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Prize Winners Awarded for PittChallenge Hackathon

The fourth annual Pitt Challenge hackathon, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, recently announced this year’s winners.

The virtual competition had 77 total participants from a record 36 universities worldwide and 16 total projects submitted.

The winners included the following:

  • 1st prize, $1,500, Our Experience, a crowdsourced platform for patients to report side effects of drugs based on their clinical information.
  • 2nd prize, $1,000, Pandemic Simulator, a virtual simulator that demonstrates the challenge of implementing healthcare policy during a pandemic, especially in balancing both public health and the economy.
  • 3rd prize, $500, MindWatch, a direct-to-consumer product that collects data about cognition over time and displays it to health workers to help guide decision making.
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New Research Develops Testing Method for Shoe Tread

Research led by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering that examines shoe tread wear and tear over time was recently published in the journal Applied Ergonomics.

The team, led by Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt, developed a pass/fail testing method that assesses the worn condition of slip-resistant shoes. The test compares a worn patch of shoe tread to the base of a AA battery. If the patch of worn tread is larger than the battery’s base, the shoe fails the slip-resistant test. Worn shoes are known to contribute to slip-and-fall risk, a common cause of workplace injuries. The method will be free for companies to use to prevent workplace injuries.

The team worked with researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the India Institute of Technology-Delhi.

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Colin Allen Named American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow

Colin Allen, a distinguished professor in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History and Philosophy of Science, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Allen was elected as part of the section on history and philosophy of science for “his significant contributions to philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of cognitive science and in logic, computation and artificial intelligence.”

Allen is one of 489 members inducted this year. On Feb. 13, 2021, there will be a virtual fellows’ forum with an induction ceremony for new fellows.

AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, Science Advances, Science Immunology and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. The nonprofit AAAS aims to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement and more.

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‘Ghosts of Amistad’ Documentary Now Accessible Online

The award-winning documentary “Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels,” directed by Tony Buba and produced by Pitt Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History Marcus Rediker, is now available to view online for free on Pitt’s YouTube and Vimeo channels. Rediker teaches in the Department of History, part of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

The film chronicles a journey to Sierra Leone in 2013 to visit the home villages of the rebels who captured the slave schooner Amistad in 1839. The filmmakers interviewed elders about local memory of the incident through the oral tradition and searched for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where the cruel transatlantic voyage began. Rediker and Buba relied on the knowledge of villagers, fishermen and truck drivers to recover a lost history from below in the struggle against slavery and to restore the popular memory of the Atlantic slave trade.

“In a time when many Americans and others around the world are eager to learn about racial injustice and its history, it is crucial to have this film about the slave trade—and successful resistance to the slave trade—as a resource,” said Rediker, adding that his primary goal in making the film was “to create the best possible educational tool for the widest possible audience.”

“Ghosts of Amistad” is also available, with subtitles, in French, Italian and Spanish. The film was awarded the John E. O’Connor Film Prize by the American Historical Association as the best historical documentary of 2015.  It has been screened around the world—in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Bologna and throughout the United States.

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School of Medicine’s Tamar Krishnamurti Wins 2020 Kuno Award

Tamar Krishnamurti, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, was recently announced as the winner of the 2020 Kuno Award for Applied Science, a grant through the S&R Foundation.

The $100,000 award is a biennial award designed to support women social innovators using scientific research and principles to address a 21st century problem. The award supports the translation of scientific research to a practical, real-world solution for those aiming to achieve broad social impact. 

Krishnamurti’s research examines problems that meet at the intersection of health, risk, technology and the environment. Currently, she is looking at risk perception and communication and the development of mobile health strategies to identify and intervene on health risks, including pregnancy-related risks.

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Suzanne Lane Appointed to National Assessment Governing Board

Suzanne Lane, a professor in the School of Education, has been appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board, the entity behind the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Lane, a 35-year faculty member of Pitt will serve a four-year term on the board. She has formerly served as president of the National Council on Measurement in Education and vice president of Division D of the American Educational Research Association. Read more about the appointment and her work.

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SHREC Partners with Pittsburgh Robotics Company on Space Technology Advancements

The National Science Foundation Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), led by the University of Pittsburgh, recently entered into a partnership with Pittsburgh-based space robotics company Astrobotic to develop new software and hardware technologies for future space applications.

A diverse cohort of researchers, scientists and engineers at Astrobotic and SHREC will share intellectual property, domain expertise and practical know-how to develop space computing platforms, among other technologies. The teams have already kicked off collaboration on Astrobotic’s Phase II NASA SBIR contract to develop UltraNav, a compact smart camera for next-generation space missions.

