Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering was established in 1910, making it the first department for petroleum engineering in the world. Today, our department has over 40 expert faculty (tenure/tenure-stream/joint/adjunct), a host of dedicated staff, more than 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and learning centers, and education programs that enrich with strong fundamentals and hands-on experience.

Chemical engineering is concerned with processes in which matter and energy undergo change. The range of concerns is so broad that the chemical engineering graduate is prepared for a variety of interesting and challenging employment opportunities.

Chemical engineers with strong background in sciences are found in management, design, operations, and research. Chemical engineers are employed in almost all industries, including food, polymers, chemicals, pharmaceutical, petroleum, medical, materials, and electronics. Since solutions to energy, environmental, and food problems must surely involve chemical changes, there will be continued demands for chemical engineers in the future.

Read our latest newsletter below



Dec
12
2018

Building on the Building Blocks of Chemistry: From Alkanes to Olefins

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (December 12, 2018) … Olefins are simple compounds of hydrogen and carbon but represent the building blocks of chemistry, and are vital for the synthesis of materials from polymers and plastics to petrochemicals. However, olefin production requires the use of nonrenewable fossil fuels, energy intensive “cracking” facilities, and limited production control. New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has introduced a method to effectively screen different catalysts that convert light alkanes to olefins. With light alkanes being abundant in the Marcellus and Utica shale reserves, this methodology may provide a more economical solution for olefins production. Their research, “Structure–Activity Relationships in Alkane Dehydrogenation on γ-Al2O3: Site-Dependent Reactions” was recently featured on the cover of ACS Catalysis (DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.8b03484). Lead investigator is Giannis Mpourmpakis, the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School, and co-authors Mudit Dixit, PhD and Pavlo Kostetskyy, postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University who earned his PhD in Dr. Mpourmpakis’ CANELa lab. “The tremendous success and vast reserves of shale gas have transformed the chemical market and made methane and light alkanes a versatile feedstock for value-added chemicals production,” Dr. Mpourmpakis explained. “One of the most promising routes toward olefins is the dehydrogenation of alkanes on metal oxides, which is the chemical removal of molecular hydrogen from a hydrocarbon. But this process is energy intensive since it involves high temperatures and the dehydrogenation reaction mechanism is not well understood. As a result, any progress on olefins production relies on lengthy and expensive trial-and-error experiments in the lab." According to Dr. Mpourmpakis, determining exactly how the alkane dehydrogenation activity depends on the exact type of different sites present on the surface of metal oxides has been difficult, in part because of the diversity of the many sites. His lab applied computational chemistry and mathematical modeling tools to predict how alkane dehydrogenation mechanisms and catalytic activity change on the different sites of the oxides. “Being able to computationally screen these metal oxide surfaces and identify the exact catalytic active sites greatly limits trial-and-error experimentation in the lab,” Dr. Mpourmpakis said. “We now have a better tool to develop active catalysts for alkane-olefin conversion, which could be a game-changer in the petrochemical and polymer industries.” The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund (ACS-PRF, 56989-DNI5) supported this research. Computational support was provided by the Center for Research Computing at the University of Pittsburgh, and the NSF Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment. ###

Dec
11
2018

Predicting a Better Nanocluster

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (December 11, 2018) … Thanks in part to their distinct electronic, optical and chemical properties, nanomaterials are utilized in an array of diverse applications from chemical production to medicine and light-emitting devices. But when introducing another metal in their structure, also known as “doping,” researchers are unsure which position the metal will occupy and how it will affect the overall stability of the nanocluster, thereby increasing experimental time and costs. However, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have developed a new theory to better predict how nanoclusters will behave when a given metal is introduced to their structure. The study, “Thermodynamic Stability of Ligand-Protected Metal Nanoclusters” (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.8b02679) was featured on the cover of the ACS Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. Co-authors are Giannis Mpourmpakis, the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School, and PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Fellow Michael Taylor. Their findings connect with previous research focused on designing nanoparticles for catalytic applications. “Engineering the size, shape and composition of nanoclusters is a way to control their inherent properties” Dr. Mpourmpakis said. “In particular, Ligand-protected Au (gold) nanoclusters are a class of nanomaterials where the precise control of their size has been achieved. Our research aimed to better predict how their bimetallic counterparts are being formed, which would allow us to more easily predict their structure without excess trial and error experimentation in the lab.” The research, completed in Dr. Mpourmpakis’ Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.), enabled them to computationally predict the exact dopant locations and concentrations in ligand-protected Au nanoclusters. They also discovered that their recently developed theory, which explained the exact sizes of experimentally synthesized Au nanoclusters, was also applicable to bimetallic nanoclusters, which have even greater versatility. “This computational theory can now be used to accelerate nanomaterials discovery and better guide experimental efforts,” Dr. Mpourmpakis said. “What’s more, by testing this theory on bimetallic nanoclusters we have the potential to develop materials that exhibit tailored properties. This could have a tremendous impact on nanotechnology.” This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (CBET-CAREER program) under Grant No. 1652694 and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 1247842. Computational support was provided by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing and the NSF Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment. ###

