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.


Abhijit Chakraborty (’22 Ph.D., Physics) received the prestigious Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) Postdoctoral Fellowship. He will conduct research with Prof. Christine Muschik on quantum simulations of quantum field theories. IQC, a part of University of Waterloo in Canada, is a world-leading institute in quantum computing. Chakraborty graduated in August and started his position at IQC in November.

Bojan Cukic (’93 M.S., ’97 Ph.D., Computer Science) was named dean of the College of Computing and Informatics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, effective December 1, 2022. Cukic has held various administrative roles since joining UNC Charlotte in 2014 including interim dean, associate dean for undergraduate program and student success, interim director of the University-wide Data Science Initiative, and chair of the Department of Computer Science. Prior to UNC Charlotte, Cukic spent 17 years with the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at West Virginia University where he rose through the faculty ranks from assistant professor to receiving a Robert C. Byrd Professorship.

Keshav Shrestha (’15 Ph.D., Physics) is serving as an assistant professor of physics at West Texas A&M University’s Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. His research focuses on experimental condensed matter physics emphasizing superconductivity, magnetism and topological phases of materials. He studies these materials under extreme conditions such as low temperature, high pressure and high magnetic fields. He works in collaboration with several national laboratories and research institutes.

Beth Zhou, M.D. (’11, Biology) is the reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the new satellite office of CCRM Fertility that opened in The Woodlands, Texas. CCRM is a global pioneer in fertility treatment, research and science.


Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award

Xiaolong Wei (Ph.D. Graduate, Geophysics) was the Summer/Fall 2022 recipient of the Dan E. Wells Outstanding Dissertation Award. The award was announced during the UH Commencement for NSM on December 17. His dissertation is titled “Uncertainty Quantification in Geophysical Inversion and Geological Differentiation.” Wei’s dissertation topic is the creation of new tools for discovering critical mineral resources needed for batteries, solar panels and other key technologies for sustainable energy. These tools address the computational challenges of creating three-dimensional images of subsurface geological composition from aerial magnetic and gravitational surveys. The use of these tools has already enabled the discovery and mining of new deposits of these critical minerals, and the techniques are readily applicable to other geoscientific studies such as the imaging of volcano structure. Related Photo

Five NSM Undergraduate Students Compete in Final Round of exCITE Talks

Of the 10 undergraduates competing in the finals of the exCITE Talks, half of them were NSM majors. exCITE Talks is an annual elevator pitch competition where students deliver three-minute talks on their co-curricular experiences. Funmi Babajide (Biology major) brought home third place in the competition, and Alexis Ruiz (Biology major) was the People’s Choice Winner. The other NSM contestants were Ishmam Alam (Biology major), Claudia Castano (Biochemistry major) and Preston Lee (Mathematical Biology major).

NSM Holds 3-Minute Thesis Competition

The NSM Graduate Program held its annual “Three-Minute Thesis: Hot Topics in NSM” competition. The event featured five graduate student speakers, who were nominated by their respective departments. The Judges’ Award went to Ruby Patterson (Ph.D. Student, Geology) with her topic, “The Cosmic Library.” The People’s Choice Award went to with Ananya Mondal (Ph.D. Student, Physics) who spoke on “Threading the Nanopore Needle with DNA.”

NSM Students Reach UH 3-Minute Thesis Competition Finals

Four NSM graduate students competed in the finals of the UH Graduate School’s 3-Minute Thesis Competition. Bikash Panthi (Ph.D. Student, Physics), who won third place and People’s Choice, received a $500 prize. Other finalists from NSM were Abhinav Bagchi (Ph.D. Student, Biology), Ananya Mondal (Ph.D. Student, Physics), and Sara Rojas (Ph.D. Student, Geophysics). They each took home a $250 prize.

Michael Comas (Ph.D. Student, Geology) was awarded a 2022 Geological Society of America Student Research Grant for his work with marine sediment cores in West Antarctica. Comas is working as a member of the Thwaites Glacier Offshore Research Project to help understand the modern retreat history of Pine Island Glacier. He is advised by Julia Wellner.

Omar Harb (Mathematical Biology major) and Saher Khan (Biology major) completed the UH-Houston Experience for Advancing Research and Training (UH-HEART) program, a 10-week, hands-on laboratory experiential and career exploration initiative focusing on cardiovascular research. Khan participated in work to identify associations between cardiac dysfunction and impaired lysosomal signaling. Harb’s project involved 3D bioprinting of a cardiac cell.

Shruti Hariyani (Ph.D. Student, Chemistry) was selected as one of 100 doctoral students to receive a P.E.O. Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood. This $20,000 award provides substantial merit-based awards for women in the U.S. and Canada pursuing a doctoral-level degree. Scholar Award recipients are chosen for their high level of academic achievement (publications, presentations, patents, performances, etc.), career objectives, unique academic and global experiences, and their potential for positively impacting society. A local chapter must first select applicants for the national competition; Hariyani was sponsored by Chapter H.D. of The Woodlands, Texas. Her advisor is Jakoah Brgoch.

