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President Obama fist-bumps Nathan Copeland's robotic hand. (Michael Henninger/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Swanson School of Engineering Research

Winter 2016/2017 e-Newsletter

Volume 4, Issue 1


“Here in America , with the right investments, with the unbelievable brilliance and ingenuity of young people…there is nothing we cannot do. … Innovation is in our DNA. Science has always been central to our progress…[Pittsburgh] has been revitalizing itself through technology for a very long time. Imagine the breakthroughs that are around the corner. … Imagine what's possible for Nathan if we keep on pushing the boundaries.” – President Barack Obama, October 13, 2016, speaking at The White House Frontiers Conference, jointly hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

On behalf of the Swanson School of Engineering and U.S. Steel Dean Gerald Holder, it's my pleasure to send you this Winter 2017 issue of our Research e-Newsletter.  We at the University of Pittsburgh along with our neighbors at Carnegie Mellon University hosted the White House Frontiers Conference, a national convening of some of the World’s greatest innovators of today to explore the “frontiers” of science and technology. The meeting included topics inspired by the November 2016 issue of WIRED magazine, which was guest-edited by the President, on the theme of "Frontiers." The conference focused on building U.S. capacity in science, technology, and innovation, and the new technologies, challenges, and goals that will continue to shape the 21st century and beyond. Among the topics were artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation, and robotics.

One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. Michael Boninger, who has an appointment in our Bioengineering Department, on work being done by his team on enabling increased function and participation for individuals with disabilities through development and application of assistive, rehabilitative, and regenerative technologies. President Obama was able to see firsthand the profound, personal impact on this work through a demonstration involving Nathan Copeland (referenced in the above quote), who has been a quadriplegic since a 2004 car accident and who is equipped with a robotic arm. Both the motion of the arm as well as the transmission of the sense of touch are directed by microelectrode arrays implanted in Nathan’s brain. Nathan’s visit with the President culminated with a “fist-bump” between the two men, shown in the above photo.

The Swanson School has had several newsworthy research advances and accomplishments in recent months. For example, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science faculty member Dr. Sung Kwon Cho received a three-year, $724,691 NSF grant for the development of a micro swimming drone that can be propelled and steered inside the human body through ultrasound waves, harkening visions of the submarine in the movie “The Fantastic Voyage."  With support from the Office of the Provost, the Swanson School has begun a new initiative, “Making Research Work,” which will be facilitated by the new Research Operations and Business Engagement Office. This new initiative will work with the School’s research-based centers, institutes and laboratory facilities that have the potential to engage partners – both inside and outside the University – to streamline “business” operations and to ensure that they are fiscally-sound.

In work published in Nature Communications, Industrial Engineering faculty member Dr. M. Ravi Shankar, along with collaborators at Inha University in South Korea and the Air Force Research Laboratory, has identified new polymeric materials that convert light into motion. This novel technology may lead to the ability to control direction and type of motions of miniature robots without the need for electronics or other traditional methods, but rather with various forms of light. Bioengineering faculty member Dr. Rich Debski, along with collaborators Dr. James Irrgang, Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, and Dr. Scott Tashman, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, have received a five-year NIH grant entitled “Predicting the Outcome of Exercise Therapy for Treatment of Rotator Cuff Tears." This work will develop diagnostic methods to allow surgeons to determine whether physical therapy is sufficient as initial treatment or if surgical repair is more prudent. Dr. Kent Harries, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with collaborators Dr. John Brigham of Durham University and Dr. Christopher Papadopoulos of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, received a grant from the NSF to develop materials- and mechanics-based models for the behavior of full-culm bamboo as a functionally graded, fiber-reinforced material. Standardization of non-conventional building materials such as bamboo would allow rural communities to leverage local resources to construct safe and reliable housing as well as to sustainably develop local economies.

Please enjoy looking through this e-Newsletter and reading about these and other research advances being made by my faculty colleagues and trainees at the Swanson School of Engineering.  Hail to Pitt!

