UH ranked No. 8 in Texas. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

Houston universities are ramping up high quality educational experiences for their students as three local universities earn top 10 ranks for the best Texas colleges in 2024, according to a new report by U.S. News and World Report.

Rice University claimed the top spot in Texas, and ranked No. 17 in the national ranking. Houston's "Ivy League of the South" had an undergraduate enrollment of nearly 4,500 students in fall 2022. In April, Rice's Jones School of Business ranked No. 2 in U.S. News' ranking of the best graduate programs in Texas.

According to Rice's profile, the university also prides itself as a top-tier research institution. In fact, Rice just opened a massive new research facility on campus.

A degree from Rice University in Houston was ranked most valuable in the state of Texas. Rice University

"From your first semester on campus, no matter your major, you'll have the opportunity to conduct research alongside experts," the school said. "You'll be able to apply your skills, gain valuable professional experience and interact with industry leaders as you address real-world issues."

The University of Houston ranked No. 8 in the Texas rankings, and No. 133 in the national report. With a total undergraduate enrollment of nearly 38,000 students in fall 2022, U.S. News says the university has a rich campus culture that encourages students to participate in different organizations and activities.

"Each year, students turn the campus into a town called Fiesta City in time for the Frontier Fiesta, a string of concerts, talent shows, cook-offs and more," U.S. News' overview said. "There are more than 400 student organizations to check out, including fraternities and sororities."

Completing the Texas top 10 is the University of St. Thomas, which ranked No. 216 nationally. The private Catholic university has the smallest fall 2022 undergraduate enrollment out of all three Houston universities: 2,729 students.

Elsewhere in Texas, nearby Texas A&M University in College Station earned the title for the third-best college in Texas, and No. 47 in the nation. That's big news for one of the fastest-growing college towns in the U.S.

U.S. News' top 10 best colleges in Texas in 2024 are:

  • No. 1 – Rice University, Houston
  • No. 2 – University of Texas at Austin
  • No. 3 – Texas A&M University, College Station
  • No. 4 – Southern Methodist University, Dallas
  • No. 5 – Baylor University, Waco
  • No. 6 – Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
  • No. 7 – The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson
  • No. 8 – University of Houston
  • No. 9 – Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • No. 10 – University of St. Thomas, Houston

The full rankings can be found on usnews.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice has been heralded again by Princeton Review. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University named one of the greatest schools in U.S. in prestigious new report

RICE RISES AGAIN

Just mere weeks after being named the No. 7 university in the nation, a local hall of higher learning has just landed on yet another prestigious list.
Rice University has scored high marks in the Princeton Review's annual survey on the nation's best colleges. The new report as part of "The Best 387 Colleges," its 30th annual snapshot of academic excellence at colleges and universities.

The new report analyzes three decades of reviews on America's institutions of higher education and is based upon reviews submitted by more than 150,000 students nationwide, per a release. The survey lists the top-ranking schools measured in dozens of different categories.

For its 2022 anniversary edition, Princeton Review analyzed which colleges and universities have "the most impressive history of appearances" since 1992.

Notably, per a press release, only four institutions were named to 11 of what the review calls its "Great Lists" — and one of those schools is Rice.

To generate this report, Princeton Review analyzed three criteria: the number of times a college appeared on lists since 1992, its numerical rank on those lists, and the overall consistency of feedback from the college's students over the three decades.

Specifically, Rice ranked on the "Great Lists" in the following categories:

  • great race/class interaction
  • great financial aid
  • great health services
  • great-run colleges
  • most loved colleges
  • great college newspapers
  • great college dorms
  • great quality of life
  • great town-gown relations
  • LGBTQ-friendly
  • happy students

Rice students praised the university's faculty and described a "high quality of life" and are among "the happiest students in the United States," according to a press release.

"I wanted my college years to be both happy and successful," one student wrote in the survey. "And I found no other schools that were as prestigious, but also dedicated to ensuring the happiness of the student body."

As CultureMap previously reported, Niche ranked Rice No. 7 in its latest ratings of the best colleges in the U.S. and No. 1 in Texas.

Rice also ranked No. 136 internationally in The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2022.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The device is lighter than a Band-Aid and could be used as robot skin to track movement and health conditions. Photo via uh.edu

University of Houston professors identify super thin wearable device

Data collecting skin

Imagine a wearable device so thin it's less noticeable and lighter than a Band-Aid but can track and record important health information. According to some University of Houston researchers, you might not need to imagine it at all.

A recent paper, which ran as the cover story in Science Advances, identified a wearable human-machine interface device that is so thin a wearer might not even notice it. Cunjiang Yu, a Bill D. Cook associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston, was the lead author for the paper.

"Everything is very thin, just a few microns thick," says Yu, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, in a release. "You will not be able to feel it."

The device is reported in the paper to be made of a metal oxide semiconductor on a polymer base. It could be attached to a robotic hand or prosthetic, as well as other robotic devices, that can collect and report information to the wearer.

"What if when you shook hands with a robotic hand, it was able to instantly deduce physical condition?" Yu asks in the release.

The device could also be used to help make decisions in situations that are hazardous to humans, such as chemical spills.

Current devices on the market or being developed are much slower to respond and bulkier to wear, not to mention expensive to develop.

"We report an ultrathin, mechanically imperceptible, and stretchable (human-machine interface) HMI device, which is worn on human skin to capture multiple physical data and also on a robot to offer intelligent feedback, forming a closed-loop HMI," the researchers write in the paper. "The multifunctional soft stretchy HMI device is based on a one-step formed, sol-gel-on-polymer-processed indium zinc oxide semiconductor nanomembrane electronics."

The paper's co-authors, in addition to Yu, include first author Kyoseung Sim, Zhoulyu Rao, Faheem Ershad, Jianming Lei, Anish Thukral, and Jie Chen, who are all from UH; Zhanan Zou and Jianliang Xiao of the University of Colorado; and Qing-An Huang of Southeast University in Nanjing, China.


Soft Wearable Multifunctional Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs)www.youtube.com

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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.