NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Dinler Amaral Antunes (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) and Biochemistry Ph.D. student Jaila Lewis designed a promising new HEALTH-Research Centers in Minority Institutions (HEALTH- RCMI) Pilot Program study which explores a more personalized approach to developing and improving the design of immunotherapies specifically for underrepresented minorities. This initiative was funded $50,000 by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and HEALTH-RCMI. In this study, Antunes uses a computational design to study human leukocyte antigen receptors and assesses their binding with T-cell lymphocytes. The T-cell lymphocytes can potentially trigger the elimination of a tumor.

Ashley Askew and Eduardo Cerna (Student Success/Academic Affairs) presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in Seattle, March 9-13. Their presentation, “An Intensive Calculus-Focused Summer Bridge Program for Closing Readiness Gaps for Freshman STEM Majors,” focused on how the TC Energy Summer Scholars Academy and the Scholar Enrichment Program close readiness gaps for prospective and current STEM majors. In addition to presenting on the national stage, they were able to network with over 6,000 higher education professionals from across the U.S. and Canada.

Jakoah Brgoch (Chemistry) has been named a Fellow Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Persons named as Fellow Members have been in a senior position for more than five years and have made an impact in any field of the chemical sciences. As the highest category of membership, Fellows have invaluable experience, expertise, and commitment to promoting the value of chemical science.

Robert Comito (Chemistry) received a five-year, $732,168 NSF CAREER Award to support his development of a novel platform of catalysts that can efficiently produce environmentally friendly materials. His work is focused on synthesis for the purpose of creating better ways of making biodegradable and biocompatible polymers. Studies by Comito and his team are focused on finding new catalysts that can be tuned to prepare biodegradable polymers with novel structures, new physical properties, and improved performance.

Optica Mini Das (Physics) and Physics Ph.D. graduate student Jingcheng Yuan published research findings that were also featured on the cover of the journal Optica. The group designed and constructed a single-mask phase imaging setup that offers a simplified, yet effective, approach for capturing differential phase contrast images. This setup enhances the visibility of the edges of soft tissues, making it easier to distinguish them from surrounding materials. They show the derivation of a novel light transport model, which simplifies understanding how the image is formed in such a single mask x-ray imaging system. It allows for the efficient retrieval of absorption and differential phase contrast images in a single X-ray exposure (like a single shot in a mammogram), potentially reducing the X-ray dose while yielding multiple contrast features and images at once. The absorption image obtained is similar to what would be yielded in a conventional x-ray imaging system. The model and differential phase retrieval are validated with experiments on a benchtop imaging setup in Das’s lab. This work is a significant step toward making X-ray phase contrast imaging more accessible and practical for a wide range of applications, particularly in medical diagnostics where it can lead to earlier and more accurate detection of diseases. Other applications are in materials imaging, defense, and security imaging.

Paige Evans (teachHOUSTON/Mathematics), Donna Stokes (Physics/NSM Associate Dean), Cheryl J. Craig (corresponding author) and Gayle A. Curtis (both Texas A&M), and Leah McAlister-Shields (NSF) received the 2024 American Educational Research Association Narrative Research SIG, Outstanding Publication Award for their paper “Multi-layered mentoring: Exemplars from a U.S. STEM teacher education program.” The paper was published in the journal Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, one of the three top teaching and teacher education journals in the world. The article presents a multi-layered approach to mentoring within an urban secondary STEM teacher education program. This narrative inquiry research captures preservice teachers’ experiences of multi-layered mentoring in the form of exemplars. In the spotlighted case, 88% of those who graduated from the secondary STEM preservice education program were retained over a five-year period, which exceeds the retention rates of the participating urban school districts.

Samaneh Karami (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) received a HEALTH-Research Centers in Minority Institutions (HEALTH-RCMI) Pilot Program Award. Karami will explore human models for early detection of postpartum breast cancer in at-risk minorities. Her overarching objective is to develop a new targeted breast cancer therapy specifically tailored to a woman’s genetic variations. She was awarded $50,000 by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and HEALTH-RCMI. Tasneem Bawa-Khalfe (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) and Fatima Merchant (Engineering Technology) are her mentors and advisors.

