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Stevens Names Dr. Jean Zu as Dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering & Science

Christophe Pierre, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stevens Institute of Technology announced that Jean Zu, Ph.D., P.Eng., an accomplished scholar of mechanical vibrations and dynamics, and mechatronics, has been named the new dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science (SES) at the university following an international search.

Dr. Jean Zu

Zu, currently chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, will begin her appointment at Stevens on May 1, 2017.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Zu will join the Stevens senior academic leadership,” said Dr. Pierre. “As an accomplished academic administrator and a leading scholar in her field, she is poised to nurture the growth of SES and inspire collaboration across all four schools of Stevens. I am confident that her vision, experience, drive and commitment to excellence will position her to build upon the excellent work of our faculty, staff and students and raise the profile of the school to its full potential.”

Zu’s research interests reside in mechanical vibrations, dynamic analysis, design and mechatronics of various mechanical systems. She has successfully collaborated with many different companies on research projects with a focus on automotive applications. Zu recently extended her research to biomedical instruments and vibration-based energy harvesting. She published over 300 refereed papers, including 160 journal papers, and attracted numerous grants and contracts from government and industry to support her research.

“I am honored and excited to join the Stevens community as Dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering & Science,” Zu said in a statement. “I am deeply impressed by Stevens and the school’s upward trajectory, momentum and student-centric, technological innovation focused culture. I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues to develop new innovative interdisciplinary research and programmatic opportunities. With its world-class faculty, impressive students, newly-planned research facilities and premier location proximate to New York City, SES is poised to continue on its track of excellence.”

Zu graduated with B.S. and M.S. degrees from Tsinghua University in China. After two years of working as a lecturer and researcher at Tsinghua University, she traveled to Canada and obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba. Zu joined the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in 1994, and was soon promoted to associate professor in 1999, and to full professor in 2004. Zu has served as Chair, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering since July 2009.

For more stories about Stevens, scroll down:

3D-Printed Piece Could Revolutionize Spinal Fusion Surgery
Newest Fulbright Recipient Cracks the Weather Code Everywhere from Asia to Manhattan — and Finds Some Surprising Answers

Zu’s contributions to her profession outside of the university are extensive. She served as the president of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC) from 2012 to 2014, and is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineering (CSME). She served as president of the CSME from 2006 to 2008, on the Grant Selection Committee of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) from 2004 to 2007, and served as the associate editor of the ASME Journal of Vibrations and Acoustics from 2007 to 2013. She has worked extensively to raise both awareness and funding for engineering programs at the University of Toronto and across Canada.

As dean of SES, Zu will oversee a school with more than 170 faculty members. The school has been operating under the leadership of interim dean, Keith Sheppard. Stevens was the first school of mechanical engineering in the nation, and today SES provides a multi-disciplinary, design-based education rooted in technology and the applied sciences. The school’s eight departments serve both undergraduate and graduate students and offer more than 50 academic programs and majors.

Stevens Institute of Technology biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate Constance Maglaras, principal designer of the patent-pending technology

Stevens’ 3D-Printed Piece Could Revolutionize Spinal Fusion Surgery

Graduate student-designed scaffold performs like human bone, personalizes rehab

Eight cents.

That’s all it costs to 3D-print a simple yet deceptively complex inch-and-a-quarter-wide plastic scaffold that could pave the way for surgeons to help patients regrow spinal bone tissue much more quickly and effectively.

Stevens Institute of Technology biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate Constance Maglaras, principal designer of the patent-pending technology, was recently awarded top prize in the graduate-poster division at Johnson & Johnson’s 2017 Engineering Showcase for her poster and presentation, “Interconnective Strut Based, Bioresorbable Bone Scaffolds: The Future of Orthopaedic Fusion.”

“This project is innovative, inspiring and full of hope for patients suffering from vertebral injuries. It brings together emerging technologies that will soon personalize healthcare in unimaginable ways,” noted Johnson & Johnson Senior Director of Engineering and Design Jose Abreu. “We at Johnson & Johnson strive to improve the lives of all patients who use our products. This project aligns beautifully with our core principles.”

Maglaras, who previously completed Stevens undergraduate and master’s degrees, has worked since her sophomore year on innovations that aid spinal orthopedics. Thesis advisor Tony Valdevit, a biomedical engineering professor who has taught and supervised her research for seven years, is pleased with the work that culminated in her thesis and the prize-winning presentation.

