NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Sergio Alvarez and Jimmy Flynn (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) were part of a large international team of atmospheric scientists that found that when the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted last year, it took part of the ozone layer with it. The team published findings in the journal Science: “Rapid ozone depletion after humidification of the stratosphere by the Hunga Tonga Eruption.” The eruption was one of the more powerful explosions ever recorded. Also, instead of spewing just volcanic material, dirt, and rocks, it also sent a very large amount of ocean water into the atmosphere. The team collected in situ data on water, aerosols, and ozone in the volcanic plume and combined them with remote sensing observations to show that all the saltwater reacting with other chemicals in the atmosphere, resulted in breaking down O3 in the ozone layer. The UH team launched their SO2 sonde to capture data from the volcanic plume.

Yunsoo Choi (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and doctoral student Delaney Nelson published research using machine learning and innovative analysis techniques to pinpoint the city’s air pollution sources more accurately. Their findings are published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Their analysis revealed that in industrial areas, Houston’s oil and gas industry had the highest impact on emissions, while shortwave radiation and relative humidity were the two most important influencing factors for overall ozone concentration. The team worked with data from an industrial site near the Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest seaports in the world, and a typical urban site surrounded by residences and businesses.

Jacob Daane (Biology & Biochemistry) is leading a research project to uncover the genetic mechanisms that underlie trait evolution and disease resilience in fishes. The $1.9 million National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant spans five years and will delve into genomic and macroevolutionary trends that precede and follow the development of specific traits in fish species that thrive in the challenging environments. Many fish species have evolved traits that are highly adaptive in specific environments but would be considered pathological, or caused by disease, in humans. Daane’s laboratory seeks to know how the traits evolved and how the fishes overcame the detrimental effects of such phenotypic extremes. An interesting implication of this work is that it has the potential to inform our basic understanding of trait evolution. It also has the potential, years from now, to create treatments for humans suffering from a variety of diseases. The traits Daane’s team are studying – red blood cells, bone density, fat content, and kidney function – have a connection to human disease.

Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) is principal investigator of a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a community partnership to provide a culturally responsive STEM experience to underserved high school students enrolled in alternative schooling systems in Houston. The Racial Equity through Student Engagement and Teaching in STEM (RESET in STEM) program, an idea borne from UH’s successful STEM RISE program, aims to address the systemic barriers that hinder economically and socially disadvantaged students’ access to STEM education and to create a more inclusive and equitable educational environment. RESET in STEM is a collaboration between NSM, College of Education, and Cullen College of Engineering as well as Eight Million Stories, Inc., a community-based non-profit that works with local school districts and community organizations and supports at-promise students in education completion, industry-based certifications, and wraparound services. NSM faculty members Jacqueline Ekeoba (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) and Donna Stokes (Physics and NSM Associate Dean) are serving as Co-PIs on the project.

Antoniette Marvels (Chemistry) received a Cougar Cudos Award for November. The program, created by UH Staff Council, allows staff to recognize other staff members for exceptional service to the University that goes above and beyond.

Carlos Ordonez (Physics) organized a day-long visit for Eastwood Academy’s 12 AP Physics students and their teacher. UH Physics aims to establish a pipeline for the physics undergraduate program through this connection with the HISD school. After a general introduction and tour of UH, the students received presentations, demonstrations, and tours of various physics facilities. Topics presented by UH Physics faculty included a welcome from Kevin Bassler and Donna Stokes, physics career information from Lisa Koerner, research in theoretical and experimental nuclear physics/heavy ion collisions from Claudia Ratti, research in biophysics by Greg Morrison, and a discussion of development of undergraduate course in quantum computing by Physics Ph.D. student Pablo Lopez-Duque and Ordonez. Duque’s work is funded by the UH Center for Mexican American and Latino Studies. The group then toured the UH Observatory and The Center for Superconductivity at UH with presentations by Paul Chu, Karoline Muller, and James Meen.

Matthew Pariyothorn (Computer Science) received the honor of being named Graduate Advisor of the Month by the UH Graduate School. The recognition was for the month of August.

Natalie Sumrow (NSM Undergraduate Advising Center) received a 2023 President’s Excellence Award for Effective Leadership. Sumrow serves NSM students as the executive director of the advising center. The annual awards program recognizes employees for their commendable service, dedication, and contributions that go above and beyond the requirements or expectations of their jobs.

Rakesh Verma and Gopal Pandurangan (Computer Science) were awarded a $798,530 grant from the Department of Defense to research machine learning techniques to identify or predict software vulnerabilities and cyberattacks. The team is looking at deceptive attacks such as phishing in the form of emailed job scams. They also want to use machine learning techniques to try to find portions of the code that may contain bugs. Another project component involves using distributed machine learning to develop scalable algorithms for analyzing large data sets as well as decentralized machine learning methods to analyze data without risking data privacy.

Quentin Vicens (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to unravel the mystery of Z-RNA – an enigmatic RNA structure within our cells that plays a critical role in immune response. This work is in collaboration with the laboratory of Beat Vögeli, associate professor at the University of Colorado and co-recipient of the award. Their research teams are on a mission to understand how Z-RNA forms, how often it appears in our genetic material, and what it means for proteins that are known to recognize this structure. They are focusing on a process called RNA editing, where one letter in RNA is transformed into another. This editing happens more in conditions like cancer and infections and is linked to the presence of a unique protein part that can attach to Z-RNA.

Arthur Weglein (Physics) is a keynote speaker at the 2023 Society of Exploration Geophysicists/Kuwait Oil Company Workshop on Advances in Land & Shallow Marine Multiple Attenuation and Imaging. The conference, scheduled for November 28-30, takes place in Kuwait City, Kuwait. Weglein will deliver his presentation virtually and provide expert analysis with his address, “Recent Advances and Open Issues in Multiple Attenuation and Imaging, including Land and Shallow Marine.”

Ding-Shue “Jerry” Yang (Chemistry) received a Salute to Excellence Award from the American Chemical Society, Greater Houston Section. The award recognized his leadership in the “Chemistry Olympiad program where he shares his excitement for chemistry and inspires high school students to achieve excellence on their journey to becoming future scientists.” Yang has been serving as the coordinator for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad since 2017. Over the seven years, especially through the pandemic, he came up with some innovative methods to increase participation every year. As a result of his work on the Chemistry Olympiad, the ACS Greater Houston Section received a 2023 ChemLuminary Award from the American Chemical Society that reads “Society Committee on Education (SOCED), Outstanding U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, Greater Houston Local Section, American Chemical Society.”

Melissa Zastrow (Chemistry) is the 2023 recipient of the Paul Saltman Memorial Award in Bioinorganic Chemistry from the Metals in Biology Gordon Research Conference. The conference is regarded as the top forum for research in bioinorganic chemistry. Zastrow will present a lecture on her research and formally receive the award at the conference in January. Paul Saltman was known for his contributions to nutritional science, particularly the nutritional role of trace metals such as iron, copper, zinc, and manganese. Each year, the award named in his memory is given to an assistant professor who has made outstanding contributions to the field of bioinorganic chemistry, particularly with research into how organisms acquire and use metals in biological processes. The award recognizes Zastrow for her work on how metals affect the human gastrointestinal tract.