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Swanson School of Engineering Research
Winter 2018 e-Newsletter
Volume 6, Issue 2


“The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf” - Shakri Gawain, American publisher and author, 1948-2018

On behalf of the Swanson School of Engineering and US Steel Dean James R. Martin II, it's my pleasure to send you our Winter 2019 Research eNewsletter. The most innovative research is often high risk, but also high reward. It is high risk in that the hypothesis on which it is based could very well not be sound and could thus fail, but it is high reward in that if the idea is sound it could lead to a major paradigm shift or technology disruption. This newsletter highlights such high risk, high reward research by my Swanson School colleagues.

For example, Dr. Warren Ruder from our Bioengineering Department recently won a highly competitive and prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for “Creating Magnetically Inducible Synthetic Gene Networks for Cell and Tissue Therapies.” This work will create new biomimetic systems to provide insight into biological phenomena while also serving as platform technologies for future medical applications. Civil & Environmental Engineering’s Dr. Radisav Vidic and Dr. Vikas Khanna, as part of a $5.3 million grant from the Department of Energy RAPID Manufacturing Institute, are conducting pilot testing of membrane distillation technology that will greatly reduce the amount of fresh water used in the hydrofracturing industry, but also leverage the waste heat available at drilling sites and natural gas compressor stations to safely treat shale gas wastewater for reuse.

This issue also has several items relating to a class of nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks or “MOFs” which have a growing number of innovative, practical applications. Dr. Karl Johnson of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering found a MOF that can be used to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and combine it with hydrogen atoms to convert it into valuable chemicals and fuels. Dr. Christopher Wilmer, also of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, used computational modeling of both hypothetical and real MOFs (cover photo above) to create a new database of more than a million mixed matrix membranes with corresponding carbon capture performance and associated costs. This work may help easy identification and design of new carbon capture and storage materials, e.g., for use by the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Finally, the Swanson School of Engineering has been conducting more and more innovative space-related research in recent years. In this issue, you can read about Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science’s Dr. Wei Xiong and Dr. Albert To, along with collaborators from QuesTek Innovations, creating a game-changing opportunity for the space industry to produce complex components with greater efficiency at a lower cost. Through a grant from NASA, they are utilizing new computer modeling and optimization techniques, combined with a nickel-iron super-alloy, to enable faster adoption of additive manufacturing in various NASA missions.

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, PhD
Associate Dean for Research, Swanson School of Engineering


Warren Ruder’s research on magnetically activated engineered cells attracts prestigious NIH funding from High-Risk, High-Reward Program

Bioengineers Aaron Batista and Patrick Loughlin will collaborate on newly NIH-funded brain computer interface research

ECE's Heng Huang receives $1.2 million NSF grant to find Big Data solutions for complications from anesthesia

Takashi D. Y. Kozai and collaborators find that frequency plays a role in neural activation from electrical stimulation

Pitt engineer-clinician team uses “active wrinkles” to keep synthetic grafts clean

Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical projects with $60,000 in Round-2 2018 Pilot Funding

PhD student Sossena Wood 3D prints a phantom head for testing 7T MRI imaging in the Radiofrequency Research Facility

Bioengineering's Rich Debski and collaborators receive Pitt PInCh funds to prevent overuse Injury in athletes

Undergraduate students recognized for developing a kid-friendly pill dispenser


More than $5 million in DOE funding helps Pitt Engineering pilot a new, sustainable method of treating hydrofracturing wastewater

Civil Engineering researchers study potential benefits in co-treating acid mine drainage and shale gas wastewater

Collaboration between Pitt, NETL and AECOM identifies novel, affordable CO2 capture materials for coal power plants

Pitt's power lab at Energy Innovation Center will be one-of-a-kind  (PBT subscription required)

CEE Assistant Professor Katherine Hornbostel models a system that can capture CO2 from coal plants using capsules filled with baking soda and water


ChemE's Karl Johnson makes a breakthrough in metal organic frameworks that remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into useful chemicals

ChemE Assistant Professor Christopher Wilmer and colleagues publish op-ed in Scientific American about metal organic frameworks

Pitt’s IRISE consortium hosts first brainstorming session to map out infrastructure research strategies


Swanson School faculty and graduate students receive $150K in total funding from PA Manufacturing Fellow Initiative

