Research roundup

3 Houston tech research projects changing health care, blockchain, and beyond

What's the latest in tech research in Houston? Here are three revolutionary research projects happening right under our noses. Getty Images

Tons of research happens daily at various Houston institutions — from life-saving medical developments to high tech innovations that will affect the greater business community.

In this Houston research roundup, three research projects from three Houston organizations are set to revolutionize their respective industries.

University of Houston researcher explores potential disruption in blockchain

blockchain

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A huge technology question mark within business has been blockchain — how it'll affect the sharing of information and industry as a whole. But, one University of Houston professor and his Texas A&M University colleagues are looking into that potential disruption in a recent paper.

"It's an emerging technology. It's evolving," says Weidong "Larry" Shi, associate professor of computer science at UH, in a UH news release.

Funded by the Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute, the research has developed into the paper, which was published in the International Journal of Production Research.

A key focus of the research is how blockchain will affect cargo entering the United States, and identifies six pain points within adapting blockchain for cargo management: traceability, dispute resolution, cargo integrity and security, supply chain digitalization, compliance, and trust and stakeholder management, according to the release.

"The wide adoption of blockchain technology in the global SC (supply chain) market is still in its infancy," the article reads. "Industry experts project that on average, it may take about six years for the widespread adoption of blockchain."

Blockchain has the potential to prevent fraud within the global supply chain, among other things.

"The data can't be changed. Everyone (along the supply chain) has a copy. You can add information, but you can't change it," Shi says in the release.

The U.S. Army taps Rice University for network research

Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University and the U.S. Army have joined forces for a five-year, $30 million research agreement to modernize the Army — specifically for developing next-generation wireless networks and radio frequency (RF) electronics.

"[The Army Research Laboratory] and Rice will match the right people and capabilities to meet specific challenges, and the cooperative agreement is structured to allow the Army to partner widely across our campus," says Yousif Shamoo, Rice's vice president of research and lead on the ARL partnership, in a recent news release. "One exciting aspect of this partnership is the broader societal benefits. The technologies we're starting with are needed for Army modernization and they could also benefit millions of Americans in communities that still lack high-speed internet."

Without going into too much detail, the two entities are working to advance the Army's existing infrastructure to create networks that can sense attacks and protect themselves by adaption or stealth. The technology has the potential to affect the Army as well as civilians, says Heidi Maupin, the lead ARL contact for the Rice partnership.

"We want to deliver the capability of quickly deploying secure, robust Army communications networks wherever and whenever they're needed," Maupin says in the release. "The technology needed for that will benefit the world by transforming the economics of rural broadband, reducing response times to natural disasters, opening new opportunities for online education and more."

Research out of Baylor College of Medicine advancing information known about vision

Photo via bcm.edu

For humans, seeing is pretty simple — just open your eyes. But the process our eyes go through extremely complex, and scientists have had a hard time recreating the process — until now.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Tübingen in Germany have developed a novel computational approach that accelerates the brain's ability to identify optimal stimuli. The complete study by the scientists was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"We want to understand how vision works," says senior author Dr. Andreas Tolias, professor and Brown Foundation Endowed Chair of Neuroscience at Baylor. "We approached this study by developing an artificial neural network that predicts the neural activity produced when an animal looks at images. If we can build such an avatar of the visual system, we can perform essentially unlimited experiments on it. Then we can go back and test in real brains with a method we named 'inception loops."

To track neurons and how they work, the researchers tracked brain activity scanning thousands of images.

"Experimenting with these networks revealed some aspects of vision we didn't expect," says Tolias, founder and director of the Center for Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence at Baylor, in a release. "For instance, we found that the optimal stimulus for some neurons in the early stages of processing in the neocortex were checkerboards, or sharp corners as opposed to simple edges which is what we would have expected according to the current dogma in the field."

The research is ongoing and will only continue to help dissect how the brain sees and interprets visual elements.

UH's business school just received its second largest gift ever. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business has received its second largest donation to benefit its entrepreneurship program.

The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, which was recently ranked the top undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the country, received the $13 million gift from its namesake foundation — The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation — and the state of Texas is expected to match an additional $2 million, bringing the total impact to $15 million.

"Our family is deeply committed to the ideals of entrepreneurship," says Cyvia Wolff in a news release. "Our business personified everything that it means to be an entrepreneur. The skills, the thinking, the mindset are fundamental to success for business leaders today and in the future. On behalf of my late husband, we are truly honored to ensure the entrepreneurial legacy not only endures but remains accessible for students. We are truly honored to be part of this program and university."

The money will be used to create three endowments for the program. The Dave Cook Leadership Endowment, named for the center's director, Dave Cook, will be created and funded with $7 million of the donation to support leadership within the organization. For $4 million, the center will create the Wolff Legacy Endowment, which aims to increase students involved in the center, as well as the companies coming out of the program. The last $2 million will be used to create the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Endowed Chair(s)/Professorship(s) in Entrepreneurship. This initiative will support research and community outreach.

"We are passionate about entrepreneurship and how it can forever change students' lives," says Bauer Dean Paul A. Pavlou in the release. "We seek to further promote entrepreneurship as a university-wide, even citywide effort, by collaborating within and across the university in a multitude of areas, such as technology, health care, arts and sports."

The program was created in the mid '90s and was later renamed after Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff in 2007, and has seen great success over the past decade. In that time, Wolff students have created 1,270 businesses, with identified funding of just over $268 million. According to the release, the program has been ranked in the top two spots of the Princeton Review's top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs for nine of the past 12 years.

"Entrepreneurship is crucial for the future of our country, as well as our city and state," says UH President Renu Khator in the release. "We are proud to be at the forefront of work around entrepreneurial training and research. The uniqueness of our program has and continues to make it the model program. This extraordinary gift ensures our leadership in this space will continue and will support the creation of businesses, change communities and impact our students' lives."

At UH, 2,500 students take at least one entrepreneurship course a year, and more than 700 students complete certificate programs.

"What we are doing is transformative in the lives of students, mentors and stakeholders in a way that elevates everyone towards excellence," Cook, who was named the director of the program in 2017, says in the release. "The impact of this gift allows us to remain the leader and to move forward with confidence, purpose and permanence."