Accolades

NSF funds joint Pitt/Drexel project on ozone and water sterilization

The National Science Foundation will fund collaborative research at the Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and Drexel University’s College of Engineering that could transform the way we sterilize water on demand and in larger scales. 

The project, “Collaborative Research: Regulating homogeneous and heterogeneous mechanisms in six-electron water oxidation,” will receive $473,065, with $222,789 designated for Pitt’s team. Led at Pitt by John Keith, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, the research aims to discover a simpler and less energy-intensive way to create ozone, a molecule that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for water and food sanitation since 2001.  

“Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where it is,” Keith explains. “Ozone in the upper atmosphere shields the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but it's also the main ingredient in smog that damages your lungs if you breathe it.”

However, what makes ozone hazardous for lungs also makes it excellent for water sanitation. When ozone is “bubbled” into bacteria-infected water, it kills the bacteria and sterilizes the water, similar to chlorine in swimming pools or sanitation facilities. Keith’s research group will use computer modeling to study how water can react to form ozone in electrochemical cells.  

Keith will be working with Maureen Tang, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The grant spans four years and begins in 2020. 

Kramer in a gray suit

William Kramer to lead Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

William Kramer has been selected as the next director of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Kramer, currently project director and principal investigator of the Blue Waters Project and the senior associate director for @Scale Science and Technology at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, begins his new role in the fall.

Following his first academic appointment at the University of Delaware, Kramer has held leadership roles at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at NASA Ames Research Center. Over the course of three decades, his award-winning career has focused on improving the efficiency of large-scale, complex computational and data analytics systems, and making the organizations that create and use them highly productive.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as the director of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. The center, which is supported by two world-class universities, is well positioned to help current and future generations of scientists, engineers and researchers create insights into a wide range of challenges in fundamental science, health care, security and other areas that will expand our understanding of phenomena that are of critical importance to society,” Kramer said.

Millstone in a white top

Jill Millstone wins career excellence award

Jill Millstone, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, has been awarded the 2019 Greater Pittsburgh Women’s Chemists Committee Award for Career Excellence in the Chemical Sciences. The honor recognizes female chemists and chemical engineers for accomplishments in their fields. Millstone’s research areas are inorganic and materials chemistry, nanomaterials, mechanochemistry and colloid chemistry.

the Cathedral on a blue-sky day in fall

Pitt innovators deliver another banner year of impactful discoveries

Pitt innovators continued to demonstrate their passion for translating lab discoveries to solutions that make an impact on people’s lives at a record pace in fiscal year 2019. They matched last year’s record number of licenses and options executed at 162 and set a new record for discoveries disclosed to the Innovation Institute at 367.

Pitt innovators were issued 91 U.S. patents and formed 17 startup companies based on intellectual property developed at the University, reinforcing a strong recent performance for those metrics.

“These results reflect the ever-strengthening culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among Pitt faculty, students and staff,” said Evan Facher, director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. “We have been able to put more resources at their disposal to accelerate their journey on the path to market because achieving impact through commercialization has been made a top priority by the University leadership.”

In the five years since the formation of the Innovation Institute, the activity of Pitt innovators has increased substantially across numerous metrics compared to the previous five year period as the result of increased funding and support. Invention disclosures, which are submitted to the Innovation Institute by faculty, staff and students when their research produces new discoveries with the potential for commercial translation, are up more than 25 percent in the most recent five year period; licensing transactions are up 11 percent, and issued patents are up 46 percent.

Significantly, startups formed in the 2015-2019 period are up nearly 130 percent over the previous comparable period.

In addition, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, the Innovation Institute’s affiliated organization serving small businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania, is expanding its impact. During the year, the IEE served 736 clients with nearly 7,000 hours of consulting services, which resulted in 52 businesses started, $16.4 million capital formation, $28.3 million in sales increase and 433 jobs created.

Evan Facher headshot

LifeX Labs receives $750,000 grant to help life science startups

LifeX Labs has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to enhance its efforts in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is among 44 organizations nationwide — and the only one in Pennsylvania — to share a total of  $23 million awarded under the administration’s i6 Challenge grant program to expand entrepreneurship.

