NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Eric Bittner (Chemistry) has joined the editorial board of Philosophical Magazine as the founding editor of the journal’s new Part C: quantum materials, algorithms, etc. The scope will include both theory and experiments on quantum materials, photonics, quantum computing, polaritons, quantum electronics, spin-systems, and quantum metrology. Philosophical Magazine is one of the oldest science journals with over 225 years of continual publication. Its former editors include Sir Nevill Mott, J.J. Thomson, William Bragg, and John Tyndall. Prof. Edward A. Davis (Cambridge) is the current chief editor.

Olafs Daugulis (Chemistry) received the 2022 EROS Best Reagent Award for the reagent 8-aminoquinoline. The award was created to honor authors of articles published in the Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis (EROS) and is sponsored by Aldrich┬« Chemistry and John Wiley & Sons. Updated yearly with new or updated articles from hundreds of synthetic chemists, this encyclopedia of reagents and catalysts remains a primary source of information for chemists at the bench, enabling them to quickly find the most suitable reagent for performing a particular reaction. Use of the aminoquinoline (AQ) directing group was published in 2005. Since then, AQ moiety has become one of the most widely used auxiliaries for catalytic functionalization of sp2 and sp3 C-H bonds, and it has been employed for directing carbon-carbon double bond functionalization and C-C bond cleavage. Daugulis is the tenth winner of this award, joining a prestigious list of former winners: Paul Knochel in 2011, Bruce Lipshutz in 2012, Huw Davies in 2013, Corey Stephenson in 2014, Phil Baran in 2015, Michael Organ in 2017, Robert Crabtree in 2018, Scott Denmark in 2019, and Franziska Sch├Ânebeck in 2020.

Jacqueline Ekeoba and Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON/Mathematics), along with Thomas Thesen (formerly of UH College of Medicine), presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Chicago. Their presentation, “Igniting STEMM Engagement and Developing Culturally Responsive STEMM Professionals,” provided information/outcomes of their summer program designed to better prepare future STEM teachers and medical professionals, and support high school students in empirical STEM research and laboratory experiences.

Andrew Flynn (Postdoctoral Fellow, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) earned a Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The program aims to train the next generation of scientists and museum professionals and to promote new ideas, perspectives and skills into the museum community through full-time resident fellowships. He will begin the fellowship in January 2024. The program includes a $150,000 grant for two years. At UH, Flynn studies ancient soils found in sedimentary rocks, in collaboration with Emily Beverly, at a site in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico.

Omprakash Gnawali (Computer Science) with first author Alireza Ansaripour (Computer Science Ph.D. student), and Milad Heydariaan have developed a system to keep construction workers safe at job sites. The findings and process were published in Applied Sciences. Additional co-authors were corresponding author Kyungki Kim and Hafiz Oyediran from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The new system, VIPER+, enhances the safety of workers and equipment on a construction site. Using ultra-wideband technology for location tracking, VIPER+ can monitor location-based policies related to safety and detect any violations. These policies define safe areas for workers and equipment or define a safe distance between them when equipment is operating in the construction site.

Chris Guillory (NSM Communications) attended the three-day Council for the Advancement and Support of Education District IV Annual Conference in San Antonio. The meeting offered a variety of speaker sessions and workshops across topics in alumni relations, development, communications and marketing, social media and website management, and professional development within nonprofit education organizations.

Ioannis Kakadiaris (Computer Science) is principal investigator leading a team that is developing an artificial intelligence-based platform that can support the food charity ecosystem through data-driven technologies. Funded by a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the project aims to help food pantries communicate with other pantries, food donors, and agencies while also helping to provide culturally aware and personalized food to clients.

Ana Medrano (Biology & Biochemistry) was recognized as an Outstanding Woman in Science by the Association of Women in Science - Houston Chapter. In addition to a plaque, she delivered a presentation, “My Life Journey in STEM.”
     Medrano also received the UH Faculty Senate New Senator Excellence in Service Award.

