CoE News Briefs - March 2019

Nicolas Alvarez Receives NSF CAREER Award

Congratulations to Dr. Nicolas Alvarez, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE), who has been awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development grant (CAREER) for his proposal titled, “Influence of Pressure on Surfactant Thermodynamics and Transport.” The award totals $500K over its five-year life.

Nicolas Alvarez
Dr. Nicolas Alvarez

Surfactants play a major role in formulations of current hydraulic fracking fluids. They are used to increase viscosity, form emulsions, and reduce the surface tension between hydrocarbons and the rock in the fracking process. However, very little is known regarding their effect at high pressure. This lack of understanding is arguably limiting major strides forward in the use of CO2 as a “green” alternative solvent in separation, in polymerization / non-aqueous reactions, precision cleaning in metal finishing, medical device fabrication, garment dry cleaning, and hydrocarbon fracking fluids.

Under this grant, investigators will focus on developing thermodynamic and transport models describing surfactant interfacial activity at high-pressure interfaces via a newly developed high pressure microtensiometer and analysis technique. Model parameterization will result from analyzing static and dynamic interfacial tension data of various surfactants at various interfaces as a function of pressure and temperature. This work will be facilitated by a time scale analysis that considers the effect of interfacial curvature, surfactant concentration, and bulk fluid flow, which allows for the distinction between kinetic and diffusion transport mechanisms. Several chemistry/performance correlations are expected.

As required of all CAREER grants, an educational component in this funded work in partnership with the Lindy Scholars Program and the Upper Darby School District will develop a STEM CAREER path building program involving five diverse elementary/middle schools. In addition, in collaboration with the Louis Stokes-Alliance for Minority Participation, the Alvarez team will introduce and prepare underrepresented minorities for research training during their Drexel tenure.

This is the second CAREER award for the College of Engineering this year. Dr. Aaron Fafarman, assistant professor in CBE, was awarded a grant for research that will fundamentally expand the palette of materials available for solar cells and other applications by rendering metastable structures stable.

PhD Candidate Michael Cimorelli Wins Prestigious Scholarship

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) congratulates PhD candidate Michael Cimorelli on winning the prestigious IIE Graduate International Research Experiences  Scholarship, awarded to exceptional graduate students to support international graduate research.

Under the advisement of Dr. Steven Wrenn, (CBE), Cimorelli is studying the development of a next-generation ultrasound enhancing agent that is engineered for quantifying myocardial perfusion, for monitoring ischemia, and for detecting infarction. Cimorelli specializes in medical imaging techniques, surface force interactions, and developing and characterizing lab-derived vesicles. With this GIRE scholarship, he hopes to translate his skill set to a new problem – developing a biomarker for kidney cancer from liquid biopsy by using Surface Plasmon Resonance Imaging. Toward that end, he plans to do research under the guidance of Dr. Rienk Nieuwland at the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical College.

Funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, IIE created the GIRE to support research experiences abroad for American graduate students in engineering fields.

Drexel CyberDragons Headed for Regional Competition

The Drexel CyberDragons Club placed eighth out of a field of 33 teams at the recent Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber-Defense Competition (MACCDC) held mid-February, thus qualifying for the regional competition at Johns Hopkins University later this month. CCDC is a cyber defense competition based on a team's ability to defend a network from an opposing team of active hackers. Competitors are scored on the number of services kept up and how well they can find, identify, and clean various malware found on systems.

Team members include: Madeline Bright, Nicholas DeFilippis, Alfonzo Desantis, Ryan Fiers, Declan Kelly, Matthew Long, Sampriti Panda, Michael Raffle, Nahid Sarker, Jiho Yoo, and Colbert Zhu. CyberDragons members are drawn from both the College of Computing and Informatics and the College of Engineering.

Drexel MXene Symposium Highlights Rapidly Growing Research Field

The A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute hosted a symposium featuring MXene research at Drexel University to showcase the rapidly growing field and to discuss interdisciplinary synergies for new collaborations and research directions.

The University-wide proposal planning meeting featured research performed by research groups at the College of Engineering, including the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, as well as research groups from the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and the College of Arts and Sciences – more than a dozen in all.

“The goal of this event was to bring together researchers working on MXenes at Drexel, coordinate research activities, and shape research teams for major proposals,” said Distinguished University and Charles T. and Ruth M. Bach Professor Yury Gogotsi.

Since MXenes were discovered at Drexel in 2011, the University’s leadership in the field has continued to grow, with close to 200 publications on MXenes from Drexel alone. In addition, some 632 organizations from 44 countries are currently participating in MXene research, with citations of MXene papers projected to increase to 18,000 this year, up from 12,000 in 2018.

The symposium drew 70 participants from across the University and included 16 oral presentations and 12 posters. Postdoctoral researchers Dr. Christopher Shuck and Dr. Louisiane Verger helped to organize the event with support from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in particular Program Manager Keiko Nakazawa, with funding from the office of the Senior Vice Provost for Research.

