Six Houston inventors have been recognized with the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia. Photo via Pexels

The National Academy of Inventors has announced its annual set of NAI Fellows — and six Houstonians make the list of the 164 honorees from 116 research institutions worldwide.

The NAI Fellows Program honors academic inventors "who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society," according to a news release. The appointment is the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia.

The six Houstonians on the list join a group that hold more than 48,000 U.S. patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than one million jobs, per the release. Additionally, $3 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.

These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Zhiqiang An, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: An is the director of the Texas Therapeutics Institute, a drug discovery program operated by the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at Houston. He's also a professor of molecular medicine and holder of the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth.
    • Alex Ignatiev, University of Houston: Ignatiev served as director of two NASA-supported research and technology development centers at the University of Houston and as Lillie Cranz and Hugh Roy Cullen Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
    • David Jaffray, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Jaffray was appointed MD Anderson's first-ever chief technology and digital officer in 2019. He oversees MD Anderson’s Information Services division and Information Security department and is a professor of Radiation Physics with a joint appointment in Imaging Physics.
    • Pei-Yong Shi,The University of Texas Medical Branch: Pei-Yong Shi is a professor and John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Innovations in Molecular Biology Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology;. He's also the Vice Chair for Innovation and Commercialization.
    • Ganesh Thakur, University of Houston: Thakur is a pioneer in carbon capture, utilization and storage and has a patent on forecasting performance of water injection and enhanced oil recovery. His team is continuing to push the research envelope for CCUS employing world-class lab research, simulation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute: Woodside is the Vice President for Research and Director of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core at the Texas Heart Institute. His research centers around the role that cell adhesion plays in cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and the development of novel means to identify and treat these diseases.
    Ten other Texas-based innovators made the list, including:
    • Sanjay Banerjee, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Thomas Boland, The University of Texas at El Paso
    • Joan Brennecke, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Gerard Cote, Texas A&M University
    • Ananth Dodabalapur, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Holloway (Holly) H. Frost Jr., The University of Texas at Arlington
    • James E. Hubbard, Texas A&M University
    • Yi Lu, University of Texas at Austin
    • Samuel Prien, Texas Tech University
    • Earl E. Swartzlander Jr., The University of Texas at Austin
    This year's class will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

    "The caliber of this year's class of NAI Fellows is outstanding. Each of these individuals are highly-regarded in their respective fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, president of NAI's board of directors, in the release. "The breadth and scope of their discovery is truly staggering. I'm excited not only see their work continue, but also to see their knowledge influence a new era of science, technology, and innovation worldwide."

    UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

    Houston university claims spot on top 100 institutions for patents

    UH ranked

    The University of Houston ranks among the world's top invention factories.

    A new list from the Intellectual Property Owners Association and the National Academy of Inventors puts UH in a tie for 79th place among the 100 universities around the world that received the most U.S. utility patents in 2020. UH inventors earned 37 utility patents last year.

    The only other Texas schools on the list are the University of Texas at Austin (ranked fourth with 207 patents) and Texas A&M University in College Station (tied for 70th place with 41 patents). The University of California leads the list (597 patents).

    UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Utility patents cover new or improved processes, products, or machines. During the federal government's 2020 budget year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted 360,784 utility patents. They're the most common kinds of patents in the U.S.

    "The University of Houston is making critical contributions to science and engineering and hence to society, driven by our overarching goal to improve the quality of life. This ranking reflects our dedication to addressing the most pressing problems faced by society, including energy technology and medical care," Amr Elnashai, vice president and vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH, says in a news release.

    Another testament to UH's patent prowess: Three researchers from the Cullen College of Engineering researchers are senior members of the National Academy of Investors for 2021. They are professors Hien Nguyen, Jeffrey Rimer, and Gangbing Song.

    "Being affiliated with this prestigious organization will afford new opportunities for innovation and expanded research activities by engaging with a global network of highly accomplished inventors," Rimer says.

    UH says a key to its success in moving technology from the lab to the marketplace is the UH Technology Bridge. With 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing, the Technology Bridge houses 28 startups.

