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Swanson School of Engineering Research
Spring 2019 e-Newsletter


“I advise you to look for a chance to break away, to find a subject you can make your own. That is where the quickest advances are likely to occur, as measured by discoveries per investigator per year. Therein you have the best chance to become a leader and, as time passes, to gain growing freedom to set your own course.”

- Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, theorist, naturalist and author (1929 - ), excerpted from "Letters to a Young Scientist"

Dear friends,

On behalf of the Swanson School of Engineering and US Steel Dean James R. Martin, II, it's my pleasure to send you our Spring 2019 Research eNewsletter and once again share with you the most recent research accomplishments of our outstanding faculty.

Biologist and author E.O. Wilson is well-known for his writings on nature and biology, but he has also been the inspiration for generations of young people who have a fascination for science and discovery. His book “Letters to a Young Scientist” is both autobiographical and inspirational – encouraging young minds that success in STEM is grounded more in the excitement of discovering a problem, and solving it.

Our feature story speaks to that passion which inspires our life’s work as researchers, regardless of discipline. I am incredibly proud of our four junior faculty members who this year received coveted NSF CAREER Awards. This funding is a recognition of their research inquiry as well as the stepping-off point for their academic careers. The four awards also mark the second-most received by Swanson School faculty in a single funding cycle (with five being won just two years ago).

This research update is packed with many new accomplishments since our last edition just four months ago, and shows the breadth and depth of how our faculty – and students – are finding “that subject to make their own” and “break away”. For example, Dr. Melissa Bilec, who also serves as Deputy Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, continues to leverage her research in life cycle assessment and the environment to benefit some of Pittsburgh’s most underserved populations. Her research inspired another young engineer and advisee, Harold Rickenbacker, to continue in the field – which this year earned him a Carnegie Science Award.

Likewise, Bioengineering’s Dr. Steven Abramowitch has focused his research on women’s reproductive health, specifically pelvic organ prolapse. This condition until very recently was treated by supporting the organs with a mesh that often resulted in more complications, and was ultimately banned by the FDA. However, thanks to a collaboration with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, Dr. Abramowich was awarded $2.5 million from the NIH to further explore a new mesh – manufactured via 3D printing – that would provide a safer, more successful alternative.

Dr. Alan George, who chairs our Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and heads our NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), wanted to be an astronaut while growing up in Florida. However, as he likes to say today, “Many STEM students grew up wanting to be astronauts. But since we’re not going to be astronauts, the next best thing - and in some ways the better thing - is to be working on research and technology that will fly in space.” After a scrubbed launch on May 1, a SpaceX Falcon rocket serendipitously entered orbit on May 4 (as in “May the 4th Be With You…”) carrying a “spacebreaking” supercomputer to the International Space Station. The distinctive hardware captured the attention of a reporter who was also inspired by Kevin Glunt, one of SHREC’s master’s-level students, who overcame a less-than-stellar high school career to eventually help design and build the chassis for the new supercomputer.

Lastly, this year we celebrated the fifth publication of our annual undergraduate research journal, Ingenium. This endeavor grew by leaps and bounds this year with the creativity of our co-Editors-in-Chief, who expanded how we celebrate outstanding research by students who show tremendous potential in their respective disciplines.

There is so much more that I could include in this introduction to this edition of our e-Newsletter, but I’ll let you enjoy it for yourself. I do hope you will be inspired by the legacy of E.O. Wilson to encourage young scientists to find their passion and discover solutions that better life on earth.

Hail to Pitt!

David A. Vorp, PhD
Associate Dean for Research, Swanson School of Engineering

FEATURE STORY: Four Pitt Engineering Faculty Capture More Than $2 Million in total NSF CAREER Awards

The four awards – one each in the departments of Chemical and Petroleum, Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science – are the second most received by Pitt and Swanson School faculty in a single NSF CAREER funding announcement.

Read more >


Carla Ng Receives $500K NSF CAREER Award to Investigate Impact of Per- and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances and Ways to Eliminate Them

New Research by Melissa Bilec Details Outcomes from Long-Term Environmental Justice Partnership in Pittsburgh's East End

Sara Haig Awarded $175,000 NSF RAPID Grant to Study Effects of PWSA’s Anti-Corrosion Measures

Four Research Projects Receive Seed Grants from Pitt's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation

New Installation at Benedum Hall Encourages Thought About Non-Conventional Building Materials

Emily Elliott and Others Recognized for Sustainability Innovations at Pitt


Bioengineering’s Role in Regenerative Medicine - An interview with Dr. William Wagner

Pitt Researchers Receive $2.5M NIH Award to Create an Improved Repair Device for Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Renerva Receives $2.4 Million DoD Award to Advance Its Peripheral Nerve Matrix Technology to the Clinic

Addressing the differences between men and women in Alzheimer’s disease risk and progression

Coulter Program Invests $575,000 in Five Innovative Medical Device Technologies Toward Commercialization

Dr. William Federspiel to Receive Carnegie Science Award for Life Sciences

The Ups and Downs of Sit-Stand Desks

Split-Belt Training On an Incline May Be More Effective for Correcting Gait in Stroke Patients

A New Wrinkle on Vascular Implants

Pitt Bioengineers Create Ultrasmall, Light-Activated Electrode for Neural Stimulation

Making a Mark on Cardiovascular Disease Detection


Tevis Jacobs receives $500,000 NSF CAREER Award to improve nanoparticle performance

Pitt Engineering Team Develops Depowdering Machine for Metal Printing


Susan Fullerton Receives Prestigious $540K NSF CAREER Award to Develop Two-Dimensional, Next-Generation Electronics

NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt and CMU for Engineering Research on Thermoelectric Devices

The Promise of Nuclear Engineering at Pitt

Developing a Supercomputer for Space

On May 4, a new generation of supercomputer - desgined by faculty and students at Pitt's NSF Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing - was launched aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station. 


