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



Sep
23
2019

Cracking the Ethylene Code

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 23, 2019) — From soda bottles to polyester clothing, ethylene is part of many products we use every day. In part to meet demand, the Shell Oil Company is building an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, Pa., specifically to produce ethylene molecules from the abundant ethane found in natural gas. However, the chemical reaction used to convert ethane into valuable ethylene is incomplete, so such plants produce an impure mixture of ethylene and ethane. Separating pure ethylene from ethane is a difficult and costly process, but one that new research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is poised to streamline. The technique investigated in two new papers, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Association and Organometallics, would avoid liquefaction and distillation by designing a material that only binds ethylene molecules, thus separating them from ethane. Ethylene is an olefin--a molecule with an unsaturated bond (like unsaturated fats). Current methods of separating ethylene from ethane involve cooling the mixture to very low temperatures, liquefying it, and feeding it into a large distillation column, which is an energy-intensive and costly process. Developed by a team led by Professors Karl Johnson, PhD, and Götz Veser, PhD, from Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Professor Nathaniel Rosi, PhD, from the Department of Chemistry, this new process would potentially save a great deal of energy, reducing carbon emissions and costs at the same time. The heart of this new separation method is isolated copper atoms that olefins like ethylene can bond to strongly. Since copper atoms naturally want to clump together, which destroys their ability to bond with olefins, the Pittsburgh researchers used metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to effectively isolate single atoms of copper in the right location to produce high-grade ethylene at least 99.999 percent pure. “The uniqueness of this material is that the isolated copper atoms are in the right oxidation state and the right geometry within the metal organic framework to provide very high selectivity—higher than other adsorption methods—and it can easily be scaled up,” says Johnson, the W.K. Whiteford Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Associate Director of the Center for Research Computing. “MOFs are a practical alternative to an inefficient and costly process.” “Designing Open Metal Sites in Metal-Organic Frameworks for Paraffin/Olefin Separations,” (DOI:  10.1021/jacs.9b06582) was published in the Journal of theAmerican Chemical Society and was co-authored by Mona H. Mohamed, PhD, Austin Gamble Jarvi, Sunil Saxena, PhD, and Nathaniel Rosi, PhD, from Pitt’s Chemistry Department; and Yahui Yang, Lin Li, PhD, Sen Zhang, Johnathan Ruffley, Götz Veser, PhD, Karl Johnson, PhD, from the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Rosi holds a secondary appointment in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “Fundamental Insights into the Reactivity and Utilization of Open Metal Sites in Cu(I)-MFU-4/,” (DOI:  10.1021/acs.organomet.9b00351)  was published in Organometallics and was co-authored by Lin Li, PhD, Yahui Yang, Mona H. Mohamed, PhD, Sen Zhang, Götz Veser, PhD, Nathaniel Rosi, PhD, and Karl Johnson, PhD.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
17
2019

Modeling a Model Nanoparticle

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 17, 2019) — Metal nanoparticles have a wide range of applications, from medicine to catalysis, from energy to the environment. But the fundamentals of adsorption—the process allowing molecules to bind as a layer to a solid surface—in relation to the nanoparticle’s characteristics were yet to be discovered. New research from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering introduces the first universal adsorption model that accounts for detailed nanoparticle structural characteristics, metal composition and different adsorbates, making it possible to not only predict adsorption behavior on any metal nanoparticles but screen their stability, as well. The research combines computational chemistry modeling with machine learning to fit a large number of data and accurately predict adsorption trends on nanoparticles that have not previously been seen. By connecting adsorption with the stability of nanoparticles, nanoparticles can now be optimized in terms of their synthetic accessibility and application property behavior. This improvement will significantly accelerate nanomaterials design and avoid trial and error experimentation in the lab. “This model has the potential to impact diverse areas of nanotechnology with applications in catalysis, sensors, separations and even drug delivery,” says Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, the Swanson School’s Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, whose CANELa lab conducted the research.  “Our lab, as well as other groups, have performed prior computational studies that describe adsorption on metals, but this is the first universal model that accounts for nanoparticle size, shape, metal composition and type of adsorbate. It’s also the first model that directly connects an application property, such as adsorption and catalysis, with the stability of the nanoparticles.” The paper, “Unfolding Adsorption on Metal Nanoparticles: Connecting Stability with Catalysis” was published in Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax5101) on Sept. 13, 2019. It was authored by James Dean, Michael G. Taylor, PhD, and Giannis Mpourmpakis, PhD. The research was funded by a Designing Engineering and Material Systems grant from the National Science Foundation.
Maggie Pavlick
Sep
9
2019

