Pitt Innovators Deliver Another Banner Year of Impactful Discoveries
Pitt innovators continued to demonstrate their passion for translating lab discoveries to solutions that make an impact on people’s lives at a record pace in fiscal year 2019. They matched last year’s record number of licenses and options executed at 162 and set a new record for discoveries disclosed to the Innovation Institute at 367.
Pitt innovators were issued 91 U.S. patents and formed 17 startup companies based on intellectual property developed at the University, reinforcing a strong recent performance for those metrics.
“These results reflect the ever-strengthening culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among Pitt faculty, students and staff,” said Evan Facher, director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. “We have been able to put more resources at their disposal to accelerate their journey on the path to market because achieving impact through commercialization has been made a top priority by the University leadership.”
In the five years since the formation of the Innovation Institute, the activity of Pitt innovators has increased substantially across numerous metrics compared to the previous five year period as the result of increased funding and support. Invention disclosures, which are submitted to the Innovation Institute by faculty, staff and students when their research produces new discoveries with the potential for commercial translation, are up more than 25 percent in the most recent five year period; licensing transactions are up 11 percent, and issued patents are up 46 percent.
Significantly, startups formed in the 2015-2019 period are up nearly 130 percent over the previous comparable period.
In addition, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, the Innovation Institute’s affiliated organization serving small businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania, is expanding its impact. During the year, the IEE served 736 clients with nearly 7,000 hours of consulting services, which resulted in, 52 businesses started, $16,438,768 capital formation, $28,329,576 in sales increase and 433 jobs created.
New Hillman Library Exhibit Chronicles Holocaust-era French Jews
David L. Rosenberg (MLS ’89), a French historian and retired labor collections archivist at Hillman Library, has a new installation on display at the ground floor entrance of the library, chronicling the experience of French Jews in Amiens during the Holocaust. The exhibit, called “Who is a Jew?” features photographs and text. It ran at Temple Emmanuel of the South Hills in 2018 and more recently at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
Rosenberg said his 20 years working in the Pitt archives helped shape his approach to this “retirement project,” as he called it, which “has been very gratifying.”
“Personalizing and humanizing the lives of otherwise obscure or un-remembered people was an orientation and a practice I continued to hone while working at Pitt’s Archives Service Center,” he explained, which included chronicling the photo ID cards of about 10,000 World War II-era steelworkers at U.S. Steel’s National Works in McKeesport, as part of the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Labor Legacy Project.
After Rosenberg was gifted a book on the history of the French city of Amiens which cited his 1974 dissertation from Yale, his interest in the experience of French Jews was reignited. “I’m very interested in not privileging certain stories over others,” he said.
In October of 2017, this work led Amiens city officials to install a plaque at the site of the war-era synagogue, acknowledging what had happened there. Rosenberg was also named knight of the order of arts and letters by the French culture ministry.
The exhibit is open to the public and will be displayed at Hillman Library through August 30.
LifeX Labs Receives Economic Development Administration Entrepreneurship Grant
LifeX Labs has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to enhance its efforts in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is among 44 organizations nationwide — and the only one in Pennsylvania — to share a total of $23 million awarded under the EDA’s i6 Challenge grant program to expand entrepreneurship.
LifeX Labs is a life science startup accelerator launched by the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 with a mission to help startup companies translate the region’s world-class research into breakthrough commercial products.
“LifeX helps young life science startup companies overcome the unique challenges that they face,” said Evan Facher, interim CEO of LifeX Labs. “The goal of this award is to help LifeX accelerate the development of resources and programming needed to enable these companies to thrive in the Pittsburgh region. In parallel, the award will also help us build a stronger sense of community within the life sciences ecosystem.”
With this three-year award, LIfeX Labs estimates that it will have the ability to serve thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs, add dozens of startups to its portfolio, and create over 100 jobs in the region by 2028.
In part, the funding will aid development of programming for pre-seed to Series A life-science companies; engagement of regional key opinion leaders to identify needs and opportunities in the life science community; and creation of a pipeline of life science workers at all skill levels in collaboration with local colleges and job training organizations.