Researcher as Rock Star: Matt Stamm at SXSW

Matthew Stamm
Dr. Matthew Stamm

Dr. Matthew Stamm, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), will be a featured panelist at the celebrated “South by Southwest” (SXSW) cultural conference and music festival beginning next week in Austin, TX. Stamm’s panel, “Easy to Fool? Journalism in the Age of Deepfakes,” will take on the subject of synthetic video and its political, cultural, and societal impacts. News professionals from The Washington Post, the Knight Foundation, and the Poynter Institute will round out the panel, which takes place on the sixth day of the 12-day event. The SXSW festival has taken place annually since 1987 and serves as a convergence point for the interactive, film, and music industries.

Stamm’s lab here at Drexel, the Multimedia and Information Security Lab (MISL), focuses on multimedia forensics. Said Stamm, “One of the challenges of the 21st century is that we have tons of information. We’ve gotten pretty good at storing it and communicating it. But how do we pick through it and know what to look at?

“Information now is shared very rapidly. There aren’t as many gatekeepers sitting there asking where it’s coming from. I think it’s a good thing that information can flow without gatekeepers. But we really do need tools that let us know whether we can trust what we’re looking at. People in positions of authority have to be able to ask, is this real?”

CAEE’s Marvin Ta Wins Best Undergraduate Paper

The Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering congratulates Marvin Ta, ’19, who recently won the Undergraduate Student Paper Award for his paper, "How Traffic Calming Can Reduce Speeding and Volume Issues on Local Roads.” Ta was presented with the award on Feb. 14 at an awards ceremony for Delaware Valley Engineers Week. His advisor is Dr. Joseph Martin, professor, CAEE.

Marvin Ta with Award
Marvin Ta

Ta’s paper details how traffic “calming” – which seeks to minimize car traffic to increase community quality of life – can reduce speeding and volume issues. Ta developed the idea for the paper during his most recent co-op with the Pennoni engineering firm’s transportation division, where he first learned of the concept.

“I wanted to make people aware that pedestrians and bicyclists use our roadways too, so we can’t always design just for vehicles,” said Ta. “Unfortunately, when designing roadways, we always hold efficiency as a top priority: going from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Instead, safety should be our first priority. Not too many people understand the impacts big highways can have on a community. Yes, with highways you’re able to get to your destination quickly. But who wants to live near a highway?”

After graduation this June, Ta plans to take a celebratory trip to Australia before starting his full-time position with Pennoni. As a certified soccer referee, he’ll also be “reffing a lot of soccer games on the weekends.”

James Breen is Project Lead on Janssen Facility Expansion in Ireland

James Breen
James Breen

James Breen, adjunct teaching faculty member in the Department of Construction, Engineering and Project Management and Systems Engineering (CEPM&SE), and a vice president with Johnson & Johnson, is the project lead on Janssen Sciences UC’s facility expansion in Ringaskiddy, Ireland. An affiliate of Johnson & Johnson, Janssen is doubling the size of its facility under Breen’s direction. Janssen has been operating a biopharmaceutical supply chain facility there since 2005, the siting of which Breen also helped lead in the early 2000s. Breen has worked for J&J for 22 years, holding global roles across engineering, project management, and network management in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Here at Drexel, Breen teaches CEPM&SE courses in areas of sustainability, risk management, LEED, and project management. Breen has also been elected chair this year for the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers, which has over 18,000 members.

VIP Program Reaches 11 Project Teams

Dr. Kapil Dandekar, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, reports that the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program now has 11 projects involving students working on interdisciplinary projects across department and college boundaries.

VIP team members work as part of a multidisciplinary group of undergraduate students, graduate students, research staff, and faculty members to tackle novel research and design problems around a theme. Undergraduate students that join VIP teams earn academic credit for their participation in design/discovery efforts that assist faculty and graduate students with research and development issues in their areas of expertise.

VIP teams are:

  • Multidisciplinary, drawing students from all disciplines on campus;
  • Vertically-integrated, maintaining a mix of freshman through PhD students each academic term;
  • Long-term, in that each undergraduate student may participate in a project for up to three years and each graduate student may participate for the duration of their graduate career.

The continuity, technical depth, and disciplinary breadth of these teams are intended to:

  • Provide the time and context necessary for students to learn and practice many different professional skills, make substantial technical contributions to the team project(s), and experience many different roles on a large, multidisciplinary design/discovery team.
  • Support long-term interaction between the graduate and undergraduate students on the team. The graduate students mentor undergraduates as they work on the design/discovery projects embedded in the graduate students' research.
  • Enable the completion of large-scale design/discovery projects that are of significant benefit to faculty members' research programs.

Examples of current VIP projects include “The Future of Power and Energy,” “Wireless Systems for the IoT,” “Cognitive Neuroengineering for the Brain and Mental Flexibility,” “3D Printing Technologies and Applications,” and “Drones in Engineering Applications,” among others.

Professors who are interested in starting a project or getting involved with VIP should contact Chad Morris ( The VIP program is recruiting for future terms.