    Plans for the Technology Bridge include expanding the 75-acre park into core districts, along with adding build-to-suit facilities. About 35 acres of the Bridge have been developed. So far, the university has invested more than $75 million in the Bridge.

    "Companies taking products from idea to commercialization need expertise ranging from research to licensing to startup formation and operation," Elnashai said of the Bridge. "They need interns in specialized fields, technical and startup consultants, and they often need laboratories with large amounts of space for experimentation, to produce a prototype or to scale their operations. We have all of this to offer."

    In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, local venture groups announce new investments, Houston schools launch programs, and more. Photo via UH.edu

    University of Houston engineers recognized, TMCx company raises funds, and more local innovation news

    short stories

    It's been a horrific week for both the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Millions of residents have lost power and/or water due to a winter storm that brought low temps. For this reason, Houston innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

    In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures make new investments, University of Houston professors make big moves, both Rice University and UH announce new programs, and more.

    TMCx company raises $2 million

    The Texas Medical Center Venture Fund announced its latest investment. Noninvasix Inc., a startup working on novel precision oximetry technology announced it has closed an over-subscribed seed round at $2 million led by the TMC Venture Fund with support from Philips and GPG Ventures. The funds will help the company advance product development and attain FDA clearance.

    "TMC Venture Fund has been a strong supporter of Noninvasix since our initial investment in the company, and we look forward to our continued partnership with them," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "The potential of this platform technology to guide better clinical decision-making and improve outcomes has us excited to be part of the effort that brings the optoacoustic technology to the market."

    The Noninvasix team has created a solution for the safe, accurate and non-invasive monitoring of infant welfare in the neonatal intensive care unit.

    "Brain hypoxia, characterized by restricted blood flow to the brain, accounts for 23 percent of all neonatal deaths worldwide and costs the U.S. healthcare system over $7 billion per year, making the development of an accurate and precise patient monitoring system a top maternal-fetal health priority," says Noninvasix CEO Graham Randall, in the release.

    "Noninvasix's novel solution utilizes optoacoustic monitoring of cerebral venous oxygenation to accurately measure the adequacy of the oxygen supply to a baby's brain in real time."

    The Cannon and the University of Houston launch new partnership

    A UH program has teamed up with a local startup development organization. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

    The Cannon has partnered up with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston to launch a semester-long program that will introduce students to the Startup Development Organization Network.Through the new collaboration, students will have access to new opportunities to interact and connect with professionals and advisers.

    "We couldn't be prouder to partner with the University of Houston and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship to engage with the students that will soon be driving innovation in Houston and beyond," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "UH is widely recognized for its excellence in entrepreneurial education and what Dave Cook and his team have built through The Wolff Center is second to none.

    "The Cannon is excited for the opportunity to play a role in enhancing the entrepreneurial education journey through helping to provide a bridge between world-class academic programming and the commercial entrepreneurial landscape."

    Students at WCE will receive access to The Cannon's online platform, Cannon Connect, as well as access to exclusive events hosted by The Cannon.

    Rice University launches new data science program

    Rice University is now offering a master's in data science beginning in the fall. Photo courtesy of Rice

    Rice University has announced it's creating a Master of Data Science program. The degree is offered through the George R. Brown School of Engineering and managed by the Department of Computer Science. With classes beginning in the fall, applications are now open.

    "The field of data science touches almost every industry in our economy," says Scott Rixner, a professor in the Rice's Department of Computer Science, in a press release. "This degree will provide those seeking to find new careers, or to advance in their current careers, the opportunity to acquire an indispensable skill set and to build future-focused critical expertise that will drive future innovation."

    The 31-credit program will be offer classes both online and face-to-face, according to the release. The courses will deliver the skills needed to collect, evaluate, interpret and present data for effective decision-making across a variety of industries. The new program joins the online Master of Computer Science degree that was launched in 2019.

    "Data science has revolutionized all fields of study and many sectors of the industry where data is central to the scientific or industrial endeavor," says Rice Dean of Engineering Luay Nakhleh, in the release. "Data-driven discovery has complemented hypothesis-driven discovery, and it is here to stay. This degree positions our students for rewarding, life-long careers that provide meaningful impact in design and research in a multitude of industries."

