair of its Diversity Committee. Agbede helped establish several mentorship and scholarship opportunities at the Swanson School, including the Robert O. Agbede Scholarship for African American students pursuing engineering degrees, as well as the Robert O. Agbede Annual Diversity Award to encourage recruitment and retention of African American faculty and students. In 2009, the University’s African American Alumni Council presented him with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement in Business. SaLisa L. Berrien is the founder and CEO of COI Energy and has more than 25 years of experience in the electric power and smart grid space, working in areas ranging from vertically integrated utility companies to an energy service company on smart grid, clean tech and big data analytics. Berrien is also founder and board chair of STRIVE Inc., a charitable organization that focuses on STEM leadership development training for students in grades three through 12. In 2013, she established COI Ladder Institute to focus on delivering leadership and empowerment services to millennials and women. In 2004, Berrien established the Karl H. Lewis Engineering Impact Alumni Fund for Pitt students of underrepresented groups enrolled in engineering. She later elsewhere established, in honor of her aunt, the Talibah M. Yazid Academic Excellence scholarship for college-bound high school seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or greater. Berrien has earned service awards from the City of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Lehigh University; the National Society of Black Engineers and the YMCA. She is also the recipient of the Allentown Human Relations Commission Human Relations Award and the National Society of Negro Women Mary Jackson Engineering Award. Sundaa Bridgett-Jones leads the Rockefeller Foundation’s support for policy innovations to help solve pressing international development issues, including achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She has more than 20 years of experience designing and executing global initiatives and public-private partnerships. Between 2010 and 2012, Bridgett-Jones led the Office of Policy, Planning and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in groundbreaking advocacy on internet and religious freedoms and served as a member of the White House National Security Staff interagency committee. She previously managed C-suite affairs at the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, working on preventive diplomacy plans in South Asia. Bridgett-Jones launched the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative at Princeton University to encourage talented women and men to enter public service. She has taken on lead roles with Global Kids, an organization that develops youth leaders for the global stage. She also serves as a member of the Board of Visitors for Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Wen-Ta Chiu serves as a co-CEO of California-based AHMC Healthcare Inc., a hospital and health system committed to improving access to health care services for the most vulnerable members of the San Gabriel, California, community. In 2011, Chiu was appointed Minister of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taiwan. During nearly four years of service, he successfully implemented the second-generation National Health Insurance, along with many other health policies. He also led the ministry through several public health crises in Taiwan. Prior to his appointment as minister, Chiu led the successful growth of Taipei Medical University, a world-class medical university and hospital system. Chiu is an accomplished traumatic brain injury researcher who has made significant leadership contributions in public health through the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium, the Academy for Multidisciplinary Neurotraumatology, the Taiwan Neurotrauma Society and the Asia Oceania Neurotrauma Society. His numerous career honors include earning the Contribution Award for Public Health from the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium, distinction as a Distinguished Alumnus of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and the University’s Legacy Laureate Award. Adam C. Walker is CEO of Summit Packaging Solutions, a leading global supply chain firm, taking the helm in 2014 and applying nearly 20 years of industry expertise to set in motion an accelerated growth strategy. Walker previously co-founded Homestead Packaging Solutions, overseeing facilities in Tennessee and Michigan and garnering industry recognition such as the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council’s Supplier of the Year and the U.S. Department of Commerce–MBDA Manufacturer of the Year. Walker was a National Football League player for seven consecutive seasons, beginning and ending his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990 and 1996, respectively. From 1991 until 1995, he played for the San Francisco 49ers, including the 1994 Super Bowl championship team. Walker has earned the Atlanta Tribune Men of Distinction award and recognition as a New Pittsburgh Courier Men of Excellence honoree. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council and as a member of Procter & Gamble’s Supplier Advisory Council. # # #
Kevin Zwick, University of Pittsburgh News
Jun
26
2019

2019 Pitt Engineering Graduate Nate Sloan Selected for 2019 Men’s All-ACC Academic Outdoor Track & Field Team

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 26, 2019) — Nathan Sloan, a 2019 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been named to the 2019 All-ACC Outdoor Track & Field Team. Sloan earned a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus in structural engineering and construction management. A native of Gibsonia, Pa., he is a field/office engineer with Kiewit Corp. in Denver, Colo. The All-ACC Academic Outdoor Track & Field Team has stringent academic requirements for its athletes, in addition to its high athletic standards. Team members must have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average in the previous semester and have a 3.0 cumulative grade point average for their academic careers. The invitation to join the All-ACC Outdoor Track & Field Team is a first in Sloan’s athletic career and follows a strong season. Sloan, who has maintained a 3.37 GPA, was able to notch First-Team All-ACC honors in the 1500m run, finishing in second place and achieving a personal best time of 3:43.05, the fourth-fastest in program history. “Nate’s discipline and dedication have been clear in the classroom, and on the track,” says John Sebastian, Professor and McKamish Director of Construction Management Program in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “His recognition by the ACC highlights his ability to successfully pursue athletic excellence while keeping up with a rigorous program.” All members of the All-ACC Outdoor Track and Field Academic Teams were All-American or All-ACC first- or second-team performers, qualifiers for the NCAA Championship finals, and/or were an ACC Performer of the Week during the regular season. Sloan is one of four Pitt students to make All-ACC Academic teams this year.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
14
2019

