The five-year grant from NASA will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems Center at UH. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

The next phase of the Houston Spaceport will build out connectivity and workforce training. Rendering via Houston Airports

Houston Spaceport takes off with second phase of development

ready for liftoff

Since the Houston Spaceport secured the 10th FAA-Licensed commercial spaceport designation in 2015, the development's tenants have gone on to secure billions in NASA contracts. Now, the Houston Spaceport is on to its next phase of growth.

“Reflecting on its meteoric rise, the Spaceport has seen remarkable growth in a short span of time. From concepts on paper to the opening of Axiom Space, Collins Aerospace, and Intuitive Machines, the journey has been nothing short of extraordinary,” says Arturo Machuca, director of Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport, in a news release. “These anchor tenants, collectively holding about $5 billion in contracts with NASA and other notable aerospace companies, are not just shaping the future of space exploration but injecting vitality into Houston’s economy.”

The next phase of development, according to Houston Airports, will include:

  • The construction of a taxiway to connect Ellington Airport and the Spaceport
  • The construction of a roadway linking Phase 1 infrastructure to Highway 3
  • The expansion of the EDGE Center, in partnership with San Jacinto College

Rendering via Houston Airports

The Houston Spaceport's first phase completed in 2019. Over the past few years, tenants delivered on their own buildouts. Last year, Intuitive Machines moved into its new $40 million headquarters and Axiom Space opened its test facility. In 2022, Collins Aerospace cut the ribbon on its new 120,000 square-foot facility.

“The vision for the Houston Spaceport has always been ambitious,” says Jim Szczesniak, director of Aviation for Houston Airports. “Our vision is to create a hub for aviation and aerospace enterprises that will shape the future of commercial spaceflight.”

Educational partners have also revealed new spaces, including San Jacinto College's EDGE Center, which broke ground in July of 2019, finally celebrated its grand opening in 2021. Last year, Texas Southern University got the greenlight to operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

“By providing the education and training needed to sustain jobs in the rapidly evolving space industry, the Spaceport is not only attracting companies but also nurturing the talent that will drive Houston's aerospace sector forward,” continues Szczesniak in the release.

San Jacinto College's new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus is expected to be completed early next year. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

Houston-area college breaks ground on new biotechnology program, launches curriculum

coming soon

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. broke ground on the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston.

The 4,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is slated to allow for more hands-on training within simulated environments and will allow students to earn associate of applied science degrees in biomanufacturing technology, as well as credentials for those already in the workforce. It's scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2025.

“The Center and the overall components of the Biotechnology program will play a vital role in meeting the growing demand for skilled professionals in the biotechnology sector,” Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College, says in a statement.

“We are committed to equipping our students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the dynamic biopharmaceutical industry," she continues. "Our vision is to not only meet the workforce needs of today but will also shape the future of biotechnology education and training in our region.”

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

The new Center for Biotechnology curriculum is in partnership with the Ireland-based National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training. It is the only NIBRT-licensed training in the Southwest and Southeast region.

At the groundbreaking, San Jacinto College celebrated the ribbon-cutting for the Biomanufacturing Training Program at the South Campus, the first of the college's comprehensive biotechnology offerings.

The Biomanufacturing Training Program will be a customizable two-week hybrid program that combines theoretical teachings with hands-on experience.

“This program is designed to provide a seamless entry into the field for new professionals, with a focus on practical experience and exposure to industry practices,” Christopher Wild, executive director of San Jacinto College Center for Biotechnology, added in a statement.

The new center is part of Generation Park, a 4,300-acre master-planned development in Northeast Houston. In late 2022, San Jac and McCord, which is developing Generation Park, shared that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with the NIBRT to launch the program and center.

At the time, San Jacinto College was slated to be the institute’s sixth global partner and second U.S. partner.

Last summer, McCord also revealed plans for its 45-acre biomanufacturing campus at Generation Park.
Redemption Square in Generation Park will feature high-tech parking solution pilot program. Photo via generationpark.com

Houston developer to roll out innovative pilot to improve parking at major development

testing tech

Houston real estate company McCord Development will roll out an innovative 12-week pilot to learn how to make parking smarter at its master planned development Generation Park in Northeast Houston.

In partnership with Milwaukee-based CivicSmart Inc., a leader in Smart City parking, the company will test a new Internet-of-Things-based parking solution at Generation Park's mixed-use lifestyle center, Redemption Square. The program is only the second of its kind in the U.S., according to McCord.

McCord will install 30 of CivicSmart's solar powered bollards at Redemption Square that track real-time parking occupancy data through LTE license-plate-reading cameras. The data will be analyzed to help McCord optimize traffic and develop better strategies and parking rates.