Md Nahidul Hasan (Ph.D. Student, Geology) received the Best Student Poster Presentation Award at the 21st HGS-PESGB Africa 2022 Conference. His poster was titled, “Tectonic controls on source rock thermal maturity of the Atlantic rifted-passive margin of Morocco.”

Pablo Lopez-Duque (Ph.D. Student, Physics) earned a graduate fellowship from UH’s Center for Mexican American and Latino/a Studies. He is only the second UH STEM student to earn the CMALS graduate fellowship. He was chosen based on his collaborative work with UH physics professor Carlos Ordonez and UH professor of Mexican American studies Pamela Quiroz. Together, they are working with IBM to shape the diversity of the future workforce in quantum computing. IBM is particularly interested in their help promoting quantum computing in Houston’s Hispanic community, especially in high schools. Lopez-Duque’s stipend is $19,500 for a year and is renewable for a second year.


President’s Excellence Awards to Four NSM Staff

Four NSM staff were selected as recipients of the 2022 President’s Excellence Awards. These awards are a high professional achievement.

  • President’s Community Service Award Winner - Stacy Halley, NSM Senior Director of Advancement
    This award recognizes a University employee who engages in exemplary community engagement activities such as volunteerism, community-based learning, outreach, partnerships, curricular engagement or community-based research and collaboration.
  • President’s Excellence Award Winners
    The President’s Excellence Award recognizes meritorious service, dedication and contribution to the University beyond the requirements or expectations of the job.
    • Tristan Sims, Program Director, NSM Undergraduate Studies
    • Michelle Nodskov, Program Manager, NSM Office of First Year Programs
    • Jasmine Harrison, NSM Development Coordinator

Amin Alipour (Computer Science) received a $350,000 NSF grant to explore the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on learning processes for computer science students. With the grant, he hopes to achieve a better understanding of student behavior and intentions when interacting with AI.

Shuo Chen and Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH) were included in the Clarivate Highly Cited Researchers 2022 List. The annual list of Highly Cited Researchers includes global research and social scientists whose published academic papers rank in the top 1% of citations for field and publication year. Those making the list are recognized among the world’s elite researchers for the significant and broad influence of their scientific work.

Shuo Chen and Zhifeng Ren (Physics, TcSUH) published in Energy & Environmental Science discovery of a two-electrode catalyst that relies on one compound to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen from both seawater and freshwater. The new catalyst offers a more affordable way to produce hydrogen from seawater. The paper reports using a nickel/molybdenum/nitrogen compound, tweaked with a small amount of iron and grown on nickel foam to efficiently produce hydrogen and then, through a process of electrochemical reconstruction sparked by cycling voltage, converted to a compound that produced a similarly powerful oxygen evolution reaction. In addition to Ren and Chen, researchers included Minghui Ning, Fanghao Zhang, Libo Wu, Xinxin Xing, Dezhi Wang, Shaowei Song and Jiming Bao, all with UH; Qiancheng Zhou of Central China Normal University; and Luo Yu of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Albert Cheng (Computer Science) was the Local Organization Chair of the 43rd IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium held in Houston, December 5-8.

Yunsoo Choi (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) is studying the interaction between clouds and aerosols, the tiny particles that comprise clouds, and how cloud formation and location in the atmosphere maintains the earth’s temperature. Choi was awarded a $550,728 grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to fund his and his graduate students’ work over the next three years. Their research will include data from the DOE-funded Atmospheric Radiation Measurement’s TRacking Aerosol Convection Interaction ExpeRiment (TRACER) that also involved NSM researchers. The research could be used by climate scientists to better understand the role of clouds on the global temperature.

Greg Chu and Stacy Smeal (Dean’s Office/Office of Research) presented “Perspectives on Communicating within the Pre- and Post-award Partnership” at the Society of Research Administrators international conference in Las Vegas. Their co-presenters were from Huron Consulting Group and Virginia Commonwealth University.
     Smeal also presented “Proposal Components: Why Do They Matter?” with co-presenters from Houston Methodist, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Huron Consulting.

Paige Evans (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) received the 2022 UTeach STEM Educator’s Outstanding Master Teacher Award. The award recognizes demonstrated excellence in teaching STEM education in the role of the UTeach Master Teacher, the heart of UTeach programs. Presented at the annual UTeach STEM Educators Conference, the award is given by the UTeach STEM Educators Association, a network of 50 universities preparing outstanding secondary STEM teachers across the country.

