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The Magazine of Rice University

winter 2014

CARRYING HOME A CHAMPIONSHIP The Rice Owls football team brought the 2013 C-USA Championship home, capping off a 10-game winning season and earning the first conference championship in 56 years.

ALSO: Teaching physics via skating, a field trip to recover an endangered language, the spark of student entrepreneurship, campus news, research discoveries and more.

Adrian Lenardic, professor of earth science, turned his love of skating into a public education project called Sk8Lab. Photo by Tommy LaVergne

The Magazine of Rice University

winter 2014





Frontside Forces At downtown Houston’s Jamail Skatepark, a Rice professor is promoting the “public display of science” for skaters, both beginners and experienced, who flock to the park’s curvy cradles, bowls and rails.

Foreword 3

By Christopher Dow


Sallyport 5 Young innovators, TEDxHouston on campus, a puzzling T-shirt, veterans in business and literature, an upcoming Carnegie Hall appearance and Noted and Quoted.

Scene 10 President’s Note

In the Land of the Thunder Dragon Rice linguist Christina Willis Oko treks to remote Bhutan to research the endangered language known as Khengkha. By Dan Oko


Maps to the unknown, your letters and more (P.S. We heard you).

OwlSpark Student startups are emerging from all corners of campus and getting serious support in the form of an accelerator program called OwlSpark. By Michael Hardy

On the cover Quarterback Taylor McHargue ’14 leads the Owls for the C-USA title win over Marshall. McHargue threw a career-high 17 touchdown passes during the 2013 campaign. Photo by Tommy LaVergne


Scoreboard 13 A season to remember for football fans and the return of women’s rugby.

Abstract 15 Dome sweet dome, green and guilty, another use for graphene, graduate students pitch their research and a winning design.



Cassidy Johnson ’11 works to save the Houston toad, longtime bus driver Robert Ruiz makes the rounds, and Wally ’43 and Lawrean Chappell ’45 reunite and marry, at long last.

Arts & Letters


Rice Gallery’s El Ultimo Grito, alumna’s new biography of poet Marianne Moore gets raves and a Q&A with author Mary Kay Zuravleff ’81, author of “Man Alive!”

Parting Words


Excerpts from the series of faculty interviews called “Turning Points.” W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  1


Follow what’s going on throughout campus and beyond the hedges through the Office of Public Affairs’ photography, videos and social media outlets. Join us in the conversation about Rice.


Wally and Lawrean: A Love Story 70 Years in the Making Rice centennial historian Melissa Fitzsimmons Kean ’96 opens this video with a sage observation: “A lot of marriages have been formed on the Rice campus. Some of them just take a little longer to work themselves out than others.” That would be an understatement in this tender story of how Lawrean Davis Isaacks ’45 and Wally Chappell ’43 reunited as a couple after an almost 70-year hiatus. Watch Brandon Martin’s video at and read Web editor Arie Wilson Passwaters’ profile on Page 44.


#campus An arrangement of Post-it notes on a window at Will Rice College caught the attention of Rice photographer Jeff Fitlow. He shot the interesting play of color and reflection and posted to Instagram. Fitlow contributes regularly to Rice’s Instagram feed, which has more than 2,000 followers. Are you one of them? Sign up here:


(“OwlSpark”) is the arts editor of Houstonia magazine. His writing has appeared in The American Scholar, The Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle and numerous alumni magazines. This is his first story for Rice Magazine. DAN OKO

(“In the Land of the Thunder Dragon”) is a Houston-based writer who contributes to a wide range of publications, including Texas Monthly, Audubon, Men’s Journal and the Houston Chronicle. The far-flung correspondent, who has written about drinking beer in Bavaria, the hidden beaches of Texas and the details of NASA astronaut training in Houston, has been accompanying his wife, Christina Willis Oko, on her research trips since she was in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. CHRISTOPHER DOW

(“Frontside Forces”) may have retired as editor of Rice Magazine, but he can’t get Rice out of his blood. In addition to doing occasional freelance work for the magazine, he recently assisted former Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Charles W. Duncan ’47 in writing his memoirs. ARIE WILSON PASSWATERS

(“The Dance Continues”) has worked for Rice University since 2005 as a writer and Web editor. When she’s not writing, Arie spends her time crafting and losing battles with her four dogs and one cat. Arie and her husband, Mark, are expecting their first child in the spring.  R ICE MAGAZINE ON ISSUU View recent and past issues, dating back to 2003.

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TWITTER @RiceMagazine Follow the progress of each quarterly magazine.

forEword The Magazine of Rice University winter 2014 Rice Magazine is published four times a year and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. Published by the Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR



Jeff Cox senior director Dean Mackey senior graphic designer Jackie Limbaugh graphic designer Tracey Rhoades editorial director Jenny W. Rozelle ’00 assistant editor Tommy LaVergne senior university photographer Jeff Fitlow university photographer CONTRIBUTING

M A P S . STA M E N .C O M | O P E N ST R E E T M A P.O R G


B.J. Almond, Jade Boyd, Jeff Falk, Amy Hodges, Brandon Martin, Arie Wilson Passwaters, David Ruth, Mike Williams INTERN

Leticia Treviño ’16

Maps in Hand and Maps in Mind



COMMUTE AND TRAVEL via smartphones and GPS navigators and — occasionally — printed paper. But for some remote locations, maps can only go so far in getting us safely where we want to go. Such was the case when Rice’s Christina Willis Oko traveled to Bhutan last spring to research an endangered language. Oko (whose husband, freelance writer Dan Oko, wrote our feature) relied on guides — locals who carried mental maps and deep knowledge of Bhutan’s mountainous terrain, paths and remote villages, to get them to fieldwork sites. When it came time to produce a map of the Okos’ route for this story, art director Tanyia Johnson had her work cut out for her. Lacking detailed maps of a country that has only recently opened up to international visitors, Johnson gathered what was available and then consulted Fondren Library’s Jean Aroom, a GIS support specialist. Aroom pointed her to some U.S. Army maps, circa 1955, which proved to be helpful as well. Next, Johnson produced a pencil sketch, transferred it to paper and then got out her watercolors. Once her painting was complete, she scanned it and added roads and city names. See the resulting digital, mixed-media map on Page 29. “In a world of digital or vector-style maps, I thought it would be nice to have a handmade quality,” said Johnson, who joined Rice’s Creative Services in the Office of Public Affairs in October after stints as a designer and visual journalist with the Oregonian, the Houston Chronicle and Houston Independent School District. We are thrilled to welcome this multitalented designer to our staff. In addition to international fieldwork, this issue of Rice Magazine features a unique public science project, set right at home in Houston’s Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, and a profile of Rice’s growing culture of student entrepreneurship and the ecosystem that’s supporting imaginative ventures into all manner of unmapped territory. Enjoy. —Lynn Gosnell

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Reader Response




Congratulations to the winners of our online Rice Magazine Summer 2013 issue survey drawing — Amy Orchard Corron ’89, Kathleen Avera Trail ’92 and Michael Hart ’10. These names were picked randomly from among the 90-something survey respondents who tossed their names into a virtual hat. (More than 200 readers completed the summer issue survey.) And a big thank you to our friends at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas for donating movie tickets as incentives for completing the survey. Here are some notable statistics from the summer issue:

In the words of the great Homer Simpson, “D’oh!” Many of you wrote in to point out an egregious error (well, actually two errors) in our fall 2013 issue. The tone and content of the emails ranged from “I’m shocked, appalled and disappointed in you” to heated speculation about our editors’ alma maters. We published some state-specific statistics about our capital campaign and then mismatched the images with the data. While several of us proofed the story’s numbers, incredibly, we missed the visual errors. We’re sorry. We corrected the error in the online version of the magazine here:

MOST-READ FEATURE “Reel Nerds: How Two Rice Graduates Started an Unconventional Cinema Empire” — profile of Tim ’92 and Karrie Smith League ’92 “Great article and of keen interest to me, as we have an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in San Antonio. I’d never realized there’s a Rice connection. I will definitely pony up for a babysitter now that we know that!” — about “Reel Nerds” “Interesting perspective at the ground level of a participating university.” — about “Massively Open, Distinctively Rice” (Rice’s entry into the world of MOOCs) MOST-READ DEPARTMENTS Voices: Alumni Profile — Caroline Shaw ’04, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music


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LETTERS POLICY We want to hear from you. Please send us your note, letter or email, which we will edit for clarity and space considerations. If your letter or note elicits further responses from our readership, we may print those, too. After that, dear readers, you’ll have to take it outside. Please send letters and comments to

Robert B. Tudor III, chairman; Edward B. “Teddy” Adams Jr.; J.D. Bucky Allshouse; Keith T. Anderson; Doyle Arnold; Laura Arnold; Albert Chao; T. Jay Collins; Mark Dankberg; Lynn Laverty Elsenhans; Doug Foshee; Lawrence Guffey; Ben Hollingsworth; John Jaggers; Larry Kellner; R. Ralph Parks; Lee H. Rosenthal; Jeffery Smisek; Charles Szalkowski; Robert M. Taylor Jr.; Guillermo “Memo” Treviño; James S. Turley; Randa Duncan Williams. ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS

David W. Leebron, president; George McLendon, provost; Kathy Collins, vice president for Finance; Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration; Chris Muñoz, vice president for Enrollment; Allison Kendrick Thacker, vice president for Investments and treasurer; Linda Thrane, vice president for Public Affairs; Richard A. Zansitis, vice president and general counsel; Darrow Zeidenstein, vice president for Resource Development. EDITORIAL OFFICES

Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 713-348-6768 POSTMASTER

Send address changes to: Rice University Development Services–MS 80 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 ©January 2014 Rice University

News and Updates from Campus


hree for 30! While the new year was still fresh, Rice learned that three of its rising young stars were chosen for Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 honor roll in Science and Health Care. The annual list of up-and-comers includes Genevera Allen ’06, the Dobelman Family Junior Chair of Statistics and assistant professor of statistics and electrical and computer engineering; Daniel Paul Hashim, graduate student in materials science


and nanoengineering; and Jocelyn Brown ’10, senior program associate at Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies. Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list includes 30 of the brightest stars under the age of 30 in each of 15 categories. To compile

the lists, Forbes editors ask panels of expert judges to select those who “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.” To see what Forbes has to say about Allen, Hashim and Brown, visit

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Six acclaimed authors discussed their writing as a lens to explore veteran and active-duty experiences Nov. 5 for the inaugural “Veteran Experience Speaker Series” at Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.


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jumper. Marlantes shared the painful memory of the name-calling that happened when he returned home, and how he was determined to publish his book, even 30 years after it was written, “to tell a story, our story.” Abrams spent his service at a forward operating base in Baghdad — “in the war, but he was not of the war” — and how his chronicle of behind-thescenes Iraq grew into a novel. Carpenter’s journey to write a book about a mother and her Navy SEAL son began after her father’s death, when she discovered he had been in special operations. And Fountain’s inspiration for Billy Lynn followed a real Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys’ halftime show 10 years ago that stimulated a satire on the disconnect between soldiers and civilians. Finally Friedman admitted with comedic flair that after serving in the Air Force, mostly in public affairs, absolutely nothing of interest had happened to him during the Korean War, but that he still was honored to be a part of the panel. Because of VIBA, the Jones School is connecting in new ways to the community of veterans within McNair Hall and beyond the hedges — some of whom are Rice alumni, some of whom are not. According to former Green Beret and current VIBA president Mike Freedman

’14, “We want to be known as the most veteran friendly school in the country.”  Read more: —Weezie Mackey

For two decades, Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has established itself as one of the premier nonpartisan public policy think tanks in the country. The institute celebrated its 20th-anniversary milestone with a series of lectures and conferences throughout 2013 that focused on a host of timely issues, including the crisis in Syria, the politics of reform in China and U.S. immigration reform. “Twenty years ago, the Baker Institute was established to bring together scholars, statesmen and students to generate research that would impact the domestic and foreign policies of our nation,” said Ambassador Edward Djerejian, the institute’s founding director. The institute ranks 21st among U.S. think tanks and 13th among universityaffiliated think tanks worldwide, according to a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program. Key research programs include