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

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

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

May

May
29
2019

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

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (May 29, 2019) — “A Climate for Change” was the theme at this year’s Engineering Sustainability conference, hosted by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh with the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research at Carnegie Mellon University. The conference dealt with something unique for a technical conference: It spent time talking about not only the “what” of sustainable innovations, but the “how.” How do you get people to actually change their perspective about sustainability? How do you create a climate where such changes can be successful? “The built environment helps to sustain our economy and way of life, but at the cost of heavy resource use and waste generation,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the MCSI. “Our aim at this conference is to share innovative ideas about everything from water collection and treatment systems to building materials and transportation grids, all while fostering the collaborative climate necessary to do this work well.” That sort of climate, one that creates a fertile ground for professional growth and new ideas, has always been a part of what makes this Engineering Sustainability Conference special, according to Kovalcik. Attendees past and present remark that this conference is one they return to again and again, noting its cross-disciplinary opportunities and welcoming atmosphere. This year’s conference, which took place April 7-9 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was even family-friendly, welcoming attendee’s children and offering private spaces for nursing mothers. “Gena has been instrumental in building this atmosphere at the conference,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and deputy director of the MCSI. “Her personal approach is part of what makes this conference feel so welcoming.” Since 2005, the Engineering Sustainability Conference has been an approachable place for young engineers to explore their diverse career paths, carving out a space for discovery and community in the intersection of engineering and sustainability, academia and industry. It brings together scientists from academia, government, industry and nonprofits to share research and insights for environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Sessions regularly include topics that scientists from academia and industry can both engage with and utilize, as well as a diverse set of speakers. This year, attendees explored topics such as the regenerative built environment, sustainable mobility, circular economy, engineering sustainability learning and engagement, and behavioral science for sustainability, a new feature this year. Speakers from academia and industry share inspiring perspectives. The plenary speakers this year were Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group (a marketing communications agency focused on energy and the environment), and Cyrus Wadia, former vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at NIKE, Inc. “One of the reasons it's challenging to work at the intersection of disciplines is because you still need an academic community. This conference provides that community, and has grown it over time,” says Leidy Klotz, PhD, Copenhaver Family Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia, who began attending the conference in 2007. “Now, budding scholars can refer to themselves as ‘Sustainability Engineers,’ and others recognize that as a legitimate pursuit. Creating that community in such a relatively short time is a tremendous accomplishment for a conference!” The Mascaro Center partnered with the Steinbrenner Institute at CMU to create a community where researchers interested in the emerging field of sustainability engineering could share ideas and support one another’s work. David Dzomback, PhD, Hamerschlag University Professor and head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University, has been a strong partner from the beginning. “We at Carnegie Mellon are grateful for the continuing partnership of our Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation in organizing the conference, which brings to Pittsburgh engineers and scientists from across North America,” says Dr. Dzomback. “The conference has benefitted multiple generations of students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and numerous other institutions, helping them to advance sustainability in their careers.” For Freddy Paige, PhD, the conference he attended in his second year of graduate school confirmed his ambition to pursue a doctoral degree. Today, Dr. Paige is assistant professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and assistant director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research. “This conference was the first conference in which I felt like I somewhat belonged in the rooms I was sitting in. Being there in 2015, I gained confidence and motivation toward sharing the knowledge that would improve society,” recalls Dr. Paige. “I also got a chance to see professors in a different light. While some ideas were challenged in traditional engineering format, most of the conversation I engaged in had a modern vibe that allowed for a critical conversation with a much more inviting tone.” In addition to the welcoming environment, students and new investigators can receive NSF funding for registration, travel and accommodations, a rarity at academic conferences. “When I first attended the conference in 2011, it seemed approachable and accessible, with a breadth that I found really intriguing,” says Brent Stephens, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. “I was planning to defend my dissertation within about a year, and I was starting to think about job opportunities, so it was important to get my work out there and get more experience presenting. Then all of the sudden I also received NSF support to attend, which made it easy and accessible to attend.” One of the most significant draws for attendees, however, is the camaraderie that has developed over the years. “Somehow they make it feel more like a reunion every two years and something I strongly desire to go to each time,” remarks Dr. Stephens. “It marks a sort of ‘it’s been two years already?’ moment in my mind.” Annie Pearce, PhD, Associate Professor of Building Construction at Virginia Tech, has been attending the conference since it began in 2005 and has experienced first-hand how powerful the community is. Though she had to miss it this year, she has been a featured speaker, presenter and author and has brought students to the conference, as well. She also began serving on the MCSI External Advisory Board in 2011. “You see familiar faces every time, and they introduce you to new faces that you’ll see the next time,” says Dr. Pearce. “I find that it’s a great place to establish a dialogue that continues over time.” As a featured speaker in 2007, Dr. Pearce recounts that the engagement turned out to be a fateful one for her—she was on a plane to Pittsburgh for the conference when the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings took place on her campus. “I was lucky not to be on campus, but 32 of my colleagues and students were not so lucky. While I was heartbroken for my community back in Virginia, my friends and colleagues from the Mascaro Center and the conference overall made me feel wonderfully supported,” she says. “I leaned hard on them that year, for sure.” The Engineering Sustainability Conference will be back in 2021, gathering the community back to Pittsburgh once again, a fitting place for such a conference to have developed. The city is a living example of the “Climate for Change” that this year’s conference centered around. “Pittsburgh hasn’t always been beautiful—I remember what it was like back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the mills were still running,” says Dr. Pearce, who is a native Pittsburgher. “However, it’s an amazing example of how a place can transform itself for the better when it has the right people, ideas, and investments. I miss it a lot, and I’m happy to know that I can go there with my students every two years and get ‘recharged’ with ideas.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
23
2019

