SVC for Research Rutenbar receives Pioneering Achievement Award

Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob A. Rutenbar has been named the 2021 SIGDA Pioneering Achievement Award recipient by the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM SIGDA) for his “extraordinary leadership in analog design automation and general EDA education.”

This award recognizes outstanding contributions within the scope of electronic design automation (EDA) and is based on the impact of the awardee’s work during their lifetime.

Rutenbar pioneered the first commercially viable software design tools for custom analog circuits. Previously regarded as a problem only solvable by human experts, his research showed how to build automated tools that reached human expert levels of design. His startup company Neolinear, Inc., successfully commercialized these ideas and was acquired by Cadence Design Systems, which became the nucleus of the large Cadence Pittsburgh R&D office.

At the start of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) revolution, he also recognized the need to teach the core ideas of EDA to a global audience. His classes on the Coursera MOOC platform were the first for this important technology, enrolling more than 100,000 learners to date.

As Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for research, Rutenbar provides strategic vision, leadership and partnership expertise to help University researchers and scholars advance their world-class research, scholarship and innovation. He also holds Distinguished Professor appointments in the School of Computing and Information and Swanson School of Engineering.

Rutenbar will be presented the ACM SIGDA Pioneer Award at the group's annual meeting.

Nursing’s Gallagher honored for work on NIH COVID-19 Guidelines Panel

School of Nursing Professor John Gallagher recently received special recognition for his contributions to the National Institute of Health (NIH) COVID-19 Guidelines Panel.

The panel has worked on COVID-19 treatment guidelines for front-line workers. Gallagher, the only nurse in the country appointed to the panel, has been a member since 2020.

Gallagher received a letter of appreciation in December for his work on the NIH “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Treatment Guidelines” from two of the nation’s top doctors — Francis Collins, former director of the NIH, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Gallagher’s work helped create treatment guidelines used across the country during the pandemic that supported clinicians who were caring for patients suffering from the illness.

“Your devotion to the process, participating in virtual meetings that typically occurred multiple times per week, and numerous hours spent in writing and editing content, are much appreciated,” Collins and Fauci wrote in the letter.

“We are proud that, with your help and contributions, the guidelines have been updated 38 times since their first release in April 2020, reflecting our rapidly changing understanding of COVID-19. This has enabled the guidelines to be a ‘gold standard’ for currency and accuracy. We are also proud that the guidelines have been so widely used, with over 27 million page views as of November 21, 2021. Almost half of the page views currently come from outside the United States.”

“I was very proud that our individual efforts were recognized by these letters,” Gallagher said. “This panel operates at the highest level of integrity, and the guidelines we produce are based on the best scientific evidence available.”

Read more from the School of Nursing.

Engineering’s Niepa wins early career award from NSF

Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation

The $663,372, five-year funding will enable his lab to further explore how bacteria cope with changes in surface tension and energy, and their adaptation to changing conditions to develop new materials. The research also seeks to understand how viruses and nanomaterials could be used to control bacterial development at fluid interfaces. 

Biofilms are a ubiquitous, resilient form of microbial life. They can form where liquids and solids meet, like around a knee replacement; where air and liquid meet, like in the lungs; and where oil and water meet, like in an oil spill on the ocean.

Because of this extreme versatility, the mechanism of how they grow and adapt to different environments is not yet well understood. But a better grasp would not only help mitigate their deleterious health effects but also put them to work for us. 

The award also will allow Niepa to engage under-represented minority, first-generation and financially challenged pre-college and college students through a range of mentored experiences, including a “Bugs as Materials” Camp, a college application workshop and an international summer experience for undergraduates.

Shannon Reed book nominated for Thurber Prize

Shannon Reed, a lecturer in Pitt’s creative writing program, has been named a semifinalist for the 21st Thurber Prize for American Humor for her book, “Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge.”

Past winners for the Thurber Prize include Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, David Sedaris and Pittsburgh native Damon Young.