Related: How Kevin Glunt Went From Struggling Student to Sending an A.I. Computer to the ISS

Undergraduate Research Journal Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Published by the Office of Resaearch, Ingenium is a collection of articles that highlight student research accomplishments from the School’s 2018 summer research program.

Read more >

How the Brain 'Listens' for Distinctive Features in Sounds

In a recent Nature Communications paper, bioengineering PhD candidate Shi Tong Liu details a computational model that explores how the auditory system tackles this complex task. The research is led by Srivatsun Sadagopan, assistant professor of neurobiology, whose lab studies the perception of complex sounds in realistic listening conditions.

Read more >

Biomimicry of Basic Instinct

A team of chemical engineers led by Dr. Anna Balazs have recreated basic response instincts in an environment of microscopic particles, sheets, and catalysts, effectively mimicking responses of feeding, fighting, and fleeing.

Read more >

New Findings Add to Work of Prandtl, Father of Modern Aerodynamics

Inanc Senocak discovered new insights in Prandtl’s seminal 1942 work, with important implications for nighttime weather prediction in mountainous terrain.

Read more >

2019 Carnegie Science Awards Include Six Honorees from the Swanson School of Engineering

The School's three first-place winners include:

Life Sciences: Dr. William J. Federspiel, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering

Leadership in Career and Technical Education: University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center

College/University Student: Harold Rickenbacker, Swanson School Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation

Read more >

Swanson School Dean Brings Humanistic Vision, Values to Engineering

James R. Martin II, the new U.S. Steel Dean for the Swanson School of Engineering, plans to leverage new paradigms in organizational leadership to transform not only the curriculum, but the traditional hierarchies of academia and management.

Read more >

ECE Chair Alan George Named Interim Director of Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Established in 1986, the PSC is a joint effort between Pitt and CMU to provide university, government and industrial researchers with access to several of the most powerful systems for high-performance computing and data storage available to scientists and engineers nationwide for unclassified research.

Read more >

Faculty Research Accomplishments

Faculty Honored in First Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Awards

Jayant Rajgopal and Sylvanus Wosu to be Recognized at ASEE Conference

Leanne Gilbertson Receives ASEE Mara H. Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo Receives Early Career Award from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

Peyman Givi, Expert In Fluid Dynamics, Combustion And Aerodynamics To Co-Chair Mini Symposium At NC19

John Keith Receives Funding for 10-month Collaboration with University of Luxembourg

Sangyeop Lee Co-authors Review Paper in Materials Today Physics

Katherine Hornbostel Talks Carbon Capture on Popular Podcast Freakonomics Radio Live

Sam Dickerson Wins 2019 Board of Visitors Award

BioE’s Brown Lab Receives Two Carnegie Science Award Honorable Mentions

MEMS Startup Diamond Kinetics Strikes Deal with SeventySix Capital and Former Philly Ryan Howard

Melissa Bilec Named Director of Faculty Community Building and Engagement for PITT STRIVE Program

Engineers’ Society of Western PA honors Pitt Engineering Professor and Students at 135th Annual Banquet

Student Research Accomplishments

Nine Pitt Students Awarded 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

Undergraduate Kaylene Stocking Wins Pitt’s Top Student Award for Scholarship

New Paper Authored by PhD Student  Details Outcomes from Long-Term Environmental Justice Partnership in East End

Maria Jantz Receives 2019 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Award

Pitt IE Students Help Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank Provide More Nutritious Milk to Preterm Babies

Biology's Lauren Yocum and ChemE's Emily Siegel win 2019 Randall Family Big Idea grand prize with a biodegradable chewing gum for on-the-go toothbrushing

Pitt Power Engineering Seniors Nathan Carnovale and Shamus O’Haire named IEEE PES Scholars

Undergraduates Create a Device to Help Deaf Kids Experience Music Through Tactile and Visual Feedback

Allderdice Senior Caroline Yu to Present Research at IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics

Pitt Industrial Engineering Students Apply Their Knowledge in a Collaboration with Grane Rx

Bioengineering Graduate Students Capture Top Prizes At Pitt’s Three Minute Thesis Competition

The Next Generation of Nuclear Engineers: MEMS students receive competitive DOE NEUP awards

BioE Alumna Sossena Wood Featured on NBC

2019 Siemens Peter Hammond Scholarship Awarded to Ryan Brody

Pitt Undergraduates Win First Place in Ergonomics Design Competition

MEMS Undergraduate Trevor Kickliter Selected to Represent Pitt at the ACC Meeting of the Minds

Bioengineering Undergraduates Take Diagnostic Innovation to Rice 360° Global Health Competition

Entrepreneurial Engineer Brings Creative Spirit and Connections to Campus, Honda

Learn more about research at the Swanson School

View the 2019 Summary of Faculty Research.

View the 2019 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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