News


dB-SERC awards help transform science education

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 28 June 2019

The need to bring different educational methods to different academic subjects has long been clear to Chandralekha Singh, a physics and astronomy professor at UPitt and director of dB-SERC — the Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center. She has been conducting research on discipline-based education for more than two decades. She continues to amass evidence that gearing educational methods to specific types of students in specific subjects can result in measurable gains in knowledge and in attitude, which can be just as important. On average, the GPAs of engineering majors in introduction physics courses, who are study subjects for Singh's students, did not change over four years

“I don’t believe it is the students’ fault,” she says, if they do not improve their GPAs across their college careers. “We as faculty in the University should think of it as our responsibility to help these students.” That’s the impetus behind dB-SERC and the motivation for its course transformation awards. Since db-SERC’s founding in 2013, it has funded as many as 10 awards annually — up to $10,000 — to natural sciences faculty members in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The dB-SERC course transformation awardees meet weekly and present talks about their ideas and progress. “Participating in those, my first year at Pitt, I met a lot of the other science faculty,” Whittinghill recalls. “It helped me feel a part of a community at Pitt.” The weekly gatherings help faculty improve their approaches to course changes and conceive of new directions, based on others’ experience and thoughts, Singh says: “A lot of times when people are doing some innovative teaching and learning, things may not work as people expected. You may need to keep refining things to make them really adaptable to your students, to your own style.”


Giannis Mpourmpakis wins Distinguished Young Scientist Award

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 26 June 2019

Dr. Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni faculty fellow and assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been selected to receive the Bodossaki Foundation Distinguished Young Scientists Award in Chemistry. The Distinguished Young Scientists Award honors the most outstanding scientists of Greek descent under the age of 40 and is given once every two years. The award will be presented at a ceremony on June 19, 2019, in Athens, Greece, where Dr. Mpourmpakis will be honored by the Greek president. It also includes a prize of 20,000 euros. 

The award takes into consideration the individual’s achievements in their field, their contribution to the cultural, scientific and economic development of Greece, and their contribution to the international promotion of Greece through their work and ethics. Dr. Mpourmpakis was nominated by Steven R. Little, PhD, chair of the chemical engineering and petroleum department, and Sunil Saxena, PhD, chair of the chemistry department. “We were honored to nominate Yanni for this prestigious award,” says Dr. Little. “Yanni has made tremendous advances in our knowledge of the chemistry of nanomaterials. We are excited that his impressive work will be recognized on the global stage.” Dr. Mpourmpakis’s Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (CANELa) uses theory and computation to investigate the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials with potential applications in diverse nanotechnology areas, ranging from green energy generation and storage to materials engineering and catalysis.


2019/2020 GSR Award Winners

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 24 June 2019

Congratulations to the 2018/2019 PQI Graduate Student Research Award Winners!

Ilia Kevlishvili (Liu Lab, Chemistry), Tzu-Chiao Chien (Hatridge Lab, Physics), Shiv Upadhyay (Jordan Lab, Chemistry), Jierui Liang (Fullerton Lab, Chemical Engineering), Caleb Clever (Waldeck Lab, Chemistry), and Zhi Li (Mong Lab, Physics) each won one term of graduate funding for the year 2019/2020.


Helium recovery at Pitt

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 19 June 2019

In 2014, in the midst of a multiyear spike in helium prices, the University of Pittsburgh poured millions of dollars into building a high-tech machine aimed at recovering the helium that its researchers used. Prices stabilized soon after, and a substantial return on its investment seemed a far-off possibility. But now, as another shortage threatens the viability of basic science research, Pitt’s machine — one of the most efficient of its kind in the world — is paying dividends. Crude helium prices sold at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s 2019 auction clocked in at $279.95 per million standard cubic feet, an increase of roughly 135% from the year prior.

Helium is used to maintain low-operating temperatures of medical devices such as MRI scanners and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers — machines that help with analysis of small molecules. Mr. Chambers, the Pitt facilities director, said the university’s recovery system has decreased its helium usage by over 60%. Yet he still remains concerned about availability, especially after an ominous call from a supplier recently warning of a “large shortage” coming in July.


Di Xiao awarded Simons Fellowship

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 12 June 2019

CMU Associate Professor of Physics Di Xiao has been awarded a fellowship by the Simons Foundation. The Simons Foundation was founded in 1994 to support research in mathematics and the basic sciences. Xiao was one of nine theoretical physicists awarded fellowships by the foundation this year. The fellowship will allow Xiao to take a sabbatical from teaching for the 2019-20 academic year to focus on his research in quantum condensed matter theory on the magnetic and electric multipoles in crystalline solids.


White House Summit on Quantum Technology

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 3 June 2019

The White House held a summit to discuss the urgent need to collaborate to advance the country’s prowess in quantum information science. Among the academics and government officials, Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor for research Rob Rutenbar was in attendance, representing the interests of the Pittsburgh scientific community.

The current administration has pushed for progress in quantum computing by establishing a National Quantum Initiative that authorizes $1.2 billion over the next five years for quantum-related activities. “It’s critical that we win in the industries of the future, of which quantum is clearly one,” said Chris Liddell, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy coordination. He added that investment in quantum information science is one area in which there is “true bipartisan support.”


Venkat Viswanathan receives a 2019 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 28 May 2019

Venkat Viswanathan received a 2019 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research to research how to improve lithium-ion battery safety at low temperatures by preventing dendrite growth at the anode. 

The Young Investigator Program supports young academic scientists and engineers in researching topics that could benefit the goals of the Navy and Marine Corps. As the recipient of the award, Viswanathan will work closely with other NRL researchers, to make the work relevant for naval applications.Viswanathan and his team hope that the collaboration will result in a practical way to mitigate dendrite growth. 


Benjamin Hunt Named 2019 Cottrell Scholar

  • By Huiling Shao
  • 21 May 2019

Benjamin Hunt has been named a 2019 Cottrell Scholar. Twenty-four of the nation's top early career scientists received the designation from the Research Corporation for the Science Advancement (RCSA). The awards recognize the recipients' leadership in integrating science teaching and research at U.S. research universities and undergraduate institutions. 

"The Cottrell Scholar program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards," said RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer

Hunt will use the support from the scholar program to further his research in the role of crystal symmetry in superconductivity. 

Written by Jocelyn Duffy.

Read more here


Rongchao Jin and his group manipulate the quantum states of gold nanoclusters

  • By Huiling Shao
  • 14 May 2019

Rongchao Jin and his group have found a way to control the lifetime of the quantum states of gold nanoclusters by three orders of magnitude, which could lead to improvements in solar cell and photocatalysis technologies. Their study is published in the April 18 issue of Science.


John Keith Receives Funding for 10-month Collaboration with University of Luxembourg

  • By Huiling Shao
  • 8 May 2019

John Keith, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received two awards to fund a 10-month collaboration with a researcher at the University of Luxembourg.  

Dr. Keith received the equivalent of $89,000 from the Luxembourg National Research Fund as well as a $26,746 NSF Travel Award supplement to support a 10-month visit to the University of Luxembourg, where he will work with Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko, a world expert in developing atomistic machine learning methods that use artificial intelligence to make computer simulations faster and more accurate. 

Together, the researchers will study complex reaction mechanisms, such as carbon dioxide conversion into fuels and chemicals, and environmentally green chemical design of molecular chelating agents.

The researchers also plan to develop a modern textbook on quantum chemistry and contemporary methods to study chemical bonding that would educate the next generation of computational researchers. 

Written by Maggie Pavlick.

Read more here

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