Pittsburghers Forge Ahead on Cutting Edge

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh's innovators continue to advance the cause of science, medicine, engineering and popular culture. Here's a list of innovators and what they're working on.

Luis von Ahn, 28, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist, is one of the youngest recipients of a MacArthur Fellows "genius" grant. He received $500,000 to spend as he sees fit. He is one of five recipients nationwide of this year's Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellowship, a $200,000 award to help young professors who are likely to define the direction of computer science.

Dr. Stephen Badylak, AGE, deputy director, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. His research focus is a naturally made material called extracellular matrix, or ECM. Derived from pig bladder or intestine, ECM sends the right signals to the body to re- grow healthy tissue, rather than heal injury with scar. ECM became widely known when a model airplane hobbyist sliced off the tip of his finger and it grew back after he sprinkled a powder form of ECM on the injury.

Jacobo Bielak, 68, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of civil and mechanical engineering, received a $1.2 million, four- year grant from the National Science Foundation to continue his earthquake research.

Andrew Gellman, 49, head of the chemical engineering department at CMU and director of an energy consortium designed to develop cleaner, more efficient fuels. Received a $2 million research grant from the Department of Energy to continue developing chemical reactions that can be used in the chemical and petroleum industries.

Gregg Gillis, 27, also known as Girl Talk, blends songs from multiple artists from different genres - Roy Orbison and Kanye West, for example - to create his own music. His 2008 release, "Feed the Animals" was ranked fourth in Time Magazine's Top Albums of 2008. His fall 2008 tour included two sold-out shows in Los Angeles. His music is controversial because it relies on a loose interpretation of the fair use principle of copyright law.

Carlos Guestrin, 34, assistant professor of computer science and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon recently was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given to young U.S. scientists. In 2008, he was listed as one of Popular Science's Brilliant Ten for his work developing computer algorithms designed to collect information efficiently -- whether it's the best blogs to read for news or the number/location of sensors needed to monitor the safety of a water system.

Andy Hannah, 44, CEO of Plextronics, an international technology company that specializes in printed solar, lighting and other electronics. The company's focus is on organic solar cell and OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) lighting, specifically the conductive inks and process technologies that enable those and other similar applications. Particularly relevant as the worldwide search for renewable energy becomes more urgent, the company's technology will enable the mass production of printed devices, such as low-cost organic solar cells and high-efficiency lighting.

Matt Lamanna, 33, paleontologist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History who uncovered bird fossils on a dig that help support the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs, and was featured in a documentary on the dig. He led the renovation of the dinosaur museum.

Dr. Bruce Lee, 41, assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and biomedical informatics, University of Pittsburgh, is an expert in creating virtual models to gain insight into epidemics. He is collaborating with world-renowned infectious disease expert Dr. Donald Burke, dean at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, to develop computer simulations of H1N1 by using census data and other data sets to build simulations of individuals as they move about and interact with one another through schools, workplaces, households and communities. …