    Houston biotech company with COVID-19 treatment enters agreement with UH

    A UH-founded biotech company has a new partnership to announce. Image via Getty Images

    AuraVax Therapeutics Inc. has entered into an exclusive license agreement with the University of Houston for its intranasal vaccine and therapeutics technology platform. The biotech company is developing novel intranasal vaccines and therapies to help patients defeat debilitating diseases including COVID-19. This new agreement upgrades the optioned intellectual property between UH and AuraVax announced in October.

    The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, similar to FluMist, and was developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

    "We are excited to rapidly expand our relationship with the University of Houston to advance the development of this novel intranasal approach to tackle respiratory viruses. We plan to stop COVID-19 at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform represents a differentiated solution that will lead to a vaccine to create sustained immunity to COVID-19 and other viruses," says Varadarajan, in the news release.

    Chevron Technology Ventures makes latest investment

    CTV has recently invested in a geothermal energy company. Photo via eavor.com

    Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest investment in Eavor Technologies Inc., a Canadian company that closed a $40 million funding round. Eavor is working on a scalable geothermal technology and hopes to power the equivalent of 10 million homes by 2030.

    Eavor-Loop™, Eavor's technology, uses the natural heat of the earth like a battery and is different from what's on the market because of its scalable and transportatable application — as well as because it produces zero emissions.

    Along with CTV, investors included bp Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource1, and Vickers Venture Partners.

    "I am delighted that with the funding closed in this round we can look forward to bringing down the cost of clean, dispatchable power to a universally competitive level – an important milestone for renewable energy," says John Redfern, president and CEO of the company, in a news release. "The involvement of companies such as bp and Chevron represents a fantastic endorsement of our technology, the progress we have made to date and the promise for its global scalability."

    3 UH engineers named to Academy of Inventors

    Three UH engineers have been named senior members of the National Academy of Inventors. Photos via UH.edu

    The National Academy of Inventors have named three University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering researchers senior members for 2021.

    Hien Nguyen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Endowed Chair, William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are among the 61 selected for the distinguishment, according to a press release from UH.

    "This national distinction honoring the research and scholarship of Drs. Nguyen, Rimer and Song is emblematic of the reputation for innovation fostered at the Cullen College of Engineering," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in the release. "I congratulate these three outstanding faculty members for this well-deserved recognition."

    Nguyen works with biomedical data analysis and artificial intelligence, Rimer's expertise in the processes behind crystal growth and formation, and Song researches the development of actuator systems for aerospace, biomedical and oil exploration applications.

    A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

    Aziz Gilani to be recognized nationally

    A Houston investor is being recognized nationally. Photo va mercuryfund.com

    Aziz Gilani, managing director at Houston-based Mercury Fund, was just selected for an award from the National Venture Capital Association. Gilani is being recognized with the Outstanding Service Award for his work last year outlining and explaining the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration to entrepreneurs.

    The award will be presented at NVCA's virtual ceremony on March 9. More info on the award ceremony here.

    The five scientists represent five different academic institutions in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

    5 Houston inventors named fellows of a prestigious international program

    top researchers

    The National Academy of Inventors has recognized 175 scientists from across the world as NAI Fellows — and five of those inventors are based at Houston institutions.

    The program honors academic inventors who, according to NAI, "have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society."

    The five Houston inventors join the ranks of a group of individuals who have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than 19 million jobs, according to the announcement.

    These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Ananth Annapragada of Baylor College of Medicine is professor of radiology and obstetrics and gynecology, vice chief of research and director of basic research at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital as well as a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
    • Ronald Biediger of the Texas Heart Institute is associate director of chemistry, Wafic Said Molecular Cardiology Research Laboratories and leading a group of chemists developing small molecule integrin antagonists and agonists for use as therapies, or as adjuncts to cell based therapies, for heart, lung and vascular disease
    • Mark Clarke of the University of Houston is associate provost for faculty development and faculty affairs at the University of Houston.
    • Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice University is professor and Ph.D of electrical engineering and was named Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2014 for contributions to the theory and experimentation of wireless systems and networks.
    • Jia Zhou of The University of Texas Medical Branch is professor in the Department Pharmacology and Toxicology focusing on drug discovery of bioactive molecules to probe biological systems or act as potential therapeutic agents in neuroscience, cancer/inflammation, infectious diseases, and other human conditions.

