Breakthrough (College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics)

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

NSM Pride: Awards and Honors

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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.


Paulomi Modi (’21, Biology) was recognized as one of five UT Health San Antonio 2023 Presidential Ambassador Scholars. Each ambassador is awarded a $5,000 scholarship. The ambassadors represent the student body and the university at numerous events throughout the year. Modi is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in Dr. Myron Ignatius’ lab at the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute to develop novel zebrafish models of rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS — a rare type of pediatric cancer that forms in the soft tissue — and osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

Thao Tran (Ph.D. ’15, Chemistry) received a prestigious Beckman Young Investigator Award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. She is one of 11 recipients selected in 2023 from a field of nearly 200 applicants. The award offers $600,000 in funding over four years. Awardees exemplify the Foundation’s mission of supporting the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences, particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open new avenues of research in science. The award will enable the Tran Group to further explore chemistry for quantum technologies.

EAS Outstanding Alumni Award

The Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences recognized the 10 EAS alumni who made up the two, five-student, world championship, AAPG Imperial Barrel Award teams. Both EAS teams competed against over 100 teams in a regional and worldwide competition to achieve this recognition.

  • UH 2017 IBA World Champion Team: Eric Lunn (M.S. ’19, Geology, captain – now with ConocoPhillips, Midland, TX); Leiser Silva (’15, M.S. ’19, Geology – now Ph.D. student, Colorado School of Mines, Boulder, CO); Walter Reed (M.S. ’18, Geophysics – now with LPL Finance, San Angelo, TX); Delaney Robinson (Ph.D. ’21, Geology – now with U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Dallas); and Andrew Steier (M.S. ’18, Geology – now with TotalEnergies, Houston)
  • UH 2019 IBA World Champion Team: Aydin Shahtakhtinskiy (Ph.D. ’22, Geology, captain - now with BP, Houston); Andrew Stearns (M.S. ’21, Geology – now with TGS, Houston); Spencer Fuston (Ph.D. ’22, Geology – now with Oxy, Houston); Jacob Miller (’17, Geology and Geophysics, M.S. ’20, Geophysics – now with BP, Houston); and Patrick Chandler (M.S. ’21, Geology – now with Oxy, Houston)

Students and Postdoctoral Fellows

Alireza Ansaripour (Computer Science Ph.D. student) is the first author of findings published in Applied Sciences. Co-authors were UH’s Omprakash Gnawali (Ansaripour’s mentor) and Milad Heydariaan, and from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, corresponding author Kyungki Kim and Hafiz Oyediran. The team developed a new system, VIPER+, to enhance 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.

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.

Masoud Ghahremanloo (Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. student) developed a more accurate artificial intelligence (AI) method for reading amounts of ground-level nitrogen dioxide (NO2) with the help of satellite technology. Ghahremanloo’s work was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. He worked with associate professor Yunsoo Choi to create a model designed to give more accurate estimates of NO2 concentrations on the Earth’s surface. Additional NSM doctoral students, Yannic Lops, Seyedali Mousavinezhad and Jia Jung, also collaborated in the study.

Jameson Mark Hampton (Geology major) earned a $3,500 scholarship from the Houston Geological Society. After his December 2023 graduation, he plans to pursue an M.S. in geoscience.

Shruti Hariyani (Chemistry Ph.D. graduate) was the Spring 2023 recipient of the Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, “Expanding the Crystal Chemistry of Rare-Earth Substituted Oxide and Mixed Anion Inorganic Phosphors.” Her dissertation topic is the design and discovery of new luminescent phosphors that are used in LED bulbs and touchscreen displays. The goal throughout her Ph.D. was to develop new materials that could be paired with violet LEDs to minimize the impact of blue light exposure, which is known to impact human health. Her advisor was Jakoah Brgoch. In the course of this research, Hariyani discovered many new compounds, including those that absorb in the violet portion of the visible spectrum instead of the blue and some that are more highly performing than those currently on the market. Related Photo

Ashfia Khan (Biochemistry Ph.D. student) and Tianyi Zhou (Biology Ph.D. student) were awarded Robert Hazelwood Graduate Fellowships for cancer research. The fellowship, $5,000 for each student, is awarded annually to exemplary Ph.D. students in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. Read More

Syeda Khan and Kate Tran (both Biology majors) are recipients of the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The scholarships will support their learning abroad experiences. The Gilman Scholarship was designed to assist students who do not have the financial resources to travel or learn abroad. Khan and Tran are participating in learning abroad activities this summer.

