Rice University, University of Houston, and two other schools made this year's ranking of top grad schools. Photo via Rice.edu

Houston's top-tier universities have done it again. U.S. News and World Report has four Houston-area universities among the best grad schools in the state, with some departments landing among the top 100 in the country.

U.S. News publishes its annual national "Best Graduate Schools" rankings, which look at several programs including business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, and many others. For the 2024 report, the publication decided to withhold its rankings for engineering and medical schools. It also changed the methodology for ranking business schools by adding a new "salary indicator" based on a graduate's profession.

U.S. News also added new rankings for doctoral and master's programs in several medical fields for the first time in four years, or even longer in some cases. New specialty program rankings include audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, nurse midwifery, speech-language pathology, nurse anesthesia, and social work.

"Depending on the job or field, earning a graduate degree may lead to higher earnings, career advancement and specialized skill development," wrote Sarah Wood, a U.S. News Education reporter. "But with several types of degrees and hundreds of graduate schools, it can be difficult to narrow down the options."

Without further ado, here's how the local schools ranked:

Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business maintained its position as No. 2 in Texas, but slipped from its former No. 24 spot in the 2023 report to No. 29 overall in the nation in 2024. Its entrepreneurship program tied for No. 8 in the U.S, while its part-time MBA program ranked No. 15 overall.

Houston's University of Texas Health Science Centerearned the No. 3 spots in Texas for its masters and doctorate nursing programs, with the programs earning the No. 31 and No. 45 spots overall in the nation. The school ranked No. 25 nationally in the ranking of Best Public Health schools, and No. 36 for its nursing-anesthesia program.

Prairie View A&M University's Northwest Houston Center ranked No. 5 in Texas and No. 117 in the nation for its master's nursing program. Its Doctor of Nursing Practice program ranked No. 8 statewide, and No. 139 nationally.

The University of Houstonmoved up one spot to claim No. 4 spot in Texas for its graduate education program, and improved by seven spots to claim No. 63 nationally. Its graduate business school also performed better than last year to claim No. 56 in the nation, according to the report. The University of Houston Law Center is the fifth best in Texas, and 68th best in the U.S. Most notably, its health care law program earned top nods for being the seventh best in the country.

Among the new specialty program rankings, UH's pharmacy school ranked No. 41 nationally, while the speech-language pathology program earned No. 44 overall. The graduate social work and public affairs programs ranked No. 67 and No. 76, respectively, in the nation.

The full list of best graduate schools can be found on usnews.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice University joins prestigious schools such as MIT and Harvard. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston university declared No. 7 in the nation and best in Texas by new study

POMP AND PRESTIGE

The Owls of Rice University have a lot to hoot about. The Houston school has been ranked as the seventh best college in the U.S. and the best college in Texas.

Niche.com's latest college rankings, released August 21, rely on U.S. Department of Education data coupled with reviews from current students, alumni, and parents to judge American colleges on 12 factors, including academics, campus, dorm life, and professors. Niche.com helps parents and students choose colleges and K-12 schools.

Last year's Niche.com list of the best colleges put Rice at No. 10, so it jumped up three spots this year.

On the new list, Rice ranks fourth among the colleges with the best professors, 10th among the colleges with the best value, and 16th among the hardest colleges to get into.

Here's Niche.com's new report card for the country's 10 best colleges:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston
  2. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  3. Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
  4. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  5. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  6. Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  7. Rice University
  8. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
  9. Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  10. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Known as the "Harvard of the South," Rice "is a premier research institution with a 300-acre campus that serves as a green oasis in the heart of Houston," Forbes noted in 2019.

In Niche.com's ranking this year, Rice earns bragging rights as the best college in Texas. Here are the state's top 10, according to Niche.com:

  1. Rice University
  2. University of Texas at Austin
  3. Texas A&M University, College Station
  4. Southern Methodist University, Dallas
  5. Trinity University, San Antonio
  6. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
  7. Baylor University, Waco
  8. LeTourneau University, Longview
  9. Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  10. University of Texas at Dallas

Shortly after the Niche.com rankings came out, Rice appeared at the top of The Princeton Review's list of American colleges and universities with the overall best quality of life. Every year, The Princeton Review rates colleges and universities based on critiques submitted by students at 386 schools.

