Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) is the largest in the school of engineering in terms of students and faculty. The department has core strengths in the traditional areas of bioengineering, manufacturing, microsystems technology, smart structures and materials, computational fluid and solid dynamics, and energy systems research. Key focus is reflective of national trends, which are vying toward the microscale and nanoscale systems level.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science houses ABET-accredited mechanical engineering, engineering science, materials science and other engineering programs that provide the solid fundamentals, critical thinking, and inventive spark that fire up our graduates as they design the future. The department graduates approximately 90 mechanical and materials science engineers each year, with virtually 100% of them being placed in excellent careers with industry and research facilities around the globe.

The department houses faculty who are world-renowned academicians and accessible teachers, individuals of substance who seek to inspire and encourage their students to succeed. The department also has access to more than 20 laboratory facilities that enhance the learning process through first-rate technology and hands-on experience.

That experience is integrated into every aspect of the department. Events such as the SAE Formula Car Program add to students' real-world knowledge; each year, students construct their own vehicle and compete with students from other universities nationwide and internationally on the strength of their design and racing. The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science also is involved in the Cooperative Education (Co-Op) Program, bringing students together with industry for three terms of professional work.


Read our latest newsletter below



Aug
20
2018

Calculating a New Design

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (August 20, 2018) … A research collaboration led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of 15 national projects to receive nearly $8.8 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for cost-shared research and development initiatives to develop innovative technologies that enhance fossil energy power systems.The proposal, “Integrated Computational Materials and Mechanical Modeling for Additive Manufacturing of Alloys with Graded Structure Used in Fossil Fuel Power Plants,” was awarded to Wei Xiong, PhD (PI), assistant professor, and Albert To, PhD (Co-PI), associate professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Their collaborator is Michael Klecka, PhD at the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), headquartered in East Hartford, Connecticut. The team received $750,000 in DOE funding with $187,500 as the cost share. DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh will manage the selected projects.The team will focus on utilizing additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, to construct graded alloys use for Advanced Ultra-Super Critical (AUSC) power plants at a shorter lead time and at lower costs. Utilizing the expertise in integrated computational materials engineering (ICME), the team at Pitt will develop a new modeling framework for wire-arc additive manufacturing at UTRC that integrates both materials modeling and mechanical simulation to design and manufacture superior alloy components for these power plants. “Wire-arc AM is a promising technique to build complex parts for fossil fuel plants. However, the operational environment of these plants requires resistance to very high stress, temperatures, and oxidation, and so we need to develop a new paradigm in computational design,” Dr. Xiong explained. Dr. To also noted, “Optimizing materials composition and processing strategy, combined with ICME modeling to improve the part design and reduce failure, will be a game-changer for the industry.”AM has significantly expanded the development of complex parts thanks to the joining of dissimilar alloys, enabling the creation of stronger, lighter, and more affordable components compared to traditional manufacturing. In particular, the ability to control the manufacture of a part’s micro- and macro-structure is what makes these components superior, but this requires greater computational control over the manufacturing. For these computational systems, Pitt and UTRC will utilize physics-based, process-structure-property models to simulate thermal history, melt pool geometry, phase stability, grain morphology/texture, and thus predict and control high-temperature oxidation, mechanical strength, and interface properties. “Thanks to additive manufacturing, in the future, industrial plants of various types will have the capability to repair or replace components on-site,” Dr. Klecka at UTRC said. “This will enable utilities to improve operations and invest resources more effectively.”Dr. Xiong’s research and the other projects fall under DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s Crosscutting Technology Research Program, which advances technologies that have a broad range of fossil energy applications. The program fosters innovative R&D in sensors and controls, modeling and simulation, high-performance materials, and water management. ###

