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Houston researchers are developing smaller scaled imaging machines

Researchers at the University of Houston are revolutionizing pulsed power systems and traditional MRI machines. Image via Pexels

A team of researchers in Houston are developing the next generation of miniaturized pulsed power systems — a technology that was key to the creation of x-ray machines, then MRI machines, and more.

University of Houston researchers led by Harish Krishnamoorthy, Cullen College assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, are working to develop the next generation of miniaturized pulsed power systems. X-rays, MRIs, and similar technology are deeply intertwined with the nuclear age and the mid-20th century. Additionally, pulsed power systems have been used to create other military weapons, such as radar systems and rail guns.

The research is was published in IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics. In the paper, the researchers propose creating a mini-pulsed power system that can shrink the system’s energy storage components, such as capacitors, and deliver an immediate surge of power, a recent UH news release summarizes. According to the paper, energy storage can be reduced to less than one-tenth the size of what conventional pulsed power systems use.

“We’re essentially creating a small high-density energy storage machine that will help with reducing the space these machines use, which will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in material costs and improve their reliability,” Krishnamoorthy says.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded the research team a $1 million grant to build their gallium nitride (GaN)-based miniaturized pulsed power system. The team will be conducting the project alongside scientists from Harvard University and Schlumberger, who are sub-recipients of the grant.

“Initially we’ll make a compact pulsed power supply for extreme environment fluid characterization that can disruptively reduce the cost of downhole well logging tools used in fossil and geothermal energy production. This will be followed by a miniaturized converter suitable for mobile hand-held MRI machines. However, we think that we can extend our technology to make small water-purification systems, pulsed laser systems and pulsed electro-magnetic radiation sources,” says Krishnamoorthy.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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