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 September 2001
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Cornerstones
Gifts to the University

The Right Tools
PPG Industries enhances high-tech chemistry at Pitt.

Any handyman will tell you that the right tools make all the difference. Thanks to a $500,000 gift from the PPG Industries Foundation, chemistry investigators at Pitt now have the right tools to work on the tiniest of problems. The newly dedicated PPG Materials Characterization Laboratory in Chevron Hall boasts an X-ray diffractometer, an atomic force microscope, and a fluorescence system. In addition, the funds have built what Professor Sanford Asher calls the best laser laboratory for Raman spectroscopy in the world. Experiments using these “Buck Rodgers” facilities have the potential to increase knowledge and solve problems with important everyday applications.

The new X-ray diffractometer provides an unambiguous means of assigning molecular structure, including high-temperature superconducting materials and biologically important molecules. The diffractometer is key in drug design, for example. Drugs interact with the body in a lock-and-key way; molecules with the right shape fit into a particular place in a target in the human body, eliciting a particular response. The shape of the drug molecules (that is, what they look like) has a lot to do with how they behave and what kind of properties they have. Assistant Professor Scott Nelson is working to develop small molecule anticancer agents and new ways of getting to these compounds. According to Nelson, “X-ray tells us specifically what the structures of the compounds that we make are, whether they are final product or intermediate compounds leading up to the product — which is important because the molecules are pretty complex.”

The atomic force microscope functions much like an old-fashioned record player, where a sharp tip moves across a bumpy surface to generate an electrical signal describing the topography of the surface.

Professor Gilbert Walker is one of several faculty members using the microscope in tissue engineering initiatives. He is looking at substructures of cells in bone tissue and planning to find ways to stimulate growth.

The fluorescence system measures a material’s reaction to light. Researchers are using it to work on biologically active compounds.

Asher directs activities in the new laser spectroscopy lab where investigators are conducting myriad experiments, including characterizing nonlinear optical materials used in developing optical switches and ordering of photonic crystals used for chemical sensing. Asher is developing smart materials that are responsive to the environment. One project is to develop a material that can detect glucose in tear fluid. Perhaps diabetics some day will be able to check their insulin simply by looking in a mirror and noting the color of their contact lenses. Asher is also doing pioneering work in identifying and establishing the rules of protein folding which could help doctors put their growing knowledge of the human genome to work against disease.

This generous gift from Pittsburgh-based PPG has opened a wealth of opportunities for chemistry researchers. Armed with the right tools, who knows what they might discover?
—Mimi Koral

Making IT Hands-on
Arts and Sciences alumna helps students embrace “dot.com” futures

Having risen through the ranks of Internet technology (IT) professionals, Deborah Gillotti (CAS ’77) wants to ensure that today’s, and tomorrow’s, Pitt students have the skills to survive and thrive in the evolving dot.com culture. To help prepare students for this demanding environment, Gillotti has made a $100,000 gift to the Department of Computer Science.

“I wanted to help Pitt students, in particular,” says Gillotti. “Pitt needs good technology to be competitive with other universities that are leaders in the IT field.”

The Deborah Jeanne Gillotti Endowed Equipment Fund will furnish the Interactive Learning Suite of the Multipurpose Academic Center (MPAC), Pitt’s new gleaming building that is scheduled to open in 2002 on Forbes Avenue near the Law School Building. Rami Melhem, chair of computer science, says that the suite will be used for teaching Java and Web-based networking, advanced computer graphics, and interactive collaborative computing to both undergraduate and graduate computer science students.

“The technology in the Interactive Learning Suite allows the professor and students to interact in real time,” says Melhem. “This instant feedback increases the level of understanding for the students and provides them with an enhanced, hands-on learning experience.”

A consulting executive working primarily with young start-ups in the Seattle area, Gillotti began her career with KPMG Consulting. From there she directed the overhaul of the supply chain management system at Duracell International, and later joined gourmet coffee giant Starbucks as chief information officer.

According to Gillotti, today’s IT industry is highly specialized. “It used to be that the road to success was to get with a Fortune 500 company,” she says, “and they would train you. The days of corporations taking care of you are behind us.”

Since the current 24/7 workplace doesn’t allow employees much time to learn on the job, hiring managers are looking for highly skilled people who are ready to apply their learning to real business solutions. Gifts such as Gillotti’s ensure that Pitt students are prepared to face these challenges—and excel.—Jeanie Goff

Building Blocks

Thanks to Thomas Dubis, who recently contributed $25,000 to the School Library Certification Program in the Department of Library and Information Science, students will have an even firmer understanding of their future roles as school librarians. Dubis’ gift will support a certification program advisory group, host a one-day symposium on effective school librarians in the 21st century, help fund the department’s Mentor Match Program, and host field trips to outstanding school library programs in the Pittsburgh area….The School of Engineering recently received $12,000 from the ADC Foundation to be used for Pitt’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a national non-profit educational and service organization. Pitt’s SWE chapter serves an enrollment of female engineering students that is above the national average for engineering schools….In honor of their parents and in appreciation of the value they placed on education and hard work, the children of Catherine Marie and Samuel Harper Lynn II have given $10,000 to endow an undergraduate student resource fund. Given by Sarah Lynn and Frank Allegra, Ann Lynn and Robert Gelman (Business ’64), Maureen Kinyon and Samuel H. Lynn III, Catherine Lynn and the late Joseph Connell (Arts and Sciences ’42), Daphne Bicket Lynn (Information Sciences ’74) and John Lynn (Arts and Sciences ’74), Emma Lynn and Thomas Stevenson, Rose A. Gelman (Public Health ’65) and John Joseph, the endowed fund will lend assistance to students who are “at risk” for continuing their education.



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