RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SWANSON SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING - SPRING 2019
“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"
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