Pitt | Swanson Engineering

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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. 

Jun
21
2021

Creating Cooler Cities

Civil & Environmental, Research, Banner

If you’ve ever been in a city’s central core in the middle of summer, you know the heat can be brutal—and much hotter than in the surrounding region.Temperatures in cities tend to be several degrees warmer than in its rural areas, a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. Many cities have been observed to be 2-4ºC warmer than the countryside in virtually every inhabited continent. This phenomenon occurs because urban infrastructure, especially pavements, absorbs a lot of heat as compared to natural vegetated surfaces. This heat pollution causes higher air conditioning and water costs, while also posing a public health hazard. One mitigation strategy called gray infrastructure involves the modification of impermeable surfaces (walls, roofs, and pavements) to counter their conventional heating effect. Typical urban surfaces have a solar reflectance (albedo) of 0.20, which means they reflect just 20 percent of sunlight and absorb as much as 80 percent. By contrast, reflective concrete and coatings can be designed to reflect 30-50 percent or more. Cities like Los Angeles have already used reflective coatings on major streets to combat heat pollution, although the solution can be expensive to implement city-wide. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering used a Computational Fluid Dynamics model to find ways to decrease cost and increase usage of cooler surfaces. The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, examined the possibility of applying cooler surfaces to just half the surfaces in a city. “This could be an effective solution if the surfaces selected were upstream of the dominant wind direction,” said lead author Sushobhan Sen, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “A ‘barrier’ of cool surfaces preemptively cools the warm air, which then cools the rest of the city at a fraction of the cost. On the other hand, if the surfaces are not strategically selected, their effectiveness can decline substantially.” This research gives urban planners and civil engineers an additional way to build resilient and sustainable infrastructure using limited resources.“It’s important for the health of the planet and its people that we find a way to mitigate the heat produced by urban infrastructure,” said coauthor Lev Khazanovich, the department’s Anthony Gill Chair Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Strategically placed reflective surfaces could maximize the mitigation of heat pollution while using minimal resources.”The paper, titled “Limited application of reflective surfaces can mitigate urban heat pollution,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23634-7) was coauthored by Sen and Khazanovich. The paper was recently featured by Nature Communications in the Editors’ Highlight page on climate change impacts. 
Jun
21
2021

Capturing the Huge Impacts of Tiny Organisms

Banner, Grants, Chemical & Petroleum, Bioengineering, MEMS, Civil & Environmental

One of the main reasons the multitude of bacteria we encounter in daily life doesn’t harm us is because of the diverse, robust community of microbes on our skin and inside our bodies that prevent pathogens from taking hold. But despite the importance of the microbial community we each host, there is still a lot researchers don’t know about it. The most common method for growing microorganisms is via culture flasks and agar plates, but these methods don’t expose microbes to their native environments. Because of this limitation, the vast majority of the existing microbial population remains unknown, uncultivated, and poorly studied.Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, is developing a new technique for studying microbes in conditions that mimic their native environment, facilitating the growth of difficult microbial species and helping researchers to better understand them. The research was recently awarded $315,373 by the National Science Foundation.By encapsulating microbes isolated from various sources in a polymeric shell, researchers will be able to study microbes in environmental conditions.The nanocultures will eliminate growth rate bias that occurs in traditional cultures when species of microbes are competing for space, and the enclosure protects them from chemical or biological contaminants. The proposed technology, which will give researchers insights into how synthetic microbial communities communicate and interact with native ones, could lead to advances in medicine, biotechnology, bioremediation and more.“Not having a sufficient way to grow and examine these microbes has not only impeded the scientific discovery of antibiotic-like molecules but has also limited our ability to use genetically engineered beneficial microbes,” said Niepa. “There are microbes out there that could lead us to new types of antibiotics based on microbes we find in the soil, improve human health and performance by understanding the human microbiome, and more. We do not yet have a way to explore their full potential. That is the problem we are trying to solve.”One potent application of the new technology is for the controlled delivery of healthy gut bacteria into the body. Antibiotic use, stress and illnesses can lead to microbial dysbiosis, or the imbalance of gut bacteria, which in turn can lead to ulcers, cancers, and other health problems. Niepa and his team are exploring ways to use the microcapsules, which can culture and store a multitude of microbes, as a delivery system for beneficial bacteria into the body to restore the gut microbiome. As part of the NSF project, the researchers will use the microcapsules to deliver a gut-benefiting community of microbes into mice to examine its efficacy.“This research makes a substantial step toward microbial-based therapy against microbial dysbiosis. Beyond the health benefits, our project will facilitate a broader understanding of microbial diversity and offer relevant implications for biotechnology and bioremediation,” said Niepa. “Some of the smallest organisms have an enormous impact on human health and the health of our planet. We’re taking a step toward understanding all they can offer.” The project, titled “Designing a Multifunctional Nanoculture System for High-throughput in situ Assessment of Microbial Communities,” will begin on July 1, 2021.
Jun
1
2021

