Rice Magazine | Summer 2022

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How Climate Change Affects the Tropics

IN PURSUIT OF BIG QUESTIONS The research enterprise at Rice is far-reaching, complex, ambitious — and available to all students. Of course, what Rice student wouldn’t be drawn to acquiring new knowledge, scaffolded by great professors and supportive mentors, by stateof-the-art labs and design kitchens, by opportunities to experiment and prototype as part of a team? We reached out to faculty, staff and students across our campus — from Duncan Hall to the Moody Center for the Arts — and asked them to tell us about their current research. Each investigation pursues some big questions: How do we engineer materials that mimic heart tissue? How can we reduce flood risks in Houston? How do planets form? What can we learn from history? Could a novel material save lives? There is an underlying optimism to all these efforts — a belief that the determined pursuit of answers can help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Lydia Beaudrot, an assistant professor of biosciences, works at the intersection of ecology and conservation biology to study tropical mammal and bird communities and how they respond to global change. Her research group works with data from tropical locations around the world, from Central and South America to Africa and Southeast Asia.


Policymaking in the Nation’s Capital The Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program offers Rice undergraduates experience in the world of public policy research and analysis. Initiated in 2004, the program provides summer stipends to students conducting policymaking research at government agencies, private think tanks and nongovernmental organizations in Washington, D.C.


Along the Volcanic Edges Julia Morgan, chair and professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, studies deformation processes near the earth’s surface, including volcanoes and earthquakes. She uses land- and sea-based observations to understand the structure of volcanoes and the underwater landslides and avalanches associated with them. She’s currently working with sediment cores acquired by ocean drilling along a subduction zone off of New Zealand, seeking to better understand the conditions responsible for slow slip events that occur in this setting.


A Makerspace for Heart Research Luis Victor, a graduate student in applied physics, is studying how to synthesize biocomposites for tissue engineering applications. With the tools available at the Moody Center for the Arts Makerspace, Victor is making materials that mimic heart tissue. Using the interdisciplinary lab, he manipulates nanoparticles to create the needed electrical device. MAGA ZINE.RICE.EDU



Peering Deep Into the Solar System


Mapping a Hidden History Using archival materials and datasets, Juliana Phan ’24, a Fondren Fellow, is working with Portia Hopkins, a CLIR/ DLF Postdoctoral Research Associate in Data Curation for African American Studies, to visualize the social, economic and cultural landscapes of Fort Bend County and convict leasing during the late 19th to mid20th century.

Andrea Isella, an associate professor of physics and astronomy, is an observational astronomer who uses data from observatories across the globe to study planet formation around young stars. Some of his most recent research uses a new supercomputer model designed by Rice and collaborative researchers to explore how the solar system was created.


Tough as Boron Nitride

Rice materials science and nanoengineering professor Jun Lou recently found the Iron Man of 2D materials: hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN). Its resistance to cracking defies a century-old theoretical description engineers use to measure toughness. Lou compares the fracture toughness of h-BN with that of its cousin graphene, a useful nanomaterial due, in part, to its exceptionally high tensile strength.





Migrant Roofers and Climate Disasters Sociologist Sergio Chávez has surveyed and interviewed hundreds of migrant roofers both in the United States and when they return to Mexico to learn about how their transient jobs affect their health. His findings were highlighted in The New Yorker and fall in line with his overall study of internal and international migration, labor markets, social networks and methodological interest in studying hidden populations.


The Social Impact of Stormwater Runoff Rice Architecture Wortham Fellow Maggie Tsang is leading a multidisciplinary team to research and identify stormwater infrastructure strategies for neighborhoods along Sims Bayou. This project seeks to understand the ways in which stormwater infrastructure has previously contributed to social inequity in the city and to develop alternative approaches to flood risk reduction through hydrological modeling, social geography and urban design. MAGA ZINE.RICE.EDU






Two faculty books look at Hurricane Harvey and flooding in Houston from different perspectives.

A digital data resource finds a new home at Rice and uncovers details about Texas’ history of slavery.

Rice researchers tackle the urgent challenges of global climate change.

Flood of Emotions



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Living Voyages

Energy in Transition








Beer cells, Lilie fellowships, better intubation, digital solutions, Center for Human Performance, D2K showcase winners



Rice to go carbon neutral, neural research, ovarian and colorectal cancer drug, the future of military helmets, faculty books



“Archiving Eden,” structural biology, thermoset research, technology vs. climate change, books

Last Look


Cin-Ty Lee’s birds of Rice University




Welcome to our first-ever research issue. For the past several years, our team has published feature packages or entire themed issues each summer. These special issues experiment with subject, design and format to create variations on a topic animated by the accomplished voices of the Rice community. For Summer 2022, we continue the tradition with an issue that takes a small bite out of a big topic — research at Rice. Our summer issue takes its inspiration from Rice Research Review, an online-only publication produced by the Office of the Provost and edited by our colleague Kimberly Vetter, communications specialist for the provost. The idea to expand the online review into print — adding features, student stories and alumni profiles — took hold in conversations with Kimberly and Rice Magazine art director Alese Pickering. In these conversations, the question that animated our plans was, “What does research at Rice look like now?” Collectively, these pages present a snapshot of the dynamic, complex and ambitious scholarship in architecture, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, geoscience, history, literature, materials science, public policy, physics, sociology — and importantly, collaborations among all the above (and more) academic disciplines. It seems fitting that a first for Rice Magazine coincides with the beginning of Reginald DesRoches’ presidency. In his note for the magazine, President DesRoches shares a vision for a research future that brings “a new level of distinction nationally and internationally” to Rice’s considerable reputation and accomplishments. We welcome this new era of leadership and hope you enjoy this issue. As always, send your feedback and responses to ricemagazine@rice.edu.



