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Pitt Cyber Announces Accelerator Grant Recipients

Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security is pleased to announce its awardees for the fall 2020 Pitt Cyber Accelerator Grants Program, which provides support for projects that aim to establish or reinforce Pitt and Pitt Cyber as places of distinction and excellence in cyber studies and practice. 

The grants provide initial funding for novel and innovative multidisciplinary efforts 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. 

Learn about the 11 recipients and details of the four projects and the grants and see the complete list of recipients since 2018.

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Pitt Students Win Gold Medal in Genetically Engineered Machine Competition

As part of a virtual research competition, a team of Pitt undergraduates explored whether a comparable equivalent to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies could allow scientists to wirelessly manipulate cell behavior and control gene expression. 

The group pitched this idea for the 2020 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research event in which teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. More than 250 teams participated in the organization’s first Virtual Giant Jamboree, and the Pitt undergraduate group received a gold medal for their project titled “Bluetooth Bacteria.”

This year’s group was also one of three teams that were nominated for “Best Foundational Advance Project.” This is the first time a Pitt iGEM team has been nominated for an award at the iGEM competition.

The team included Sabrina Catalano, a senior molecular biology student in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; Dara Czernikowski, a senior biological sciences student; Lia Franco, a junior chemical engineering student; Victor So, a senior microbiology and English literature student; and Chenming (Angel) Zheng, a junior molecular biology student.

Clyde Wilson Pickett in a black suit and red bow tie

Clyde Wilson Pickett Named Chair of National Anti-Racism Task Force

The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) has tapped Clyde Wilson Pickett, Pitt vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, to lead its taskforce for “creating a framework for advancing anti-racism strategy on campus.”

Pickett will lead a group of 11 diversity officers from institutions like Northern Illinois University, Kent State University and Lehigh University. The taskforce has an accelerated timeframe for developing a proposed campus framework.

“It is my honor and privilege to be selected to help assist with this effort. The work of diversity officers is pivotal in helping higher education and campuses all around the country advance their anti-racism efforts,” said Pickett. “As a team it is our goal to learn and share practical strategies to help confront racism on campuses and communities around the country.”

As the pre-eminent voice for chief diversity officers in higher education and with more than 1,100 members representing 750 colleges and universities, NADOHE's mission is to lead higher education towards inclusive excellence through institutional transformation. For more information about NADOHE, visit the organization’s website.

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LifeX Labs Enters Alliance for Industry Growth

LifeX Labs, supported in part by the University of Pittsburgh, recently announced it is forming a strategic alliance with the Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse to accelerate growth in the industry. 

Together, the organizations will provide educational programming resources, company acceleration activities and networking opportunities for early-stage life science companies throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. The collaboration will provide innovators a one-stop-shop for everything they need to advance their endeavors, from laboratory development to commercialization. 

The new alliance comes just as the Henry L. Hillman and R.K. Mellon Foundations are also throwing their support behind LifeX Labs’ mission of helping translate life sciences innovations into commercial successes. Their funds will serve to streamline support for regional startups. This will be the R.K. Mellon Foundation’s first financial support of LifeX Labs.

Hrvoje Petek in a black suit and white shirt

Physics and Astronomy’s Hrvoje Petek Publishes in Nature

Hrvoje Petek, R. K. Mellon Professor in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics and Astronomy is co-author of the article, "Plasmonic Topological Quasiparticle on the Nanometre And Femtosecond Scales," featured in the Dec. 23, 2020, issue of Nature.

In his research, Petek examined ideas surrounding the origins of light, taking snapshots of light, stopping light and using it to change properties of matter. He worked with collaborators Chen-Bin (Robin) Huang of the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and Atsushi Kubo of the Tsukuba University of Japan, as well as Dietrich School graduate student Yanan Dai on the experiments.

The team performed an ultrafast microscopy experiment where they trapped green light pulses as composite light-electron density fluctuation waves and imaged their propagation on a silver surface at the speed of light. These light waves came together from two sides to form a light vortex where light waves appeared to circulate about a stationary common core as a whirlwind of waves. The light vortex fields can potentially cause transitions in the quantum mechanical phase order in solid state materials, such that the transformed material structure and its mirror image cannot be superimposed, thus generating two materials that are topologically distinct.

Petek said such topological phase transitions are at the vanguard of physics research because they are thought to be responsible for some aspects of the structure of the universe. “Even the forces of nature, including light, are thought to have emerged as symmetry breaking transitions of a primordial field. Thus, the ability to record the optical fields and plasmonic vortices in the experiment opens the way to perform ultrafast microscopy studies of related light-initiated phase transitions in condensed matter materials at the laboratory scale,” he said.