“I don’t know if I can truly encompass all of the many things [this nomination] means to me,” Reed told Pittsburgh Magazine. “I’ve known about the Thurber Prize for a long time, and so many of the humor writers I admire and have read for years have been nominated for, or won it. To be included in that list is overwhelming and, frankly, unbelievable.”

Reed’s book is a collection of personal essays and humor that “explores all the joys, challenges and absurdities of being a teacher.” It came out in June 2020 from Atria Books.

The prize winner will be announced at a live ceremony on April 22.

Anna Balazs named to National Academy of Engineering

Less than a year after being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor Anna Balazs has been named as one of the newest members of the National Academy of Engineering. 

The academy accepted Balazs’ membership “in recognition of distinguished contributions to engineering and for creative and imaginative work in predicting the behavior of soft materials that are composed of multiple cooperatively interacting components.”

She is the first faculty member in the Swanson School of Engineering to hold membership in both the Engineering and Science academies. Balazs and the 111 new members and 22 international members will be inducted at the academy’s a nnual meeting this fall in Washington, D.C.

Balazs’ research focuses on “biomimicry” and the theoretical and computational modeling of polymers. An internationally-acclaimed expert in the field, her many accolades also include the first woman to receive the prestigious Polymer Physics Prize from the American Physical Society in 2016. She is also the John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering,

Read more about Balazs on the Swanson School’s website.

Alejandro Hoberman

Hoberman first person to receive top clinical research award twice

Alejandro Hoberman,  executive vice chair of pediatrics, has received the 2022 Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award from the Clinical Research Forum, a nonprofit association of clinical research experts from the nation’s leading academic health centers.

Hoberman is the first person ever to receive this award on two separate occasions. 

The award recognizes Hoberman and his research team for a study entitled “Tympanostomy Tubes or Medical Management for Recurrent Acute Otitis Media.”  First published in May 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found no long-term benefit to surgically placing ear tubes in a young child’s ears to reduce the rate of recurrent ear infections compared to use of episodic oral antibiotics.

In 2015, the Clinical Research Forum recognized Hoberman for his team’s findings in “Antimicrobial Prophylaxis for Children with Vesicoureteral Reflux,” a two-year multi-site study demonstrating how use of low-dose preventive antibiotic therapy in children diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflux following an initial episode of urinary tract infection significantly reduced the likelihood of recurrences of urinary tract infection, but did not reduce risk of renal scarring.

Among his roles at Pitt Pediatrics, Hoberman is the Jack L. Paradise Distinguished Service Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical and Translational Medicine, Vice Chair for Clinical Research, and director of the Division of General Academic Pediatrics. Hoberman also has administrative responsibilities as the president of UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics.

Three professors named to National Academy of Inventors

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has selected three Pitt professors among 83 academic inventors for the 2022 class of NAI Senior Members. They are:

  • Antonio D’Amore, research assistant professor, surgery and bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine

  • Cecelia Yates, associate professor, health promotion & development, School of Nursing

  • Maliha Zahid, assistant professor, developmental biology

NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI member institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

“I am thrilled that these Pitt innovators are being recognized for their extraordinary commitment to making an impact on the world through the commercialization of their discoveries,” said Evan Facher, vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship and director of the Innovation Institute. “The common thread for this year’s cohort of Pitt NAI Senior Member inductees is that not only are they passionate about bringing their own ideas to life, but they are also equally dedicated to cultivating the next generation of innovators through their mentorship activities.”

D’Amore is a pioneer in developing tissue-engineered heart valves, vascular grafts and cardiac patches. 

Yates has already participated in the creation of three startup companies aimed at stopping and even reversing the progression of fibrosis. 

Zahid launched a startup, Vivasc Therapeutics Inc., in 2019 and serves as chief scientific officer. The company is initially focused on the treatment of atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Read more about their research on the Innovation Institute website.