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Summer 2022 PUBLISHER

Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR



Jeff Cox, senior director EDITORIAL DIRECTOR



Jenny West Rozelle ’00 PHOTOGRAPHERS

Tommy LaVergne | Jeff Fitlow CONTRIBUTORS

Amal Ahmed, Allie Akmal, Deborah Lynn Blumberg, Jade Boyd, Avery Ruxer Franklin, Glenn Harvey, Ashley Kilday, Jennifer Latson, Katy Lemay, David Levin, Made Up, Brandon Martin, Laura Furr Mericas, Alex Eben Meyer, Chloe Niclas, Dan Page, Katharine Shilcutt, Jenny Siegwart, Mike Williams INTERNS

Emma Korsmo ’24 Mabel Tang ’23


Robert T. Ladd, chair; Elle Anderson; Bart Broadman; D. Mark Durcan; Michol L. Ecklund; Wanda Gass; Terrence Gee; George Y. Gonzalez; James T. Hackett; Patti Lipoma Kraft; Holli Ladhani; Lynn A. Lednicky; Elle Moody; Brandy Hays Morrison; Asuka Nakahara; Brian Patterson; Byron Pope; David Rhodes; Gloria Meckel Tarpley; Jeremy Thigpen; Claudia Gee Vassar; James Whitehurst; Lori Rudge Whitten; Randa Duncan Williams; Michael Yuen. ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS

Reginald DesRoches, president; Kathy Collins, vice president for Finance; Kathi Dantley Warren, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations; Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration; Caroline Levander, vice president for Global and Digital Strategy; Paul Padley, vice president for IT and chief information officer; Yvonne Romero Da Silva, vice president for Enrollment; Allison Kendrick Thacker, vice president for Investments and treasurer; Linda Thrane, vice president for Public Affairs; Jeff Barnes, interim general counsel. POSTMASTER

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

Rice Magazine is published four times a year and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. © July 2022, Rice University

Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 Phone: 713-348-6768 ricemagazine@rice.edu ILLUSTRATION BY PADDY MILLS





Rice’s research accomplishments in 2021 AS ONE OF THE NATION’S leading universities, Rice pursues pathbreaking research and creates innovative collaborations that contribute to the betterment of the world. With just over 7,500 undergraduate and graduate students, Rice produces $182 million in sponsored projects annually. The numbers below reflect sponsored research activity and recognize the highest level of career excellence, achievement and influence.

Total Sponsored Research Awards


Research Funding By Source

Rice had 10 faculty members or associated researchers listed on the “Highly Cited Researchers” list in 2021. This prestigious list identifies scientists and social scientists who have demonstrated significant influence through publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade.



54% Federal


Top Five Federal Awards

awards received




Total National Academy Memberships

National Science Foundation


engineering, inventors, medicine, sciences

Total American Academy Memberships


Highly Cited Rice Scientists


Department of Defense



University Subawards



National Institutes of Health


Department of Energy

mathematics, the physical and biological sciences, medicine, social sciences, humanities, business, government, public affairs and the arts


National Science Foundation CAREER Awards


National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Sources: Rice University’s Office of Sponsored Projects and Research Compliance (SPARC) FY21 report, SPARC Cayuse database (CY21), Office of the Provost (CY21), “Highly Cited Researchers” list from Clarivate



OUR RESEARCH FUTURE GREETINGS RICE ALUMNI, faculty, students, supporters and friends. It’s only been a few weeks since I stepped into my new role, and I am already overcome with gratitude for the support and encouragement I have received from so many of you. I look forward to sharing my vision and thoughts with you in Rice Magazine and hearing from you, in turn. I am thrilled that the first topic I have to write about is research, a practice I learned to value as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. During my junior year of college there, a powerful earthquake struck Northern California. The shock of the 6.9 magnitude quake was centered in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Santa Cruz County. I could see the smoke billowing across the bay from my location on campus. Days later, I learned that more than 60 people perished due to collapsed structures in Oakland and San Francisco in what came to be known as the Loma Prieta earthquake. Because of this experience, I spent the next eight years pursuing a doctorate in structural engineering and the following nearly 20 years as a faculty member at Georgia Tech, conducting research on how to build bridges and



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buildings to better withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. I also realized the critical importance of this type of research after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when more than 250,000 people lost their lives and millions were left injured and homeless. After the earthquake, I spent over a week in Haiti and continued working with local officials and nongovernmental organizations for several years to help map out a sustainable path to recovery for the country where I was born. As you will read in this issue and many others, Rice’s research enterprise is diverse in terms of the ideas pursued and inclusive in terms of campus reach.

The search for knowledge, scholarship and creative solutions to both simple and complex problems is fundamental to what we do at Rice. From the humanities to engineering to public policy, ideas are being explored by students, faculty and community partners. The search for knowledge, scholarship and creative solutions to both simple and complex problems is fundamental to what we do at Rice. This work creates the foundation for major advances while educating future leaders. It is also essential to the advancement of society. Scholarly developments, scientific discovery and technological advances are important sources of economic growth in the United States and are critical to our national security and economic competitiveness. Excellence in research has been one of the tenets of the university since its inception.

Only six years after Rice opened its doors in 1912, we awarded our first Ph.D. Today, Rice is one of the 65 members of the Association of American Universities, the organization of leading research institutions in North America. Graduate and undergraduate students from around the world come to Rice to participate in research and scholarship with our faculty, many of whom are members of the national academies and have won highly prestigious research and scholarly awards and recognitions, including Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. The wide-spectrum, highly collaborative research conducted at Rice consistently places our university at the forefront of change for the betterment of our world. My goal as president is to continue along this path and enable Rice to reach a new level of distinction nationally and internationally for impactful scholarship and insightful creative work at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. To accomplish this, Rice’s faculty, postdocs and students must continue to conduct scholarship and research that addresses the most pressing societal challenges, including climate change, health and medicine, and disparities and inequities. Rice also will need to continue to enhance its infrastructure and administrative structure to move discoveries and new knowledge from the lab to the community. In these ways, our scholarship and research will have real, profound effects on society for generations to come — upholding the Rice standard set more than a century ago.





