Research roundup

Here are 3 research projects to watch in Houston

From CBD treatment for man's best friend to smart tech for senior living, here are three research projects coming out of the Bayou City. Getty Images

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research projects, we look into studies on traffic-reducing technology, recently funded projects on senior living devices, and the effect of CBD oil on four-legged arthritis patients.

University of Houston researchers look into tech to solve traffic jams

Photo via uh.edu

Traffic in major cities including Houston has been a growing problem — especially as populations grow. But, when considering ways to alleviate the issue, University of Houston researchers found that technology — 511 traffic information systems and roadside cameras to traffic apps like Waze and Google Maps – is already helping the situation.

"Technology has the potential to help society, and one way is to help us make better infrastructure decisions and put less pressure on roads," says Paul A. Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business and author for the report, in a UH news release.

Pavlou, whose report was published by Information Systems Research, and colleagues Aaron Cheng of the London School of Economics and Min-Seok Pang of Temple University discovered that Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS, saved cities using the technology more than $4.7 billion a year in lost work or productivity, 175 million hours a year in travel time, 53 million gallons a year in fossil fuel consumption, and 10 billion pounds less CO2 emitted each year, according to the release.

Houston, for instance, has yet to adopt a 511 traveler information system, but has worked with private companies to design and build intelligent transportation systems.

"Traffic is even worse than before since people move where the roads are built and drive more," Pavlou says. "The city is growing, but there are alternative ways that do not impose some much demand on roads with the intelligent use of technology in parallel."

Baylor College of Medicine's CBD research on canine arthritis

Photo via bcm.edu

Just like mankind, man's best friend is subject to arthritis. A study from Baylor College of Medicine in collaboration with Medterra CBD is looking into how cannabidiol, or CBD, can improve conditions in arthritis patients of both species.

The study was published in the journal PAIN and found that CBD treatment improved the quality of life for the dogs with artritis.

"CBD is rapidly increasing in popularity due to its anecdotal health benefits for a variety of conditions, from reducing anxiety to helping with movement disorders," says corresponding author Dr. Matthew Halpert, research faculty in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Baylor, in a news release. "In 2019, Medterra CBD approached Baylor to conduct independent scientific studies to determine the biological capabilities of several of its products."

Arthritis is a common condition in dogs, with the American Kennel Club finding that it affects around 20 percent of dogs in the United States. Plus, according to the release, the dogs' conditions are similar to humans.

"We studied dogs because experimental evidence shows that spontaneous models of arthritis, particularly in domesticated canine models, are more appropriate for assessing human arthritis pain treatments than other animal models. The biological characteristics of arthritis in dogs closely resemble those of the human condition," Halpert says.

According to Halpert, the study found good results. Nine of the 10 dogs on CBD showed benefits, he says.

Rice University's senior living tech receives grants

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University researchers who are looking into technology that can advance senior living facilities have received three new grants to continue their study.

According to a press release from Rice, the Internet of Things and Aging-in-Place Seed Grants, which is funded by Rice ENRICH and UTHealth, support research teams that "work together to test ideas, gather critical information and lay the groundwork for larger grant applications in the future."

"The Rice ENRICH office serves to facilitate collaborations of Rice faculty with those at TMC (Texas Medical Center) institutions," says Marcia O'Malley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Rice and an adviser to the provost for Rice ENRICH, in the release. "Our recent engagement with UTHealth and the seed funds awarded demonstrates Rice's commitment to building lasting relationships in the TMC community."

The grants were awarded to three projects:

  1. "Aging in Place with Cognitive Impairment: Toward User-Centered Assistive Technologies. " This study will look into availability and usefulness of assistive technologies among white, Hispanic, and African American patients with mild cognitive impairment to moderate dementia.
  2. "Facial and Body Motion Technology to Detect Psychosocial Distress in Stroke Survivors and Informal Caregivers Living at Home." This study will look at stroke survivors and their informal caregivers to help test technologies in a simulated home environment and look for signs of psychosocial distress, which can contribute to poor health outcomes.
  3. "An AI-powered chatbot for supporting the medication information needs of older adults." —This study will develop a voice-activated system that could be integrated into smart assistants to answer medication-related questions.

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Building Houston

 
 

Rice University researchers and Syzygy founders detail how they converted ammonia into carbon-free fuel using a light-activated catalyst in a new report. Photo courtesy of Rice University

A team from Rice University has uncovered an inexpensive, scalable way to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel.

In research published this month in the journal Science, researchers from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics, in partnership with Syzygy Plasmonics Inc. and Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, detail how they converted ammonia into carbon-free fuel using a light-activated catalyst.

The new catalyst separates the liquid ammonia into hydrogen gas and nitrogen gas. Traditional catalysts require heat for chemical transformations, but the new catalyst can spur reactions with just the use of sunlight or LED light.

Additionally, the team showed that copper-iron antenna-reactors could be used in these light-driven chemical reactions, known as plasmonic photocatalysis. In heat-based reactions, or thermocatalysis, platinum, and related precious (and expensive) metals like palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium are required.

“Transition metals like iron are typically poor thermocatalysts,” Naomi Halas, a co-author of the report from Rice, said in a statement. “This work shows they can be efficient plasmonic photocatalysts. It also demonstrates that photocatalysis can be efficiently performed with inexpensive LED photon sources.”

Halas, Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was joined on the project by Peter Nordlander, Rice’s Wiess Chair and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Rice alumni and adjunct professor of chemistry Hossein Robatjazi. Emily Carter, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and Environment, represented Princeton University.

“These results are a great motivator," Carter added. "They suggest it is likely that other combinations of abundant metals could be used as cost-effective catalysts for a wide range of chemical reactions.”

Houston-based Syzygy, which Halas and Nordlander founded in 2018, has licensed the technology used in the research and has begun scaled-up tests of the catalyst in the company’s commercially available, LED-powered reactors. According to Rice, the test at Syzygy showed the catalysts retained their efficiency under LED illumination and at a scale 500 times larger than in tests in the lab setup at Rice.

“This discovery paves the way for sustainable, low-cost hydrogen that could be produced locally rather than in massive centralized plants,” Nordlander said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Syzygy closed its $76 million series C round to continue its technology development ahead of future deployment/

Houston is home to many other organizations and researchers leading the charge in growing the hydrogen economy.

Earlier this year, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he's determined to position the city as hub for hydrogen innovation as one of the EPA's Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. Organizations in Texas, Southwest Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf Coast region, known and HyVelocity Hub, also announced this month that it would be applying for the regional funding.

And according to a recent report from The Center for Houston's Future, the Bayou City is poised to "lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact."

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