Carnegie Mellon University

CEE Graduate Seminar Series

Spring 2019

All seminars will be held at 10:30-11:50 am in the Giant Eagle Auditorium (Baker Hall A51).

All seminars are open to the campus community. The use of electronic devices is prohibited during seminar. 

Don Nusser, PE, PP, ENV SP
Senior Vice President 
Mott McDonald

Serendipity by Design

Don Nusser will discuss his 40+ year career in the civil and environmental consulting business showing his progression from an entry-level engineer to his current role at Mott MacDonald North America. He will detail projects in diverse places as Seoul, South Korea, and Labrador, sharing experiences which revealed themselves to be milestones and turning points.

In addition, Nusser will give an overview of Mott MacDonald and describe some of the opportunities available there.


Don Nusser is a civil and environmental engineer with over 40 years of experience in project management, business development, office and staff management, facilitation, training, and mentoring.

For the greater part of his career, Nusser provided technical and financial management on hundreds of environmental projects including soil and groundwater investigations and remediation design and implementation; solid waste management and recycling planning, facilities design and permitting, and FSO procurement; environmental monitoring and permitting; NEPA studies; municipal sludge treatment and disposal facilities; and utility planning and improvement projects. Most recently, Don has been involved in directing the Learning & Development (L&D) for the North America region of Mott MacDonald.

Nusser was born in Irvington, NJ and he received his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Civil Engineering with a Water Resources emphasis from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ. His master’s program thesis investigated the impacts of ocean pressures on the biodegradability of sludge from municipal treatment plants. Nusser began his career at Killam Associates, a small municipal engineering consulting firm which occupied storefront properties on Essex Street in Millburn, NJ. His work there included streamflow computer programming and infiltration/ inflow studies on the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission collection system.

He subsequently worked for several environmental consulting firms including M. Disko Associates and Metcalf & Eddy, Inc. (now AECOM) in Somerville, NJ before returning to Killam in 1986 to head the solid waste management department within the waste management division. Don transferred to the Pittsburgh, PA office of Killam in 1992 where he headed up the industrial group which included an office in Dublin, OH; the group focused on industrial/private clients and their wastewater treatment and environmental permitting needs. His career path then took him to various consultants in the Pittsburgh area including Tetra Tech, Fluor Daniel GTI/IT Corp, Earth Tech, and ENSR Corporation (the latter two now being AECOM) where he gained valuable experience in managing technical and support staff and providing technical oversight on-site assessment and remediation projects and Phase I ESA portfolio projects.

Nusser returned to Mott MacDonald in November 2006 and is currently located in the Pittsburgh office. Over the past 12 years, Don has contributed in a wide variety of ways to the success of Mott MacDonald through managing both large and small projects, managing and writing proposals, formulating presentations, starting up a new office in Canonsburg, PA, and providing training and mentoring on subjects including project management, sustainability, commercial awareness, and technical and proposal writing.

Nusser currently manages the L&D Group in North America and chairs the Mott MacDonald North America Sustainability Steering Committee in addition to staying involved in providing technical and management services on client projects. He is the global training lead for a new ERP system for Mott MacDonald world-wide.

Nusser and his wife of 44 years, Karen, live in Cranberry Township, PA.


Kelly T. Sanders
Assistant Professor 
University of Southern California
Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Estimating the Water Usage of the US Energy System


Although water is a critical input to the US energy system, the quantities and qualities of water resources that are used throughout the national energy economy have been poorly understood. Although regional analyses have been performed for individual fuels across various lifecycle stages, these studies are often difficult to compare due to differences or obscurities in data collection, reporting, and/or analysis design.

This talk will summarize a multi-year effort to synthesize hundreds of data sources to develop a comprehensive estimate of absolute water consumption and withdrawals, as well as water usage intensities, for the US energy economy in 2014, across 17 fuel cycles and 5 lifecycle stages, differentiated by water quality and water source. Results indicate that the US energy system accounts for approximately 10% and 40% of US water consumption and water withdrawals, respectively. Ongoing efforts to increase the spatio-temporal resolution of these data suggest that the quantities and qualities of energy-related water usage are changing in space and time due to technological and fuel transitions (e.g. shifts in renewable energy production, natural gas power generation, power plant cooling technologies, hydraulic fracturing, etc.), which has exacerbated water stress in some regions, while alleviating some water concerns in others.