Cycling for a Cure In just one month, Sudha Yellapantula went from being a reluctant cyclist to a champion cycling fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

Brewery as Classroom Rice students are using an inquiry-based learning framework to help solve practical problems for clients in the community. BY MABEL TANG ’23











HAT DO THE ANTIBACTERIAL properties of Ugandan honey and fermenting duck eggs have in common? They’re both examples of the projects that students have tackled in NSCI 120, a course taught by Carrie McNeil, a lecturer in chemistry in the Wiess School of Natural Sciences. The course uses an inquiry-based learning framework to help solve practical problems for businesses and labs in the Rice community. During the spring semester, students worked with a research project that began last fall with Houston’s Eureka Heights Brew Company. The students focused on solving problems like staining methods, which indicate whether cells are alive, and measuring ethanol production. The class introduces many foundational natural science research techniques, including micropipetting, aseptic technique and organic extractions. McNeil emphasizes the importance of communication. “Everyone’s worked with other people, but it’s different in a science collaboration.” Each student team is given the liberty to develop their own inquirybased experiments. “I might give them a few topics to start with, and then they’re expected to do their own research,” McNeil COURSE says. “We teach them how to NSCI 120 do research online and read Introduction to papers, and they come up with Scientific Research their own hypothesis and Challenges experimental plan.” For students, this open nature is very welcoming. “I like how DEPARTMENT this class gives you freedom Natural Sciences in designing your projects,” Division says Isabella Bartos ’25. Her project worked with improving DESCRIPTION the accuracy of the brewery’s Students in NSCI methylene blue stain, which is 120 will solve used to test the viability of yeast client-based problems cells — the cells that convert that require sugars to ethanol, which is where the discovery or the alcohol in beer comes from. application of McNeil also helps students gain the confidence to pursue scientific knowledge, research following her course. specifically in the “This is a low-pressure research fields of biology setting they can put on their and chemistry. CV. Students have told me, ‘I got Students will work into this lab because of the help in interdisciplinary I received in this class.’” In the teams and be future, McNeil hopes to expand involved in shaping the course’s topics to physics, their project and environmental science and ecology. Regardless of the discipline, she wants students implementing the to recognize that the learning process is what’s most important. scientific method to “Can they get from Step A to Step F even if there are fumbles along the way? I’d find solutions. rather them learn how to communicate and gain the confidence to say, ‘I can do this.’”

Rawand Rasheed


Clockwise from left: Rosa Selenia Guerra Resendez, James Lee, Bo Wang, Wei Meng, Neethu Pottackal, Nicolas Marquez Peraca


Real-World Impact


Rice’s new Innovation Fellows program supports the promising ideas of young scientists and entrepreneurs. SUPER-CHARGING immune systems, reducing food waste and safeguarding buildings are just three of the research breakthroughs under development by members of Rice’s inaugural class of Innovation Fellows. In February, the Office of the Provost and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie) announced that nine Rice Ph.D. and postdoctoral students had been chosen to launch a new program to translate research into business ventures. Each fellow receives equity-free funding, a coworking space, entrepreneurship education and personalized mentorship through Lilie for one year. “For a university to have a wellfunctioning technology transfer and commercialization operation, many different parts must work together

to reduce barriers to getting started, shorten the time to license and commercialize work, and support emerging entrepreneurs,” said Rice President Reginald DesRoches. This year’s Innovation Fellows are Rosa Selenia Guerra Resendez, synthetic and physical biology; Wei Meng, civil and environmental engineering; Alfredo Costilla-Reyes, computer science postdoctoral research associate; Neethu Pottackal, materials science and nanoengineering; Nicolas Marquez Peraca, physics; Bo Wang, chemical engineering; MeiLi Laracuente, bioengineering; James Lee, systems, synthetic and physical biology; and Rawand Rasheed, mechanical engineering. “This program is a key step in providing a culture shift to a more entrepreneurial ecosystem at Rice that will, in turn, elevate recruitment of top graduate students and postdocs attracted to this unique training opportunity,” said Yael Hochberg, director of entrepreneurship initiatives and the Ralph S. O’Connor Professor in Entrepreneurship.


Go to magazine.rice.edu for descriptions of each fellow’s project.

For doctoral student Rawand Rasheed, the robust coaching and support he’s received via the Innovation Fellows program helped him garner the top prize at the 2022 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge in April. Rasheed’s company, Helix Earth Technologies, uses novel filters to reduce water waste in power plants. The business name reflects the filter’s design: “It’s made out of a bunch of helixes,” Rasheed explains. The project had its genesis at NASA, where he worked on water filtration systems used in firefighting. At Rice, he’s working in the lab of mechanical engineer Daniel Preston to refine the filter’s applications. “We’re running out of fresh water,” said Rasheed. “Scarcity is becoming a larger issue globally, as well as in the U.S.” — L.G.




From left: Reed Corum, Rebecca Franklin, Victoria Kong and David Ikejiani


Safer Intubation

Rice engineering team’s wireless video laryngoscope may aid airway managers. AT RICE’S OSHMAN Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), a team of bioengineering students are making a critical procedure easier for airway managers and safer for patients with a simplified, high-tech intubation device. Calling their team “Gateway to Airway,” the students — Reed Corum, Rebecca Franklin, David Ikejiani and Victoria Kong, all members of the Class of 2022 — worked with an anesthesiologist to develop a design for a sleek laryngoscope that simplifies intubating patients for scheduled or emergency procedures. The handheld, 3D-printed



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device contains a miniature wireless camera. Clinicians can use a switch on the comfortable handle to adjust light from an LED near the camera, which feeds high-resolution video to one or multiple monitors. Dr. Kenneth Hiller, an anesthesiologist in private practice, approached the OEDK about collaborating on a laryngoscope that would allow easier access to image the throat and larynx to help place a breathing tube into the trachea. Hiller, who has a patent on the design, recognized early on that engineering it into a true product would require specialized knowledge. “Placing an endotracheal tube can be challenging in a significant number of patients’ airways,” Hiller said. “For years, I’ve mulled over what I’d like in a device that can simplify the process and improve patient safety.” The initial design was pretty basic, said Franklin. “He came to us with something built out of popsicle sticks and a metal tube and said, ‘This is what I’m working toward, but I don’t know how to build it myself,’” she recalled.

