Having trouble seeing this newsletter? Read it online.

University of Pittsburgh PITT HomeFind PeopleContact Us
The Hemolung, developed by Bioengineering Professor William Federspiel

Swanson School of Engineering Research
Spring 2020 e-Newsletter


David Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering (UPMC)

“You don’t make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci – American, physician, immunologist, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, key member of President Trump’s COVID-19 Task Force (1940 - )

Dear friends,

When I last wrote to you, our campus was growing quiet as we prepared for winter break. Today, the preternatural silence has been created by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Our labs have all but emptied, except for the most essential life-saving research. Students and faculty completed the spring semester at home, in virtual classrooms. As succinctly stated by the now-famed Dr. Anthony Fauci, we don’t control the timeline of a pandemic. Neither the when nor where of its onset, nor the breadth of its spread and damage. As engineers and researchers, we have an innate belief, however, that we can help hasten or even define the end of a virus’ timeline. At Pitt and other universities around the world, researchers are racing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus as well as developing or adapting technologies to respond to help the ill and protect healthcare workers on the front lines.

Our seminal focus on fighting and ending this crisis was in many ways echoed 65 years ago on our Pitt campus. On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh announced the creation of a polio vaccine. This was one of the most life-changing events of the 20th century, and Dr. Salk’s legacy still resonates on the Pitt campus. Indeed, a new generation of Pitt researchers has already announced a promising SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, and the University is funding other promising research.

In a wonderful article published on April 24, 2020 in Pittsburgh Magazine, “Perspectives: When Science Came Back in Style,” Niki Kapsambelis wrote (with slight paraphrasing from yours truly):

“One of the most frightening aspects of the pandemic has been the realization of how much there is that we do not know. It creates uncertainties, and for many of us, uncertainties breed anxiety and stress; fear of the unknown is powerful. But scientists and engineers are used to working in this space. For them, working beyond the fringes of what is known is typical and an integral part of discovery. That’s why they are the people who will lead us out of this crisis. They know the only guarantee of failure is to stop trying.”

Read the full letter here>

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


— Swanson School Research directed the collection and delivery of personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies to the UPMC COVID-19 Command Center. Five pallets of supplies were ultimately donated by research faculty whose labs were closed by the pandemic. Read more >

— ALung Technologies' Hemolung (eNews cover photo), developed by Bioengineering and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Professor William Federspiel, was granted emergency use approval by the U.S. FDA as an alternative or supplement to a ventilator for patients suffering from COVID-19. Read more >

— Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical engineering, is appyling his NSF CAREER award to create computational models of the immune response to seasonal, deadly (avian) influenza viruses, which can help identify the best way to suppress immune activity and reduce tissue inflammation. Since this work targets the immune system and not the specific virus, the models are expected to impact many respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Read more >

— Research from Associate Professor Paul Leu's LAMP Lab in Industrial Engineering have created a textile coating that can not only repel liquids like blood and saliva but can also prevent viruses from adhering to the surface. The work was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. Read more >

— Pitt, ExOne®, and ANSYS Inc. are utilizing advanced 3D-printing binder jet technology and optimization to develop reusable metal filters that fit into a specially designed respirator cartridge for sustainable, long-term protection against contaminants such as COVID-19. Dr. Markus Chmielus, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science is leading the research at the Swanson School. Read more >

— Using the existing hardware and computing power of commodity smartphones, Associate Professor Wei Gao is developing non-invasive at-home testing for COVID-19 infection. With funding from NSF, he hopes to provide an easy and low-cost way to monitor and diagnose a large population without the need for special equipment or the involvement of clinicians. Read more >

— The Swanson School Makerspace partnered with Reed & Witting and the UPMC 3D Print Lab to create a one-piece, one-size-fits-all plastic shield. The project was led by Brandon Barber, the design, innovation and outreach coordinator in the Department of Bioengineering; and Dan Yates (BSME ’19), innovation project coordinator for the Makerspace. Read more >

— Götz Veser, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, repurposed a lab batch reactor to produce hand sanitizer for UPMC. To date, his lab has produced almost 200 gallons of sanitizer and plans to continue to production as long as it can get supplies. Read more >

— The Swanson School’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) Makerspace in Homewood is partnering with PPE Connect PGH, a local initiative that seeks to connect donated or locally manufactured PPE with the healthcare providers who need it, to produce hundreds of 3D-printed face shields each day. Read more >


DARPA Awards $22 Million to Create Smart Device for Healing Large Muscle Wounds

Mind Over Body: The search for stronger brain-computer interfaces

ALung Announces Commercial Development of its Breakthrough Next Generation Artificial Lung

Uncovering Stimulation’s Impact on Neurons: Takashi Kozai will use a $437K NSF CAREER award to advance neural interface design

Engineering Technology to Explore the Human Mind

Developing A Valve for Developing Hearts

Undergrad Innovators Design Wearable Device to Aid People in Posture

Using Regenerative Biology to Restore Mucus Production

Researchers Regrow Damaged Nerves with Polymer and Protein

Advancing Neural Stimulation

Take heart: Pitt study reveals how relaxin targets cardiovascular disease


Solar Glass Project Selected in Top 20 for Department of Energy American-Made Solar Prize


Generous 2018 Gift from Alumnus Thomas Dudash Enables Foundational MEMS Research


French Government Invites Pitt Professor Melissa Bilec to Deliver Testimony on Plastic Pollution

Mimicking Cancer to Avoid Transplant Rejection

Inspired by a tactic cancer cells use to evade the immune system, the Swanson School's Dr. Steven Little has engineered tiny particles that can trick the body into accepting transplanted tissue as its own. Rats that were treated with these cell-sized microparticles developed permanent immune tolerance to grafts — including a whole limb — from a donor rat, while keeping the rest of their immune system intact. Read more > 

