Evan Facher in a black suit and light purple collared shirt

LifeX offering wet lab space for Pittsburgh science startups

LifeX Labs, which offers various resources to help new life sciences companies in Pittsburgh thrive, is now offering wet laboratory space to grow Southwestern Pennsylvania’s life sciences ecosystem. LifeX Labs is supported by the University of Pittsburgh, Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

The addition of the lab facilities in the Chocolate Factory of the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, scheduled to open in June, highlights an expanding suite of programs and resources for early stage life sciences startups provided by LifeX Labs.

"Securing affordable, flexible lab space is one of the biggest obstacles to growing a biotech company,” said Evan Facher, interim CEO of LifeX Labs and director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. “We believe that offering physical space in conjunction with a robust resource network and solid training opportunities will accelerate commercialization timelines for the Pittsburgh region’s growing life science sector.”

Celedón in a dark suit

Juan C. Celedón named president of American Thoracic Society

Juan C. Celedón was recently named president of the American Thoracic Society for the 2020-21 term. Celedón is professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and chief of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at the Pitt School of Medicine.

His research focuses on asthma, COPD and health disparities in airway diseases. Celedón’s scientific contributions have been acknowledged through his election to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians, as well as through the ATS Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishments, among other honors.

Steven Little in a dark suit

Engineering researcher Steven Little elected into College of Fellows

Steven Little was recently elected to the Controlled Release Society’s College of Fellows. Little is professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

He was elected for outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of delivery science and technology over a minimum of 10 years.

Little’s novel drug delivery systems mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation, allowing for dosages millions of times smaller than current treatments. These systems need only be applied once and then are released over a period of days or months, depending on the medication. Little also published research revealing a new immunotherapy system that mimics how cancer cells invade the human immune system to reduce the risk of transplant rejection.

Yu-Ru Lin in a gray top

Research team receives grant to form AI system to debunk false COVID information

Yu-Ru Lin, associate professor in the School of Computing and Information (SCI), Adriana Kovashka, assistant professor in SCI, and Wen-Ting Chung, research assistant professor in the School of Education, have been awarded a RAPID Grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a debunking system for COVID-19 related misinformation.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RAPID Grants have been awarded to research teams to “mobilize the scientific community to better understand and develop measures to respond to the virus.”

“We rely so much on mass media and social media to get information, even more so during the pandemic,” said Lin, the project’s principal investigator, whose research focuses on using data science to understand collective behavior and social movement. “The mission of this project is to reduce the harmful impact of misinformation.”

Using machine learning and data mining, the team will create an AI system that identifies which false information is most influential, who is most affected by it and how to "debunk" the problematic information automatically in social media. Their debunking system will rely heavily on citizen journalism and crowdsourcing images that counter misinformation on Twitter.

“When people are used to consuming the same media sources or discussing news with people strictly in their social circles, they lose out on the opportunity to see alternative information, or other points of view,” said Chung, whose research interests include group bias and sociocultural factors on learning and motivation. "The system could be a learning device that helps cultivate people with a more critical view in discerning the features of problematic information."

Kovashka, whose expertise is in computer vision and machine learning, added, “What makes this interesting, is how it taps into the work of advertisers. It’s been shown that people will be most likely to click on something is when a post prompts an emotion—in this case it’s fear. Of course, computationally modeling what specific aspect of visual or textual content will evoke an emotion and what kind of behaviors it will prompt is challenging, so part of the goal of this proposal is to advance how we computationally analyze persuasion.”

The team expects to complete their project within the year.

Mary Marazita in a purple-blue top with a white collar

Dental Medicine researcher Mary Marazita earns distinguished professor Honor

Mary Marazita from the Pitt School of Dental Medicine was recently awarded the designation of distinguished professor in recognition for her internationally renowned, groundbreaking and widely heralded work in the genetics of craniofacial disorders.

The appointment of a faculty member to a distinguished professorship constitutes the highest honor that the University can accord a member of the professorate. The designation recognizes extraordinary, internationally recognized, scholarly attainment in an individual discipline or field. These individuals are expected to make special contributions to the intellectual advancement of their home departments and schools, as well as to the institution as a whole.

Marazita has published over 400 peer-reviewed manuscripts, 23 book chapters or monographs and over 500 abstracts. Her work has been represented in scientific journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature, among others. She also directs Pitt’s Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics.

Daniel Kraus in black glasses and an orange patterned collared shirt

University Library System acquires Daniel Kraus papers

There’s a significant new addition to the Horror Studies Collection at Pitt. The University of Pittsburgh Library System has acquired the papers of Daniel Kraus—a prolific writer in the horror genre who currently lives in Chicago. It represents the first addition to the collection from a literary figure and author, thus expanding the scope of the collection beyond filmmaking as established through the inaugural acquisition of the George A. Romero Archival Collection.