Martin Nuñez (Biology & Biochemistry) was a corresponding author on a review paper, “Unintended consequences of planting native and non-native trees in treeless ecosystems to mitigate climate change” published in Journal of Ecology. Other UH authors included Kerri Crawford, Romina Dimarco, and second-year graduate student Tess Peterson. The paper addresses the problem of using trees in naturally treeless ecosystems to fight climate change. Planting trees in treeless areas (grasslands and shrublands) is a widely used tool around the world aimed at sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. At issue is the fact that while trees capture carbon, they may not be ideal to keep it stored since they can burn or sequester less than the preexisting plants. Other authors on the paper were from Universidad Nacional del Comahue (Argentina), Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (New Zealand), Universidad de Concepción (Chile), Rice University, and the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory-USDA Forest Service.

Oomman Varghese (Physics) and Flavio L. Souza edited the book, Conversion of Water and CO2 to Fuels using Solar Energy: Science, Technology and Materials. This book provides researchers interested in solar fuel generation a comprehensive understanding of the emerging solar technologies for hydrogen generation via water splitting and carbon-based fuel production via CO2 recycling. The book presents the fundamental science, technologies, techno-economic analysis, and most importantly, the materials that are being explored to establish artificial methods of fuel production using solar energy.

Rakesh Verma (Computer Science) and Computer Science Ph.D. students Fatima Zahra Qachfar and Bryan Tuck earned first place in a competition focused on identifying Arabic and Turkish hate speech and offensive language on social media. The competition was part of the Workshop on Challenges and Applications of Automated Extraction of Socio-political Events from Text (CASE 2024), co-located with the 18th Conference for the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics held in Malta.

Guoquan (Bob) Wang (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences), Geophysics Ph.D. student Jennifer Welch, and four collaborators from China published findings in Geophysical Research Letters. The work highlights a significant, yet often overlooked, environmental concern — permanent losses in land surface elevation due to inelastic compaction of expansive soils during prolonged droughts. The study’s authors used a decade of GPS data from the UH Coastal Center. The team observed notable land elevation loss during dry summers. This phenomenon is primarily attributed to the inelastic compaction of expansive soils, widely distributed along the Texas coastal area. The research underscores the urgent necessity to incorporate this factor into coastal infrastructure planning, wetland conservation efforts, and climate adaptation strategies.
     Wang, Geology Ph.D. student Kuan Wang, and colleagues in China published a research paper in the journal Groundwater concerning a shift in land subsidence patterns observed in Tianjin, China, since 2019, largely due to the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. Analysis using Sentinel-1A InSAR data from 2014 to 2023 indicates a stabilization or rebound in a third of the Tianjin plain. This study introduces a new framework for understanding and preventing subsidence by establishing new preconsolidation heads in the deep aquifer system. Identifying these heads and the safe pumping buffer is key to sustainable groundwater management. The findings from Tianjin offer valuable insights for addressing similar subsidence issues in the greater Houston area. Given the shared challenges of land subsidence in urban and coastal settings, this study’s successful strategies and technologies, particularly the innovative use of surface water diversion and advanced InSAR data analysis, could inform and significantly enhance groundwater management and subsidence mitigation efforts in Houston, contributing to the sustainability and resilience of its infrastructure and natural resources.

Julia Wellner (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) moderated a four-person panel at a public forum, “Understanding Sea Level Rise,” held at the UH Student Center. The event was part of a four-day workshop, “From Ice Sheets to the Coast: Sea Level Rise Impacts,” featuring glacial and coastal scientists, sea-level experts, and policy and resiliency experts. The expected rise in sea level will create a profound shift in coastal flooding through high tides, storm surge, and related flooding, making coastal communities more vulnerable to widespread damage. Event sponsors included UH Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School, U.S. National Science Foundation, U.K. Natural Environment Research Council, and International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.