The SMART Hub is a collection of researchers, engineers, and economic and policy experts looking to “enact a paradigm shift in the use and management of the wireless spectrum.” Photo via Getty Images

The University of Houston has signed on to be a part of an organization that is working toward next-gen technology for defense purposes.

UH has announced its partnership with the Department of Defense Spectrum Innovation Center’s Spectrum Management with Adaptive and Reconfigurable Technology (SMART) Hub, which aims to conduct spectrum research to help with national defense needs. SMART Hub will develop next-generation technologies, and the research team will contribute expertise in spectrum security, economics, communication systems, radar, circuits, policy, and more.

The center is led by Baylor University, and is a collection of researchers, engineers, and economic and policy experts looking to “enact a paradigm shift in the use and management of the wireless spectrum” according to SMART Hub. The consortium is worth $5 million, and comes after UH recently awarded its largest grant in history—$63.5 million from the U.S. DoD. The previous DoD contract aims to support the campus in developing analytical modeling and simulation platforms for the U.S. Army.

Growth in use of electronic devices has led to the jamming of the bandwidth available in the wireless spectrum (radio, TV, wireless phone signals). SMART Hub will focus on new approaches of spectrum communication to assist military and corporate organizations that will confront this issue more than before. SMART Hub will combine efforts of 29 researchers at 17 institutions.

“We will be working on groundbreaking technology that will revolutionize how we use the spectrum,” professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor and director of the efforts Charles Baylis said in a news release. “Rather than fixed systems that use the same frequency and stay there, we’re designing systems that can adapt to their surroundings and determine how to successfully transmit and receive. It’s a true paradigm shift that requires the type of collaboration we will have in SMART Hub.”

UH’s SMART Hub team, which will be tasked to produce strategies for enhanced communication in challenging spaces like regions having electromagnetic interference, forests, inner city environments, or mountainous terrains, includes:

  • David Jackson, professor of electrical and computer engineering
  • Zhu Han, Moores Professor of electrical engineering
  • Daniel Onofrei, associate professor of mathematics

From left, the UH SMART Hub team includes: Daniel Onofrei, associate professor of mathematics; David Jackson, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Zhu Han, Moores Professor of electrical engineering.

Here's what Houston-based online programs are ranked as best in the country. Photo by Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Houston university's online MBA program rises in the ranks of newly released report

A for improvement

Rice University's online MBA program has something to brag about. According to a new report, the program has risen through the ranks of other online MBA curriculums.

MBA@Rice, the online program at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice, has ranked higher in four categories in the latest edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Programs. The report evaluated schools based on data specifically related to their distance education MBA programs, and U.S. News has a separate ranking for non-MBA graduate business degrees in areas such as finance, marketing and management. The MBA list focused on engagement, peer assessment, faculty credentials and training, student excellence, and services and technologies.

“We use the same professors to deliver the same rigorous, high-touch MBA in our online MBA as we do in all our campus-based programs,” said Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez. “The strong national rankings recognize our success in reaching highly talented working professionals who don’t live near enough to our campus or for whom an online program is the best option.”

Rice's virtual MBA program ranked No. 12 (tied) in the 2023 list, which was up several spots from its 2022 ranking, which was No. 20. Additionally, Rice stood out in these other three categories:

  • Best Online MBA Programs for Veterans: tied for No. 10 (No. 14 last year).
  • Best Online Business Analytics MBA Programs: tied for No. 10 (tied for No. 12 last year).
  • Best Online General Management MBA Programs: tied for No. 7 (tied for No. 11 last year).

Rice recently announced a hybrid MBA program that combines online instruction with in-person engagement. The first cohort is slated to start this summer.

The MBA@Rice program is the top-ranked Texas-based program on the virtual MBA list. Several other programs from the Lone Star State make the list of 366 schools, including:

  • University of Texas at Dallas at No. 17
  • Texas Tech University at No. 33
  • Baylor University, University of North Texas, and West Texas A&M University tied for No, 65

U.S News & World Report ranked other online programs. Here's how Houston schools placed on the other lists:

  • The University of Houston tied for No. 10 in Best Online Master's in Education Programs and tied for No. 75 in Best Online Master's in Business Programs
  • Rice University, in addition to its MBA ranking, tied for No. 27 on the Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology Programs ranking after being tied for No. 49 last year
  • University of Houston-Downtown ranked No. 26 in Best Online Master's in Criminal Justice Programs and tied for No. 55 in Best Online Bachelor's Programs

The full list of best online higher education programs ranked by U.S. News & World Report is available online.

Ben Lamm and George Church are pioneering colossal de-extinction technology. Courtesy of Colossal

Texas bioscience company makes colossal move to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth

big news

In a move that may conjure up fanciful thoughts of a particular Steven Spielberg film, a newly launched bioscience and genetics company with ties to Austin and Dallas is pioneering a plan to ensure the long extinct woolly mammoth will once again trudge through the Arctic tundra.

(No need to panic, movie fans, as the furry beast is an herbivore and has no taste for human flesh, lest we forget the lessons learned from Jurassic Park.)

The appropriately named Colossal, which is based across Austin, Dallas, and Boston, has secured $15 million in funding from a variety of sources (including Austin-based Capital Factory and famed self-help guru Tony Robbins) to bring the woolly mammoth back from its roughly 10,000-year extinction.