The panel, hosted by the Rice Veterans in Business Association (VIBA), was intended to shine a spotlight on VIBA and the Military Scholars Program that Rice supporters have endowed to help support the recent influx of veterans into the civilian workforce and universities. But no one imagined just how extraordinary the six authors would be. Or how many people — veterans and civilians — they would touch. The speakers were David Abrams, author of “Fobbit,” a New York Times Notable Book; William Broyles ’66, a Rice alumnus and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and author of the war memoir “Brothers in Arms: A Journey From War to Peace”; Lea Carpenter, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Eleven Days”; Ben Fountain, award-winning author of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”; Bruce Jay Friedman, author of eight novels and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter; and Karl Marlantes, author of The New York Times best-seller “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War.” The “Veteran Experience” became so much more than six celebrated guests sharing their novels, memoirs, short stories, screenplays, awards — both literary and military — and memories. It became a discussion. Are wars different now? Do we have a home front? Does a writer who has never been in combat have the right to pen a book about it? There also was an animated conversation about using humor as a literary style in war writing.  The audience was riveted by personal, sometimes heart-rending, accounts from the authors. Beloved alumnus Broyles spoke not only of his own experience in Vietnam and that possibly everything he wrote came from that place but also the poignancy of being the parent of an Air Force Special Operations pararescue


winning publications. RDA is dedicated to advancing architecture, urban design and the built environment in Houston. Read more:

TEDxHouston 2013, in its fourth annual conference, featured more than 30 speakers who shared their own daring goals defined by the program as “moon shots that are audacious and brave by their own rights.” The conference took place Oct. 12 on the Rice campus.



energy, health, Middle East conflict resolution, science and technology, tax and expenditure policy, and Mexico and Asia studies. Capping off the celebratory year was a private black-tie gala Nov. 8 that featured a conversation with former President George W. Bush. Djerejian served as moderator and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III delivered introductory remarks. (Baker is honorary chair of the institute.) At the gala, businessman and philanthropist Hushang Ansary was honored with the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership for his many years of distinguished service in the public and private sectors. —Jeff Falk

More than 900 people attended Live Feed, the Rice Design Alliance (RDA) gala in November. This year’s event honored the Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs — better known as OKRA — a nonprofit group of restaurant and bar professionals that is crafting enduring connections between food, community, urban design and historic preservation. Read about OKRA’s goal of planting


five seeds that cultivate the relationship between food and community at Oh, and visit the Original OKRA Charity Saloon at 924 Congress to experience the mission in action — and enjoy some great food and drinks. At the bar, 100 percent of the proceeds (after costs) are donated to a different Houston nonprofit each month. In addition to presenting OKRA with the RDA Award for Design Excellence for their advocacy and communitybuilding achievements, the gala raised more than $500,000 to support RDA’s educational programming and award-

The theme of the conference, “The Other Things,” was taken from President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice Stadium, where he announced, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Speakers shared the stage with the podium from which Kennedy had spoken more than 51 years ago. Rice faculty and alumni on the TEDx stage included Kirsten Ostherr, professor of English and director of the Medical Futures Lab; Sarah Cortez ’72; Adriana E. Ramirez ’05; Anna Piper Whitmire ’07; Ned Dodington ’09; Jan Goetgeluk ’10; and Thierry Rignol ’12. Christian and Lisa Seger of Blue Heron Farm, popular vendors at the weekly Rice University Farmers Market, spoke passionately about farming and healthy food. Each speaker dispensed knowledge that they believed could help shape our society. Whether it is about creating a virtual reality interface that has a wide range of applications (Goetgeluk), analyzing our leadership styles through dance (Whitmire), promoting a scientist’s involvement in policymaking (Rignol), designing a living space that connects humans and animals (Dodington) or observing the world through slam poetry (Ramirez), Houston and Rice thinkers alike shared their small piece of unconventional wisdom — moon shots that will audaciously change the world. To view an archive of all TEDxHouston talks, visit W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  7


—Leticia Treviño ’16

Two distinguished faculty members have been appointed to head Rice’s new Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance.


focuses on ancient and political philosophy. “There is a great deal of enthusiasm and a great deal to be done,” Ecklund said. “There are so many scholars on campus doing really innovative work that is somehow involved in the area of religion, either in a small or large way.” The Boniuk Institute’s spring 2014 schedule of programs, panels, essay contests, along with archived programs and more, can be found at

Riddle me this. Demand keeps exceeding supply of a new T-shirt designed and sold by Rice engineering students to support all student engineering clubs. The shirt’s geeky rebus puzzle spells out “RICE,” said its creators, Andrew Stegner ’15 and Will Kasper ’15. “We’ve taken equations and notations from science and engineering and spelled out R-I-C-E with them,” Stegner said. “We have the Ideal Gas law. Typically PV equals nRT, and rearranged equates to R. We have electrical current, change in charge over change in time, dQ/ dt, which is equal to I. Carbon, six electrons in the Bohr model, is chemically represented by C,” he added. “And we have Young’s Modulus, stress over strain, represented by E in an engineering context.” Fortunately, there’s an elegant solution — fans will find a “Quick Link” for ordering T-shirts on the School of Engineering website,


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In February, the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra will perform for the first time at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and Carnegie Hall in New York City, with featured performances by faculty artists Jon Kimura Parker (Baltimore) and Cho-Liang Lin (New York). Want to attend either concert? On Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, the orchestra, under the direction of Larry Rachleff, will perform a program of Berlioz, Rachmaninoff and Bartok at The Meyerhoff. Visit for tickets ($10–$15). Or, catch the musical Owls at Carnegie Hall Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, where the orchestra will perform Berlioz, Bartok and contemporary composer Christopher Rouse. See for tickets ($20–$30). Special discounts apply for students, Rice alumni and parents of current Rice students. Contact or 713-348-4157 for discount codes. Local Owls may attend preview concerts Feb. 8 and 13 right on campus at Stude Concert Hall. Details at


Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Sociology and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program, and Don Morrison, a professor of philosophy and classical studies, will lead the institute, which was established in May through a gift from Houston philanthropists Dr. Milton and Laurie Boniuk. The two have started laying the groundwork for a robust program of research, education and outreach, but they are not starting from scratch. The institute builds on the work of the Boniuk Center at Rice, which, since 2004, has nurtured tolerance among people of all and no faiths, especially youth, and studied the conditions in which tolerance and intolerance flourish. Mike Pardee, who served as the center’s executive director, will remain with the institute as associate director for community engagement. Laura Johnson is the new associate director of operations, and B.J. Smith is the institute coordinator. “It’s a terrific opportunity to do something important for Rice, the intellectual world more widely and the public,” said Morrison, whose research and teaching



The spread of cancer cells is responsible for more than 90 percent of cancer deaths. How does cancer spread? By taking the freeway that is the blood vessels. Mohit Kumar Jolly, bioengineering graduate student, competing in the second annual Screech competition, sponsored by the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, in October. See brief on Page 17.

It’s scary. There’s no antibiotic that can kill them. Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, quoted in a Rice News story about deadly “superbugs” found breeding in sewage plants. Read more:

If we can build trust among ourselves over time, at some point, I will take the risk of hospitality — that is, welcoming you as a guest into my abode, literally and metaphorically. Scott Appleby, professor of history and the John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, speaking on campus Nov. 4, 2013. Appleby’s talk, “Religion and Violent Conflict: Beyond Tolerance, Toward Peacebuilding,” was sponsored by Rice’s Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance.

The leadership experience card is most often a card played by us veterans, to hold over our nonveteran colleagues’ heads, selling ourselves short, because it undercuts the best value one takes away from the military experience — humility. Humility to carry oneself in a quiet way when it comes to representing the war with a respect for those of us no longer with us, whose memory we humbly carry inside of us. For there is no more humbling fact than we are here today. Michael Freedman ’14, speaking at the Nov. 11, 2013, Rice Veteran’s Day celebration. Freedman, a former Army Green Beret, leads the Veterans in Business Association at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.

I think for the players it’s a real learning experience to see how amazing and how tough these kids are. And these kids, honestly, are just as tough as anybody they come up against on the other side of the field. Michael Bishop ’01, a staff physician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, commenting on the Rice football players’ visit to the hospital as part of the Owls’ Liberty Bowl trip. Read more:

The rebooting process is essential. He’s got to get away to think. That’s the most underrated attribute of what we need in our president — to think. Douglas Brinkley, professor of history and a fellow in history at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, commenting on President Obama’s annual Hawaiian vacation for The Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2013.

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A Merry Wanderer of the Night Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Set under a canopy of live oaks in Founder’s Court, Rice Theatre’s delightful outdoor performances of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” charmed audience members in the fall. “A tale of lovers, heroes, fairies and rustic would-be actors is Shakespeare’s tribute to the power of imagination and love in all its guises,” said Christina Keefe, director of Rice’s Theatre Program, professor in the practice of theatre and the play’s director. The cast’s leading roles included Susannah Eig ’14 as Queen Titania, Michael Hollis ’14 as King Oberon, Carter Spires ’13 as Bottom and Daniel Burns ’14 as the mischievous Puck. Mark Krouskop, the new production manager and lecturer in the visual and dramatic arts department, designed the set. Lighting was by Dustin Tannahill, and Clair Hummel created the costumes. “The entire production is obviously a labor of love and is thoroughly endearing as well as professional,” wrote Jim Tommaney in the Houston Press.

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President’s note

Just over a year ago, I spoke at our centennial ceremony about Rice being an “entrepreneurial university.” Here in part is what I said: [A] century ago, President Lovett realized that Houston partakes of both the warm hospitality of the South and the dynamic and adventurous spirit of the West. Houston is an entrepreneurial city, and we are an entrepreneurial university. That spirit, which has some of its origins in our early strength in engineering, now finds its place in every corner of our university. The entrepreneurial imperative incorporates the desire to lead, to create, to innovate and to build. ... We must nurture and support that spirit, both individually and collectively, among both students and faculty. President Lovett spoke of the pleasures of teaching and the privileges of research. But today we must do that and more. An entrepreneurial university empowers our students and embarks them on a life of difference and impact, regardless of their chosen disciplines and professions.

While many definitions of “entrepreneur” and its variants — entrepreneurial, entrepreneurship — focus on the financial aspects, such as putting capital at risk in pursuit of financial reward, I have had something much broader in mind. In recent years, we have seen the recognition of “social entrepreneurship,” defined as “the process of pursuing innovative solutions to social problems.” And Rice and other colleges and universities have long had “education entrepreneurs” — faculty members and others who seek to increase their educational impact through innovative teaching and other means. And we have “research entrepreneurs” — those who expand their research reach in order to achieve more rapid discovery 12 

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Spirit of Entrepreneurship of knowledge and the more impactful dissemination of that new knowledge. At Rice, these forms of entrepreneurship often meld together. Perhaps the quintessential example was Rick Smalley, who had a broad impact on the university and its investment in nanotechnology. There were few problems Rick didn’t think could be solved at least in part by the use of nanotechnology, but equally important was his ability to convince others of his vision. Rick, along with his fellow Nobel Prize winner Bob Curl and others, helped create a new field. But Rick in particular was an evangelist for the potential impact of those discoveries. In the year since the centennial, we have seen that spirit in many aspects across the university, particularly

among our students. A group of students launched OwlSpark (see story on Page 34) and sought our support, which we provided. Rice’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders is seeking a rapid expansion of their organization in order to bring opportunities to more students to provide relief to impoverished communities. Another group of students has successfully launched a national Undergraduate Public Policy Competition, modeled in part on our world-renowned business plan competition. Our faculty members as well seek to bring together innovation and impact. Sociologist Ruth Lopez Turley is working with the Houston Independent School District to bring changes that truly improve learning. With the support of foundations and others, engineer Rich Baraniuk is creating the largest set of free, online, high-quality college textbooks available anywhere. A growing group of faculty members are investing in the production of MOOCs — massive open online courses — that will both improve education on the Rice campus and bring that educational opportunity to those with ambition and talent all around the globe. That spirit of entrepreneurship has a place in every corner of the university and must have a place as well in the education of our students. When I talk to our graduates who have become entrepreneurs, whether social or for-profit, whether in business, medicine, education or other endeavors, they are grateful for their Rice education and what it contributed to their success. And yet, at the same time, they do not feel that education specifically focused on many of the skills and attributes that made them successful. That is changing not only at Rice, but across the landscape of higher education. We are thinking more consciously about how four years at Rice as an undergraduate, or years in a master’s or doctoral program, can be used to cultivate the knowledge, skills, character and ambition to leverage one’s own contributions to make an even greater difference in all their future endeavors.

