NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Laura Barnett (first author; undergraduate alumni), Peter Copeland, Virginia Sisson and Steve Naruk (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) published Late Cretaceous Uplift of Grand Canyon: Evidence From Fluid Inclusions in the American Journal of Science. Debates have centered around the hypothesis that the Grand Canyon formed during the late Cretaceous, not the Miocene, as previously thought. In this study, fluid trapped within carbonates from the Mauv, Redwall, Supai, and Kaibab formations from Grand Canyon yield entrapment temperatures between 135 and 60 °C. Comparison of these temperatures to time-temperature models suggest that these fluids were trapped from 89 to 58 million years ago accompanied by major denudation of late Cretaceous strata. Both lines of evidence suggest significant uplift of Grand Canyon and the adjacent Colorado Plateau occurred during the late Cretaceous. The authors interpret their findings to be consistent with initial uplift associated with the early stages of formation of Grand Canyon during the late Cretaceous.

Jacqueline Ekeoba (teachHOUSTON/Mathematics) was elected to serve as a Member-at-Large, Alumni Representative, on the UTeach STEM Educators Association (USEA) Executive Board. She will chair the Conference Planning Committee for the 2025 USEA National Conference to be hosted by NevadaTeach at the University of Nevada in Reno.

Paige Evans (teachHOUSTON/Mathematics) is principal investigator on a $3 million National Science Foundation award to help address a STEM teacher shortage and retention crisis. The program, Developing STEM Teacher Leaders in Culturally Responsive Classroom Management, Engineering Design and Induction, is a partnership between UH, the National Math and Science Initiative, and several Houston-area high-need school districts including Pasadena, Alief, and Spring Branch ISDs. teachHOUSTON will select 15 current STEM teachers from its partner districts to serve as Master Teacher Fellows and train them in CRCM, a strategy that involves consideration of students’ backgrounds, cultures, learning styles, and past experiences to create inclusive and supportive learning environments. Each fellow will receive $100,000 in salary supplements over five years. Co-PIs are Amanda Campos and Ramona Mateer (teachHOUSTON/Mathematics), Jerrod Henderson (Engineering), and Virginia Snodgrass Rangel (Education).

Lee Ann Lawrence (NSM Career Center) participated in two training webinars on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS): Best Practices offered by Quinncia, a company using AI to enhance career readiness. Based on recent upgrades to the ATS software used to sort resumes for the hiring process, the undergraduate/graduate resume templates in HireNSM have been updated to reflect the new ATS scoring system.

Francisco Martins (Chemistry) is one of 17 scientists chosen to receive the 2024 Merck Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color. Martins is one of only two postdocs in the group of awardees. The award recognizes rising scientists for their research and efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in their communities. The award covers expenses to attend the 2024 Merck Awards Symposium in Rahway, New Jersey, where he will present his research and be honored.

Rich Meisel (Biology & Biochemistry) and graduated Ph.D. student and first author Danial Asgari published two manuscripts, one in the Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology and the other in Genome, with colleagues from the USDA-ARS Arthropod-Borne Animal Diseases Research Unit, Kansas State University, and Clemson University. The research examines antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which combat microbes encountered during feeding or through infections. AMPs can be produced either in response to infection (induced) or continuously (constitutively), but the differences in these production strategies remain poorly understood. The team analyzed the evolution and expression of Defensins, which are ancient AMPs found across animals, in two different fly species. They identified one group of Defensins that were only constitutively expressed in larvae, but inducible in adults. Another group were constitutively expressed in adults and evolving much faster than the other group. The results suggest that variation in microbial communities encountered across life history shape the evolution of immune genes.

Dawnelle Prince (NSM Career Center) is serving on the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Affinity Group, Individuals Serving & Recruiting Hispanic/Latinx & HSI Students. She was recently named coordinator for the group’s activities for National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week, September 9-15, 2024.

Claudia Ratti (Physics) received a three-year, $600,000 NASA grant to study the properties of neutron stars. She hopes that a better understanding of these stars will unlock new details about our universe, how it formed, and its composition. Neutron stars serve as natural laboratories for studying matter under extreme conditions. The insights gained from observing neutron stars and their mergers help physicists test the limits of nuclear physics and general relativity. She will use the capabilities of NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) housed on the International Space Station to examine the components of neutron stars. The research is also relevant for NASA’s Artemis project with Ratti collaborating with NASA to bring new seismographs to the moon. Her calculations will help to narrow down the seismograph properties needed to detect strangelets, a dark matter candidate that could be denser and more stable than common matter.

Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH), Xin Shi (first author and Physics Ph.D. graduate May 2024), and Shaowei Song (Physics) published in the journal Science, with Guanhui Gao a researcher formerly at Rice University, who is now at UH. The team reported a new approach to predict the realization of band convergence in a series of materials, and after demonstrating that one so-designed material, a p-type Zintl compound, would offer highly efficient thermoelectric performance, fabricated a thermoelectric module. They reported a heat-to-electricity conversion efficiency exceeding 10% at a temperature difference of 475 kelvin, or about 855 degrees Fahrenheit. The materials’ performance remained stable for more than two years.

Jon Rotzien (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) authored a 370-page book entitled “The Explorer’s Mindset: Lessons in Leadership in Applied Geoscience and the Energy Industry.” The book is a collection of 30 interviews with leaders in geoscience, most of them involved in the energy industry focused on oil and gas exploration and production (from companies, academia, government agencies, investment groups, etc.). It aims to characterize the traits of successful geoscience leaders who are responsible for the substantial growth and success of the industry over the last few decades.

Madhan Tirumalai (Biology & Biochemistry) convened a session “Origins of Life: The Ribosomes as a Window to the Past” under the track “Transitions from Prebiotic Chemistry to Biology” at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) held in Providence, RI. The session featured four, 15-minute talks and a 30-minute panel discussion. Session theme: A careful examination of all available molecular signatures in extant life/biology leads one to the translation machinery, namely the ribosome. The origins of the ribosome could be traced back to a time much before the Last Universal Common Ancestor and hence is strongly coupled with the origins of life. The session examined the current understanding of the emergence of the proto-ribosome, and its evolution to its current form. Fifty people attended the session, including graduate students, postdoctoral, junior, and senior faculty members from various institutions.

Shaun Zhang (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) presented on the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the May UH Research Forum organized by the Division of Research.