In the news

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.” 

NSF funds $10 million expansion to Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 17 July 2019

On the morning of July 9, the National Science Foundation announced a $10 million dollar grant to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) to fund a new piece of cutting-edge hardware for the local research institutions. Known as Bridges-2, the machine, currently under construction by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, will specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning and is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2020.

Amazon prime deal on quantum computers

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 17 July 2019

If only! This headline might be a near-future reality soon enough though as a collaborative effort between UPitt professor Hrvoje Petek and a team at the University of Tsukuba has made progress towards affordable consumer quantum computers. Studying a novel process for creating coherent lattice waves inside silicon crystals using ultrashort laser pulses (shown in image), they were able to show that coherent vibrational signals could be maintained inside the samples. This research may lead to quantum computers based on existing silicon devices that can rapidly perform tasks out of the reach of even the fastest supercomputers now available.

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.