LifeX Labs is a life science startup accelerator launched by the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 with a mission to help companies translate the region’s world-class research into breakthrough commercial products.

“LifeX helps young life science startup companies overcome the unique challenges that they face,” said Evan Facher (pictured), interim CEO of LifeX Labs and director of Pitt's Innovation Institute. “The goal of this award is to help LifeX accelerate the development of resources and programming needed to enable these companies to thrive in the Pittsburgh region. In parallel, the award will also help us build a stronger sense of community within the life sciences ecosystem.”

With this three-year award, LIfeX Labs estimates that it will have the ability to serve thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs, add dozens of startups to its portfolio, and create more than 100 jobs in the region by 2028.

In part, the funding will aid development of programming for pre-seed to Series A life-science companies; engagement of regional key opinion leaders to identify needs and opportunities in the life science community; and creation of a pipeline of life science workers at all skill levels in collaboration with local colleges and job training organizations.

cooper in a dark suit

Rory Cooper completes Heidelberg Hand-Bike Marathon

Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Pitt and associate dean for inclusion at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, recently raced in and completed the Heidelberg Hand-Bike Marathon. Cooper finished with a time of one hour and 27 minutes.

“The course was a bit more challenging than I thought, and I ended up most of the time by myself or pulling others along. I sported my Army jersey,” he said.

Twenty-one family members and friends came to Heidelberg to cheer for him and other participants.

Givi in a gray coat

Peyman Givi to deliver Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics

Peyman Givi, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the Swanson School of Engineering, has been invited to deliver the 13th Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics. The lecture is sponsored by Elsevier and its publication Mechanics Research Communications. It will be hosted by the University of Pittsburgh in 2020.

Givi joins a long line of distinguished lecturers, beginning with the 2008 inaugural lecture by Jan Achenbach. The lecture will be on a topic of his choosing within the field of mechanics; previous topics have included “Structural Health Monitoring,” “Isogeometric Analysis” and “Seeking Simplicity in the Flow of Complex Fluids.”

Givi’s lecture will be available on Elsevier’s website after it is delivered. 

Xiayun (Sharon) Zhao and Albert To

Swanson School professors to study 3D printing of turbine components

The U.S. Department of Energy, through its University Turbine Systems Research program, has awarded researchers at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering $802,400 to find an effective quality assurance method for additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, of new-generation gas turbine components.

The three-year project has received additional support of $200,600 from Pitt.

Xiayun (Sharon) Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, will lead the research, working with Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, and Richard W. Neu, professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Mechanical Engineering. The team will use machine learning to develop a cost-effective method for rapidly evaluating, either in-process or offline, the hot gas path turbine components that are created with laser powder bed fusion additive manufacturing technology.

 

 

Sahel and Pitt ophthalmology get grant for cortical vision research

Pitt received a $6 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support the development of a cortical vision research program in the Pitt School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology. The program will aim to understand how the eye and the brain work together to help us see the world and use that knowledge to develop new ways to restore vision using various technologies such as brain computer interfaces and novel genetic technologies.  

“The RK Mellon Foundation’s investment is a resounding vote of confidence in a world-renowned talent — Dr. José-Alain Sahel — and his team’s groundbreaking efforts to preserve and restore the gift of sight for millions of people across the world,” says Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I am deeply grateful for the Foundation’s support and excited to watch this next chapter in vision research and care unfold right here in Pittsburgh.”    

“As the world’s population continues to grow and age, the number of individuals with visual impairments is expected to triple by the year 2050, and Pittsburgh, with its aging population, will be highly affected by this epidemic of vision loss,” said Sahel, director of the UPMC Eye Center, and Pitt chair of ophthalmology. “We have established world class vision research and clinical care in Pittsburgh, and the cortical vision program will bring together the brightest minds to develop therapies that will directly benefit the people in our communities and around the world.” 

Precision Medicine Institute, UPMC get $2.8M grant

The Pitt Institute for Precision Medicine and UPMC received a three-year $2.8 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for implementation of precision medicine initiatives, including whole genome sequencing of critically ill infants, genomics education and translational research pilot projects intended for commercialization.

