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NSF Grant Provides Research Opportunities for Undergraduates at Pitt

PITTSBURGH, PA (May 17, 2017) … According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), research experience is one of the most effective avenues for attracting students to and retaining them in science and engineering, as well as to preparing them for careers in these fields. Thanks to NSF, an engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will once again be able to better prepare undergraduates for academia, research, and industry. 

The NSF awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant to provide undergraduate students with research opportunities in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. The three-year, $425,000 grant will fund a 10-week summer research program for students and provide them with a stipend and financial assistance for food, housing, and travel.

Principal Investigator Joseph McCarthy, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will lead the REU program. Dr. McCarthy co-authored the grant proposal “REU Site: Enhancing Knowledge Integration Through Undergraduate Research – Particle-based Functional Materials for Energy, Sustainability, and Biomedicine.” Co-Principal Investigator Taryn M. Bayles, also a professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will assist with the REU program.

As a Particle-based Functional Materials (PFM) REU grant, the student research will comprise computational and experimental studies of materials that fulfill a specific function either because of their particulate nature or the influence of particles on structure. The program will admit 12 students each year beginning in 2017 and take place between May and August. 

“The impact of this program for these young students cannot be overstated,” said Steven Little, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “My own story goes all the way back to 1998 when I came to the University of Pittsburgh as an undergraduate student that applied to the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering through an REU program. That experience is likely a major part of why I went to graduate school in the first place.”

The PFM REU program is in its third round of funding and is the second funded grant for the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering to help provide research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students focused on this topic. For more than a decade, this REU program combined with a similar program called the PFM Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowships have provided both undergraduate and graduate students with research opportunities at Pitt. By the end of this funding cycle, these combined programs will have sponsored over 100 students to pursue their research goals.

In addition to working with Pitt graduate students and faculty, undergraduate students accepted in the REU program will work in teams on a “cross-training” internship. They will complete a mini-project in a different area of particle-based functional materials. They can also attend weekly seminars on topics such as laboratory safety, research integrity and oral presentation skills. Students will have the opportunity to participate in social, recreational and cultural activities. The program will include an Ethics Forum in the middle of the ten weeks and will conclude with a Research Symposium.

Dr. McCarthy is recognized for his impact on undergraduate engineering education. He is the primary architect of the Pillars curriculum in Chemical Engineering, an award winning block-scheduled curriculum for chemical engineering undergraduates that is the first fully integrated engineering curriculum. Additionally, he oversees both of Pitt’s undergraduate and graduate programs in chemical and petroleum engineering, and is the recipient of a Carnegie Science Award for Higher Education (2008), the Swanson School of Engineering Outstanding Educator award (2012), and the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award (2015). 

For more information visit: http://granular.che.pitt.edu/PFM/PFM-REU/


Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Contact: Paul Kovach