Dec
4
2018

Steel City Remains a Powerful Magnet for Chemical Engineers

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (December 4, 2018) … Amidst an energy and manufacturing renaissance fueled by hydrofracturing and the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, the city of Pittsburgh continues to attract leading professionals and experts in chemical engineering. More than 5,600 chemical engineers gathered in the Steel City to attend the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting from October 28 to November 2. The meeting, which took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, marks the second time Pittsburgh hosted the professional society in six years. “We are honored to once again have Pittsburgh, with its many resources and institutions, provide the setting for AIChE’s annual meeting, which brings together chemical engineers from all over the world representing academia, industry and all facets of the discipline,” says Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. AIChE held its first Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh 110 years ago, but the theme of this year’s meeting “AIChE + Chemical Engineering: Today, Tomorrow & Leading the Future” focused on looking forward to cleaner fuels, cost-saving manufacturing processes and a variety of other topics geared to usher in the next era of chemical engineering. Cheers to the Co-Chairs Dr. Johnson served as AIChE Meeting Program Co-Chair alongside Cliff Kowall, Senior Technical Fellow in the Process and Development Department and the Corporate Engineer at The Lubrizol Corporation in Wickliffe, Ohio. Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Lubrizol formed a strategic research partnership in 2014, and the two co-chairs built upon their understanding of how academic and industrial collaboration can benefit the region’s economy and workforce while preparing for the annual meeting. “Pittsburgh was hit hard in the past by failing to adapt to new steel production techniques being developed elsewhere,” says Kowall. “If we’re going to stay ahead of these disasters in the future and get the most out of our present resources we need to be thinking beyond how changes affect our singular industries and consider the big picture that includes us all.” Kowall led a conference session about short-sightedness in Pittsburgh’s past titled “What the Heck Happened? Past, Present & Future Disruptions to the Chemical/Fuels Business.” Dr. Johnson’s session titled “The Future of Energy in the Region, Nation, and World” focused on energy research and development. Both sessions averaged more than 400 attendees. Women and Children Welcome This year’s conference felt more welcoming to new mothers thanks largely to efforts by the University of Pittsburgh’s Susan Fullerton, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering. Motivated by her own past experiences, Dr. Fullerton arranged to increase the visibility and quality of nursing stations at the conference. “I’m a mother of two, and I’ve attended many conferences while nursing. It’s important to me as General Arrangements Chair to have this accommodation ready and welcoming to new mothers,” she says. “If there are no resources at the venue that are comfortable and reasonably private and stocked with what you need, then you return to your hotel room which could be far away. The penalty for nursing mothers is missing a big portion of the technical conference.” A nursing room or “Mother’s Room” consists of a sizeable yet private space that contains a refrigerator, water and breast milk storage bags. This year, the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering sponsored the items in the room. Dr. Fullerton hopes this properly-advertised and conveniently-located room encouraged new mothers to attend the conference and prevented them from viewing their situation as an inconvenience. “We’re in a transition period. Accommodations for nursing mothers were unheard of not very long ago. Now it’s not plentiful, but it’s emerging. I think AIChE can really make a splash by making improvements in this area,” Dr. Fullerton adds. Cheers to the BeersFor the past two years, the AIChE Annual Meeting has created a buzz by hosting a beer brewing competition. A team of chemical engineers from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University won this year’s Best in Show and People’s Choice awards for their “Kilted Panther Stout.” (View a pdf of the poster.)Meeting organizers invite official Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) judges to assess the quality of the chemical concoctions on tap. AIChE members can also weigh in on the home brewers’ malt mastery as long as they are at least 21 years old. The local “Brewsburgh” team first submitted its milk stout to last year’s AIChE brewing competition.“We knew we had improved our taste and quality from last year,” says Robert Parker, Robert v.d. Luft Professor and Vice Chair for Graduate Education in Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “We responded to the judges’ comments and made a small number of very controlled adjustments.”Dr. Parker’s teammates included Pitt PhD student Michelle Pressly and James Schneider, Professor of Chemical Engineering at CMU. Dr. Schneider introduced Dr. Parker to home brewing nearly two decades ago when Dr. Parker moved to Pittsburgh. He has high hopes their many years committed to hops will be reflected in this year’s BJCP score. “AIChE members voted for the People’s Choice Award, and the Best in Show Award came from the BJCP judges,” explains Dr. Parker. “We scored a 36 points out of 50 last year. This year’s scores aren’t out yet, but we are hoping to improve from Very Good to upper-range Excellent score (38-44) with our Best in Show brew.”Research on a Scale of Its OwnIn recognition of significant contributions to research in computational molecular science and engineering by graduate students, the Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum (CoMSEF) honored Swanson School of Engineering PhD Candidate and National Science Foundation Fellow Michael Taylor with the Graduate Student Award.Taylor works in the Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) under the direction of Giannis Mpourmpakis, the Bicentennial Alumni faculty fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. Among his 10 publications on high impact scientific journals (Nature, Nature Communications, etc.) that helped Taylor win the award was research with Dr. Mpourmpakis into how computer simulations help identify and synthesize new metal nanoparticles.“At CANELa, we are exploring extremely complex properties of nanoparticles, and Michael has made enormous contributions to our success since he joined us,” says Dr. Mpourmpakis. “The breadth and depth of his research gives us every reason to believe that this is just the beginning of a bright and impactful career.”Chem-E-Car a Crowd FavoriteThe University of Pittsburgh Chem-E-Car Team won The Golden Tire award, which recognizes the team with the most creative design. The team qualified for the national competition last April when their car, “The Volts Wagon,” placed in the top five at the AIChE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.“The Golden Tire award is voted on by each of the 47 national and international teams who qualified for the competition,” says Taryn Bayles, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and Pitt Chem-E-Car team supervisor. “Our team also won second place in the poster competition, which is a testament to all the hard work and late nights they put into this project since last spring.”The Chem-E-Car Competition requires teams to design a shoebox-sized car able to travel between 50 to 100 feet while carrying a payload between zero and 500 milliliters of water. The car must be powered by chemical reactants and include a second chemical reaction as a stopping mechanism. Cars that travel too far or not far enough are disqualified from the competition.Members of the Pitt team included: Pamela Keller, Logan Frye, Mike Bremer, Graham Friant, Jean Fiore, Steven Corcoan, Adian Chowdhry, Anthony Popovski, Charlie Robinson, Mor Shimski, Kristy Sturgess, Grace Watson and Simon Cao. ###