Hadi Zanganeh Kia (Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. student) was first author on a paper with his mentor Yunsoo Choi and Delaney Nelson, Jincheol Park and Arman Pouyaei of UH EAS. The research, published in Science of The Total Environment, focused on understanding how the air moves outdoors and affects the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19. They simulated movement of a “sneeze plume” in areas where the air doesn’t circulate well, called “hot spots,” using a computer program that models the flow of air around buildings. They also used weather station data to mimic the wind patterns in 2019. With this information, they calculated how long it takes for fresh air to replace the existing air in these hot spots, looking at varying conditions such as upward, downward, and forward wind, and studying droplet behavior. The work highlights the importance of adequate ventilation and wind patterns in mitigating transmission of airborne particles.

Gabrielle Kostecki (Mathematical Biology major) was awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which recognizes the achievements of exemplary STEM students from around the nation. She is among 413 Goldwater Scholars selected from an initial pool of approximately 5,000 students. At UH, Kostecki has been involved in undergraduate research, including the groundbreaking development of a fentanyl vaccine under the mentorship of Colin Haile (Psychology), participation in Biochemistry Undergraduate Research Scholarship projects led by Tony Frankino and Martin A. Nuñez (Biology & Biochemistry), and work for the Urban Wildlife Conservation Network with Ann Cheek (Biology & Biochemistry). Read More

Croix Laconsay (Postdoctoral Fellow, Chemistry) is one of 35 Ph.D. students and postdocs selected for the American Chemical Society CAS Future Leaders program. This year’s participants were selected from among hundreds of highly qualified applicants, representing a wide array of scientific disciplines and organizations from around the world. The CAS Future Leaders program supports the growth of science leadership potential among early-career scientists. Members gain leadership skills and learn about the chemical information industry. CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society (ACS), identifies, aggregates, and organizes all publicly disclosed chemistry information. This year’s cohort will visit the CAS headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 7-12, and attend the ACS Fall meeting in San Francisco, Aug. 13-17. Laconsay works in the lab of Judy Wu.

Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH’s 58th Student Research Symposium

Four NSM Ph.D. students won prizes:

  • First Prize: Minh Dang Nguyen (Chemistry Ph.D. student) with the presentation: “Tailoring the Size, Shape, and Crystallinity of Iron Oxide Nanoparticles for Studies of Nano-Magnetism and their Potential Applications.” His mentor is Randy Lee.
  • Second Prize: Jacob C. Hickey (Chemistry Ph.D. student) for the presentation: “The Limits of Proxy-Guided Superhard Materials Screening.” His mentor is Jakoah Brgoch.
  • Third Prize: Fengjiao Pan (Physics Ph.D. student) for the presentation: “Observation of Persistent Hot Carrier Diffusion in Boron Arsenide Single Crystals Synthesized by Chemical Vapor Transport Method.” She is mentored by Zhifeng Ren.
  • Third Prize: Xin Shi (Physics Ph.D. student) presenting “Physical Origins of the Distinct Transport Behavior among Thermoelectric AMg2Sb2 Compounds (A = Ca, Sr, Sm, Yb, and Mg).” He is also mentored by Zhifeng Ren.

Juan Pablo Ramos Vargas and Ruth Beltran (Geology Ph.D. students) placed first and third respectively in the student poster competition of the 2023 GeoGulf meeting. The Houston Geological Society, the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, and the Gulf Coast Section of the SEPM jointly sponsored the event. Both students are advised by Paul Mann.

Damon Spencer (Mathematics and Computer Engineering major - dual degree) received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support for students who are early in their STEM graduate career. As an undergraduate, he was involved in research on artificial intelligence security and participated in NSM’s Scholar Enrichment Program. For his research, he collaborated with Larry Shi (Computer Science) and Daniel Onofrei (Mathematics). Spencer will pursue a Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics.

Uchenna Ubeh (Physics Ph.D. student) was selected for a Department of Energy Graduate Research Fellowship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from June 1-Sept 30. Ubeh’s research project will explore two-dimensional magnetic material under strain using current neutron beamtime. The work will enrich the understanding of the material behavior and introduce a new strain mapping device for the ORNL community. Byron Freelon is Ubeh’s UH mentor.

Anthony Wood (Physics Ph.D. student) received a Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award to conduct research at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for one year. His project, part of the experimental research in high energy physics program, is titled “Development of the NuMI at ICARUS TPC Event Reconstruction.” The DOE selected 87 graduate students representing 33 states this award cycle. The fellowship, which begins mid June, will expose him to world-class training and state-of-the-art facilities and resources at Fermilab. His mentor at UH is Daniel Cherdack.

