The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice University

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.

An annual ranking recognized Rice University again — but the Houston school ranked a tad lower this year. Photo courtesy of Rice

Report: Rice University again ranks among the top schools in nation

hooting in Houston

Rice University has earned yet another accolade worth hooting about.

Niche, an education review and ranking website, has named Rice the ninth best college in the U.S., down from No. 6 last year. The Houston university receives an A+ in nine of the 12 ranking categories, including academics, diversity, and value. It gets an A for the party scene, a B+ for athletics, and a B for safety.

“We’re proud that Niche once again rates Rice not only one of the nation’s top universities, but also one of the nation’s best college values,” university President Reginald DesRoches said in 2022. “This is especially gratifying because Niche reflects the opinions of students and parents who know firsthand what outstanding education opportunities Rice continues to offer.”

Rice regularly ranks highly on lists of the best colleges and universities in the country, including those published by Niche, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report.

“Rice is an awesome place. I went to Rice because I wanted professors who actually wanted to see their students succeed, and I can confidently say that’s what I found at Rice,” a student wrote in a Niche review. “The classes are thorough but the tests are very reasonable and focus on the material we learned in class.”

Topping Niche’s national list is Yale University, followed by Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College.

Rice comes in at No. 12 on Niche’s list of the “best value colleges” in the U.S. and ranks first among the best colleges in Texas. Here are the top 10 Texas schools, including the eighth-ranked University of Houston:

1. Rice University
2. University of Texas at Austin
3. Texas A&M University (College Station)
4. Trinity University (San Antonio)
5. Southern Methodist University (University Park)
6. Texas Christian University (Fort Worth)
7. Texas Tech University (Lubbock)
8. University of Houston
9. University of Texas Permian Basin (Odessa)
10. Baylor University (Waco)

Other Houston-area schools in the Texas ranking are:

  • University of Houston – Clear Lake (No. 13)
  • University of St. Thomas (No. 26)
  • University of Houston – Downtown (No. 39)
  • Prairie View A&M University (No. 43)

“Choosing where to go to college is easily one of the most significant — and expensive — decisions of a person’s life. Niche’s mission is to ensure that every college-bound student has access to easy, transparent and free resources … to help them find their best fit,” Luke Skurman, founder and CEO of Niche, says in a news release.

When it comes to promoting social causes, corporations have to find a way to appear genuine over posturing. Photo via Getty Images

Navigating corporate challenge of genuinely supporting social causes, per Rice research

Houston Voices

It is becoming more and more common for companies to promote social causes such as human rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, and environmental sustainability. But organizations face a tricky dilemma when expressing commitments to helping address social issues: Stakeholders may interpret their words and deeds as shallow rhetoric or insincere posturing.

Terms like “greenwashing” (regarding environmentalism) or “pinkwashing” (regarding LGBTQ+ rights) are on the rise, and they signal heightened suspicions around companies doing something with ostensible objectives of bringing in positive social change.

It's critical for researchers and business leaders to investigate this duality of audience perception: actual virtue versus virtue-signaling. In an age of social media and polarization, consumers are increasingly likely to wonder: Does this company have ulterior motives? Are they trying to cover for their own wrongdoing? Are they actually walking the walk, or are they merely talking the talk?

When can companies avoid such suspicion of being pro-social imposters?

Minjae Kim of Rice Business and Ezra W. Zuckerman Sivan of MIT Sloan School of Management have taken a close look at the conditions under which upholding social norms will make firms appear to be “model citizens” and when it will make them seem like imposters.

Their theory is two-fold: First, those who follow through and do social good in response to an explicit “social mandate” are viewed as “model citizens.” Second, those who go out of their way to do social good without any prompts or social mandates are less likely to be trusted and will be widely viewed as imposters.

Think about the following situation. A “social mandate” is given to a politician when they are asked in an interview what they think about a particular cause. In that context, if they express support, audiences are less likely to suspect the politician of having ulterior motives or pandering to constituents. After all, if the politician does not express support in that situation, that is tantamount to expressing disapproval. Here, the interview question (i.e., “social mandate”) provides a cover of plausible deniability to any suspicions of ulterior motives. Law enforcement (e.g., police, prosecutors) often have this social mandate built into their professions.

But if the politician takes initiative — unprompted — to support the same cause, they will more likely be viewed with suspicion. They may instead appear to seek out social rewards associated with supporting the cause (e.g., good reputation), without the cover of plausible deniability.

To test their theory, Kim and Zuckerman launched a series of experiments involving 509 online participants based in the United States. The experiments sought to determine how respondents perceive individuals who encourage others to abide by social norms. Participants were specifically asked to identify which of two individuals they think are “model citizens” committed to the norm, or “imposters” who are uncommitted but trying to hide their own deviance.

The researchers found that people who encourage others to abide by social norms when prompted (“social mandate”) are perceived as “model citizens,” while those who do the same but without such prompts are more likely to appear as “imposters.” This duality provides a clear guideline for managers engaging in corporate social responsibility: When suspicions are rampant, launching pro-social campaigns without a plausible mandate may heighten suspicion regarding motives.

The larger question is how to build firms and societies where people can safely support norms (that we all support) without being suspected as imposters. After all, we want our own norms and moral principles to govern our lives. But in some situations, we may mistakenly vilify those who are trying to do good, based on the absence of some contextual “social mandate.”

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Minjae Kim, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, and Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, the Alvin J. Siteman (1948) Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management.