Nov
27
2018

Pitt Engineer-Clinician Team Uses “Active Wrinkles” to Keep Synthetic Grafts Clean

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (November 27, 2018) … During a coronary bypass procedure, surgeons redirect blood flow using an autologous bypass graft, most often derived from the patient’s own veins. However, in certain situations where the patient does not have a suitable vein, surgeons must rely on synthetic vascular grafts which, while life-saving, are more prone to clot formation that eventually obstructs the graft. To improve the success rate of synthetic grafts, a research team led by the University of Pittsburgh are investigating whether the “active wrinkles” on the interior surface of arteries may help improve synthetic graft design and create a better alternative to autologous grafts for bypass surgery. The research is being conducted by Sachin Velankar, associate professor of chemical engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering; Edith Tzeng, professor of surgery in the School of Medicine; and Luka Pocivavsek, a former resident in the Department of Surgery. Together with Pocivavsek, who is now a vascular surgery fellow at the University of Chicago, Velankar and Tzeng took inspiration from arteries to find a way to improve blood flow in synthetic grafts. “The inner surface of natural arteries, known as the luminal surface, is heavily wrinkled,” said Velankar. “We wanted to explore the effects of this wrinkling to see if the transition from a smooth to wrinkled state will prevent clot formation. We call this dynamic topography.” Pocivavsek, Velankar, and Tzeng worked with a team of Swanson School of Engineering undergraduate students to create a model to test the idea that such surface “topographical” changes can play an anti-thrombotic role. They also enlisted the help of William Wagner, Director of Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, whose lab has expertise on how to measure fouling - the accumulation of unwanted material on surfaces. The team discovered that surfaces that repeatedly transition between a smooth to wrinkled state resist platelet fouling, a finding that could lead to thrombosis-resistant bypass grafts. Equipped with a strategy to improve the effectiveness of synthetic grafts, Velankar and Tzeng are eager to apply this research to clinical applications and received a $454,539 R56 award from the National Institutes of Health to fund clinical translation work. “Our arteries expand and contract naturally, partially driven by normal fluctuations in blood pressure during the cardiac cycle,” said Tzeng. “Our hypothesis is that this drives the transition between smooth and wrinkled luminal surfaces in arteries, and this dynamic topography may be an important anti-thrombotic mechanism in arteries. Our goal is to use this novel concept of a purely mechanical approach to prevent vascular graft fouling by using the heartbeat as a driving mechanism.” They are also interested in examining the biomechanics of the luminal wrinkling in actual arteries and recently received a three-year, $341,599 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their study both in vivo and with animal specimens. Through a combination of simulation and experimentation, they hope to gain a better understanding of the functional role of luminal wrinkling. “We know that arteries appear wrinkled in a microscope”, said Velankar. “But what are the underlying biomechanics? And what’s happening when the artery is not under a microscope, but still carrying blood in the living animal?” Pocivavsek, Velankar, and Tzeng recently detailed their research findings in a Biomaterials article titled “Active wrinkles to drive self-cleaning: A strategy for anti-thrombotic surfaces for vascular grafts” (DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2018.11.005). It is the first practical application of the concept that they described earlier this year in the Nature Physics article titled “Topography-driven surface renewal” (DOI: 10.1038/s41567-018-0193-x). “We hope that our novel strategy to reduce fouling will lead to the development of medical devices that will improve the treatment of injured or diseased arteries,” said Velankar. Confident that their research may provide a positive outcome, the group created Aruga Technologies, a spin-off company from Pitt’s Innovation Institute. The company aims to develop synthetic vascular grafts that can be used for surgical procedures, such as a coronary artery bypass. ###

Nov
7
2018

Engineering Student Athletes: Gillian Schriever

Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

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

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