Qi Fu (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the acquisition of an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. Co-principal investigators on the grant are EAS faculty members Ny “Voary” Voarintsoa, Emily Beverly, and Julia Wellner. Isotopic measurements are used as a diagnostic tool to understand geological processes. The new instrument will be a tremendous asset to departmental research and will stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations within and outside of UH. The projects that the four investigators currently have cover a wide range of areas in Earth Sciences, including organic geochemistry, soil science, paleoclimatology, and marine and glacial geology.

Wenjiang Fu (Mathematics) has been awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The year-long opportunity means he will work with bureau staff to analyze data from complex issues relevant to their programs. He is working with the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, National Compensation Survey and Employment Cost Index data. The goal of his research with the BLS is to help improve the modeling and efficiency in estimating and monitoring economic growth.

Jangmi Han (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) was involved in large, team collaboration studying samples from the carbonaceous asteroid Ryugu. These samples offered an unprecedented opportunity to explore the diversity of primordial solar system materials and to advance scientists’ understanding of the birth of our solar system, and importantly, the origin of water and organic matter. Han collaborated on microanalysis of Ryugu particles with Mike Zolensky at NASA Johnson Space Center. The results of sample analysis and computer modeling were published in Science.

Daniel Hauptvogel (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for his project “Mentoring, Development, and Engagement of Diverse STEM Students at a Large, Public, Urban University.” This S-STEM scholarship program aims to promote retention, timely graduation, increase scholar entry into the STEM workforce or graduate school, and develop a sense of belonging for low-income students in the UH Departments of Chemistry, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics. This will be accomplished through intensive faculty mentoring, a peer-mentoring program, undergraduate research, and a suite of academic, professional and personal development activities. Co-PIs on the grant include Donna Stokes (Physics) and Donna Pattison (Biology & Biochemistry). The Program Evaluator is Cheryl Craig of Texas A&M University.

Andreas Mang (Mathematics) received a prestigious, five-year, $499,997 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. Mang and his lab will work on inverse problems. This is a particular class of problems in which scientists try to infer unknown causes based on observations of their effects. The ultimate aspiration of his group’s research is to use computer simulations to aid decision-making or enable model-based predictions. To make these predictions useful in practice, his group wants to be able to quantify the level of confidence they have in the generated predictions.

Mariam Manuel (teachHOUSTON, Mathematics) was elected Vice President/President Elect of the national UTeach STEM Educators Association and delivered the keynote at the UTeach STEM Educators Conference.
     Manuel’s research paper, “The Intersection of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Engineering Design in Secondary STEM,” was recognized at the American Society for Engineering Education conference as winner of the 2022 Pre-College Engineering Education Division Best Paper Award and the Best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Paper Award

Rich Meisel (Biology & Biochemistry) is part of a new NSF-funded institute, the IISAGE Biology Integration Institute, led by University of Alabama-Birmingham. The Institute’s research is aimed at identifying mechanisms and evolution of sex differences between females and males in aging. There are many conflicting explanations for how or why females and males in different animal species age and why one sex outlives the other, and IISAGE hopes to understand more about the significant implications aging has on our world and populations, including our food and agricultural supply, biodiversity, climate change and with human health. The Institute received $12 million in funding, just under $1 million will support Meisel’s research related to the Institute’s mission.

Frank McKeon (Biology & Biochemistry, Somatic Stem Cell Center at UH) received a five-year, $4.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. He is leading a team to understand the cell-of-origin of esophageal adenocarcinoma and intestinal gastric cancer. Wa Xian (Biology & Biochemistry) is part of the team that also includes Dr. Jaffer Ajani from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In a surprising finding, the team reports the two cancers, which arise from anatomically distinct regions of the gastrointestinal tract, have identical precursor stem cells. Related Article

Mamie Moy (Chemistry) is the recipient of the 2023 Award for Volunteer Service to the American Chemical Society. The award recognizes individuals who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism and have contributed significantly to ACS’s goals and objectives. She is being honored for more than 40 years of volunteer service to the ACS, to education and to humanity.

The research of Michael Murphy, Pete Copeland and former graduate student Suoya Fan (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) was the subject of a featured article is Eos, the magazine of the American Geophysical Union. The article discussed their study of the embayment of the Himalayas in western Nepal. This anomaly provides an opportunity to investigate how the Himalayan megathrust fault affects the active growth of the mountain range. Additionally, understanding the nature of the megathrust in the western Himalayas is crucial to evaluating seismic hazards in the region. The study used thermokinematic modeling to define the geometry and movement of the megathrust. The work, published in Tectonics, was in collaboration with researchers from four other universities.

Martin Nuñez (Biology & Biochemistry) received the Excellence in Restoration Research Award from the Texas Society for Ecological Restoration. Nuñez has had global impact on biodiversity policy and restoration science. In addition to having a strong impact on restoration science, he uses his platform to promote equity in science – “Making ecology really global.” The award was presented during the TXSER 25th Annual Conference, “Restoration for All!”

