At-home COVID-19 testing is about to get lit. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based research team is tapping glow-in-the-dark materials to upgrade at-home rapid COVID-19 testing.

Researchers at the University of Houston have been rethinking the lateral flow assay (LFA) test used for at-home COVID-19 diagnostics. The traditional method indicates the sample's results with colored lines.

“We are making those lines glow-in-the-dark so that they are more detectable, so the sensitivity of the test is better,” says Richard Willson, a professor at the University of Houston, in a UH news release. He previously created a smartphone-based diagnostics app.

Willson's inspiration came from a familiar and nostalgic method — the glow-in-the-dark stars in a child's bedroom. In Willson's case, it was his daughter's bedroom, and within a few days his team of students and postdocs was designing a test featuring glowing nanoparticles made of phosphors.

The team evolved into a spin-off company called Clip Health, originally founded as Luminostics by two of the researchers. The operation is again evolving with new glowing applications.

“In this new development, there are two tricks. First, we use enzymes, proteins that catalyze reactions, to drive reactions that emit light, like a firefly. Second, we attached those light-emitting enzymes onto harmless virus particles, along with antibodies that bind to COVID proteins,” says Willson in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Analyst.

The test now also can be read with a smartphone app. The group is also entertaining additional tests for other diseases.

“This technology can be used for detecting all kinds of other things, including flu and HIV, but also Ebola and biodefense agents, and maybe toxins and environmental contaminants and pesticides in food,” says Willson.

In addition to Willson, the original technology was explained in a paper with co-authors:

  • Katerina Kourentzi, University of Houston research associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Jacinta Conrad, Frank M. Tiller Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering,
  • UH researchers Maede Chabi, Binh Vu, Kristen Brosamer, Maxwell Smith, and Dimple Chavan

Researcher Richard Willson says he was inspired by the glow-in-the-dark scars on his daughter's bedroom ceiling. Photo via UH.edu

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Accenture, Goodwill-backed cleantech job accelerator celebrates Houston launch

up and running

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance cleantech jobs — and the program has officially celebrated its launch in Houston.

Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator, an industry-focused full-time free jobs training program that was originally announced last year. The first cohort graduated earlier this year, and the second is ongoing.

"Through the CTA, we want to shape the future of sustainable energy in Houston by recruiting underrepresented jobseekers and equipping them with technical proficiency, safety and clean tech certifications, and facilitating placement with local employers," a representative from Accenture states in an email. "Following a quiet initial launch, this event was the official kickoff."

The event also demonstrated the opportunities within the CTA program for job seekers to prepare for the most in-demand clean energy careers in Houston. The accelerator is targeting a specific set of advanced energy jobs — the 40 percent that don't require college degrees and and pay more than the median salary in the United States.

According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The program, which was co-designed by Accenture, will be run by Goodwill. Participants identified as under and unemployed individuals and accepted into the program will be compensated as they undergo the training and career placement services.

"As our labor market transitions, we see important opportunities for people to move into more promising roles with better pay. It is essential that we provide the training and other support needed to ensure people capture these opportunities," Steve Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says in a news release announcing the program. "The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will open doors for people in an expanding industry and provide support to employers who are helping us transition to a more sustainable world."

Speakers included leaders from the participating organizations. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Houston tech company building a next-generation space station has new investor

interstellar lab

Houston-based Starlab Space, which is developing a commercial space station, has enlisted a high-profile investor — Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi.

With the addition of Mitsubishi, Starlab now boasts three equity partners. The two others are aerospace company Voyager Space and defense and space product manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space. Financial terms of the Mitsubishi deal weren’t disclosed.

Voyager and Airbus finalized creation of the Starlab joint venture in January 2024. The two companies announced the joint venture in August 2023.

Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager, says the Mitsubishi partnership will help “unlock space technology on a global scale and drive meaningful impact across several industries, from space to ground.”

“We are very pleased to welcome Mitsubishi … as a strategic partner in our joint venture with Voyager Space. This brings Starlab Space to the next level on the way to a truly global endeavor,” Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, says in a news release.

The continuously staffed, low-Earth-orbit Starlab space station will serve NASA, other space agencies, businesses, and research organizations.

Starlab announced in January 2024 that it had tapped Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship to launch Starlab’s stainless-steel space station. A launch date hasn’t been revealed, although it’s tentatively set for the late 2020s.

The Starlab station will help fill the gap that’ll be left by the International Space Station, which NASA plans to retire in 2031.

Houston energy innovation leader calls for collaboration to tackle the industry's biggest hurdles

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 231

When Barbara Burger moved to Houston a little over a decade ago to lead Chevron Technology Ventures, she wondered why the corporate venture group didn't have much representation from the so-called energy capital of the world.

“I had no companies in my portfolio in CTV from Houston, and I wondered why,” Burger says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Much has changed in the ecosystem since then, she says, including growth and development to what the community looks like now.

“There are a few things I’m proud of in the ecosystem here, and one of theme is that it’s a very inclusive ecosystem,” she explains, adding that she means the types of founders — from universities or corporate roles — and the incumbent energy companies. “The worst way to get people to not join a party is to not invite them.”

“No one company or organization is going to solve this. We have to get along,” she continues. “We have to stop thinking that the mode is to compete with each other because the pie is so big and the opportunity is so big to work together — and by and large I do see that happening.”



Burger, who has since graduated from Chevron to act as an adviser, mentor, and philanthropist across her passions, also shares her insider perspective on CERAWeek by S&P Global — from the key topics discussed to who was there this year and, notably, who wasn't. One thing that stood out to here was the practicality problems that were on the agenda.

“We need an energy system that focuses on climate, the economy, security — a lot of this is just the block and tackling of engineering, policy, economics, and community engagement. I think it was a practical discussion,” she says.

Another huge topic was the amount of energy needed in the near future.

“Everybody has woken up and realized that our load growth — our demand — is growing, and because of all kinds of things pointing toward electrification. I think that the big one in the room was AI and the power demands for it,” she says.

In addition to finding the funding to grow these new technologies, scale is extremely important when it comes to making an impact on the energy transition.

“It’s not just about the innovation — it’s really about scaling that innovation and that execution, because that’s when we get impact, when these technologies are actually used in the energy system, and when we create new businesses,” she explains on the show. “It’s going to take investment, capabilities, a real understanding of the marketplace, and, in many cases, it’s going to take a relationship with the government.”