Bridging the Gaps in Bridge Inspection Data

Amir Alavi, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is undertaking a $200,000 project sponsored by the Impactful Resilient Infrastructure Science and Engineering (IRISE) Consortium at Pitt to improve bridge assessment. Alavi’s research will integrate three bridge assessment techniquesand establish a data fusion framework to identify the synergies among bridge degradation, remaining service life, and the collected data. Read more >

Let’s Do the Twist

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University have recently designed a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) polymer that can be “programmed” to both twist and bend in the presence of light. Read more >

Twelve Pitt Students Awarded 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

This is the highest number of students to receive the competitive award since 2015 when the University had a total of 13 recipients. An additional 16 Pitt students earned an honorable mention. Read more > 

Peering Into Undergraduate Research at Pitt

This edition features a collection of 26 articles that highlight work performed throughout the 2019-20 academic year and during the school’s 2019 summer research program. Read more >

Two Swanson School projects win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

The Scaling Grants provide $400,000 over two years to support detailed project planning, gathering proof-of-concept results, and reduction of technical risk for teams pursuing an identified large extramural funding opportunity. The Scaling Grants are part of the Pitt Momentum Funds, which offer funding across multiple stages of large, ambitious projects.

Awardees include “Attacking the Global Plastics Waste Problem,” a multidisciplinary team from Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Civil and Enviromental Engineering, Chemisty, and Law; and “Pittsburgh Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Medical Imaging,” with departments of Radiology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Informatics, and Computer Science. Read more >

Shining a New Light on Biomimetic Materials

A convergence of optical, chemical and materials sciences has yielded a novel way to utilize light to control the local dynamic behavior within a material. The latest research from Pitt, Harvard University and McMaster University, reveals a hydrogel that can respond to optical stimuli and modify the stimuli in response. Read more >

Four Members of the Swanson School recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards

Bioengineering’s Dr. Bryan Brown and graduate student researcher Alexis Nolfi received the Postsecondary Educator Award and University Student Award, respectively. Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Dr. David Sanchez and Kareem Rabbat '20 received honorable mentions in the same categories. Read more >

Researchers Celebrate Pioneer’s Work on World Radio Day

Every day people use wireless technologies that are taken for granted, like music streaming, FaceTime and podcasts listened to on smartphones. All of this and more can be traced back to the work of Reginald Fessenden, the “Father of Voice Radio.” Fessenden served as chairman of the electrical engineering department at Pitt when it was called the Western University of Pennsylvania. Read more >

Two Teams of Pitt Students Get Ready to Send Experiments to International Space Station

Thanks to a Pitt SEED Grant, two groups of students from the Swanson School and the School of Pharmacy have the opportunity to send experiments into space to study the effects of microgravity on their subjects through participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Read more >

Pitt Researchers Propose Solutions for Networking Lag in Massive IoT Devices

The system would exploitcurrently underutilized resources in an existing wireless channel to create extra opportunities for lag-free connections. The process, which wouldn’t require any additional hardware or wireless spectrum resources, could alleviate traffic backups on networks with many wireless connections. Read more >

Faculty Research Accomplishments

Heng Huang and Douglas Weber inducted into AIMBE

Steven Little Elected to CRS College of Fellows

Scott Mao Named CAE Fellow

Steven Abramowitch Recognized for Female Pelvic Floor Research

Mostafa Bedewey Wins Outstanding Young Investigator Award in Manufacturing and Design

Susan Fullerton Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

Bopaya Bidanda Named IISE President-Elect for 2020-21

Engineers’ Society of Western PA Honors Pitt Engineering Professor and Students at 136th Annual Banquet

Piervincenzo Rizzo Recognized by ASME with Best Paper Award for Rail Stress Research

Sung Kwon Cho Receives NSF Award to Seek a Straightforward Pathway to a New Digital Microfluidic Platform

Distinguished Service Award Honoree Dr. John F. Oyler Establishes CEE Graduate Fellowship

Student Research Accomplishments

Madeline Hobbs and Jake Meadows receive Fulbright Scholarships

Thanks for Tuning In: Swanson School Students Present Virtual Dissertation Defenses

MEMS Senior Design Team Adapts to New Normal to Help Small Business

Pitt ASCE Chapter Once Again Wins Distinguished Chapter Award and is Ridgway Award Finalist

Environmental Engineering Students Kirsten Lipsky '22 and Kareem Rabbat '20 Listed Among Pitt's Influential Change-Makers

Shaniel Bowen receives Ford Foundation Fellowship for Women’s Health Research

ECE alumnus and Fulbright Scholar pursues MS in Electrical Engineering in Germany

Michelle Heusser receives scholarship from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

CEE's Kaitie DeOre Wins American Bridge Leadership Award

Ameya Nanivadekar selected for NIH Outstanding Scholar in Neuroscience Award Program

Madeline Cramer receives NIH F31 award for regenerative medicine research

Learn more about research at the Swanson School

View the 2019 Summary of Faculty Research.

View the 2020 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

Join the Swanson School of Engineering on Facebook.

Get the latest updates on our research and more - follow us on Twitter, or tweet this eNewsletter: Tweet Button


Not on our e-mail list? Heard about this newsletter from a colleague? Sign up now to receive your own copy via e-mail twice a year.

Subscribe Now

Know anyone who might be interested in reading our E-Update? Forward this to as many as five friends at a time.

Forward to a Friend

Swanson School of Engineering
Swanson School of Engineering
104 Benedum Hall, 3700 O'Hara St., Pittsburgh, PA 15261

If you no longer wish to receive these emails you may instantly unsubscribe.