Carlos R. Ordonez (Physics) is the recipient of the 2023 Edward A. Bouchet Award presented by the American Physical Society (APS). He is being recognized not only for his research, but also for his work as an advocate for the advancement of physics in Latin America as well as the Hispanic community in the U.S. The Bouchet Award promotes the participation of underrepresented minorities in physics by identifying and recognizing a distinguished minority physicist. Ordonez will receive a $5,000 stipend, along with travel assistance to an upcoming APS meeting where he will receive the award and give a presentation. He will also conduct up to three additional talks at academic institutions where the impact of the visit on minority students would be significant. Related Article

Ioannis Pavlidis (Computer Science) published a paper in American Scientist magazine with colleagues from Texas A&M University and University of California, Merced. The paper addressed science convergence, where knowledge from multiple scientific disciplines is integrated into new overarching knowledge that propels modern civilization. The researchers show that despite appearances to the contrary, convergence is not a new phenomenon that took science by storm, but a streak that runs deep into science’s nature. Spanning 10 years, they modeled the evolution of convergence by analyzing millions of scientific works using machine learning and other advanced data analytic methods. They identified several stages in the evolution of science, each characterized by a different form of convergence. From early science to now, the team identified four stages of convergence and predicted a next stage to come in the mid-21st century. Read More

Zhifeng Ren’s (Physics, TcSUH) research was cited by Physics World as among the Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2022. Physics World recognized the research that demonstrated cubic boron arsenide as “one of best semiconductors known to science.” Two independent teams, one led by Ren at UH and Gang Chen at MIT, and the other led by UH’s Ren and Jiming Bao along with Xinfeng Liu of the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in China, experimentally validated the cubic boron arsenide crystal’s high carrier mobility for both electrons and holes – the two ways in which a charge is carried in a semiconducting material.

Jinny Sisson (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) will receive the 2023 Grover E. Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. The award is given in recognition of distinguished and outstanding contributions to geological education.

Jiajia Sun (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) is principal investigator of a $390,602, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study the origin of oceanic plateaus using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence. Will Sager (EAS) is co-principal investigator on the grant. Understanding the formation of oceanic plateaus could help scientists get a clearer picture of Earth’s magmatic processes. Read More

Ny “Voary” Voarintsoa (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and her co-author Steffen Therre from Heidelberg University published a study in Chemical Geology. The work involved geochemical analysis of sediments, such as stalagmites, forming in caves. One important research finding suggests that stalagmites strongly record the bomb-peak in atmospheric 14C signals because of the high percent modern carbon preserved in the samples. They inferred that radiocarbon data in stalagmites show a potential to reconstruct past atmospheric 14C concentrations for future efforts in paleoclimate and paleoenvironment reconstruction. The research additionally adds a perspective on the potential drivers for the stable carbon isotopes to reflect a drying trend. This transfer into the cave is a process called “prior carbonate precipitation,” where carbonate minerals form before reaching the apex of the stalagmites.

Yuxuan Wang (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) and graduate student Tabitha Lee published research findings in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The research used satellite data to detect atmospheric composition changes due to the landfall of Hurricane Ida on the Louisiana coast on Aug 29, 2021. The researchers believe this is the first study using satellites to quantify the disruption of short-lived extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, on the chemical composition of the atmosphere; the impact was shown to be large. Kang Sun of University of Buffalo was also a co-author.

Arthur Weglein (Physics) served as a keynote speaker at the 2022 Society of Exploration Geophysicists Qingdao International Conference on Seismic Imaging: Progress and the Way Ahead. The conference was held December 3-4 in Qingdao, China. Weglein’s keynote was delivered virtually as part of the conference’s China 111 Workshop. He provided a comprehensive analysis and perspective through his talk entitled “The Role of Primaries and Multiples in Seismic Imaging and Inversion.”

Daniel Woodworth (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a prestigious National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue geophysics research at UH. Only 10 to 12 fellowships are awarded per year. Woodworth will be doing Pacific Plate tectonics research with a focus on evaluating Pacific Ocean basin models of the motion of the lithosphere, Earth’s outermost strong layer, consisting of the entire crust plus the upper mantle. The fellowship will support Woodworth’s research for two years. He will be under the mentorship of Jonny Wu.

Shaun Zhang (CNRCS, Biology & Biochemistry) received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support his work to improve oncolytic virotherapy, a type of immunotherapy used to treat cancer. Oncolytic viruses are those that can kill cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy cells and tissues intact. In oncolytic virotherapy, the treatment also exerts its influence by activating an antitumor immune response made of immune cells such as natural killer cells. His lab has created a new oncolytic virus called FusOn-H2. Zhang and team believe that this armed FusOn-H2 will produce a three-pronged effect to enhance the antitumor efficacy against solid tumors in colon and lung cancer. Read More