NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Faculty Recognition & Honors

Key Honors

Julia Wellner (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) is serving as co-chief on a research expedition to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Amundsen Sea. This ice sheet could play a pivotal role in future sea level rise. Wellner departed Jan. 24 from Punta Arenas, Chile, for a two-month research effort in Antarctica. Project funding is from the NSF.

The Department of Physics received an American Physical Society “Improving Undergraduate Physics Education” Award. In the award letter, the selection committee noted the department’s focus on meeting the needs of students, which includes efforts to maximize student success through both improved teaching methodologies, as well as cultivating student research. The awards committee also noted the department’s success in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority students. Donna Stokes was the lead on the application for the award.

Four NSF CAREER Awards

Jakoah Brgoch (Chemistry) received a 5-year, $656K CAREER Award: “Targeting novel phosphors for the next generation of solid-state white lighting.”

Richard Meisel (Biology & Biochemistry) received a 5-year, $1.2M CAREER Award: “Maintenance of variation in a developmental pathway as a result of environmental heterogeneity.”

Thomas Teets (Chemistry) received a 5-year, $589K CAREER Award: “Synthetic Strategies to Optimize Luminescence and Photoredox Properties of Organometallic Complexes.”

Jonny Wu (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) received a 5-year, $568K CAREER Award: “Unfolding Earth history back to the Mesozoic by incorporating seismic tomography into Pacific realm plate tectonic reconstructions.”

Key Publications/Conference Proceedings

Maurice Brookhart, Olafs Daugulis (Chemistry) and Andrew Kocen (Ph.D. Student, Chemistry) reported the discovery of a new class of catalyst to produce ultra-high-weight polyethylene, a potential new source of high-strength, abrasion-resistant plastic used for products ranging from bulletproof vests to artificial joints. The nickel-based catalyst is described in a paper published in Nature Communications.

Paul Chu (Physics, TcSUH) and his research team reported a new way to raise the transition temperature of superconducting materials, boosting the temperature at which the superconductors are able to operate. The results, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest a previously unexplored avenue for achieving higher-temperature superconductivity, which offers a number of potential benefits to energy generators and consumers.

George Fox and Madhan Tirumalai (Biology & Biochemistry) published findings on the effects of antibiotic exposure in microgravity. Their work, published in the journal mBio, showed that bacteria grown in simulated microgravity conditions, while being subjected to trace amounts of the antibiotic chloramphenicol, developed long-lasting resistance to a variety of antibiotics.

Ioannis Pavlidis (Computer Science) and Houston Methodist researchers published findings in Nature Scientific Reports related to removing stress in surgical training. They found that under relaxed conditions outside a formal educational setting, 15 first-year medical students, who aspired one day to become surgeons, mastered microsurgical suturing and cutting skills in as little as five, hour-long sessions. Pavlidis stated that by removing external stress factors associated with the notoriously competitive and harsh lifestyle of surgery residencies, stress levels during inanimate surgical training plummet.

Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH) and collaborators reported the discovery of a new class of half-Heusler thermoelectric compounds, including one with a record high figure of merit – a metric used to determine how efficiently a thermoelectric material can convert heat to electricity. The results appeared in Nature Communications.

John Suppe, Jonny Wu (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and Yi-Wei Chen (EAS Ph.D. Student and first author) published their reconstruction of the subduction of the Nazca Ocean plate in Nature. The remnants of this plate are found about 900 miles under the Andes Mountains. This represents the deepest and oldest plate remnants reconstructed to date with the plates dating back to the Cretaceous Period. Their results show that the formation of the Andean mountain range was more complicated than what previous models suggested.