Jill Millstone Wins Career Excellence Award
Jill Millstone, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, has been awarded the 2019 Greater Pittsburgh Women’s Chemists Committee Award for Career Excellence in the Chemical Sciences. The honor recognizes female chemists and chemical engineers for accomplishments in their fields. Millstone’s research focus areas are inorganic and materials chemistry, nanomaterials, mechanochemistry and colloid chemistry.
Peyman Givi to Deliver Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics
Peyman Givi, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, has been invited to deliver the 13th Elsevier Distinguished Lecture in Mechanics. The lecture is sponsored by Elsevier and its publication Mechanics Research Communications. It will be hosted by the University of Pittsburgh in 2020.
Givi joins a long line of distinguished lecturers, beginning with the 2008 inaugural lecture by Jan Achenbach. The lecture will be on a topic of his choosing within the field of mechanics; previous topics have included “Structural Health Monitoring,” “Isogeometric Analysis” and “Seeking Simplicity in the Flow of Complex Fluids.”
Givi’s lecture will be available on Elsevier’s website after it is delivered.
Rory Cooper Completes Heidelberg Hand-Bike Marathon
Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Pitt and associate dean for inclusion at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, recently raced in and completed the Heidelberg Hand-Bike Marathon. Cooper finished with a time of one hour, twenty-seven minutes.
“The course was a bit more challenging than I thought, and I ended up most of the time by myself or pulling others along. I sported by Army jersey,” he said.
Twenty-one family members and friends came to Heidelberg to cheer for him and other participants.
Office of Child Development Develops Parenting Guide of Original Research
“You and Your Child” is a series of 49 guides, broken down into categories of behavior, health and nutrition, parenting, development and safety. The guides contain best practices described by the Office of Child Development and have been reviewed by development experts and practitioners.
“These guides are an easy way for parents and caregivers to gain knowledge and answer specific questions they might have,” said Shannon Wanless, director of the Office of Child Development.
The guides are available online free of charge to parents, family organizations, agencies, professionals and others who work with children and their families. They are also available in Spanish.
Pitt Cyber Announces Accelerator Grant Recipients
Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security is pleased to announce the grant recipients of its third round of Pitt Cyber Accelerator Grants (PCAG).
The grants to Pitt faculty provide initial funding for novel and innovative projects that advance Pitt Cyber’s mission: to bring the breadth of one of the world’s leading public research universities to bear on the critical questions of networks, data and algorithms, with a focus on the ever-changing gaps among law, policy and technology.
This term’s recipients are:
- Vladimir Zadorozny (School of Computing and Information), Panos Chrysanthis (SCI), Michael Colaresi (Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences), Patrick Manning (Dietrich) for their project, Social Weather Service: A Cyber-enabled Forecasting of Social Unrest and Conflicts.
- Kevin Ashley (School of Law) and Jaromir Savelka (Intelligent Systems Program) for their project, Annotating Cases for Learning.
- David Tipper (SCI) and Alexis Kwasinski (Swanson School of Engineering) for their project, Toward Resilient Smart Critical Infrastructure.
- Rosta Farzan (SCI), Dmitriy Babichenko (SCI), and Zak Risha (SCI) for their project, Fighting Cyberbullying: A Transformative and Educational Game for Promoting Empathic Understanding.
“Pitt Cyber is excited to support the ever-expanding group of Pitt researchers exploring the many challenges of networks, data and cybersecurity,” said Pitt Cyber academic director and law professor Michael Madison.
Pitt Men’s Study Renewed by NIH, Will Enter Fourth Decade of HIV Research
The Pitt Men’s Study, part of the national Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), will be renewed into 2026 at nearly $4 million per year. The funding from the National Institutes of Health will carry the long-running study into its fourth decade.
The confidential study on the natural history of HIV/AIDS is part of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology and is directed by the department's chair, Charles Rinaldo (pictured).
Read more about the study at UPMC.
Just Discipline Project Shows Progress in New Report
A project out of Pitt’s School of Social Work designed to reduce out-of-school suspensions at the Pittsburgh-area Woodland Hills Intermediate School has shown that, after two years, there has been a 28 percent decrease in the number of students suspended.
The Just Discipline project, funded by The Heinz Endowments, established community-building activities at the school, professional development courses for faculty and staff, and training for adolescent student leaders who have been able to successfully diffuse behavioral problems at the school before they escalate. Just Discipline leaders Assistant Professor of Social Work James Huguley and Associate Professor of Education Ming-Te Wang have released a report citing the progress made since the program’s 2017 inception.