Sports News and Profiles

Running back Charles Ross ’14 rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns against Marshall for the C-USA Championship.

Owls Soar to C-USA Championship Rice defeated the Marshall Thundering Herd 41–24 at Rice Stadium for Rice’s first outright football conference championship in 56 years. Despite a temperature of 35 degrees at the 11 a.m. kickoff Dec. 7, the chilly weather could not put a damper on the Owls’ offense or defense … or the Owls’ hardy fans.



harles Ross ’14 rushed for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Jordan Taylor ’15 caught six passes for 131 yards and a score. Most Valuable Player Luke Turner ’16 tossed two touchdown passes (on two attempts) and ran for 49 yards on nine carries. Starting quarterback Taylor McHargue ’14 passed for 196 yards, including a touchdown, to add to his 34 rushing yards. To complement the steady offense, Michael Kutzler ’14 led the defense with seven tackles, while Julius White ’15 secured a key interception to contribute to the victory.  The Owls (10–3) piled up 487 yards on offense while holding the Thundering Herd (9–4) to 371 yards. Rice started strong with touchdowns on its first two possessions of the game. On the opening drive, Turner took a handoff and completed a 35-yard pass to Donte Moore ’14. The Owls then tacked on a 75-yard scoring play as McHargue found Taylor open for a touchdown pass. The Herd responded with a field goal early in the second

quarter before Ross bulled his way into the end zone to put Rice in front. Marshall finally reached the end zone for the first time in the contest to cut its deficit to 21–10 at halftime.  The Owls continued their offensive efficiency and tacked on a pair of scores in the third quarter with a 17-yard jaunt by Darik Dillard ’17 and another Turner pass, this time to Connor Cella ’17, putting the home team in front, 34–10. Marshall opened the fourth quarter with a score to pull back within 17 points, but Ross put the game back out of reach with a 16-yard run. The Herd closed out the game’s scoring with a touchdown pass with 5:35 remaining to provide the final margin, 41–24, in the Owls’ favor. While the Owls ran out the clock, simultaneously on the sidelines, Coach Bailiff was getting a Gatorade bath to start the celebration of a long-awaited championship. After the game, he said he wished it had been hot chicken soup, due to the ridiculously cold weather. —david ruth W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  13


Conference and Academic Honors In December, head football coach David Bailiff was named the 2013 Conference USA Coach of the Year in voting by the league’s 14 head coaches. It is the second time Bailiff has been honored by his peers. He was also named the league’s top coach in 2008. In addition to the accomplishments on the field this season, Rice’s football program was honored along with Tulane, Stanford and Georgia as the winners of the 2013 American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award, which honors schools with a 100 percent graduation rate. 

Club Sports Update: Women’s Rugby Returns Two students revived the Rice University women’s rugby team this year after its dissolution in 2011. Duncan College’s Courtney Applewhite ’14 and Sid Rich’s Stella Keck ’15 teamed up to get the club sport going again in 2013. Since then, the team has grown to have 14 members and two head coaches.

Memphis Blues and Goodbyes


FTER HAVING BEEN AN OFFICIAL CLUB SPORT FOR 14 YEARS, the team disbanded in 2011 due to an inability to field enough players. “I wanted to put the team back together mainly because I wanted to play,” Applewhite said. “I had just retired from a professional BMX racing career and wanted something new and challenging to participate in, and starting up the rugby team seemed like the perfect thing to keep me occupied.” Keck, who transferred to Rice last year, had played rugby since her junior year of high school and continued in her freshman year at Occidental College. Since Applewhite did not have any experience with the sport of rugby and Keck was relatively new to the university, Keck said the two teamed up to recruit a new squad and prepared the paperwork to become an official club sport.  “I am the only player on the team who has really played rugby before besides Courtney, who played over the summer, so the team is really young and is definitely in the learning stage,” Keck said. “But they’re learning very quickly; our future looks good.” The team is currently a member of the Lone Star Conference, which consists of other universities such as the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Texas at Austin and Lamar University. After losing its first two games and winning its last two, the women’s rugby team finished its fall season with a 2-2 record and will continue its yearlong season this spring. —Nicki Chamberlain-Simon ’16 A version of this article first appeared in the Dec. 4, 2013, issue of the Rice Thresher.


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After creating a turnover on Mississippi State’s (MSU) first possession and following with a scoring drive in the 55th AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Rice had its hands full the rest of New Year’s Eve as the Bulldogs dominated the Conference USA champs on MSU’s way to a 44–7 victory over the Owls. “We knew coming into this game that we were going to have to play our best to win it, but obviously we didn’t,” said Rice head football coach David Bailiff. “We didn’t play well offensively or defensively, but I’m extremely proud of this football team and this season — to win 10 games, have a 100 percent graduation rate and to win Conference USA.” At the postgame news conference, Bailiff was asked about saying goodbye to 23 of his seniors. “You know what? Nineteen of them I’ve been with for five years,” Bailiff said. “There were a lot of tears in that locker room, not from the loss, but from young men who have invested so much and done everything that we have asked them to do. It’s hard. You have these young men and they become your family. It’s like you have 105 sons.” Read more: —David Ruth


Findings, Research and more


The Dome’s Second Act, if Only But for a recent election result, the Astrodome may have achieved worldwide fame a second time around. Last fall, Rice architecture students presented their vision of the Dome as the world’s largest parking garage at the Texas Society of Architects Design Expo in Fort Worth, Texas. David Richmond and Adam Wagner, both fifth-year Bachelor of Architecture students, won an ideas competition that drew 23 submissions from designers nationwide to “Reimagine the Astrodome,” organized by The Architect’s Newspaper. The students’ audacious idea was to turn the Astrodome into what they assumed the space was destined to be with or without the building: a place to park cars.

“Hearing that the Astrodome was potentially being torn down was one driver that had us thinking of a parking garage, because if they tear it down it’s going to be a parking lot,” Richmond said. “We figured we might as well give it the program it would have either way.” The design called for 18 decks of parking, with a four-lane spiral ramp in the Astrodome’s core. Parking upward of 13,000 cars would allow the city to

reclaim that many spaces from the surrounding land, opening it up for further development, they said. “Their parking garage is just sublime: It takes the most mundane Houston experience and makes it memorable — and yet strangely believable at the same time,” said Rice School of Architecture Dean Sarah Whiting. Read the full story: —Mike Williams

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Green With Guilt

Think you don’t recycle enough? You’re not alone. However, people’s ability to overcome self-doubt plays a critical role in how successfully they act in support of environmental issues, according to a new study co-authored by Scott Sonenshein, an associate professor of management at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, and scholars from the University of Michigan and the University of Toronto. The researchers examined the role of self-evaluations among those who support environmental issues and the evaluations’ effect on supportive behaviors. Sonenshein said people’s support for environmental issues and their doubt in their behavior’s effectiveness manifests itself in benign daily tasks such as recycling or the mode of transportation one chooses. “It’s this ongoing challenge. No matter what you do, the sense from the study is that it’s never enough,” he said. The study found that there are differences in how people respond to these kinds of persistent doubts. “Some people are able to cope with that through building immunity through their self-assets, and other people, unfortunately, fizzle and burn out,” said Sonenshein, whose research focuses on social change and business ethics. The authors concluded that while “being green” or a supporter of some other social issue is not easy, “Our study takes an important step toward understanding the role of this mixed self-evaluation in helping (or hindering) individuals’ actions that play a valuable role in advancing a social issue in work organizations and beyond.” Watch a video about the study here: —Jeff Falk GLOBAL HEALTH

Malawi Neonatal Ward Funding Goal Met

The lives of Rice University professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden were forever changed by a visit to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi, Africa, in 2006. They returned the favor in August when they delivered $375,000 in


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GO GREEN donations for a new neonatal ward. The money was raised via the Day One Project, an ambitious and innovative effort that Oden and Richards-Kortum launched in May when they donated their prize money from the 2013 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. They won the award for their pioneering efforts to inspire and lead Rice students to invent low-cost health care technologies for developing nations. Their donation inspired a new level of commitment among donors. The hospital has hosted Rice students each summer since that first visit, and through the Day One Project, RichardsKortum and Oden hope to meet two goals: significantly expand the hospital’s neonatal


facilities and establish an “innovation hub” where Rice’s student-developed technologies can be proven and showcased for other Malawian and African health professionals. Richards-Kortum and Oden created and administer Beyond Traditional Borders, an innovative program that sends a dozen Rice students overseas each summer to work with partners in the developing world. Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering, and Oden is a professor in the practice of engineering and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. To learn more, visit —Jade Boyd PSYCHOLOGY

Pregnant and Job Hunting? Read on.

Pregnant women are more likely to experience discrimination in the job search process than nonpregnant women, but they can minimize bias by addressing negative pregnancy stereotypes when applying for jobs, according to a new study from researchers at Rice University, the University of Houston–Downtown and George Mason University. Researchers examined four potential stereotypes driving hostile attitudes and discriminatory behaviors toward pregnant job applicants — incompetence, lack of commitment, inflexibility and need for accommodation — and how these stereotypes can be refuted. The study is based on an experiment that sent undergraduate “job applicants” into 161 mall retailers that had announced job openings. Ratings from three perspectives — the student “applicants,” observers and independent evaluators — converge to show that pregnant job applicants receive more interpersonal hostility than do nonpregnant job applicants. However, the study also showed that pregnant job applicants who address these stereotypes when

L E M E LS O N - M I T P R O G R A M



inquiring about jobs (particularly their personal levels of commitment and flexibility) are nearly three times less likely to experience interpersonal discrimination than pregnant job applicants who say nothing to combat pregnancy stereotypes. “This study takes the research of discrimination against pregnant women a step further,” said lead author and Rice alumna Whitney Botsford Morgan ’04, assistant professor of management at UH– Downtown. “Statements that refute stereotypes about being inflexible and lacking commitment are particularly effective.” “Understanding what counterstereotypical information is effective at reducing discrimination is critical for pregnant women to know because then they can act or provide information counter to such stereotypes,” said Mikki Hebl, professor of psychology and management at Rice and the study’s co-author. The study appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. Read more: —Amy Hodges CHEMISTRY


Tanks, Graphene! 1-D Material Good for Gas, Soda — and Beer

A discovery at Rice University aims to make vehicles that run on compressed natural gas more practical. Chemist James Tour and his team mixed graphene nanoribbons in a polymer to make it more impermeable to pressurized gas and far lighter than the metal in tanks now used to contain the gas. It could help an auto industry that is being called upon to make cars that use cheaper natural gas. It could also find a market in food and beverage packaging, especially for bottlers who want to increase the shelf life of their sodas and beers. By adding modified, single-atomthick graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) to thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), the Rice lab made it 1,000 times harder for gas molecules to escape, Tour said. That’s due to the ribbons’ even dispersion through the material. Because gas molecules cannot penetrate GNRs, they are faced with a “tortuous path” to freedom, he said.


Screech — Three Dozen Doctoral Students Pitch Their Research

An electron microscope image of graphene nanoribbons embedded in a block copolymer.

