The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges. Photo via UH.edu

Three rising stars in the energy sector who are graduate students at the University of Houston have been chosen for a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy research program.

UH doctoral candidates Caleb Broodo, Leonard Jiang, and Farzana Likhi, are among 86 students from 31 states who were selected for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research program, which provides training at Department of Energy (DOE) labs.

“This recognition is a testament to their hard work and dedication to pushing the boundaries of science, and to our commitment to fostering excellence in research and innovation,” Sarah Larsen, vice provost and dean of the UH’s graduate school, says in a news release.

The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges.

The program “is a unique opportunity for graduate students to complete their Ph.D. training with teams of world-class experts aiming to answer some of the most challenging problems in fundamental science,” says Harriet Kung, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science. “Gaining access to cutting-edge tools for scientific discovery at DOE national laboratories will be instrumental in preparing the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Here’s a rundown of the UH trio’s involvement in the DOE program:

  • Broodo, a second-year Ph.D. candidate whose research focuses on heavy ion nuclear physics, will work at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
  • Jiang, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, will head to Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to research electrochemistry.
  • Likhi, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the materials science and engineering program, will conduct research on microelectronics at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee.
Junichiro Kono has assumed leadership of the Smalley-Curl Institute at Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice names new leader for prestigious nanotechnology, materials science institute

take the lead

A distinguished Rice University professor has assumed the reins of a unique institute that focuses on research within nanoscience, quantum science, and materials science.

Junichiro Kono has assumed leadership of the Smalley-Curl Institute, which houses some of the world’s most accomplished researchers across fields including advanced materials, quantum magnetism, plasmonics and photonics, biophysics and bioengineering, all aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnology, and more.

“With his great track record in fostering international research talent — with student exchange programs between the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore and France that have introduced hundreds of students to new cultures and ways of researching science and engineering — Jun brings a wealth of experience in building cultural and technological ties across the globe,” Ramamoorthy Ramesh, executive vice president for research, says in a news release.

Kono is the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor in Engineering, chair of the Applied Physics Graduate Program and professor of electrical and computer engineering, physics and astronomy and materials science and nanoengineering, and is considered a global leader in studies of nanomaterials and light-matter interactions. He currently leads Rice’s top 10-ranked Applied Physics Graduate Program.

Under his leadership, the program is expected to double in size over. By 2029. The Smalley-Curl Institute will also add additional postdoctoral research fellowships to the current three endowed positions.

The Smalley-Curl Institute is named for Nobel Laureates Richard Smalley and Robert Curl (‘54). Earlier in his career, Kono once worked with Smalley on the physical properties of single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), which led to the experimental discovery of the Aharonov-Bohm effect on the band structure of SWCNTs in high magnetic fields.

“I am deeply honored and excited to lead the Smalley-Curl Institute,” Kono says in a news release. “The opportunity to build upon the incredible legacy of Richard Smalley and Robert Curl is both a privilege and a challenge, which I embrace wholeheartedly. I’m really looking forward to working with the talented researchers and students at Rice University to further advance our understanding and application of nanomaterials and quantum phenomena. Together, we can accomplish great things.”

Kono succeeds Rice professor Naomi Halas as director of the institute. Halas is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the founding director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics.

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”