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DOE taps 3 Houston-area schools for student competition

Teams from three Houston-area universities have been named to the DOE's annual competition. Photo via energy.gov

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions selected 225 teams from 117 schools from 39 states — including three Houston-area universities — to participate in its annual startup competition.

University of Houston, Rice University, and Texas A&M University will compete in the EnergyTech University Prize, known as EnergyTech UP, in the 2024 Student Track. See the full list here.

The EnergyTech UP Student Track tasks collegiate teams to develop “actionable plans for business and commercialization opportunities around high-potential energy technologies.”

The competitors in the event, which is in its third year, will also receive free access to OTT’s Energy I-Corps curriculum. Finalists will receive mentorship from industry leaders on their proposals. Through three phases — Explore, Refine, and Pitch — with Bonus Prize winners also being selected along the way, the teams will compete for more than $400,000 in cash prizes.

Teams will present their proposals to a panel of judges in the hopes of being selected as a finalist in the first phase, the regional Explore Event.

Finalists will refine their ideas before pitching their complete plans at Zpryme’s 2024 Energy Thought Summit in April in Austin, Texas. The goal is for EnergyTech UP’s winning teams to have successfully identified promising energy technology, carefully assess its market potential, and create a business plan.

“We see immense value in supporting the next generation of clean energy leaders through EnergyTech UP” said DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT, Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan in a news release. “These teams are working to develop attainable, equitable, scalable energy technologies and business opportunities. They have the potential to profoundly impact the cleantech industry, and we’re proud to provide resources that can help bolster their ideas.”

Other Texas universities selected this year include:

  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Texas at El Paso
  • Texas Tech University

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A View From HETI

The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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