“The idea is to increase the toughness of the tank and make it impermeable to gas,” Tour said. “This becomes increasingly important as automakers think about powering cars with natural gas. Metal tanks that can handle natural gas under pressure are often much heavier than the automakers would like.” He said the material could help to solve long-standing problems in food packaging, too. “Remember when you were a kid, you’d get a balloon and it would be wilted the next day? That’s because gas molecules go through rubber or plastic,” Tour said. “It took years for scientists to figure out how to make a plastic bottle for soda. Once, you couldn’t get a carbonated drink in anything but a glass bottle, until they figured out how to modify plastic to contain the carbon dioxide bubbles. And even now, bottled soda goes flat after a period of months. “Beer has a bigger problem, and, in some ways, it’s the reverse problem,” he said. “Oxygen molecules get in through plastic and make the beer go bad.” Bottles that are effectively impermeable could lead to brew that stays fresh on the shelf for far longer, Tour said. Tour is Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Chemistry as well as professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science. The researchers reported their results in the online edition of the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. Read more: —Mike Williams

“Picture ‘Star Wars,’ General Han Solo chasing down enemy fighters in an asteroid field. He shoots his laser canon, but the enemy fighter gets away. This is pretty much what I do in my research.” And so began Jonathon Brame’s 90-second “screech” that described his research into cleaning up contaminated water at home and abroad. Brame, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student, was one of three dozen engineering graduate students who participated in the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership’s (RCEL) Screech Competition in October. More than 250 students, staff and faculty watched the competition in McMurtry Auditorium. The idea behind the relatively new competition — this was its second year — is to encourage engineers to describe their research in an elevator pitch format that anyone can understand. Brame’s upbeat, analogy-filled speech won first place. He won the competition in its first year as well. “Topics ranged from how to inform people in hurricane-prone areas of impending danger to preventing the spread of cancer cells through the bloodstream — an amazing variety,” said Kaz Karwowski, RCEL’s executive director. The second-place overall winner and “People’s Choice” winner was Mohit Kumar Jolly, a bioengineering student, whose pitch was titled “How Cancer Spreads Throughout Your Body.” Placing third overall was computer science student Josue Salazar with a timely topic, “Prediction of Hurricane Wind Structural Damage in Real Time.” See videos here: —Patrick Kurp

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Bioengineering Lab Wins Data Visualization Competition



colorful visualization tool developed by Rice University bioengineers to view protein interactions has won an international competition for novel strategies to study the roots of breast cancer. The winning design, dubbed BioWheel, was created by the Rice lab of bioengineer Amina Qutub. It topped 14 academic and industry participants in the HPNDREAM Breast Cancer Network Inference Challenge last fall. All of the competitors were presented with the same data set. The idea, according to organizers, was to develop maps that increase the understanding of protein signaling in cancer cells and accelerate the development of treatments. Organizers of the crowdsource-style competition hoped that having dozens of participants work on the same data would produce results that might otherwise take a single group many years. Rice’s team was led by graduate student Chenyue Wendy Hu and included postdoctoral researchers Byron Long and Dave Noren and undergraduate student Alex Bisberg ’15. “The task is to help people interpret intricate patterns that are very hard to see in high-dimensional data,” said Qutub, an assistant professor of bioengineering based at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative. Massive amounts of data can be produced when researchers study how healthy or cancerous cell lines taken


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from patients respond to stimulants, like drugs that up- or downregulate protein interactions. “BioWheel visualizes this data in a way that lets people quickly grasp changes in a protein and its connections over time,” she said. “If you want to know how sets of proteins in a cancer cell change when you use a particular drug, this allows you to see their relationships quickly.” The Qutub Lab experiments on cell lines and builds computer models of protein-signaling networks that trigger such biological processes as cell growth, survival, death and migration. The researchers want to know how these networks operate in cancer cells to find more effective treatments for patients. But BioWheel’s design doesn’t necessarily need to be applied to biological problems, Qutub said. “It could be just as effective to analyze interactions between political parties or links in an Internet network,” she said. “It’s for big data in general.” Competition sponsors also included the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute, the Heritage Provider Network, and Oregon Health and Science University. Read more:

—mike williams


Dave Noren, Alex Bisberg ’15, Amina Qutub, Byron Long and Chenyue Wendy Hu




HAT looks like a colorful, giant iris is actually a snapshot of an interactive tool for “seeing” large amounts of biological

See the lab’s slideshow

data. Called BioWheel, the tool was developed in the Rice bioengineering lab of Amina Qutub as part of a competition

entry explaining

to study the roots of breast cancer. The wheel’s rings show connections between proteins (labeled outside) and their expression

BioWheel here:

levels as represented in colors that change from light green (for no expression) to dark red (for high expression) as time progresses

from the inside to the outside of the wheel. Protein expression levels provide a signature or profile as to how a breast cancer cell responds to a drug or a stimulant.

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Ma ag ga a zz ine T E Rg 22001 4 x20    RRiiccee M ine | ·WSIpNrin 13

Earth scientist and longtime shredder Adrian Lenardic turns the art of skateboarding into a ‘public display of science.’ The cluster of concrete pits, ramps and hollow hemispheres perched above the banks of Buffalo Bayou, just west of downtown Houston, might look like a collection of dry backyard swimming pools or a huge surreal sculpture. But the sight of people on skateboards whizzing down the cement slopes and high up into the inner curves of the hemispheres identifies its real purpose. This is the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, and most of the skaters here are young people, but among the few older ones is Adrian Lenardic, who has turned his love of the sport into a way to teach science. A Rice professor of earth science, Lenardic started skateboarding when he was a teenager but stopped when he was a graduate student at UCLA. “There was the idea that we were just too old,” he said. Instead, he took up surfing and snowboarding. But after the 30,000-square-foot Jamail Skatepark opened in 2008, he slowly got back into his old sport, and now he’s a regular. “He comes to the park four or five times a week,” said Aaron Cormier, a recreation assistant with the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the skatepark. Lenardic’s return to skateboarding was still three years away when a

sequence of events began that would eventually blend the sport with his profession as a scientist. “In 2005, I wrote a CAREER grant to the National Science Foundation,” he said. “The CAREER grant asks you to define research projects that might span a career, but they know that you are an educator, so they also want you to think about ways to integrate your research into the classroom.” Lenardic’s grant enabled him to create a visualization studio that can be used not only for university research and teaching, but also by K–12 students and educators, artists, and science communicators. Part of the program involves building a computer model that simulates geologic processes such as plate tectonics, surface erosion, continental collisions and planetary cooling. Another element is the creation of a workshop where advanced undergraduate and graduate students develop hands-on demonstrations of key concepts in geoscience. “That can be drawing a picture or building a scale model you can put on a table,” Lenardic said. He hopes the program will encourage students to see beyond artificial boundaries within subfields and gain a greater understanding of how scientific processes are interconnected.

As Lenardic continued tinkering, building things and taking measurements, he acquired equipment to collect on-the-fly data, such as an accelerometer, a Doppler radar unit and strain gauges. About two years ago, thinking about his newly reinvigorated hobby of skateboarding, Lenardic took his measuring gear to the skatepark. “As a curious and nerdy scientist, I brought the stuff out to measure myself,” he said. “I just wanted to see how efficiently I was skating.” Some of the equipment, such as an accelerometer, was strapped to his body, while others, such as the Doppler radar unit, were set up on stands and aimed at him as he sped down the ramps or up and around the curves of the swimming pool-like bowls. Then, an extraordinary thing happened. As he measured his performance, various people from preteens to middle-agers came up and asked what he was doing. He explained, and some of them became interested. So he helped them test themselves — for example, he used the Doppler radar unit to see how fast they were going. He asked them if they knew anything about radar and suggested that they go home and look it up. “Surprisingly, some of the

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MOTION SENSOR This portable ultrasound device measures skaters’ velocity, acceleration and position.


Lenardic and the Sk8Lab crew use this laboratory notebook for jotting numbers and notes.

LABQUEST MONITOR A student friendly, hand-held computer provides a convenient interface for collecting data.



THREE-WAY ACCELEROMETERS These devices measure accelerations, impact forces, and altitude or height that skaters achieve.

SLOW-MOTION CAMERA There’s no better way to study motion than capturing video and playing it back at 240 to 480 frames per second — slow motion.


THERMAL SENSOR This specialized instrument detects temperature inside and outside the concrete skate pools.


HAND-HELD DOPPLER RADAR A pocket radar device takes speed readings.

STOPWATCH AND HUMIDITY SENSOR The stopwatch measures the time of various activities, and a humidity sensor measures absolute and relative humidity.

kids did,” he said. “That’s when I realized there was potential here for educational outreach.” Lenardic made connections with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and the people there liked the idea of him bringing his gear to do informal sessions with the skateboarders. Last January, Lenardic dubbed his effort Sk8Lab Houston, and during the spring, he started doing more formal sessions when large public events were held at the skatepark. “We did on-site experiments where we’d take speed readings or velocity and acceleration measurements,” Lenardic said. “With the near realtime measurements, we could put those results up pretty quickly. It was fun, and people watched and enjoyed


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it. I call it a public display of science, like public art.” Lenardic also started a Sk8Lab Facebook page where students of all ages can message each other and Lenardic. “If anybody suggests an experiment,” he said, “I’ll help them do it.” One of the more recent to take him up on the offer was Dvon Notice, a 24-year-old who has been skating for 13 years. “I first met Adrian at the downtown skatepark,” Notice said. “He was this rad older dude still shreddin’. I learned about what they were doing with Sk8Lab, and it piqued my interest.” Notice had just injured his foot and wanted to know how much force his feet were subjected to when he did a transfer, which is when the skateboarder flies out of one skatepark

feature and comes down in another. “I learned that there is way more physics involved with skateboarding than the average person might imagine,” he said. “My transfer generated seven to nine g’s over a short duration of time. That nearly rivals the g’s measured when an F-15 fighter jet goes supersonic.” Notice said that skating comes so naturally that most skaters never think about the physics of it, but that’s changed for him. “Because of my experience with Sk8Lab, I’ve made it my goal to analyze and understand skating from a scientific aspect.” Lenardic’s volunteer experiences with his informal students at the skatepark have prompted him to expand the idea of taking real-time measurements in other directions.


REAL-TIME EXPERIMENTS Skater Derrick Hayes cross tests the pocket radar and Vernier instruments at a public event at the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark.

“NSF is interested in it as a longterm experiment in other avenues of teaching,” he said. He now is looking to develop lab modules that K–12 instructors can use with students, who can then go out and do the real-world experiments and acquire their own data. Lenardic currently has a grant proposal at the Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation to acquire portable, real-time measuring equipment to do a range of science experiments in the field. The Hughes Foundation supports programs of national importance in education, legal and human rights, the environment and health, and arts and culture. This equipment not only would be used to measure motion movements, of the kind done at the

skatepark, but also could do chemical analysis of anything from sports drinks to the water in waterways, Lenardic said. “Down the road, I’d like to develop a team of guerilla scientists, sort of like guerilla artists, to go out and do testing and experimentation in the field,” Lenardic said. “When you do that, invariably people come up and ask what you’re doing, so it’s an opportunity to extend Rice’s educational outreach.” Some of Lenardic’s colleagues are beginning to apply his ideas to other endeavors. “The process is interest-driven,” Lenardic said. “One colleague is looking at this in relation to judo, because he’s into judo. Another, who’s a mountain climber, is starting to acquire the equipment


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EXPERIENCING ANGULAR MOMENTUM A Sk8Lab Houston experiment: Participant Trevor Scales measures a ride through the concrete cradle at the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. This study of rotational inertia and angular velocity allows students to learn about angular momentum and how it relates to skateboarding.


The Sk8Lab team used instruments such as three-way wireless accelerometers, motion sensors and slow motion video analysis to measure the relationship between Scales’ acceleration, velocity and center of mass relative to his rotation axis center as he rides through a feature known as a “cradle.” The whole movement takes just a couple of seconds.

AC C ELER AT ION (m/s 2 )

Acceleration As the rider enters the cradle, his center of mass moves toward the rotation axis, which generates an acceleration spike and propels him toward the top of the cradle. B He propels over the top. C Scales must accelerate again on the way down. D His velocity increases when rotational inertia decreases. A

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20 20



TIME (s) 17.5

to do experiments and measurements with climbers.” Modern technology, Lenardic said, makes it cheaper and easier to carry scientifically valuable measuring instruments in your pocket. The Sk8Lab website has photos of the equipment and how much it costs so that anybody can go out and acquire their own equipment and take their own measurements. The data can be computed in the Cloud and the results downloaded to a smartphone. When Lenardic contacted the companies that are beginning to make sports activity monitoring 24 

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equipment, it turned out that the co-founder and president of one of them, NZN Labs, Inc., is Michael Ford ’99, who graduated from Rice with degrees in environmental science and engineering and economics. “Adrian is applying a very scientific and analytical approach to skateboarding,” Ford said, “and we follow his work closely.” NZN Labs has created a wearable, watch-sized device that measures various aspects of athletic performance for runners, skiers, surfers, mountain bikers


and, yes, skateboarders. The device can monitor such things as speed, acceleration, distance traveled, maximum G-forces, height of jumps and how much time the athlete spends in the air during aerial maneuvers. “I’ve had a chance to meet with Michael and test out the prototype,” Lenardic said. “Down the road, such instruments will be able to track the power the athlete generates, calories burned and so forth.” Until now, sports monitoring devices built into sporting equipment has been limited because the gear



C 18.5

hasn’t been sophisticated enough, but many sporting equipment companies now want to incorporate this type of instrumentation into their products. “We strongly believe that technology is going to radically improve sports over the next decade,” Ford said. “It will help athletes monitor and improve their performance, prevent injury and ultimately make sports safer and more fun.” Lenardic even envisions interest by media companies. “A lot of scoring in sports like skateboarding and surfing is subjective,” he said, “but


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this equipment gives real numbers for elements that have been hard to track until now. ESPN is interested, and I can see media companies developing something like a dashboard at the bottom of the TV image that displays a variety of real-time data for sporting events.” In the meantime, Sk8Lab continues to do public displays at


various events. “I’ve found that you get people flocking to you who are curious about the science and want to learn more about it,” Lenardic said. “It also breaks down some false stereotypes about science and scientists, because a lot of science is just someone getting curious and going out and performing some sort of experiment. That’s how science really works.”



