Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering was established in 1910, making it the first department for petroleum engineering in the world. Today, our department has over 40 expert faculty (tenure/tenure-stream/joint/adjunct), a host of dedicated staff, more than 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and learning centers, and education programs that enrich with strong fundamentals and hands-on experience.

Chemical engineering is concerned with processes in which matter and energy undergo change. The range of concerns is so broad that the chemical engineering graduate is prepared for a variety of interesting and challenging employment opportunities.

Chemical engineers with strong background in sciences are found in management, design, operations, and research. Chemical engineers are employed in almost all industries, including food, polymers, chemicals, pharmaceutical, petroleum, medical, materials, and electronics. Since solutions to energy, environmental, and food problems must surely involve chemical changes, there will be continued demands for chemical engineers in the future.

Sep
16
2016

In Memory of Irving Wender, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering

Chemical & Petroleum

On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, it is with profound sadness that we mark the passing of Irving Wender, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering and one of the most outstanding researchers in our field. Many of our colleagues around the world will recognize his name for his extensive research in catalysis, and for his impact with the federal government, but at Pitt he is still remembered for his kind and generous nature. He was mentor to many of our faculty, and was the inspiration for dozens of graduate students, many of whom now have established careers in academia, industry and government. His passion for teaching and research was exceptional, and he will be truly missed. Irving’s funeral will be held Sunday, September 18 from 1:00-3:00 pm at Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh. Our Department will plan a special tribute at a future date. Please join me in remembering Dr. Wender and celebrating his century of inspiration. Sincerely,Steven R. Little, PhDWilliam Kepler Whiteford Professor and Department ChairIrving Wender received his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the City College of New York in 1936, followed by an MS in chemistry at Columbia University (which was interrupted by WWII during which he worked on the Manhattan Project), and a PhD in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, studying the kinetics and mechanism of homogeneously catalyzed hydroformylation (oxo) reactions. This was followed by an illustrious career, first in fundamental, then in applied research, as Project Coordinator, then Research Director, and finally as Director of the Pittsburgh Energy Research Center, U.S. Bureau of Mines. Subsequently, he was Special Advisor to the Program Director, Fossil Energy (FE), at the Department of Energy (DOE), Special Assistant to the Secretary of Fossil Energy, and finally Director, Office of Advanced Research and Technology Development, FE, DOE, in Washington, DC. In 1981, he accepted a position as Research Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and in 1994, was named Distinguished University Research Professor of Engineering.Dr. Wender authored over 200 papers (including eight in Nature and two in Science), edited five books and was awarded eleven patents. Among his numerous awards and honors are: the inaugural H.H. Storch Award in Fuel Science in 1964, for distinguished contributions to the science and utilization of coal; the Pittsburgh Award of the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to chemistry in 1968; the K.K. Kelley Award of the Department of Interior for contributions to coal chemistry and catalysis in 1969; and the American Chemical Society Award in Petroleum Chemistry and the Pittsburgh Catalysis Society Award in recognition of outstanding achievements in the field of catalysis, both in 1982. In November 1988, he became the first recipient of the Homer H. Lowry Award, presented by the Secretary of Energy in Washington, DC, “in recognition of advancing fossil energy technology through highly innovative research on catalytic conversion of syngas to fuels and chemicals, coal liquefaction and decisive guidance and inspirational leadership in shaping research programs in government, academia and industry.”As the most fitting tribute, Dr. Wender was recognized by his colleagues on his 100th birthday, June 19, 2015, on the final day of the international NAM24 catalysis conference, for which he served as honorary chair.

Sep
2
2016

Swanson School Chemical Engineer Receives NSF Grant for Self-Assembly in Large-scale Particles

