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.

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Building Houston

 
 

The Greater Houston Partnership announced a new mentorship-focused initiative in the region. Photo via Houston.org

A mix of corporate and university organizations have teamed up with the Greater Houston Partnership for a new program that enables mentorship for local college students.

The GHP announced PartnerUp Houston, a new regional mentorship initiative, this week. Ten companies — including Calpine, Boston Consulting Group, and HP — have agreed to provide professional mentors and a handful of universities will offer the mentorship opportunity to students. The local universities that are signed on include Houston Christian University, Rice University, Sam Houston State University, University of Houston, and University of St. Thomas.

“Since 2017, the Partnership has facilitated collaboration between higher education leaders and the business community to strengthen the region’s talent pipeline and ensure more opportunity for Houstonians,” says Partnership Chair Thad Hill, who serves as president and CEO of Calpine, in a news release. “We believe a robust, regional mentorship program like PartnerUp will help accelerate career outcomes for students and help Houston area employers identify and cultivate great talent.”

The program is still seeking individuals and corporate partners for mentors. Those interested have until January 20 to opt in and can head online to learn more.

The program is a collaboration between the GHP and Mentor Collective, which has organized more than 250,000 successful mentorship matches since its founding in 2016.

“The United States increasingly lags behind the developed world in economic mobility," says Jackson Boyar, co-founder and CEO of Mentor Collective, in the release. "Proactively bridging these equity and skills gaps requires local employers and post-secondary institutions to collaborate on initiatives that allow students to acquire professional experiences and skills.”

“Institutions enrolling and graduating a diverse class with strong employment outcomes are those implementing holistic student support, including career mentorship," he continues. "Mentor Collective is proud to play a role in the PartnerUp Houston initiative and offer the technology needed to scale high-impact practices that drive student and economic success.”

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