THUNDER DRAGON Rice linguist Christina Willis Oko documents an endangered language in Bhutan Words and photos by DAN OKO


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DOCHULA PASS At 10,000 feet above sea level, Buddhist chortens along the roadside mark one of the high-altitude routes across Bhutan traced by Christina Willis Oko. Though constructed in traditional style, the 108-structure memorial was commissioned in 2003 in honor of the nation’s military. W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  27

KORPHU VILLAGE Located in south-central Bhutan deep within Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Korphu is a two-day walk from the nearest road, a journey made by Oko and her team. In the terraced fields, the local Khengkha-speaking tribal peoples grow buckwheat, rice and other subsistence crops.

The United Nations estimates that half the world’s

PUNAKHA DZONG A covered footbridge leads to the centuries-old monastery, which doubles as a regional government administrative center, 45 miles from the capital city, Thimphu. Situated at the confluence of two holy rivers in western Bhutan, not far from the national highway, Punakha Dzong is also known as “the Palace of Great Bliss.”


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languages are in danger of extinction.

The sound of children’s voices penetrate our tent walls just after daybreak as Bhutanese youngsters make their weekday journey down the valley to the government-run school, a 30-minute walk from the remote mountain village of Nabji. Surrounded by lush green, terraced fields where subsistence farmers grow wheat and rice, Nabji is located within Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Unlike in the United States, where parks are generally devoid of permanent human settlement, in Bhutan and South Asia, humans also live in the national parks. Still, this 427,500-acre park remains a stronghold for wildlife such as the endangered golden langur, a rare species of Himalayan monkey found only in India and Bhutan, and hundreds of species of birds, whose trilling calls and squawks add to the children’s chorus. For Rice’s Christina Willis Oko, an assistant professor of linguistics, seeing Bhutan’s exotic local wildlife is a sidelight to the pressing need to identify and document the indigenous languages spoken in this far corner of South Asia. The people of Nabji and nearby villages speak a language called Khengkha, which has no formal writing system and has never been fully documented or described. “Because Bhutan really only opened

up to outsiders in the 1990s, there has not been a lot of linguistic or anthropological research there,” Willis Oko said. And the location is remote. To reach Nabji requires a jarring 15-hour car ride from the nation’s capital, Thimphu, then a 12-mile hike along a rough track through the forest, linked for the time being to the highway only by a narrow suspension bridge across the Mangde Chhu, a frothing glacier-fed river. A scholar of Tibeto-Burman languages who came to Rice in 2009, this was Willis Oko’s first field trip to this Khengkhaspeaking area. She spent three weeks in Bhutan and two in the Khengkha region, accompanied for a time by Rice graduate student Danni Tijerina Benner. (As a travel writer and supporter of my wife’s work, I joined her on this journey to see Bhutan firsthand and help care for our 6-year-old daughter, Ursula, whom we decided to bring with us. At the end of my

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WORKING PONIES Horses along the mountainside path between the remote villages of Nimshong and Korphu. The livestock belong to local villagers occupying this largely roadless region. They help carry crops to market and also assist visitors — including Willis Oko — who partake of the “community-based” trekking program.


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time in Bhutan, after two weeks of exploring, Ursula and I went to see some sights in India, where I have traveled in the past, while Christina stayed in the field continuing her research.)

Shoes, Recorder, Patience

As the chatter of children fades, dark clouds still obscure the sun rising over Nabji Valley. Willis Oko readies herself for a day of research by testing electronics and lacing up her hiking boots for the ascent to the village center. Like the golden langur, Khengkha and similar indigenous languages face an uncertain future — indeed, the United Nations estimates that half the world’s 6,000-plus languages are in danger of extinction. Linguistic specialists believe that high rates of language endangerment in the developing world are compounded by the fact that an untold number of languages and dialects remain to be discovered. Oral languages with no writing system are especially susceptible to pressures such as globalization, warfare and compulsory schooling in various national languages. The children of Nabji, for instance, are taught in English and Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, a policy that places Khengkha at risk. One of the ways to combat that loss is to record and transcribe threatened languages. Transcribing languages with no historic written component is an arduous process, requiring the use of a specialized phonetic alphabet (akin to what’s found in a dictionary pronunciation guide) as well as individuals who can translate and clarify native sounds for linguistic researchers. With more than 40,000 speakers, Khengkha is not yet classified as “critically endangered,” but there are still important questions to address, Willis Oko said. There are 19 identified languages in Bhutan, but researchers have not had a chance to look deeply at them. “How many varieties of Khengkha are there? Without knowing this, we can’t ascertain the status of the language accurately,” she said. “My approach is that language and culture are intrinsically related. You can’t really get at the nuances of a language unless you are familiar with the culture.” This theory gets a workout in Nabji and, later, nearby Korphu, a village that is yet another four hours’ walk uphill from our camp. In Nabji, she interviews two matronly local women who dress in the traditional woven robes (called a “kira” in Dzongkha) and wear their dyed-black hair in matching, blunt pageboy dos. They happily discuss Khengkha vocabulary as well as local traditions. Bhutanese guide Ratu Drukpa, the in-country project manager for the U.S.-based Bhutan Oral Literature and Language Documentation Project, plays a key role as translator. Drukpa translates words and phrases from English to Dzongkha so the local men and women can understand Willis Oko, and then they offer the Khengkha words so that he can translate them ultimately back into English, so that the Rice researcher has a fuller record of what’s being said. “We got lucky, and [Ratu] found one man, a Khengkha speaker who was also the village English teacher,” Willis Oko

FIELDWORK IN THE VILLAGE In Nabji, located in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Willis Oko (right) and her Bhutanese assistant Drukpa (second from the left) learn Khengkha vocabulary from local residents. Constructing a dictionary is often part of linguistic fieldwork that focuses on language documentation and conservation.

said. “That man told me how to make ‘suja’ — a butter tea. We listened to the tape, and he helped me translate it. Later I listened again with Ratu so we could transcribe it and also use it for training purposes.” The researchers work together to uncover the Khengkha names of foodstuffs, animals, body parts and the like. Willis Oko takes copious notes and records conversations to study further after she leaves Bhutan.

From Kingdom to Democracy

Fewer than a million people constitute the population of Bhutan, roughly the size of Switzerland. This trip happened to coincide with only the second parliamentary election the nation has ever seen. In 2008, Bhutan staked its claim as the world’s youngest democracy. Citing the need for modernization and the Buddhist principle of compassion, former head of state King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck (the national park is named for his father, also still alive) stepped aside so that a parliamentary democracy might flourish. As part of this transition, the government of Bhutan has made headlines worldwide by favoring natural conservation and maintenance of cultural traditions. In contrast to the pursuit of Gross W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  31

TRIBAL CHILDREN The Okos spent the first night of their research trek in the village Nimshong in southcentral Bhutan, a half-day walk from the main highway, where young residents were curious about the visitors. Timber-framed construction is still preferred in Nimshong. According to the CIA World Factbook, children under the age of 14 represent more than a quarter of Bhutan’s entire population.

The cook’s assistant, who spoke Khengkha and grew up nearby, plays a traditional large wooden Bhutanese flute during a home visit in Korphu.

Bhutan has a rich textile heritage, which varies from region to region. In a shop, in the nation’s capital, Thimphu, a woman illustrates how to use a back-strap hand loom.

National Product, this policy, which explicitly attempts to balance ecological preservation with economic growth, pursues what’s known as Gross National Happiness. This pivot away from what’s seen as a pure Western interest in material wealth has cemented Bhutan’s reputation as a modern-day Shangri-La, but the transition is not entirely pain–free. Among the challenges faced in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, as the still-young Himalayan democracy is known, today’s newly elected leaders are tasked with figuring out how to balance ancient, rural traditions with a developing national educational system. With per capita income in Bhutan below $2,000 (USD) per year, many onlookers also fear that as Bhutan seeks to ameliorate widespread poverty, linguistic and cultural diversity could suffer. Traveling the highways and byways, the signs that Bhutan is undergoing an unprecedented transformation are hard to miss. In many places, the slim, two-lane ribbons of highway that once served as the only conduit between major settlements are being broadened and repaved to accommodate


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trucks carrying major hydroelectric equipment, which will be employed on dams funded by India, Bhutan’s military ally and neighbor to the south. On the high mountain passes, alongside the white-washed pagodalike temples and Buddhist prayer flags, stand cellular telecommunication towers that link various landlocked valleys. The assistant cook on Willis Oko’s trek spoke constantly on his mobile phone, taking occasional breaks to point out colorful songbirds, curious plants, orchids and assorted wildlife, or to clarify details with a Khengkha phrase or two. “It was striking to hear people on their cell phones while we were trekking,” Willis Oko said. “Most of these villages did not have electricity until a few years ago, and now those people can talk to anybody in the world.”

How We Came to Speak Khengkha

Benner is a cheerful native Texan who plans to focus on Khengkha for her dissertation research. After her adviser left, Benner stayed over in Zhemgang for a week to collect data

LINGUISTIC NOTES A page from Willis Oko’s notebook features phonetic transcription of Khengkha describing the process of making butter tea, a traditional Himalayan drink known locally as “suja.” Linguistic fieldwork often involves recording stories or instructions, which offer examples of vocabulary and grammar.

on her own. “It was such an ideal situation for a budding documentarian. I ended up going to the village every afternoon and was constantly invited into people’s homes for tea,” she said. In Nabji, tea is not the only refreshment being offered. One day, as Willis Oko recorded her subjects singing and telling stories, a middleweight man with a shorn head, dressed in a Buddhist monk’s ocher robes, sauntered up, smiling beatifically. After listening quietly, he invited the research party to join him for a sip of the local moonshine, “ara,” made from fermented grain. He proceeded to tell how the local people came to speak Khengkha: The monk claims that Guru Rinpoche, a holy man credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century, introduced the language as a series of religious mantras. Drukpa explained that outsiders can’t understand Khengkha because it derives from these ancient songs. Though the monk’s story is appealing, Willis Oko judges it an apocryphal tale. “If Guru Rinpoche had actually taught these people Khengkha, and it was based on Tibetan Buddhist

chants, then more people would speak Khengkha across Bhutan.” Considering how many sacred scrolls and paintings portray the story of Buddha, she noted, the question of how Khengkha escaped transliteration also arises. Yet, having no interest in arguing with her hosts, she let the matter lie, adding the story to her growing larder of local lore — a collection offering enlightenment, scholarly and otherwise. As the bottle gets passed, it turns out the holy man does not drink ara, but carries it as a repellent for venomous snakes found in the nearby fields. The school children carry canteens of alcohol for the same reason — to keep the vipers and cobras at bay. Each of these magic-sounding factoids gets duly recorded — in Khengkha, in Dzongkha and last in English as part of a first-of-its-kind Khengkha archive in this concealed Himalayan valley. And then, as the day winds down, evening brings a sort of proof that such folk wisdom, like the languages, is worth preserving. It’s the sound of carefree kids, heading home, no snakes in sight.