Seeking Sustainable Solutions for the Global Challenge of Safe Drinking Water

Civil & Environmental, Grants, Features, Banner

Lead is not the only danger when it comes to drinking water – harmful bacteria can also find their way into the water we consume despite treatment prior to distribution. In the face of water scarcity and aging infrastructure, there is a need for innovative, affordable, and portable solutions to sustainably provide safe drinking water across the globe.Engineering researchers from the University of Pittsburgh will use a $500K CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to create a sustainable material design framework to mitigate pathogen exposure in this invaluable resource.“In addition to tap water from large-scale, municipal distribution, there are many other scenarios where we may want to disinfect our water before we drink it, such as when it is sourced from private wells or nature,” said Leanne Gilbertson, lead researcher and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “There are also emerging sources of drinking water, such as water reuse where wastewater is treated to potable standards, presenting new disinfection challenges.”In this project, Gilbertson’s team will examine graphitic carbon nitride (g-C3N4), a non-metal material that possesses antimicrobial properties when activated with visible light. It is proposed as a sustainable material because it is developed with low-cost, abundant resources.“We will modify the chemistry of graphitic carbon nitride to improve its photocatalytic performance,” Gilbertson said. “When light is absorbed by the material, it generates reactive oxygen species that can kill microorganisms.”The research team will integrate the enhanced materials into a drinking water treatment device, such as a filter or portable reactor, that can be used as a viable, cost-effective solution to inactivate harmful bacteria in drinking water. They will collaborate with Aquisense, an industry leader in LED-enabled disinfection, to develop a point-of-use model.“By manipulating the structure and composition of graphitic carbon nitride at the atomic level, we have the ability to control its optical absorption and performance for photocatalytic disinfection. Using LED technology further enables us to flexibly configure the light wavelength best suited for maximum absorption of a designed material,” said Yan Wang, a postdoctoral associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and former PhD student in the Gilbertson Group who started this project.Through this research, the team will assess whether this material is indeed a sustainable alternative for treating drinking water.“We will apply life cycle assessment (LCA) to investigate the environmental impacts associated with synthesizing graphitic carbon nitride,” said Nathalia Aquino de Carvalho, a current PhD student in the Gilbertson group and lead author of their recent paper that lays the foundation for this work. “LCA will enable us to identify hot spots in the synthesis, tradeoffs of different synthesis routes, and opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint prior to scaling production. Applying LCA while we are designing the material enables competitive, environmentally responsible development of graphitic carbon nitride.”Gilbertson’s group ultimately hopes to create a point-of-use device that addresses the challenge of sustainably providing safe drinking water. They also plan to develop educational resources for the general public through a podcast series and a “Science Through Storytelling” program to engage elementary students in STEM.
Jun
1
2021

Self-Aware Materials for Living Structures

Research, Civil & Environmental, Banner

From the biggest bridges to the smallest medical implants, sensors are everywhere, and for good reason: The ability to sense and monitor changes before they become problems can be both cost-saving and life-saving.To better address these potential threats, the Intelligent Structural Monitoring and Response Testing (iSMaRT) Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has designed a new class of materials that are both sensing mediums and nanogenerators, and are poised to revolutionize the multifunctional material technology big and small.The research, recently published in Nano Energy, describes a new metamaterial system that acts as its own sensor, recording and relaying important information about the pressure and stresses on its structure. The so-called “self-aware metamaterial” generates its own power and can be used for a wide array of sensing and monitoring applications.The most innovative facet of the work is its scalability: the same design works at both nanoscale and megascale simply by tailoring the design geometry.“There is no doubt that the next generation materials need to be multifunctional, adaptive and tunable.” said Amir Alavi, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and bioengineering, who leads the iSMaRT Lab. “You can’t achieve these features with natural materials alone—you need hybrid or composite material systems in which each constituent layer offers its own functionality. The self-aware metamaterial systems that we’ve invented can offer these characteristics by fusing advanced metamaterial and energy harvesting technologies at multiscale, whether it’s a medical stent, shock absorber or an airplane wing.”While nearly all of the existing self-sensing materials are composites that rely on different forms of carbon fibers as sensing modules, this new concept offers a completely different, yet efficient, approach to creating sensor and nanogenerator material systems. The proposed concept relies on performance-tailored design and assembly of material microstructures.The material is designed such that under pressure, contact-electrification occurs between its conductive and dielectric layers, creating an electric charge that relays information about the condition of the material. In addition, it naturally inherits the outstanding mechanical properties of metamaterials, like negative compressibility and ultra-high resistance to deformation. The power generated by its built-in triboelectric nanogenerator mechanism eliminates the need for a separate power source: such material systems can harness hundreds of watts of power at large scales.A “Game Changer,” from the Human Heart to Space Habitats“We believe this invention is a game changer in metamaterial science where multifunctionality is now gaining a lot of traction,” said Kaveh Barri, lead author and doctoral student in Alavi’s lab. “While a substantial portion of the current efforts in this area has been merely going into exploring new mechanical properties, we are going a step further by introducing revolutionary self-charging and self-sensing mechanisms into the fabric of material systems.”“Our most exciting contribution is that we are engineering new aspects of intelligence into the texture of metamaterials. We can literally transform any material system into sensing mediums and nanogenerators under this concept,” added Gloria Zhang, co-lead author and doctoral student in Alavi’s lab.The researchers have created multiple prototype designs for a variety of civil, aerospace and biomedical engineering applications. At a smaller scale, a heart stent using this design can be used to monitor blood flow and detect signs of restenosis, or the re-narrowing of an artery. The same design was also used at a much larger scale to create a mechanically-tunable beam suitable for a bridge that could self-monitor for defects on its structure.These materials have enormous potential beyond Earth, as well. A self-aware material uses neither carbon fibers nor coils; it is light in mass, low in density, low in cost, highly scalable, and it can be fabricated using a broad range of organic and inorganic materials. Those qualities make them ideal for use in future space exploration.“To fully understand the huge potential of this technology, imagine how we can even adapt this concept to build structurally-sound self-powering space habitats using only indigenous materials on Mars and beyond. We are actually looking into this right now,” said Alavi. “You can create nano-, micro-, macro- and mega-scale material systems under this concept. That is why I am confident that this invention can build the foundations for a new generation of engineering living structures that respond to the external stimuli, self-monitor their condition, and power themselves.”The paper, “Multifunctional meta-tribomaterial nanogenerators for energy harvesting and active sensing” (DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2021.106074), was co-authored by Zhong Lin Wang, PhD, Hightower Chair and Regents' Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Jun Chen, PhD, Assistant Professor at Pitt, and Pengcheng Jiao, PhD, Research Professor at Zhejiang University.This research is supported in part by the NIH under award number R21AR075242-01, and it is a continuation of U.S. Provisional Pat. Ser. No. 63/048943, entitled “Self-aware Composite Mechanical Metamaterials and Method for Making Same,” filed at Pitt.
May
18
2021

