Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Join With Us In Celebrating Our Fall 2020 Graduating Class! 

Welcome to the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department’s website! Please enjoy exploring and learning about our department. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

The University of Pittsburgh is proud of its history and tradition in civil and environmental engineering education, reinforced by a faculty who are dedicated to their students. The curriculum prepares students to tackle today’s most eminent engineering, environmental and societal challenges. Undergraduate and graduate students (M.S. and PhD) have the opportunity to study and conduct research in a diverse range of areas, including structures, geotechnical and pavements, water resources, transportation, mining, environmental, water resources, sustainability and green design, and construction management. Graduates of the department have become leaders in our profession, serving with government, private consulting firms and contractors as well as research in private industry and academic institutions.

The department offers a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree that may be obtained by majoring in civil engineering or a new major in environmental engineering. You can find more information on the requirements for each degree under the undergraduate tab. The civil engineering major has been continuously accredited by ABET since its inception in 1936. The environmental engineering major was established in 2015 in response to strong demand from students, industry and government agencies and will seek ABET accreditation in the Fall of 2017. The Department also offers minors in civil engineering and environmental engineering to students majoring in other disciplines.

The undergraduate curriculum culminates in a capstone design project, which enables students to put into practice what they learned in the classroom, and offers a direct connection to local civil and environmental engineering professionals who consult with students throughout the semester on their projects.

The department employs world-class faculty, offers access to first-rate educational and research facilities and partnerships with industry, all of which provide the necessary edge for our graduates to discover and pursue satisfying careers that have profound impact on meeting the current and any future challenges for the society. 


Engineering a More Sustainable Future for Farming

Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (Dec. 14, 2020) — Agriculture has long been the cornerstone of societies across the globe. However, the advancements that have allowed crop yields to keep up with a booming population, like pesticides and fertilizers, come with a slew of harmful side effects for the environment. One solution that researchers are exploring is using materials at the nanoscale to replace agrochemicals and help the agricultural system sustainably meet the growing demand for food. Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, recently published a paper in Nature Nanotechnology that investigates and analyzes the potential use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in agricultural practices. The paper was featured on the cover of the journal’s September print edition. “Without action to mitigate the environmental effects of our agriculture system, impacts like greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer use are estimated to increase 50-90 percent by 2050,” says Gilbertson. “We can leverage the properties of nanoscale materials to develop solutions to achieve agricultural intensification, or the ability to produce more food with fewer resources.” The team—made up of researchers from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Arizona State University—compare the performance, and environmental and economic trade-offs, of ENMs and conventional alternatives. In the current system, agrochemicals like fertilizers and pesticides are relied upon for crop development, and farmers over-apply them to maximize crop yields. The researchers write that more than 50 percent of the nitrogen and 85 percent of the phosphorus applied as fertilizer to the crops are not actually utilized, and less than 10 percent of applied pesticides reach their intended target. Not only does this increase costs for farmers, but it also contributes to substantial contamination of the surrounding ecosystems and can harm both the environment and human health.= ENM alternatives would not require over-application to work well: their targeted delivery makes them more effective while minimizing the risk of contaminating the surrounding soil. The researchers identify several opportunities to advance crop production while prioritizing sustainability. The paper, “Guiding the Design Space For Nanotechnology to Advance Sustainable Crop Production,” (doi: 10.1038/s41565-020-0706-5) was authored by Leanne M. Gilbertson at Pitt; Leila Pourzahedi, Stephanie Laughton, Xiaoyu Gao and Gregory V. Lowry at CMU; Julie B. Zimmerman at Yale University; Thomas L. Theis at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Paul Westerhoff at Arizona State University.
Maggie Pavlick