Evelyn Merz (UH Coastal Center) was a co-organizer the second Coastal Prairies Restoration Practitioners Forum. The event was co-hosted by the UH Coastal Center and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Forum sessions provided information useful to hands-on practitioners who make decisions on managing invasive species, brush management, seeding native plants, and prescribed grazing.

Mary Ann Ottinger (Biology & Biochemistry) published the book, One Health Meets the Exposome: Human, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Health, with Cullen Geiselman, director of the Cullen Trust for Health Care, Houston. The book brings together the two conceptual frameworks of One Health and the Exposome to comprehensively examine the myriad of biological, environmental, social, and cultural challenges impacting the interrelated health of humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. The co-authors will have a book signing at Houston’s Health Museum in May.

Ioannis Pavlidis (Computer Science) and researchers from Texas A&M University and the Polytechnic of Milano tackled the question: “Does knowledge work near deadlines incur higher sympathetic load than knowledge work away from deadlines?” The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, published in the Proceedings of the ACM Human Factors in Computing. Sympathetic activation is the state of physiological arousal that indicates how much people are “on the tips of their toes,” and often leads to stress. Applying advanced data modeling on hundreds of hours of data recordings, the team found that researchers experience high sympathetic activation while working, which speaks to the challenging nature of the research profession. Surprisingly, this high sympathetic activation remains about the same with or without deadlines. The only factors found to exacerbate sympathetic activation were extensive smartphone use and prolific reading/writing.

Steve Pennings (Biology & Biochemistry) and Evelyn Merz (UH Coastal Center) partnered with the UH Office of Sustainability on three events during Earth Week. The events included an Ecology Bioblitz involving identification of plant, animal, and insect species on campus, a presentation on the UH Coastal Center, and a volunteer work day at the UHCC’s Shasta’s Pocket Prairie where participants learned about native plants and what it takes to maintain the space on campus. Biology & Biochemistry undergraduates and graduate students also assisted with the events.

Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH) was elected a Materials Research Society Fellow. The citation from the Society stated, “for pioneering contributions to superconducting electron pairing symmetry, alignment of carbon nanotubes, thermoelectric property enhancement by nanostructuring, water electrolysis catalysts, boron arsenide crystals with high thermal conductivity and carrier mobility.”
     Ren was also honored with the Materials Science Leader Award for 2023 from Research.com, a leading academic platform for researchers.

Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH), postdoc Shaowei Song, and researchers from Germany have demonstrated a way to cut the cost and upend both the transit and energy transport sectors by using superconductors to move people, cargo, and energy along existing highway infrastructure. The concept, described in a paper published in the journal APL Energy, suggests a future in which air travel and traditional freight transport could become obsolete, replaced by a “super system” allowing personal and commercial vehicles to travel at speeds up to 400 miles an hour — maybe even twice that fast. His team demonstrated proof of concept using a model.
     Ren, former students, and international colleagues have reported a new approach to constructing thermoelectric modules, using silver nanoparticles to connect the modules’ electrode and metallization layers. The work, published in Nature Energy, should accelerate the development of advanced modules for power generation and other uses. The use of silver nanoparticles was tested for stability in modules built of three different state-of-the-art thermoelectric materials, designed to operate across a wide range of temperatures.

Donna Stokes (NSM Associate Dean and Physics) received the Outstanding Fellowship Mentor Award from the UH Honors College for her work preparing students to compete for national awards and other honors.

Sarah Truby (NSM Advancement) attended the Charitable Gift Planners of Houston’s annual conference on planned giving. Planned gifts, such as bequests, are an essential component of funding to the College and give individuals the opportunity to show their support and appreciation for the College, UH, and its mission while accommodating their own personal, financial, estate-planning, and philanthropic goals. The conference provided valuable professional development sessions addressing ways to further support the College’s ambitious fundraising goals heading into its 50th anniversary.