Malaria kills over half a million people per year—but BME Ph.D. candidate Blue Martin has developed an electricity-free, cellphone-sized magnetophoretic separation device that uses magnets to filter malaria-infected red blood cells out of a patient’s system. The device is about the size of a smartphone. It works by passing malaria-infected blood in a very thin layer, as thin as a piece of human hair, over a very carefully designed array of magnets and ferromagnetic wires, which separates the malaria-infected cells from the healthy cells, thanks to the fact that malaria makes red blood cells magnetic. Once the blood is separated, the infected blood can be filtered out while the clean blood is cycled back into the body.
Carbon nanotubes, or tiny hollow cylinders of one-atom-thick carbon sheets, are strong, flexible, and hugely promising for many fields, such as nanotechnology and electronics. But Associate Professor of ChemE/BME Kris Dahl and Associate Research Professor of MSE Mohammad Islam are collaborating to aim these carbon nanotubes towards medicine.
Dahl and Islam engineer proteins which wrap around specific types of drugs so they can be delivered to the body more effectively. The drugs, when being delivered to the body’s cells, sit on the surface of the carbon nanotubes, then are covered by proteins.
When feeding a dog a pill, you might wrap it in cheese to mask the medicine. To enhance drug delivery, Dahl and Islam have engineered proteins that wrap around the drug-coated nanotubes. The cells, which love these proteins, more readily take up the drug—much as a dog would more happily eat the cheese-coated pill. So when cells take in more of the drugs, the efficacy of the medicine increases dramatically.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
In 2011, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck Oklahoma, damaging 14 homes and injuring two people. The cause of the earthquake has been linked to activities related to oil and gas production, specifically wastewater disposal. The occurrence of such manmade quakes is called “induced seismicity.”
Among other efforts to reduce the risk associated with induced seismicity, CEE Ph.D. student Pengyun Wang, along with Professors Mitchell Small and Matteo Pozzi, have been working to develop approaches for detecting and quantifying increases in the frequency of manmade earthquakes, using data such as magnitudes and epicenters from Oklahoma quakes.
Through all of their work, the researchers are making it easier to determine when and where seismic activity presents danger—and if they can detect increases in activity early, they can implement strategies in time to mitigate the effects of earthquakes.
Electrical and Computer Engineering
In November of 2015, the Federal Communica-tions Commission (FCC) proposed an over-haul of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, which sends out alerts via phone to warn citizens of natural disasters. The revisions to WEA regulations—which include improving the clarity of WEA messages through increased message length and embedded URLs, improved geo-targeting, and periodic testing—will ensure that WEA messages only reach the subset of the population that’s in danger. On September 29, 2016, the FCC voted to instate the proposed updates.
The FCC’s proposed updates to the WEA regulations are supported by extensive re-search—including research performed by CMU-SV ECE faculty Martin Griss, Hakan Erdogmus, and Bob Iannucci through the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate First Responders Group’s WEA Program. This research was the basis for the proposed rule changes, which will empower state and local alert originators to participate more fully in WEA and ensure that relevant emergency information reaches the public in a timely and effective manner.
Engineering and Public Policy
When patients participate in a clinical trial, they are required—for legal and ethical reasons—to complete consent forms that are typically long, complicated, and filled with technical language. Some experts fear these forms can lead some patients to enroll in studies without fully understanding them and others to miss valuable opportunities.
To improve patient comprehension, Assistant Research Professor Tamar Krishnamurti and Research Scientist Nichole Argo have developed approaches to simplify the process by focusing on the information that patients need most when deciding whether to enroll in a trial. They let potential trial participants determine what information is most relevant, then created written and video versions of a shortened consent form focused on that information. Krishnamurti and Argo found that despite being 86% shorter, the new consent forms were equally effective at securing patient understanding and keeping patients engaged.
Materials Science and Engineering
When it comes to computers, people never look for “bigger and better”—they want “smaller and faster.” How do we continue to keep up with that demand? According to Assistant Research Professor Vincent Sokalski, the answer may be in the fundamental origins of magnets—the spin of electrons.
Sokalski and his group study the interaction of electron spins in magnetic materials poised for use in next-generation cellphones and computers, discovering how to better measure and predict the changing magnetic state of those materials. This new understanding is exciting for the future of computing technology, because it will allow scientists to explore and develop materials that are more energy-efficient and faster than traditional semiconductor-based materials. To come to this new understanding, Sokalski and his group leveraged the power of a 19th century mathematical technique called the “Wulff Construction,” traditionally used by mineralogists and crystallographers to study the formation of gemstone facets.
The Department of Mechanical Engineering has recently acquired an ExOne Innovent Research & Education 3-D Printer, a metals additive manufacturing machine designed for education and laboratory environments, in order to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Jointly funded by a Dean’s Equipment Grant and a Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance (PITA) Grant, the Innovent uses binder jetting technology to 3-D print complex parts in industry-grade materials.
Carnegie Mellon University is the only U.S. university to currently offer metals additive manufacturing to all of its mechanical engineering undergraduate students, and the acquisition of the Innovent will allow the hundreds of students who take additive manufacturing courses to create metal parts they design. Only mechanical engineering undergraduates currently have access to the Innovent, but the College of Engineering envisions being able to introduce metals additive manufacturing to all engineering undergraduate students within the next few years.