Aug
15
2018

Gleeson leads in the field of high temperature corrosion

MEMS

Any industry that operates in a high- temperature environment needs structural and functional materials that can withstand heat and associated surface reactions. To help these materials resist corrosion at high temperatures, scientists have developed alloys and coatings that can naturally form a protective scale layer. While some think that research in this field is complete, Brian Gleeson, the Harry S. Tack Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh, published an article in Nature Materials explaining that there is still much room for advancement and discovery. Gleeson leads the High Temperature Corrosion Lab in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering where his group focuses on testing and assessing the high-temperature corrosion behavior of metallic alloys and coatings.   “From a practical standpoint, any component that is exposed to a high temperature in a reactive environment is potentially at risk of excessive surface degradation,” said Gleeson. “This includes the aerospace, power generation, metal processing, automotive, waste incineration, and chemical processing industries. For these industries, high-temperature corrosion testing and assessment is often needed to aid in material selections or to generate essential design or life-prediction data.” Research by Gleeson and colleagues combines experiment with theory and advanced characterization to understand the complex interplay between the chemical and kinetic factors affecting protective-scale formation in single- and multi-oxidant environments. To provide extended protection, the scale that forms is typically an oxide (e.g., Al2O3, Cr2O3 or SiO2) that is both stable and adherent to the high-temperature component. The initial stage of corrosion reaction is an area where Gleeson believes there is considerable room for discovery. It is an important part of a given oxidation process where an alloy or coating composition forms a continuous thermally grown oxide (TGO) scale. “The TGO layer is critical because it makes the material more resilient to degradation in harsh environments,” said Gleeson. “The lifetime of a particular alloy or coating is determined by the tenacity of this layer and its ability to heal or reform in the event of damage.” Gleeson thinks that more can be done to gain a better understanding of this important step in the overall reaction. He said, “Commonly recognized oxidation theory lacks the ability to accurately predict whether a given alloy or coating composition will be able to form a continuous protective scale layer.” Researchers in the HTC Lab are probing the nature of scale formation under harsh environment conditions that mimic actual service.  Beyond understanding the formation of the TGO layer, Gleeson believes that more needs to be understood about the complex oxidizing environments during the development of these scales. The type of gas surrounding the material or the level of humidity can play a major role in the lifetime of a material. “Water vapor, which is commonly found in these environments, is known to have a detrimental effect on the scale-forming process.” As detailed in his Nature Materials article, different scales develop on alloys oxidized in dry air than alloys oxidized in wet air containing 30 percent water vapor. “The oxidizing environment is becoming increasingly more complex and goes beyond just exposure to air. Moving forward, researchers will need to understand the role of oxidizing species, such as O2, H2O, and CO2, in affecting protective scales.” To gain a better overall understanding of the oxidation process, including the underlying kinetic and thermodynamic factors, Gleeson encourages researchers to improve experimental and computational methods to observe and model oxidation. He said, “Researchers need to develop a multiscale predictive understanding of this initial stage and focus on the interactions and effects of alloy constituents and gaseous oxidants.”  According to Gleeson, “What largely stands in the way of advancing understanding on the kinetic and thermodynamic factors, which influence protective TGO-scale formation and maintenance in harsh service environments, is the misguided notion that high-temperature corrosion is a passé field with little room for discovery.” ### Gleeson’s academic collaborators at Pitt include Professors Gerald Meier, Guofeng Wang, Wei Xiong, and Judith Yang. Gleeson said, “Working with these and other collaborators –including recently retired Professor Fred Pettit– the University of Pittsburgh has long been recognized both nationally and internationally as leaders in high-temperature corrosion research.” In addition to a lab in Benedum Hall on Pitt’s campus, Gleeson recently established a lab in the Energy Innovation Center (engineering.pitt.edu/HTC) in Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District. This off-campus lab bridges the gap between basic research and commercial application. Utilizing extensive experience and expertise, researchers conduct lab-scale testing and analyses of corrosion performance under harsh, high-temperature environments, along with material failure analysis, and other consulting services. Gleeson serves as the academic director of the HTC lab, and his former PhD student, Dr. Bingtao Li, serves as the technical director. Li has over 15 years of industry experience in the area of high temperature corrosion. Testing is generally conducted in the range of 1100 - 2200°F (~600 - 1200°C) at 1 atm total pressure and in simulated service environments ranging from a combustion process (e.g., rich in O2, H2O and CO2, with 0-1000 ppm SO2) through to a specific industrial process (e.g., nitridation with NH3, carburization with CH4). Many tests involve deposits, such as sulfates and dust. According to Gleeson, “Beyond our focus on high temperature alloys and coatings, knowledge gained from research in the HTC Lab also provides a significantly more comprehensive view of the collective and coupled behaviors of surface reactions.”