"We are thrilled to introduce one of the first parking pilot programs in the country,” Ashwin Chandran, Director of Technology Innovation at McCord, said in a statement. “At McCord, we strive to measure and understand behavior in order to enhance the human experience and make efficient business decisions. We hope to use this data to improve the overall performance of our operations across all our assets.”

According to the statement, the intention of the program is to help keep curbside spots available for short-term guests.

From the customer perspective, parkers will pay via text or QR code, where they will enter their license plate number and payment information, which will be stored for subsequent visits.

The bollards can also dispatch up-to-the-minute pricing details to parkers, and can be controlled remotely by the developer to close certain parking spots for special events.

In addition to the 30 bollards, Redemption Square will still also offer free parking in its nearby garage, and other parking options on Redemption Square Road and metered spaces on Assay Street, according to the statement.

Last week, McCord also announced plans to create a 45-acre biomanufacturing campus within the 4,300-acre Generation Park development. Known as BioHub Two, the center will include 500,000 square feet for manufacturing, lab, and office space. It's slated to join San Jacinto College’s Biotech Training Center in the development, which was announced last December.

Other plans for Generation Park include two multifamily complexes, a mixed-use development called The Commons, and retail and green spaces.

McCord will install 30 of CivicSmart's solar powered bollards at Redemption Square that track real-time parking occupancy data through LTE license-plate-reading cameras. Photo courtesy of Generation Park

The grant will allow about 50 students to become certified aerospace technicians in electrical, composite, or structural tracts. Photo via San Jacinto College

Houston college receives grant to support aerospace technician training

workforce funding

The Texas Workforce Commission granted $332,000 to three Houston-area organizations last month to support aerospace technician training for unemployed and displaced workers, as well as recent high school grads.

The funding will go toward BayTech, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and San Jacinto College, and comes out of the TWC's Texas Talent Connection grant. The TWC awarded a similar grant to Lone Star College in January with the goal of supporting "innovative education and workforce skills training programs" for first-generation students in six different industries.

This most recent grant will allow about 50 students to become certified aerospace technicians in electrical, composite, or structural tracts.

After advancing through the program, they'll receive a completion certificate from the San Jacinto College's EDGE Center and will have the opportunity to sit for a nationally recognized certification exam.

According to a release from San Jacinto College, the organizations will also facilitate students' placement directly into the workforce.

"Funding like this grant from the Texas Workforce Commission to further our training offerings reaches far beyond our students to the future of the aerospace industry, Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College, said in a statement. "A skilled workforce is critical to the success of the Houston Spaceport and the aerospace industries that support it, and we understand our role in providing the next generation of aerospace technicians."

San Jacinto College, which is the official education training partner for the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport, launched the EDGE Center in 2020.

The center aims to train future aerospace professionals through its technician programs as well as a general aerospace program and a drone pilot program. To date, about 30 students have earned their credentials .

The San Jacinto College Biotechnology Center is aimed at training workers in life science and at helping firm up Houston’s status in life science manufacturing. Rending courtesy of San Jacinto College

New biotech training center to rise in Northeast Houston

coming soon

A biotech training center is in the works at San Jacinto College in Houston, which the school says is positioned to become a global leader in biomanufacturing.

The San Jacinto College Biotechnology Center, to be located at the 4,300-acre Generation Park in Northeast Houston, is aimed at training workers in life science and at helping firm up Houston’s status in life science manufacturing.

A recent study commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership identified development of a well-trained workforce as a key component to the region’s success in attracting and retaining life science companies.

San Jac and McCord Development, the Houston-based developer of Generation Park, have signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) in Ireland that is supposed to lead to the college becoming the exclusive provider of institute-licensed training in the Southwest and Southeast regions of the U.S.

The college says the center “will offer students hands-on experience in a pilot-scale bioprocessing center that includes upstream, downstream, and fill-finish facilities, as well as specific curriculum in cell and gene therapy and other innovative and developing industry sectors.”

San Jacinto College will be the institute’s sixth global partner and second U.S. partner.

“Building on San Jacinto College’s established track record of working with industry to develop need-specific training and accreditation centers, the partnership with NIBRT represents an opportunity to train the workforce that Houston's biopharma industry needs to sustain its rapid growth,” Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of the college, says in a news release. “We also expect to contribute to the global market by training people eager to enter this growing industry from around the United States and beyond.”

A study will be undertaken to determine details about the center, including its curriculum and size.

“San Jacinto College’s Biotechnology Center at Generation Park is the catalyst our region needs to fill the gap in our existing life science ecosystem and accelerate biomanufacturing in Houston,” says Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development.

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Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."

Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.