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UT engineering assistant professor receives $558,795 award for sustainability research targeting industrial smokestacks

Since she was a little girl growing up in Málaga, Spain, Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio brainstormed ways to motivate those around her to protect the planet.

“When I was 12 years old, I heard a neighboring community obtained a recycle bin,” Alba-Rubio said. “I talked with my teacher and organized our own paper collection system. My friends and I hauled that garbage from school to the other neighborhood once a week to recycle.”

Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio, assistant professor of chemical engineering, holds a Lego model showing how the dual-function material would capture carbon dioxide and convert it into methanol and higher alcohols that could be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity to power factories.

Now an assistant professor of chemical engineering at The University of Toledo, she is pioneering a new method for factories to approach environmental stewardship and fight pollution with help from a five-year, $558,795 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Faculty Early Career Development award, known as CAREER, is one of the most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through the integration of research and education.

Alba-Rubio is creating a dual-function material, which acts as an absorber and a catalyst, that could be placed at the top of industrial smokestacks as an alternative to current processes of capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide. The material would capture carbon dioxide and convert it into methanol and higher alcohols that could be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity to power the plant.

Alba-Rubio’s method would eliminate the energy requirement, corrosion and transportation issues associated with the processes currently used. Instead, the new material would transform carbon dioxide into a useful product on site.

“We must do as much as we can to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate climate change,” Alba-Rubio said. “Converting carbon dioxide into something useful could be a great economic benefit for the industry while reducing emissions.”

World carbon dioxide emissions have increased 55 percent in the last 20 years, according to the Global Carbon Project, including 2.7 percent from 2017 to 2018, the largest jump in seven years.

As part of the grant-funded research, Alba-Rubio plans to engage students from elementary school to high school in her activities to expose them to chemical reactions and catalysis, as well as raise awareness of the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming.

“As a Hispanic woman, I have a strong interest in increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in science, and I will continue providing hands-on experiences to migrant students in Ohio’s rural communities and other underrepresented students through the programs that The University of Toledo offers to Toledo Public Schools,” Alba-Rubio said.

She is especially passionate about serving as a role model to encourage girls to pursue careers in science. Alba-Rubio is gathering support from other successful women across northwest Ohio in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to create a coloring book titled “Women Scientists Near You” to distribute to elementary schools throughout the region.

“The coloring book will feature stories of each of us to inspire girls to envision themselves on a similar path to success,” Alba-Rubio said. “Each ‘character’ in the book will visit schools to share her experiences and do experiments. The goal is to catch their curiosity and build their confidence. Becoming a scientist is within their reach. It’s an exciting career that can help change lives and create a better world.”

Engineers Week events at UT designed to spark enthusiasm for local students

Two events will bring more than 600 area students to The University of Toledo to celebrate Engineers Week.

Founded in 1951, Engineers Week will be celebrated Feb. 17-23 and is dedicated to increasing understanding and interest in engineering and technology careers.

The theme of this year’s week is “Engineers: Invent Amazing.”

Approximately 200 high school students from 24 districts will be on campus Tuesday, Feb. 19, to be an Engineer for a Day.

They will arrive at 9 a.m. and watch a movie, “Dream Big,” in the Lois and Norman Nitschke Auditorium, and then learn about different careers during a tour of UT’s engineering facilities, and engage in hands-on activities with UT engineering students. After lunch, the high school students will shadow a professional engineer in the community.

“We want to show students the wide range of possibilities a career in engineering offers,” said Bryan Bosch, manager of diversity, inclusion and community engagement in the UT College of Engineering. “Engineers design, invent and create things to make our world better — and they have a lot of fun, too.”

The UT College of Engineering also will host its second annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. More than 450 sixth- through eighth-graders from 20 school districts will visit the University Thursday, Feb. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

While on campus, the girls will tour the University’s engineering facilities, eat lunch with UT engineering students, and spend the afternoon participating in hands-on activities.

“We’re extremely excited for how much growth we’ve seen in the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, both in sheer numbers and the increase in exposure to more schools,” Bosch said. “There were 312 girls at the event last year.”

For more information, contact Bosch at bryan.bosch@utoledo.edu.

Dean named to DriveOhio Advisory Board

Dr. Michael Toole, dean of the UT College of Engineering, has been named to the DriveOhio Government Advisory Board.

He was appointed to the seven-member board by outgoing Gov. John Kasich.

Toole

DriveOhio is an initiative in the Ohio Department of Transportation charged with accelerating smart vehicle and connected vehicle projects in the state.

“It is an honor to serve on this board and represent The University of Toledo,” Toole said.

Toole, who was named dean of the UT College of Engineering in 2017, received a PhD in technology strategy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has focused his research on innovation in design, construction and infrastructure. He is a professional engineer and a Fellow in the American Society of Civil Engineers.

During the past year, the UT College of Engineering has offered a five-part series on autonomous vehicles in partnership with AAA of Northwestern Ohio, Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, DGL Consulting Engineers LLC and Path Master Inc.

“The UT College of Engineering’s participation in this series has given me a strong appreciation for the important research being conducted at the University on related research topics such as cybersecurity, distributed networks, connected infrastructure, advanced materials and mechatronics,” Toole said.

DriveOhio’s mission is to serve as the state’s central hub for smart mobility — the use of technology to move people and goods from one place to another as effectively as possible.

The government organization is a single point of contact for policymakers, agencies, researchers and private companies to work together on smart transportation.

UT researcher calls on FDA to change rules to address spine screw contamination

A University of Toledo researcher is calling for a revamp of how operating room personnel store and handle the screws used in spinal fusion surgeries after results from a multicenter trial found high levels of contamination on supposedly sterile implants.

“Our findings about the prevalence of contaminated pedicle screws are concerning, to say the least,” said Dr. Aakash Agarwal, an adjunct professor in the UT Department of Bioengineering. “We immediately need to ensure all surgical implants are truly sterile. Our research unequivocally demonstrates that we have not been doing things correctly.”

Dr. Aakash Agarwal, shown here holding a prepackaged surgical screw, has petitioned the FDA to revamp how screws used in spinal fusion sureries are handled to avoid contamination.

Spinal fusion surgeries generally require four to six pedicle screws, but in the vast majority of procedures performed in the United States, surgeons begin with a tray containing 100 or more screws of different sizes to ensure the right size is immediately available within the operating room.

Because so few implants are used in each procedure, most screws are washed and sterilized repeatedly with other contaminated instruments from the operating room before they are actually used during a surgery.

But Agarwal said that isn’t practical or safe, and he’s calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the process in the United States.

In a paper published in the Global Spine Journal, a team of experts led by Agarwal found screws that had been repeatedly reprocessed are harboring a number of contaminants, including corrosion, soap residue and organic tissue.

“We randomly selected screws from four different trays of cleaned, wrapped and sterilized screws. Every screw we took out was contaminated, and they were about to go into a patient’s body,” Agarwal said. “The health-care system and patients would really benefit if we start packaging screws individually. The repeated reprocessing system in trays should be banned.”

The researchers recently submitted a formal petition along with their data to the FDA.

Agarwal and his fellow researchers — which included Dr. Steven R. Garfin, interim dean of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, and Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang, co-director of the University of Southern California Spine Institute and president of North American Spine Society — presented evidence in a separate paper that individually sterile-packed screws also are picking up contaminants as they are handled in the operating room.

The researchers devised a study in which two groups of individually packaged screws were used during live spine surgeries at multiple centers across the United States. One group of screws had a built-in intraoperative guard, while the other group did not have such a guard. The screws were prepared for insertion then sent away for analysis.

“All 26 surgeries in the study had bacterial growth on the unguarded screws. That was the major finding, which surprised everyone,” Agarwal said. “Even if you provide screws in an individually sterile package, the way it’s handled in the operating theater makes it unsterile.”

That could potentially lead to infection and biofilm formation at the screw-bone interface.

No microbial growth was detected on the screws that had integrated guards, which is meant to shield the screw itself from being exposed to air or touch while loading it onto the insertion device.

The findings were published in Global Spine Journal and multiple conference proceedings. It also has been published by news media, including Becker’s Spine Review, Spinal News International, Orthopedic This Week and Orthopedics Today.

Also involved in the research were Dr. Vijay Goel, Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering at UT; Dr. Anand K. Agarwal, professor at UT’s Engineering Center for Orthopaedic Research Excellence; Dr. Hossein Elgafy, professor of orthopaedic surgery at UT; and Dr. Boren Lin, postdoctoral fellow at UT’s Engineering Center for Orthopaedic Research Excellence.

Data on surgical site infections following spine surgery varies, but a recent randomized trial from Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York found a 12.7 percent incidence rate. Agarwal said that could represent up to 100,000 patients suffering from surgical site infection in the United States alone.

“We shouldn’t be knowingly putting bacteria and other contaminates inside a patient’s body. With the disclosure of these evidences, it would be impossible to not undertake necessary safety measures,” Agarwal said.