First-Hand STEM Experiences From Coast to Coast

Features, Civil & Environmental

As undergraduates Heather Phillips and Amy Blanchard explained the basics of solid phase extraction and microbial fuel cells via Zoom from a lab at the University of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles high school senior Serenity Anderson left a quick but striking comment in the chat: “Really cool seeing girls in the lab :)”Anderson was part of the class of seniors from the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA), a public STEM high school in Los Angeles, who arrived virtually at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering on April 22, 2021 to learn how data is used in engineering to support sustainability. Hosted by Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) assistant director David Sanchez, the students learned about testing water for pollution, experimented with their own water testing strips, and got a detailed tour of Sanchez’s Sustainable Design Labs.“When students visit our lab it’s so important to create opportunities for students to connect personally with the researchers as well as intellectually with the research. The pandemic has pushed us to think differently about who we can connect with and how we can be present to them, and this virtual field trip is a great example of that,” said Sanchez, who is also assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “I’m fortunate to be surrounded by great students and creative educators, like Jon and his team, who are eager to introduce more young people to sustainability research and get them excited about it.”The virtual field trip was organized by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Science Project, which seeks to engage all students in meaningful science instruction, especially those within the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Science Project’s director, Jon Kovach, has worked with Sanchez and MCSI for the past three years on enhancing Pitt’s summer “Teach the Teacher” program utilizing the Next Generation Science Standards.“An important element of our partnership with UCLA is its connection to a girls’ STEM program. Something I definitely missed in my high school education was representation of women in STEM careers, so it was a great opportunity to provide that to young women,” said Blanchard, who just completed her sophomore year in civil and environmental engineering at Pitt. “It emphasized to me just how essential it is for under-represented groups, especially women and girls, to see themselves reflected in scientific research.”The day began with a photo of a large, freshly caught fish and a question: Would the students consider eating it? Upon revealing that the fish was caught in the Los Angeles River, almost all of the students responded that they would not. At home, the students got to use water test strips and compare results to learn about the concentration of pollutants in the water.“Working with the students showed to me just how important basic engineering skills are, like analyzing data and making conclusions from that data. We looked at test strips from the LA River in their area, and they were able to make judgments about pollution and whether it would be safe to fish in the river,” said Blanchard. “I was really impressed with the students’ ability to jump from the building blocks of data analysis to drawing complex conclusions!”After interacting in break-out groups, the students virtually toured the lab and experienced the day-to-day realities of research. The researchers in the Sanchez lab, which focuses on sustainability and water resources, explained how their work is used to monitor water quality, pollution levels in fisheries, and more.“I thought the lab tour was super cool and helped me have a better idea of what roles a researcher has to fulfill,” said GALA senior Tora Hoar Vea.“I liked seeing the projects undergraduate students were working on, learning about the problems they encountered and how they solved them,” added GALA senior Naomi Macey.“While there were a few girls who expressed appreciation for seeing Amy and me in the lab, sharing that they were happy to see women in STEM, they didn't seem to be deterred by the idea that the field is still so male-dominated,” remarked Phillips, who is earning her bachelor's degree in nanotechnology through the Engineering Science program at Pitt. “The girls in my group wanted to pursue futures in veterinary science, neuroscience, architecture, and engineering, and it was exciting to see young women choosing to pursue their interests and passions for a variety of STEM disciplines.”

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