Petek is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recipient of the 2019 Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science and Technology, and winner of the University of Pittsburgh 2005 Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award. 

Melissa Bilec and April Dukes side by side with gray backgrounds

Faculty Lead $300K NSF Project for Inclusive Engineering Education

The National Science Foundation has awarded $300,000 for a Pitt-led collaborative research project that will provide engineering educators tangible guidance for operating an inclusive classroom.

Melissa Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and co-principal investigator April Dukes, faculty and Future Faculty Program director at the Swanson School’s Engineering Education Research Center, are partnering with faculty at Arizona State University and the Colorado School of Mines on the three-year project, “Collaborative Research: Increasing Implementation of Proven Inclusivity Practices in Undergraduate Engineering Education.”

Prior research shows that more inclusive classrooms improve student learning and academic performance, especially for underrepresented students. Read more about the project.

Oleg Prokopyev in a gray suit and white collared shirt

Swanson School’s Oleg Prokopyev Awarded NSF Grant for Wildfire Management Work

Industrial engineer and professor Oleg Prokopyev at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will collaborate with researchers at Texas A&M University on a project that will help optimize wildfire management.

Using advanced decision-making methods such as mixed-integer optimization and simulation the project will provide a better understanding of what types of fuel treatment options would be most effective and when to implement them.

“One strategy for mitigating forest fires is fuel treatment, which involves strategically removing some of the vegetation—the ‘fuel’ for the fire—with controlled burns, grazing or mechanical thinning,” said Prokopyev. “Our models will help predict when, where and how to best implement these methods.”

The project is expected to last three years and is funded by a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Of the total amount, $270,000 is designated for Pitt.

Catherine Grant in a pink top

Nursing’s Catherine Grant Wins Practitioners Award

Catherine Grant (NURS ’88G), assistant professor of nursing at the University of Pittsburgh, has been named the first recipient of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners’ Dr. Mona Counts Award.

Grant is the owner of Associates in Family Health Care. Based in Slickville, Pennsylvania, this clinic was the first in the state to be owned and operated by a nurse practitioner. Her practice provides health care services from birth to geriatrics, including acute and chronic care management; screenings and preventative services such as immunizations, Pap smears and gynecologic health. The practice also provides home visits for patients who are unable to make it into the clinic.

Grant is a previous recipient of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Excellence in Nursing recognition for her work in the community.

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Sheyann McPherson (A&S ’20) Receives Barry Scholarship to Oxford

Sheyann McPherson, who studied history and English literature in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and graduated from Pitt in December, has been awarded a Barry Scholarship to pursue the MPhil in Modern European History at Oxford University.

A member of the Bruderhof, a pacifist Christian minority group, McPherson studies modern European history to understand the dynamics of hate and reconciliation, exile and hospitality, and individualism and community.

Motivated by the group’s experience of marginalization and displacement—first by the Nazis, then by England, then by Paraguay to the US—McPherson’s academic pursuits extend past traditional research into poetry, multimedia, theater and journalism.

The Barry Scholarship is awarded in recognition of students’ dedication to the academic vocation and pursuit of truth, and provides full funding for a minimum of two years at Oxford. Funded by the John and Daria Barry Foundation, the scholarship is an initiative of the Canterbury Institute, an Oxford-based charity that seeks to rediscover the academic vocation.

Peggy Liu in a dark jacket against a dark blue background

Pitt Business’ Peggy Liu Named 2021 Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar

Pitt business faculty member Peggy Liu has been selected as a 2021 Marketing Science Institute (MSI) Young Scholar.

The biennial program recognizes the best young marketing academics in the world. The 2021 class is made up of 37 young scholars from business schools around the world, who are three to six years post-PhD and conducting research on critical marketing topics.

Liu, assistant professor of business administration and Ben L. Fryrear Faculty Fellow in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, conducts research on consumer behavior, focusing on judgment and decision making in the health and social domains. She also teaches undergraduate consumer behavior.

Among many other honors and awards, she was also recently named one of Poets & Quants 2020 Top 50 Undergraduate Business School Professors,

The 2021 MSI Young Scholars will convene this year for three days of research-sharing and to explore future collaborations.

Mohammad Masnadi in a dark blue suit and a white shirt

New Research Models the Environmental Impact of Refining Different Crude Oils

Recently published research led in part by the University of Pittsburgh uses engineering-based refinery modeling on crude oils to assess and track the lifecycle climate impacts of the oil and gas industry.

The authors, including Mohammad Masnadi, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, provide guidance on refining choices that will lessen the environmental impact of the industry and recommend future investments in emissions mitigation technologies. The research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers modeled 93% of the world’s oil as it flows to 153 refineries across the world, finding that global refining emissions could be reduced by 11-58% by targeting the primary emission sources. The research will, for the first time, estimate greenhouse gas emissions of oil refinery operations using a granular, engineering-based, bottom-up approach.

