The $2.5 million in NSF funding will allow Rice to increase the number of students in the Rice Emerging Scholars Program. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University will expand its Rice Emerging Scholars Program (RESP) over the next two years thanks to a recent grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $2.5 million in NSF funding will allow Rice to increase the number of scholars the RESP offers from 40 to 50 students this summer and to 60 students in 2025. The program works to address disparities among first-year students and to "assist students in adapting to the challenging pace, depth and rigor of the STEM curricula at Rice" through a six-week summer bridge program and ongoing mentorship, according to a statement from the university. Summer tuition scholarships, housing subsidies and research stipends are also provided.

Rice estimates that roughly 20 percent of its undergraduate population comes from families with limited financial resources, and 12 percent of students are the first in their families to attend college.

“Low-income students, especially those who are first-generation, face unique obstructions to pursuing college STEM degrees,” said Senior associate provost Matthew Taylor, a co-principal investigator on the grant. “RESP and Rice University are committed to eliminating these obstructions and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to thrive and achieve their academic and professional aspirations.”

Taylor created the program with Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Mike Wolf in 2012. It has since worked with more than 400 RESP scholars, according to the program's website. Most (about 79 percent) graduate with STEM degrees and an overwhelming 90 percent of RESP scholars graduate in four years, according to recent data.

“Rice recognizes the challenges faced by students from low-income backgrounds,” Angel Martí, chair and professor of chemistry, faculty director of RESP and principal investigator of the grant, said in a statement. “RESP aims to empower these students to achieve their academic and professional aspirations as future scientists and engineers.”

Earlier this year, the NSF also awarded Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel $670,406 through its highly competitive CAREER Awards to continue her research in designing branch elastomers.

Marciel was also named to the 2024 cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows through the university's Office of Innovation and The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (or Lilie). The group includes 10 Ph.D. and postdoctoral students who aim to translate research into real-world startups.
The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston receives funding to support diverse cardiovascular researchers

pumping up innovation

University of Houston professors have received a nearly $800,000 grant to create a new summer program that will support diverse future researchers.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided $792,900 in grant funding to Bradley McConnell, professor of pharmacology at the UH College of Pharmacy, and Tho Tran, research assistant professor of chemistry at the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Ten undergraduate students per year will be selected for five years in cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines.

"We are so grateful to be able to provide talented students across the U.S. an opportunity to experience our excellent cardiovascular research environment,” Tran says in a news release. “We want UH-CURE participants to gain confidence in their research abilities through our hands-on approach and the skillset to navigate future challenges through our professional training.”

The goal is to increase students’ interest in cardiovascular research, and students have the opportunity to receive a $6,000 stipend, travel to a globally recognized cardiovascular research conference, and take part in on-campus housing and a food allowance. The summer program will also try to develop research skills, increase awareness of transdisciplinary research, promote diversity and collaborations, cultivate transferable skills necessary for succeeding in graduate school and help facilitate undergraduate students to pursue further training in cardiovascular research.

The program will integrate students into a research lab where they will learn research skills, data analysis, and research integrity. The program will be under the mentorship of a faculty member from across UH’s colleges, and include workshop and enrichment activities.

McConnell and Tran previously formed the American Heart Association-funded UH-HEART pilot program, which focused on cardiovascular research. They expanded on that initiative with UH-CURE, which includes cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines from community engagement and population-based research to basic, translational, and applied research. UH-CURE also helps prepare for careers in cardiovascular research.

“We all know that a diverse environment leads to a much better generation of ideas and solutions,” Tran adds. “We hope to bring that strength to the future of cardiovascular research through our students.”

Tho Tran (left) and Bradley McConnell are professors at UH. Photo via UH.edu

The NIH grant goes toward TransplantAI's work developing more precise models for heart and lung transplantation. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech company scores $2.2M grant to use AI to make organ transplants smarter, more successful

future of medicine

The National Institute of Health has bestowed a Houston medtech company with a $2.2 million Fast-Track to Phase 2 award. InformAI will use the money for the product development and commercialization of its AI-enabled organ transplant informatics platform.

Last year, InformAI CEO Jim Havelka told InnovationMap, “A lot of organs are harvested and discarded.”

TransplantAI solves that problem, as well as organ scarcity and inefficiency in allocation of the precious resource.

How does it work? Machine learning and deep learning from a million donor transplants informs the AI, which determines who is the best recipient for each available organ using more than 500 clinical parameters. Organ transplant centers and organ procurement organizations (OPOs) will be able to use the product to make a decision on how to allocate each organ in real time. Ultimately, the tool will service 250 transplant centers and 56 OPOs around the United States.

The NIH grant goes toward developing more precise models for heart and lung transplantation (kidney and liver algorithms are further along in development thanks to a previous award from the National Science Foundation), as well as Phase 2 efforts to fully commercialize TransplantAI.