In addition to his faculty appointment at UT, Agarwal is the director of research and development for Spinal Balance, a private company that was founded in 2013 by a group of UT research professors. The firm, with its corporate office at the UT LaunchPad Incubation building, was created in part to address the problem of surgical site infection stemming from contaminated implants.

Agarwal also was recently appointed to the editorial board of the Clinical Spine Surgery journal by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins for his contribution toward original research and peer reviews in the spine field.

UT engineering professors’ invention named to prestigious R&D Top 100 list

A synthetic bone graft substitute developed at The University of Toledo has been recognized by R&D Magazine as one of the year’s most exceptional innovations in science and technology.

Created by Dr. Sarit Bhaduri, UT Distinguished University Professor of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, NovoGro is a moldable bone substitute putty used to fill gaps in bone and encourage new bone growth. It is used primarily in complicated fractures that would not otherwise heal properly on their own.

Dr. Sarit Bhaduri, center, held the R&D Magazine award he received for NovoGro, a synthetic bone graft substitute he created with Dr. Anand Agarwal, left, and Dr. Vijay K. Goel. R&D Magazine named their invention as one of the year’s most exceptional innovations in science and technology.

“Our composition is innovative and quite different from any of our well-known competitors,” Bhaduri said. “The response of bone growth is much faster than other products that are currently available. Our product also incorporates innovative processing techniques that simplify production, which further sets it apart.”

R&D Magazine has annually selected the top 100 revolutionary technologies of the past year since 1963. Among this year’s other winners were Dow Chemical, Texas Instruments, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

“The R&D 100 Award is one of the most prestigious recognitions in applied science,” UT Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “This award speaks to the ability of Bhaduri and his University of Toledo colleagues in translating highest quality research into marketable products to improve the health outcomes of many.”

Bhaduri teamed up with Dr. Vijay K. Goel, UT Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering, and Dr. Anand Agarwal, UT research professor of bioengineering, to license the technology from the University and co-found the biomedical firm OsteoNovus Inc. Agarwal also serves as the president and chief executive officer of OsteoNovus, where the product has undergone further development.

“In this category of orthobiologics — how to grow bone — there are many players, but the problem is the big guys aren’t doing much innovation,” Bhaduri said. “We wanted to disrupt that.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared NovoGro for use in two different indications — spine and the extremities.

Currently, NovoGro has a half dozen clinical users across the country and is trying to grow the client base significantly in 2019.

The company’s corporate offices and manufacturing facility are housed within The University of Toledo LaunchPad Incubation Program.

UT engineers create method to save at least $120,000 per mile on road pavement projects

Before orange construction barrels dot pot-holed streets or highways, a vital part of planning a pavement project is determining how thick the next layer of asphalt needs to be, taking into consideration the layers that already lie beneath the surface.

A team of engineers at The University of Toledo created a new procedure and design software to more accurately estimate the structural capacity of existing pavement that could save the Ohio Department of Transportation millions of dollars on road improvement projects and be adopted by states across the country.

Dr. Eddie Chou is leading a team of UT engineers that designed software to estimate the structural capacity of existing pavement that could save the Ohio Department of Transportation millions of dollars on road improvement projects.

The Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, selected UT’s project for developing a revised pavement overlay thickness design procedure as one of 32 High-Value Research projects nationwide to be highlighted at its annual meeting Jan. 13-17 in Washington, D.C. The meeting attracts 13,000 transportation professionals from around the world.

The new method is specifically designed for composite pavement — concrete pavement already topped with a thick layer of asphalt — which accounts for the majority of ODOT’s four-lane and interstate highways. Previously, ODOT used a design method that was originally developed for rigid, concrete pavements that tended to produce designs often deemed too thick and wasteful for today’s roadways, as pavement becomes thicker with each additional overlay.

For an update, ODOT turned to the engineer who crafted the original design 25 years ago: Dr. Eddie Chou, UT professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Transportation Systems Research Lab.

“The previous procedure did not work well with thick composite pavement. With this particular type of road, it tended to underestimate the existing structure’s worth,” said Chou, who worked on the project with Dr. Liango Hu, UT associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Many existing pavement sections we examined now require several inches thinner than previously demanded to withstand traffic for an additional 20 to 25 years.”

The UT research team adopted a three-layer model for back-calculating the properties of the soil subgrade and pavement layers, instead of the old two-layer model that combined cement and asphalt into one.

Chou said the new design reduces on average about five inches of overlay thickness, and the reduction of each additional inch of overlay can save approximately $120,000 per mile.