“I knew her device would work well,” says Valdevit. “We didn’t know it would work this well.”

Building a better scaffold for new vertebrae to grow on

Patients with spinal injuries preparing for spinal fusion surgery require implants. Traditional techniques require doctors to use autografts (bone removed from elsewhere in the patient, usually the pelvis), cadaver-sourced bone, or synthetic bone in those implants to aid in the fusion process.

New techniques explored by Maglaras could help enable the production of implants crafted of each patient’s own mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). The cells can be cultured for about one month outside the body on plastic scaffolds, where they begin to grow into osteoblasts (bone cells) until they resemble human bone.

However, it has proven challenging to optimize the shape of the artificial scaffold. Stem cells require nourishment from surrounding liquid media as they grow, so the scaffold must include adequate spacing to allow the life-giving brew to flow deep enough into the center of the device. The device must also be strong enough to withstand repeated compressions as a patient walks, twists, lifts and moves.

“It’s a difficult mix to get right,” notes Maglaras, who says she went through dozens of iterations before determining the best shape, which hinges on hundreds of connected, microscopic struts within the center of the device. “And getting a printer to also print this complex shape correctly was another challenge.”

The proof was in the load testing.

“As soon as we saw it come off the printer, we looked at each other and knew this was ‘it,’ ” Maglaras recalls.

“I thought it would be very good mechanically,” adds Valdevit. “It turned out to exceed my expectations, both in terms of the strength under compression and the fatigue testing. She tested 5 million cycles at 20 hertz, increasing the load with each test. The piece compressed, but it didn’t break.”

Customizing implants to each patient’s needs

“What makes this special is that it can withstand loads greater than the human spine normally needs to,” notes Maglaras. “No other scaffold that I’ve come across is so lightweight and can withstand such loads. Once the cells have matured within the scaffold, it is almost like implanting a piece of customized bone, because it is made of the patient’s own cells. Theoretically, there is no immunological risk in the process.”

The scaffold can even be customized to an individual patient’s physiology and bone-mineral density, she adds, by tweaking its design based on CT scans of a patient.

“That’s personalizing the medicine here in the truest sense,” she says.

After graduating in spring 2017, Maglaras is studying the possibility of seeking potential investors to create a startup based on the scaffold and attempting to commercialize or license the technology — “that would be very exciting,” she says — while continuing to refine the design.

It’s also possible she might enter the medical device industry instead, to work on further innovations that will benefit orthopedic practice. Valdevit has no doubt Maglaras will succeed on her chosen path.

“She has been a model student since day one,” he says. “If she has a question, if she doesn’t know something, she’ll ask directly. And if she already knows the answer, if she knows what she needs to do, she is smart enough to just go and do it in the lab. I’ve also seen her teach and she’s very, very good at that as well. We’re very proud of her.”


Dr. Julie Pullen (right) will travel to the Philippines in 2018, and students

Stevens’ Newest Fulbright Recipient Cracks the Weather Code Everywhere from Asia to Manhattan — and Finds Some Surprising Answers

Dr. Julie Pullen links air and sea models to crack the extreme-weather code from Asia to Manhattan — and finds some surprising answers

Imagine a killer, super-Sandy-sized hurricane bearing down on a coastal city with just a few days of advance warning. How will the resulting rain, wind, waves and tides affect everything from drinking water to subway service? How should residents and planners prepare?

Stevens Institute of Technology ocean engineering professor Julie Pullen can help.

Now imagine a canister of toxic substances, released during an 18-wheeler crash on FDR Drive — or, worse, released by a terrorist’s helicopter, drone or plane above the city. Few would be able to judge which neighborhoods were in danger as wind rapidly dispersed the poison.

Yet, once again — with a little information about the time of year and the day’s weather — Pullen can make a very strong educated guess.

“Julie is one of those rare individuals who is equally comfortable tackling hard science questions about how the ocean and atmosphere interact and leading high-profile, impactful international policy forums,” notes Alan Blumberg, director of Stevens’ Davidson Laboratory and a longtime collaborator.

Now Pullen, a leading expert on fluids, winds, oceans and weather — and, importantly, the ways in which those systems continuously interact with one another — has received her latest significant honor, a Fulbright scholarship to travel, educate and perform research abroad. Beginning next January, she will spend five months teaching at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) and refining models and forecasts that will save lives.

