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.

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May
22
2019

New Partnership Expands Research into Rechargeable Battery Systems

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (May 22, 2019) — Energy storage influences every part of modern life, from the cell phone in your pocket to the electric car on the highway. However, seeing the chemistry of what is happening inside a battery while it is in use is indeed tricky, but it could have remarkable opportunities for identifying new materials as well as improving the battery itself. Now, the Next-Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Lab (NECSTL) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center has announced a new energy research partnership with Malvern Panalytical that will enable the lab to do exactly that. The NECSTL, headed by Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, focuses on energy conversion and storage, including rechargeable battery systems. Malvern Panalytical’s Empyrean X-ray Platform, a multipurpose diffractometer, will be used in the lab to identify solid-state materials by determining their internal structure, composition and phase while they are in use. “For example, it can be used to determine what happens to an electrode and electrolyte material as the main active component is removed and brought back during a electrochemical reaction, such as in the case of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery,” explains Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, Edward R. Weidlein Chair professor of Bioengineering. Dr. Kumta also holds appointments in chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and oral biology. “This understanding will lead to new discoveries of mechanisms and operation, which can result in new materials discovery and new designs for significantly increasing the performance of batteries and fuel cells.” Dr. Kumta also believes that the partnership will enable the design of new instrumentation for further in-situ diagnostics of energy storage and conversion systems. The new partnership and equipment will be celebrated on May 23, when attendees can enjoy light refreshments and get a look at the Empyrean up close. The event will take place at the Energy Innovation Center, 1435 Bedford Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15219, from 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
25
2019

Biomimicry of Basic Instinct

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 25, 2019) … Collaboration and competition are basic instincts among biological species, from the simplest single-celled organisms to reptiles, fish and primates, as well as humans. This dynamic behavior – the result of millions of years of evolution – is difficult to replicate in synthetic systems. However, chemical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have recreated these responses in an environment of microscopic particles, sheets, and catalysts, effectively mimicking responses of feeding, fighting, and fleeing. Their research, “Collaboration and completion between active sheets for self-propelled particles,” was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1901235116). Principal investigator is Anna C. Balazs, the John A. Swanson Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. Lead author is Abhrajit Laskar, and co-author is Oleg E. Shklyaev, both post-doctoral associates. As a lead-up to this work, Dr. Balazs et al used computational modeling to design chemically active sheets that were able to wrap, flap and creep in a fluid-filled microchamber, leveraging the potential to create flexible or “squishy” robots for fluidic environments. For the PNAS article, the researchers designed fluidic systems that shape the catalyst-coated sheets into a form resembling a crab with four “claws,” creating the predator that can chemically “hunt” its particle prey. “As we develop future robotics and smart devices, it’s important to understand the limits to imitating biological functions in human-made machines. It is also critical to understand whether artificial systems can collaborate or compete for resources,” Dr. Balazs explained. “If we can replicate this interdependency, we can help establish the foundation for robots or other devices to work together toward a common goal.”To affect this behavior, Balazs and her associates utilized the catalyst on the sheets to convert reactants to products within a microchamber. This reaction creates variations in the chemical composition and fluid density, which change the two-dimensional sheets into 3D “crabs” and propel both the crabs and the particles in the fluid. As the crabs generate chemical gradients in one area, the particles respond by attempting to “flee” from this area, forming a highly interdependent system. This interdependency also impacted the environment when a second crab was added to the fluid – once the reactant was introduced, the two crabs mimicked cooperation to “share” particles. However, if a larger crab was introduced, it would compete with the smaller shapes to capture all the particles for itself. “In some cases, the big crab can’t catch the small particles, but when we add more crabs they appear to collaborate like a pack of wolves,” Dr. Shklyaev explains. “Likewise, when an even larger predator enters the microchamber, the “hunger” it generates with a larger catalytic surface area will dominate the behavior of the smaller predator sheets.”Dr. Laskar says that the simplicity of this system is that the only programming involved is the introduction of the chemical reagent into the system. “Once we added a reactant into the microchamber, all the biomimetic behaviors occurred spontaneously,” he said. “We can then tailor the extent to which the particles respond to chemical gradients, because different particles will respond in different ways. So changing the property of even one type of object alters the interdependency of the whole system.”According to Dr. Balazs, the new findings indicate the ability to control activity within the microchamber in space and time, thereby enabling the sheets to respond to different commands only by changing the reactants added to the solution. “Our computations reveal the ability to direct microscopic objects to perform specific functions, such as transporting cells or building complex structures,” she said. “These design rules have the potential to diversify the functionality of microfluidic devices, allowing them to accomplish significantly more complex tasks.” ### Acknowledgements: This research is made possible through funding from NSF Grant 1740630, CCI Phase I, Center for Chemo-Mechanical Assembly, and computational facilities at the Center for Research Computing at the University of Pittsburgh. Biomimicry of Feeding: The enzyme-coated sheet generates an inward flow which pulls in fleeing, self-propelled particles (yellow spheres). Within the sheet or crab, the catalase-coated nodes are marked in green, and the heavier nodes at the apexes are indicated in black. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) Survival of the Fittest: The surface area of active sites on the red crab is twice that of the green grab; therefore, the red crab draws particles away from green competitors by generating stronger inward flows (marked with black arrows). (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) To Each His Own: Two crabs, whose rates of decomposition are equal, generate comparable flows and thus gather an equal number of particles. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) Pack Mentality: Catalase-coated, movable sheets acting together can capture particles that individual sheets alone cannot. Inward fluid flows become even stronger (indicated by larger arrow sizes) as the sheets aggregate. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs) A Timed Response: The pink crab decomposes glucose into two lighter products, H2O2 and gluconic acid, and the resulting inward flows drag particles toward it. However, the green crab’s catalyst decomposes H2O2, which generates a new, strong inward fluid flow that drags the particles from the pink crab, which gradually flattens as its glucose supply is depleted. This indicates the ability to “program” two sheets to perform temporal as well as spatial tasks. (Abhrajit Laskar/Anna Balazs)