A discussion of results, analytical challenges, and best data reporting practices will be offered in efforts to improve the co-management of energy and water resources and reduce competition with other sectors of the broader economy, particularly in regards to agriculture. Given that climate variability and climate change will continue to impact the timing and availability of water resources that are necessary for ensuring a safe and reliable energy supply, developing better frameworks for quantifying these interdependencies rigorously and efficiently is prudent moving forward.


Dr. Kelly T. Sanders is an Assistant Professor in the University of Southern California’s Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Her research aims to ease tensions between human and natural systems through technical, regulatory and market intervention, with particular emphasis on reducing the environmental impacts of providing energy and water services.

She has authored more than two dozen peer-reviewed publications and has given dozens of invited talks on topics at the intersection of engineering, science, and policy. Sanders has been recognized in Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Energy and MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 for her contributions to the energy field. Her research and commentary have been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, Forbes, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and Scientific American.

Sanders received her B.S. in Bioengineering from the Pennsylvania State University, as well M.S.E and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Environmental Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, respectively. She teaches classes related to energy and the environment.

José E. Andrade
George W. Housner Professor
Cecil and Sally Drinkward Leadership Chair
Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering

What would it take to build on Mars?

The human race is currently actively exploring our solar system and will need to develop infrastructure outside of our planet. In this talk, we will explore what would it take to build infrastructure on Mars --a key location for human exploration-- where there is no direct access to common construction materials used on Earth, and where the most abundant and accessible material is regolith.

The need to build on the red planet will drive the development of new materials and autonomous construction systems. These developments necessitate an urgent push to understand the physical and chemical properties of the regolith. Specifically, celestial soil mechanics can shed light into the mechanical behavior of these materials by relying on physics-based approaches and new tools such as artificial intelligence.

In this talk, we will discuss some of the new developments in simulating the mechanics of regolith using physics-based models, as well as machine learning techniques, and how these could be relevant to building new worlds.


José E. Andrade is the George W. Housner Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and the Cecil and Sally Drinkward Leadership Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering at Caltech. Andrade joined Caltech after four years at Northwestern University as an assistant professor in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.

Andrade got his PhD in 2006 from Stanford University in the area of geomechanics. His research interests lie in the area of computational mechanics with application to problems at the interface of physics and mechanics to develop predictive analytical and numerical models for granular and porous materials (e.g., soils, rocks, foam, bone, etc.), with especial application to energy exploration and space missions.

Prof. Andrade is the recipient of several honors and awards including the 2006 Zienkiewicz Medal in computational mechanics, the 2010 NSF CAREER Award, the 2010 Young Investigator Award from the U.S. AFOSR, the 2011 Arthur Casagrande Career Development Award from ASCE, the 2011 Rocafuerte Medal for Scientific and Technological Advancements from the Republic of Ecuador, the 2017 Thomas Hughes Young Investigator Award from ASME, and the 2018 Huber Research Award from ASCE.

Andrade also serves on the Science Team for the NASA’s InSight Mission to Mars in 2018. He is on the editorial board for some of the leading journals in the field. Andrade's work is currently funded by NSF, ARO, and NASA.

Planting the Seeds for Growth

Patty Racz
Senior Training and Development Specialist
GAI Consultants

Gabriella Briffa Whitman
Engineering consultant
GAI Consultants


In this session you will be introduced to GAI Consultants, an employee-owned engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA with 27 offices in 12 states. Through Patty’s professional expertise and Gabriella’s personal work experience, this seminar offers guidance on several questions related to starting and developing your professional career including:  

  • What is the benefit of keeping an open mind when selecting an engineering specialty? 
  • How should you select a company to work for?  
  • What skills are important for new engineers to develop? 
  • What is the value of a professional engineering license? 
  • What are the pros and cons of a remote work assignment? 
  • What does the average day of a transmission line engineer look like? 


