Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome to the Department of Bioengineering’s Undergraduate Program landing page. Within this and other relevant pages you can find pertinent information about all aspects of the program.

For a complete description of the undergraduate curriculumbioengineering trackslist of undergraduate bioengineering coursesminors (bioengineering and other) and certificates, and other pertinent program-related matters, such as academic regulationsmentoring and advisingcooperative educationstudy abroadpost-graduation planning, etc., please refer to the Undergraduate Bioengineering Program Handbook.

For advising and further information contact:

Arash Mahboobin (mahboobin@pitt.edu
Undergraduate Program Director
302 Benedum Hall 
Office: 412-624-9819
Erin Schuetz (eeschuetz@pitt.edu
Undergraduate Administrator 
302 Benedum Hall 
Office: 412-624-7279




Bioengineering Undergraduate McKenzie Sicke Announced as Finalist for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program

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PITTSBURGH (December 6, 2019) … The US-Ireland Alliance recently announced the 21st Class of George J. Mitchell Scholars, and among the finalists was McKenzie Sicke, a bioengineering undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship that awards one year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland to up to 12 students annually. A native of upstate New York, Sicke joined the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt in 2016  and has spent her time studying bioengineering and reaching beyond the classroom to discover how this work can be applied to the real-world. Upon graduation, she hopes to continue her studies and was attracted to Ireland’s medical device design community. She said, “I am driven by the desire to create empathetic healthcare solutions that have a big impact.” Sicke currently works in the lab of Bryan Brown, associate professor of bioengineering, where she studies angiogenic response to polypropylene mesh implants in rabbit models. “Being able to take my project from start to finish over the past year and a half has been an invaluable experience,” she said. “With the help of my research mentor Aimon Iftikhar, I developed protocols and took them through each phase of testing. I’ve learned a lot working with her, and contributing to her thesis work has made me more confident of my place in a lab setting.” She also spent the past summer participating in Pitt’s SERIUS study abroad program at the National University of Singapore where she worked in the SINAPSE Lab on a neurotechnology project focused on nanoparticle-aided stem cell therapy for ischemic stroke. In addition to pursuing her degree and research projects, Sicke has worked as a teaching assistant and peer advisor for freshman engineering students and volunteers as a 3D printing mentor in the bioengineering department’s student-run makerspace. She is also the current Publicity Chair for the undergraduate chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society. “This is indeed a magnificent accomplishment. Students like Kenzie are a source of delight to the Department of Bioengineering,” said Arash Mahboobin, assistant professor of bioengineering and director of the undergraduate program. “I always feel fortunate and privileged to have the opportunity to get to know these young individuals and, perhaps, have some influence on their development and progression as professionals and people. I will certainly watch Kenzie’s career develop with great interest and high expectations.” The Mitchell Scholars Program is named in honor of George J. Mitchell, the former United States senator who served as chairman of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under his leadership the Good Friday Agreement, a historic accord ending decades of conflict, was agreed to by the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and the political parties of Northern Ireland. About the US-Ireland Alliance The US-Ireland Alliance is a proactive, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to consolidating existing relations between the United States and the island of Ireland and building that relationship for the future. The organization connects current and emerging Irish and American leaders in various spheres—including education, politics, business and the arts—for the mutual benefit of both countries. ###


Bioengineering Undergrad Sebastian Correa Clinches First Place at SHPE Poster Competition

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PITTSBURGH (November 18, 2019) … Sebastian Correa, a junior bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, attended the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) National Convention in Phoenix and received the first place award at the Engineering Science Symposium poster competition. Correa works in the lab of Doug Weber, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering and director of the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs. He presented a poster on using a high-density electromyography (HDEMG) electrode sleeve array to analyze surface EMG from individuals who have sustained spinal cord injury. “We use the HDEMG sleeve to record EMG signals from a patient’s forearm while they do several hand movements and then process and classify these movements,” Correa explained. “The purpose of the project is to optimize the methods of processing and classifying the data to enable individuals who have sustained a spinal cord injury the ability to accurately control assistive devices through the use of EMG signals found on affected limbs.” Jordyn Ting, a bioengineering graduate student in the RNEL Labs, has helped mentor Correa during his undergraduate research. Her work involves studying spared muscle and motor unit activity in individuals with tetraplegia with the goal of restoring intuitive control of hand function through non-invasive methods. “Sebastian’s work has helped to identify some of the key analysis steps necessary in analyzing muscle activity from individuals with spinal cord injuries,” said Ting. “We will continue to build upon this foundation in future work on the project.” Correa received a $1,000 award for his achievement among a competitive group of both graduate and undergraduate students. The presentations covered a variety of topics from a broad range of STEM fields with a focus on “engineering grand challenges.” “Sebastian was competing against PhD students from around the country, but still managed to bring home the top prize,” said Weber. “He and Jordyn worked very hard on this research, and it’s wonderful to see their efforts rewarded.” ###