Creating a Climate for Change

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 23, 2019) — “A Climate for Change” was the theme at this year’s Engineering Sustainability conference, hosted by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh with the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research at Carnegie Mellon University. The conference dealt with something unique for a technical conference: It spent time talking about not only the “what” of sustainable innovations, but the “how.” How do you get people to actually change their perspective about sustainability? How do you create a climate where such changes can be successful? “The built environment helps to sustain our economy and way of life, but at the cost of heavy resource use and waste generation,” says Gena Kovalcik, co-director of the MCSI. “Our aim at this conference is to share innovative ideas about everything from water collection and treatment systems to building materials and transportation grids, all while fostering the collaborative climate necessary to do this work well.” That sort of climate, one that creates a fertile ground for professional growth and new ideas, has always been a part of what makes this Engineering Sustainability Conference special, according to Kovalcik. Attendees past and present remark that this conference is one they return to again and again, noting its cross-disciplinary opportunities and welcoming atmosphere. This year’s conference, which took place April 7-9 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was even family-friendly, welcoming attendee’s children and offering private spaces for nursing mothers. “Gena has been instrumental in building this atmosphere at the conference,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and deputy director of the MCSI. “Her personal approach is part of what makes this conference feel so welcoming.” Since 2005, the Engineering Sustainability Conference has been an approachable place for young engineers to explore their diverse career paths, carving out a space for discovery and community in the intersection of engineering and sustainability, academia and industry. It brings together scientists from academia, government, industry and nonprofits to share research and insights for environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Sessions regularly include topics that scientists from academia and industry can both engage with and utilize, as well as a diverse set of speakers. This year, attendees explored topics such as the regenerative built environment, sustainable mobility, circular economy, engineering sustainability learning and engagement, and behavioral science for sustainability, a new feature this year. Speakers from academia and industry share inspiring perspectives. The plenary speakers this year were Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group (a marketing communications agency focused on energy and the environment), and Cyrus Wadia, former vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at NIKE, Inc. “One of the reasons it's challenging to work at the intersection of disciplines is because you still need an academic community. This conference provides that community, and has grown it over time,” says Leidy Klotz, PhD, Copenhaver Family Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia, who began attending the conference in 2007. “Now, budding scholars can refer to themselves as ‘Sustainability Engineers,’ and others recognize that as a legitimate pursuit. Creating that community in such a relatively short time is a tremendous accomplishment for a conference!” The Mascaro Center partnered with the Steinbrenner Institute at CMU to create a community where researchers interested in the emerging field of sustainability engineering could share ideas and support one another’s work. David Dzombak, PhD, Hamerschlag University Professor and head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University, has been a strong partner from the beginning. “We at Carnegie Mellon are grateful for the continuing partnership of our Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation in organizing the conference, which brings to Pittsburgh engineers and scientists from across North America,” says Dr. Dzombak. “The conference has benefitted multiple generations of students from Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and numerous other institutions, helping them to advance sustainability in their careers.” For Freddy Paige, PhD, the conference he attended in his second year of graduate school confirmed his ambition to pursue a doctoral degree. Today, Dr. Paige is assistant professor in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and assistant director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research. “This conference was the first conference in which I felt like I somewhat belonged in the rooms I was sitting in. Being there in 2015, I gained confidence and motivation toward sharing the knowledge that would improve society,” recalls Dr. Paige. “I also got a chance to see professors in a different light. While some ideas were challenged in traditional engineering format, most of the conversation I engaged in had a modern vibe that allowed for a critical conversation with a much more inviting tone.” In addition to the welcoming environment, students and new investigators can receive NSF funding for registration, travel and accommodations, a rarity at academic conferences. “When I first attended the conference in 2011, it seemed approachable and accessible, with a breadth that I found really intriguing,” says Brent Stephens, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. “I was planning to defend my dissertation within about a year, and I was starting to think about job opportunities, so it was important to get my work out there and get more experience presenting. Then all of the sudden I also received NSF support to attend, which made it easy and accessible to attend.” One of the most significant draws for attendees, however, is the camaraderie that has developed over the years. “Somehow they make it feel more like a reunion every two years and something I strongly desire to go to each time,” remarks Dr. Stephens. “It marks a sort of ‘it’s been two years already?’ moment in my mind.” Annie Pearce, PhD, Associate Professor of Building Construction at Virginia Tech, has been attending the conference since it began in 2005 and has experienced first-hand how powerful the community is. Though she had to miss it this year, she has been a featured speaker, presenter and author and has brought students to the conference, as well. She also began serving on the MCSI External Advisory Board in 2011. “You see familiar faces every time, and they introduce you to new faces that you’ll see the next time,” says Dr. Pearce. “I find that it’s a great place to establish a dialogue that continues over time.” As a featured speaker in 2007, Dr. Pearce recounts that the engagement turned out to be a fateful one for her—she was on a plane to Pittsburgh for the conference when the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings took place on her campus. “I was lucky not to be on campus, but 32 of my colleagues and students were not so lucky. While I was heartbroken for my community back in Virginia, my friends and colleagues from the Mascaro Center and the conference overall made me feel wonderfully supported,” she says. “I leaned hard on them that year, for sure.” The Engineering Sustainability Conference will be back in 2021, gathering the community back to Pittsburgh once again, a fitting place for such a conference to have developed. The city is a living example of the “Climate for Change” that this year’s conference centered around. “Pittsburgh hasn’t always been beautiful—I remember what it was like back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the mills were still running,” says Dr. Pearce, who is a native Pittsburgher. “However, it’s an amazing example of how a place can transform itself for the better when it has the right people, ideas, and investments. I miss it a lot, and I’m happy to know that I can go there with my students every two years and get ‘recharged’ with ideas.”
Maggie Pavlick
May
22
2019