As Senior Training and Development Specialist, Patty Racz, MA, MS spearheads GAI’s training initiatives, including the award-winning GAI University program. With more than 20 years of experience, Patty has developed and conducted training on a range of subjects including leadership and development, sales and service, and software and technical training. Patty develops and facilitates classes and manages all training-related activities at GAI.
Gabriella Briffa Whitman, PE (PA, TX) graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 with a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering and is currently pursuing an MBA at Point Park University. Working both in-office and remotely as a transmission line engineer, Gabriella has participated in a range of GAI projects across the northeast and southwest U.S. including structures analysis, wire electrical clearances, geotechnical foundation design, and technical contract writing.

Gabriella is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) government relations arm as an advocacy captain in both PA and TX and was a member of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s transition team. 

Micro-architected Macrostructures: Bridging the Length Scale Gap via Nanoparticle 3D Printing

Rahul Panat
Associate Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University


In this work, we present a novel additive manufacturing method that uses printing of nanoparticles to fabricate a new class of three-dimensional (3D) micro-architected materials. Using controlled condensation and solvent evaporation in an aerosol jet-based printing process, we have been able to achieve a precise arrangement of nanoparticles in 3-D space to give rise to hierarchical structures. These structures cover a length scale of hundreds of nanometers to several centimeters spanning a critical gap left by the other manufacturing processes. Theories of dropwise hardening and evaporation are developed and validated through experiments to precisely control this process. Highly intricate 3-D micro-lattices, pillars, and spirals are demonstrated with a potential use in applications such as structural materials with high strength to weight ratio.

We have also developed methods to modulate the properties of such structures using different thermal treatments to allow grain growth and changes to porosity and hence changes in the mechanical properties. Hybrid manufacturing methods are explored that increase the strength of the structures without significantly increasing the density, an important step in realizing materials in the empty spaces of the Ashby chart. Lastly, we discuss the scalability of the process and its use in other applications such as structural batteries, ultra-high-density brain-machine interfaces, and high-performance sensors. 


Dr. Rahul Panat received his MS in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois, Urbana. He worked at Intel Corporation in the area of microprocessor manufacturing R&D from 2004-2014. At Intel, Dr. Panat led a team of manufacturing engineers that developed the process for industry’s first halogen-free IC chip.

He joined Washington State University (WSU) in fall 2014 and then moved to CMU in fall 2017 and works in the areas of additive manufacturing, stretchable electronics, and Li-ion batteries.  His research is funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the US Department of Energy.

Dr. Panat is a recipient of several awards, including one at Intel for his work on the halogen-free chip. 

Designing Intelligent Environments Using Reinforcement Learning

Zoltan Nagy, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin


Buildings are responsible for 30-40% of greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time have a 50-90% reduction potential with current technologies and their widespread implementation.

In this talk, we will examine how intelligent energy management systems can contribute to an energy efficient building stock of the future, and can support integration of distributed renewable energy generation, such as photovoltaics, combined with electrical storage.

In particular, we will focus on reinforcement learning, an agent-based machine learning technique in which the agent learns the optimal set of actions through interaction with its environment. We present examples of our current research from the building and the urban scale.


Dr. Nagy is a roboticist turned building engineer. His research interests are in smart buildings and cities, renewable energy systems, control systems for zero emission building operation, machine learning and artificial intelligence for the built environment, and the influence of building occupants on energy performance.

Prior to joining UT, Austin, Dr. Nagy was a senior scientist at the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, in the Department of Architecture. Dr. Nagy has co-founded the award-winning high-tech spin-off Femtotools in 2007, and was member of its board of directors until 2011.

Dr. Nagy received a PhD in robotics in 2011, and an MSc in Mechanical Engineering (2006) with a focus on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and robotics, both from ETH Zurich, Switzerland. He spent an academic exchange semester at the Danish Technical University in 2005, and was a visiting researcher at MIT in 2009.