Brenda Zarazúa-Osorio (Biology Ph.D. student) received the $5,000 A.P. Kimball Graduate Fellowship. Each year, it is awarded to a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry who shows research potential and excellence based on publications and presentations of their work. Zarazúa-Osorio’s research uses Bacillus subtilis, a simple organism, to understand the mechanisms of cell differentiation in multicellular organisms such as humans. The failure of cell differentiation plays an important role in diseases such as cancer.

Faculty and Staff

Rene Bellwied and Lisa Koerner (Physics) were selected as Outstanding Referees by the American Physical Society. The program recognizes scientists who have been exceptionally helpful in assessing manuscripts for publication in the APS journals. Each year, about 150 of the roughly 88,600 currently active referees are recognized with this lifetime award. The APS editors select the honorees based on the quality, number and timeliness of their reports, without regard for membership in the APS, country of origin, or field of research.

Emily Beverly (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a five-year, $796,024 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. Her research will focus on improving scientific and public understanding of how future climate change will affect our river systems by using analogs from the early Eocene in New Mexico, Wyoming and North Dakota.
     Beverly also received the 2023 SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology James Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Sedimentary Geology by a Young Scientist. The award recognizes early-career scientists who have achieved a significant record of research accomplishments in sedimentary geology, including all aspects of modern and ancient sedimentology, stratigraphy and paleontology, fundamental and applied. In addition to being recognized at the SEPM meeting during the GSA Connects Meeting, she will be featured in SEPM’s Distinguished Scientists interview series.

Eric Bittner (Chemistry, Physics) was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recognized by the AAAS chemistry section for “distinguished contributions to the field of theoretical molecular quantum dynamics, and particularly for descriptions that elucidate the dynamics of electronic excited states underlying experimental results for optoelectronic materials.”
     Bittner 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. Edward A. Davis (Cambridge) is the current chief editor.

Jim Briggs (Biology & Biochemistry) was named a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors. Briggs is co-inventor on eight issued U.S. patents. He co-founded three spin-off companies employing university IP. VisiGen Biotechnologies, founded in 2000 and acquired in 2008, was developing next generation real time single molecule DNA sequencing methods. Metabocentric Biotechnologies (MBI), founded in 2014, is focused on the development of anti-cancer therapeutics for breast cancer brain metastatic cancer. MBI has a sublicense with a company who is undertaking pre-clinical development. The third startup, Geome Analytics, employs DNA sequencing analyses of crude oil samples in order to provide analytic models that oil and gas companies use to make decisions about where to drill and how to optimally drain their reservoirs.

Tai-Yen Chen (Chemistry) received a five-year, $979,019 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. His research looks closely at the activity of an important antioxidant protein in order to better understand how brain cells manage oxidative stress. The award will further his research into the root causes of degenerative diseases affecting the brain.
     Chen is also the 2023 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.

Albert Cheng’s (Computer Science) Association for Computing Machinery Distinguished Speakership has been renewed for another three-year term. He will hold the speakership until 2026.

Olafs Daugulis (Chemistry) received the EROS Best Reagent Award for the reagent 8-aminoquinoline. The award, created to honor authors of articles published in the Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis (EROS), is sponsored by Aldrich® Chemistry and John Wiley & Sons. Updated yearly with new or revised 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 Schönebeck in 2020.

Stuart Dryer (Biology & Biochemistry) received the University’s Esther Farfel Award, the highest honor accorded to a UH 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. Read More

Jacqueline Ekeoba and Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) along with Thomas Thesen (formerly of UH Tilman J. Fertitta Family School of Medicine, now at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth) were awarded the 2022 Stand Up for STEM Educational Organization Award from the Texas Girls Collaborative Project for STEM outreach. The award recognized their efforts in organizing the STEM RISE summer program that partners with Jack Yates High School in the Third Ward.
     Ekeoba and Manuel also partnered with faculty members at Dartmouth University and City University of New York on a web seminar for the International Association of Medical Science Educators. The session, “Building Pathways & Bridges on the Bumpy Road towards Equity in STEM & Medicine (STEMM),” featured examples of successful outreach programs at UH, including the NSF-funded STEM RISE program, and at City University of New York School of Medicine. The session, attended by over 200, provided an understanding of the complex issues surrounding equity in STEM and medicine, and inspired attendees to take meaningful steps toward creating a more just and equitable future at their institutions.

Paige Evans (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) was an invited speaker for the UTeach Master Teacher Professional Development lecture series of the UTeach STEM Educators Association. The presentation united faculty from 55 universities. Her presentation addressed “How to Write (and Get) a NSF Noyce Grant.”