    The new class of inventors will be inducted on June 8 at the 10th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in Tampa, Florida.

    These scientists have already established dozens of patents between the five of them across fields and industries. Clarke specifically holds 13 U.S. patents, seven NASA technology innovation awards, and has founded two life science startup companies to commercialize his technologies, according to a news release from UH.

    "Most faculty inventors, including myself, do not begin their research careers focused on creating or commercializing new technologies, nor do they usually know where to start when presented with such an opportunity," Clarke says in the release. "Helping faculty members and students transition fundamental discoveries into commercially valuable technologies and products is not only a key part of our mission as a Tier One research university, it is critical to our region's economic prosperity and ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in an innovation-driven global economy."

    From BCM, Annapragada holds 15 patents in the United States and close to 100 worldwide. The majority of his patents are in next generation imaging technologies, CT vascular imaging, and MR molecular imaging, according to a BCM release, and Annapragada is the founder of two active startup companies — Alzeca Inc. and Sensulin LLC.

    UH has been ranked among the top schools for new patents. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

    University of Houston scores spot on top schools in the world for new patents

    put a patent on it

    A Houston school has ranked on a global list that recognizes new utility patents issued. University of Houston tied for No. 75 on the list with 39 utility patents issued in 2019.

    The list is created by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. UH has made the list every year for the past five years.

    "The rankings show that UH continues to make a major contribution to the innovation enterprise on the U.S. and global stage," says Amr Elnashai, vice president/vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH.

    "To be in the top 100 universities worldwide for U.S. patents emphasizes that the UH research enterprise has been successfully steered towards impactful research with the potential to address societal challenges."

    A utility patent, known as a patent for invention, is the most commonly referred to type of patent and regards the creation of a new or improved product, process, or machine.

    Two Texas schools ranked above UH on this year's list. The University of Texas ranked at No. 3 with 276 utility patents and Texas A&M University came in a few spots ahead of UH at No. 65 with 44 utility patents issued.

    UH tied with Drexel University in Philadelphia, and the University of California scored the top spot by far with 631 utility patents filed last year. All in all, the ranking finds that 7,873 U.S. utility patents were issued in 2019, which is up from 1,046 patents in 2018.

    UH's Technology Bridge was revamped in 2018 to focus on cultivating innovation and new technologies as they develop from the lab and into the marketplace.

    From Houston inventors being recognized to Chevron's latest investment, here's what innovation news you need to know. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Chevron makes another investment, Houston researchers nationally recognized, and more innovation news

    Short Stories

    Houston's innovation news hasn't quite slowed yet for the holidays. This most recent news roundup includes lots of money raised, a new contract for a Houston startup, innovators recognized and more.

    For more daily innovation news, subscribe to InnovationMap's newsletter, which goes out every weekday at 7 am.

    Chevron Technology Ventures invests in Texas company

    Courtesy of CTV

    Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has contributed to Austin-based motor tech company Infinitum Electric's $12.5 million Series B round of financing. New Mexico-based Cottonwood Technology Fund and includes participation AJAX Strategies and other individual investors.

    The company plans to use the funds to build out its research and development, engineering, supply chain, and production teams.

    "Infinitum's mission aligns well with our goals for the Future Energy Fund," says Barbara Burger, president of CTV, in a release. "The purpose of the Future Energy Fund is to invest in breakthrough energy technologies that reflect Chevron's commitment to lower emission energy sources and that are integral to low-carbon and efficient value chains."

    4 Houston researchers named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors

    ideas

    Getty Images

    The National Academy of Inventors named 168 academic innovators to NAI Fellow status — and four conduct their research right here in Houston. The program "highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society," reads the news release.