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This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Tech startups are leaving Silicon Valley in droves — and some are finding benefits in heading back to school. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Siliconned: Leaving Silicon Valley for universities

Houston Voices

Silicon Valley has been a tech startup paradise for decades. It has been described as the modern day Florence in the Renaissance. Tech gods from Apple and Google to Facebook and Twitter were born here. We can credit Silicon Valley as the birthplace for such world-changing innovations like smartphones, microprocessor chips, Tesla automation, and WIFI-enabled teapots.

Okay, so maybe that last one isn't changing the world, but it was created in the Valley and it's changed my life, for whatever that's worth. If Silicon Valley were a country, it would have the 19th-biggest economy on the planet. There's no doubt it is an engineer's dream. A techie's haven. A capitalist's utopia. A beacon of the modern world.

Or at least, it used to be.

Now leaving the Bay Area

There is an exodus in Silicon Valley. It's been happening for about three years. For instance, according to a 2018 poll conducted by the Bay Area Council, 46 percent of survey takers admit they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next year. Couple that with the fact that Silicon Valley investors have allocated 66 percent of their funds into startups outside of Silicon Valley, compared with 50 percent just six years ago, and you have a recipe for a great exodus to other markets around the country.

Now, just for kicks, add to all of this that the Kauffman Foundation's research has pegged Miami-Fort Lauderdale as the number one city in America for startup activity. Where does Silicon Valley's Bay Area, formerly the world's preeminent hub for tech startups, rank? Fourteenth. How the mighty have fallen.

So, to what exactly can this mass egress be attributed?

Insufficient funds

The biggest reason is cost.

The cost of living in the Bay Area is one of the steepest on the planet. Startups in the Valley pay four times what they would in any other city in the country. In fact, just last year the California Association of Realtors reported that a typical family in San Francisco has to make over $300,000 a year in order to afford a median-priced house tagged at just over a million dollars. That includes a 20 percent down payment and an $8,000 monthly payment. Because most of the startups in Silicon Valley are in their infancies, the engineers, programmers, and non-technical employees don't get compensated enough to afford such a living. As a result, they are leaving the Bay Area in droves for places where the cost of living is manageable.

One location that tech startup entrepreneurs are flocking to is the university. Universities are also retaining tech wunderkinds on campus to blossom their startups, rather than seeing them leave for the microprocessor motherland known as Silicon Valley.

Now entering university life

One of the biggest reasons universities have become hotbeds for tech startups is that campuses provide a means for people with multidisciplinary backgrounds to intermingle within the same space. A chemical engineering student with a great idea might meet an MBA during a startup launch party. Together they can build and market the second iteration of "Secret Stuff" from Space Jam, or whatever that student has in mind.

The point is that universities position aspiring entrepreneurs to network with the right people for building their company from the ground up. Even the Innovation Leadership Forum attests that innovation is born when different ways of thinking clash. That is precisely what happens on campuses every day.

Furthermore, college students also have more room to take risks. Most aspiring entrepreneurs in college between 18 and 25 are not married, do not have kids, mortgages, or any other major financial responsibilities. This allows them to have the luxury of leeway when it comes to experimenting and trial and error.

The ecosystem of innovation

In essence, academic incubators are courting tech entrepreneurs because universities offer an ecosystem designed to support and grow startups from conception to commercialization. This ecosystem includes a space where researchers, faculty, and students of all disciplines interact and form working relationships. In many cases, it also includes university owned equipment and laboratories for use by startup researchers.

There is, of course, incentive for universities to concentrate so many resources to building incubators and luring startup entrepreneurs. There is an inherent sense of responsibility that universities have to create an academic climate that encourages students to explore new ideas. A sense of responsibility that encourages them to take more risks; to be fearless in their quest to use their intellect to enrich lives; to dream.

Moreover, university incubators also position schools as progressive institutions. Such positioning attracts elite researchers and enhances a university's reputation. Further, these incubators forge a bridge that links industry and academia in a way that Silicon Valley does not. That's because with academic incubators, startups are a stone's throw away from a place teeming with researchers, scientists, hungry students, and aspiring entrepreneurs: the university campus.

Consequently, it is no wonder that tech startups are leaving Silicon Valley for universities. It's also no surprise that students who have graduated are staying with their university's incubators to develop their companies. There, they have a place that cultivates innovation, encourages risk-taking, and is set up specifically to help them bring their tech to the world. In short, the university has become a hub set up to be conducive to thriving tech startups. And tech entrepreneurs have noticed.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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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.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.