Swanson School Student Startups Forge Ahead

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PITTSBURGH (November 12, 2019) … Engineering students seek to innovate and design solutions to solve unmet needs in society. Taking an idea from design to development can be a tricky process, but participating in a business incubator can provide a solid launch to successful startups. The University of Pittsburgh provides services to help cultivate students’ creativity, and now, they have announced the Forge - a student startup incubator. The Forge is run by the Innovation Institute’s Big Idea Center, an on-campus student entrepreneurship hub that offers acceleration, incubation, mentoring, networking, competitions, and events to help students progress their innovations. The incubator will provide up to two years of support as the student groups solidify business plans and build beta versions or prototypes of their products and services. According to the Innovation Institute, it is open to students of all levels – freshman to postdoc – across every school at the University, as well as recent graduates who have completed previously required programming and competitions through the Big Idea Center. “We are excited to add a capstone to our continuum of programming and services to help Pitt student innovators bring their big ideas to life and launch them into the world,” said Babs Carryer, director of the Big Idea Center. Three Swanson School of Engineering student teams were selected for the first Forge cohort. Posture Protect A project that started in the Swanson School’s Art of Making course has navigated through several competitions and received awards from the Swanson School Design Expo, the Innovation Institute’s Startup Blitz, and the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. Tyler Bray and Jacob Meadows, both bioengineering seniors, lead their design team in developing the technology and business strategy for a product that helps people maintain their health in old age. Their initial target market is physical therapists who see people with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. “Our mission is to help people to be more proactive and engaged in their own healthcare,” said Meadows. “We’ve learned more than we could’ve imagined in this process about business, design, teamwork, and even ourselves. Posture Protect is excited to continue our human-centered, data-driven approach to build impactful and accessible health technology products for people who need them the most.” Heart I/O This project is a digital diagnostics startup led by bioengineering graduate students Utkars Jain and Adam Butchy. Their “smarter cardiac triage” technology uses artificial intelligence to detect problems with a patient’s heart more quickly and accurately at a fraction of the cost of current technology. “ECGs are one of the first tests that patients reporting with chest pain receive, and I thought that if I could equip ECGs with the computational power of artificial intelligence, I could improve the accuracy of diagnoses,” said Jain. In 2019, the Heart I/O team was a prize winner in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition and also participated in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition. Trek Biology and chemical engineering major Emily Siegel won the 2019 Randall Family Big Idea grand prize with a biodegradable chewing gum for on-the-go toothbrushing. According to a story from PittWire, Siegel envisions that this product not only will benefit busy millennials, but also will appeal to travelers, members of the military and people in places where clean water is difficult to come by. In addition to the $25,000 grand prize from the Big Idea Competition, Trek also received a $1,500 award from the Big Idea Blitz. Click here to learn more about the Forge and all nine of the selected teams. ###


Pitt Bioengineers Create Ultrasmall, Light-Activated Electrode for Neural Stimulation


PITTSBURGH (February 15, 2019) … Neural stimulation is a developing technology that has beneficial therapeutic effects in neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. While many advancements have been made, the implanted devices deteriorate over time and cause scarring in neural tissue. In a recently published paper, the University of Pittsburgh’s Takashi D. Y. Kozai detailed a less invasive method of stimulation that would use an untethered ultrasmall electrode activated by light, a technique that may mitigate damage done by current methods. “Typically with neural stimulation, in order to maintain the connection between mind and machine, there is a transcutaneous cable from the implanted electrode inside of the brain to a controller outside of the body,” said Kozai, an assistant professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Movement of the brain or this tether leads to inflammation, scarring, and other negative side effects. We hope to reduce some of the damage by replacing this large cable with long wavelength light and an ultrasmall, untethered electrode.” Kaylene Stocking, a senior bioengineering and computer engineering student, was first author on the paper titled, “Intracortical neural stimulation with untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrodes mediated by the photoelectric effect” (DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2018.2889832). She works with Kozai’s group - the Bionic Lab - to investigate how researchers can improve the longevity of neural implant technology. This work was done in collaboration with Alberto Vasquez, research associate professor of radiology and bioengineering at Pitt. The photoelectric effect is when a particle of light, or a photon, hits an object and causes a local change in the electrical potential. Kozai’s group discovered its advantages while performing other imaging research. Based on Einstein's 1905 publication on this effect, they expected to see electrical photocurrents only at ultraviolet wavelengths (high energy photons), but they experienced something different. “When the photoelectric effect contaminated our electrophysiological recording while imaging with a near-infrared laser (low energy photons), we were a little surprised,” explained Kozai. “It turned out that the original equation had to be modified in order to explain this outcome. We tried numerous strategies to eliminate this photoelectric artifact, but were unsuccessful in each attempt, so we turned the ‘bug’ into a ‘feature.’” “Our group decided to use this feature of the photoelectric effect to our advantage in neural stimulation,” said Stocking. “We used the change in electrical potential with a near-infrared laser to activate an untethered electrode in the brain.” The lab created a carbon fiber implant that is 7-8 microns in diameter, or roughly the size of a neuron (17-27 microns), and Stocking simulated their method on a phantom brain using a two-photon microscope. She measured the properties and analyzed the effects to see if the electrical potential from the photoelectric effect stimulated the cells in a way similar to traditional neural stimulation. “We discovered that photostimulation is effective,” said Stocking. “Temperature increases were not significant, which lowers the chance of heat damage, and activated cells were closer to the electrode than in electrical stimulation under similar conditions, which indicates increased spatial precision.” The lab recently showed how electrical stimulation frequency can activate different populations of neurons. “What we didn’t expect to see was that this photoelectric method of stimulation allows us to stimulate a different and more discrete population of neurons than could be achieved with electrical stimulation.” said Kozai, “This gives researchers another tool in their toolbox to explore neural circuits in the nervous system. “We’ve had numerous critics who did not have faith in the mathematical modifications that were made to Einstein’s original photoelectric equation, but we believed in the approach and even filed a patent application” (patent pending:US20170326381A1), said Kozai. “This is a testament to Kaylene’s hard work and diligence to take a theory and turn it into a well-controlled validation of the technology.” Kozai’s group is currently looking further into other opportunities to advance this technology, including reaching deeper tissue and wireless drug delivery. Stocking anticipates  graduating in April 2019 and plans to pursue a doctoral degree. She said, “The University of Pittsburgh has amazing resources that have allowed me to gain meaningful research experience as an undergraduate, and I’m grateful to Dr. Kozai and the Department of Bioengineering for giving me the opportunity to do impactful work.” ###