“He wanted a video laryngoscope that not only had wireless video but also had a better blade profile,” Kong said. “There are two main types of laryngoscopes: with straight blades and with curved blades, and all of the video laryngoscopes on the market are in the curved blade format. … The straight blade gives you a more direct line of sight. We wanted to combine the stabilization afforded by curved blades and a straight-blade profile, and we did that by tapering our blade,” she added. Hiller’s request was for a device that would cost under $500. “That’s within the constraints of our project and overall design, but it’s looking like we can easily get it below $200,” Corum said. “The vacuum-formed, disposable sleeves that cover the blade can be made quickly for pennies,” he said. The students said they anticipate future refinements to include stainless steel construction for durability. “This has been a distinct privilege for me to collaborate with such a prestigious institution and such talented, motivated students,” said Hiller. — MIKE WILLIAMS



Digital Solutions for Social Good

The RiceApps club releases three new useful products. IT’S NO SECRET that Rice students are problem-solvers. But for RiceApps, a student group building web applications, solving problems is about more than just finding solutions. “There are two primary objectives of RiceApps,” says junior Adam Zawierucha, one of the current leaders of the student club. “The first is to build community-based projects; the second is to provide an opportunity for students to develop technical and product skills.” Founded in 2013 by Waseem Ahmad ’13, a former president of the Rice Computer Science Club, RiceApps has previously launched projects such as the popular Rice Public Art app, downloadable from the Apple App Store. Here are three recent releases. Rice Carpool: “The existing solution to carpooling was a spreadsheet that got sent around every break. Someone

would make a row for their flight and other people had to manually scroll through to see if any of the rides fit. It was a mess,” says Shreya Nidadavolu ’22. With Rice Carpool, a student can download the app and search their departure or arrival time to easily find rides. Currently, rides to and from George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports are available. HATCH: “Every Rice student uses Banner and Degree Works. Hatch is a combination of both, created for a better course registration experience,” explains sophomore Quang Nguyen. From their phones, Rice students can register for classes, view degree plans, search professor evaluations and more in a compact one-page view. Houston Food Bank: “The Houston Food Bank … needed a new website to easily publish and update recipes,” says senior Manaal Khan. RiceApps helped fix bugs, create a new styling, and adjust the website for desktop and mobile viewing. “When a food bank patron receives a box of food, they can search the ingredients and find simple, healthy, cost-effective recipes.” — EMMA KORSMO ’24 Go to riceapps.org to find links to these apps.


HUMAN PERFORMANCE Coming soon to Tudor Fieldhouse: a 6,000-squarefoot space that will be home to the Houston MethodistRice University Center for Human Performance. The center will facilitate joint research, clinical care initiatives, and educational activities in exercise physiology, injury prevention and rehabilitation between Methodist’s Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Rice’s Department of Kinesiology and Rice Athletics. “Research in human performance benefits athletes, but it also benefits older adults, performing artists, people with disabilities, surgical patients — basically anyone who needs to function better and improve their quality of life through some combination of physical activity, nutrition, sleep and the like,” said Heidi Perkins, chair of kinesiology.




Members of Team Stroke Risk Samantha Fuentes, Nick Glaze and Josue CascoRodriguez


Every 40 Seconds

A model for predicting recurrent strokes wins the data research showcase. DEEP LEARNING can be a tool to help those who suffer strokes determine their risk of having another. That premise and the data models used in the process won the top prize in Rice’s 2022 Data to Knowledge (D2K) Showcase in April. The winning project was developed over two semesters by six electrical and computer engineering majors calling themselves Team Stroke Risk. The team leveraged medical data provided by sponsors at the Univ­ersity of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and machine learning to develop a predictive model




that will help better allocate care for stroke patients. Team members Artun Bayer, Josue Casco-Rodriguez, Justin Cheung, Samantha Fuentes, Nick Glaze and Michael Sprintson graduated this spring — this was their capstone project. “Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke,” said Fuentes, who narrated a brief video explaining the research. “Most stroke victims survive and rehabilitate, but if a patient has an additional or recurrent strokes, they are more likely to die. Early detection and mitigation of recurrent strokes is critical to reducing the overall stroke mortality rate.” The team looked for clues to forecasting a stroke in the medical data of about 5,000 stroke patients. “What was unique about this project,” said Glaze, “is that there were multiple different modalities of data — imaging, clinician notes and electronic health records. We thought it would be so interesting to work on all these different data sets.” The model created by the team ultimately produced extremely promising results — meaning the accuracy

of predicting recurrent strokes by the algorithm was high. “The outcomes of this project include an algorithm and a software application, which has been trained on retrospective data,” said the team’s faculty mentor, Arko Barman, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the D2K Lab. The next step is to publish the research, said Barman, who is excited about the power of AI in improving health care treatment and outcomes. Established at Rice in 2018, the D2K Lab provides students with immersive, experiential learning opportunities in data science while enhancing dataintensive research possibilities and building partnerships with companies, institutions and community organizations. Recent collaborations have helped nonprofits, government, public health, fintech, energy and environmental organizations find data-driven solutions to their challenges. — MIKE WILLIAMS Read more at magazine.rice.edu.