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


Main Photo Credit: President Obama with Nathan Copeland, White House Frontiers Conference. Photographer: Michael Henninger. Copyright ©, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2016, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Fantastic Voyage: MEMS' Sung Cho designs micro swimming drone to traverse the human body using sound waves

The National Science Foundation awarded Sung Kwon Cho with a three-year, $724,691 grant for research into the development of a micro swimming drone that can be located and controlled inside the human body through ultrasound waves. When the sound waves pass through gaseous bubbles implanted into the drone, Cho and his team can propel it forward and change its direction. By adding a few more bubble-filled tubes, the drone will be able to follow a user-defined, three-dimensional path.



International team of engineers and neurosurgeons receives $2.95 million NIH grant to predict at-risk cerebral aneurysms

An international research team led by the Swanson School of Engineering recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a reliable method to distinguish aneurysms vulnerable to impending rupture from those that are presently robust and can be safely monitored.


Engineering research at Pitt, Air Force, and South Korea shines light on self-powered mobile polymers

An international group involving Inha University, University of Pittsburgh, and the Air Force Research Laboratory has built upon their previous research and identified new materials that directly convert ultraviolet light into motion without the need for electronics or other traditional methods.


Research at Pitt into “materials that compute” advances as engineers demonstrate system performs pattern recognition

The potential to develop “materials that compute” has taken another leap at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, where researchers for the first time have demonstrated that the material can be designed to recognize simple patterns. This responsive, hybrid material, powered by its own chemical reactions, could one day be integrated into clothing and used to monitor the human body, or developed as a skin for “squishy” robots.


Pitt engineering and health sciences researchers receive NIH grant to develop better methodology to treat rotator cuff tears

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recently received a $2.79 million award from the National Institutes of Health to develop diagnostic methods to allow surgeons to determine whether PT or surgery is the most effective initial treatment. Principal investigator of the five-year study, “Predicting the Outcome of Exercise Therapy for Treatment of Rotator Cuff Tears,” is Richard E. Debski, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Co-Director of the Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory at Pitt.


U.S. Department of Defense funds $1.5 million Pitt study to identify and destroy hazardous chemicals

The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering,  Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, and Department of Chemistry, along with Temple University's Department of Chemistry, will collaborate on research funded by a grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office (JSTO) within the United States Department of Defense. Pitt and Temple researchers will investigate the use of multifunctional metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) with plasmonic cores that can be used to detect and destroy chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals.


Research published in "Nature Nanotechnology" represents a milestone in the in situ study of amorphization of silicon

A team of researchers led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Scott X. Mao has observed at the atomic scale a previously unknown mechanism of shear-driven crystal to amorphously transform in silicon. The paper “In situ observation of shear-driven amorphization in silicon crystals,” published in Nature Nanotechnology, represents a milestone in the in situ study of amorphization of silicon.


A new treatment to prevent kidney stones

A natural citrus fruit extract has been found to dissolve calcium oxalate crystals, the most common component of human kidney stones, in a finding that could lead to significantly improving kidney stone treatment, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Houston, and Litholink Corporation.


Pitt researchers receive NIH grant to facilitate fabrication of vascular grafts with artificial stem cells

The National Institutes of Health have awarded David Vorp, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research, and colleagues with a grant worth more than $1.54 million to fund their study investigating artificial stem cells in the development of engineered vascular grafts.


Pitt, University of Puerto Rico engineers build upon NSF grant to apply materials science research to bamboo as a nonconventional building resource

Engineering faculty at the Swanson School of Engineering and University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) received a $300,000 National Science Foundation award to develop materials- and mechanics-based models for the behavior of full-culm bamboo as a functionally graded, fiber-reinforced material.


University of Pittsburgh launches Energy GRID Institute

Pitt's new Energy GRID Institute, grounded in research from Pitt’s Center for Energy, will leverage the University’s public and private partnerships with new laboratory space at the Energy Innovation Center in downtown Pittsburgh to create a comprehensive international solution center for industry.


