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Accenture to double the size of its Houston innovation hub

Accenture is building out the floor that houses its Houston innovation hub in order to accomodate for its growing client base and staff. Courtesy of Accenture

When Brian Richards, managing director at Accenture, launched the company's Houston innovation hub, he had a team of about a half dozen and 13,500 square feet of space. Now, his crew has surpassed a hundred people, and it's about time the hub's space grows as well.

Accenture is building out the rest of the floor the hub currently resides on. After this process, which is currently ongoing, the hub will be nearly 30,000 square feet.

"Since we've launched, we've been fully booked," Richards tells InnovationMap. "We've had more than 400 workshops with various companies — from both here in Houston and globally."

The first phase of the expansion will allow for Richards and his team to better provide clients — usually large companies — with their services, which is everything from current design thinking to software development services. Construction is expected to be completed later this year.

However, the second phase of this growth project includes the creation of Houston's ICS Cyber Fusion Center to address Accenture clients' growing demand for cybersecurity within industrial capabilities. Currently, the timeline for phase two has not been defined, Richards says.

Accenture's Houston innovation hub hosts its clients with workshops that allow for strategic brainstorming for innovative solutions to problems occurring at the company or within the industry. Most of the hub's clients are within the energy industry. After identifying the problems and coming up with solutions, the hub's team members are able to offer engineering and design services from prototypes to scaling up and implementation, even passing off the client to Accenture's wider scope of services.

"It's a strong recognition of how digital innovation continues to thrive here in Houston and the role Accenture has had in helping develop that ecosystem and supporting it through the innovation hub," Richards says.

Accenture's Houston innovation hub regularly hosts business executives for workshops that allow for hands-on digital technology discovery.Courtesy of Accenture

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A Rice University scientist will be working on the team for NASA's latest Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."

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