UH Teaching Excellence Awards

  • Jenifer Gifford (Biology & Biochemistry) received the Teaching Excellence - Provost’s Core award, given to faculty who have demonstrated outstanding teaching in undergraduate core curriculum courses.
  • Lisa Farmer (Biology & Biochemistry) received the Teaching Excellence - Instructor/Clinical award, given in recognition of outstanding teaching by faculty instructors, clinical faculty, research faculty, artist affiliates and lecturers.

Shiv Halasyamani (Chemistry) has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Those selected as Fellows hold senior responsibilities, have strategic influence within the workplace and/or sector, and have made outstanding contributions to the chemical sciences and/or to the advancement of the profession.

Daniel Hauptvogel (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and Richard Meisel (Biology & Biochemistry) are the 2023 recipients of NSM’s John C. Butler Excellence in Teaching Award. The award recognizes NSM faculty, who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in teaching and have 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.

Pavan Hosur (Physics) and former student Rauf Giwa recently published in Physical Review Letters – “Superconductor Vortex Spectrum Including Fermi Arc States in Time-Reversal Symmetric Weyl Semimetals.” In this work, Hosur and Giwa theoretically explored the quantum mechanical nature of “superconductor vortices,” structures that appear in many superconductors immersed in moderate magnetic fields, when the superconductor forms from a type of semimetal dubbed Weyl semimetal. The research required technical innovations as traditional theoretical tools for metals and insulators fail for Weyl semimetals. The remarkable outcome was the prediction of “supersymmetry” - a hypothetical symmetry of nature that has evaded discovery for over half a century - inside the vortex. The next crucial step entails experimental verification of the theoretical predictions.

Randy Lee (Chemistry, TcSUH) and UH co-authors Minh Dang Nguyen, Hung-Vu Tran, and Shoujun Xu received the Applied Sciences 2021 Best Paper Award in Section “Nanotechnology and Applied Nanosciences.” The award recognized their review paper “Fe3O4 Nanoparticles: Structures, Synthesis, Magnetic Properties, Surface Functionalization, and Emerging Applications.” All papers published in the section in 2021 were evaluated for the originality and significance of the papers, citations and downloads. Each winner receives 500 Swiss francs and a chance to publish a paper in Applied Sciences in 2023 after peer review.

Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) presented at the NSF Future of Microelectronics Education Workshop, held in late May. She was on a four-person panel addressing “How to Teach Microelectronics Content, How to Connect Microelectronics with Existing Disciplines/K-12 STEM Curricula/Undergraduate Level.”

Leah McAllister-Shields (teachHOUSTON) has been elected to the board of Intellect U Well, Inc. a 501(c)(3) promoting media literacy, digital citizenship and the joy of reading in the Houston community and beyond.
     McAllister-Shields also served on the Diversity and STEM Panel at UH-Downtown. About 100 students attended. During smaller breakout sessions with students, she shared this advice: 1) Seek out a mentor, 2) Focus on self-care, 3) Seek out a community, and 4) Focus on passion projects/volunteering.

Karen McIntush and Ramona Mateer (teachHOUSTON) presented at the National Science Foundation Western Regional Noyce Network Conference in Sacramento, CA, sharing their work and strategies on Culturally Responsive Classroom Management. Their workshop reached a full room of Noyce Scholars, Fellows, and PIs/Co-PIs/Project Staff in their session entitled “Supporting Inquiry in the Secondary STEM Classroom: A Culturally Responsive and Community-based Approach to Classroom Management.” The session focused on practical applications of these practices. The team also outlined the teachHOUSTON program and the development and growth of the culturally responsive classroom management course offered to teachHOUSTON STEM students.

Frank McKeon and Wa Xian (Biology & Biochemistry) reported findings of variant cells in the lungs of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) which likely represent key targets in any future therapy for the condition. The research was published in Science Translational Medicine. The researchers used single cell cloning technologies to generate libraries of basal stem cells from the lungs of 16 patients with IPF and 10 patients without the disease. The study breaks new ground by showing lung fibrosis is driven by specific basal stem cell variants that become overly abundant in diseased lungs. These variants are distinct from abnormal variants identified in other chronic lung diseases.

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) served on a discussion panel for the on-campus viewing of the documentary, “Deep in the Heart,” a celebration of Texas’ diverse landscapes and remarkable wildlife. The film aims to conserve our remaining wild places, to show the connectivity of water and wildlife, and to recognize Texas’ conservation importance on a continental scale. The event was organized by the UH Metropolitan Volunteer Program.
     Merz also organized an outreach event at the UH Coastal Center for 7th and 8th graders from Westbrook Intermediate School. Over the two days, 100 students participated. They rotated through six educational stations, including learning activities on Prairie Insects, Pollination and Flower Models, Monarchs and Milkweeds, Prescribed Fire, Native and Invasive Plant Identification and Removal, and Birding with Binoculars. Volunteers from the Galveston Bay Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists assisted as did the La Marque Fire Department.

