Biomedical Engineering

Heart pumps, which assist more than three million Americans with congestive heart failure each year, lead to a staggering number of infections; many of which are deadly. To be exact, one in three patients with heart pumps develop infection. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is keenly aware of the problem, and they have awarded a $1.2 million grant to Assistant Professor of BME Dennis Trumble to make a better, safer heart pump.

Because the vast majority of heart pump infections occur at the spot where the pump’s power cord exits the body, Trumble believes the power cord should never exit the body, instead drawing power from an internal source. That power source, Trumble believes, could be a muscle in the patient’s back.

“The idea is to collect energy generated by the latissimus dorsi, a large muscle in the back,” says Trumble. “Then we can convert that energy into hydraulics that can be used to activate the heart pump.”

Materials Science and Engineering

Phononic crystals are a class of microstructured materials that can be used in applications from energy technologies such as batteries or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to entirely new technologies. Despite their wide range of applications, phononic crystals are difficult to manufacture because they rely on expensive microfabrication techniques to ensure that no structural defects occur while the material is being created. Structural defects can compromise heat and energy conductivity—until now.

An international team of researchers including Michael Bockstaller, professor of MSE, developed a solution to this problem by engineering the microstructure of particles assembled into phononic crystal structures to have a high tolerance to structural defects. Bockstaller used a technique developed by Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, J.C. Warner University Professor of Natural Sciences in the Department of Chemistry.

This new concept allows researchers to trade in expensive microfabrication processes for a simpler self-assembly process. “The beauty of self-assembly is that it is scalable, fast, inexpensive, and can be done in any lab,” explains Bockstaller. Because structural defects are unavoidable when particles self-assemble, this process could not previously be used to manufacture phononic crystals.

Chemical Engineering

This summer, nearly 600 researchers from 22 countries gathered at Carnegie Mellon to participate in the 89th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry. The meeting highlighted the latest scientific advances in colloid and surface science—an interdisciplinary field with wide-reaching applications in biomedical, pharmaceutical, and electronic areas.

Over 100 Carnegie Mellon faculty and graduate students participated in the meeting, discussing research like the development of advanced drug delivery methods and using nanotechnology to clean up oil spills.

“Carnegie Mellon has a deep-rooted history with colloid and surface science. It was exciting to showcase that expertise through hosting this meeting,” says Robert Tilton, professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering. Tilton co-chaired the meeting with Jim Schneider, professor of chemical engineering, and Stephen Garoff, professor and department head of physics.

This marks the third year the meeting was held at Carnegie Mellon, which was previously held at CMU in 1984 and 2001.

Civil and Environmental Engineering

In January, 2015, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering formally established the Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation (CERCA).

CERCA is an interdisciplinary research center committed to developing a suite of novel methods, tools, and analyses needed to incorporate the impacts of climate change into engineering infrastructure designs and decision-making.

With a foundation in civil and environmental engineering methods, the Center adds expertise from multiple engineering disciplines, public policy, social and decision sciences, and other fields with a goal of changing the way we think about infrastructure.

“We feel that understanding climate change adaptation for infrastructure will be essential for civil and environmental engineers, whether they are just starting out or already leaders in the field,” says Costantine Samaras.

Mechanical Engineering

Associate Professor Steve Collins of MechE and his collaborator Greg Sawicki at North Carolina State University have developed a lightweight, unpowered, wearable exoskeleton device called the Walking Assist Clutch to reduce the energy cost of human walking. This wearable boot-like apparatus, when attached to the foot and ankle, reduces the energy expended in walking by around 7% by using a spring that acts like the Achilles’ tendon and a clutch that mimics the calf muscles.

While 7% may seem like a small reduction in energy, the added support will benefit many populations—particularly those recovering from injuries or whose professions require much standing or walking.

“Think of nurses, emergency response workers, soldiers, or the millions of other people who walk many hours a day,” says Collins. “7% would make a difference to them.”

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Marios Savvides, research professor of ECE and director of the CyLab Biometrics Center, is developing a long-range iris enrollment and recognition system. This “iris scanner” system is able to acquire images of eyes from a range of up to 12 meters, with image quality comparable to shorter range systems that are already being deployed.

Innovative devices and technologies capable of analyzing such traits as retinas, irises, voice patterns, facial features, and hand measurements are already being used for biometric authentication across a wide array of areas including corporate and public security systems, military surveillance, counter-terrorism initiatives and point of sale applications. But Savvides’ long-range acquisition capability, in conjunction with the iris segmentation and matching techniques developed within the Center, pushes the boundaries of existing iris recognition systems.

Such marked improvement of this technology will have many applications for the future, such as prevention of human trafficking, reduction of traffic violence and increase in biometric password security.

Engineering and Public Policy

Associate Department Head and Professor Scott Matthews and Assistant Teaching Professor Deanna Matthews have received a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop online and traditional course materials related to environmental performance standards, with a specific focus on ISO 14040. This is a life cycle assessment standard designed to highlight the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifespan and areas for improvement in its production and use.