Breakthrough (College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics)

UH College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics Breakthrough (College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics)

NSM Pride: Awards and Honors

Share News of Your Achievements

NSM is proud of the achievements of our outstanding alumni, students, staff and faculty. Submit news of your awards, new jobs and honors to or contact Kathy Major at or 713-743-4023.


Fre’Etta Brooks (Physics ’17) is pursuing a Ph.D. in medical physics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The competitive program accepts only 6 to 8 students from a pool of worldwide applicants each year.

An article by Kyle Reuber (Ph.D. ’17 Geology) and co-authored by Paul Mann, professor of geology, was selected by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists/Society of Exploration Geophysicists as the best paper published in 2019 in the journal Interpretation. The Best Paper in Interpretation Journal Award will be presented at the Editor’s Reception during the 2020 SEG Annual Meeting in October. Reuber is currently employed as an exploration geologist at ION Geophysical in Houston.

Congratulations to Carol Skewes (Math ’05, M.B.A. ’09), publisher of the Baytown Sun newspaper. The newspaper was named among the best newspapers in Texas in the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Excellence in Journalism contest.


Arvand Asghari and Shaymaa Bahnassy (Ph.D. Students, Biology) received Robert Hazelwood Graduate Fellowships for Cancer Research. The $5,000 fellowship is awarded each year to outstanding Ph.D. students in UH’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry who are engaged in cancer research. Both students are doing research on breast cancer.

Claudia Bernier (Ph.D. Student, Atmospheric Sciences) received a NASA STEM Fellowship worth $165,000 over three years. She is among 19 students selected nationally from a pool of 130 applications. Bernier is researching ozone air quality over coastal environments. She will spend the next three summers at NASA’s Langley Research Center working with a suite of tropospheric ozone measurement data NASA has gathered around the Chesapeake Bay area.

Joanna Clark (Ph.D. Student, Geology) was awarded a two-year, $285,000 NASA grant. This grant will support work to determine the effect of temperature on silica formation, with a goal of using this information to understand previous climate conditions on Mars.

Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award – Spring 2020

Jiaxuan Li (Ph.D. Student, Geophysics) received the Spring 2020 Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award. His dissertation, “Inverting In-situ Anisotropy in Global Subduction Slabs Using Deep Earthquakes and Imaging Binary Mixtures and Fractures,” was centered on three main research topics: deep earthquakes, binary mixtures and machine learning in geothermal energy development.

Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award – Fall 2019

Naghmeh Hassanzadeh Khayyat (Ph.D. Student, Biology) was recognized as the Fall 2019 recipient of the Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award. She received a certificate and an award of $1,000. Her dissertation entitled, “Regulation and Dysregulation of TRPC6 Channels in Podocytes,” is centered on molecular events that underlie severe chronic kidney diseases that affect millions of Americans, including kidney disease arising as a complication of diabetes.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships: Debora Mroczek and Brian Vu (Physics majors – graduated in May) received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Both students will pursue doctoral degrees in the field of physics. Mroczek will attend University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Vu will attend University of Pennsylvania.


Rene Bellwied (M.D. Anderson Chair Professor, Physics) received a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. He is leading a UH team on two major international experiments to search for dark, or strange, matter to understand what role it played, if any, in the evolution of the universe. Anthony Timmins, associate professor of physics, and Lawrence Pinsky, Moores Professor of physics, are involved in the collaboration to figure out how the transition from plasma to existing matter occurred. Related UH News Article

NSM Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research: Jakoah Brgoch (Assistant Professor, Chemistry) is the 2020 recipient of NSM’s Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research. The award recognizes faculty at the rank of assistant professor who have demonstrated great potential in research and/or scholarship by virtue of the exceptional quality of their contributions. Brgoch’s research group develops functional inorganic material by combining experimental chemistry, computational modeling and machine learning. He investigates a range of topics, including optical materials, bioanalytical chemistry and the mechanical properties of materials.

Jakoah Brgoch and Judy Wu (Assistant Professors, Chemistry) have been chosen as 2020 Sloan Research Fellows, an honor that recognizes outstanding early-career faculty selected for their potential to revolutionize their fields of study. The two have been honored for their work in fundamental chemistry. For 2020, 126 researchers in eight disciplines — ranging from chemistry to neuroscience, physics and economics — were selected for the honor. Read More

Albert Cheng (Professor, Computer Science) has been appointed as an Association for Computing Machinery Distinguished Speaker; the term runs for three years. The speaker program is a highly visible way for ACM members to engage with emerging professionals, students, and in some cases, the public, on a range of topics in computing.
Cheng also was selected as a member of the Fulbright Specialist Roster for a tenure of three years. As a Fulbright Specialist, he will be matched with projects designed by host institutions in over 150 countries.

Seamus Curran (Professor, Physics) has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in recognition of his work in nanotechnology. In announcing his selection, the Academy said he had been chosen for “a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.”
Curran also received the 2020 Silicon Valley 50 Award. The 13th annual Silicon Valley Global Awards, hosted by the Irish Technology Leadership Group, bring together the most entrepreneurial minds in the Silicon Valley and beyond to honor top Irish and Irish-American executives making a significant impact in their field. Fifty executives are selected and honored each year.

Loi Do (Associate Professor, Chemistry) received a $1.53 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to pursue novel inorganic platforms for drug discovery and will expand the use of metal catalysts. The use of metals in drug molecules could offer major benefits, such as allowing for lower therapeutic dosages and fewer side effects.

Paige Evans (Clinical Professor and Associate Director, teachHOUSTON) received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare 30 UH students to teach at economically disadvantaged high schools in the greater Houston area. The five-year project, Advancing Cultural and Computational Engagement in STEM Scholars, will prepare UH students from different STEM disciplines to teach computer science, physics and technology at the high school level. Collaborators in NSM include Jaspal Subhlok, professor, computer science; Donna Stokes, associate dean of student success and undergraduate affairs and professor, physics; and Leah McAlister-Shields, lecturer and teachHOUSTON faculty advisor in the Department of Mathematics. Related UH News Article

Roland Glowinski (Cullen Professor, Mathematics) has been selected by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics to receive the prestigious 2020 W.T. and Idalia Reid Prize. The award is presented for outstanding research in, or other contributions to, the broadly defined areas of differential equations and control theory. He will receive $10,000 and will deliver a plenary lecture at the 2020 SIAM Annual Meeting in Toronto.

Kresimir Josic (Professor, Mathematics) was named a Moores Professor. This five-year, renewable professorship is given to UH faculty in recognition of outstanding teaching, research and service.

Liming Li (Associate Professor, Physics) was been selected as a Scialog Fellow to participate in the 2020 Scialog: Signatures of Life in the Universe initiative, jointly sponsored by Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Heising-Simons Foundation. The conference hopes to generate cutting-edge projects to gain fundamental understanding of habitability of planets, detection of life beyond Earth, and life in extreme environments on Earth or in Earth’s distant past.

Leon Thomsen (Research Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) is the 2020 recipient of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Maurice Ewing Medal, the organization’s highest honor. It is awarded to a person who, by a unanimous vote of both the Honors and Awards Committee and the Board of Directors, is deserving of the award through having made distinguished contributions both to the advancement of the science and to the profession of exploration geophysics. The award will be presented at the 2020 SEG Annual Meeting in October.

Mark Tomforde (Professor, Mathematics) was one of three recipients recognized with the Mathematical Association of America’s Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award. The award, given at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, honors college or university teachers who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had influence beyond their own institutions.

Vanessa Vasquez (NSM Undergraduate Advising Center) received an NACADA Scholarship Award for the fall semester. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising is an association of professional advisors, counselors, faculty, administrators and students working to enhance the educational development of students. Vasquez is pursuing a master’s degree through the Higher Education Program at UH. She will be recognized at the NACADA 2020 Global Awards Program for Academic Advising during the NACADA Conference this fall.

NSM John C. Butler Excellence in Teaching Award: Oomman Varghese (Associate Professor, Physics) and Rebecca Forrest (Instructional Professor, Physics) are the 2020 recipients of NSM’s John C. Butler Excellence in Teaching Award. The award recognizes NSM faculty, who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in teaching and a track record of dedication to the teaching mission of NSM. Typically, two awards are made yearly: one to a tenured/tenure-track faculty member and one to an instructional faculty member.

Richard Willson (Professor, Biology & Biochemistry) received the Esther Farfel Award, the highest honor accorded to a University faculty member. The award is a symbol of overall career excellence. Recipients are chosen for the significance and national/international impact of their research or creative activity, outstanding teaching ability, and distinctive and exemplary service to the University, the profession and the community.

Yingcai Zheng (Associate Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received word that a paper he co-authored was selected by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists as the Best Poster Paper Presented at the 2019 SEG Annual Meeting. The award will be presented at the Editor’s Reception during the 2020 SEG Annual Meeting in October. Lead authors were Yike Liu and Bin He from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. The paper discusses a new algorithm to improve subsurface seismic imaging and reduce artifacts using full-waveform inversion of multiples.

UH Faculty Excellence Awards

NSM faculty members brought home honors for excellence in the areas of teaching, mentoring, research and scholarship. The awards are among the highest honors bestowed by the University. NSM award recipients include:

Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creativity – Professor
Rene Bellwied, Physics

UH presents two awards at the Professor rank to faculty who have a substantial continuing record of outstanding research, scholarship and creative activities.

Teaching Excellence Award – Provost’s Core
Melahat Almus, Mathematics

This award is given to faculty who have demonstrated outstanding teaching in undergraduate core curriculum courses.

Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award
Donald Kouri, Physics
Thomas Teets, Chemistry

This award recognizes the mentorship efforts of UH faculty at all stages of their careers. The award acknowledges faculty who are making a significant impact in their field by supporting and mentoring undergraduate students in research and scholarship endeavors and who have demonstrated at least five years of mentorship involvement.

Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award
Wei-Kan Chu, Physics

This new award recognizes a faculty member who has had outstanding success in mentoring graduate students. The UH Graduate School will enter Chu into the regional Conference of Southern Graduate Schools Outstanding Mentor Award competition which opens each year in the fall semester.