“On behalf of all students and faculty in SHREC, we are most honored to be partnering with the leading space company in our region,” said Alan George, SHREC Center Director and R&H Mickle Endowed Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “We look forward to many collaborations on space research, technologies, experiments and workforce development.”

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University Interfaith Office Receives Youth Core Award

The University Interfaith Office was recognized with the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, a national non-profit organization whose “We Are Each Other’s” campaign aims to support interfaith leaders responding to the current national crises.

The office was recognized for “Interfaith in Living Color,” an idea proposal that Emiola Oriola, director of the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement, hopes will emphasize the complexities of people’s lives and how identities intersect.

“The goal is to have people submit short written stories with pictures, similar to the ‘Humans of New York’ projects on Facebook and Instagram,” said Oriola. “The project is meant to highlight the nuances in our identities, the why to our what, and bring context to content.”

The program is planned to begin Monday, Jan. 18, 2021—coinciding with the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday—and will continue through February’s Black History Month. In addition to being shared on social media, the stories will be archived on a website, and participants will be entered into a raffle to win prizes from the office.

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Mark Gladwin Receives Distinguished Scientist Designation from American Heart Association

Mark Gladwin, the Jack D. Myers Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, has been recognized by the American Heart Association as a distinguished scientist, the highest honor bestowed upon a science volunteer by the association. This prestigious title is bestowed on an elite group of scientists whose work has importantly advanced the understanding of cardiovascular disease, stroke and brain health.

Gladwin has published more than 450 manuscripts in the fields of vascular and nitrite biology. Among his major scientific discoveries is the finding that nitrite salt is a biological signaling molecule that regulates physiological and pathological hypoxic responses, blood pressure and flow, and cell function. His studies have translated to the clinical and epidemiological description of pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary complications of sickle cell disease.

Gladwin currently serves as principal investigator on a new multi-center clinical trial of Riociguat to treat patients with sickle cell disease and pulmonary hypertension as well as principal investigator on a multi-center trial, called the “Sickle Cell Disease and Cardiovascular Risk—Red Cell Exchange Trial.”

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SCI Researcher Malihe Alikhani Wins Grant to Support Underrepresented Students

Malihe Alikhani, assistant professor of computer science in the School of Computing and Information at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received a Google ExploreCSR grant to support students from underrepresented groups to pursue graduate studies and research careers in computing.

Since 2018, the exploreCSR awards have supported universities in designing and hosting research-focused workshops during the academic year that expose students from underrepresented groups to computing research methodologies, career pathways and exploratory problems.

Alikhani’s research interests are in natural language processing (language technology), cognitive science and human computation.

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Michael MacKenzie Co-Authors Piece Arguing for More Open Disagreement Among Scientists in Political Settings

Michael MacKenzie, assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Art and Sciences, recently co-authored an analysis piece published in the British Medical Journal arguing for more open disagreement and diversity in expertise among scientists in political settings.

MacKenzie worked with Alfred Moore from the University of York in the United Kingdom on the piece. MacKenzie’s research focuses on democratic theory, political representation and public engagement among other areas.

The two suggest that scientific experts be allowed to carefully craft messaging rather than having political committee deliberations published to eliminate misinterpretation, have experts vote to form collective judgments, take the selection of relevant experts out of the hands of political leaders and encourage competing groups of experts to contribute to policy debates.

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Portfolio Company to Join LifeX Labs Incubator Program

LifeX Labs recently announced that a new portfolio company, Duo Oncology, will be joining its Incubator program. Duo Oncology is developing ultra-small nanoparticles that can carry multiple agents deep into established tumors. The company is developing its lead product, DUO-207, for pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and other hard-to-treat tumors. 

The LifeX Labs Incubator program serves as a springboard for transformational startup companies in Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions through a series of curated services, affordable office and lab space, and industry and investor networks to launch and grow new ventures. LifeX Labs is supported by the University of Pittsburgh and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

“We are looking forward to having Duo Oncology join our ever-growing ecosystem. They are creating a product that is trying to solve a significant challenge in cancer therapy. This company has the possibility to save lives impacted by cancer, as their product, which helps therapies reach cancer cells, is unlike any other technology,” said Evan Facher, interim CEO of LifeX Labs and director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

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Undergrad Taylor Daniels Receives Prestigious Chemical Engineering Scholarship

Taylor Daniels, a senior studying chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has received the prestigious 2019-2020 Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship.

The $1,000 scholarship is awarded to 15 AIChE student members annually based on their academic achievement and involvement in student chapter activities. AlChE is an organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 60,000 members.

