PITTSBURGH (Mar. 11, 2020) … Four members of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson
School of Engineering were recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards, announced
on March 10 by the Carnegie Science Center. Bioengineering’s Bryan Brown
and Alexis Nolfi received the Postsecondary Educator Award and University
Student Award, respectively. Civil and environmental engineering’s David
Sanchez and Kareem Rabbat received honorable mentions in the same categories.
They will receive the awards at the 24th
Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration, held May 8, 2020.
Brown, associate professor of bioengineering, Postsecondary Educator Award
Brown’s educational efforts in the Department
of Bioengineering include teaching and mentoring junior faculty, postdoctoral
fellows, and graduate students. He also serves as the director of educational
outreach at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he reaches
younger audiences through the McGowan Institute’s Summer School.
In July 2014, Brown organized and launched the
program, which is a hands-on experiential learning program that aims to provide
regional, national, and international students an opportunity to explore the
multidisciplinary field of regenerative medicine. Through lectures and
laboratory experiences, undergraduate students have the opportunity to interact
with more than 20 faculty members from across the University. The program aims
to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from
universities that lack significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine
In addition to engaging younger audiences in STEM,
Brown also targets individuals who wish to continue their education through his
course on regenerative medicine hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Osher
Center for Lifelong Learning program. As an extension of these activities, he
also developed an hour long “Open to the Public” session on the “Hype vs. Hope
of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine,” which focuses on the realities of the
science and clinical practice related to the use of stem cells in medicine. The
program was developed to address the most common questions asked by
participants in the Osher classes.
Nolfi, bioengineering graduate student, College Student Award
Nolfi is involved in numerous projects
centered on how the immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of disease
and how we can modify immune response to biomaterials and with
biomaterials-based approaches. Much of her work has a distinct focus in women’s
health applications, including a polypropylene mesh often used in pelvic
surgery and a novel ovarian hydrogel that could one day be used to generate a
tissue-appropriate model of endometriosis.
According to Nolfi, the field of basic science
research in women’s health topics is underserved by the biomaterials and
regenerative medicine community. She believes that this research helps to shine
light on topics deserving of more attention, and the experimental findings and
developments will be applicable to not only biomaterials-based urogynecologic
applications, but also to furthering advancement of other biomaterial and
As part of her work with biomaterials, she and
the lab developed a novel contact lens that is coated with an immune modifying
molecule for the treatment of dry eye disease. The bioengineering- and
opthamology-led research group was recently
awarded $100,000 at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge.
Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering,
Postsecondary Educator honorable mention
In addition to his appointment in CEE, Sanchez
serves as assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable
Innovation. He directs programs including the Undergraduate Summer Research
Program, Sustainability certificate, and Master’s in Sustainable Engineering.
He is the founding advisor for Pitt
Hydroponics and the principal investigator for Sustainable Design Labs. He teaches
the Environmental Engineering Lab, core engineering sustainability courses, and
in the First Year Engineering program.
Sanchez also leads many community engagement
efforts. For the past five years, he has held a Summer
Teacher workshop that exposes middle school science teachers to sustainability
and engineering. This effort indirectly engages around 2000 students each year.
He founded the Constellation Energy Inventor Labs and has used it to teach
hundreds of Pittsburgh area students about energy using design-build modules. Furthermore,
he has worked with the ALCOSAN summer science program for many years and helped
create the Clean Water Academy for 2018.
Sanchez organizes an annual Makerspace
and Mindsets Bootcamp each fall that introduces engineering students to the
creative resources available to them and the design thinking that goes with
them. He was the recipient of the Swanson School’s Faculty Diversity Award in
2015 in recognition of his significant contributions in increasing diversity. His
research focuses on sustainable solutions to pollution, including a recent
$420,000 NSF grant to study biofilms grown on electrodes as a method to degrade
the contaminant Bisphenol A (BPA).
Rabbat, undergraduate senior in civil and environmental engineering, College
Student honorable mention
Rabbat’s passion for the environment is
clear to anyone he meets. Through research, coursework, internships,
competitions and global summits, he has taken full advantage of his four years
at Pitt and does not plan to slow down in his pursuit to educate communities
about sustainability and develop technology that helps guide a greener future.
From an aquaponics
project funded by the competitive Ford College Community Challenge sprouted
Ecotone Renewables, a company
dedicated to local and sustainable urban farming. Rabbat is CIO of the company
which has converted shipping containers into biodigesters and greenhouses
throughout the city. They also seek to educate the local communities about
sustainable practices of agriculture.
This past summer, he
performed research looking for bacteria and fungi that could solve
persistent pollution problems. If successful, the innovation could be used
globally to eliminate toxicity caused by nonylphenol and bisphenol (BPA) that
contaminate soil and water near old industrial facilities.
Rabbat’s environmental work does not end
at Pittsburgh’s city limits. In addition to his local achievements, Kareem has
also explored global sustainability: he designed and implemented
aquaponics/hydroponics systems in Brazil; he studied abroad in Johannesburg,
South Africa as part of the Swanson School’s Engineering Design for Social
Change program; and he was recently nominated and selected to attend the 2019
Global Grand Challenges Summit Student Competition in London, a program
held jointly by the U.S., U.K., and Chinese academies of engineering.
His achievements have been recognized
locally by the Incline’s Who’s Next: Environment and Energy Class of 2019.
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Contact: Leah Russell