Key findings include:
- A 28% decrease in the number of individual students receiving suspensions
- A 20% decrease in the number of individual students receiving office referrals
- A 19% increase in the students’ perception of school safety
- Academic gains in math, language arts and science
- 91% of the teachers would like the program’s work to continue
“We’re still working toward where we want to be in terms of the resources and systems, but we’re certainly encouraged by this progress,” said Huguley, who hopes to expand the program in the near future to other schools in Woodland Hills.
Robin Brooks and Esther Palacios-Barrios Named 2019 Ford Foundation Fellows
Robin Brooks, an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies, and Esther Palacios-Barrios, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology who also works with the Learning Research and Development Center, have been accepted to the 2019 Ford Foundation Fellowship Program.
The program, administered by the Fellowships Office of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, is designed to increase diversity among faculty in the nation’s colleges and universities.
Brooks, who was recognized in the postdoctoral competition, will be working on a book manuscript with host institution, Emory University, during the fellowship. Palacios-Barrios, recognized in the predoctoral competition, will continue her work in the Clinical-Developmental Psychology Program.
Walid Gellad Receives Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
Walid Gellad, associate professor of medicine and health policy was named a winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) — “the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.”
Gellad’s research focuses on physician prescribing practices and on policy issues affecting access and adherence to medications for patients. Read a recent Pittwire story about his work using artificial intelligence to better predict opioid overdose risk in patients.
New Jazz Studies Director Nicole Mitchell Tops Jazz Polls
Two significant honors were recently announced for Nicole Mitchell, Pitt’s new William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies, who arrived at Pitt this month. The prestigious 2019 Downbeat International Critics Poll named Mitchell the winner in the flute category. Downbeat Magazine is one of the country’s oldest jazz magazines and critically reviews the top talent in jazz each year. The complete 2019 Critics Poll list is in Downbeat’s August issue.
In addition, members of the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) named Mitchell “Flutist of the Year” this past spring. The JJA is a global professional organization of media content providers who disseminate news and views about jazz.
Mitchell says she is “truly honored” to have received both of these awards. Said Music Department Chair and Professor Mathew Rosenblum: “The Department of Music is thrilled to hear about the latest honors bestowed upon Nicole. Her original creative voice continues to make a huge impact in the music world at-large, and we greatly look forward to the leadership that she will bring to our department and to the City of Pittsburgh.”
Larry Cunningham Jr. Appointed Chair of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Associate Dean of Hospital Affairs
Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine has announced Larry Cunningham Jr. as its next chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and associate dean for hospital affairs. Cunningham, a native of Texas, comes to the University of Pittsburgh after an 18-year career at the University of Kentucky, where he served as professor and chief of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
Cunningham has a broad clinical interest in maxillofacial surgery and is an internationally recognized expert in the management of traumatic facial injuries. He has 18 years of experience as a member of the cleft lip and palate team, where his practice included alveolar cleft repairs and jaw surgery for patients with facial differences. He is particularly skilled in the surgical management of patients with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease, including total joint replacements. Cunningham frequently lectures on the management of injuries to the nerves that innervate of the lower lip and tongue.
At Pitt, Cunningham also will serve as interim program director for the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency Program.
Three English Affiliates Receive 2019 Investing in Professional Artists Grant
Three affiliates of the Department of English in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences have been awarded funds from the Investing in Professional Artists Grant, a shared program of the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.
The foundations recognized fifteen local artists and organizations and selected the grantees based on “not only the quality of their work, but also on the potential of their proposals to advance their careers.”
The three Pitt affiliates and their projects are:
Cameron Barnett (A&S ’16G), faculty of the Falk Laboratory School, received a grant of $8.500 to “support a second full-length book of poetry centered on the historical and racial roots of the artist’s heritage in the U.S. and Canada, and the histories of slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.” Barnett earned his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in poetry from Pitt in 2016.
Adriana Ramirez (A&S ’09G) received a grant of $10,000 to “complete research and manuscript for a book on the history of violence in the Americas, from Pittsburgh to Colombia and back, blending family and oral histories with larger national narratives.” Ramirez earned her MFA degree in creative nonfiction writing from Pitt in 2009.