Toward 2030 Rice announces ambitious carbon neutral goal supported by initiatives in endowment, faculty research and campus sustainability. BY DEBORAH LYNN BLUMBERG





EARLY A DECADE ago, conscious of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a warming planet, Rice set 2038 as the target year to become carbon neutral. Now, with rapid global action more urgent than ever, the university has accelerated its goal to 2030. The announcement of the more ambitious date makes climate change initiatives even more central to the university’s goals and practices. Rice will redouble efforts to identify areas in which it can reduce emissions and improve infrastructure. At the same time, it will offer more resources to faculty, staff and students — partners in the push to net zero — for research and projects focused on creating a sustainable future. “The importance of setting our carbon neutral goal for 2030 rather than a later date is because it changes decisions that we at Rice make now,” says Richard R. Johnson, executive director for sustainability and codirector of the Environmental Studies

“The importance of setting our carbon neutral goal for 2030 rather than a later date is because it changes decisions that we at Rice make now. That’s the point — we as a civilization need to take action now and reduce emissions now, not 30 years from now.” program. “That’s the point — we as a civilization need to take action now and reduce emissions now, not 30 years from now.” Rice will use its endowment to drive solutions to climate change through additional investments and dialogue with fund managers. The endowment’s energy portfolio is set to be carbon neutral by 2030, too. The university

Hanszen College’s new wing will feature an innovative mass timber structure.




is committed to becoming a leader in campus sustainability practices, using Rice and its operations as a living laboratory to study sustainability and resilience challenges, incubate ideas and pilot solutions. Currently under construction, Hanszen College’s new wing, for example, will feature an innovative mass timber structure — an engineered wood product that replaces concrete and steel elements, which generate more greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing. Students, too, will be a key part of the solution. Already, undergraduates have led major sustainability projects, including food waste composting in Rice’s residential colleges. Since November 2020, the program has diverted over 175,000 pounds of food waste from landfills to composting. “Students have been leading and contributing to campus sustainability efforts for years,” says Ashley Fitzpatrick ’22, who headed the Rice Environmental Society. Fitzpatrick worked on a sustainable laundry detergent program. Others are helping the Houston Zoo create a plan to reach carbon neutral. A student sustainability engagement fund for 2023 will finance internship grants and more partnerships between Rice and Houston-area organizations. Faculty and staff will contribute through research. Rice’s new, annual Sustainable Futures Seed Fund — planned for at least the next five years — will cover beginning stages of interdisciplinary research on a broad range of environmental challenges. Faculty proposals include improving storm resiliency in underserved urban communities. “We really need to be thinking in an interdisciplinary way,” says Carrie Masiello, the W. Maurice Ewing Professor of Biogeochemistry and a member of a 100-plus-person interdisciplinary faculty group that exchanges ideas around climate change. “And folks are excited about testing new approaches.”




a laboratory where ongoing patient/ volunteer diagnosis and assessment, device fabrication and testing, and education and training opportunities are planned. “This partnership is a perfect blend of talent,” said Rice’s Marcia O’Malley, a core member of both the new center and university initiative and the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering. “We will be able to design studies to test the efficacy of inventions and therapies and rely on patients and volunteers who want to help us test our ideas. The possibilities are limitless.” While the Houston Methodist space is being built, collaborations are already underway between the two institutions, which sit across Main Street from one another in the Texas Medical Center. Among them are the following: NEUROENGINEERING

Hope Accelerator


New center will focus on restoring brain function after disease or injury.

THE NEW Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces, a partnership to advance the future of neurosurgery, brings together scientists, clinicians, engineers and surgeons to solve clinical problems with neurorobotics. “This center will be a human laboratory where all of us — neurosurgeons, neuroengineers, neurobiologists — can work together to solve biomedical problems in the brain and spinal cord,” said co-director Dr. Gavin Britz, chair of the Houston Methodist Department of Neurosurgery. “And it’s a collaboration that can finally offer some hope and options for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from brain diseases and injuries.” Houston

Methodist neurosurgeons, seven engineers from the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative, and additional physicians and faculty from both institutions form the center’s core team. Key focus areas include spinal cord injury, memory and epilepsy studies, and cortical motor/ sensation conditions. “The Rice Neuroengineering Initiative was formed with this type of partnership in mind,” said center codirector Behnaam Azhang, Rice’s J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Azhang also directs the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative, which launched in 2018 to bring together the brightest minds in neuroscience, engineering and related fields to improve lives by restoring and extending the capabilities of the human brain. The physical space for the center’s operation includes more than 25,000 square feet of Rice Neuroengineering Initiative laboratories and experimental spaces in the university’s BioScience Research Collaborative, as well as an extensive build-out underway at Houston Methodist’s West Pavilion location. The Houston Methodist facility will include operating rooms and

O’Malley and Houston Methodist’s Dr. Dimitry Sayenko, assistant professor of neurosurgery, will head the first pilot project involving the merging of two technologies to restore hand function following a spinal cord injury or stroke. O’Malley will pair the upper limb exoskeleton she invented with Sayenko’s noninvasive stimulator designed to wake up the spinal cord. Rice neuroengineer Lan Luan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Britz, a neurosurgeon, are collaborating on a study to measure neurovascular response following a life-threatening stroke caused by bleeding just outside the brain. Two-thirds of people who suffer these brain bleeds either die or end up with permanent disabilities. Azhang, Britz and Taiyun Chi, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, are collaborating on the detection of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) from multimodal observations and on alleviating mTBI using neuromodulations. — JADE BOYD




A New Way to Shrink Cancer Tumors

A promising treatment could begin human clinical trials this year.