QuesTek, Pitt engineering researchers receive $750,000 award from NASA to develop improved AM capabilities for space mission components

Pitt and General Carbide partner to improve tungsten carbide parts via additive manufacturing

RECAP: AIChE 2018 in Pittsburgh

ChemE Professor Karl Johnson speaks with TJ Wojnar and Kamel Ben-Naceur during AIChE 2018 in Pittsburgh

AIChE Pittsburgh Conference Co-Chairs are “energized” for the opportunities disruption brings

Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton makes AIChE annual meeting more welcoming to attendees with families

An interdisciplinary team of Pitt Engineers gets first look at latest project bound for the International Space Station

The Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6) pallet features a hybrid and reconfigurable space supercomputer developed at Pitt and is supported by dual high-resolution cameras capable of capturing five megapixel images of Earth.

Read more >

Chemical engineers led by Anna Balazs develop self-powered microfluidic sheet that wraps, flaps and creeps

The “magic carpet” featured in tales from "One Thousand and One Nights” to Disney’s “Aladdin” inspired a two-dimensional, shape-changing sheet that moves autonomously in a reactant-filled fluid.

Read more >

MEMS Assistant Professor Tevis Jacobs discovers surface of “ultra-smooth” nanomaterial is steeper than Austrian Alps

New research measured an ultrananocrystalline diamond coating, prized for its hard yet smooth properties, and showed that it is far rougher than previously believed. The findings could help researchers better predict how surface topography affects surface properties for materials used in diverse environments from microsurgery and engines to satellite housings or spacecraft.

Read more >

IE Assistant Professor Mostafa Bedewy finds that nanotube interactions with silk fibroins hold the key to developing flexible, degradable electronics

Silk combined with carbon nanotubes may lead to a new generation of biomedical devices and so-called transient, biodegradable electronics.

Read more >

ChemE researchers study polymer that freezes at room temperature

When a polymer known as polyoxacyclobutane (POCB) is mixed with water, it raises the mixture’s freezing point from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers published their findings in the American Chemical Society.

Read more >

IE Assistant Professor Daniel Jiang uses video games to unlock new levels of A.I.

Dr. Jiang designs algorithms that learn decision strategies in complex and uncertain environments. By testing these in simulated environments, they can learn from their mistakes while discovering and reinforcing strategies for success.

Read more >

ChemE's Giannis Mpourmpakis lands two journal covers

Research into improved nanoclusters was featured on the cover of ACS Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Read more >

A novel method to effectively screen different catalysts that convert light alkanes to olefins highlighted the cover of ACS Catalysis.

Read more >

ECE/IE team receive NSF award to study the impact of reflection on learning

The two-year, $200,000 award will support a project to improve learning and development by promoting the frequent use of reflection and “metacognition” among students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Read more >

Faculty Research Accomplishments

Engineering the new age: A conversation with James Martin II and the New Pittsburgh Courier

ChemE's Susan Fullerton one of five recipients of the $50,000 AAAS Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences

American Society of Civil Engineers Honors John Oyler with Meritorious Service Award

American Chemical Society – Pittsburgh Section recognizes ChemE Professor Steven Little with 2018 Pittsburgh Award

ECE’s Ervin Sejdic to participate in the Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Symposium

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo presents plenary lecture at the Motor Learning and Motor Control Symposium

Student Research Accomplishments

IE undergraduate Julie Shields named Swanson School’s 2018 Co-op Student of the Year

Lights, Camera, Action: Pitt iGEM team captures silver medal for their “Molecular Movie Camera”

BioE undergraduate research recognized at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting

Capping off another successful year in the CivilE Senior Design Course

Bioengineering graduate student research on peripheral nerve repair wins first place at poster session

Physical Therapy and Bioengineering graduate student Stephanie Rigot receives Clinical and Translational Science Postdoctoral Fellowship

Bioengineering graduate student Ravi Vats awarded AHA Predoctoral Fellowship

Upcoming Engineering Conferences in Pittsburgh

Engineering Sustainability Conference, April 7-9, 2019

AIST Iron and Steel Technology Conference and Exposition, May 6-9, 2019

ASCE Ports Conference, September 15-19, 2019

Electric Power Industry Conference, October 28, 2019

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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