“In addition to being more environmentally friendly, the potential cost savings can be substantial considering each year ODOT rehabilitates several hundred miles of existing composite pavements by laying additional asphalt on top,” Chou said.

The revised design procedure was implemented into design software that adopts the improved back-calculation model. The software also offers an optional feature that takes into consideration the effects of temperature.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration sponsored the UT research.

“This UT research developed a revised rehabilitation design procedure for composite pavement structures in Ohio and more accurately characterizes pavement layers for this analysis,” Patrick Bierl, pavement design engineer and pavement rating coordinator in ODOT’s Office of Pavement Engineering, said. “This revised procedure allows ODOT to continue to produce efficient and cost-effective rehabilitation designs to manage our composite pavements.”

National science leader and Toledo native to deliver UT commencement address Dec. 15

The head of the nation’s oldest and one of its most prestigious laboratories will return home, as Toledo native Michael Witherell is set to deliver the address during The University of Toledo’s undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 15.

Witherell, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) in Berkeley, Calif., will address 1,474 candidates for degrees, including 1,437 bachelor’s and 37 associate’s candidates. The event will take place at 11:30 a.m. in Savage Arena on Main Campus.

Witherell

UT’s graduate commencement ceremony is scheduled at 8 a.m. in Savage Arena and will commemorate 641 candidates for doctoral, education specialist and master’s degrees, as well as graduate certificates. Md Kamal Hossain, emerging cancer researcher and candidate for a doctoral degree at the University, will be the speaker.

Both ceremonies are open to the public and can be viewed live on the UT Views website.

Witherell, a distinguished physicist, educator and science leader, developed the foundation for his future at Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales High School. Salutatorian at age 15, he earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate in experimental physics from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After a distinguished career as a university professor performing research in particle physics, he devoted himself to leading large research institutions.

In 2016, Witherell was named director of Berkeley Lab, the oldest of the 17 labs in the
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories systems. Berkeley Lab is a global leader in fundamental and applied scientific research in physical, biological, energy, computing and environmental sciences. The lab’s employees have earned 13 Nobel Prizes and played a role in the discovery of 16 elements on the periodic table, among its honors. The lab is managed for the DOE by the University of California.

“Our mission at Berkeley Lab is solving the nation’s most challenging problems through great scientific and technological discoveries. I believe that the national assets in addressing these problems include public universities and the students whom they are educating,” Witherell said.

Before joining Berkeley Lab, Witherell spent six years as director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. He was vice chancellor for research at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where he also held a presidential chair in the Physics Department.

His primary research interest is in studying the nature of dark matter. He was a contributor to the LUX experiment, which in 2016 published the most sensitive search for interactions of dark matter particles with normal matter. He is now part of an international research team that is building a successor to LUX, known as LZ, which will be three orders of magnitude more sensitive. Data collection is expected to start in 2020.

Witherell is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He chairs the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies and serves on the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy.

“As a nationally recognized, public research university, The University of Toledo is pleased to have Dr. Witherell as our fall commencement speaker. Research not only helps us to discover new knowledge that advances all areas of study, but also instills critical thinking skills that our students can use to approach problems systematically and come up with solutions that improve everyday life,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “We look forward to Dr. Witherell sharing his insights with our graduates, especially since he grew up in Toledo and has since made tremendous contributions through research.”

Witherell’s personal success can be traced back to the Glass City, as well. He and his wife, Elizabeth Hall Witherell, head of the Princeton Edition of Henry Thoreau’s writings, grew up in the same west Toledo neighborhood and were high school sweethearts. They have a daughter, Lily.

“The foundation for my career and life was my extended family in Toledo,” Witherell said. “Their support and the value they put on education and public service were central to my personal and professional development.”

Hossain

Hossain, the graduate ceremony speaker, is a native of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who came to UT as an industrial pharmacist with a passion to develop innovative medicines.

“I’ve always been interested in studying health-related fields due to the suffering of people in my homeland from different types of disease,” Hossain said. “My focus is to develop a specific targeting approach for a more effective cancer vaccine. My research examined the utilization of a natural antibody already present in human serum that makes the vaccine more convenient to target tumor cells.”

He is a candidate for a doctor of philosophy degree in medicinal chemistry in UT’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

UT’s fall commencement ceremonies will recognize graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Judith Herb College of Education; Engineering; Graduate Studies; Health and Human Services; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and University College.