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (September 2, 2016) … The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Joseph McCarthy, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, a $404,187 grant to study the self-assembly of materials into complex structures at sizes much larger than the nanoscale. The self-assembly of materials is a phenomenon in which component parts of a system spontaneously organize themselves into a uniform and desired structure. This process is similar to how a number of coin-shaped magnets might assemble themselves into a cylinder if they are jostled. At the nanoscale, particles arrange themselves into organized and stable structures whereby the “jostling” is accomplished simply through natural thermal (Brownian) motion. Because nanoparticles exhibit this behavior on their own, they can easily be used to build biological and chemical sensors, computer chips with more computing power and a variety of photonic devices. 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 McCarthy’s research have already suggested the self-assembly of larger particles is possible.  “Fabricating the self-assembly of larger particles had been done a handful of times before we started trying it, but we’ve pushed the possibilities a lot further,” said McCarthy. “Other researchers noticed the phenomenon occurring empirically, but we are trying to formalize it. We are working with particles that are at least 100 times bigger than anything that has been done before.” An array of problems has prevented researchers from exploring the possibilities of engineering larger structures. While nanoparticles respond dramatically to Brownian motion, larger particles often have too much mass to self-assemble in a useful way. McCarthy and his team artificially thermalize the larger particles to allow them to arrange themselves into different sizes and shapes. The results could open up new engineering possibilities across multiple fields.  “Cells are typically about 10 microns. If we took a traditional approach to forming tissue engineering scaffolding via self-assembly, the pores between the components would be much too small for the cells to infiltrate. The methods we will be experimenting with and modeling would allow us to create scaffolding with pore sizes similar to those of cells and which also helps keeps the cells alive by promoting good nutrient flow due to the regularity of the pore structure,” said McCarthy. Another field that might benefit greatly from large-scale self-assembly is microelectronics. Next generation batteries with higher charge capacities suffer from phase changes, meaning the cycles of charging and discharging cause changes to the battery’s internal structure. These variations hinder the battery’s performance and eventually prevent it from holding a charge at all. Chemical engineers would be able to apply large-scale self-assembly to create batteries in which ions were able to be transferred more precisely, potentially resulting in a longer life spans. Funding from NSF began on July 15th, 2016. The study, “Realizing Hierarchically Ordered Porous Function Materials from the Crystallization of Both Large-scale and Colloidal Particles,” will attempt to both advance the fundamental understanding of large-scale self-assembly and test applications of some of the materials already engineered by McCarthy and his team. ### Image above: Particle-based Inverted Crystal. Here we made an ordered array of both 100 and 10 micro-meter particles. After chemically etching away the 100 micro-meter particles we are left with a highly ordered porous material that has both large and small pores whose sizes are completely tunable (via our choice of initial particles). From left to right the panels show progressively wider frames.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Sep
2
2016

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

Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (September 2, 2016) … 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. “ Pattern recognition for materials that compute,” published today in the AAAS journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601114), continues the research of Anna C. Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and Steven P. Levitan, the John A. Jurenko Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Co-investigators are Yan Fang, lead author and graduate student researcher in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Victor V. Yashin, Research Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The computations were modeled utilizing Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gels, a substance that oscillates in the absence of external stimuli, with an overlaying piezoelectric (PZ) cantilever. These so-called BZ-PZ units combine Dr. Balazs’ research in BZ gels and Dr. Levitan’s expertise in computational modeling and oscillator-based computing systems. “BZ-PZ computations are not digital, like most people are familiar with, and so to recognize something like a blurred pattern within an image requires nonconventional computing,” Dr. Balazs explained. “For the first time, we have been able to show how these materials would perform the computations for pattern recognition.” Dr. Levitan and Mr. Fang first stored a pattern of numbers as a set of polarities in the BZ-PZ units, and the input patterns are coded through the initial phase of the oscillations imposed on these units. The computational modeling revealed that the input pattern closest to the stored pattern exhibits the fastest convergence time to the stable synchronization behavior, and is the most effective at recognizing patterns. In this study, the materials were programmed to recognize black-and-white pixels in the shape of numbers that had been distorted. Compared to a traditional computer, these computations are slow and take minutes. However, Dr. Yashin notes that the results are similar to nature, which moves at a “snail’s pace.” “Individual events are slow because the period of the BZ oscillations is slow,” Dr. Yashin said. “However, there are some tasks that need a longer analysis, and are more natural in function. That’s why this type of system is perfect to monitor environments like the human body.” For example, Dr. Yashin said that patients recovering from a hand injury could wear a glove that monitors movement, and can inform doctors whether the hand is healing properly or if the patient has improved mobility. Another use would be to monitor individuals at risk for early onset Alzheimer’s, by wearing footwear that would analyze gait and compare results against normal movements, or a garment that monitors cardiovascular activity for people at risk of heart disease or stroke. Since the devices convert chemical reactions to electrical energy, there would be no need for external electrical power. This would also be ideal for a robot or other device that could utilize the material as a sensory skin. “Our next goal is to expand from analyzing black-and-white pixels to grayscale and more complicated images and shapes, as well as to enhance the devices storage capability,” Mr. Fang said. “This was an exciting step for us and reveals that the concept of “materials that compute” is viable.” The research is funded by a five-year National Science Foundation Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) grant, which focuses on complex and pressing scientific problems that lie at the intersection of traditional disciplines. “As computing performance technology is approaching the end of Moore’s law growth, the demands and nature of computing are themselves evolving,” noted Sankar Basu, NSF program director. “This work at the University of Pittsburgh, supported by the NSF, is an example of this groundbreaking shift away from traditional silicon CMOS-based digital computing to a non-von Neumann machine in a polymer substrate, with remarkable low power consumption. The project is a rare example of much needed interdisciplinary collaboration between material scientists and computer architects.” ### Animation above: Conceptual illustration of pattern recognition process performed by hybrid gel oscillator system. (Credit: Yan Fang)

Aug
30
2016

ChemE's Morgan Fedorchak visits the Carnegie Science Center to explore how new drugs help patients see clearly