“The timing of your visit coincides with expanding regional, country and university efforts to advance prediction and monitoring of natural hazards,” noted UPD professor Olivia Cabrera, who will collaborate in the creation of new meteorology and other coursework at the university, in the official invitation to Pullen to join UPD’s faculty as a visiting professor. “And I’m confident that we can achieve so much more by your presence.”

Discovering how mountain winds fuel killer storms

Typhoons and heavy rainstorms are common in the Philippines, creating floods and landslides and necessitating evacuations. As one of the world’s ten nations most impacted by extreme weather-related disasters, its government has begun building an early-warning system that can predict floods and warn residents in affected areas. But there’s still more to be done.

Pullen was drawn both by the urgency of the threat and by scientific curiosity.

“Island environments are really interesting focal points for coastal urban sustainability challenges,” she notes.

During previous research with the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) in the region, Pullen had already unlocked a key dynamic for the first time: the shapes of the islands of the Philippines, it turns out, significantly influence the weather that swirls around them. Wind jets passing through the islands, shaped by mountains, send huge, deep whirlpool-type systems swirling out to sea, driving ocean currents and affecting everything from local deadly rainfall events to regional fisheries and global weather.

“When strong winds blow through island systems,” she explains, “they create patterns of intensified winds in the gaps between islands and weaker winds in the lees of the islands. You get these strong-weak-strong-weak patterns, and the ocean responds really strongly to that type of forcing” with large-scale eddies.

It was a remarkable insight, connecting several dots. Forecasters, taking into account these new findings, can now more accurately predict strong downpours in the region year-round by applying integrated models that account for the influence of air temperature, river flow, ocean salinity and other variables on one another.

The tremendous volume of water pouring into rivers during storms, for example, empties into the South China Sea, lowering its salinity and stratifying the near-shore ocean water and preventing heat from being naturally generated. This, in turn, creates new dynamics, triggering weather effects that may now be more knowable.

“Putting that whole picture together is a really exciting aspect of this work,” enthuses Pullen, “not just the modeling but bringing together those observational data sets that include the rain gauges, the river discharge data, satellite images, as well as new and emerging measurements [such as] radar measurements of rainfall.”

Following her Fulbright residency, Pullen will perform an ONR field research trip, continuing ongoing Stevens collaborations with the Navy as it maps oceanographic conditions and collects data in the region.

And that broader project, assisted by NASA measurements of the atmosphere, will soon help scientists worldwide build better models to predict extreme weather in their local areas — one reason nations as far afield as Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan are planning to send government research vessels to assist.

“The tropics are key. They’re a ‘hot spot’ for propagating features that influence the whole planet,” explains Pullen.

Weather as security information

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Pullen has also turned her expert knowledge of weather systems to a number of security issues, including research on Manhattan wind patterns and the 2011 Fukushima, Japan radiation-release disaster.

As a Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, she was one of the first to link air/sea models to homeland security studies predicting how chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear substances would spread in those cities. She also served, for a time, as director of Stevens’ Maritime Security Center, a Department of Homeland Security-affiliated National Center of Excellence, and plans to revisit the work soon in the metropolitan New York region.

“There’s a surprising lack of data about dispersion in urban environments,” she points out. “So I’m looking to work on that, partnering with the emergency-response community.”

In addition to planning new experiments updating the science — releasing harmless gases or powders on the ground or in the air in the city, then tracking their movements — Pullen also hopes to train local response agencies to make field observations that can also help improve forecasting and future planning for potential disasters.

“It does take a lot of work with local partners to be able to predict on a very local scale,” she notes. “The work that’s been done here in the Davidson Laboratory by Alan Blumberg and colleagues has really pioneered that path to show street-scale, neighborhood-scale impacts. This really shows us the way forward.”

Teaching scientists, forging collaborations

After returning to Stevens from the Fulbright, she’ll continue to balance research with teaching.

“I enjoy teaching,” she says. “I enjoy the dialogue, I enjoy the conversation and I enjoy seeing students develop as independent thinkers. That’s just a great thrill to me. I tend to really emphasize conceptual insights from them to be able to make those leaps and apply those ideas in different contexts. I think that is the essence of learning.”

Pullen will also continue a busy schedule of international travel and advocacy, bringing together scientists from diverse backgrounds and nations in the collective interest of creating ever-better forecasts and public awareness.

“All of these models have extraordinary fidelity,” she says, “but they have to be connected. [We] have to exchange the information, and I think that’s the biggest challenge of the field that I work in right now.”