Gregory Morrison and Anthony Timmins (Physics) attended Chavez High School’s LOBO FEST providing physics activities to inspire young minority students. UH student groups involved in the physics outreach activity were the UH Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and UH Women in Physics Society.

UH Awards for Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity

  • Maxim Olshanskii (Mathematics) received the award for Research Excellence - Professor, which recognizes faculty who have a substantial continuing record of outstanding research, scholarship and creative activities.
  • Thomas Teets (Chemistry) was awarded Research Excellence - Associate Professor, recognizing faculty who have established a growing record of outstanding research, scholarship and creative contributions, and who are emerging leaders in their field.
  • Andreas Mang (Mathematics) received the award for Research Excellence - Assistant Professor given to faculty who have demonstrated great potential in research, scholarship and creative endeavors by virtue of the exceptional quality of their early contributions.

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 had a book signing at Houston’s Health Museum.

Donna Pattison (NSM Assistant Dean/Biology & Biochemistry faculty) was elected as an At-Large Member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and re-elected to the Faculty Senate Governance Committee.

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 Shasta’s Pocket Prairie where participants learned about native plants and what it takes to maintain the space on campus. Biology & Biochemistry undergraduate 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, a leading academic platform for researchers.

Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH), 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.

Nouhad Rizk (Computer Science) received NSM’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Service. This award recognizes a faculty member who has gone above and beyond in service that has had a substantial impact on students, faculty and the University.

Mehmet Şen (Biology & Biochemistry) received a five-year, $663,359 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. Şen’s research is focused on understanding how immune receptors change their adhesiveness and shape simultaneously, while also modifying functions of immune cells. His laboratory will use biophysical and biochemical approaches to map the biological “wiring network” that creates the highly complicated immune system’s response against infection and cancer.

Shishir Shah (Computer Science) has been named a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors. His research has contributed to knowledge in the areas of computer vision for surveillance, human motion understanding and activity analysis, video analytics, and microscope/biomedical image analysis. Shah holds five U.S. patents in the areas of microscope/biomedical image analysis and video analytics. He has served as president of two startup companies that developed products based on technologies related to the issued patents.

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

Julia Wellner, Minako Righter and NSM graduate student Devin McQuaig (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) served on a discussion panel for the screening of “Picture a Scientist” held on campus. The event kicked off Women’s History Month. The primary organizer for the event was EAS graduate student Ruby Patterson, and the event was sponsored by the NSM DEI Committee.

Ping Yi (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) leads a team investigating castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). Yi, Steven Nguyen (CNRCS), and colleagues from Baylor College of Medicine, published findings in PNAS. Despite initial responses to androgen-deprivation therapy, nearly all prostate cancer patients develop CRPC within a few years. The team found a specific chemical modification occurs on the androgen receptor (AR) protein in certain conditions where levels of male hormones are reduced to castration conditions. This modification involves another protein, TRAF4, which is frequently overexpressed in advanced prostate cancers. They demonstrated overexpression of TRAF4 leads to the conversion of androgen-sensitive prostate cancer cells into castration-resistant cells, both in lab experiments and in live samples. These findings provide an important basis for identifying a group of CRPC patients who might respond well to a treatment targeting the specific molecular changes caused by the AR modification, providing a possible treatment option for these patients.

Melissa Zastrow (Chemistry) received a five-year, $813,751 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. Zastrow will take a closer look at the roles of metal ions in the colonization of bacteria in the small intestine. The bacteria act as a trigger for the immune system to initiate protective responses to prevent colonization and invasion by pathogens that can cause disease.

Shan Zhou (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and a team of researchers from UH, Rice University and Baylor University have found that the air along the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas can be more polluted due to its highly processed and acidic chemical components of particulate matter. The findings were published in the research journal Environmental Science & Technology. They concluded the particulate matter or aerosols from the Gulf of Mexico contain high concentrations of sulfate, which originates from human-generated shipping emissions. In addition to shipping emissions, the team points to chemical processing as an additional cause of particulate matter pollution. They report meteorological conditions, including high sunlight intensity, temperature and enhanced air humidity, provided a favorable environment for chemical reactions that formed secondary aerosols, which can be harmful to your lungs and heart.