Brett Murphy in a yellow jacket and white striped dress shirt and tie

Alumnus Brett Murphy Named in Forbes' 30 Under 30 Class of 2021

Brett Murphy (A&S '13) was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2021 in the media category. 

Murphy is an investigative reporter for USA Today and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2018 for his work "Rigged," which examined injustices in the trucking industry. His investigation of a 2008 military attack on its own forces in Afghanistan earned him a Livingston Award in 2020. 

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Robert F. Lambert Named to Capital BlueCross Board of Directors​​​​​​​

Pitt alumnus Robert F. Lambert has been named to the Capital BlueCross board of directors. Capital BlueCross serves central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley with health insurance products and services.

Lambert joins the board with more than 25 years of experience leading York County Libraries, which encompasses 13 libraries that provide the latest in print and electronic information, best sellers, Wi-Fi, story times, book discussions and more. More than half of York County residents hold library cards and borrow more than 1.6 million items every year.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Capital BlueCross board of directors,” said Lambert. “Capital BlueCross is a leader in transforming the healthcare experience for consumers and our communities.”

Lambert received a master’s degree in library science from Pitt in 1995. He also has a master’s in public administration from Penn State University and a bachelor’s degree in speech communications from York College.

Lambert is CEO of LibrariesFeed, a nonprofit that connects public libraries with donors and corporations to fight child hunger. He is founder of an education company called Sir Newton Traders and is a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Library Development, as well as a board member of York Traditions Bank, York Academy Regional Charter School and the York Symphony Orchestra.

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Law Professor Jules Lobel Honored with Teaching Award

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) is honoring Pitt Professor of Law Jules Lobel with its SALT Great Teacher Award at its virtual annual awards celebration on Jan. 8, 2021.

This national award recognizes individuals that have made important contributions to teaching, legal education, and mentoring. Past Great Teacher honorees include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Pitt Professor Derrick Bell (LAW ’57).

Calling Lobel “a champion of justice, diversity and teaching excellence,” the awards committee praised Lobel’s work in integrating his impactful and important social justice work into the courses he teaches at Pitt. Lobel has long been a leading voice in the campaign to end solitary confinement and improve the inhumane conditions of mass incarceration.

In 2002, he co-counseled a major class action (Wilkinson v. Austin) that challenged prolonged solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. Lobel ultimately argued the case at the U.S. Supreme Court and, despite the steep odds at the outset, was able to successfully secure relief on behalf of his clients. As is his practice with all his work, Lobel’s students conducted research, wrote memoranda, held strategy sessions, attended the argument, and met with human rights organizations and co-counsel while in Washington, D.C.

SALT also mentioned Lobel’s work as president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he has litigated several cases challenging human rights violations and abuse of war powers. His most recent cases involve a class action brought on behalf of prisoners with mental disabilities and challenging conditions at jails in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Said Pitt Law Dean Amy Wildermuth: “The full extent of Professor Lobel’s impact is not only what he has done, as incredible as his work is, but the work that his students and former students do and have been doing for decades. They remain inspired by him and are determined to pursue justice just as he taught them to do. We are all better—and our world is better—because of Professor Lobel.”

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Shawn Ellies Appointed Director of Security and Emergency Management

Commander Shawn Ellies has been appointed Director of Security and Emergency Management, overseeing the Integrated Security Department, which includes the University’s physical security, access controls and emergency management areas within the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management.

Ellies brings demonstrated leadership effectiveness to his expanded role. He has served the Pitt community for the past 23 years in public safety roles including patrol officer, shift sergeant, shift lieutenant, administrative lieutenant, commander of the special emergency response team and commander of operations. 

He holds a doctorate in administration and policy studies from Pitt’s School of Education, a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a master’s degree in leadership and management from Duquesne University. 

He is the chair of the American Society of Industrial Security’s Pittsburgh chapter, in addition to chairing Pitt’s Veterans Affinity Group

Additionally, Ellies is an ASIS Certified Protection Professional, a credential that is recognized as the gold standard for security management professionals worldwide.

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Matthew Sterne Joins OBID Board of Directors

Matthew Sterne, vice chancellor for business services at Pitt, has joined the board of directors of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID).

Formed in 1999, OBID represents a diverse group of decision makers in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, including property and business owners, universities, hospitals, city government, community and cultural nonprofits. Its mission is to create a vibrant and dynamic business district. 

Board members are elected to a three-year term.

Sterne oversees the office of business and auxiliary services at Pitt, including housing, dining, transportation and mobility, the University Club, University retail stores, conference services, Panther Central, mailing and print production. 