Growth in Medical Waste Poses Threat to Public Health

All SSoE News, Civil & Environmental

“Take, make, waste.” That, regrettably, is the unsustainable pattern seen across many industries. One industry that may surprise you is health care. The current structure of the health care supply chain is not conducive to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making the United States responsible for a disproportionate share of the world’s medical waste. Consider a simple blood pressure cuff: These medical devices can easily be reused with proper cleaning, yet many are manufactured as a single-use disposable product. But what if the United States could transform its linear health care economy into a circular economy that is “restorative and regenerative by design”? A team of researchers across disciplines and institutions are mapping a route toward a more sustainable future for medical devices. Their research, recently published in the December issue of Health Affairs, reveals the barriers to achieving this goal and proposes policy and market-driven solutions to transform the health care supply chain in the United States. Leading the work for the University of Pittsburgh is Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. The first and corresponding author is Andrea MacNeill, clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of British Columbia, and the senior author is Jodi Sherman, associate professor of anesthesiology and epidemiology at Yale University. “We’ve started to believe that single-use is required to reduce infection, but there is an overreliance on that model,” Bilec said. “When you look at this issue from a broader perspective, the manufacturing and disposal of these single-use devices is contributing to environmental and public health issues.” One of those environmental impacts is climate change, which negatively influences human health and has been shown to disproportionately affect marginalized communities. The health sector is responsible for 4.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the United States contributes to more than a quarter of that total. The result, the researchers found, is up to 614,000 disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) lost annually. “A circular economy aims to maximize material value and minimize waste by employing cycles of reuse, reprocessing, repair, recycling, and other strategies to extend the longevity of a product,” Bilec explained. “Though this concept faces barriers globally among consumers, manufacturers and regulatory structures, we focused our research on the United States.” The article cites perceptions regarding infection prevention, behaviors of device consumers and manufacturers, and regulatory structures that encourage the proliferation of disposable medical devices as barriers to achieving a circular economy. Innovation in a time of crisis The reaction to the current COVID-19 pandemic is an extreme example of the amount of waste that can accumulate in this industry. The one-time use of plastic and disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic with facial coverings, shields, and gloves being used – and often disposed of incorrectly – by the general public. Think of the discarded PPE you have undoubtedly seen in grocery store parking lots or other public environments. While safe and sustainable medical waste management concerns have been amplified in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed the impact of reuse and reinvention in the health care sector. “In this past year, manufacturers in the automotive industry jumped into the medical device sector to produce ventilators. Makers across the world recycled scraps of fabric to create invaluable face coverings. Faculty and students in the Swanson School repurposed equipment to produce sanitizer for local hospitals,” Bilec said. “These are all examples of how everyday people applied innovation in a time of crisis to benefit public health. If we steer this innovation toward establishing a circular economy, we can begin to reduce the negative environmental impact in this industry.” The group has been working in the sustainable health care space for several years, but due to perceived responsibility gaps in U.S. funding agencies, it remains difficult to get financial backing. They continue to forge ahead because they believe that improvements in the healthcare sector are critical in our sustainability progress. Bilec was a co-author of the medical device study, as were Aman Khanuja, Robert Lagasse and Saed Alizamir of Yale University, Harriet Hopf of the University of Utah, Matthew J. Eckelman of Northeastern University, Lyndon Hernandez of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Forbes McGain of the University of Melbourne, Kari Simonsen of the University of Nebraska, Cassandra Thiel of New York University, and Steven Young of the University of Waterloo. # # #