Let's Clear the Air

Civil & Environmental, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 22, 2019) — For the past 40 years, research has proven that people of color, low-income communities and ethnic minorities suffer the effects of environmental contamination more than other communities. The Flint, Mich., water crisis and the Dakota Pipeline protests serve as national examples of environmental injustices, but similar issues affect communities across the country. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, in partnership with the Kingsley Association and funded by the Heinz Endowments examined the impact that bottom-up, community-level initiatives have in addressing environmental justice issues. They found that the best way to address a community’s environmental injustices is to meet them where they are, integrating into the community and building trust over a long-term partnership. Pittsburgh has long struggled with air quality since its early industrial days, and the effects of environmental pollution on health are well-known. Residents in the Greater Pittsburgh region are at twice the cancer risk of surrounding counties, and disadvantaged communities see the worst of it. The East End of Pittsburgh is among the city’s most underserved boroughs, struggling with crumbling infrastructure, community disinvestment, and high traffic density. These factors all contribute to the poor air quality affecting citizens’ health and wellness, which is what their program, the Environmental Justice Community Action Matrix (EJCAM), is designed to address. “When your house is in need of repairs, it can’t effectively keep the outdoor air out. Since Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, the concentration of pollution inside the house could be a significant contributor to poor health,” says Melissa Bilec, PhD, the Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “I visited one community member’s home and noticed that she was using an oxygen tank, and it struck me just how much these environmental issues are impacting people’s health inside their own homes.” Dr. Bilec and her team, with PhD student, Harold Rickenbacker as a lead, have partnered with the Kingsley Association, a community organization in Larimer, since 2007 on environmental justice initiatives. EJCAM, their most recent collaboration, went through four stages, using the Theory of Change paradigm: outreach, involvement, participatory research and consultation. It culminated in in-house air quality testing that Dr. Bilec says wouldn’t have been possible without the trust that their partnership built, especially Harold’s commitment and time spent in working with the community. EJCAM created Community Action Teams (CATs), which trained community members to become leaders who would train others and advocate for environmental issues; the Urban Transition Cities Movement (UTCM) brought together unlikely stakeholders community members, non-profit leaders, small businesses, universities, governmental agencies, youth and public officials. Because of these initiatives, community members have become more involved and aware of environmental issues, knowledgeable about green materials, infrastructure and land use practices. They’re active in the management of forthcoming landscape features in housing developments and pollution control schemes. The most important thing Dr. Bilec learned through this process was that in order to be effective, the first step must be building trust. And the way to build trust is to be visible in the community over time. Harold Rickenbacker, a PhD candidate working with Dr. Bilec on the initiative and lead author of the paper, dedicated himself to integrating with the community to truly understand its needs and the best way to fill them. He attended community meetings, church gatherings and other events. A mobile air quality monitoring bicycle campaign took researchers and community members to the streets, riding bikes mounted with air particulate counters that give a real-time map of air quality in the area. More than that, it gave the researchers a way to be visible and connect with the community, who would often stop them to ask what they were doing. “We found the most important thing we could do was to be present, to listen to the citizens and figure out how our research can help them,” says Mr. Rickenbacker. “Community-based initiatives are effective, but they have to be a sustained partnership, not a one-off event.” The team is currently performing indoor air quality assessments with the community members, counseling them on measures they can take to improve it and the supplies they’ll need to do so. They hope that their program model will be replicable in other communities in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. The project recently won the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award, and Mr. Rickenbacker won the Carnegie Science Award in the College/University Student category this year for his work on EJCAM. The paper, “Creating Environmental Consciousness in Underserved Communities: Implementation and Outcomes of Community-Based Environmental Justice and Air Pollution Research,” was published in Sustainable Cities and Society (DOI10.1016/j.scs.2019.101473) and was coauthored by Dr. Bilec and Fred Brown of the Forbes Fund.
Maggie Pavlick
May
14
2019

