Bruce Weisman's career has come full circle with a recent award. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University chemist Bruce Weisman has been awarded the Richard E. Smalley Research Award for his decades of nanocarbon research, according to a statement from the university.

The honor is a full circle moment for Wiseman, as the award is named after Weisman's long-time Rice colleague and friend, Rick Smalley, who Wiseman said helped shape his career.

“It changed my career,” Weisman said in a statement from Rice about his work with Smalley. “Everything I’ve done in the last 20 years has been an outgrowth, a consequence of that.”

Still, Weisman has earned many achievements of his own. He joined Rice's faculty in 1979 as a spectroscopist and first began working with Smalley in 1985 after Smalley's groundbreaking discovery of carbon 60, or buckyballs. The discovery proved that carbon could take on other forms and it won Smalley and his teammates the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Weisman and Smalley then collaborated on experiments to measure the electronic spectra of carbon 60 and carbon 70. In the early 2000s, they published two seminal nanotube studies in Science in which Weisman shared his new faster, simpler and cheaper spectrometric method of assaying nanotubes, according to Rice.

In 2004 Weisman founded a company, Applied NanoFluorescence, to commercialize the technology. The company still exists and continues to research the optical properties of carbon nanotubes.

He is also an elected fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the the Electrochemical Society (ECS) and former chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division. The ECS will present Weisman with the 2024 Smalley Research Award in May. The award is given every two years to recognize “outstanding achievements in, or scientific contributions to, the science of fullerenes, nanotubes and carbon nanostructures.”

Earlier this month, another Rice professor won a highly competitive award. Assistant professor Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, was granted a National Science Foundation's CAREER Award that comes with $670,406 over five years to continue her research in designing branch elastomers.

The grant will also create opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists. Click here to learn more.

Meanwhile, another Houston-based chemist was also recently recognized for their work. Baylor College of Medicine's Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December.

The award from the Houston-based Welch Foundation recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

UH's Jian Shi recently received the NSF's CAREER award, which will dole out $500,861 in funding through February 2029. Photo via UH.edu

Houston researcher scores $500,000 award to continue on work on energy transition

zeroing in on zero emissions

A University of Houston professor and researcher is laser focused on his work within the energy transition, and National Science Foundation has taken note, awarding him over half a million dollars in funding.

Jian Shi, an assistant professor within the Cullen College of Engineering, recently received the NSF's CAREER award, which will dole out $500,861 in funding through February 2029.

The award was granted for his research, entitled “A Unified Zero-Carbon-Driven Design Framework for Accelerating Power Grid Deep Decarbonization.”

“One of the most major challenges inherent in energy transition is the cost. While reducing carbon emissions serves the best interest of society in the long run, the short-term financial burdens also need to be carefully evaluated to ensure that we have a safe, affordable, reliable and just transition for all,” Shi says in a UH news release. “This challenge has inspired me to work on the innovative framework of “ZERO-Accelerator.”

Shi's ZERO-Accelerator is focused on taking standard carbon-driven tools and integrating them into current power grid operational practices. Shi is the director and founder of SOAR, or the Smart and ZerO-Carbon Energy Analytics and Research Lab.

“It synthesizes interactions from multiple key stakeholders involved in the electricity ecosystem,” says Shi. “The framework considers how to manage carbon allowance allocation and trading for electricity producers, how to maintain a 24/7 zero-carbon power grid for power grid operators and how to enable consumers to understand their carbon footprint and participate in the zero-carbon grid operation.”

In his CAREER proposal, Shi explains that he is also contributing to training the future energy workforce. He adds that he shares this award with his colleagues.

“I believe no accomplishment is truly individual,” he says. “Rather, it is a collective triumph achieved through collaboration, support and shared dedication. As I reflect on the milestones I've reached, I am compelled to express my deepest gratitude to my esteemed colleagues whose unwavering commitment has been instrumental in not just my collective success, but our collective success as well."

Last summer, Shi mentored a UH team in the inaugural American-Made Carbon Management Collegiate Competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. The team, GreenHouston, took third place in the competition, securing a $5,000 cash prize.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.