Amber Johnson

Amber Johnson receives $50,000 Escalator Award

Amber Johnson, a Pitt assistant professor of medicine, is one of four recipients of the 2022 Escalator Awards. The $50,000 grant from Women as One will go to the University of Pittsburgh in recognition of Johnson as a talented woman in cardiology.

Johnson, a cardiologist who is certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine, plans to explore neighborhood-level determinants of health for patients with hypertension.

“Dr. Johnson is one of our most successful academic cardiologists,” said Mark T. Gladwin, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Medicine. “She is committed to advancing our understanding of how racial and economic disparities affect the delivery of cardiovascular care and the prevalence and severity of heart diseases.”

Johnson has published more than 30 manuscripts about health equity in cardiovascular disease and has received multiple awards, including the 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health award from the National Minority Quality Forum and grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Leigh Patel

Patel elected to National Academy of Education

Leigh Patel, professor in the School of Education, is one of 17 new members elected to the National Academy of Education (NAEd), an honorific society of scholars and educators who make outstanding contributions to the education field.

“This is a significant honor that means a great deal to me,” Patel said. “There are a number of Black, Indigenous, migrant, and decolonial women in the academy doing quality research that impacts the possible futures of Black and Brown children. Their work has deeply influenced me, and it’s an honor to be in the same group.”

As a member of NAEd, Patel will serve on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education and be involved as a mentor for the organization’s professional development fellowship programs.

Patel, who joined Pitt Education in 2018, is a transdisciplinary scholar who studies the narratives that shape how people are treated in society. She is an internationally known scholar of education, ethnic studies, critical higher education studies, and literacy.

One of her current projects — in collaboration with PittEd Justice Collective facilitator Anneliese Martinez and predoctoral fellow Ogechi Irondi — is to create an oral history of parent and caregiver experiences when schools shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terry Smith

Terry Smith wins Teacher of Art History Award

The College Art Association, a professional body for art historians, artists and the museum community, has bestowed its Distinguished Teacher of Art History Award for 2022 on Pitt professor Terry Smith.

Smith is a professor of contemporary art history and theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. He also is a professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, which has campuses in Switzerland and Malta.

The citation from the association says: “Terry Smith has long written, curated and taught across borders, in the beginning coming from Australia to study and work in New York as both a scholar and an active member of Art & Language. He has been expanding his sights ever since. He has long advocated for the study of indigenous art. For the past 20 years, starting with projects such as Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s at the Queens Museum, he was the trusted collaborator of Okwui Enwezor. He has always insisted that the past and the present be given their due consideration and global perspectives.”

Smith received his award at the association’s annual meeting last week.

Four innovation teams awarded Chancellor’s Gap Funds

Four Pitt innovation teams have been selected to receive a total of $263,000 in commercialization grants from the Chancellor’s Gap Fund to accelerate their path from the lab to the market.

The Chancellor’s Gap Fund was reauthorized in 2021 to provide critical bridge funding for research projects that have demonstrated strong commercialization potential but require key proof of concept experiments or other data or prototypes in order to attract interest from potential investors or industry partners. The fund provides grants ranging from $25,000 to $75,000, based on what is needed to advance the project through a significant milestone.

Expressions of interest for the next funding cycle will be accepted beginning in April.

Innovation teams receiving awards in the current cohort include:

PACE-RTP: Perception-Action Coupling Evaluation for Return to Play: A rapid and reliable method for measuring sport-related concussion. Principal investigator: Chris Connaboy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Alice LaGoy, Neuromuscular Research Laboratory; Shawn Eagle, Department of Neurological Surgery.

Youbiotics: Personalized probiotics for weight management. Principal investigator: Steven Little, Swanson School of Engineering. Co-investigators: Matt Borrelli, Swanson School of Engineering; Abhinav Acharya, Arizona State University; Jonathan Krakoff, National Institutes of Health.