Apr
24
2019

ChemE Assistant Professor John Keith Receives Funding for 10-month Collaboration with University of Luxembourg

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2019) — John Keith, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received two awards to fund a 10-month collaboration with a researcher at the University of Luxembourg. Dr. Keith received the equivalent of $89,000 from the Luxembourg National Research Fund as well as a $26,746 NSF Travel Award supplement to support a 10-month visit to the University of Luxembourg, where he will work with Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko, a world expert in developing atomistic machine learning methods that use artificial intelligence to make computer simulations faster and more accurate. Together, the researchers will study complex reaction mechanisms, such as carbon dioxide conversion into fuels and chemicals, and environmentally green chemical design of molecular chelating agents. The researchers also plan to develop a modern textbook on quantum chemistry and contemporary methods to study chemical bonding that would educate the next generation of computational researchers. “I very much look forward to the work made possible by these grants,” says Dr. Keith. “It’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate with an international expert to better improve technologies that would have a positive effect on our world.”
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
19
2019

Pitt ChemE Promotes Two to Associate Professor with Tenure

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 19, 2019) – Two professors in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering received promotions this week. John Keith, PhD, and Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, PhD, have both received promotions to Associate Professor with tenure. “John and Yanni have made outstanding contributions to the department, its students and our reputation,” says Steven R. Little, PhD, professor and chair of the department. “Their letters of support from around the world were truly inspiring, and they made the Promotion and Tenure Committee’s decision an easy one.” About John Keith: John A. Keith, PhD, is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His Computational Chemistry lab studies atomic scale reaction mechanisms to understand how to design solar fuels catalysts, environmentally green chemicals, and anti-corrosion coatings. Dr. Keith earned his PhD in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology and pursued postdoctoral research in electrochemistry at the University of Ulm in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. About Giannis Mpourmpakis: Giannis Mpourmpakis, PhD, is the Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) uses theory and computation to investigate the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnology areas, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis. Dr. Mpourmpakis earned his PhD at Theoretical and Computational Chemistry from the University of Crete and was a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Delaware. ###
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

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