Civil & Environmental, Open Positions

A postdoctoral appointment is available in the Computational Diagnostics and Inverse Mechanics (CDIM) research group under the supervision of Dr. John C. Brigham at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.   A highly motivated researcher is sought for this unique opportunity to develop existing research areas and help to build exciting new directions within the CDIM group.  The CDIM group is actively involved in a number of projects covering a diverse array of applications, including shape and kinematic analysis of medical imaging data for diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, novel design concepts and optimal design strategies for smart material morphing structures, efficient and accurate computational nondestructive material characterization algorithms, and reduced-order modeling for simulating multi-physics behaviors.  A specific ongoing project involves development and implementation of shape-based methods to evaluate changes in the function of the human heart, including both direct statistical analysis as well as inverse estimation of heart wall mechanical properties.  Another ongoing project is to develop complementary experimental and computational procedures to evaluate mechanical properties of cell/tissue constructs.  The potential areas for further expansion include additional applications of inverse problems in mechanics of biological or artificial structures, with specifics depending upon the particular interests and capabilities of the candidate.  The successful applicant will: possess or be on track to complete a PhD in a relevant STEM discipline and have an excellent academic record.  have expertise in computational mechanics and numerical methods. have experience in coding with one or more software languages (e.g., Python, C++, Fortran, and/or MATLAB).  have a strong work ethic and time management skills along with the ability to work independently and within a multidisciplinary team as required. Additional experience with pattern recognition and machine learning as well as numerical optimization is highly desirable.  The candidate should have completed their Ph.D. prior to the start date of the position. Candidates from underrepresented minority groups and women are strongly encouraged to apply for this position.    The initial appointment will be for one year with the possibility of extension. The start date is flexible, with a preference for candidates capable of starting early in 2021 or as soon as possible. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.  Your application should include: Cover Letter Curriculum Vitae 1-page statement of your career goals and how this position will help you achieve your goals Contact information for three references For further information or questions about this position you may contact: Dr. John Brigham directly (brigham@pitt.edu). Applications are being accepted at join.pitt.edu.

Dr. John Brigham

Let’s (Not) Stick Together

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 27, 2020) — If you’ve ever had a cold, you know that too much mucus can be an annoyance, but mucus plays a very important role in the body. The respiratory system creates mucus as part of the immune system, meant to trap inhaled bacteria, viruses, and dirt so they can be removed before causing infection. However, for people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (CF), the mucus that their bodies produce is thicker and stickier, leading to an increased risk from infection and decreased ability to breathe over time. New research led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering examines the properties of the mucus of CF patients and the role it plays in a pathogens’ ability to survive. The new information could have important implications for CF treatment. [Related: Learn how the new INHALE Lab will help CF patients avoid water-borne pathogens] The researchers examined nonmucoid (PANT) and mucoid (PASL) strains of P. aeruginosa, a common pathogen that infects the lungs. P. aeruginosa adapts to the host environment mutating from a non-mucoid phenotype (PANT) to a mucoid phenotype (PASL). This mutation in P. aeruginosa creates a protective film of mucus around the bacteria thereby forming a more hydrated and slimy biofilm in the mucus. “Think of the cells like grains of rice. PANT cells are like basmati rice, while PASL cells are like sushi rice: coated in such a way that they stick together when they’re compressed,” explained Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, whose lab led the study. Niepa also has appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “We can measure how investigational drugs can alter the sticky nature of the coating that pathogens such as P. aeruginosa create upon mutation.” This mutation gives the mucus unique properties that contribute to increased antibiotic resistance. It also shields them against phagocytic cells, which help the immune system clear out dead or harmful cells by ingesting them. In order to study these properties, the researchers used pendant drop elastometry to compress and expand the biofilm that the cells formed. They also assessed the transcriptional profile of the cells to correlate the film's mechanics to cell physiology. “This is the first time that the pendant drop elastometry technique has been used to study the mechanics of these cells. We demonstrate that these techniques can be used to investigate the efficacy of mucolytic drugs—drugs that are used to break down the film of mucus that the cells are making,” noted Niepa. “This technique could be powerful for investigating those agents, to see if they have the anticipated effect.” The paper, “Material properties of interfacial films of mucoid and nonmucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates,” (DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2020.10.010) was published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia. It was authored by Sricharani Rao Balmuri, Nicholas G. Waters, and Tagbo H.R. Niepa from Pitt, and Jonas Hegemann and Jan Kierfeld from the Universität Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany.
Maggie Pavlick

Pitt Engineering Alumnus Dedicates Major Gift Toward Undergraduate Tuition Support