The IPM, a joint effort of Pitt and UPMC, was created in 2013 to help researchers and clinicians discover features about an individual’s risk of disease, select best treatments and predict treatment response, and move these insights into clinical practice.  

“UPMC and Pitt are regional and national leaders in developing and implementing precision medicine efforts in the clinic,” said Adrian Lee (pictured), director of the IPM and professor of pharmacology and chemical biology at Pitt. “This grant will advance research and clinical care, and also help drive the field forward by commercializing technologies that have the potential to impact people at scale.”

 

Mark Gladwin

NIH grant of $19.2 million to support sickle cells study

Researchers at Pitt and UPMC, supported by a $19.2 million National Institutes of Health grant, will lead the largest clinical trial of its kind to test a technique called red cell exchange transfusion in prolonging life and slowing or reversing organ damage for patients with sickle cell disease. 

“Currently there is no standard of care for patients with sickle cell at high risk of organ damage,” said principal investigator Mark Gladwin (pictured), professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Medicine and director of the Pittsburgh Heart, Lung, Blood, and Vascular Medicine Institute. “We are proud to lead this collaborative effort among major centers of excellence to tackle an important open question in how we treat and manage the disease.” 

Nationally, about 100,000 people live with sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that disproportionately affects individuals of African descent. Approximately 30 percent of patients with sickle cell develop serious organ damage, such as cardiopulmonary complications, and kidney or liver failure, with the risks steadily increasing with age. 

 

Two Innovation Institute licensing managers promoted

The Innovation Institute has promoted two of its licensing managers into newly established managerial roles.

Maria Vanegas is now senior licensing manager for life sciences and George Coulston is now senior licensing manager for physical sciences.

In these new roles, Vanegas and Coulston each oversee a team of licensing managers and associates and help plan and execute strategies for commercializing the University’s life science and physical sciences intellectual property portfolios. Both will continue to oversee substantial innovation portfolios of their own. They will report to Alex Ducruet, director of licensing and intellectual property.

Click here for more information.

the Cathedral on a blue sky day

Pitt Cyber announces Accelerator Grant recipients

Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security has announced the grant recipients of its third round of Pitt Cyber Accelerator Grants .

The grants to Pitt faculty provide initial funding for novel and innovative projects that advance Pitt Cyber’s mission: to bring the breadth of one of the world’s leading public research universities to bear on the critical questions of networks, data and algorithms, with a focus on the ever-changing gaps among law, policy and technology.

This term’s recipients are:

  • Vladimir Zadorozny (School of Computing and Information), Panos Chrysanthis (SCI), Michael Colaresi (Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences), Patrick Manning (Dietrich) for their project, Social Weather Service: A Cyber-enabled Forecasting of Social Unrest and Conflicts.

  • Kevin Ashley (School of Law) and Jaromir Savelka (Intelligent Systems Program) for their project, Annotating Cases for Learning.

  • David Tipper (SCI) and Alexis Kwasinski (Swanson School of Engineering) for their project, Toward Resilient Smart Critical Infrastructure.

  • Rosta Farzan (SCI), Dmitriy Babichenko (SCI), and Zak Risha (SCI) for their project, Fighting Cyberbullying: A Transformative and Educational Game for Promoting Empathic Understanding.

“Pitt Cyber is excited to support the ever-expanding group of Pitt researchers exploring the many challenges of networks, data and cybersecurity,” said Pitt Cyber academic director and law professor Michael Madison.

Learn more about the grants at Pitt Cyber.
 

Rinaldo in a tan suit coat

Pitt Men’s Study renewed by NIH, for fourth decade of HIV research

The Pitt Men’s Study, part of the national Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, will be renewed into 2026 at nearly $4 million per year. The funding from the National Institutes of Health will carry the long-running study into its fourth decade.

The confidential study on the natural history of HIV/AIDS is part of the Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology and is directed by the department's chair, Charles Rinaldo (pictured).

Read more about the study at UPMC.

Huguley in a dark suit and yellow tie, holding a microphone to his mouth

Just Discipline Project shows progress in new report

A project out of Pitt’s School of Social Work designed to reduce out-of-school suspensions at the Woodland Hills Intermediate School has shown that, after two years, there has been a 28 percent decrease in the number of students suspended.