The Rice Business Plan Competition is back in person this year, and these are the 42 teams that will go head to head for investments and prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University's student startup competition names 42 teams to compete for over $1 million in prizes

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and the Jones Graduate School of Business have announced the 42 student teams that will compete in the 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition, which returns to an in-person format on the Rice University campus in April.

Of the teams competing for more than $1 million in prizes and funding in this year's competition, six hail from Texas — two teams each from Rice University, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University. The student competitors represent 31 universities — including three from European universities. The 42 teams were narrowed down from over 400 applicants and divided into five categories: energy, cleantech and sustainability; life sciences and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise.

This is the first in-person RBPC since 2019, and the university is ready to bring together the entrepreneurs and a community of over 250 judges, mentors, and investors to the competition.

“As we come out on the other side of a long and challenging two years, we're feeling a sense of renewal and energy as we look to the future and finding inspiration from the next generation of entrepreneurs who are building a better world,” says Catherine Santamaria, director of the RBPC, in a news release.

“This year's competition celebrates student founders with a strong sense of determination — founders who are ready to adapt, build and grow companies that can change the future,” she continues. “We hope their participation will provide guidance and inspiration for our community.”

According to a news release, this year's RBPC Qualifier Competition, which narrowed down Rice's student teams that will compete in the official competition, saw the largest number of applicants, judges, and participants in the competition’s history. The Rice Alliance awarded a total of $5,000 in cash prizes to the top three teams from the internal qualifier: EpiFresh, Green Room and Anvil Diagnostics. From those three, Rice teams EpiFresh and Green Room received invitations to compete in the 2022 RBPC..

The full list of student teams that will be competing April 7 to 9 this year include:

  • Acorn Genetics from Northwestern University
  • Advanced Optronics from Carnegie Mellon University
  • Aethero Space from University of Missouri
  • AImirr from University of Chicago
  • AiroSolve from UCLA
  • Algeon Materials from UC San Diego
  • Anise Health from Harvard University
  • Beyond Silicon from Arizona State University
  • Bold Move Beverages from University of Texas at Austin
  • Diamante from University of Verona
  • EarthEn from Arizona State University
  • Empower Sleep from University of Pennsylvania
  • EpiFresh from Rice University
  • EpiSLS from University of Michigan
  • Green Room from Rice University
  • Horizon Health Solutions from University of Arkansas
  • Hoth Intelligence from Thomas Jefferson University
  • INIA Biosciences from Boston University
  • Invictus BCI from MIT
  • Invitris from Technical University of Munich (TUM)
  • KLAW Industries from Binghamton University
  • LIDROTEC from RWTH Aachen
  • Locus Lock from University of Texas at Austin
  • LymphaSense from Johns Hopkins University
  • Mallard Bay Outdoors from Louisiana State University
  • Mantel from MIT
  • Olera from Texas A&M University
  • OpenCell AI from Weill Cornell Medicine
  • OraFay from UCLA
  • Pareto from Stanford University
  • Photonect Interconnect Solutions from University of Rochester
  • PLAKK from McGill University
  • PneuTech from Johns Hopkins University
  • Rola from UC San Diego
  • RotorX from Georgia Tech
  • SimulatED from Carnegie Mellon University
  • SuChef from University of Pennsylvania
  • Symetric Finance from Fairfield University
  • Teale from Texas A&M University
  • Team Real Talk from University at Buffalo
  • TransCrypts from Harvard University
  • Woobie from Brigham Young University
Last year's awards had 54 student teams competing virtually, with over $1.4 million in cash and prizes awarded. Throughout RBPC's history, competitors have gone onto raise more than $3.57 billion in capital and more than 259 RBPC alumni have successfully launched their ventures. Forty RBPC startups that have had successful exits through acquisitions or trading on a public market, per the news release.
The lab will launch virtually first, before moving into a physical space early next year. Photo via Getty Images

Houston software company to launch innovation lab for enterprise startups

new to hou

A Houston-based global software development company has teamed up to create an innovation lab that will launch virtually before moving into a physical space early next year.

Softeq Development Corporation announced the creation of the Softeq Innovation Lab in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Integrated Design and Management program and Massachusetts-based Boundless Technology. The lab is directed at helping enterprise companies collaborate on the technologies of tomorrow, according to a news release.

"At the Softeq Innovation Lab, we recognize the importance of developing an incubator that goes beyond innovation theatre and are rolling up our sleeves to achieve transformative disruption in enterprise companies," says Christopher A. Howard, Softeq founder and CEO, in the release.

"The first wave of disruption was based in Silicon Valley," he continues. "The second wave of disruption is occurring in industries central to Houston's economy such as energy, health care, and financial services. With technology rewriting the playbooks for these industries, Houston is the perfect venue for our Innovation Lab to enable companies to thrive in this new age of disruption."

First up for the lab is a series of Boundless Bootcamps, which aims to connect participants to corporate disruptors, including David Rose of Warby Parker and MIT Media Lab.

"The city of Houston is at the center of a powerful convergence between industry, innovation and proven intrapreneurs," says Chuck Goldman, principal at Boundless Technology, in the release. "The Softeq Innovation Lab brings together entrepreneurs, corporations and 20X innovators who have achieved ROI of at least 20X and built billion-dollar businesses."

In addition to having access to MIT, Boundless, and Softeq's global networks, the participants will also receive an MIT IDM Certification from the nation's top engineering, design, and business program.

"I'm thrilled to bring our leadership and human-centered design program to Houston to help intrapreneurs drive breakthrough growth in leading organizations" says Matt Kressy, founding director MIT IDM, in the release.

For additional information or to find out more about how to get involved please visit the Softeq Innovation Lab's website.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.