In the news

James McKone highlighted as an emerging investigator in materials chemistry

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 6 November 2019

From the design of improved batteries to the use of solar and wind power for commodity chemical production, the University of Pittsburgh’s James McKone explores ways that chemical engineering can make the world more sustainable. That’s why his most recent work, investigating ways that the chemical industry can use renewable electricity as its energy source, is featured in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A Emerging Investigators special issue.

The themed issue highlights the rising stars of materials chemistry research, from nanoparticle inks to next-generation solar cells. The featured investigators are early in their careers and were recommended by other experts in the field.  “We’re glad to have James on our faculty and know this honor is well-deserved,” says Steven Little, PhD, chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. “It confirms what we already know: that his lab’s work has the potential to influence the direction of future discoveries in energy production, energy storage and beyond.” 

Tevis Jacobs: Infectiously inspiring in the classroom

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 15 October 2019

In his classroom, engineering faculty member Tevis Jacobs is one animated presenter.

He speaks rapidly and enthusiastically while adding diagrams to clear overlays on two screens of slides projected onto the white board.  The course is “Mechanical Behavior of Materials,” which examines how things bend and break, down to their atomic structures. Today’s class encompasses the concepts of “work hardening,” “twinning,” and nickel-based super alloys (“You guys know that is my favorite topic,” Jacobs says). 

Jacobs joined the faculty of the Swanson School of Engineering in fall 2015, teaching this undergraduate class and another on experimental techniques, and offering one on tribology — the study of friction, wear and lubrication of sliding surfaces — to graduate students.

“I’ve always wanted to understand how the world works,” Jacobs says. “Mechanical engineering and materials science: what I like about them is that they are all around us. We are constantly interacting with objects, seeing how they perform. I like the idea of making them better in the future … but the current goal is (studying) ‘Why did this thing happen in this way?’ “What I love,” he adds, “especially in the classes I’m teaching now: we can answer that.”

Swanson Engineering faculty promotions

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 2 October 2019

The Autumnal Equinox ushers in a season of welcome changes in the Swanson Engineering Department, in the form of faculty promotions! Congratulations to Giannis Mpourmpakis and John Keith for their promotions and to Karl Johnson, Chris Wilmer, and Susan Fullerton for receiving the William Kepler Whiteford Professorship, William Kepler Whiteford Fellowship, and Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty Fellowship, respectively.

Ben Hunt honored with endowed CMU professorship

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 18 September 2019

Among six Mellon College of Science (MCS) faculty members, Ben Hunt has been honored with a career development professorship that supports scientists at the beginning of their careers. He and the other faculty were recognized at a reception Sept. 12 in the Mellon Institute. “An endowed professorship is one of the highest honors that our institution bestows upon faculty, and this honor symbolizes the high esteem to which they are held,” said Carnegie Mellon University Provost Jim Garrett.

“Each of these faculty members are being recognized for their important work in fields that will be some of the most important of the 21st century,” said Rebecca W. Doerge, Glen de Vries Dean of the Mellon College of Science. “While their discoveries will make a significant impact in the world, that impact is equaled by their contributions to the students who they teach in class and mentor in the lab.”

Heng Ban, Jung-Kun Lee, and Kevin Chen awarded DOE grants in nuclear energy research

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 18 September 2019

The Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has received three substantial grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) totaling $2.3 million. PQI faculty members Dr. Heng Ban, Dr. Jung-Kun Lee, and Dr. Kevin Chen are among the recipients.

The awards are three of the 40 grants in 23 states issued by the DOE, which awarded more than $28.5 million to research programs through the NEUP this year to maintain the U.S.’s leadership in nuclear research. 

“Nuclear energy research is a vital and growing source of clean energy in the U.S., and we are at the forefront of this exciting field,” says Heng Ban, PhD, R.K. Mellon Professor in Energy and director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program at the Swanson School of Engineering. “These grants will enable us to collaborate with leading international experts, conducting research that will help shape future of nuclear energy.” 

Congratulations!

First Universal Computer Model for Metal Nanoparticle Adsorption

  • By Ke Xu
  • 16 September 2019

New research from the Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis and his team introduces the first universal adsorption model that accounts for detailed nanoparticle structural characteristics, metal composition and different adsorbates, making it possible to not only predict adsorption behavior on any metal nanoparticles but screen their stability, as well. The research combines computational chemistry modeling with machine learning to fit a large number of data and accurately predict adsorption trends on nanoparticles that have not previously been seen. By connecting adsorption with the stability of nanoparticles, nanoparticles can now be optimized in terms of their synthetic accessibility and application property behavior. This improvement will significantly accelerate nanomaterials design and avoid trial and error experimentation in the lab. Their work was published in Science Advances on Sept. 13, 2019.

Giannis Mpourmpakis awarded NSF for screening catalysts

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 13 August 2019

The National Science Foundation has awarded Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis $354,954 to continue his research into a promising but poorly understood method of creating olefins. Olefins, simple compounds of hydrogen and carbon, serve as the building blocks in chemical industry and are important for the synthesis of materials, including polymers, plastics and more. However, creating them can be problematic: it requires the use of fossil fuels, energy intensive “cracking” facilities, and limited production control. The team in Dr. Mpourmpakis’s CANELa lab will use computational modeling and machine learning to understand how the dehydrogenation of alkanes takes place on metal oxides, and use that knowledge to screen a wide range of metal oxides and their properties for use in the process.

Congratulations Dr. Mpourmpakis!

Jyoti Katoch receives DOE Early Career Grant to probe quantum matter

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 7 August 2019

Jyoti Katoch, assistant professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University, has received a prestigious early career grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Katoch’s research focuses on understanding the properties of two-dimensional quantum materials.

The grant will allow Katoch, a condensed matter physicist, and her research group in Carnegie Mellon’s Lab for Investigating Quantum Materials, Interfaces and Devices (LIQUID) to investigate quantum materials using advanced technologies. 2D materials are the thinnest known materials. When these materials are stacked together, they form heterostructures with unique quantum properties, such as superconductivity. By changing the layers of materials, researchers can finely tune the heterostructure’s electronic and physical properties.

Under the DOE grant, Katoch will probe the spatially resolved electronic band structure of 2D quantum materials, including those made by stacking graphene and transition metal dichalcogenides, and engineer the materials’ properties by making nanoscale perturbations in superlattices and adatoms found in the materials’ heterostructures. They will do this by further developing in-operando nanoARPES, an experimental technique that combines spectroscopy and microscopy to study the band structures of quantum systems under non-equilibrium conditions.

John Keith receives NSF funding for water sterilization research

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 7 August 2019

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund collaborative research at the University of Pittsburgh’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, PhD, 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.  

Dr. Keith’s research group will use computer modeling to study how water can react to form ozone in electrochemical cells.  

Mimicking nature with the aid of machine learning

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 24 July 2019

Computational modeling and experimental research are used in a synergistic manner to develop and understand advanced materials in Professor Paul Leu's lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. In collaboration with SigOpt and NETL, his team created a nanostructure glass that takes inspiration from the wings of the glasswing butterfly to create a new type of glass that is not only very clear across a wide variety of wavelengths and angles, but is also antifogging. Glass for technologies like displays, tablets, laptops,  smartphones, and solar cells need to pass light through, but could benefit from a surface that repels water, dirt, oil, and other liquids.

The team recently published a paper detailing their findings: “Creating Glasswing-Butterfly Inspired Durable Antifogging Omniphobic Supertransmissive, Superclear Nanostructured Glass Through Bayesian Learning and Optimization” in Materials Horizons. “Something significant about the nanostructured glass research, in particular, is that we partnered with SigOpt to use machine learning to reach our final product,” says Dr. Leu. “When you create something like this, you don’t start with a lot of data, and each trial takes a great deal of time. We used machine learning to suggest variables to change, and it took us fewer tries to create this material as a result.” 

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