The College of Law will host its commencement ceremony Sunday, May 5, at 1 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium. Later that week — Friday, May 10, at
4 p.m. — the College of Medicine and Life Sciences will hold its commencement ceremony in Savage Arena.

For more information, visit the UT commencement website.

Bioengineer to receive international award for work in orthopaedic mechanics

Dr. Vijay K. Goel will be honored by the government of Dubai this month with the Hamdan International Award for Medical Research Excellence for his lifelong work in orthopaedic mechanics.

Goel, Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering at The University of Toledo, was nominated for the award by UT President Sharon L. Gaber.

Goel

“This is a noteworthy award. Many of the previous winners are among the world’s top physicians and researchers. They really pick the cream of the cream,” Goel said. “I’m very honored, very excited, and very proud to have been selected. From my perspective, it is the cumulation of all the work I have done that helped me to get this award.”

The Hamdan International Award for Medical Research Excellence was established in 1999 by Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, to recognize those behind transformative medical research that serves the interests of humanity.

This year’s conference and awards are focused on musculoskeletal disorders, rheumatology, orthopaedics and orthopaedic mechanics. Goel is set to receive the award at a ceremony Dec. 12.

“I’m helping several institutions in India to establish bioengineering programs, and I hope with this award I may be able to help Gulf countries establish programs as well,” he said.

Goel joined The University of Toledo in 2000 after 18 years at the University of Iowa. He also spent three years as a research associate in the Department of Orthopedics at Yale Medical School.

Goel holds 18 patents and has been involved in establishing several companies, including OsteoNovus Inc. and Spinal Balance Inc. He recently received an Ohio Faculty Council Technology Commercialization Award from the Ohio Department of Higher Education for his work in developing and commercializing the Libra Pedicel Screw System.

UT engineering students to show off senior design projects Dec. 7

From biofuels to a collapsible wind turbine, dozens of senior design projects will be on display Friday, Dec. 7, from noon to 3 p.m. in Nitschke Hall at The University of Toledo.

The CodeWeGo team is, from left, Rita Ablordeppey, Zach Podbielniak, Carla Marzari and Jake Perkins.

A design team made up of students in the UT Department of Engineering Technology has created a multi-lingual web platform that is already in the startup phase due to assistance from UT’s LaunchPad Incubation Program. CodeWeGo is a senior capstone project for Carla Marzari, Jacob Perkins, Zachary Podbielniak and Rita Ablordeppey.

“The team has developed a scalable web application to assist non-English-speaking users to learn how to code using their native languages, including Spanish and Chinese. The project uses front-end framework React and Golang/Node programming languages,” Dr. Weiqing Sun, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, said.

The free, public exposition showcases projects created by more than 250 graduating seniors from the departments of Bioengineering; Civil and Environmental Engineering; Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Engineering Technology; and Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

As part of these projects, students form business-consulting units develop a solution for a client’s technical or business challenge. Businesses, industries and federal agencies sponsor the projects required for graduating seniors in the UT College of Engineering.

The expo also will showcase 12 freshman design projects and feature the High School Design Competition for area high school students from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Success story: UT alum, Grypmat inventor to speak Nov. 29

An alumnus of both The University of Toledo and its LaunchPad Incubation Program, whose invention called the Grypmat is on the cover of Time magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2018” issue, is returning to his alma mater to inspire future entrepreneurs.

Tom Burden, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, will speak at a free, public event Thursday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. in the Launchpad Incubator Space on the second floor of Nitschke Technology Commercialization Complex at 1510 N. Westwood Ave. Networking will start at 5:30 p.m.

The UT Engineering Leadership Institute is hosting the discussion titled “Idea to Invention of the Year.”

“Tom’s success with the Grypmat is incredible,” UT Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “We are proud of what he has accomplished as an entrepreneur, but not surprised. He won UT’s Pitch & Pour competition while he was a student here, and he also returned last year to serve as a judge for the annual business pitch contest.”

Burden was recently listed in Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30, and the Grypmat was named one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year.

He plans to discuss his experience taking his product idea to market, including how he landed a deal on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and built a team.

“The University of Toledo and the city of Toledo have many opportunities that I used to make my way to where I am now,” Burden said. “I am passionate about education, helping future generations of entrepreneurs, and giving back to the people who supported me.”

The Grypmat, which Burden designed as a solution to mechanics frustrated by their tools sliding off aircraft while they work, is a flexible, non-slip tool mat made of a unique polymer-silicone blend that helps grip tools and keep them in place at extreme angles of up to 70 degrees.

The product is popular with aircraft, boat and car mechanics. Burden also said he is working with NASA for its use on spaceships.