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

Civil & Environmental, Diversity

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

Apr

Apr
26
2019

Built to Provoke, But Not to Last

Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 26, 2019) — In the plaza just outside Benedum Hall, University of Pittsburgh students from architecture and engineering have installed a distinctive structure. Pillars of hollow cardboard, filled with sand for weight and support, hold up a curving fence of bamboo slats, secured with shredded plastic bottles and plywood chains. A plywood bench supported by the cardboard tubes marks the center and invites passersby to sit and take a look. But make sure to see it soon, because it won’t last forever—and that’s by design. The structure is made from nonconventional materials to better understand how each material performs in the elements. The materials include bamboo, harvested from local yards where it grew invasively; cardboard tubes donated by Sonoco Products; teak oil-treated plywood, most of which was fabricated right on campus; and recycled plastic bottles. Called “NOCMAT Pavilion,” the installation is the product of a collaboration between the Swanson School of Engineering, the Architectural Studies Program, the Pitt Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies Group (PITT-NOCMAT), and the Pitt Makerspace. It was constructed through a course led by Jennifer Donnelly, PhD, called NOCMAT Design-Build Studio. Chase Rogers, an undergraduate in civil and environmental engineering, had the idea when he and a friend realized how little experience they had working with nonconventional materials, like bamboo and cardboard, and how abundant those materials are. Rogers graduates this semester with a bachelor of science and is a registered Engineer in Training. He approached Drew Armstrong, PhD, director of Architectural Studies, and Swanson School of Engineering Professors Kent Harries, PhD, and Ian Nettleship, PhD, with the idea. Through the efforts of Dr. Armstrong, the NOCMAT studio course was initiated, and Rogers served as mentor throughout the project. “This project let us work with materials that we’re not used to getting our heads around,” said Rogers. “It’s meant to simulate construction waste. These are materials that could be recycled into housing or expedient shelters in places of need.” The Architectural Studies students enrolled in the course designed the structure themselves and worked with members of PITT-NOCMAT to build it, utilizing the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber to fabricate the parts. “We’ve been developing the Pitt Makerspaces with the intention of providing more hands-on experiences for our students and the resources and support to make those experiences possible,” says Barber. “The NOCMAT project has been a great example of how a collaboration between the architecture and engineering departments can yield impressive and creative results through the sharing of ideas and resources.” This project represents a blossoming collaboration between the Swanson School of Engineering and the Architectural Studies program, which are offering engineering and architecture students more opportunities to work and learn together. “The work produced this semester demonstrates how the two programs share a common interest in thinking about design, materials and hands-on learning. The successful completion of the project shows how resources and expertise located in different schools at Pitt can be combined to produce an unexpected outcome,” says Dr. Armstrong.  “It was a major learning experience both for the students and for the instructors; it will be the basis for thinking about future collaborative courses and projects.” At an initial meeting looking for interested students, the planning already began, but constructing with these materials brought challenges. “We had to definitely learn in the moment, and adapt our knowledge of traditional materials to fabricate these materials and put it all together,” said Rogers. “The tubes are particularly susceptible to moisture and had to be meticulously protected from the elements to last longer than a day. Fitting them together and giving them shape was another challenge that required ingenious connections like the three-ring chain link that gives the bamboo screen its curved shape.” “Modularity became very important,” said Dr. Donnelly. “You’re working with these three-inch cardboard tubes, which are all uniform, alongside natural bamboo, which behaves how it wants.” “You can design materials to do anything you want, but reuse is more challenging and teaches a different skill set,” said Dr. Harries. “The students overcame challenges to build this structure using unfamiliar materials, and that experience will serve them well in their future careers.” The purpose of the project was not just to create an interesting space in which the university community and public can gather. Though the materials went through rigorous tests to see how they’ll stand up to temperature changes and rainfall, the materials will still degrade over time. The group will monitor how the structure degrades outside, and how quickly. “This project shows us how these materials work out in the elements. We’re excited to see not only what these materials can do, but how they will age, which is as important as anything else,” said Dr. Donnelly. “We hope people will sit there and enjoy, but also read the sign explaining the project and reflect on different uses for waste.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
22
2019

Pitt Students Win First Place Overall at Ohio Valley Student Conference

Civil & Environmental

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

Four Projects Receive Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation Seed Grants

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

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

Nine Pitt Students Awarded 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

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

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

Apr
12
2019

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

Civil & Environmental

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

Apr
11
2019

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

Civil & Environmental

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

Apr
5
2019

Pitt Faculty Awarded $175,000 NSF RAPID Grant to Study Effects of PWSA’s Anti-Corrosion Measures

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 5, 2019) — Two professors at the University of Pittsburgh received an NSF Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant for $175,000 to study the environmental effects of new anti-corrosion treatments currently being used on Pittsburgh’s lead pipes. Like many cities across the country, Pittsburgh’s water system still uses some lead pipes, and over time, those can corrode, leaching lead into the drinking water system. To combat this, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) is introducing orthophosphate into Pittsburgh’s water system, which will coat the insides of the lead pipes and help prevent the harmful corrosion. PWSA produces approximately 70 million gallons of treated drinking water per day, which meets all EPA Safe Drinking Water Act standards. Orthophosphate is a food-grade additive that has been shown to be more effective than the soda ash and lime previously used for PWSA’s corrosion control. Sarah Haig, PhD, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering with a secondary appointment in Environmental and Occupational Health at the Graduate School of Public Health, and Emily Elliott, PhD, associate professor of Geology and Environmental Science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and Director of the Pittsburgh Water Collaboratory, will evaluate water samples provided by the PWSA. They will assess and monitor changes in the microbial ecology, water chemistry and nutrient availability in the water collected from pipes and urban streams connected to the system. The grant was awarded April 1, 2019, and the project is expected to last about one year. Orthophosphate has been approved by the EPA and used in drinking water systems across the world, but there is a need to study phosphate levels in the environment. “Pittsburgh’s drinking water pipe system loses more than 25 million gallons per day due to leaks and other water discharges, so it’s important to understand what happens if orthophosphate enters the groundwater and surface water” says Dr. Haig. “This grant will allow us to set a baseline and evaluate any changes that the added orthophosphate causes to streams connected to the system.” “NSF RAPID grants help researchers respond when data needs to be collected urgently to address an important scientific issue” said Matt Kane, a program director at the National Science Foundation, which funded this research.  “Dr. Haig and her team need to respond immediately to be able to understand the impact of the orthophosphate additions on Pittsburgh’s aquatic ecosystems.” Though PWSA’s larger goal of replacing all of the lead pipes is already underway, it will take years to complete. In the meantime, the addition of orthophosphate is expected to reduce lead levels in drinking water across the system. PWSA began feeding orthophosphate to the drinking water on April 2nd. “This project will help answer fundamental ecological questions about how leaking infrastructure can impact nutrient cycling and aquatic ecosystems in urban streams,” says Dr. Haig. “Not only will this project reveal the treatment’s immediate effects on Pittsburgh’s ecosystems, but it will also provide insights that will benefit other cities implementing this treatment.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
1
2019

