Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Jun

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

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
28
2019

Four Pitt engineering faculty capture more than $2 million in total NSF CAREER awards for 2018/2019

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

PITTSBURGH (March 28, 2019) … Four 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 more than $2 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 four awards – one each in the departments of Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – are the second most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. Previously in 2017, five Swanson School faculty were recipients. “Federal funding for academic research is extremely competitive, especially for faculty just beginning their academic careers. Receiving four prestigious NSF CAREER Awards in one cycle – exceeded only by our five two years ago – 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 PsychologyTitle: 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. ###

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.” ###