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Circular Materials Challenge

Swanson School of Engineering Research
Summer 2018 e-Newsletter
Volume 5, Issue 3


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

– Alan Kay, American computer scientist, 1940 -

On behalf of the Swanson School of Engineering and US Steel Dean Gerald Holder, it's my pleasure to send you our Summer 2018 Research eNewsletter. This will be the last issue for Dean Holder, who will return to the faculty after 22 years as dean. He will be succeeded in August by Dr. James R. Martin II, currently the Bob Benmosche Professor and Chair of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University. Dr. Martin is internationally recognized for his research on earthquakes, and his work has contributed to improved earthquake building code standards. Information about Dr. Martin’s appointment can be found here, and we will highlight his research more extensively in upcoming eNewsletters.

The above quote by Alan Kay is appropriate for this edition’s cover story. Drs. Eric Beckman, Susan Fullerton and Sachin Velankar from our Chemical & Petroleum Engineering Department and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation were winners of the Circular Materials Challenge funded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma. Their project was responsive to the “Make unrecyclable packaging recyclable” topic and focuses on monolayer redesign of multi-layer plastic packaging to allow for more feasible recycling. Drs. Beckman, Fullerton and Velankar are “inventing the future” by developing solutions to a massive global problem that threatens future generations. The reason why is chilling, and I am shocked by this statistic: By 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight). I am proud that my Swanson School colleagues are trying to make that prediction about our future untrue.

Dr. Nitin Sharma, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science won an NSF CAREER Award to develop algorithms that could measure muscle function in patients with partial paralysis due to spinal cord injuries by analyzing ultrasound images of affected areas. Dr. Sharma is particularly interested in utilizing this in conjunction with his exoskeleton technology, a robotic leg brace that helps patients walk and regain movement through repetition.

Mickle Endowed Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Director of NSF Center of Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), Dr. Alan George – in collaboration with Swanson School colleagues in the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department, Drs. Dave Schmidt and Matthew Barry – designed and fabricated the Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6) hybrid and reconfigurable space supercomputer that will be placed onboard the International Space Station via a Space-X rocket launch in February 2019. I have to believe that this will be the first time that the traditional Pitt script – machined into the systems chassis – will be flown into space!

I hope you enjoy these and the many other highlights of the research being conducted by the faculty and students in the Swanson School.

Hail to Pitt!


David A. Vorp, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research, Swanson School of Engineering
John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering

Welcome James Martin as Pitt's 20th Dean of Engineering

James R. Martin II, the Bob Benmosche Professor and Chair of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University, has been named dean of the Swanson School of Engineering. He will begin his deanship on Aug. 15.

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Pitt Chemical Engineering research group is one of five winners of international Circular Materials Challenge

Each year more than eight million tons of plastics pollute the ocean, forming mammoth, so-called “garbage patches” via strong currents. Even with new collection methods, only 0.5 percent out of that volume is currently removed from the seas. One solution to this growing crisis is to prevent plastic from becoming waste to begin with – and researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering are one of five international teams awarded for their novel solutions to this problem.

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Using Ultrasound to Help People Walk Again

Nitin Sharma, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received an NSF CAREER award to develop ultrasound technology that measures muscle movement in incomplete spinal cord injuries.

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Read coverage from WESA FM/NPR.

City of Pittsburgh, Pitt and Danish government announce agreement to create a sustainable energy roadmap for the City

The University of Pittsburgh and the Danish Energy Agency are joining forces to collaborate on designing and demonstrating smart energy systems in the City of Pittsburgh - the first U.S. city chosen by the Danish government to collaborate with this program.

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Bioengineering's Jonathan Vande Geest receives NIH grant to construct a biomimetic, small-diameter vascular graft

Researchers led by Dr. Vande Geest are developing synthetic grafts that mimic the body’s own blood vessels to mitigate many of the complications of bypass surgery.

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Pitt team ready to send 2nd space computer to International Space Station

The newest mission to the ISS featuring research and technology from the University of Pittsburgh’s NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) will bring an unprecedented amount of computing power into space and invaluable research opportunities from the ground station on Pitt’s Oakland campus.

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Read coverage by the Tribune-Review.

Forecasting the “whether” with computer modeling

Thanks to a $2.25 million DARPA grant, Swanson School and Carnegie Mellon University researchers are looking to harmonize the power of computation with the insight of human intuition. The result would resemble models used by meteorologists to forecast the weather but include complex socioeconomic and geopolitical dynamics.

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Full of hot air and proud of it

The ACS journal Chemistry of Materials recently featured research by  Chris Wilmer, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, on its cover. His research focuses on metal organic frameworks, a promising class of porous materials for gas transport.

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Creating a data-driven dialog focused on water quality and hydraulic fracturing

Pitt, Penn State & Shale Network bring groups together on water quality concerns for research published in Science.