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EMERGENCY CORE SAM BRISENDINE ’14 SCOTT KEY ’15 34  R i c e M a g a z ine | W I N T E R 2 0 1 4



FROM CLASSES IN CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO STARTUP CAMPS, RICE’S WIDE-OPEN CULTURE OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS GROWING. LAST SUMMER, OWLSPARK, A BUSINESS ACCELERATOR, BROKE NEW GROUND BY HELPING A VARIETY OF UPSTART STUDENT VENTURES TAKE FLIGHT. n the wake of a major natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami, the United Nations, the Red Cross and other agencies spring into action, coordinating relief efforts and setting up refugee camps. Food, water, tents and other emergency supplies are flown into the disaster area on wooden shipping pallets, which are then either burned or discarded. But what if those shipping pallets could be repurposed as flooring for refugee shelters? That’s the idea behind Emergency Core, a product invented by Rice architecture graduate students Scott Key and Sam Brisendine. While tents are relatively cheap and easy to ship, flooring is both expensive and cumbersome. Currently, the vast majority of the world’s refugees live in shelters with minimal flooring — typically just a tarp on the ground. That leaves them exposed to flooding and cold weather. Every year, refugees die from hypothermia and water-borne diseases because they lack proper flooring. “If you think about a refugee camp, many of them start at 20,000 people,” said Key. “It’s like a whole town that moves into a field that has no drainage, no sanitation. So when it rains, the rain doesn’t always go where you want it to.” Key and Brisendine began working on Emergency Core in summer 2012 while enrolled in the Rice Building Workshop, a class offered through the Rice School of

a pallet that could be reused as flooring without any special tools or instructions. The pallets had to function just like any other pallet, yet transform into a floor. By April, they thought they finally had a product that would work. “We knew we had something, but we didn’t know what to do with it,” Key said. “And that’s when we heard about OwlSpark.”


FROM IDEA TO PITCH DAY Architecture. Their initial idea was to build a shipping crate containing everything needed by a refugee — a portable toilet, a water filtration system, a custom-designed tent, and other emergency supplies. The crate itself could then be broken down and turned into flooring. Last January, they took a prototype of their design to the International Disaster Conference Expo in New Orleans, where they received a reality check from the disaster relief experts. “We got some very blunt feedback, which was that nothing about this was very interesting except for one aspect, which is the idea of the shipping material becoming the flooring,” Key said. Going back to the drawing board, Key and Brisendine turned their attention to redesigning a common shipping pallet. They wanted

WLSPARK is a threemonth-long startup accelerator designed to help members of the Rice community (undergrads, grads and recent alumni) build new companies. Nine teams, including Emergency Core, made up the first cohort, each receiving living stipends and office space at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) and mentoring from Houston-area business leaders. The inaugural program was led by undergraduates Veronica Saron ’14, Vivas Kumar ’14 and Ian Akash Morrison ’13 and MBA student Darren Clifford ’13, who served as the initial managing director. “The idea for OwlSpark came after seeing the wonderful opportunities we have for entrepreneurship at Rice, but not seeing a place where entrepreneurs could work together day in and day out,”

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Clifford said. With support from Tom Kraft, who lectures at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business and directs the Technology Ventures Development program, and Bryan Hassin ’01, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), Clifford recruited the other founding student members. Soon, OwlSpark was inviting its first class of studentfounded companies to spend the summer in business boot camp. The fledgling businesses ranged from Web-based startups (a search engine for stock investors, a gift registry and a social media website for inventors), to software companies (a medical information platform and an online K–12 curriculum), to a company that makes wearable devices that monitor your blood alcohol content. (See a description of the OwlSpark Class of 2013 here: In addition to weekly guest lectures by local businesspeople, each team was assigned a primary mentor who spent up to 10 hours a week teaching them the basics of setting up and running a business. The program culminated in August with a pitch day attended by more than 300 people, including local venture capitalists and angel investors.




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WLSPARK is just one of a flurry of initiatives — student clubs, business plan competitions, new courses and more — launched at Rice in the past few years to encourage student entrepreneurship. At the center of these efforts is the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

(Rice Alliance), which since 2000 has provided expertise, networking and fundraising support to around 1,400 companies both inside and outside the Rice community. The word “alliance” in the title reflects the collaborative mission of bringing the engineering, natural sciences and business schools together to develop and launch a wide variety of businesses. Such programs, said Brad Burke, Rice Alliance managing director, cater to students’ growing interest in startups. “In the last three or four years, there has been a great increase in entrepreneurial interest by Rice students,” Burke said. “I think students no longer expect to go to work for a big corporation and stay there for a long time. Their expectations for career paths have changed. Students like the idea of working for a small company and having an impact.” RCEL is another key player of growing importance in what Burke calls Houston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. RCEL was founded in 2009 thanks to a $15 million donation by venture capitalist and Rice alumnus John Doerr ’73 and his wife, Ann ’75, who support a focus on engineering leadership to help prepare future engineers to take on roles in solving pressing global problems. “Lecturing about leadership and reading about leadership, those are absolutely good things to do, and Rice was doing that,” said Ned Thomas, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering. “But we weren’t doing much hands-on leading. If you want to be a leader, you’ve got to first be a follower and be on a team.” Kazimir Karwowski, a military veteran who served in Iraq and has taught leadership at West Point and MIT, was appointed executive


director of RCEL last summer. “The idea is to give them experiences as well as teaching and classes — the soft skills that engineers sometimes lack,” Karwowski said. “They’re smart, but they’re not effective, because they don’t have these additional skills.” Students seem to be responding to this new focus on entrepreneurship. Last year, for example, students founded Rice Launch, which merged three smaller groups to “connect, energize and enable” both undergraduates and grad students interested in starting a business. In 2012, the Rice Alliance launched a new graduate business plan competition called the Owl Open. The winner of the Owl Open wins a spot to represent Rice University and compete against other universities in the annual Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC), which boasts $1.5 million in prizes and is billed as “the world’s richest and largest” of its kind. The Princeton Review recently ranked the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business the fourth-best graduate business school in the country for entrepreneurship. And according to Burke, Rice created more startup businesses over 10 years per dollar of research funding than Stanford, Harvard or MIT. A key tenet of this movement is that entrepreneurship isn’t just for business students. According to Rice Provost George McLendon, it’s an increasingly necessary skill in today’s job market regardless of major. “Many, many people involved in the 21st-century economy — some studies say more than 50 percent — will spend some part of their

time working as an independent agent, rather than working for a large corporation,” McLendon said. “Many of our own smartest and most driven students are passionate about creating their own contributions to the world through their own entrepreneurial activities rather than in a more traditional job format.”

profit company that participated in the inaugural OwlSpark program. The company was created to teach students how to build machines like wind turbines, zeroelectricity refrigerators, water purifiers and other technologies that would then help improve life in remote villages around the world. Amis spent the summer after



VENTURE VARIETY CLENDON could have been referring to Andrew Amis ’14, a senior double majoring in chemical engineering and history. Amis, along with Ernest Chan ’15 and Lynn Gai ’15, founded Village Innovators, the only non-

his freshman year teaching and traveling in Tanzania. In African school rooms, he would lead his students through simple science experiments using inexpensive equipment such as plastic water bottles instead of beakers. The students enjoyed the experiments so much that Amis wanted to come W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  37


back and expand the project to help the students create useful technologies using readily available materials in their village. Last summer, team member Mingming Jiang ’14 traveled to Elburgon, a village in Kenya, to conduct the company’s first project. With Jiang’s help, a school of Kenyan teenagers assembled a wind turbine out of local materials, which they mounted to a 30-foot tree trunk. The turbine currently produces enough electricity to power several computers and lights; there are plans to begin charging a small fee to allow villagers to charge their cell phones at the turbine. Although the village is wired to the country’s electrical grid, the electricity is too expensive for all but the wealthiest residents. “The best part of the summer was when we saw that wind turbine go up in Kenya,” Amis said. “We bonded as a team and saw our work pan out in beautiful form.”

Amis slipped out of OwlSpark for three weeks to go to Uganda to pilot similar projects and build support for the program. The nonprofit’s next steps include a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, reaching out to Peace Corps volunteers and prototyping new designs. “Running a nonprofit requires the same skills as running a modern company,” Amis said. “Innovation is key to social change in the nonprofit world, and startup accelerators can incubate that potential.” ParkiT, another OwlSpark startup, illustrated how Rice’s growing entrepreneurial infrastructure can move a creative business idea forward. Last spring, electrical engineering majors Xin Huang ’16, Jennifer Ding ’15 and two other students participated in 3-Day Startup, a Rice student event that gives teams 72 hours to come up with a new company from scratch.




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Huang’s team focused on an everyday headache for drivers — finding a parking spot. They had noticed that the electronic signs displaying the number of open spaces at parking garages were frequently inaccurate. Most parking garages use sensor strips that register how many cars have entered and left a garage. However, sensor strips are imperfect and have to be recalibrated several times a week. Instead of sensors, ParkiT proposed using a combination of low-cost video cameras and new software to monitor parking garages for empty spots. Each camera would cost $50 and could monitor five or more spots to provide more data than the competition, Huang said. The team of electrical and mechanical engineers received a crash course in business management. “Since we were all engineers, we didn’t really have a business background,” Huang said. “Almost every week there was a different mentor or professional from the Houston area who came and talked with us about how to build a startup.” Since then, ParkiT has been upgrading their technology and software systems, networking and pitching in other business competitions. “We’re continuing to work with potential clients and hope to have our first customer soon,” Huang said. Including Huang and his team, 27 of the 37 participants in the inaugural OwlSpark program had engineering backgrounds. “Entrepreneurs often come from the STEM fields,” said Clifford. “It’s much easier to teach business to engineers than to teach engineering to business students.”


Not all the OwlSpark teams were completely green when it came to business savvy. Medical Informatics Corp. was founded by three Rice MBA students — Emma Fauss ’13, Chris Raff ’13 and Jess Fenlon ’13. Their mission is to provide clinical decision support through new technologies for health care providers. The company’s software platform, Sickbay, was developed by co-founder and chief technology officer Craig Rusin, who is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine (and is married to Fauss). This OwlSpark leadership team brings years of experience in business, engineering, clinical medicine, sales and even venture capital to the table. Fauss, who has a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering and is the company’s CEO, delivered the OwlSpark pitch. “At Medical Informatics,” she said, “we provide doctors and nurses with better, real-time information so that they can make better, faster decisions.” Sickbay is currently in use for clinical research projects and quality and safety projects at Texas Children’s Hospital by Rusin and other researchers. “One of the great things about OwlSpark for us was that we were able to bring on three summer interns who are current Rice students,” said Fenlon. Post-OwlSpark, the Medical Informatics Corp. team found shared office space in the Houston Area Translational Research Consortium, also located in the BioScience Research Collaborative. They began their Series A capital fundraising efforts in early 2014 and are seeking additional FDA regulatory approvals to move the platform from research to clinical practice. “Everyone on our team,” Fenlon

added, “is interested in continuing to support OwlSpark in any way that we can.”


OWLSPARK’S FUTURE N summer 2014, OwlSpark will be operated as a joint program of the Rice Alliance and RCEL. And although the four students who led the program will all have graduated by next summer, new student leaders are being recruited. “Because the first year went so well, a lot more people know about the program, and there’s more buzz on campus,” said Saron. “I’ve had a lot of freshmen come up to me and tell me about the companies they’re starting.” This spring, 10 prototypes of the Emergency Core will be deployed in an official pilot with the Refugee Housing Unit, an organization working with international relief agencies in refugee camps around the world. The pilot program will

be partially funded by money the company received through OwlSpark. (Each social venture participating in OwlSpark received seed grants of $17,000 from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.) In his OwlSpark pitch, Key told the story of a 1 1/2-year-old boy named Mirwais who froze to death at a refugee camp outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2012 because his family had to live directly on the ground. According to an article in The New York Times, Mirwais had just learned how to walk. “In disaster situations worldwide and in refugee camps, millions of families are forced to live, sleep and work directly on the ground,” he said. Stories like this are all too common, Key told the audience of potential investors, before explaining how Emergency Core could have saved Mirwais’ life. He ended his talk with a simple request: “Help us change the story.” W I N T E R 2 0 1 4 | R i c e M a g a z ine  39


INNOVATION HUBS The RICE ALLIANCE FOR TECHNOLOGY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP (Rice Alliance) supports technology commercialization, entrepreneurship education and the launch of technology companies. It was formed through a strategic alliance of the George R. Brown School of Engineering, the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with the vice provost for research and the Office of Research. The program has received numerous awards and recognitions. Read more:


EBELLION PHOTONICS, a Rice University startup company founded in 2010 by two alumni, was named The Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Startup of the Year Nov. 4, 2013, in New York City. The company beat 23 other entrepreneurs, chosen from 500 applicants, who participated in a five-month-long selection process and documentary series. The company, which makes the first real-time camera for chemical imaging and detection, was launched from the lab of Tomasz Tkaczyk, a Rice associate professor in bioengineering, and founded by Rice alumni Robert Kester ’11 and Allison Lami Sawyer ’10. Kester, the CTO, earned his doctorate in bioengineering at Rice. Sawyer, the CEO, has a master’s in nanoscale physics and an MBA from Rice. Rebellion Photonics’ camera is intended for continuous monitoring of oil rigs and refineries to help spot poisonous and potentially explosive gas leaks. The technology can detect at least 20 different gases simultaneously and also can be applied in a variety of other areas, such as defense, biological research, food contamination detection, quality control and forensics. Earlier versions of the technology were developed for use in medical research and defense markets. As competitors, Rebellion Photonics, like the other startups, were advised by big-name innovators and investors (Jeff Pulver, Vivek Wadhwa and Nathan Gold, for example), chose a tagline, and participated in a team-building exercise. As winners, Rebellion Photonics received a full-page advertisement in the WSJ as well as two of the paper’s iconic stipple drawings, one for each of the co-founders. “The first week after we won, our cell phones were ringing off the hook,” said Kester, in a final WSJ video. The win spurred a great deal of interest from the company’s existing customers and has resulted in being “booked solid for product demos until late first quarter,” Sawyer said. The duo met in their final year at Rice through one of their original mentors, Tom Kraft, director of Technology Ventures Development at the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. (Kraft was featured in one of the WSJ videos on mentorship.) “Rebellion Photonics is the ultimate story of a university startup,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance. —Jeff Falk 40 

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The OSHMAN ENGINEERING DESIGN KITCHEN (OEDK) provides an 18,000-square-foot space for undergraduate students to design, prototype and deploy solutions to real-world engineering challenges. RICE LAUNCH is a new student-run organization that hosts innovative events and programs oriented around practical education and hands-on application of knowledge to help empower undergraduate, graduate and MBA students at Rice. Read more: www. The TECHNOLOGY VENTURES DEVELOPMENT program screens technologies developed at Rice then establishes and mentors teams of students to launch companies based on Rice technologies. The OWLSPARK accelerator provides entrepreneurs with funding and structured mentorship for three months over the summer to improve the successful commercialization of businesses coming out of the Rice community.



The RICE CENTER FOR ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP (RCEL) provides Rice engineers with opportunities to develop their leadership abilities and to recognize the many settings in which these skills can be practiced. RCEL sponsors a leadership certificate program for undergraduates and co-sponsors student competitions and more. Read more:


Stories from the rice community



Cassidy Johnson ’11


OME TIME IN THE PAST, in a sepia-colored sixthgrade classroom, Cassidy Johnson ’11 was allowed to take home her class lizards during winter break. She fed them green things and baby food. When Johnson cracked open a jar, the green anoles and the fence lizard tilted their heads, and they seemed to consider. Thus began her lifelong fascination with amphibian and reptile biology. “I realized that they’re smarter than people make them out to be. People say they’re not very aware. But it’s not true — they’re very cognizant,” she said. Today, Johnson, who earned her doctorate in biochemistry and cell biology at Rice, is a Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) specialist in the Houston Zoo’s Department of Herpetology, one of two staff members

responsible for care, disease testing, breeding and general preparation for wildlife release of more than 600 toads in what scientists call an “ark” for the endangered species. Being a zoo scientist also carries with it a substantial educational and public outreach component, said Johnson, who brings both knowledge and enthusiasm to a topic that’s far from child’s play.

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Wildlife conservation is not the usual path for biochemistry and cell biology researchers — human biology studies are more common. Johnson entered Rice for doctoral studies in 2005 with a NASA fellowship, but NASA announced partway through her studies that funding life scientists (and especially biologists) would not be a priority for the next decade. “It was pretty devastating news,” said the young scientist, who for a time questioned staying in academia at all. Encouraged by faculty to keep exploring other ways to apply her degree, Johnson eventually earned a Ph.D. in 2011. A volunteer gig at the zoo piqued her interest in herpetology. When popular biologist Tyrone Hayes gave a talk at Rice, Johnson paid attention. “Here was someone with a molecular biology background who was using his knowledge to help the environment.” In spring 2012, Johnson started working at the Houston Zoo’s Houston toad conservation program. The Houston toads have been on the endangered species list since 1970 and absent from Harris County and surrounding counties since the late 1970s. In the wild, most of their lives are spent burrowed in cool sand, hidden a bit from the Texas heat. At the Houston Zoo, 670 of them live on comfy beds of sphagnum moss in terrariums. Estimated at about 150 to 200 in the wild, these toads can still be found in Bastrop State Park and in a few other sandysoiled counties (Leon County is one) in a habitat known as Post Oak Savannah. Loss of natural habitat to urban and suburban development and drought has played havoc with their requirement for breeding and laying eggs in ponds or any water that stands for at least 30 days. “Wildfires they can survive. But minimalls and parking lots go right on top of their habitat,” said Johnson. In order to help meet those needs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas, Texas State University researchers and the Houston Zoo are working to raise more Houston toads. The Dallas Zoo and Fort Worth Zoo became involved in 2013. Conservation of those toads is vital, said Jeff Hill, a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who characterizes


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the Houston toad as our “canary in the coal mine” species. The Houston toad is endemic to Texas — it exists nowhere else on Earth. “The Fish and Wildlife Service, our amazing partners and a growing group of private landowners believe this species and its habitats and ecosystem are worth holding onto,” Hill said. At the Houston Zoo’s toad quarantine facility, two rooms are lined with shelves. Toads sit stoically in terrariums, looking like all toads: a bit bumpy, a bit square, with prominent cranial crests and bulging eyes. Their color ranges from dark green to a tawny tan. One room contains tadpole racks for breeding and toads (from 7 months to 3 years old) that were bred in the facility. The second room contains older toads whose eggs were collected from the wild and raised in captivity. In order to enter a lab room from the main office, Johnson and a visitor dip their shoe soles in antiseptic, then step carefully, one foot at a time, over a threshold. Such measures are necessary to prevent diseases from being introduced into the toad colony. With the lab as their base, Johnson and fellow Houston Zoo toad specialist Tyler Parker facilitate toad breeding and help release toads into the wild in spring, if natural conditions are right. “Every spring we’re working our butts off. We have to test to clear the toads of four diseases before breeding them. We get them set up, get them to breed and take any resulting eggs to Bastrop State Park,” said Johnson. Conditions are not always favorable:

In 2011 and 2012, wildfires and drought prevented releases. Spring 2013 was better, and toads were released at Bastrop State Park and in two areas of private land adjacent to the park. There were 848 adults, about 36,000 eggs and 206 juveniles released. “This year, we’re shooting for 200,000 eggs,” said Johnson. “It’s never been done before!” The toads will keep hopping — and burrowing, if Johnson can help it. Plans are underway to work with Rice’s Scott Egan, the Huxley Faculty Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, to use environmental DNA sampling to detect toads in the wild. “Molecular biology has the capacity to tell us much about the natural world,” said Johnson. “That said, there’s so much about animal biology that we don’t yet know. It sounds far-fetched, but these toads could have the cures for cancer in their skin. After all, a toxin in the skin of one Australian toad has anti-AIDS properties.” Small toad, big world, large ramifications, if a species is allowed to end, thinks Johnson. “It’s our fault that they are in decline,” said Johnson, “and so we should help them survive. And the rest of the food pyramid sits on top of them. Losing a piece of the pyramid can disrupt an entire ecosystem.” —Catherine Arnold Catherine Arnold is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at


vo ices



Robert Ruiz Shuttle bus driver Robert Ruiz has worked at Rice University for 28 years — the first seven of which he not only drove a shuttle route, but also provided security and wrote parking tickets. Ruiz currently drives the Graduate Apartments shuttle route, which travels to the Rice Graduate Apartments on Bissonnet Street and then back through Founder’s Court and the northern part of campus.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Rice is such a nice place to work. I love this environment. I like the Graduate Apartments because there are so many different cultures and languages. I pick up a little bit from nearly every language of the students: Hindi, Chinese, you name it. And I’m fluent in Spanish.


Do you get to know your “regulars” on the shuttle bus fairly well? There are some graduate students I have gotten to know pretty well and keep in touch with after they leave Rice. I have some friends I still see from the old Graduate Apartments. Every now and again I travel to see them in Mexico. That group still sees each other even though they live in different cities: Mexico City, Zacatecas, Monterrey. There was also a guy from Brazil in that group. I would love to go there someday. What is a typical day like for you, and does that change depending on whether or not classes are in session? The entire year is very busy. I have about 170 riders in a day. The busiest time is when the students get here for the new semester. They don’t know where everything is. I get about 250 students a day during that time of year. In summer, we see people who are here for seminars, summer school and events. There’s always something going on. We have a lot of visitors. I can tell when they’re lost. Some of them stare at you and don’t say anything, but you know

they want to take the shuttle bus. You see visitors with a map trying to get directions. I’ll stop and ask them, “Where do you want to go?” Sometimes a VIP rides the bus, like Hakeem Olajuwon. What do you talk with your riders about? Sometimes I feel like a priest — or a bartender. Some students come to me and tell me stories. Sometimes I have students who broke up with their boyfriend and talk to me about it. I try to give them suggestions or console them. But I try not to interfere too much with their life. I understand they’re involved in their education and their exams and work. What do you do outside of your workday at Rice? I have another “living” — I’m a real estate investor. I own and manage rental properties in Houston, McAllen and Brownsville. My wife and I manage the properties together. She works in accounting for PWC as well. She’s been there for about 20 years. Closing thoughts? I have 15 minutes to do this route, then I have to go again. I try to do my best and keep a good attitude. I talk to everybody, and everybody talks to me. I like to make it fun for everyone. —Jenny West Rozelle ’00

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vo ices


Wally ’43 and Lawrean Chappell ’45 Alums reunite after 70 years

years old, he doesn’t take a step or a moment for granted, especially moments shared with his new bride, Lawrean Davis Isaacks Chappell, 89. The two graduates of Rice got married Aug. 18 in Houston and enjoy telling the story of how they became the oldest Rice alumni to marry each other. Sitting in a comfortable chair in his living room, Wally carefully presented an aged photo of a young Lawrean in a twopiece swimsuit, standing confidently with her hands on her hips astride a boat. “Isn’t she beautiful?” the retired pastor and engineer marveled. The first time Wally saw Lawrean was in 1942. He was a tall, handsome engineering student entering his senior year at Rice. She was a petite Rice freshman from Bellaire and, in Wally’s words, “the most beautiful girl” he’d ever seen. Over the next year, the pair were inseparable, Lawrean recalled. “Everyone that saw us knew that I was Wally’s girl,” she said with a proud smile. There were dances, dates and sporting events. They enjoyed each other’s company and no one could deny the chemistry the pair shared. During that year, Wally proposed marriage, but Lawrean was reluctant. “I was 18 years old and I thought we should see other people,” she said. “Looking back, I should have married him.” But that isn’t how this love story unfolded. “I couldn’t handle it when she said she wanted us to see other people,” Wally said. He threw himself into his work as an engineer and also mentored youth in his church. Meanwhile, World War II was changing life around the country. Even though Wally felt the call to the ministry, he had to delay plans for the seminary until his services as an engineer for the war effort were no longer needed. At Rice, Lawrean continued her studies to be an editor and met a young serviceman, a fellow Owl named Richard Isaacks ’45.