Reusable and self-sterilizing 3D HEPA metal filters: 3-D printed porous metal filter for use in air filtration applications in masks, room- or building-based air filtration. Principal investigator: Markus Chmielus, Swanson School of Engineering. 

LiDIA: Listening, iDentification and Instant Amplification: Device for greatly broadening the identification of hearing loss that is currently untreated. Principal investigator: Catherine Palmer, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Jeffrey Vipperman, Swanson School of Engineering; Erik Rauterkus, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Boo Kyung Jung receives grant from Academy of Korean Studies

Boo Kyung Jung, a faculty member in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has received a $21,000 grant from the Academy of Korean Studies in South Korea.

She will use the grant to examine how heritage Korean language users understand subject-predicate honorification. To find pedagogical suggestions, Jung will explore this through behavior experiments, including reaction time and eye-tracking, and input analysis.

Teaching Center names director for equitable and inclusive teaching

Pitt’s University Center for Teaching and Learning has named Sera Mathew as the director for equitable and inclusive teaching.

As director, Mathew will provide leadership in the evaluation of diversity, equity and inclusion teaching initiatives, and she will work with faculty to create an environment that allows students to explore and challenge ideas as part of the learning process.

Prior to joining Pitt, Sera was an assistant professor at Point Park University and director of the Honors Program.

Four faculty named to American Association for the Advancement of Science class

Four faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh have been named to the most recent class of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows, one of the most distinct honors within the scientific community — and a historic one as well, dating to 1874.

They are among 564 fellows announced Jan. 26. The four faculty recognized are:

Kay Brummond, associate dean of faculty and a professor of chemistry in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences

Sarah Gaffen, professor in the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at School of Medicine

Steven R. Little, professor and department chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering as well as a faculty member in the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and bioengineering, immunology, ophthalmology and pharmaceutical sciences departments

Jerry Vockley, professor of pediatrics and pediatric research at the School of Medicine and a professor of human genetics at the Graduate School of Public Health

The nominating and vetting process includes a cadre of scientists, engineers and innovators recognized for achievements across disciplines ranging across research, teaching, administration, industry, government and communications.

Read more about the work of these faculty member on Pittwire.

Woodward named to Society of Research Administrators International board

The Society of Research Administrators International (SRAI) elected Jennifer E. Woodward, vice chancellor for sponsored programs and research operations at Pitt, to serve on the board of directors. Woodward began her new position on Oct. 26, 2021, serving as one of six at-large board members with full voting rights and significant responsibility for the stewardship of the organization.

Woodward was selected by a majority of her peers from among a talented field of candidates from across the globe. SRAI members evaluated candidates’ career history, demonstration of exceptional professional growth and significant contributions made to the advancement of research administration in making their selections.

Woodward brings more than 20 years of progressive leadership experience in research administration to the organization. Her passion is evidenced through her commitment to evolving and innovating the field of research administration, while also supporting the professional development and success of research administrators worldwide. 

Three Pitt researchers earn Charles E. Kaufman Foundation grants

Pitt researchers have been awarded a portion of a $2.1 million grant for Pennsylvania universities from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation. The foundation, established by chemical engineer and entrepreneur Charles E. Kaufman, supports fundamental scientific research in chemistry, biology and physics at institutions throughout the commonwealth.

New Initiatives Research Grants, which carry an award of $300,000 over two years, are designed to encourage investigators with strong research records to establish interdisciplinary collaborations requiring expertise beyond a single researcher. Pitt recipients Nathan Lord and Mo Ebrahimkhani will explore the elaborate language of signals used by human embryos and seek to decode the molecular language that enables embryos to control organ development in their project titled, “Spatially guided morphogenesis in human liver organoids.”

Lord is an assistant professor in the Department of Computational and Systems Biology in the School of Medicine, and Ebrahimkhani is an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and a member of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the School of Medicine.