Two of Kraus’ novels, “Rotters” and “Scowler,” received the American Library Association Odyssey Award honoring excellence in children’s and young adult audiobooks. He was asked by George A. Romero’s literary agent to finish Romero’s epic zombie novel, “The Living Dead,” which is set to publish in August of this year. Kraus also has collaborated with horror filmmaker and Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro, in co-authoring the novels “Trollhunters” and “The Shape of Water.”

“I’m the writer I am today because of George A. Romero,” said Kraus. “So, it makes perfect sense to me that I follow his giant footsteps in placing my past work with the University of Pittsburgh.”

The Daniel Kraus Archive, which will be processed later this year, will document the beginning of his career and includes works he produced as a child and teenager. It will also include manuscripts and drafts of his published works: “The Monster Variations,” “Rotters,” “Scowler,” andThe Life and Death of Zebulon Finch.”

Graham Hatfull

Graham Hatfull elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Graham Hatfull, professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been elected a 2020 member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Hatfull’s work with SEA-PHAGES, a national program that teaches undergraduates students to discover bacteriophages, led to the creation of a phage cocktail that was used to fight an antibiotic resistant infection in a 15-year old lung transplant patient.

Hatfull joins a class of 276 new members that includes immunologist Yasmine Belkaid, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and singer Joan Baez.

“This is a truly wonderful honor, recognizing the tremendous efforts of the researchers in my lab and our collaborators over many years,” said Hatfull. “It is humbling to join an academy with such wonderful and distinguished artists and scientists.”

AAAS was founded in 1780 and its projects and publications generate ideas and offer recommendations to advance the public good in the arts, citizenship, education, energy, government, the humanities, international relations, science and more. In addition to more than a dozen current Pitt faculty members, AAAS membership includes Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost and Martin Luther King Jr.

— Pittwire

Jessica Ghilani

Jessica Ghilani selected for Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Award

Jessica Ghilani, associate professor of communication at Pitt–Greensburg, was selected by the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum as the 2020 Aviation Space Writers Foundation Award Winner.

The award is offered in even numbered years and carries with it a $5,000 grant to support research on aerospace topics. Additional details are available on the website

Ghilani's project, "Advertising Military Innovation: Technological Visualizations in American Military Recruitment," will result in a book chapter to be included a manuscript she is writing. She intends to use the funds to conduct research at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center annex of the National Air and Space Museum.

Jason Shoemaker in a gray suit with a multicolored tie

Engineer Jason Shoemaker receives NSF award for virtual infection modeling

Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, has received an NSF CAREER Award for $547,000 for his work modeling the immune system response to viral lung infections.

The predictive computational model will show how the human body will react to a viral lung infection and will flag biomarkers present for people whose immune systems react with excessive inflammation, which is what makes these infections so dangerous. Though it’s modeled on the influenza virus, once completed, it will be applicable to other viral lung infections, like COVID-19.

Joshua Matilla in a light blue dress shirt

Joshua Matilla awarded Public Policy Fellowship

Joshua Matilla was recently selected for the 2020-2021 class of Public Policy Fellows at the American Association of Immunologists. Matilla is assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the Graduate School of Public Health.

The fellowship program provides early-career researchers, who are within 15 years of receiving their terminal degree and committed to a career in biomedical research, with the opportunity to learn about and participate in the public policy and legislative activities of the association. Up to 10 fellows are selected to participate annually. Fellows serve from May 1 of their selection year to April 30 of the following year.

Ted Fritz in a black suit and white collared shirt

Fritz named vice chancellor for Public Safety and Emergency Management

Ted P. Fritz has been promoted to vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management at the University of Pittsburgh.

In this role within the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Fritz is responsible for all health and safety-related oversight for the 40,000-member University community across five Pitt campuses and multiple off-campus locations.

In 2013, Fritz became Pitt’s first associate vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, appointed to bring together Pitt Police, Environmental Health and Safety, Emergency Management and Integrated Security under one unified business unit.

Fritz joined the University in 1998 as associate general counsel. In that capacity, he represented University officials in litigation and was Pitt’s primary legal advisor for constitutional, law enforcement, student affairs, cyber, copyright and international issues.

A U.S. Army veteran, Fritz is a magna cum laude distinguished military graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and pre-law. He earned his juris doctor degree cum laude at Stetson University College of Law.

Ivet Bahar

Computational Biology’s Bahar elected to National Academy of Sciences

Ivet Bahar, professor and the founding of the Department of Computational and Systems Biology, in the Pitt School of Medicine, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Bahar was selected “in honor of outstanding contributions to computational biology.” She is co-founder of the Ph.D. program in Computational Biology, jointly offered by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. She is a pioneer in structural and computational biology, having developed widely used elastic network models for protein dynamics. 

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars established in 1863, which aims to provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. This year’s election of 120 members and 26 international members brings the total number of active academy members to 2,403. 