Swanson Faculty Honored in First Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Awards

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 29, 2019)—The inaugural Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award honored several faculty members and students from the Swanson School of Engineering Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, in recognition of their community-impacting research and initiatives. The highly competitive award recognizes partnerships that are exemplars of community engagement at Pitt. Up to five partnerships are chosen each year to receive the award and a $2,000 grant to support their work. Melissa Bilec, Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow and associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Harold Rickenbacker, a PhD candidate in Civil Engineering, are receiving the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award for their partnership with the East End’s Kingsley Association on community-based environmental justice and air pollution initiatives. Dr. Bilec and Mr. Rickenbacker’s current initiative in the East End of Pittsburgh, the Environmental Justice Community Alert Matrix (EJCAM), has provided trainings for over 200 residents on the importance of environmental sustainability and the training to do so over the past five years. The team worked with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s co-director of administration and external relations, Gena Kovalcik, to form the partnership with the Kingsley Association. Residents of Larimer learned the technical knowledge to identify environmental concerns within their homes while learning the importance of sustainability in water use, energy consumption and air pollution. “Working with the Kingsley Association allowed the University to impact the greater Pittsburgh community while responding directly to a community’s definition of their needs,” says Dr. Bilec. “As a result of the EJCAM, community members are knowledgeable about green materials, infrastructure and land use practices, and they are more active in the management of forthcoming landscape features in housing developments and pollution control schemes.” An article detailing the outcomes of this program was recently published in the journal Sustainable Cities and Society. Mr. Rickenbacker also won the Carnegie Science Award in the College/University Student category this year for his work on EJCAM. “When addressing environmental justice issues, long-term, community-based initiatives like this one are important and effective,” says Mr. Rickenbacker. “In order to build partnerships with the community, you have to make sure they have a vested interest in your shared success. And to do that, you have to build lasting partnerships, not hold singular community events. With this award, we can continue to build our relationship with the Kingsley Association and replicate this model in neighboring communities impacted by environmental justice issues.” Dr. David Sanchez, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and research students from the Sustainable Design Labs, were selected as an honorable mention this year for the Sustainability and STEM initiative. Sustainability and STEM is a long-term engineering educational outreach program with a focus on sustainability that brings a team of high-energy Pitt students to Manchester Academic Charter School to engage the students there in STEM modules focused on sustainability. The students instruct progressively challenging “stacked” modules to six classes of sixth- to eighth-grade science students annually, allowing Dr. Sanchez and his team to engage with the same middle-school students every year as they advance in their education. Previous Sustainability in STEM modules have included: Future Cities Design; DIY Solar Houses, Cars, Water Filters and Wind Turbines; Understanding Renewable Energy; and Life-Cycle Assessment/Reducing Solid Waste. “Our goal is to share high-quality STEM modules that teach, engage and inspire the next generation of young scientists,” says Dr. Sanchez. “But it is also to leverage the resources available in the Swanson School of Engineering Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation to make a positive difference in our community.” The winners and honorable mentions will be listed as exemplar partnerships in the University’s application for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement. The awards were presented at the University’s Community-Engaged Scholarship Forum on Friday, March 29.

Mar

Mar
13
2019

In memory of Dr. Karl Lewis, PhD, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering (retired) and founder of the Pitt Engineering IMPACT Program