Tera Levin, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, received a New Investigator Research Grant, which empowers scientists at the beginning of their career through an award of $150,000 over two years. Levin will study mechanisms of interbacterial competition in Legionella pneumophila, which can colonize plumbing systems and cause outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, in her project “Playing with fire: How bacteria deploy self-targeting antimicrobials during inter-bacterial battles.”

The foundation advisory board reviewed 121 inquiries from scientists at 23 colleges and universities. The latest awards will support research at the University of Pittsburgh, Bryn Mawr College, Bucknell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Haverford College, Pennsylvania State University, Swarthmore College, and Washington and Jefferson College.

Scott Morgenstern receives Fulbright Specialist Program award

Pitt professor of political science Scott Morgenstern has earned a Fulbright Specialist Program award, the U.S. Department of State and Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board has announced.

The Fulbright Specialist Program sends faculty and professionals to academic institutions abroad “as expert consultants on curriculum, faculty development, institutional planning and related subjects.” Recipients are selected for academic and professional achievement and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions abroad and the U.S.

Morgenstern intends to complete his project in Spain at the Universidad de Salamanca. There, he will exchange knowledge with other political science experts and create partnerships and educational activities that will benefit the U.S. and Spain. He is one of more than 400 U.S. citizens who will share their expertise at their chosen host institution.

Clark and Little in 2021 fellow class of National Academy of Inventors

William “Buddy” Clark and Steven R. Little, of the Swanson School of Engineering, have been selected as members of the 2021 fellow class of the National Academy of Inventors, the highest professional distinction accorded to academic inventors.

They are the ninth and tenth Pitt faculty members to be selected as NAI Fellows since its inaugural class in 2015.

Clark is professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and is co-founder of Diamond Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based company that produces data-driven bat swing and throwing systems for baseball and softball training. The company’s products are used by many of the teams in Major League Baseball and sold direct to consumers at Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company employs approximately 30 people on the North Shore near PNC Park.

Little is a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, in addition to being the department chair. He also has appointments to the departments of Bioengineering, Immunology, Ophthalmology and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Little is a co-founder of Pitt spinout company Qrono Inc., which is developing therapies that change the way cancer tumor cells and immune cells interact in a manner that enables immune T cells to infiltrate metastatic tumors. In 2020 he co-authored a study in the journal Science Advances that utilized a similar microparticle therapy that “hacks” the immune system to accept transplanted tissue.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. The 164 members of the 2021 fellow class hail from 116 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes worldwide. They collectively hold more than 4,800 U.S. patents.

Read more about Clark and Little on the Innovation Institute website.

Hammond named Pa. Society of Physician Assistants’ Educator of the Year

Jamie Hammond, assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Studies program in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, is this year's Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants Educator of the Year. Awardees are selected for being inspirational and moving others through their selflessness toward humankind.

Hammond is director of mentoring for the Physician Assistant Studies program. She also serves as secretary for the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association and participated in the National Health Service Corps in rural North Carolina and Pennsylvania from 2008-2013. She continues to serve as an ambassador for the latter organization.

Lotze gets lifetime achievement award from cancer immunotherapy group

Michael T. Lotze, professor of surgery, immunology and bioengineering at the Pitt School of Medicine, was honored with the 2021 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer Lifetime Achievement Award at the group’s 36th annual meeting last month in Washington D.C. 

Lotze is currently chief cellular therapy officer of Nurix Therapeutics and scientific advisory council chair for the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

He is widely regarded as the leader in exploring cancer as a disorder of cell death and is devising novel strategies to approach the disease in this context. He initiated the first approved gene therapy protocols at the National Institutes of Health and has treated more than 100 patients on gene therapy protocols at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the co-inventor of 10 patents in dendritic cell vaccines and antigen discovery, and author of more than 500 scientific papers and chapters in basic and applied tumor immunology and cytokine biology. 

Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer is a member-driven organization dedicated to improving cancer patient outcomes by advancing the science and application of cancer immunotherapy through educational programs that foster scientific exchange and collaboration. Learn more at