Aug
2
2018

MEMS Department Administrator

MEMS, Open Positions

The Swanson School of Engineering is currently seeking a qualified Department Administrator in an advanced professional capacity for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Duties include: - General and fiscal administration - Post-award management - Processing and maintaining all personnel and payroll forms - Problem interventions - Managing educational programs - Supervision of staff and student workers. The incumbent must be able to act independently to determine, interpret, and execute Department, School, and University policies. This position will report directly to the Department Chair. The Department consists of 35 full-time Faculty, 650 undergraduate students and 200 graduate students (graduate. This position will be responsible for managing approximately $15 million in research and departmental funding. Minimum of 10+ years experience in professional and/or administrative positions, preferably in a University setting. For more information and to apply please use the PittSource portal.

Aug
2
2018

MEMS Asst Prof

MEMS, Open Positions

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is seeking an outstanding candidate to fill a non-tenure stream faculty position in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) with the principal duty of advising undergraduate students. There will also be some teaching responsibilities. Applicants should possess an MS or PhD in Mechanical Engineering or a related field. Applicants with prior teaching and/or advising experience in an engineering program are particularly encouraged to apply. In addition, experience in such areas as engineering education or the development of outreach programs to pre-college students, and relevant industrial/practical experience is desired. The successful candidate will work with many students and should have good communication skills. Interested applicants should submit an email to pitt-mems-search@engr.pitt.edu that includes in a single PDF file: a cover letter, a detailed resume and the names and contact information for at least three references. The University of Pittsburgh is an EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled employer.

MEMS Assistant Professor Search
Jul
16
2018

A Foundation for Future Founders: The Swanson School Empowers a New Generation of Entrepreneurs

