newly named members

5 Houston researches named to prestigious engineering organization

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair at the University of Houston, was named to the National Academy of Engineering. Photo via uh.edu

A national organization has named its latest cohort of new members — which includes Elon Musk — and five Houston-area innovators have also made the cut.

The National Academy of Engineering elected 111 new members and 22 international members, bringing the total U.S. membership to 2,388 and the number of international members to 310. The appointment is among the highest professional distinctions in an engineer's career. Each member has been found to have made significant contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature," according to a news release.

The newly elected class will be formally inducted during the NAE's annual meeting on Oct. 2. The five Houston-area appointees and what they are being recognized for are:

  • Richard G. Baraniuk, C. Sidney Burrus Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rice University. For the development and broad dissemination of open educational resources and for foundational contributions to compressive sensing.
  • Donald Nathan Meehan, president, CMG Petroleum Consulting Ltd.. For technical and business innovation in the application of horizontal well technology for oil and gas production.
  • Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston. For establishing the field of flexoelectricity, leading to the creation of novel materials and devices and insights in biophysical phenomena.
  • Leon Thomsen, chief scientist, Delta Geophysics Inc. For contributions to seismic anisotropy concepts that produced major advances in subsurface analysis.
  • David West, corporate fellow, Corporate Research and Innovation, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. For solutions to problems with technological, commercial, and societal impacts while advancing chemical sciences by applying reaction engineering fundamentals.

In a news release from UH, Sharma says it's the highest honor he could achieve as an engineer. The NAE recognized Sharma's work within flexoelectricity, a relatively understudied, exotic phenomenon that has the potential to provide similar functionality as piezoelectrics.

“Nature has provided us very few piezoelectric materials even though their applications in energy harvesting and in making sensors is very important. What we did was use theory to design materials that perform like piezoelectric ones, so that they can create electricity,” says Sharma in the release.

Sharma has worked at UH since 2004, and previously conducted research at General Electric for three years.

“The recognition of Professor Sharma by the National Academy of Engineering highlights a career full of outstanding research that has contributed to the understanding of engineering and helped uncover solutions for some of the world’s most significant problems,” says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release.

Over at Rice, Baraniuk's engineering career includes computational signal processing, most recently as it relates to machine learning. He's best known for spearheading the creation of Connexions, one of the first open-source education initiatives, and its successor, OpenStax, which publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free to download.

“It’s auspicious timing that the NAE citation mentioned open education, because the seventh of February was the 10th anniversary of OpenStax publishing its first free and open textbook,” he says in a release from Rice. “It’s neat to have this happen in the same week, and worth pointing out that if ever there was a team effort, it was Connexions and OpenStax.”

Baraniuk has been at Rice since 1992, has three degrees in electrical and computer engineering.

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Building Houston

 
 

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.”

The company, which relocated its headquarters from New York to Houston in February, was founded by Zimri T. Hinshaw in 2020 and is based out of the East End Makers Hub and Greentown Houston.

BUCHA BIO has created two bio-based materials using bacterial nanocellulose and other plant-based components. The two materials are SHORAI, which can be used as a leather alternative, and HIKARI, a translucent material that is expected to be formally introduced in November.

The fresh funding will help the company to accelerate its move into the marketplace next year by securing co-manufacturers to scale production. Additionally, the company is growing its team and is hiring for a new supply chain lead as well as some technician roles.

Per the release, BUCHA BIO is working on constructing a new headquarters in Houston that will house a materials development laboratory, prototype manufacturing line, and offices.

BUCHA BIO has the potential to impact several industries from fashion and automotive to construction and electronics. According to the Material Innovation Initiative, the alternative materials industry has seen an increased level of interest from investors who have dedicated over $2 billion into the sector since 2015.

“The time for rapid growth for biomaterials is now," says repeat investor Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner at Houston-based New Climate Ventures, in the release. "BUCHA BIO's team and technical development are advancing hand in hand with the demands of brand partnerships, and we are excited to support them as they capitalize on this global opportunity.”

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