Read more about Bahar here.

Sara Kuebbing in a black top

Sara Kuebbing named Ecological Society of America early career fellow

Sara Kuebbing, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Science in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been named a 2020 early career fellow of the Ecological Society of America. Kuebbing was chosen for her research on the impacts of invasive plant species on terrestrial plant communities and ecosystems and her efforts to apply research to management of invaded systems. The five-year program will support fellows’ competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions.

Sarah Grafton to chair Restorative Dentistry

Sarah E. Grafton has been named chair of Restorative Dentistry and Comprehensive Care at the Pitt School of Dental Medicine.

Grafton completed her doctoral degree in Dental Medicine at Pitt in 2000 and a post-graduate general practice residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Pittsburgh. Since 2014, she has been an assistant professor at the University and has most recently served as vice chair for clinical efficiency within the Department of Restorative Dentistry and Comprehensive Care.

Her scholarly interests include behavioral health and community-based dentistry, dental treatment for those with substance abuse disorders, and clinical efficiency with quality assurance in dental education.

Alicia Koontz in a green shirt

Alicia Koontz inducted into American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

University of Pittsburgh researcher Alicia Koontz has been inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Koontz is an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, part of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and associate director for research at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories.

Election to the institute’s College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top 2% of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering and medicine research, practice or education and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing and implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." 

A sign for the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Joshua Groffman selected for Bradford campus teaching award

Joshua Groffman, assistant professor of music, will receive the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s Chairs’ Faculty Teaching Award. Groffman is the director of Pitt-Bradford’s music programs.

Jeff Guterman, associate professor of broadcast communications and chair of the campus's Division of Communication and the Arts, cited Groffman’s creation of a music minor and pep band in 2018 as well as positive teaching reviews and making a point of connecting visiting musicians directly with students in a learning environment.

Groffman is also a prolific composer and active performer. Several performances planned for spring and summer have been postponed, most notably a June pre-premiere workshop of a new opera, “Halcyon.” Groffman now expects that to take place in 2021.

A University of Pittsburgh-Bradford Sign

Bradford campus named to Transfer Honor Roll

Pitt–Bradford has been named to Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society's Transfer Honor Roll in recognition of the dynamic pathways it has created to support transfer students.

Phi Theta Kappa is the honor society for students at two-year colleges and universities. It recognizes four-year colleges and universities deemed most friendly to transfer students. This is the first year that Pitt-Bradford has been recognized.

The Bradford campus was one of only two public universities in Pennsylvania that were recognized.

Pitt–Bradford provides an extensive database of courses at other universities for students to identify potential transfer credit. 

The Cathedral of Learning

Human Resources recognized nationally for COVID-19 resources for supervisors

The Office of Human Resources has been nationally recognized for its guidance in helping supervisors during the COVID-19 crisis.

EAB, a higher education firm, cited Pitt Human Resources in its April 13 article “3 ways to engage staff with excess capacity during coronavirus.”

The article highlights a new framework to help supervisors keep employees engaged and productive during the pandemic. The framework offers tools and tips for supervisors on different ways they can shift their thinking “from challenge mode to opportunity mode,” as their staff’s normal responsibilities and routines may have changed due to the pandemic. The tips are:

  • Think AHEAD: Use this time for long-term, strategic planning.

  • Think BACK: Examine data on previous projects.

  • Think DEEP: Analyze systems currently in place.

  • Think ACROSS: Brainstorm ways to help others in their work.

  • Think GROWTH: Focus on self and team development.

  • Think WELL-BEING: Prioritize physical and mental health.

  • Think NOW: Consider which tasks are critical to tackling immediately.

Visit the Human Resources website for more guidance, and additional COVID-19 resources for faculty and staff.

A collection of bottles of hand sanitizer

Chemistry Department making hand sanitizer for community nonprofits

Members of the Department of Chemistry in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences are using their spare time and the department’s extra resources to make hand sanitizer and donate it to local community groups.

Department Chair Sunil Saxena and graduate student Joshua Casto, along with Dietrich School director of shared research support services Peter Chambers, used compounds left in the department to create batches of hand sanitizer that were distributed to the Light of Life Mission in Pittsburgh’s North Side, the Community Engagement Association in Homewood and Meals on Wheels in the Hill District. Saxena said the effort will continue as long as there is a community need.

Bharath Chandrasekaran in a blue collared shirt

Bharath Chandrasekaran appointed to National Institutes of Health study section

Bharath Chandrasekaran, a communication science and disorders associate professor and vice chair of research in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been appointed to a four-year term to serve as a charter member of the Language and Communication Study Section, beginning July 1, 2020, and ending June 30, 2024. The section is part of the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Members of NIH study sections are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors. 

Chandrasekaran’s research examines the neurobiological computations that underlie human communication and learning.