In 1900, steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie announced to the City of Pittsburgh his intention to build a “first class technical school” for the sons of local steel mill workers. Over the next five decades, Carnegie Tech became well-known for its engineering and science programs. In 1967, Carnegie Tech merged with Mellon Institute and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) emerged as one of the nation’s top research universities.
Today, Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering performs research in robotics, cyberphysical systems, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, energy, and other topics.
Research areas include computational biomedical engineering, medical devices and robotics, and neural engineering.
For tens of millions of patients who battle chronic lung diseases, present-day care options are mostly limited to short-term drug and oxygen therapy. The Biomedical Engineering team is working on technologies to advance the long-term effectiveness and future use of artificial organs to address this worldwide issue. Polycarboxy-betaine (PCB) surface coatings and the Factor XII Inhibitor (FXII900) are being studied to keep artificial lung devices from failing due to clot formation, without creating any negative side effects. This novel combination provides a safer alternative to heparin, the current gold standard in anticoagulation treatment, which has been known to pose bleeding risks in patients.
Researchers — in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh — developed one of the fastest known COVID-19 antibody tests. The test results are available in 10 to 15 seconds and detect the presence of two of the antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Such a quick and effective test could be a game-changer for controlling the spread of the pandemic. The breakthrough test would require a very small drop of blood from a fingertip to identify the two antibodies and detect antibody concentrations at an extremely low level. Results are sent almost immediately to a simple interface on a smartphone.
Biomedical Engineering researchers also are part of an international team working on wearable biomedical technology that will enhance free-diver safety as well as provide fresh treatment insights for cardiac patients. The smartwatch-like wearable device uses light-emitting LEDs in contact with the skin to measure heart rate, blood volume, and oxygen levels in the brain. It can withstand depths of at least 107 meters.
CMU is fabricating devices at micrometer/nanometer scale and synthesizing nanomaterials for critical medical applications. By using nanotechnology, therapeutic drugs could be inserted directly into cancerous cells, leaving the rest of the patient’s body largely untouched by harsh drugs.
In collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, CMU is developing a safe, noninvasive, cost-effective, and quicker imaging option for patients with epilepsy. It leverages noninvasive EEG technology to create a machine learning algorithm to automatically identify key oscillations and spikes related to epilepsy.
CMU researchers created the first full-size 3D bioprinted human heart model using their Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) technique. The model, created from MRI data using a specially built 3D printer, realistically mimics the elasticity of cardiac tissue and sutures. This milestone represents the culmination of two years of research, holding both immediate promise for surgeons and clinicians as well as long-term implications for the future of bioengineered organ research.
Since its inception in 1905, the Department of Chemical Engineering has been on the leading edge of innovation in areas including air quality, consumer products, energy and biofuels, health and medicine, process systems engineering, and fluids engineering. Many of the consumer products we interact with on a daily basis have their roots in chemical engineering — from cosmetics to dish detergent, paints, and plastics.
A CMU team developed a revolutionary new method of 3D-printing battery electrodes that creates a 3D microlattice structure with controlled porosity that improves the capacity and charge-discharge rates for lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronics, medical devices, and aerospace. Non-biological electronic micro-devices will also benefit from this work. And on a bigger scale, electronic devices, small drones, and aerospace applications can use this technology due to the low weight and high capacity of the batteries printed using this method.
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Every day, the world’s population increases by roughly 200,000, taxing all forms of existing infrastructure; creating significant air, water, and groundwater quality issues; and bringing about new concerns with regard to energy sustainability. Another important challenge is climate change. New weather patterns are emerging that create additional pressures for both the built and natural environment with more intense and frequent wind, flooding, and temperature extremes.
The Civil and Environmental Engineering group addresses the challenges of the 21st century including sustainable, intelligent infrastructure systems; water and air quality science and engineering; resilient engineering materials; and environmentally sustainable, or green, engineering practices.
Electrical and Computer Engineering
ECE has identified multiple research focus areas: energy, healthcare and quality of life, mobile systems, smart infrastructure, compute/storage systems, cyberphysical systems, data/network science, and secure systems.
Sensors are part of modern-day technology. From key fobs to credit card chips and smart devices, near-field communication (NFC) allows for humans to communicate with objects. But what if we could use this technology so that everyday objects, like a pillow or a shoe, could sense and interact with us? CMU developed fabric-friendly NFC antennas that can be woven into everyday surfaces for building smart environments. Known as TextileSense, this near-field beamforming system can track everyday objects made of conductive materials like a human hand. The team designed and fabricated specialized textile coils that can be woven into the fabric of the furniture and easily hidden by acrylic paint. The coils can sense the position of an object such as determining if a human is sitting on the couch or laying down.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, important research is seeking to fight the virus by mitigating the virus once it is in the air. A CMU alumnus created Nanowave Air, a device that can inactivate coronavirus particles in the air using ultraviolet light. One way to use the device is to provide a person with a constant stream of inactivated air. This can be used in situations that require mask removal such as dentistry work. The device could also create a “shield” of inactivated air between people sitting across from each other at a meeting. In addition, the device has been used in homes where family members have tested positive.