“I am so honored to have received the 2020 Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship from AIChE and am excited to attend my first AIChE Annual Student Conference this month to virtually receive my award,” said Daniels. “I hope to continue my involvement in AIChE as I begin my career by continuing to attend conferences, building my professional network through AIChE, and also taking advantage of training and continuing education credits.”

Read more about the award.

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Company Has ‘Largest IPO’ Out of Any Pitt Spinout

Oncorus, a company spun out of the University of Pittsburgh, recently initiated an initial public stock offering, raising nearly $90 million as it enters clinical trials on its oncolytic virus cancer therapy. That amount is being called the “largest IPO of a Pitt spinout” by the University’s Innovation Institute.

The technology for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company was licensed from Pitt from the lab of Joseph Glorioso, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Glorioso was one of the founders of Oncorus and is chair of the company’s scientific advisory board. The company, founded in 2016, had previously raised approximately $140 million in private investment.

“It’s great. It’s a substantial amount of money,” said Glorioso. “It’s really based on not only the technology within the company being tested in patients, but also other technologies that are very exciting and will be used to treat people with cancer.”

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LRDC Scientists Receive $900,000 Grant to Study Robots in Math Classrooms

Erin Walker (pictured), associate professor in the School of Computing and Information (SCI) and research scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), has been named principal investigator for a $900,000 National Science Foundation grant to study the use of robots in middle school math classrooms. Co-principal investigators on the grant are Diane Litman, professor of computer science and senior scientist in the LRDC; Timothy Nokes-Malach, associate professor of psychology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and research scientist in the LRDC; and Adriana Kovashka, assistant professor in  SCI.

Walker and colleagues will investigate the use of robots to support collaborative learning. When students work together with an intelligent tutoring system such as a robot, they are able to learn more and explain their reasoning while also building on each other’s ideas. Walker and colleagues will investigate if the robot’s gaze or gestures, combined with dialogue, can promote middle school students' collaborative interactions and lead to more math learning. The main goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of how robots can be integrated effectively in learning environments.

Walker has also recently received a Google AI 2020 Award for Inclusion Research with colleague Leshell Hatley, of Coppin State University in Baltimore. In this work, Walker and Hatley are collaborating on a project to develop a dialogue system for a culturally responsive robot.

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Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov Named ‘Science Superhero’

Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Antibody Therapeutics was recently named one of 10 “Science Superheroes” by MediFind.

Dimitrov was recognized on the list as one of the first to discover neutralizing antibodies for the original SARS coronavirus in 2003. In the ensuing years, his team discovered potent antibodies against many other infectious diseases. His lab recently isolated the smallest biological molecule to date that completely and specifically neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the cause of COVID-19.

The antibody center is housed within the Division of Infectious Diseases at Pitt and is a key component of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center.

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Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report for FY2019 Released

Pitt is actively working toward carbon neutrality by 2037, with an incremental goal of 50% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than 2008 by 2030. 

The University’s fiscal year 2019 inventory indicates Pitt has already reduced GHG emissions by 21%. Dig into the details about how Pitt has been tracking and reducing our GHG impact over time through inventories published triennially since 2008 or check out the GHG dashboard. Moving forward, the GHG inventory reports will be released annually.

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Heather Lyke Elected President of Women Leaders Organization

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke has been named president-elect of the Women Leaders in College Sports organization. Lyke will serve on a three-year executive track beginning this year.

Founded in 1979, Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) is the only nationally recognized collegiate professional membership organization whose mission is to develop, connect and advance women leaders working in intercollegiate athletics. With more than 3,500 members, the organization promotes the growth, leadership and success of women as athletics administrators, conference commissioners, professional staff, coaches and student-athletes.

In a release naming Lyke president-elect, along with new members of its board of directors and nominating committees, the organization highlighted Lyke’s leadership of Pitt Athletics, including her recruitment of new head coaches, rebranding of the University’s athletic marks and logos and unveiling of Pitt Studios.

Lyke served on the Women Leaders board of directors from 2014-2018.

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SHRS Appoints New Associate Deans

The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences recently named four faculty to new associate dean positions in an effort to address major school-wide initiatives.

For each faculty leader’s roles, visit the school’s page.

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Maragaret Rosenzweig Wins Nursing Award for Academic and Clinical Work

Margaret Rosenzweig, a two-time alumna and Distinguished Service Professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, is the 2020 recipient of the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research’s President’s Award (FNINR).

The award is given annually to a researcher who engages both academia and clinical practice partners.

Rosenzweig has been principal investigator on 15 studies addressing cancer survivorship, symptom management, end of life care and disparities among women with breast cancer. Her work has contributed to the understanding of racial differences in the completion of breast cancer treatment and the identification of geographic risk for higher breast cancer mortality.