Civil & Environmental

Professor Emeritus Karl H. Lewis, a doctor of philosophy in Civil Engineering who played a pivotal role in changing the cultural diversity of engineers produced at the University of Pittsburgh, died on March 5, 2019 in Pittsburgh, PA. He was 83. Born on January 15, 1936 in St. Lawrence, Barbados to Everett and Ione Lewis, Karl was known as “Kirby” by his secondary school classmates in Barbados because he was great at most things he put his mind and hands to do, similar to Rick Kirby who was a superman comic in England. Before coming to United States from Barbados, he was a Victor ludorum (Latin for “the winner of games.”) as well as captain of the Cricket and football teams. Arriving in America, Karl lived in New York City with his aunt. He went to Howard University where he majored in Civil Engineering. Subsequently, in 1966, he received his PhD in Civil Engineering with specialization in Geotechnical from Purdue University and then accepted a tenured track professorship at the University of Pittsburgh. A faculty member for less than 5 years, Lewis founded the Pitt Engineering IMPACT Program in 1969 to recruit, retain and successfully graduate black and other underrepresented engineers. He officially retired in 1999, but remained very active at the University of Pittsburgh until recently. Passion, mentorship and intellectual generosity “In the 173-year history of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, few professors have had such a tremendous impact on the careers and lives of engineers around the globe, as did Dr. Karl Lewis. His legacy of engineering education and his contributions to the profession are respected by generations of engineers who, to a person, note his passion, mentorship, and encouragement," said, James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering. "For so many Pitt alumni, Dr. Lewis was and always will be the face and spirit of engineering. His focus on mutual support – which purposefully taught students to learn from each other, and not simply from a textbook – imbued a sense of humanity within our profession, one that we must revisit as we educate the next generation of engineers. "I personally feel a direct connection to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Lewis, who by virtue of tireless efforts created a safe, fertile space in which a diverse community could take root, grow and begin to flourish. He built a bridge to a better future. It is our mission to do the same. "May we all be better engineers – and better people – for the wealth of life that Dr. Lewis shared with us.” Enduring contribution to fundamental issues about equal access Dr. Lewis’ work centered largely on ensuring all students were afforded the right to be the best in their profession. From IMPACT students to students in Civil Engineering, he helped everyone the same regardless of race, religion or national origin. As an immigrant in America, he understood the struggles of equal access so he wanted to ensure everyone received the same level of support with the same level of dignity. Although he officially retired almost 20 years ago, Dr. Lewis maintained a relationship with his former colleagues, students and Swanson School of Engineering alumni. His generosity was far reaching. IMPACT became a big success story for the University. As early as 1975, IMPACT had been recognized by agencies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science as one of the outstanding science-engineering projects of its type. IMPACT was one of the first two recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Achievement in Affirmative Action. It has also received excellent ratings from the PA Department of Education. A 2001 study conducted by the Engineering Workforce Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies, Inc. (AAES) showed the University’s commitment to recruiting women and minorities was successful. Pitt’s Engineering program was ranked first in the State in total number of Black engineering graduates. Nationally, Pitt ranked third out of more than 600 schools the AAES surveyed in the United States in the number of engineering doctorates awarded to Blacks. It was also ranked 22nd in the number of engineering Bachelor of Science degrees and in the overall number of engineering degrees awarded to Blacks. IMPACT became the model for other predominantly White institutions (PWI) that were looking to increase the number of minority students that successfully graduated with an engineering degree. In 2004, an IMPACT alumnus established an endowment in Dr. Lewis’s honor at the University of Pittsburgh, named the Dr. Karl H. Lewis Engineering IMPACT Alumni Endowed Fund. Following the momentum of the endowment, Dr. Lewis was nominated by a couple of his former IMPACT students and received a Golden Torch Lifetime Achievement in Academia Award in 2006 from the National Society of Black Engineers in recognition of his work to increase the number of minority students in engineering. In addition, he was entered into the Swanson School of Engineering’s Hall of Fame the same year. Dr. Lewis often said, “I didn’t want recognition. I just wanted to change the system. Some people came back and thanked me, but that wasn’t my point. I had people that helped me change the narrative. People like to help people that help people. Since IMPACT was successful, we had a lot of support. Mr. K. Leroy Irvis became a very close friend of mine and one of my biggest supporters.” Family pride and joy Karl Lewis’ biggest achievement was his loving family. He often shared stories of his son Kirby excelling in engineering and law at the greatest institutions in the world. His yearly visits, driving from Pittsburgh to Boston with a pit stop in New York, to see his beautiful granddaughters was the center of his pride and joy. Everyone knew Karl as a private man, but if you ever had the chance to hear him speak of his family you would have witnessed how his face always lit up when he shared stories about them and their accomplishments. He wanted most for his family to be secure. His past-time was day trading. Karl said he did this because an engineering salary wasn’t enough to retire on, so he wanted to ensure that his family had financial security. Many of his students had conversations with Karl once they started their career and he would emphatically share the importance of saving and investing in the early years of their career. He shared his discipline of reading the Wall Street Journal daily and watching the markets. Karl emphasized building financial wealth to leave a legacy for your family. Anyone that knew Karl understood his love for his family and ensuring they were better off than he was growing up. Karl’s grandmother sent him to New York to live with his aunt so he could have a better life than what he could achieve in Barbados. That never stopped him from loving his country. He often commented how beautiful his country was and enjoyed visiting there with his family. He is survived by his lovely wife Gretchen; son Kirby (Janelle) of McLean, VA; grandchildren: Alexandra, Evelyn, and Veronica; beloved siblings: Doris E. Green of Queens, NY (1 nephew and 4 nieces in Doris’ family); Gloria “June” Lewis-Callender of Laurelton, NY (1 nephew and 1 niece in June’s family); Grace White of Queens, NY; Neville Lewis of Corona, CA; brother in-law Karl Schultz of Sherwood, OR; and a host of IMPACT alumni. A memorial service is planned for Friday, June 21, 2019, at 7:30 PM at the Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mar
12
2019