Chemical engineering faculty at Pitt and CMU receive $550,000 in NSF funding to design metal nanoparticles that capture carbon dioxide

Building upon their previous research, engineering faculty at the  Swanson School of Engineering and Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering were awarded grants from the National Science Foundation to develop a novel computational framework that can custom design nanoparticles. In particular, the group is investigating bimetallic nanoparticles to more effectively control their adsorption properties for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Studying how aluminum alloy microstructures form in real time

An NSF award will enable researchers at the Swanson School to utilize a one-of-a-kind transmission electron microscope developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to examine in real time how microstructures form in metals and alloys as they solidify after laser beam melting.


Developing heat- and light-responsive polymers

A University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University research team was awarded $750,000 in back-to-back grants from the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation to study how novel polymers can react to heat and light, creating the potential for self-powered robotic devices.


ChemE faculty member receives NSF grant for self-assembly in large-scale particles

The NSF awarded Joseph McCarthy, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, a $404,187 grant to study the self-assembly of materials into complex structures at sizes much larger than the nanoscale. Larger particles are more difficult for scientists and engineers to manipulate, and they have not yet shown the potential for the same range of applications that has caused the explosion of nanotechnology in recent years. However, the results of Dr. McCarthy’s research have already suggested the self-assembly of larger particles is possible.


Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards six novel biomedical devices with $140,000 in Round-1 2016 Pilot Funding

CMI awarded grants totaling $140,000 to six research groups through its 2016 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include developing a novel vascular access system, a shunt for treatment of fetal hydrocephalus in-utero, a system for stroke rehabilitation, a cell therapy for treatment of aortic aneurysm, a method for treatment of sickle cell anemia, and a novel mechanical device for use in general surgery.


NSF awards Pitt environmental engineering professor with grant to study decline of pollinating insects

The NSF awarded Vikas Khanna, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a $259,582 grant to investigate the impact of declining insect-mediated pollination on the United States economy. Previous studies on insects that carry pollen from flower to flower generally focus on agricultural yields. “Collaborative Research: Quantifying the Critical Importance of Insect-mediated Pollination Service for the U.S. Economy” will expand the research to the impact of these insects on associated industrial sectors.


Mechanical engineering researcher receives NSF award to better describe how liquids interact within solid structures

A Pitt mechanical engineer is utilizing a $121,027 National Science Foundation award to study the interaction of a viscous liquid within a solid body and investigate which mathematical models best describe the phenomena. Principal investigator of the three-year study, “On the Occurrence of Resonance in Elastic-Dissipative Coupled Systems,” is Giovanni P. Galdi, the Leighton E. and Mary N. Orr Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Professor of Mathematics.


Pitt mechanical engineers receive $350,000 NSF grant to develop fast computational modeling for additive manufacturing

As additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, becomes more commonplace, researchers and industry are seeking to mitigate the distortions and stresses inherent in fabricating these complex geometries. Researchers at the Swanson School of Engineering and Pittsburgh-based manufacturer Aerotech, Inc. recently received a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to address these design issues by developing new, fast computational methods for additive manufacturing.


Swanson School innovates with "Making Research Work" private-sector partnerships

The Swanson School recently began a program called Making Research Work, which invites companies to use the school’s advanced laboratories and research facilities for a fee. The goal is to help academia and industry advance technology more quickly and successfully than either could do independently. In addition, the fees paid by private-sector partners will be reinvested in University labs and centers.


Oberg Industries partners with the Swanson School to advance additive manufacturing problem-solving for industry

Oberg Industries and the Swanson School of Engineering have partnered to combine Oberg expertise in manufacturing complex tooling and precision machined or stamped metal components with Pitt’s ANSYS Additive Manufacturing Research Laboratory (AMRL).


Faculty Accomplishments

Judith Yang elected Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) by the APS Council of Representatives

IEEE Nanotechnology Council elects Pitt's Guangyong Li as Vice President for Conferences

Mechanical Engineering's Anne Robertson named Grant Reviewer for National Institutes of Health

University of Florida’s Alan George named Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt

IE's Mary Besterfield-Sacre captures Women in Engineering award

IE's Paul Leu recognized by IISE with 2016 UPS Award for Minority Advancement

Civil Engineering Associate Professor Melissa Bilec wins 2016 UPPDA Mentor Award


Learn more about research at the Swanson School:

View the 2016 Research Summary.

View the 2016 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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