Makerspaces and Mindsets

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 9, 2019) — As with many creative projects, this one started with a doodle. Students at this year’s Makerspace Bootcamp at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering learned that to create a finished product, (in this case, a laser-cut lampshade), you must first translate the idea in your head onto paper. The 31 rising sophomore engineering students were asked to quickly sketch out a lampshade design, and then another, and another. By the end of the day, they would turn one of the sketches into a working lamp. “The project goes from physical, to digital, and back to physical. We walk through the design process, using software to create a digital model from the sketch, cutting it with the laser cutter, and assembling the lamp,” says David Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School. “The workshop helps students overcome two hurdles—one, that they don’t know that the makerspace is available to everyone, and two that they feel they need to be Tony Stark in order to create something.” The students used the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber, BioE Design, Innovation and Outreach Coordinator, to complete their lamp. The Makerspace, located in Benedum Hall, is open to students of all majors and has a wide range of equipment to design and fabricate. Current Makerspace students serve as mentors and helped the boot camp participants in the same way they guide all newcomers. “The Pitt Makerspaces provide hands-on experiences for students, with resources and support to make an idea a reality,” says Barber. “We want students to feel welcome to come in, explore, and collaborate, and the boot camp helps introduce them to a new way of thinking.” The annual boot camp began in 2013 as an entrepreneurship-focused event sponsored by the Engineering Education Research Center, but under the direction of Sanchez with the support of William (Buddy) Clark, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, and Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. Since then it has shifted its focus to the Makerspace and Sanchez and Barber now plan for it to be even more hands-on and open to more students. While the first day of the workshop focused on using the Pitt Makerspace, the final day centered on building the mindset of a creator. Sanchez presented the students with different design challenges, such as imagining how to grow a company that sells one particular product successfully, like an oven cleaner. While most pitched the idea of making “a better oven cleaner,” he helped them to see that diving deeper into the customer’s experience would yield opportunities to reinvent it with concepts like better self-cleaning ovens. “Critical thinking and empathy are important parts of the design process. Shifting your focus beyond what products do to what customers experience is essential to good design,” says Sanchez. “Our goal for the boot camp is to cultivate this approach to design and making that inspires all our students to incorporate it into their experience here at the Swanson School.”
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
23
2019

Five Pitt engineering faculty capture nearly $3 million in total NSF CAREER awards for 2018/2019

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

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2019) … Five 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 nearly $3 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 five awards – one each in the departments of Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – ties the record from 2017 for the most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement. “Federal funding for academic research is extremely competitive, especially for faculty just beginning their academic careers. Receiving five prestigious NSF CAREER Awards in one cycle 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 Psychology ($550,000)Title: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. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering ($805,670)Title: Novel human-in-the loop approach to increase locomotor learning Summary: Many stroke survivors who suffer from impaired gait benefit from rehabilitation using robotics. Unfortunately, motor improvements following training are not maintained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo hypothesizes that some of these individuals have difficulty perceiving their asymmetric movement, and she will use this project to characterize this deficit and indicate if split-belt walking - in which the legs move at different speeds - can correct it. Her lab will track how patients with brain lesions perceive asymmetries in their gait. They will then measure how their perception is adjusted once their movements are adapted in the split-belt environment. In the second part of this study, the lab will use these data and a unique method to manipulate how people perceive their movement and create the illusion of error-free performance during split-belt walking. The goal is for the changes in their movements to be sustained in the patient’s daily life. Dr. Torres-Oviedo will also use this project as a way to increase the participation of students from underrepresented minorities (URM) in science and engineering. She will recruit, mentor, and prepare URM students from K-12 and college to pursue advanced education, with the ultimate goal of broadening the professional opportunities for this population. ###

Aug
12
2019

Pitt ChemE Department Recruits Expert in Interfacial Transport Phenomena Dr. Thomas Schutzius as Assistant Professor

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 12, 2019) — The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering announced that Thomas Schutzius, PhD, will join the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering faculty as assistant professor. Dr. Schutzius is currently the group leader of Interfacial and Micro-Nanoscale Transport Phenomenon and Thermodynamics at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. His research intersects multiple fields, including energy, surface science and engineering, and thermofluidics. He investigates how material properties can be engineered to beneficially interact with micro- and nano-scale and interfacial transport phenomena. For example, recent work developed a nanoscale-thick coating made from gold and titanium dioxide that could concentrate solar energy and aid in windshield defrosting. “We were blown away by Tom’s expertise and research in his field,” says Steven Little, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “He has developed innovative processes for developing nanotechnology and novel materials that are highly impactful in fields ranging from the water-energy nexus to healthcare. He will be an excellent addition to our faculty.” Dr. Schutzius has published 31 peer-reviewed papers, many of which have been published in top journals, including Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and the American Chemical Society (ACS) Nano. He currently has five U.S. non-provisional patents for his work. His research has also been featured in the media, including New Scientist, the New York Times, the Nature Podcast and PBS Newshour. Dr. Schutzius earned his bachelor of science and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in Chicago. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at ETH Zurich before his appointment as group leader there.
Maggie Pavlick

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