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Nuclear, Diversity, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (October 21, 2020) …  An eight-figure donation from an anonymous graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering and spouse to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering in their estate planning to provide financial aid to undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Pitt EXCEL Program. Announced today by Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and US Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II, the donors' bequest will provide tuition support for underprivileged or underrepresented engineering students who are residents of the United States of America and in need of financial aid. “I am extremely grateful for this gift, which supports the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts to tackle one of society’s greatest challenges—the inequity of opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Put into action, this commitment will help students from underrepresented groups access a world-class Pitt education and—in doing so—help elevate the entire field of engineering.” “Our dedication as engineers is to create new knowledge that benefits the human condition, and that includes educating the next generation of engineers. Our students’ success informs our mission, and I am honored and humbled that our donors are vested in helping to expand the diversity of engineering students at Pitt,” Martin noted. “Often the most successful engineers are those who have the greatest need or who lack access, and support such as this is critical to expanding our outreach and strengthening the role of engineers in society.” A Gift to Prepare the Workforce of the Future Martin noted that the gift is timely because it was made shortly after Chancellor Gallagher’s call this past summer to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all, especially for the University’s future students. The gift – and the donors’ passion for the Swanson School – show that there is untapped potential as well as significant interest in addressing unmet need for students who represent a demographic shift in the American workforce.  “By 2050, when the U.S. will have a minority-majority population, two-thirds of the American workforce will require a post-secondary education,” Martin explained. “We are already reimagining how we deliver engineering education and research, and generosity such as this will lessen the financial burden that students will face to prepare for that future workforce.” A Half-Century of IMPACT on Engineering Equity In 1969 the late Dr. Karl Lewis (1/15/1936-3/5/2019) founded the IMPACT Program at the University of Pittsburgh to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from the field of engineering. The six-week program prepared incoming first year students through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. Many Pitt alumni today still note the role that Lewis and IMPACT had on their personal and professional lives.  Under Lewis’ leadership, IMPACT sparked the creation of two award-winning initiatives within the Swanson School’s Office of Diversity: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors. Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. “Dr. Lewis, like so many of his generation, started a movement that grew beyond one person’s idea,” said Yvette Wisher, Director of Pitt EXCEL. “Anyone who talks to today’s EXCEL students can hear the passion of Dr. Lewis and see how exceptional these young people will be as engineers and individuals. They and the hundreds of students who preceded them are the reason why Pitt EXCEL is game-changer for so many.”  Since its inception, Pitt EXCEL has helped more than 1,500 students earn their engineering degrees and become leaders and change agents in their communities. Ms. Wisher says the most important concept she teaches students who are enrolled in the program is to give back however they can once they graduate—through mentorship, volunteerism, philanthropy, or advocacy.  Supporting the Change Agents of Tomorrow “Pitt EXCEL is a home - but more importantly, a family. The strong familial bonds within Pitt EXCEL are what attracted me to Swanson as a graduating high school senior, what kept me going throughout my time in undergrad and what keeps me energized to this very day as a PhD student,” explained Isaiah M. Spencer Williams, BSCE ’19 and currently a pre-doctoral student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Pitt EXCEL is a family where iron sharpens iron and where we push each other to be the best that we can be every day. Beyond that, it is a space where you are not only holistically nurtured and supported but are also groomed to pave the way for and invest into those who are coming behind you.  “Pitt EXCEL, and by extension, Dr. Lewis' legacy and movement are the reasons why I am the leader and change agent that I am today. This generous gift will ensure a bright future for underrepresented engineering students in the Pitt EXCEL Program, and will help to continue the outstanding development of the change agents of tomorrow.”  Setting a Foundation for Community Support “Next year marks the 51st anniversary of IMPACT/EXCEL as well as the 175th year of engineering at Pitt and the 50th anniversary of Benedum Hall,” Dean Martin said. “The Swanson School of Engineering represents 28,000 alumni around the world, who in many ways are life-long students of engineering beyond the walls of Benedum, but who share pride in being Pitt Engineers. “The key to our future success is working together as a global community to find within ourselves how we can best support tomorrow’s students,” Martin concluded. “We should all celebrate this as a foundational cornerstone gift for greater engagement.” ###

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