The immersive new exhibit will now open next year. Image courtesy of Houston Zoo

Houstonians eager to meet sea lions, giant tortoises, sharks, and Humboldt penguins at the Houston Zoo will have to wait a bit longer, the zoo announced.

Galápagos Islands, the highly immersive Houston Zoo experience showcasing one of the most pristine, ecologically rich areas in the world, will not open until early 2023.

The Galápagos exhibit is part of the zoo’s 100th anniversary celebration and was slated to open fall of this year. Zoo officials cite supply chain issues for key construction materials — such as acrylic viewing panels for the state-of-the-art sea lion habitat — as the reason for the delay.

This planned exhibit is the first of its kind to showcase the wildlife of the legendary island chain that Charles Darwin studied and made famous.Guests can dive into an environment evoking the archipelago’s unique landscapes and oceanic habitats — all meant to inspire intrigue and preservation.

One major draw should be the Galápagos penguins, which are threatened by overfishing, ocean pollution, and climate change and are highly protected by the Ecuadorian government. It is the most threatened penguin species in the world, the zoo notes, with an estimated population of less than 2,000 individuals.

The Galápagos is often heralded as the planet’s ultimate area spotlighting unique species, the delicate balance of ecosystems, and the pressing need for conservation action, the zoo notes.

“We’re disappointed that the project has been delayed, but we know we’re not alone in experiencing supply chain problems,” said Houston Zoo president and CEO Lee Ehmke in a statement. “Our commitment to conservation in the Galápagos Islands, our animal residents, and our guests here in Houston remain unwavering. A short delay in our exhibit opening will not deter us from our mission of connecting communities to animals, inspiring action to save wildlife.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Texas high-speed rail just got a boost. Photo courtesy of JR Central

Texas to get millions from infrastructure bill for environmental fixes

green for green

On November 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, legislation that's anticipated to produce hundreds of thousands of union jobs and transform the U.S. transportation system, with investments in passenger rail, roads, and bridges.

A release from Environment Texas, a grass-roots environmental group, shares some of the many positive effects the package is anticipated to have on Texas' transportation and power infrastructure, and its stores of clean water.

Key environmental provisions include:

  • Lead pipes removal. There are an estimated 270,000 lead service lines still in Texas. Texas is expected to receive $2.9 billion over five years. The state had 6000 sewage overflows in 2019, leading the American Society of Civil Engineers to give Texas' wastewater infrastructure a grade of D.
  • Building electric vehicle charging stations. Texas needs an estimated 12,400 level-2 charging stations and 1,720 level-3 "fast charging stations" by 2030 to meet projected demand. The state will receive $408 million over five years and can apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding.
  • Improve electric grid and power infrastructure. This is obviously something Texas sorely needs, after the great freeze in February 2021 when transmission constraints contributed to blackouts across the state, leading to curtailments of wind and solar energy.
  • New passenger and freight rail. Amtrak has proposed new rail service connecting Houston to Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, while Texas Central is working to build high speed rail between Houston and Dallas. According to Environment Texas, these projects could potentially benefit from the new funding.
  • New public transit. The bill dedicates $39 billion to new public transit projects, described as the largest investment in public transit in history. Texas stands to receive $3.3 billion over five years, with likely recipients to include Houston's MetroNext and Austin's Project Connect.
  • Environmental remediation. Texas has 55 superfund sites, 32 abandoned mines, and 783,000 unplugged oil and gas wells. Oy.
  • More zero- and low-emission buses. At least 13 school districts in Texas have expressed interest in purchasing electric buses. Nine transit agencies in Texas have already, or plan to, purchase electric buses.

The legislature is still working on the Build Back Better Act, a budget reconciliation bill with clean energy tax incentives and other investments that would help the U.S. stall climate change and clean up our environment.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Some of the works will adorn the new Sunnyside Multi-Service and Health Center. Rendering courtesy of the City of Houston

City of Houston calls local and Texas artists for $3 million public project

call for artists

Houstonians love their public art, and the City of Houston is banking on that love and civic pride with a hefty new call to local artists. The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) has announced new opportunities for artists and artist groups to have their artwork pegged for the City's Art Collection.

MOCA's call boasts more than $3 million in artist opportunities, in effort to help those affected by the economic downturn of COVID-19. The new series of projects will adorn Houston's airports and the new Sunnyside Multi-Service and Health Center. Some 100 opportunities open to Houston and Texas artists in the calls for qualifications, according to a press release.

These new works promise to have a large audience; nearly 60 million passengers passed through the Houston Airport System in 2019. The Houston Arts Alliance is managing the selection process. Selected artists must sign a contract with Houston Arts Alliance for the commission, according to MOCA. Funding for the project comes courtesy of the City of Houston Civic Art Program.

"This is a difficult time for all people, including artists – many of which are either self-employed or small business owners," Houston Airports curator of public art, Alton DuLaney, said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that many galleries are closed, and many artists are out of work. We hope this will be a lifeline for some of them. We are honored to be in a position to lift-up our Texas artists in this way while enriching Houston Airports' public art collection."

The pre-application workshops and submission deadlines for each opportunity are as follows:

Sunnyside Multi-Service and Health Center
RFQ submission deadline: Monday, July 27
Artist Info Session: Thursday, July 16

Houston Airports Portable Works
RF deadline: Monday, August 3
Artist Info Session #1: Saturday, July 11
Artist Info Session #2: Thursday, July 16

Houston Airports New Commissions
RFQ deadline: Monday, August 10
Artist Info Session #1: Saturday, July 11
Artist Info Session #2: Thursday, July 16

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

working smarter

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”