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September 03, 2019

Wolf Is a Material Asset for CMU’s Research Enterprise

She sees big opportunities at Mill 19

By Bruce Gerson

Sandra DeVincent Wolf is building bridges, connecting faculty expertise with industry needs to advance Carnegie Mellon research and the future of manufacturing.

Wolf is making those connections in three appointments at CMU, leveraging her technical expertise — she has a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering — and business acumen.

She is director of research partnerships, focused on materials and manufacturing, for the College of Engineering, home to more than 120 ongoing industry- and government-sponsored projects. She’s executive director of CMU’s Next Manufacturing Center, a position in which she facilitates research collaborations in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, and coordinates the internal and external activities of the center for nearly 30 faculty, 50-60 students as well as consortium partners from industry, federal agencies and labs. And she’s executive director of the Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI), an effort that brings together faculty across campus and seeds interdisciplinary research projects to attract large federal grants and industry partnerships, help manufacturing’s digital transformation and grow the regional economy.

Add to her above portfolio, managing a 3D printing lab, mentoring students, co-creating master’s degree and undergraduate minor programs in additive manufacturing, and playing a key role in the recent opening of MFI’s new home in Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green, and most would call her workload daunting.

Wolf calls it a labor of love. 

“I do them all because I’m very passionate about them,” said Wolf, who earned her undergraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and her master’s and doctorate degrees at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).

“I love to work with students, faculty and external partners, and I love bringing all these people together to run programs that are advancing technology.”

“I’m mission driven. I love to work with students, faculty and external partners, and I love bringing all these people together to run programs that are advancing technology. The overlap is significant between all my roles. It’s all in the same space,” she said.

Wolf is looking forward to the opportunities a new space will bring at Mill 19. MFI is sharing two floors of the three-story building on the former J&L mill site with Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), a public-private partnership operating as part of the Manufacturing USA network, whose mission is to create an ecosystem to speed the movement of industrial robotics technologies into commercial use, while preparing a labor force to operate and manage these technologies across the U.S. The more than 58,000-square-feet of space includes a huge high-bay area, about a dozen large flexible lab spaces, meeting and small breakout rooms, and a workforce training and conferencing center, where technicians and engineers will be trained to work in robotics and other advanced manufacturing technologies. 

“Collaboration will be a little easier with industry and outside partners at Mill 19,” she said. “The high-bay and lab spaces will provide easier access and it will allow our partners to embed researchers for the life of a project, or for just a week or two. Mill 19 gives us more space to do things on an industrial scale and room to grow.”

Example MFI projects include building an environment to enable large-scale automation of existing factories and warehouses, creating a virtual reality interactive training system for using additive manufacturing machines, and the robotic 3D printing of energy-efficient concrete building façade panels. Wolf said MFI’s support of a machine learning application to additive manufacturing helped CMU win a $6.8 million NASA University Leadership Initiative grant this summer to further develop 3D printing for the aviation industry. This is just one example of MFI’s efforts to seed research that leads to significant external support.

“CMU is an amazing place, with amazing people and amazing innovations. I’m so proud to be part of that.”

Wolf has a rich history in materials and manufacturing. She spent over two years with the Army Materials Technology Laboratory while an undergraduate at MIT. As a NASA Fellow in graduate school, she worked at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where the majority of materials research is done. After earning her Ph.D., she continued with NASA as a National Research Council (NRC) Research Associate until relocating to Pittsburgh to lead research and development at a mid-stage startup in casting of composites. She later worked for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program under contract with Westinghouse and later Bechtel, and spent seven years on the executive team of the Materials Research Society. 

“What’s so fantastic about joining CMU is that I’m putting into play everything I’ve done before,” she said. “From the technical, to government relations, to strategic planning to building partnerships, to event planning.” 

Wolf said she’s been given the autonomy to cut her own path at CMU.

“Those in leadership have allowed me to make this position my own and to make decisions about what I think would advance the mission of each of the activities I lead,” she said. “I’ve been given the freedom to launch programs and participate in activities that are not explicitly part of my job description because they advance the whole enterprise. 

“CMU is an amazing place, with amazing people and amazing innovations. I’m so proud to be part of that.”

In her spare time, Wolf enjoys soccer, a sport she played as a kid, and as a student-athlete in high school and college. She coached and managed her children’s teams and is president of the Pine-Richland Soccer Club. She and her husband are certified referees and together officiate youth games for players ranging from ages 10 to 19. They met playing soccer at CWRU, where they were both studying materials science and engineering.

The Wolfs have two children, also engineers. Their daughter just began graduate studies at CMU in biomedical engineering after graduating from Duke University, and her son is in his sophomore year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studying electrical engineering.

Wolf also is active in the region’s materials and manufacturing communities and is part of the new Pittsburgh Chapter of Women in 3D Printing.

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