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 30, 2016) ... Eye drops are critical to preventing and treating ocular ailments, but they can be uncomfortable and sometimes difficult to use. Join University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor Dr. Morgan Fedorchak at Carnegie Science Center’s next Café Scientifique, Monday, Sept. 12 from 7 – 9 pm as she discusses new technologies that could see patients more comfortable, and compliant, with their medication routines. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, expected to affect up to three million Americans by 2020. One of the main risk factors in glaucoma is an unsafe increase in intraocular pressure or IOP. During her talk, “Old Drugs, New Tricks: Putting an End to Traditional Eye Drops,” Fedorchak will explain how IOP reduction in patients with glaucoma can be accomplished through the use of medicated eye drops. However, difficulties in using and administering eye drops mean patient medication compliance rates can be as low as 30 percent. Fedorchak will discuss some of the latest developments in ocular medicine that could overcome the issues surrounding traditional eye drop medication. Fedorchak is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Chemical Engineering, and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh and is the director of the Ophthalmic Biomaterials Laboratory. She attended Carnegie Mellon University where she obtained her B.S. in both Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering in 2006. She earned her PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research is currently supported by the National Eye Institute, the Cystinosis Research Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation, and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. After the talk, audience members will be invited to ask questions and become part of the discussion. Admission to Café Sci is free. Food and drinks are available for purchase. Doors open at 6 pm. The evening includes time for informal discussion, eating, and drinking. For more information and to RSVP, visit CarnegieScienceCenter.org, call 412-237-3400, or visit here to register. About Carnegie Science Center Carnegie Science Center is dedicated to inspiring learning and curiosity by connecting science and technology with everyday life. By making science both relevant and fun, the Science Center’s goal is to increase science literacy in the region and motivate young people to seek careers in science and technology. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Science Center is Pittsburgh’s premier science exploration destination, reaching more than 700,000 people annually through its hands-on exhibits, camps, classes, and off-site education programs. About Carnegie Museums of PittsburghEstablished in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. In 2015, the museums reached more than 1.4 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events. ###
Author: Susan Zimecki, Carnegie Science Center (ZimeckiS@CarnegieScienceCenter.org). Posted with Permission.
Aug
9
2016

Researchers Propose New Treatment to Prevent Kidney Stones

Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 9, 2016) ... 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. In a study published Aug. 8 in the journal Nature, the researchers offer the first evidence that the compound hydroxycitrate (HCA) effectively inhibits calcium oxalate crystal growth and, under certain conditions, is able to dissolve the crystals. HCA shows “promise as a potential therapy to prevent kidney stones,” the researchers wrote. Kidney stones are small mineral pellets that form in the kidneys and may be found throughout the urinary tract. Frequently painful but harmless, the National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 300,000 patients visit emergency rooms for kidney stones each year. Though it’s the most frequent urinary tract ailment, little has changed in preventative treatments for kidney stones in the past 30 years. Most patients at risk for kidney stones are instructed to drink water, reduce the amount of foods high in oxalates such as leafy green vegetables and nuts in their diet, and take citrate (CA) in the form of a potassium citrate supplement to slow crystal growth. HCA, which is chemically similar to potassium citrate, is found in several tropical plants including garcinia cambogia, commonly known as Malabar tamarind. The researchers found that the HCA inhibits growth of the crystals by binding to them and that even in very small concentrations it can actually dissolve those crystals. “We were very excited to identify a molecular-level mechanism under which calcium oxalate grows and degrades in its natural environment,” said Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Eventually, this will help us control the crystal’s life cycle.” Mpourmpakis was joined in the research by Jeff Rimer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston, and John Asplin, nephrologist at Litholink Corporation. Graduate students Michael G. Taylor of Pitt, Jihae Chung of Houston, and researcher Ignacio Granja of Litholink Corporation also contributed to the study. At Pitt, Mpourmpakis and Taylor applied density functional theory, a highly accurate computational method used to study the structure and properties of materials, to discover how HCA and CA bind to calcium and to calcium oxalate crystals. They found that HCA formed a stronger bond with crystal surfaces, inducing a strain that appears to be relieved by the release of calcium and oxalate, thus dissolving the crystal. Chung and Rimer studied interactions between the crystals CA and HCA under realistic growth conditions, allowing the researchers to record crystal growth in real time with near-molecular resolution. Chung noted that the images recorded the crystal actually shrinking when exposed even to supersaturated concentrations of calcium oxalate. Asplin and Granja tested HCA in human subjects, allowing researchers to determine that HCA is excreted through urine, a requirement for the supplement to work as a treatment. Although this research established the groundwork to design an effective drug, the authors believe that more work is still needed, including additional human studies, to address the long-term safety and dosage. “But our initial findings are very promising,” Rimer said. “If it works in vivo, similar to our trials in the laboratory, HCA has the potential to reduce the incidence rate of people with chronic kidney stone disease.” ### Image above and below: Morphology changes of calcium oxalate monohydrate (kidney stone) crystals using different growth inhibitors. (Courtesy Mpourmpakis Lab Group)
Author: John Fedele, Senior Associate Director of News, University Communications
jfedele@pitt.edu

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