RICE BIOENGINEERS have shown they can eradicate advanced-stage ovarian and colorectal cancer in mice in as little as six days with a treatment that could be ready for human clinical trials later this year. The researchers used implantable “drug factories” the size of a pinhead to deliver continuous, high doses of interleukin-2, a natural compound that activates white blood cells to fight cancer. The drug-producing beads can be implanted with minimally invasive

surgery. Each contains cells engineered to produce interleukin-2 that are encased in a protective shell. The treatment and test results were recently published in a Science Advances study co-authored by Omid Veiseh, graduate student Amanda Nash, and colleagues from Rice, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Virginia and others. Veiseh, a bioengineer whose lab produced the treatment, said human clinical trials could begin as soon as this fall because one of his team’s key design goals was to be able to use the treatment to help cancer patients as quickly as possible. The team chose only components that had previously proven safe for use in humans, and it has demonstrated the safety of the new treatment in multiple tests. “We just administer once, but the drug factories keep making the dose every day, where it’s needed, until the cancer is eliminated,” Veiseh said. “Once we determined the correct dose — how many

factories we needed — we were able to eradicate tumors in 100% of animals with ovarian cancer and in seven of eight animals with colorectal cancer.” Interleukin-2 is a cytokine, a protein the immune system uses to recognize and fight disease. It is an FDA-approved cancer treatment, but Nash, who works in Veiseh’s group and is the study’s lead author, said the drug factories provoke a stronger immune response than existing interleukin-2 treatment regimens because the beads deliver higher concentrations of the protein directly to tumors. “If you gave the same concentration of the protein through an IV pump, it would be extremely toxic,” Nash said. “With the drug factories, the concentration we see elsewhere in the body, away from the tumor site, is actually lower than what patients have to tolerate with IV treatments. The high concentration is only at the tumor site.” Nash said the same general approach used in the study could be applied to treat cancers of the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs. “A major challenge in the field of immunotherapy is to increase tumor inflammation and anti-tumor immunity while avoiding systemic side effects of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory drugs,” said study co-author Dr. Amir Jazaeri. Avenge Bio, a Massachusetts-based startup co-founded by Veiseh, has licensed the cytokinefactory technology from Rice. — JADE BOYD

These vials contain drugproducing beads that can be implanted with minimally invasive surgery to deliver continuous, high doses of interleukin-2.



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Omid Veiseh is an assistant professor of bioengineering. Amanda Nash is a graduate student in bioengineering. Dr. Amir Jazaeri is a professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.



“We’ve got a lot of innovative tech in university labs that has never seen the light of day. We’re simply developing that technology into a device that gives the men and women protecting our country a real chance at coming home safe and sound. This is for them.”


A Rather Intelligent Helmet

Rice faculty to develop 3D-printed ‘smart helmets’ for the military.

RICE RESEARCHERS have received $1.3 million from the Office of Naval Research through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program to create the world’s first printable military “smart helmet” using industrial-grade 3D printers. Led by principal investigator Paul Cherukuri, executive director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the Smart Helmet program aims to modernize standardissue military helmets by 3D-printing


a nanomaterial-enhanced exoskeleton with embedded sensors to actively protect the brain against combat injuries. “Current helmets have evolved little since the last century and are still heavy, bulky, passive devices,” he said. “Because of advances in sensors and additive manufacturing, we’re now reimagining the helmet as a 3D-printed, AI-enabled, ‘always-on’ wearable that detects threats near or far and is capable of launching countermeasures to protect soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Essentially, we’re building J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he said, using a reference to “Just a Rather Very Intelligent System,” an AI created by Marvel Comics character Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). Rice will use sophisticated printers by Carbon Inc. to develop a strong-butlight military-grade helmet custom-fit to the wearer that incorporates advances in materials, image processing, artificial intelligence, haptic feedback and energy storage. The printer enables rapid prototyping that in turn simplifies the process of incorporating

the sensors, cameras, batteries and wiring harnesses the program requires, Cherukuri said. The Smart Helmet program will use technology drawn from previous projects like FlatCam, a system developed by co-investigator and electrical and computer engineering professor Ashok Veeraraghavan and his colleagues that incorporates sophisticated image processing to eliminate the need for bulky lenses, as well as Cherukuri’s Teslaphoresis, a kind of tractor beam for nanomaterials that could help create physical and electromagnetic shields inside the helmets. “A Smart Helmet task force has been assembled from some of the finest minds at Rice to tackle the challenge of creating a self-contained, intelligent system that protects the warfighter at all times,” Cherukuri said. The task force includes the labs of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, civil and environmental engineer and Rice President Reginald DesRoches, mechanical engineer Marcia O’Malley, chemist James Tour and Veeraraghavan. “We’ve got a lot of innovative tech in university labs that has never seen the light of day,” Cherukuri said. “We’re simply developing that technology into a device that gives the men and women protecting our country a real chance at coming home safe and sound. This is for them.” — MIKE WILLIAMS





Now Reading Confronting Climate Gridlock

How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future Daniel Cohan Yale University Press, 2022



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“Confronting Climate Gridlock” is not about the problem of climate change, however. It’s about the solution. Cohan explores avenues for international diplomacy and domestic policies that could help break through what he describes as climate gridlock, as well as the emerging technologies that could pave the way for a safer future for the planet and the people who live here. Ideas include the formation of “climate clubs” — partnerships among countries that would be akin to trade alliances such as the WTO — that could set emissions expectations and coordinate clean energy research. Here in the U.S., government incentives and mandates could induce companies to adopt clean energy technologies. The 2015 Paris Agreement set global targets for temperature change and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, clean energy technologies have improved by leaps and bounds —

yet they’ve barely made a dent in the dominance of fossil fuels. “Fossil fuels continue to power most of the economy in the United States and globally, much as they have for the past century,” Cohan writes. Gridlock, Cohan argues, is holding us back from achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, primarily as a result of policy failures within countries and a lack of collaboration between them. “American policies have failed to adequately mitigate emissions here or demonstrate leadership abroad,” he writes. “All of this has left emissions near record highs globally and declining only slowly domestically, even as drastic cuts are needed to stabilize the climate.” New technologies will only get us so far — which is to say, not nearly far enough — if we don’t change our policies to take full advantage of them. “Here in my hometown of Houston, the first 1°C of warming more than tripled



HERE’S NO question that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity. As an atmospheric scientist, Rice associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Daniel Cohan understands the causes and consequences of global warming better than most. What was once a local problem has evolved into a planetary catastrophe: Gone are the days when a mine might pollute one town’s water supply, or factory emmisions might cause acid rain in a neighboring state. Long-lived, stable greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide can do damage for centuries, far from their point of origin. That means pollution anywhere is a threat to climate health everywhere.




