At an event at the Ion, OpenStax and Rice University announced a $90 million NSF-backed initiative. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice

An educational technology company based out of Rice University has received $90 million to create and lead a research and development hub for inclusive learning and education research. It's the largest research award in the history of the university.

OpenStax received the grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for a five-year project create the R&D hub called SafeInsights, which "will enable extensive, long-term research on the predictors of effective learning while protecting student privacy," reads a news release from Rice. It's the NSF's largest single investment commitment to national sale education R&D infrastructure.

“We are thrilled to announce an investment of $90 million in SafeInsights, marking a significant step forward in our commitment to advancing scientific research in STEM education,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in the release. “There is an urgent need for research-informed strategies capable of transforming educational systems, empowering our nation’s workforce and propelling discoveries in the science of learning.

"By investing in cutting-edge infrastructure and fostering collaboration among researchers and educators, we are paving the way for transformative discoveries and equitable opportunities for learners across the nation.”

SafeInsights is funded through NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 (Mid-scale RI-2) program and will act as a central hub for 80 partners and collaborating institutions.

“SafeInsights represents a pivotal moment for Rice University and a testament to our nation’s commitment to educational research,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches adds. “It will accelerate student learning through studies that result in more innovative, evidence-based tools and practices.”

Richard Baraniuk, who founded OpenStax and is a Rice professor, will lead SafeInsights. He says he hopes the initiative will allow progress to be made for students learning in various contexts.

“Learning is complex," Baraniuk says in the release. "Research can tackle this complexity and help get the right tools into the hands of educators and students, but to do so, we need reliable information on how students learn. Just as progress in health care research sparked stunning advances in personalized medicine, we need similar precision in education to support all students, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.”

OpenStax awarded $90M to lead NSF research hub for transformational learning and education researchwww.youtube.com

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

Houston university lands $2.5M grant to expand STEM scholarship program for underserved communities

evolving inclusivity

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 UH team is developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources. Photo via Getty Images

Houston researcher scores prestigious NSF award for machine learning, power grid tech

grant funding

An associate professor at the University of Houston received the highly competitive National Science Foundation CAREER Award earlier this month for a proposal focused on integrating renewable resources to improve power grids.

The award grants more than $500,000 to Xingpeng Li, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of the Renewable Power Grid Lab at UH, to continue his work on developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources, according to a statement from UH. This work has applications in the events of large disturbances to the grid.

Li explains that currently, power grids run off of converted, stored kinetic energy during grid disturbances.

"For example, when the grid experiences sudden large generation losses or increased electrical loads, the stored kinetic energy immediately converted to electrical energy and addressed the temporary shortfall in generation,” Li said in a statement. “However, as the proportion of wind and solar power increases in the grid, we want to maximize their use since their marginal costs are zero and they provide clean energy. Since we reduce the use of those traditional generators, we also reduce the power system inertia (or stored kinetic energy) substantially.”

Li plans to use machine learning to create more streamlined models that can be implemented into day-ahead scheduling applications that grid operators currently use.

“With the proposed new modeling and computational approaches, we can better manage grids and ensure it can supply continuous quality power to all the consumers," he said.

In addition to supporting Li's research and model creations, the funds will also go toward Li and his team's creation of a free, open-source tool for students from kindergarten up through their graduate studies. They are also developing an “Applied Machine Learning in Power Systems” course. Li says the course will help meet workforce needs.

The CAREER Award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. It's given to about 500 researchers each year.

Earlier this year, Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel was also

granted an NSF CAREER Award to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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

This Houstonian is celebrating a major win for the prosthesis device he created while at the University of Houston. Photo via UH.edu

Groundbreaking prosthesis device designed at UH earns international ‘luminary’ award

give him a hand

A recent University of Houston graduate is receiving international recognition for his 3D-printable finger prosthesis.

David Edquilang, the creator of a low-cost prosthesis known as Lunet, was awarded the 2023 Red Dot: Luminary award last month at the Red Dot Award: Design Concept ceremony in Singapore. The luminary award is the highest recognition given at the international event, according to a release from UH.

Edquilang, who graduated from UH in 2022, developed Lunet while he was a student at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design and under the mentorship of UH associate professor and co-director of the Industrial Design program Jeff Feng.

The prosthesis is made up of polylactic acid and thermoplastic polyurethane, two common types of 3D-printed plastics, and designed to be simple but essentially indestructible.

Lunet's "fingers" are made of four parts held together by plastic pins, compared to other prosthetics that feature many different parts and require metal fasteners, adhesives or tools.

“The problem with higher mechanical complexity is that these designs are less durable,” Edquilang says in the statement. “The more parts you have, the more points of failure. You need to make prosthetic fingers robust and as strong as possible, so it doesn’t break under normal use, yet you want the design to be simple. This was one of the greatest challenges in making Lunet.”

Lunet is also unique in that it includes a linkage mechanism that allows the fingers' distal knuckle (closest to the fingertip) to be more flexible, and even partially hyperextend backward to be more durable and realistic.

What's perhaps the rarest component of Lunet is that Edquilang has made it open access on the internet.

“Not every good idea needs to be turned into a business. Sometimes, the best ideas just need to be put out there,” Edquilang adds. “Medical insurance will often not cover the cost of a finger prosthesis, since it is not considered vital enough compared to an arm or leg. Making Lunet available online for free will allow it to help the greatest number of people."

The concept was born after Edquilang worked on an upper limb prosthesis with fellow UH student Niell Gorman. After that project wrapped, Edquilang, in partnership with Harris Health System, began designing a prosthetic hand for a woman who had lost three fingers due to frostbite. Edquilang and Feng continued to refine the product, and after conceptualizing the breakthrough idea for the flexible linkage for the distal knuckle, Lunet became what it is today.

The product has also won a 2023 Red Dot: Best of the Best award, two 2023 DNA Paris Design Awards, Gold for the 2023 Spark Design Award, and is currently a U.S. National Runner Up for the 2023 James Dyson Award.

“It feels great knowing you have the capability to positively impact people’s lives and give them help they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get,” Edquilang says.

This summer UH researchers also published their work on a wearable human-machine interface device that can track and record important health information but is less noticeable and lighter than a Band-Aid. The device could be attached to a robotic hand or prosthetic, as well as other robotic devices that can collect and report information to the wearer.

Also this summer, a team from Rice published their work on a new system of haptic accessories that rely heavily on fluidic control over electrical inputs to signal or simulate touch to a wearer. The technology, which was backed by the National Science Foundation, has uses for those with visual and auditory impairments and offers a slimmed-down design compared to other bulky complex haptic wearables.

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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.

Houston startup secures $10M to expand into rural communities

ready to grow

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.

The company has pioneered a proprietary “small footprint primary care delivery model,” which is considered suitable for rural markets, employer worksites, office buildings, schools, and university campuses. The cost-effective microclinics are “prefabricated facilities” that are designed for primary care services, and employ a hybrid in-person and telemedicine care approach.

Hamilton began his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, which is a micro-hospital system in the Houston area that later moved to private equity.

The recently acquired funding will help expedite the high-touch care model to 98 million Americans in HPSAs, which was a goal for when the company was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. HHB has made partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary care services both at existing FQHC centers and through new sites in rural areas.

"Hamilton Health Box that was designed to deliver the lowest possible price of primary and preventative care," Hamilton said in a previous interview with Innovation Map. "We built that to be able to take that care to the jobsite and meet the customer where they are at."