Camaroptera is a battery-less remote image sensor powered completely by solar panels and capable of wirelessly transmitting images over kilometers, even in a crowded city environment. It collects images and processes them through edge computing. Camaroptera applies machine learning to the images it collects and based on those results, it can send the interesting images over a radio while disregarding uninteresting data, saving the energy that would have been used to send it.
Engineering and Public Policy
The department works to solve problems at the interface of science, technology, and society in areas such as energy systems, climate and environment, information and communications technology, risk analysis, and technology innovation policy.
Information Networking Institute
Founded in 1989, the Institute focuses on information networking, security, and mobile and IoT engineering that incorporate business and policy perspectives.
To fly autonomously, drones need to understand what they perceive in the environment and make decisions based on that information. A method developed at CMU allows drones to learn perception and action separately and creates a way to safely deploy drones trained entirely on simulated data into real-world course navigation. The method of separating perception and control could be applied to tasks for artificial intelligence such as driving or cooking. Other modalities like sounds and shapes could be used for efforts like identifying cars, wildlife, or objects.
A team from CMU, UC Berkeley, and Facebook AI taught a robot how to learn to walk. A major hurdle to deploying legged robots is figuring out how the robot will respond to changing conditions. Humans can adapt as they walk over rocks, mud, sand, ice, and uneven surfaces and adjust to carrying a heavy backpack or limp along with an injured ankle. Legged robots cannot adjust so quickly — Rapid Motor Adaptation (RMA) seeks to change that. The artificial intelligence enables legged robots to adapt intelligently in real time to challenging, unfamiliar new terrain and circumstances.
MoonRanger, an autonomous rover headed to the Moon in 2023, is a suitcase-sized rover developed by CMU and its spinoff, Astrobotic, in collaboration with NASA’s Ames Research Center. The rover’s autonomy software will build 3D maps of the lunar surface and demonstrate long-range and communication-denied exploration. Using visual odometry with a stereo camera and a Sun sensor, the rover can independently orient itself on the lunar surface and make intelligent navigational decisions based on what it sees without being guided, supervised, or teleoperated from Earth.
CMU is working with Apple to develop new ways to disassemble old technology. The work builds on Apple’s existing recycling innovations including its recycling robots Daisy and Dave. The team is designing machine learning models that will enable robots to teach themselves how to disassemble a device they have never seen before. The robot scans a phone with a laser to create a 3D model. The team then simulates cracks, cases, or missing batteries to train the model to recognize the different conditions a device might be in when it arrives at a recycling center.
Materials Science and Engineering
The principles of basic sciences and engineering are used to understanding the behavior of materials, their development, and applications. Focus areas include computational materials science, micro- and nano-electronics, magnetics, and inorganic functional materials such as batteries, fuel cells, and capacitors.
Focus areas in mechanical engineering are advanced manufacturing, bioengineering, computational engineering, energy and the environment, product design, and robotics. Researchers are using new techniques to 3D-print ceramics, lithium-ion battery electrodes, and devices for aerospace and biomedical industries.
Bioengineering work includes exploring myosin protein for synthetic muscle, using DNA origami for nanomechanics of multiprotein systems, developing robotic interfaces for microsurgery, and making bio-inspired robots. They pair wearable medical devices with advanced analytics and machine learning to personalize rehabilitation for joint injuries and pathologies.
CMU uses techniques from tissue engineering to refine tendon-like collagen threads for a new generation of robots. The goal of this research was to better understand how to make an artificial tendon for use on a robot. In our bodies, tendons work to connect muscle to bone and are rather strong. This means that these collagen threads could be used for a very similar purpose in a robot, connecting living muscle actuators to the robot, helping it to walk, jump, or swim.
Researchers also introduced a unique printable ink that allowed, for the first time, the digital printing of multi-layer stretchable circuits, electronic skins (e-skins), and adhesive medical patches for electrophysiological monitoring. The materials and methods enable the scalable fabrication of stretchable circuits using simple extrusion printers. These electrical circuits can be printed on a medical adhesive for patient bio-monitoring, over elastic polymer to make artificial skin for robotics applications, and onto textiles for wearable computing.
Collaborators led by CMU are developing a novel approach to administering COVID-19 inoculations that addresses both immunological effectiveness and manufacturing efficiency with a low-dose, inexpensive, hybrid microneedle array (Hybrid-MNA) technology. The intradermal delivery device builds on more than a decade of work on microneedle array technology. The novel vaccine delivery method allows for a very small amount — potentially 1/100th of the dose of a traditional vaccine — to elicit strong and long-lasting immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infections. This can significantly help reduce vaccine shortages.
The Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC) facilitates the transfer of intellectual assets to the commercial marketplace.