Lights, Camera, Action: Pitt iGEM team captures silver medal for their “Molecular Movie Camera”

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PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The ability to measure and record molecular signals in a cell can help researchers better understand its behavior, but current systems are limited and provide only a “snapshot” of the environment rather than a more informative timeline of cellular events. In an effort to give researchers a complete understanding of event order, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students prototyped a frame-by-frame “video” recording device using bacteria. The group created this project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which over 300 teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. The Pitt undergraduate group received a silver medal for their device titled “CUTSCENE.” The iGEM team included two Swanson School of Engineering students: Evan Becker, a junior electrical engineering student, and Vivian Hu, a junior bioengineering student. Other team members included Matthew Greenwald, a senior microbiology student; Tucker Pavelek, a junior molecular biology and physics student; Libby Pinto, a sophomore microbiology and political science student; and Zemeng Wei, a senior chemistry student. CUTSCENE aims to show a “video” of cellular activity by recording events in the cell using modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Hu said, “By knowing what time molecular events are happening inside of a cell, we are able to better understand a cell's history and how it responds to external stimuli.” Their system improved upon older methods that could only record the levels of stimuli at a single point in time. They used a movie analogy to illustrate their objective. “Try guessing the plot of a movie by looking at the poster; you can get an idea of what is going on, but to really understand the story, you need to watch the film,” said Becker. “Unless researchers are taking many snapshots of the cellular activity over time, the image doesn’t give any sense of causality. You can see that the molecule is there, but you don't know where it has been or where it is going.” For their project, the iGEM team used modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology called a base editor. The CRISPR/Cas9 system contains two key components: a guideRNA (gRNA) that matches a specific sequence of DNA and a Cas9 protein that makes a cut at the specific sequence, ultimately leading to the insertion or deletion of base pairs - the building blocks of DNA. In addition to these components, a CRISPR/Cas9 base editor contains an enzyme called cytidine deaminase that is able to make a known single nucleotide mutation at a desired location of DNA. “We achieved a method of true chronological event recording by introducing recording plasmids with repeating units of DNA and multiple gRNA to direct our base editor construct,” said Hu. “This technique will provide an understanding of the order in which molecules and proteins appear in systems.” “A recording plasmid can be thought of as a roll of unexposed film, with each frame being an identical sequence of DNA,” explained Wei. “A single-guideRNA (sgRNA) directs the CRISPR/Cas9 base editor to move along the recording plasmid, making mutations at a timed rate and constantly shifting which frame is in front of our base editor. Activated by the presence of a stimulus, another sgRNA can mark the current frame.” The iGEM team’s approach to this technology will allow them to figure out which molecules are abundant at specific times and perhaps reveal hidden, causal relationships. The information gathered from the device has many potential applications and may allow researchers to develop medicines and therapies based on the timing of the cellular malfunction. “The team did a tremendous amount of lab work over the summer, implementing the cellular event recording methodology,” said Alex Deiters, a professor of chemistry at Pitt who helped advise the iGEM team. “Most importantly, the students developed this clever idea on their own by first identifying a current technology gap and then applying modern gene editing machinery to it. The silver medal is well-deserved!” In addition to Dr. Deiters, the 2018 Pitt iGEM team was advised by Dr. Jason Lohmueller, American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Immunology; Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Computational and Systems Biology; Dr. Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering; and Dr. Cheryl Telmer, a Research Biologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Funding for the 2018 Pitt iGEM effort was provided by the University of Pittsburgh (Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, Honors College, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Swanson School of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering), New England Biolabs (NEB), and Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT). ###