2019 Carnegie Science Awards include six honorees from the Swanson School of Engineering

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 12, 2019) ... Each year, Carnegie Science Center celebrates some of the Pittsburgh region’s most inspiring science and technology innovators with the Carnegie Science Awards. Today, the Science Center announced the recipient of the Chairman’s Award and the winners and honorable mentions in 16 categories, who will be celebrated at the 23rd Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on Friday, May 10, 2019. Carnegie Science Award winners are selected by a committee of peers—both past awardees and industry leaders—who rigorously reviewed more than 200 nominations and selected the most deserving scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, communicators, educators, and students whose contributions have led to significant economic or societal benefit in western Pennsylvania. This year’s exceptional innovators include a tuition-free technical education program that has connected thousands of unemployed and underemployed individuals to a job and living wage; a graduate student who trains residents in under-served neighborhoods to identify environmental concerns in their homes; a team that created an open-source database that will assist research teams in taking energy-saving action to reduce methane leaks; and the fastest-growing food recovery organization in the country whose app brings fresh food to those who need it most. “The Carnegie Science Awards provide an opportunity to celebrate the remarkably talented individuals and organizations in our region’s science community,” said Jason Brown, Henry Buhl, Jr., Interim Director of Carnegie Science Center. “These innovators have had immeasurable impact on Pittsburgh’s healthcare, manufacturing, energy, environmental, and education industries. Their achievements, dedication, and perseverance are truly inspiring.” Winners and honorable mentions along with three student winners who will be selected later this month at the Covestro Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair, will be honored during the 23rd Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration at Carnegie Science Center on Friday, May 10, 2019. The Swanson School recipients include: Life Sciences: Dr. William J. Federspiel, William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Dr. Federspiel is an internationally recognized pioneer, innovator, and technical expert in the medical devices arena. His research has led to the design and development of novel artificial lung devices, membrane and particle-based blood purification devices, and oxygen depletion devices for blood storage systems. His success lies in his commitment to ensure that each project begins with and is supported by a strong foundation in life science and engineering. His contributions have strengthened Pittsburgh’s stance as a hub for medical device development and manufacturing, and his work has led to the formation of new companies that provide more than 50 high-tech jobs to the Western Pennsylvania region. Leadership in Career and Technical Education: University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center Since 1994, the University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) has connected thousands of people with meaningful careers in manufacturing. The programs at MAC are accelerated and often available at no cost to the students, so unemployed and underemployed individuals can be connected to a job and a living wage in as little as six weeks. In addition, MAC has strengthened career pathways for high school students across Southwestern Pennsylvania by offering certification opportunities to partnering high schools and career and technical centers. With the opening of the MAC Makerspace in 2018, MAC has provided a place for future manufacturers to engage with technological tools and resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. College/University Student: Harold Rickenbacker, Swanson School Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation While pursuing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, Harold has integrated engineering and environmental justice with community-based organizations to address the pressing issue of indoor and ambient air quality in under-served Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Through an initiative in Pittsburgh’s East End called the Environmental Justice Community Alert Matrix, Harold led trainings to provide over 200 residents with the technical knowledge to identify environmental concerns within their homes, while detailing the importance of addressing environmental sustainability at the nexus of water use, energy consumption, and air pollution. Harold is committed to paying it forward, and his efforts are improving the health and quality of life of the communities he works with for years to come. Honorable Mentions: Postsecondary Educator – Bryan Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering College/University Student – Alexis Nolfi BSBioE ‘11 BSPsych ‘11, Department of Bioengineering PhD Candidate Science Communicator – Paul Kovach, Director of Marketing and Communications, Swanson School of Engineering About Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh Established in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. In 2017, the museums reached more than 1.4 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events. ###
Kaitlyn Zurcher, Carnegie Science Center Senior Manager of Marketing

Feb

Feb
25
2019

Pitt engineer receives $500K NSF CAREER Award to investigate potentially harmful man-made chemicals

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (February 25, 2019) … Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that are useful in a variety of industries because of their durability, but do not naturally break down in the environment or human body. With evidence showing that PFAS may have adverse effects on human health, Carla Ng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, wants to further investigate the potential impacts of these chemicals and identify ways to remove them from the environment. She received a five-year, $500,000 NSF CAREER award to pursue this research. Because of their useful oil- and water-repellent properties, PFAS are used in many consumer products, industrial processes, and in firefighting foams, but unfortunately, their manufacturing and widespread use has contributed to the undesired release of these chemicals into the environment. According to Dr. Ng, more than 4,000 different kinds of PFAS may have been for decades, and detailed toxicity data does not exist for the large majority of these. “One of the pressing concerns with PFAS is its adverse effects on human health,” said Dr. Ng. “Conventional drinking water treatment is not effective at removing most PFAS from water so they can build up in the bodies of humans and wildlife, disrupt normal development, and impair the immune system. Some PFAS have been associated with increases in kidney and testicular cancers in humans.” The goal of Dr. Ng’s CAREER award is to address these issues through a complementary approach using predictive modeling and experiments. “In this project, we will use molecular and organism-scale models to conduct large-scale predictive screening of PFAS hazards,” said Dr. Ng. “With the information gathered from our predictive models about the structure-interaction relationships, we will design new bio-inspired sorbents to remove PFAS from water. “Because we have so little information about potentially thousands of these substances, we cannot experimentally assess each one; the costs would simply be too great in time, testing, and resources,” continued Dr. Ng. “This is where models can be very powerful tools because they allow researchers to concurrently conduct virtual experiments on many chemicals. When these models are tied to targeted experiments, their predictions can be evaluated and the models improved to be more accurate.” Beyond understanding the effects of these chemicals, models can also provide clues on how to remove them from the environment. Dr. Ng will employ the very characteristics that make PFAS so dangerous against them. By using her models to discover which biological molecules react strongly with PFAS, her group will be able to design a new class of selective sorbents that remove them from water in an efficient and targeted way. She hopes that the knowledge gained during this five-year CAREER award will also help identify hazardous properties in future chemicals. An important objective of this CAREER award is to engage middle and high school students in STEM research by exposing them to the power of modeling and simulation. To do so, Dr. Ng will implement formal educational programs and informal STEM outreach. She plans to elevate K-12 and undergraduate education through the use of collaborative model-building in a game-like environment. “The agent-based modeling language NetLogo is a freely available and accessible model-building tool that can be equally powerful for cutting edge research or for students exploring new concepts in science and engineering while learning useful model-building and coding skills,” said Dr. Ng. “I hope to enhance systems-level thinking and self-confidence among students in STEM so that we can cultivate diverse cohorts of future STEM leaders.” ###