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“Tic-Tac-Toe”-themed MRI technology receives $3.1 million NIH award

Pitt is home to a whole-body 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imager (7T MRI), one of the strongest human MRI devices in the world. In this $3.1 million project, Tamer Ibrahim, associate professor of bioengineering, uses the “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system and develops a new 7T RF coil system to better understand the neurological issues, treatment, and management of depression.

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When disaster informs infrastructure improvements

Alex Kwasinski, the Richard King Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been visiting disaster-stricken areas to research how infrastructure such as bridges and power lines performs during extreme events like earthquakes and hurricanes. The goal is to find out ways to supply power during lengthy outages and while primary energy sources are being repaired.

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Taking a “systems approach” to designing nanotechnologies for agriculture

Dr. Leanne Gilbertson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, takes a “systems approach” to new technologies to determine their impact on the environment from production to disposal. She is exploring some of the ways nanotechnology might enhance agriculture sustainability, so long as designers and developers of these innovative solutions see the forest for the trees.

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A less flexible brain

Collaborative research between Carnegie Mellon and the Swanson School finds the brain is less flexible than previously thought when learning new tasks.

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Growing a more sustainable banana

NPR interviewed Carla Ng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, about the impact of pesticides in banana plantations. Her research has found that pesticides sprayed on conventional banana crops can put surrounding ecosystems at risk.

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How does the brain perceive moving objects?

Neeraj Gandhi, professor of bioengineering, received funding to explore that question by comparing the neural mechanisms of eye movements directed to stationary and moving objects.

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Cooking up change for Rust Belt chemical manufacturers

Götz Veser, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, is leveragingnearly $10 million in DOE awards to help move American chemical manufacturing into the 21st century.

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Giving health innovations a kick-start

Pitt's Center for Medical Innovation awarded grants totaling $115,000 to five engineering and medicine groups through its 2017 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include proposed solutions to conditions such as peripheral artery disease, pulmonary fibrosis, improving auditory pathology detection, improved wound healing and repair, and a better means to perform root canal surgery.

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Looking for a tutor? There will be an app for that

The 2018 Provost’s Personalized Education Grant Program is funding the development of a tutoring app for matching students with nearby tutors based on availability, qualifications, and distance.

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New research finds cause of alloy weakness

Swanson School faculty were among several collaborators with the collaborated with lead investigator at Binghamton University to look at alloys on an atomic level in order to understand what has been affecting the strength and other properties. Their findings were published in Nature Materials.

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Fourth annual "Ingenium" highlights undergraduate engineering research

Ingenium, the journal of undergraduate student excellence in research at Pitt, serves as a practical experience in scientific writing and the author’s perspective of the peer review process. In addition, it provides practical experience for graduate students in editorial review and the reviewer’s perspective of the peer review process.

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Faculty Accomplishments

Swanson School faculty and STEM program among 2018 Carnegie Science Award honorees

Annual banquet honors Swanson School’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni

BioE’s Davidson, Debski, and Vande Geest Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

ECE Chair Alan George presents Inaugural Lecture

New Gordon Research Conference on Neuroelectronic Interfaces co-founded by BioE’s Takashi Kozai

Allison Formal appointed Director of Pitt’s Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program

ASSE elects IE's Joel Haight to Board of Directors

PA Society of Professional Professional Engineers honors Dean Holder with Distinguished Service Award

IE’s Jeff Kharoufeh Named IISE Fellow

Pitt Alumnus and Veteran Energy Research Leader Sean Plasynski Named Acting Director of NETL

ESWP elects Center for Energy's Gregory Reed to Board of Directors

ECE's Ervin Sejdic among 2018 Chancellor’s Award winners

Harvard Chemist George Whitesides Named 2018 Covestro Distinguished Lecturer at Pitt

Savio L-Y. Woo Recognized as an Inaugural Orthopaedic Research Society Fellow

ChemE’s Judy Yang Named Microscopy Society of America Fellow

Student Accomplishments

Eleven Pitt students awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Fellowships

Pitt among top Fulbright Grant producers

Engineering students help to improve infrastructure in Panamanian village

Swanson School students capture top prize and more at tenth annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition

Southwestern Pennsylvania manufacturers get student support

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences spotlights Pitt INFORMS student chapter

Undergraduate mechanical engineering student places second at the AHA Research Fellows Day poster session

Allderdice Senior Adam Moritz to present research paper at AIMBE

PPG Foundation donates $44,000 to support research fellowships

Upcoming Engineering Conferences in Pittsburgh

UCOWR/NIWR Annual Water Resources Conference, June 26-28, 2018

ASCE International Conference on Transportation & Development, July 15-18, 2018

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), October 2-5, 2018

International Green and Sustainable Computing Conference, October 22-25, 2018

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), October 28 - November 2, 2018

ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE), November 9-15, 2018

Learn more about research at the Swanson School

View the 2018 Summary of Faculty Research.

View the 2018 edition of Ingenium, the undergraduate research journal.
Swanson School of Engineering Associate Dean for Research
University of Pittsburgh
3700 O'Hara Street
Benedum Hall
Pittsburgh, PA 15261

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