“He is joining us at a great moment,” said Georgia Petropoulos, OBID executive director, noting that the board has just completed a new Organizational Strategic Plan for shaping Oakland’s future. “His expertise will help us navigate current challenges as we work to realize this growth.” 

Monica Rattigan, executive director of University stores and strategic initiatives at Pitt, and Paul Supowitz, the University’s vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, also serve on the OBID board. 

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Pitt Law Professors Named to Civil Rights Advisory Committee

Two professors from Pitt’s School of Law have been named to the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights—an independent agency developed by Congress in 1957 to focus on matters of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin. There are advisory boards in all 50 states.

Associate Professor Jessie Allen (left) and Professor Mary Crossley have been appointed to the panel for a four-year term. They will consult with members of the commission and offer advice and recommendations on the areas they have studied.

Allen, a civil rights advocate, teaches courses on jurisprudence, legal ethics and property. She writes in the area of legal theory including a long-running series of essays on the work of William Blackstone, some of which appear on her blog Blackstone Weekly. Prior to her position at Pitt, Allen was a staff attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where her practice focused on challenging state laws that bar voting because of criminal conviction.

Crossley, a widely respected scholar in disability and health law, has studied pressing legal issues presented by advances in medical science. Those topics include discrimination in the treatment of infants with HIV infection and newborns with disabilities as well as the ramifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Crossley is director of Pitt Law’s Health Law Program and teaches courses in health law, bioethics and law, and family law, among others. She served as the dean of Pitt Law from 2005 to 2012.

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Bob Chamberlain Joins Pitt as Emergency Coordinator

Bob Chamberlain has joined Pitt’s Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management as emergency coordinator, in support of the Pitt community.

In this position, Chamberlain collaborates with the University’s emergency management team to develop, implement and assess emergency plans; serves as an emergency management liaison with local, state and federal officials; oversees emergency communications systems; leads the Emergency Operations Center; and trains others on disaster response and compliance.

He is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer with 24 years of joint, interagency, multinational and counterterrorism experience throughout the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.

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New Initiative Offers Courses, Lectures, Community Outreach in Taiwan Studies

A new initiative at Pitt’s Asian Studies Center (ASC) is putting the focus on Taiwan—an island whose history encapsulates important historical and cultural forces that helped to shape Asia.

“Centering Taiwan in Global Asia,” which will be rolled out next year, has three components:

  • Two new courses in Taiwan Studies—Taiwan Diaspora: From Island to Home in a Global Context and The History of Modern Taiwanwill be offered. They will be taught by Shih-yung Liu, who obtained his PhD from Pitt in 2020 and taught for many years at Academia Sinica in Taiwan.
  • A robust community engagement program that will help regional educators learn more about Taiwan’s culture and religion; provide teaching and lesson plans to as many as 460 K-12 teachers in other states, including those who teach under-represented students; and offer a new Global Asia website to teachers for lesson planning.
  • A Taiwan Studies lecture and film series that will invite leading intellectuals to Pittsburgh to deliver lectures and meet with Pitt faculty, students and members of community groups. A Taiwanese film will be added to the ASC’s annual Screenshot Asiafilm festival.
     

ASC Director Joseph Alter said the Global Asia initiative will help to introduce the island’s unique culture and history to a broader audience of teachers, students and the general public.

“Understanding Taiwan means more than remembering a location on a map,” said Alter. “Recognizing Taiwan as emblematic of the historical and contemporary forces that connect Asia to the United States and the world will work to develop a stronger and nuanced understanding of what it means to be Taiwanese and build a deeper appreciation of its role in shaping modern Asia.”

Pitt’s ASC, which is part of the University Center for International Studies, provides more than 270 East Asian-focus courses taught by 137 faculty members and reaches about 8,540 students. 

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Engineering Students Selected for Power and Energy Scholarships

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society (PES) selected four students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering for its 2020-21 Scholarship Plus Award. Eli Brock, Sabrina Helbig, Anthony Popovski and Maurice Sturdivant will each receive a financial award, one year of IEEE PES student membership, and mentorship from leading professionals in the power and energy industry.

The PES award recognizes high-achieving undergraduate electrical engineering students from across the nation, and over the last nine years, the Swanson School has consistently produced scholars in the program. Two of this year’s recipients—Brock and Popovski—are repeat scholars from the 2019-20 award program. 

“For the second year in a row, the Swanson School has had the most IEEE PES scholars in the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Robert Kerestes, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. “These awards are a testament to the strength of our undergraduate program and the quality of our students. I am proud of this achievement and look forward to seeing how these students tackle future challenges in the ever-changing power and energy industry.”