Colossal, the brainchild of Baylor University grad and tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has innovated new approaches to gene editing. Their goal is to pioneer animal de-extinction technology to restore lost ecosystems for a healthier planet. And they're starting by resurrecting the woolly mammoth back to its cold-resistant, curled-tusk, fur-covered glory.

Specifically, Colossal will work to bring to life a cold-resistant elephant-mammoth hybrid with the core biological traits of the woolly mammoth, meaning it will walk, look, and sound like the giant creature, and will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem left abandoned by the woolly mammoth's extinction.

The company uses breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering to make such scientific dreams a reality. It's all in an effort to "rewild lost habitats and help combat the effects of climate change and the loss of biodiversity." And Colossal notes that its gene-editing process also has the potential to help advance biotechnology products and genomics while also treating diseases. Such technological advancements will also be used to help recover species on the brink of extinction.

"Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals," Lamm says in a release. "In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise."

Indeed, Colossal points to a 2019 United Nations report that warned that more than 1 million animal, plant, and fungi species are now threatened with extinction. That situation could domino, leading to the collapse of ecosystems and negatively impacting human health and livelihood.

By resurrecting certain extinct species, Colossal hopes to rewild habitats and revitalize lost ecosystems, thereby creating a healthier planet. To wit, restoring the woolly mammoth can potentially revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which could combat the dire effects of climate change through a variety of properties, including carbon sequestering, methane suppression, and light reflection.

"Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond, not least of which include inspiring public interest in STEM, prompting timely discussions in bioethics, and raising awareness of the vital importance of biodiversity," Church says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based Mainline is providing the tournament software for an unprecedented esports showdown between the Big 12 schools. Jamie McInall/Pexels

Houston esports company to provide software for a first-of-its-kind collegiate tournament

game on

While college football's fate this fall is up in the air thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big 12 Conference is definitely going to face off virtually thanks to esports software developed in Houston.

According to an announcement from the Big 12 Conference and Learfield IMG College, its multimedia rights partner, the tournament has opened for registration for all 10 member schools — Baylor University, Texas Christian University, University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Iowa State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and West Virginia University.

"This is a great opportunity to engage in an emerging space on a Conference-wide level," says Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a news release. "This opportunity is a unique way to provide original content from within a competitive environment during these challenging times. We appreciate the collaborative efforts that have made this first-of-its-kind Big 12 Championship tournament possible."

Houston-based Mainline, an esports software startup, has been selected to provide the tournament software for this unprecedented event, which is set to take place July 13 to 16. Each of the 10 schools will host its own single-elimination qualifying tournament featuring Madden NFL 20. Students have until July 10 to register to compete. Big 12 Now on ESPN+ will air both the schools' finals and the Big 12 Conference Championship tournament. The host of Big 12 This Week, Bill Pollock, will call the tournament.

Not only will Mainline's tournament software enable the competition, but it will allow Learfield IMG College to sell sponsors on esports visibility. Just like the football season, the esports tournaments will promote school branding and an opportunity to connect with student participants.

"It's more important now than ever to provide college students the ability to stay connected and engaged, and our technology can help aggregate the college esports community to help make that happen," says Chris Buckner, Mainline's CEO and founder, in the release. "This will multiply the opportunity, power and fun of esports to college students attending all Big 12 universities and keeps students competing while still practicing social distancing."

Earlier this month, Buckner joined InnovationMap's Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the opportunities — as well as the challenges — the pandemic posed for his company.

"Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Buckner says on the episode. "Our June will pretty much be the best month of our company, and a lot of that is driven by the fact that everyone is looking for a digital solution rather than an in-person solution."

Rice University — sometimes known as the "Ivy League of the South" — has been ranked as the best school in the Lone Star State. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University tops best schools in Texas list

Top of the class

By any measure, Rice University is a top-tier academic institution, lauded locally and nationally for its innovative tuition programs and for boasting the highest-paid graduates in the state. Now, a new ranking names the "Ivy League of the South" the top university in Texas.

Personal finance website WalletHub has released its 2020's Best College & University Rankings, just in time for the looming November 1 "early decision" college application deadline. Rice takes the No. 1 Texas spot and comes in at No. 13 overall in the U.S.

In order to determine the rankings, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 colleges and universities across seven key dimensions: student selectivity, cost and financing, faculty resources, campus safety, campus experience, educational outcomes, and career outcomes.

Among Texas schools, Rice comes in first for the following individual metrics: admission rate, student-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and post-attendance median salary. The school places second for gender and racial diversity.

The University of Texas at Austin follows as the No. 2 best school in Texas, while Trinity University comes in third. Here are the top 10 schools in Texas, according to WalletHub:

  1. Rice University
  2. University of Texas at Austin
  3. Trinity University
  4. Baylor University
  5. LeTourneau University
  6. Texas Christian University
  7. Texas A&M University-College Station
  8. University of Dallas
  9. Southwestern University
  10. Southern Methodist University

At No. 13 on the overall list, Rice shares the spotlight with prestigious institutions, coming in behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University, and Columbia University. University of Chicago is No. 14.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.