Anjali Sachdeva, lecturer in the Composition Program and Writing Program in the Department of English, received a grant of $10,000 to “support development of a novel set in a near-future world where people are segregated by gender.”
Pitt Law Launches Graduate Program on Human Resources Law
Pitt’s School of Law is now taking applications for a new online graduate certificate program that tackles the legal issues that sometimes arise in the human resource industry. Human Resources Law Online will consist of courses that explore the practical application of the law within that field. Students will learn key negotiating skills to help improve their ability to manage difficult workplace situations, such as employee contract negotiations, workplace accommodations requests and employee terminations.
Human Resources Law Online Program Director Joseph Hornack said that human resources, like many areas of business, has become more complicated. “Artificial intelligence has been playing a larger role in hiring, work evaluation and termination decisions at some of the larger companies,” he said. The algorithms are established in ways that may contain biases.”
Pitt professor of law and director of online legal programs Alan Meisel said the program is aimed at non-lawyers. “We’re trying to provide a legal education for people already working in the industry,” he said. “Legal problems can arise but people don’t realize it’s a legal problem until they need a lawyer. With the knowledge gained through these courses, one can head off serious legal problems.”
The courses will take 40 weeks to complete and will be taught by Pitt Law’s expert faculty and local practitioners.
Aaron Donald Football Performance Center Unveiled, Supported by Historic Gift
The University of Pittsburgh officially unveiled the newly dedicated Aaron Donald Football Performance Center this June, with the two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in attendance.
The ground floor of the Duratz Athletic Complex, Pitt Football's daily home and practice facility, was renamed in honor of Donald after the Pitt legend and current Los Angeles Rams star recently pledged a historic seven-figure donation to the program. Donald donated to the Pitt Football Championship Fund, which serves the program in key areas such as facility improvement, recruiting, technology and student-athlete development. At 27 years old, Donald is the youngest seven-figure donor in the history of the University of Pittsburgh. It also marks the largest donation ever by a Pitt football letterman to the program.
“It was a dream come true to play for the University of Pittsburgh,” said Donald, who starred at Pitt from 2010-13. “My experience as a Panther is something that influences my life every day and I want to pay that forward. I believe in what Coach Narduzzi is building at Pitt and this was an opportunity for me to make a difference for our current and future players. Pitt will always be my school and I'm honored to be able to support the Blue and Gold.”
Stephen D. Meriney Receives Grant for Neuromuscular Disease Research
Pitt’s Stephen D. Meriney has received one of 26 The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) grants for rare neuromuscular disease research.
Meriney, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry, focuses on studying the mechanisms that control peripheral nervous system plasticity, including mechanisms that underlie neuromuscular diseases. The MDA awarded him more than $300,000 in critical funding to support the development of a new therapeutic approach for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). This novel therapy is based on a new small molecule that was developed in a collaboration between the Meriney lab and Distinguished University Professor Peter Wipf from the Department of Chemistry.
Meriney’s lab focuses on regulating and modulating presynaptic ion channels — essentially looking at how one neuron “talks” to another by releasing neurotransmitters across both healthy and diseased synapses. He will use the grant to address current gaps in the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that destroys motor neurons which control essential voluntary muscle movements such as speaking, walking and swallowing.
Martica Hall Receives Outstanding Educator Award
Martica Hall, professor of psychiatry, psychology, and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received the Sleep Research Society Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award for excellence in education related to sleep and circadian research. The award honors outstanding educational contributions to disseminating the knowledge base, research methods and health and safety significance of the field.
Hall’s research explores the effect of sleep on behavioral and physical health, and she has published more than 175 peer-reviewed articles on topics in this area. Her current research pertains to sleep, circadian rhythms and cardiometabolic risk in retired shift workers.
Hall received the award at SLEEP 2019, the annual meeting of the Sleep Research Society.
Julian Gill-Peterson Wins Lambda Literary Awards Prize in Transgender Nonfiction
Julian Gill-Peterson, an assistant professor in the Department of English, received top honors in the category of Transgender Nonfiction during the 31st Annual Lambda Literacy Awards in June. The awards, known as the “Lammys,” recognize the year’s best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature. Gill-Peterson was nominated for their book, “Histories of the Transgender Child.” Gill-Peterson is also a member of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program steering committee at Pitt.