The Just Discipline project, funded by the Heinz Endowments, established community-building activities at the school, professional development courses for faculty and staff, and training for adolescent student leaders who have been able to successfully diffuse behavioral problems at the school before they escalate. Just Discipline leaders Assistant Professor of Social Work James Huguley (pictured) and Associate Professor of Education Ming-Te Wang have released a report citing the progress made since the program’s 2017 inception.

Key findings include:

  • A 28 percent decrease in the number of individual students receiving suspensions

  • A 20 percent decrease in the number of individual students receiving office referrals

  • A 19 percent increase in the students’ perception of school safety

  • Academic gains in math, language arts and science

  • 91 percent of the teachers would like the program’s work to continue

“We’re still working toward where we want to be in terms of the resources and systems, but we’re certainly encouraged by this progress,” said Huguley, who hopes to expand the program in the near future to other schools in Woodland Hills.

The project was one of five awarded $2,000 prizes at the first Partnerships of Distinction Awards from the office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey.

Panther statue on campus

Office of Child Development develops parenting guide

Over the past decade, experts at the Office of Child Development, part of the School of Education, developed a set of parenting guides designed to help raise healthy children.

“You and Your Child” is a series of 49 guides, broken down into categories of behavior, health and nutrition, parenting, development and safety. The guides contain best practices described by the Office of Child Development and have been reviewed by development experts and practitioners.  

“These guides are an easy way for parents and caregivers to gain knowledge and answer specific questions they might have,” said Shannon Wanless, director of the Office of Child Development.

The guides are available online free of charge to parents, family organizations, agencies, professionals and others who work with children and their families. They are also available in Spanish.

Brooks and Barrios head shots stitched together with a white bar separating them

Robin Brooks and Esther Palacios-Barrios named 2019 Ford Foundation Fellows

Robin Brooks, an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies, and Esther Palacios-Barrios, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology who also works with the Learning Research and Development Center, have been accepted to the 2019 Ford Foundation Fellowship Program.

The program, administered by the Fellowships Office of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, is designed to increase diversity among faculty in the nation’s colleges and universities.

Brooks, who was recognized in the postdoctoral competition, will be working on a book manuscript with host institution, Emory University, during the fellowship. Palacios-Barrios, recognized in the predoctoral competition, will continue her work in the Clinical-Developmental Psychology Program.  

Gellad in a light blue shirt and dark blue tie

Walid Gellad receives Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Walid Gellad, associate professor of medicine and health policy was named a winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) — “the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.”

Gellad’s research focuses on physician prescribing practices and on policy issues affecting access and adherence to medications for patients. Read a recent Pittwire story about his work using artificial intelligence to better predict opioid overdose risk in patients.

Rizzo wins Durelli Award from Society for Experimental Mechanics

Piervincenzo Rizzo, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive the 2020 A. J. Durelli Award from the Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM).

The award is named for an experimental stress analyst known for seeking new methods to solve problems, rather than relying on existing methods. The award recognizes “a young professional who has introduced, or helped to introduce, an innovative approach and/or method into the field of experimental mechanics,” according to the society.

“Piervincenzo has made remarkable contributions to his field, and we are proud that the SEM is recognizing his achievements with this award,” says Radisav Vidic, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering. “His innovations in nondestructive evaluation and structural health monitoring set him apart among his peers.”

The award will be presented at an Awards Luncheon on June 10, 2020, during the SEM Annual Conference and Exposition on Experimental and Applied Mechanics in Orlando, Fla.

 

Wagner named interim director of Dental Hygiene Program

Kelly Wagner has been appointed interim director of the Dental Hygiene Program at the School of Dental Medicine. 

Wagner graduated in 2007 from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene. In 2013, she earned a master of science in dental hygiene at the University of Maryland-Baltimore with a concentration in education. She has more than 10 years of experience in private practice and served as an adjunct faculty member at Northern Virginia Community College Dental Hygiene Program from 2014-18.

Her research interests include oral health literacy, patient outcomes in various delivery systems, and systemic diseases and oral inflammatory markers.