"There is an urgent need for improved and integrated predictive clinical insights in solid organ transplantation, such as for real-time assessment of waitlist mortality and the likelihood of successful post-transplantation outcomes," according to the grant’s lead clinical investigator, Abbas Rana, associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

“This information is essential for healthcare teams and patients to make informed decisions, particularly in complex cases where expanded criteria allocation decisions are being considered," Rana continues. "Currently, the separation of donor and recipient data into different systems requires clinical teams to conduct manual, parallel reviews for pairing assessments. Our team, along with those at other leading transplant centers nationwide, receives hundreds of organ-recipient match offers weekly.”

Organ transplantation is moving into the future, and Transplant AI is at the forefront.

A team from the University of Houston received a grant to continue its work on using AI and digital twin technology to better evaluate bridges in Texas. Photo via uh.edu

Houston professor earned $500,000 grant to tap into digital twin tech for bridge safety

transportation innovation

A University of Houston professor has received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how bridges are inspected in the state.

The $505,286 grant will support the project of Vedhus Hoskere, assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, over three years. The project, “Development of Digital Twins for Texas Bridges,” will look at how to use drones, cameras, sensors and AI to support Texas' bridge maintenance programs.

“To put this data in context, we create a 3D digital representation of these bridges, called digital twins,” Hoskere said in a statement. “Then, we use artificial intelligence methods to help us find and quantify problems to be concerned about. We’re particularly interested in any structural problems that we can identify - these digital twins help us monitor changes over time and keep a close eye on the bridge. The digital twins can be tremendously useful for the planning and management of our aging bridge infrastructure so that limited taxpayer resources are properly utilized.”

The project began in September and will continue through August 2026. Hoskere is joined on the project by Craig Glennie, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Chair at Cullen College and director of the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, as the project’s co-principal investigator.

According to Hoskere, the project will have implications for Texas's 55,000 bridges (more than twice as many as any other state in the country), which need to be inspected every two years.

Outside of Texas, Hoskere says the project will have international impact on digital twin research. Hoskere chairs a sub-task group of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE).

“Our international efforts align closely with this project’s goals and the insights gained globally will enhance our work in Texas while our research at UH contributes to advancing bridge digitization worldwide,” he said. “We have been researching developing digital twins for inspections and management of various infrastructure assets over the past 8 years. This project provides us an opportunity to leverage our expertise to help TxDOT achieve their goals while also advancing the science and practice of better developing these digital twins.”

Last year another UH team earned a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a practical, Texas-focused project that uses AI. The team was backed by the NSF's Convergence Accelerator for its project to help food-insecure Texans and eliminate inefficiencies within the food charity system.

UH Professor Vedhus Hoskere received a three-year, $505,286 grant from TxDOT for a bridge digitization project. Photo via uh.edu

Here's what grant funding news stories trended this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Pexels

Money moves: Most-read Houston innovation grant and gift news of 2023

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. Money means a lot to startups and other innovative entities, and while startups are usually scouting venture capital investors, grants and donations are key too. These are the most-read news articles about grants and gifts — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston-based battery innovators receive $4M in federal funding

Houston-based Zeta Energy has fresh funding from the government. Image via Zeta Energy

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this week that it was selected to receive $4 million in federal funding for the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program, which aims to increase the number of EVs on the roads by boosting the country’s supply chain of affordable, convenient, reliable and safe batteries.

Zeta Energy is one of 12 groups in the U.S. to receive funding from the program, which awarded $42 million in total.

“Electric vehicle sales in America have tripled since the start of this Administration and by addressing battery efficiency, resiliency and affordability, the projects announced today will make EVs attractive to even more drivers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement released earlier this week. “This is a win-win for our efforts to fight climate change and power America’s clean transportation future with technologies produced by researchers and scientists right here at home.”

Continue reading the article from January.

Fresh off grant, Houston health tech company's AI aims to revolutionize diagnostics, care

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Continue reading the article from January.

Houston organization announces nearly $28M in Texas research grant funding

The Welch Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit, has doled out fresh funding to research organizations, with over a third being deployed to Houston-area institutions. Photo via Getty Images

Five schools in the Houston area have landed $10.8 million in research grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

The 36 grants were awarded to Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, the Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

In all, the foundation announced nearly $28 million in Texas research grants for 2023. All of the money — in the form of 91 grants for 15 Texas colleges and universities — goes toward chemical research. This year’s total for grant funding matches last year’s total.

“The Welch Foundation continues to emphasize the creative pursuit of basic chemical research,” Adam Kuspa, the foundation’s president and a former dean at the Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. “Our funding allows investigators throughout the state to follow their curiosity and explore the foundations chemical processes.”

Continue reading the article from July.

Seattle biotech co. to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from Texas organization

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release.

Continue reading the article from July.

Massive $32M gift from former patient, new UH deal pump big changes into Houston organization

The Texas Heart Institute recently received its largest charitable donation in its history. Photo courtesy of THI

Leadership at The Texas Heart Institute has two major things to celebrate. First, it just received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history.

Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.

"Students will have the chance to develop their skills in the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular conditions and will be taught by outstanding clinical educators,” said Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, president and CEO of The Texas Heart Institute and heart failure specialist at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, in a press release announcing the news.

Continue reading the article from August.

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Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events

report

Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice