NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Yunsoo Choi (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and recent Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. graduate Ali Mousavinezhad published an article in Science of the Total Environment with UH EAS Ph.D. graduates and students – Nima Khorshidian, Masoud Ghahremanloo, and Mahmoudreza Momeni. The paper, “Air quality and health co-benefits of vehicle electrification and emission controls in the most populated United States urban hubs: Insights from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston,” examines the advantages that urban residents, including those in Houston, may experience from a greater use of electric vehicles in the future. The authors found a decrease in air pollutant levels and a reduction in negative health impacts in the four cities.

Fangzhou Guo, James Flynn, Subin Yoon, Sergio Alvarez, and Matthew Erickson (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) published “Airmass history, night-time particulate organonitrates, and meteorology impact urban SOA formation rate,” in Atmospheric Environment with colleagues from Rice University and Baylor University. The project included both field measurement and chemistry modeling to improve our understanding of air pollution (especially secondary organic aerosols, more generally referred to as PM) in the San Antonio region. It was funded by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and utilized the UH EAS Mobile Air Quality Laboratory. The researchers identified distinct pathways and key parameters that govern day- and night-time secondary organic aerosol formation, bettering our understanding of urban aerosol from a rate perspective and providing scientific guidance to improve the air quality in Texas.

Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) is currently featured on UH’s Scholars Walk digital screens located between the Student Center South and the back side of M.D. Anderson Library. The Scholars Walk salutes her achievements in student success stating that she “draws from her experience as a teacher and first-generation student to champion culturally responsive STEM education. She recently secured a $1.6 million NSF Racial Equity in STEM grant, dedicated to expanding underserved students’ access to STEM education.”

Martin Nuñez (Biology & Biochemistry) published “A single range-expanding species reshapes alpine ecosystems and their belowground diversity” in the journal Oikos with colleagues from Concordia University, McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Dawson College. The paper looks at pine invasions in high Andean treeless ecosystems and the huge negative impacts. The upslope spread of novel trees is quickly transforming vulnerable unforested alpine ecosystems. Starting only a few years after establishment, novel trees impact soil conditions, creating distinct “islands” of microhabitat with altered soil chemistry and wetter soils. In turn, these abiotic changes are associated with deterministic shifts in communities of fungi interacting with the roots of native plants. These findings fill an important gap in the understanding of the initiation and structuring of novel ecosystems in the context of global change.

Daniel Onofrei (Mathematics), David Jackson, and Zhu Han (both UH Engineering) are part of the Spectrum Management with Adaptive and Reconfigurable Technology (SMART) Hub – a Department of Defense Spectrum Innovation Center to conduct multifaceted spectrum research to meet national defense needs. The $5 million research consortium, led by Baylor University, is a collection of researchers, engineers, and economic and policy experts looking to enact a paradigm shift in the use and management of the wireless spectrum. SMART Hub will develop next-generation technologies for unprecedented spectrum agility, to revolutionize the increasingly crowded communication spectrum used by both U.S. defense efforts and the population at large. Onofrei, Jackson, and Han will produce strategies for enhanced communication in complex environments, like forests, inner city environments, mountainous terrains, or regions having electromagnetic interference.

Gopal Pandurangan and Ioannis Pavlidis (Computer Science) were elevated from senior member status of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to IEEE Fellow, a prestigious accomplishment in the world of technology and engineering. The designation reflects not only their significant contributions and ongoing impact, but also UH’s commitment to fostering a culture of innovation and excellence. In elevating Pandurangan to fellow status, IEEE cited his “contributions to theory and algorithms for distributed computing and networks.” His research has not only expanded our understanding of fundamental algorithms but also has paved the way for practical applications in distributed systems, network protocols, and data management. Pavlidis’ elevation to IEEE Fellow cited his “contributions to contact-free physiological measurements and affective computing.” Affective computing can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate human emotions. In the 2000s, Pavlidis was the first to conceive and develop contactless measurement methods for stress-induced instantaneous perspiration, breathing, and pulsation. The methods were based on models driven by thermal facial imaging data.

Quentin Vicens (Biology & Biochemistry) published “Z‑Form Adoption of Nucleic Acid is a Multi-Step Process Which Proceeds through a Melted Intermediate” in the Journal of the American Chemical Society with Beat Vögeli and others from the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. The paper was highlighted in Spotlights on Recent JACS Publications. When bound and stabilized by Zα domains within a variety of innate immune response proteins, both DNA and RNA can adopt unstable Z-conformation of nucleic acids. The authors used a combination of NMR and biophysical measurements to reveal that the adoption of the Z-form by nucleic acids is a multi-step process proceeding through melted intermediates, validating a previously proposed “zipper model.” This mechanistic insight into the conformation changes of nucleic acids is likely to facilitate future understanding and control over a variety of innate immune responses and viral proteins.
     Vicens’ work was also reported on in the Royal Chemistry Society’s Chemistry World, “More than a mirror-image: left-handed nucleic acids,” by reporter Rachel Brazil.

Honghai Zhang (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a three-year, $498,599 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections Program and National Integrated Drought Information System. The funding supports his study of moisture anomalies as monitors and predictors of droughts in the southwestern United States, including Houston. Zhang will analyze variations in precipitation and moisture in the region, looking closely at the potential for moisture from the tropical Pacific as a possible predictor. He is focused on developing a model that can monitor and predict drought conditions.