ACQUELINE COUTI’S new book, “Sex, Sea, and Self,” continues her research examining the construction of self and identity through what she terms “dangerous Creole liaisons” — the problematic interconnections between sexuality and nationalism within the French Caribbean and Black Atlantic. Couti, the Laurence H. Favrot Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures, has spent her career studying the transAtlantic and transnational connections between cultural productions from continental France and its former colonies such as Martinique and Sex, Sea, and Self Guadeloupe. Sexuality and Nationalism in French “We have long Caribbean Discourses, 1924­–1948 sexualized the sea Jacqueline Couti and the people who Liverpool University Press, 2021 live next to the sea,” she said. Just listen, she said, to any Serge Gainsbourg song for notably French examples. “Tu es la vague, moi l’île nue” (“You are the wave, me the naked island”) sings Gainsbourg in his most famous composition, “Je t’aime moi non plus.” There’s a word for this in France, born out of a French Creole word: doudouisme, the tendency to exoticize and fetishize the people and places of overseas French territories, especially those of the West Indies, all of it wrapped up in a male colonial gaze. “Doudou” has also become a term, Couti said, for the sexualized Black enchantress or

our likelihood of experiencing deluges on the scale of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which smashed rainfall records while inundating thousands of homes,” Cohan writes. At our current pace, the planet is on track to reach 2°C above preindustrial temperatures by the middle of this century. Crossing that threshold could trigger irreversible changes in ecosystems worldwide, killing off forests, thawing permafrost and slowing ocean circulation, which would in turn trigger worsening climate change. But changing behaviors in America could make a world of difference. — JENNIFER LATSON

seductress, who often has lighter skin. “Sex, Sea, and Self” examines neglected French texts by Black writers from the first half of the 20th century in order to reassess the place of French Antilles and French Caribbean literature within current postcolonial thought and visions of the Black Atlantic. The book’s bifurcated approach — the first section devoted to women writers, the second to men — was important to understanding the different ways men and women viewed their own sexuality and each other’s, recalibrating overly simplistic understandings of the victimization and alienation of French Caribbean people. “Men and women do not share the same experiences,” Couti said. “So why do we give men the authority to define us?” Couti laid the foundation for this work with her first book, “Dangerous Creole Liaisons: Sexuality and Nationalism in French Caribbean Discourses from 1806 to 1897.” With her new book, she examines sexuality as an instrument of political and cultural consciousness in the chaotic period between 1924 and 1948. Studying this sexual imagery demonstrates the significance of agency and the legacy of the past in cultural resistance and political awareness while bringing an exciting new perspective and cutting-edge theoretical studies of Caribbean literature to a broad scholarly audience. — KATHARINE SHILCUTT




Flood of Emotions

Two Rice faculty bring their perspectives on disaster to recent books about Hurricane Harvey and flooding in Houston. BY LAURA FURR MERICAS


ICE R E SE A RCHER S are no strangers to flooding. And how could they be? In Houston, where the Harris County Flood Control District estimates that a major flood occurs about every two years, flooding events have likely impacted almost everyone who’s set foot on campus. From an academic standpoint, flooding has become the subject of intense study and scrutiny at Rice from institutions like the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center; the Kinder Institute for Urban Research; and other scholarly behemoths that are leading discoveries and imparting wisdom in the field. In recent months, two Rice faculty have broached the subject from distinctive and new angles, giving a voice to those whose stories have largely gone untold in Houston’s flooding anthology — providing readers with uniquely human lenses through which to view major events like Hurricane Harvey and the idea of disaster as a whole. Rachel Kimbro, dean of the School of Social Sciences and professor of sociology, looks at the impact of flooding on a highly specific population: mothers, particularly those living in one Houston neighborhood. In her recently published book, “In Too Deep: Class and Mothering in a Flooded Community,” Kimbro lays out her sociological study of the affluent mothers of Bayou Oaks, a real Houston neighborhood (given a pseudonym in this publication) that flooded in the 2015 Memorial Day Flood, the 2016 Tax Day flood and again, catastrophically, in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey.


Through a series of 36 interviews — grouped into chronological chapters — Kimbro paints what’s often a murky picture of why residents choose to stay or come back to their neighborhoods postdisaster, particularly when social constructs, like school and an ideal family life, are at stake. Moreover, the book considers not only why, but also how these mothers (often without much help from their husbands) worked tirelessly to rebuild their homes and a sense of normalcy for their families — some for the third time. “I am just like these women in pretty much every way,” Kimbro says. “What I really took away was the unbelievable amount of labor that these mothers were doing — cognitive labor, emotional labor, physical labor — to keep their families going during this really difficult time. They basically get no credit for that. That stuff, a lot of it is hidden.” In a second work, set to release in June, Rice associate professor of creative writing Lacy M. Johnson — alongside Cheryl Beckett from the University of Houston School of Art, Graphic Design — takes a broader approach to yield a similar, human-focused result in “More City Than Water: A Houston Flood Atlas.” The structure is inspired by city atlases of San Francisco, New Orleans and New York by Rebecca Solnit, but tweaked to hone in on the specific subject of flooding. Featuring essays, poems, conversations and maps to tell the stories of flooding from Pasadena to the Texas Medical Center to Houston’s west side from a diverse set of Houston-related writers — including Rice’s George Guion Williams Writer-in-Residence and Scholar-in-Residence for Racial Justice Bryan Washington, Houston Chronicle contributor Allyn West, Fulbright-García Robles Scholar Daniel Peña, Rice professor of anthropology Cymene Howe and Johnson herself — the book seeks to answer two significant overarching questions: “What does catastrophic flooding obscure about life in this city? And what does it reveal?” A MAN-MADE MOMENT