All SSoE News, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

.pullquote-feature { width: 50%; border-top: 1px solid #151414; border-bottom: 1px solid #151414; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; display: block; } With a 95–97 percent job placement rate for graduates over the past three years1, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering provides a well-manicured path for those traveling from Benedum Hall to the halls of Fortune 500 companies. At an increasing rate, students who embrace risk and uncertainty for the sake of innovation are also finding the tools they need at the Swanson School to carve their own paths to success. Aspiring entrepreneurs can attend networking opportunities, compete for seed money, and receive one-on-one mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs and educators right on campus. There were 23 startups originating from the University of Pittsburgh in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a 53 percent increase from the previous year. In the spring of 2017, two of those companies—one with a tomato-picking robot and the other with nanoparticle-filled oxygen tanks—took their first steps off the Pitt campus and into the startup world. “Engineering students are adept at solving real-world problems. That is why so many of the students we have participating in our entrepreneurship programs and competitions come from the Swanson School. They want to see their ideas translated into new products and services that advance the state of the art and improve people’s lives,” said Babs Carryer, Director of the Big Idea Center for student entrepreneurship at the Pitt Innovation Institute. “We know we’re undertaking a good amount of risk, but knowing that there is a whole industry that needs the product we are building helps mitigate that. At the end of the day, there always is risk, but for me, to not do this would lead to regrets. We are all about solving the problem.” --Brandon Contino, CEO at Four Growers, Pitt ECE ‘17 Four Growers team: Brandon Contino (left) and Dan Chi (right). Instead of taking a traditional route upon graduation, two recent University of Pittsburgh graduates have taken a risk on a project cooked up during their undergraduate studies in the Swanson School of Engineering. Brandon Contino (ECE ‘17) and Dan Chi (MEMS ‘18) have spent the past year tirelessly promoting their startup, Four Growers, in a series of competitions, and their most recent success will take them to Silicon Valley where they will be among the leading minds of innovation and technology. Brandon and Dan met while working in the lab of David Sanchez, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pitt. The two collaborated on different projects involving hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient rich solution. Growing increasingly interested in this method of farming, the pair visited a hydroponic tomato greenhouse in Chicago where they learned of a pressing problem facing the industry. Brandon explained, “More than 50% of the tomatoes consumed in the US are grown in greenhouse farms, but the industry is facing an issue with labor. After talking to the farmers, we discovered that there are shortages in the availability and reliability of the labor force, and we wanted to find a solution through robotics and automation.” This spurred the creation of Four Growers. Brandon and Dan planned to develop a product that provides reliable harvesting year-round for greenhouse farms. Creating a startup is a high risk, high reward endeavor, but Brandon and Dan had faith in their idea. “After speaking with other greenhouses about the industry, we learned that labor was a common problem, and when you have a strong need, clearly defined from your future customer, it really helps to lower the risk,” said Brandon. Confident in their mission, the Four Growers team developed a robotic tomato harvesting device for commercial greenhouses that can efficiently find and pick ripe tomatoes off the vine. The robot’s decision making is controlled by an algorithm that uses cameras and a neural network trained to find the proper fruit. A robotic arm and custom gripper enable the robot to harvest the tomatoes without damaging them. Additionally, their device provides analytics to the growers to help improve profitability. Creating the product is only one step towards entrepreneurial success; getting your product to market requires a bit of business acumen. Brandon and Dan believe they have benefitted from their past experiences at Pitt. During Brandon’s undergraduate years, he served as president of multiple organizations including Pitt Engineering Student Council, the Robotics and Automation Society, and the Panther Amateur Radio Club. Dan created the Hydroponics Club in Dr. Sanchez’s lab, was a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World, and acted as fundraising director of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers. These experiences have introduced them to aspects of leadership and management applicable to their new executive roles. The Four Growers team has also taken advantage of various entrepreneurial programs and resources like Pitt’s Innovation Institute and Carnegie Mellon University’s Project Olympus, which have both provided valuable mentorship and contacts. Brandon said, “The connections we’ve made along the way have played a large role in our success. We’ve been able to discuss business aspects of the company with our mentors and advisors, and their expertise and guidance have refined our ability to operate both the technical and business sides of Four Growers.” Hydroponic tomato greenhouse. Photo credit: Shutterstock. The journey, however, has not been entirely smooth sailing. “Creating and running a business has a steep learning curve, and Dan and I have been drinking from the fire hose for a while now,” said Brandon. “One of our biggest hurdles has been financing. While Dan finished his degree, we decided to bootstrap and as a hardware company, it takes money to iterate on a product. Initially, we just didn’t have much funding so we had to spend a lot of time searching for lower cost options or workarounds, which slowed some of our technical development.” To overcome this setback, Brandon and Dan have spent the past year trying to raise funds through a series of competitions. Their first success was with Pitt’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition where they won first place and $25,000 to help launch their idea. Then they took second place and $10,000 against some of the most innovative students from the 15 Atlantic Coast Conference schools at the ACC InVenture Prize competition. Their last event took them to Texas where they became one of the first two Pitt teams to compete in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition and made it to the semi-finals. With funds starting to accumulate and Dan’s graduation imminent, they looked for the next step towards success and applied to Y Combinator, a highly competitive startup accelerator in Mountain View, California whose alumni include Airbnb, Dropbox and reddit. Four Growers was accepted as one of 90 teams and will receive $120,000 in exchange for 7 percent equity position in their company. Brandon and Dan will travel back and forth between greenhouse farms, Pittsburgh, and Silicon Valley for three months during the summer and receive intensive training to refine their business and prepare pitches to investors. Four Growers has successfully completed autonomous tomato harvesting inside greenhouses with their device and plan to have a beta prototype in operation by December 2018. Brandon and Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for sustainable farming helped lead them down this career path. The team looks forward to the challenges ahead and hopes to reap the harvest of a successful business. Brandon said, “We know we’re undertaking a good amount of risk, but knowing that there is a whole industry that needs the product we are building really helps mitigate that. At the end of the day though there always is risk, but for me, to not do this would lead to regrets. We are all about solving the problem.” “I don’t think this could have happened at another university without these kind of resources. Once I dug into something and realized someone at my age could actually do this and find the support—all the support that’s out there—it really propelled the business into reality, and it became the thing I knew I wanted to do.” --Blake Dubé, CEO and Co-Founder at Aeronics Inc., Pitt ChemE ‘17 Aeronics team: Alec Kaija (left), Blake Dubé (middle), Mark Spitz (right). With his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh nearing an end, the last thing Blake Dubé (ChemE ’17) was looking to do was start a business. “I didn’t just breeze through the first two years of college,” he recalls. “It took a lot of work focusing on my classes and learning about chemical engineering. It wasn’t like I decided to start a business because I was looking for a bigger challenge.” Nearly three years later, Blake has won about a dozen startup competitions, he has a product scheduled to go to market this year, and he works full-time as CEO of the company he co-founded, Aeronics, Inc. Back in the spring of 2015, the only thing Blake was looking for was a lab to do summer research. After a visit to the ninth floor of Benedum Hall, Blake started research in the lab of Chris Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical engineering and himself an entrepreneur. Dr. Wilmer and his team were researching ways to use nanomaterials to improve gas storage, transportation, and safety in the many industries kept aloft by gas. Blake spent his time in the lab running computer simulations to find the best nanomaterial configurations for maximizing gas storage without the high levels of heat and pressure caused by putting too much gas into too small a container. “I realized gas storage was such a broad field and started wondering where I could make a difference in the three months I would be working in the lab,” says Blake. “Most of the focus seemed to be on energy sources like methane and hydrogen, and there wasn’t as much work being done with oxygen. I started to think about how better oxygen storage could make an impact.” The following semester, Blake enrolled in ChE 314: Taking Products to Market taught by Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor of Chemical Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt. Dr. Beckman, who had co-founded his own business for commercializing technology, guided students through the process of turning ideas into marketable products. When Blake showed an interest in applying his lab research to the class, Dr. Wilmer suggested he enter the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, a university-wide innovation challenge. Everyday Oxygen prototype. The Randall Family competition takes place from February to March each year and awards $100,000 in prizes to Pitt students working on interdisciplinary teams to bring product ideas to market. Blake recruited teammates Alec Kaija, a PhD candidate in Dr. Wilmer’s lab, and Mark Spitz, a kinesiology and exercise science student and long-time friend of Blake from their hometown of York, Pa. Dr. Wilmer served as the team’s faculty advisor. “We started the Randall Family competition with the idea of fitting oxygen and the materials from Dr. Wilmer’s lab in a soda can. By the end of it, we actually had plans for a viable product, and since we won the grand prize, we had money to get started,” says Blake. The team won first place and the grand prize of $25,000 to get their company up and running. Blake, Mark, and Alec became co-founders of the startup Aeronics and went on to win several more competitions. By the spring of 2017, Aeronics had claimed more than $120,000 in prize money. While Blake and Mark were getting fitted for their graduation robes, they were measuring up the odds of successfully running their own business. “BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, offered me a full-time job before I graduated. It would have been a great way to start my career. Around the same time, Aeronics was incorporated,” he says. “When you’re an entrepreneur at the university, before you graduate is different than after you graduate. Now you better make it work. The pressure is on.” Fortunately, Aeronics handles pressure well. Their prototype could store about three times as much oxygen as a standard portable oxygen tank at the same pressure. Still considering a more traditional career path, Blake consulted with Steve Little, the chair of the chemical engineering department, for advice. Dr. Little had been helping Aeronics navigate some of the issues with starting a private company at a university. “I remember asking Dr. Little for advice because he had experience starting his own business. He helped us a lot throughout the beginning stages, but he said to me, ‘I can give you all the advice you want, but sooner or later you’re just going to have to do it to find out if it will work,’” says Blake. One year later, Aeronics has completed two startup accelerator cohorts, found its own lab space to operate, and developed a product called Everyday Oxygen, which stores three times the oxygen as competitors’ cans. Everyday Oxygen is available for pre-order on their website and will be ready to ship in the fall. Looking back, Blake says he liked most of his experiences with research, internships, and studying chemical engineering at Pitt in general. He didn’t dream of becoming an entrepreneur as a kid, but now that he’s running his own business, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. “I don’t think this could have happened at another university without these kind of resources. Once I dug into something and realized someone at my age could actually do this and find the support—all the support that’s out there—it really propelled the business into reality, and it became the thing I knew I wanted to do,” he says. ### 195 to 97 percent job placement rate over the past three years, http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/Friends-Giving-Administration/Office-of-the-Dean/Quick-Facts/
Leah Russell (Four Growers feature) and Matt Cichowicz (Aeronics feature)

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