    The four Houston inventors and their institutions are as follows:

    List ranks Houston's fastest growing companies

    Chart via Grojo.com

    Growjo named the 100 fastest-growing companies in Houston for 2019, and, while the study notes the city's large oil and gas and medical industries, also acknowledges its growing tech and software scene. The companies were selected by a myriad of factors.

    "Our algorithm is based on multiple datasets including employee growth, estimated revenue growth, valuations, quality and quantity of funding, hiring announcements, current job openings, leadership team announcements, and numerous other growth triggers," reads the website.

    The top five companies on the list are:

    1. Midcoast Energy, which has 183 employees and a 17 percent employee growth rate.
    2. ibüümerang, which has 528 employees, and a 633 percent employee growth rate.
    3. Arion, which has 136 employees and a 216 percent employee growth rate.
    4. GoExpedi, which as 59 employees and a 119 percent employee growth rate.
    5. Code Ninjas, which has 338 employees and a 63 percent employee growth rate.

    For the full list, visit Growjo.com.

    TMCx company wins awards 

    Image via abilitechmedical.com

    Abilitech Medical, which recently completed the TMCx program, has taken home some wins in Minnesota, where it's based. The company was named named among the state's topmed tech companies by the Minnesota High Tech Association at the 2019 TEKNE awards and 2019, as well as the grand prize winner and top woman-led business by the University of Minnesota's business school at its 2019 Minnesota Cup competition.

    The medical device company's technology includes the Abilitech™ Assist, which assists patients with Multiple Sclerosis, rehabilitating from stoke, or other conditions with eating, drinking, and using a computer.

    "We've met so many people whose lives will be changed with this innovation," says CEO and founder Angie Conley in a news release. "Through the Texas Medical Center accelerator, we met Dr. Hany Samir who championed our upcoming stroke study."

    Samir is a cardiac anesthesiologist at Houston Methodist. He lost his ability to work and perform simple daily functions after a stroke debilitated his left arm.

    "I'm unable to practice the medicine I love. I want to hold my wife again with two hands and enjoy dinner with her, without having her cut my food. I want to have a cup of coffee without asking for help," says Samir in the release. "Regaining function in my arm will restore my life."

    Pandata Tech receives Department of Defense contract

    Photo courtesy of Pandata Tech

    Houston-based ​Pandata Tech secured a contract with the United States Department of Defense from the Rapid Sustainment Office of the the United States Air Force last month. The Phase II contract will allow the company to work with Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska to develop a scalable data quality platform.

    The access to data will aid in natural disasters, per the release. The goal of the contract would be for a Phase III contract and an opportunity to scale the technology into other branches of military. The company also had a Phase I contract signed in August before securing the Phase II in November.

    "Pandata Tech's proprietary DQM software was built during a development partnership with one of the world's largest offshore drilling companies. Because the technology was tested and built with offshore drilling data, the shift to aircraft carriers would be smooth," explains Gustavo Sanchez, co-founder of Pandata Tech, in a news release.

    Houston company receives Department of Energy funding

    Photo via aerominepower.com

    The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory — with funding from the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office — selected a Houston company for its Competitiveness Improvement Project.

    Westergaard Solutions, founded by Houstonian Carsten Westergaard, was named among the 2019 CIP Awardees. Among the company's assets is AeroMine, which competed in the most recent Houston cohort in MassChallenge Texas. The company "will implement an innovative building-integrated wind generation concept with no external moving parts, moving from a preliminary conceptual design to a pre-production prototype design that is ready for testing," according to the release.

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    Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

    2022 in review

    Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


    Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

    These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

    Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

    Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

    Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

    Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

    Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

    The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

    Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

    Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

    Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

    Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

    Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

    Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

    Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

    Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

    The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

    The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

    Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

    Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

    Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

    In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

    • Baylor College of Medicine
    • Rice University
    • Texas A&M University
    • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
    • University of Houston
    • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
    • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

    The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

    University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

    order up

    The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

    Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

    These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

    Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

    “People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

    The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

    “Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

    Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

    Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

    Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

    But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

    Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

    Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

    “Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

    To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

    Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

    Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

    “To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

    HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

    An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

    "Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

    Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

    Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

    "We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

    Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

    "Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

    Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.