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Meanwhile, Wally became enchanted with a young woman named Stell. The once inseparable young loves seemed cast on very different paths. After the war, Wally and Stell got married and moved to Dallas, where he attended seminary, and they raised four boys. Upon Richard’s return from the war, he and Lawrean married and settled in Houston to raise their two boys and two girls. Over the next seven decades Wally and Lawrean would hear of each other from mutual friends. Occasionally they’d run into to each other at weddings and homecomings at Rice. As time passed, their meetings began to occur at the funerals of old friends. Wally and Lawrean were invested in their own lives, their loving families and their individual futures. But neither ever forgot their first love. In 2010, Lawrean read in the Owlmanac Classnotes that Wally had lost his beloved wife. The note invited friends to call Wally. Lawrean’s own husband had been suffering from dementia for some time and she sympathized in many ways with the loss of a spouse, so she decided to call Wally. What started with one phone call developed into a close friendship. Wally and Lawrean not only shared loss, but also a common history and a devout faith in God. Lawrean’s husband’s mind was lost. So for the next three years, Lawrean and Wally met only as friends while her husband lived in a nursing home. After Richard died earlier this year, Wally and Lawrean realized a strong bond and deep love had developed, and the two decided to pursue the relationship

that had been lying dormant for 70 years. When health issues prevented Wally from driving to Houston himself, he’d take a bus to see his new love. Seventy years might have separated the two, and now transportation between Dallas and Houston certainly wasn’t going to keep the pair apart. “The love affair of my senior year was serious, and you don’t walk away from experiences of that sort,” Wally said. “I have discovered a best friend. Yes, there is some continuity from the past, but this one is new and different.” For their wedding at the First Christian Church in Houston, Wally and Lawrean used a picture of the couple as young loves at Rice, wrapped in each other’s arms dancing, on the invitation. It was a picture that was snapped at an Elizabeth Baldwin Society dance and used in the 1943 Campanile. The calligraphy caption under the photo invited wedding guests to watch as “the dance continues.” See the video here: —arie wilson passwaters



ALLACE “WALLY” CHAPPELL WALKED GINGERLY THROUGH HIS DALLAS HOME, each step taken carefully and with purpose. At 94

arts & letters

creative ideas and endeavors

EL ULTIMO GRITO Mico Multiuse Stool, 2006 Magis SpA MoMA Collection

El Ultimo Grito: New Installation Jan. 23–March 16, 2014 Rice Gallery


l Ultimo Grito, a design studio run by artists Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo, created a new site-specific installation at Rice Gallery. Based in London, the husband-and-wife team are winners of the 2012 London Design Medal and internationally known for creating an eclectic range of objects and installations that defy easy

categorization. For the Rice installation, the artists expanded upon their approach to design and construction in which they rely on their hands, bodies and readily available, inexpensive materials to “free” them from traditional methods of production. Gallery admission is free. For hours and parking information, see or call 713-348-6069.

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arts & Letters

The Life Academic Unique interview series gives voice to the inspirations and challenges that shaped the careers of Rice professors How did you choose your field? What challenges did you face along the way? Who inspired you? What was it like to fail? And how do you define success? What influence did your family have on your choice of career? How do you inspire the next generation? Tell me a story. In an ongoing project, a group of Rice students taking part in the Gateway Study of Leadership (GSL) are interviewing faculty to learn about milestones, research interests and leadership roles that have defined their careers. The results of these candid conversations are being published by the School of Social Sciences in a series of booklets titled “Turning Points.” Each year the series focuses on faculty

IPEK MARTINEZ from a different academic school at Rice. To date, faculty from the School of Social Sciences and Wiess School of Natural Sciences have participated, and faculty from the George R. Brown School of Engineering are currently being interviewed by this year’s cohort of 18 student fellows. Associate Dean of Social Sciences Ipek Martinez, who calls the publications “mini-books of

wisdom,” oversees the project. Each series comprises five booklets organized around a general theme that emerges from the faculty members’ stories. “Every year, the main component is the career journey and research interests,” Martinez said. “The focus of the books is on their personal stories.” Participating students receive training in how to interview their subjects and lead conversations, a turn of the tables for students who are used to answering questions from faculty, not asking them. “Some are terrified at first,” Martinez said. GSL student directors, who served as fellows the prior year, talk about what to expect and lead them through the process, Martinez said. “Once they bond as a group, they create magic.” To read “Turning Points” online, go here: See Page 48 for an excerpt.

Q&A Mary Kay Zuravleff ’81, author of “Man Alive!” (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013)

What inspired you to write this novel?

The Lerner family has been described as versatile and relatable. Was that your intention?

I had read an article that Oliver Sacks published in The New Yorker about a surgeon who was struck by lightning and heard piano compositions; Sacks followed his journey to learn how to play piano and annotate music so that he could write down the music he heard in his head. I was drawn to the story partly because that’s how I’ve always explained my writing efforts — that I had to learn and practice for years before I could capture the music in my head. But after I closed the magazine, I had the thought, “a pediatric psychopharmacologist is struck by lightning and all he wants to do is barbecue.” The idea amused me, and then as soon as I got going, I had a much more devastating premise.

Sometimes I write first and research later. Because Owen’s experience with the lightning has an ecstatic aspect, I wrote that scene before research — I wanted [to emphasize] language and the emotional impact over the science. Then I read up to tweak what I’d written and to figure out the details of his injuries and recovery. For barbecue, gymnastics, therapy, teen piercings (really, any topic), I’d often troll for jargon. The term “neurotypicals,” for example, is a term coined by the autistic community, and it’s refreshing because the term has a clinical flavor, as if some part of the population were doomed to be normal.


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Do you have a favorite character? I’m incredibly attached to them all. Because Will, one of the college-age sons, goes through so much trauma, I spent more time thinking about and feeling for him.

Read more about the book and author at www.marykay

How is the book tour going? We started out with a bang here in D.C. at Politics & Prose Bookstore — hundreds of people were stuffed in the bookstore, and they sold out of books. Then I hit the road. San Francisco was a high point because I saw so many family and friends there, many of them Rice folk. And then there was a colorful Writers With Drinks gathering at the MakeOut Room in the Mission District, sponsored by a GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] organization, which was great fun! There’s a lot of humor in the book, so it’s a blast to read it to an audience and hear them react.

—Leticia Treviño ’16


How much research did you do before you started writing your novel?

Readers have told me that, for example, someone close to them had a stroke or a sick child, and the novel spoke to their experience. That’s incredibly gratifying, that this somewhat absurd premise plays out in believable and poignant ways to readers I’d never met.

arts & Letters

On the Bookshelf Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell ’86 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) Leavell, who earned a Ph.D. in English at Rice, has been studying Marianne Moore’s (1887–1972) life and work for decades. Her new book, called “an intimate and readable” biography by one reviewer, has garnered acclaim from critics writing in The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and more. Leavell is a professor emerita of English at Oklahoma State University. Read more here:

“Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua” by Cymene Howe (Duke University Press, 2013)

Howe focuses on the various levels of intervention where there is activism against the most repressive antisodomy law in the Americas, Nicaragua. Howe is an assistant professor of anthropology at Rice.

“Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era”

edited by Ben Wright ’11 and Zachary W. Dresser ’11 (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) Papers presented at a 2010 conference at Rice form the basis of this anthology about 19th-century beliefs in providence and millennialism — Christian anticipations of the end of the world. The essays focus on apocalyptic thought in an era of destruction and rebuilding. Wright is a doctoral candidate in history at Rice, and Dresser is a visiting assistant professor of religion and culture at Virginia Tech.

“Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace” edited by Karen KossieChernyshev ’85 (Texas A&M University Press, 2013)

Kossie-Chernyshev annotates “Five Generations Hence,” the earliest known utopian novel written by an AfricanAmerican woman. Lillian B. Jones Horace, who was born in Jefferson, Texas, originally published the novel in 1916. The book includes contributions from nine scholars who examine various aspects of Horace’s life and works. KossieChernyshev is a professor of history at Texas Southern University.

“I Cannot Forget: Imprisoned in Korea, Accused at Home”

by Johnny Moore and Judith Fenner Gentry ’69 (Texas A&M University Press, 2013) Gentry uses Moore’s memoirs of the Korean War and many other sources to situate the gripping story of a young serviceman being captured and held as a POW only to face an accusation of treason after returning home. Moore died in 2012. Gentry works as a military historian and is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana.

“Pharmacy on a Bicycle: Innovative Solutions to Global Health and Poverty”

by Eric G. Bing and Marc J. Epstein (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013) Millions of children and adults die from preventable and treatable diseases every day. Bing, a physician and professor of global health at Southern Methodist University, and Epstein, a distinguished research professor of management at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, have a prescription for improvement — delivering health care to the source of need, especially to remote locations in developing countries.

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Parting Words


forbidden fruit

MY FATHER WAS AN AERONAUTICAL ENGINEER AT NASA and my mother was a schoolteacher in San

Francisco. I’ve always wondered how the message got passed along to our family about the importance of education because there was no overt pressure, rather subtle impressions about this topic. Despite the absence of helicopter parents in our family, I have five other brothers and sisters, all have advanced degrees, three are university professors, and three have Ph.D.s from Stanford. I believe that the example of actions from our parents and subtle clues passed along the message of the importance of education more so than a pressure for success in academia. For me, it began at a very young age, when my father showed me how to dissect some electronic devices and I just became fascinated by light and electricity. After that I couldn’t stop taking things apart. I recall my mother told me, “Don’t put anything in a wall socket ever because you’ll get electrocuted.” That forbidden fruit simply became a fascination that I couldn’t resist. Right after I received the lesson I put the knife in the wall socket and I almost killed myself. I was fearless and craved information about our world. I couldn’t stop it. I think, for me, part of this was a curiosity that I think my father passed on to me, and part of it also was that education was important. Fast forward a few decades, now I really enjoy being in an environment where someone pays me to learn.

john mcdevitt the Brown-Wiess Professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry, in “Choosing Academia,” Gateway Study of Leadership “Turning Points” (2012–2013)

Surviving Hardship


question about how influenza virus works using an approach that had never been tried before. Because of technical difficulties I had to do virtually the same experiment over and over again for about a year, trying to get it to work. During this time, I had to keep making a decision. Do I keep trying or do I give up? Am I being stubborn or am I being persistent? In the end, the experiment was very successful, so one could conclude that I was being persistent. Science can be very difficult. At one point as a graduate student, I recognized that my experimental results could be due to an artifact. That is, the results I was getting could be due to a technical issue and, if so, I was being misled. I went into panic mode and went immediately to the lab to do an experiment that would reveal whether I was being misled. I proved to myself that my experiment was not working the way I thought it had been, which meant that a large portion of my data was wrong. This finding was heartbreaking. But luckily I figured it out before we published it. But those were very dark days. You find yourself wondering whether you can really get yourself out of this hole, are you really going to be able to move forward? To be successful, you have to be resilient. Everyone has hard times. You have to just keep going. There’s also a lot of criticism in science. Scientists are really good at arguing. So you have to be able to take criticism and try very hard to not take it personally. It’s also true with trying to get research grant funding. Everyone gets rejected much more than they get funded. My thesis adviser used to say that you really have to appreciate when things go well and get a lot of joy from it, because that is what can keep you going even through the next wave of hardship.


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Janet Braam professor and chair of biochemistry and cell biology, in “Developing Skills,” Gateway Study of Leadership “Turning Points” (2012–2013)


At Rice, we’ve always believed that our donors are out of this world, and now we have proof. We’re the only university with a basketball scholarship established by a Klingon.* Before he was a proud scholarship donor — and before he played an extraterrestrial humanoid on the set of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — Joe Durrenberger ’56 was a basketball captain for the Rice Owls and a scholarship recipient. The 6-foot-6 center, known as “Big Joe” by his teammates, once scored 32 points and snagged 30 rebounds against Baylor University, just one of many achievements that earned him a spot in the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame. These days, when he’s not booking acting gigs, he continues to wow the competition in the Senior Olympics, where he has won more than 170 gold medals in basketball, shot put, volleyball and track. Now, Joe can add making a difference at Rice to his list of accomplishments. By establishing the Joe Durrenberger Charitable Gift Annuity to fund the Geri and Joe Durrenberger Scholarship, he and his wife, Geri, are ensuring Rice’s student– athletes’ success both on and off the court. “Several colleges offered me a basketball scholarship, but Rice was the clear choice for me,” Joe said. “I’m glad that the Durrenberger Scholarship will help make Rice the clear choice for future outstanding high school basketball players.” To learn more about Joe’s impressive athletic career or ways you can make a gift to Rice, visit *Or so we think. This hasn’t been verified by the United Federation of Planets.

You don’t have to speak Klingon to be a stellar scholarship donor. To learn more and to find out how your gift could help Rice excel, please call the Office of Gift Planning at 713-348-4624.

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Rice University, Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892

Owl Spirit Photo by TOM MY LAVE RGNE

Nonprofit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Permit #7549 Houston, Texas

OWL FANS DONNED THEIR WARMEST FEATHERS FOR THE RICE–MARSHALL GAME DEC. 7.  Despite a temperature of 35 degrees at the 11 a.m. kickoff, the chilly weather could not put a damper on the Owls’ offense or defense … or the Owls’ hardy fans. Hoot!

Rice Magazine | Winter 2014