Less apparent in Kimbro’s book, but plainly stated time and time again in “More City Than Water,” writers discuss the way human decisions have allowed for or directly led to the major flooding events of today — with Johnson and team zeroing in on how those events are felt by some more severely than others. The creation of the Interstate 610 conveyance, which insufficiently channels Little White Oak Bayou underneath Independence Heights, has resulted in the flooding of Texas’ first Black municipality for the last 60 years. This stark example is presented in writer Aimee VonBokel’s essay “History Displaced” within the atlas. The Houston MAGA ZINE.RICE.EDU


What I want people to understand or at least to begin to appreciate is that flooding, or disaster, is not an accident. In many ways, it shows us the ways that we are vulnerable, the people we need to take care of, and who we have not been caring for and what places we have not been caring for.” — Lacy M. Johnson

Ship Channel and its surrounding, largely minority neighborhoods — where residents “face ambient concentrations of seven separate pollutants at levels that pose a definite health risk,” according to the flood atlas — are almost their own characters throughout Johnson’s compilation. “What I want people to understand or at least to begin to appreciate is that flooding, or disaster, is not an accident,” Johnson says. “In many ways, it shows us the ways that we are vulnerable, the people we need to take care of, and who we have not been caring for and what places we have not been caring for.” In short, Johnson writes in the introduction of the atlas: “flooding reinforces the inequalities that surround us every day.” Though achieving similar results, the major differences between “More City Than Water” and “In Too Deep” come down to class. Kimbro’s mothers, on average, lived in homes that cost about $450,000, with household incomes ranging from $75,000 to more than $400,000. They knew 26



how to navigate bureaucracies, like FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, either through skills they picked up in their professions or through general “flood capital” (a term Kimbro coins) that they’d gained throughout the back-to-back disasters. Even the flooded-out mothers recognized their privilege, with phrases like “other people need it more” becoming a common refrain given to those offering help in the post-Harvey cleanup and one mother telling Kimbro “we are not destitute.” Still, the reality of flooding isn’t rosy no matter the demographic. Both books discuss the emotional impacts of the storm. Sonia Del Hierro describes an “ineffable, body-deep fear” when mucking out her apartment post-storm in her poem “Harvey Alerts,” included in the atlas. Mothers from Kimbro’s interviews shared about the marital strife and therapy sessions required for their children as a result of the storm and the recovery that followed. And yet, despite what each book presents, they both reveal ways in which human decisions will almost inevitably continue to play a role in future flooding events and their impact. Twenty-eight out of the 36 mothers interviewed for “In Too Deep,” for instance, chose to rebuild or remodel in Bayou Oaks, despite their general assessment that it would flood again and the fact that “virtually all of the mothers understood and endorsed the concept of climate change, including how it could impact Bayou Oaks,” Kimbro writes. In Roy Scranton’s essay “Anthropocene City” in the flood atlas, he describes these types of postdisaster decisions as such: “Unfortunately for us, we’re still not very good at controlling the future. What we’re good at is telling ourselves the stories we want to hear, the stories that help us cope with existence in a wild, unpredictable world.”


Both books would likely be considered deviations from Kimbro and Johnson’s work to date. “In Too Deep” trades Kimbro’s traditional academic style of writing for a more reader-friendly narrative arc. And though much of Kimbro’s work has focused on the concept of neighborhoods and how they can influence individuals and children outside of the family, “In Too Deep” represents the dean’s first foray into the subjects of environment and natural disaster. Johnson, on the other hand, has touched on environmental issues in her previous work and is a founding member of the Houston Flood Museum. She’s largely known for her writing and work around domestic violence and sexual assault. To her, however, pivoting to focus on issues of catastrophic flooding seems like only a minor shift. “Both the issues of domestic and sexual violence and questions of climate change, climate catastrophe, environmental injustice — it’s about abuse of power,” she says. “And in both instances, it’s about the kind of harm and trauma of having another person exert their will over you and the lasting harm that that does.” It may come as no surprise that both books’ styles — their authors’ backgrounds aside — were born out of visceral reactions to Hurricane Harvey. “There was this disbelief that this neighborhood that had just finished repairs would flood again and worse,” Kimbro recalls. “It was like a bolt from the blue. It felt very critical to me to tell this story. And I have never felt this way before about a project.” For Johnson, the feeling was anger. “Harvey certainly made me mad,” she says. “Not just because of the experience of the storm itself, but that kind of collective amnesia about it. I’ve heard the definition of insanity is to believe that you can continue doing the same thing and expect different results.

And here we are, doing the same thing over and over and over: more development, more oil, more drilling, more fracking, more emissions and thinking that it’s not going to keep hap p en i ng a nd ke e p getting worse.” Both steer clear of making specific recommendations for policymakers and flood experts. Rather, each author hopes that by presenting a more human angle, readers’ and even leaders’ eyes will be opened to a deeper understanding of how catastrophic events impact Houstonians on a micro or personal level — with an implicit understanding that those effects will continue to be felt until real, impactful changes are made. “I wanted to highlight the fact that climate change is encroaching on our communities and will continue to do so,” Kimbro says. “That actually involves real families, real people who are having to make decisions about what to do. I think that’s going to become more and more common, whether it’s wildfires or floods or ... name your disaster.” ◆

What I really took away was the unbelievable amount of labor that these mothers were doing — cognitive labor, emotional labor, physical labor — to keep their families going during this really difficult time. They basically get no credit for that.” — Rachel Kimbro PHOTOS BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE





B y L AU R A F U R R M E R IC A S I l lu s t r at ion by K AT Y L E M AY


n a South Carolina classroom in summer 2018, a group of high schoolers enrolled in a college access program settle into their desks. Nafees Khan, a professor in Clemson University’s College of Education, is presenting on America’s slave trade. It’s a subject they’ve learned about before, but today’s lesson will take on a new tone. Khan, the curriculum director for SlaveVoyages, flips on a video — a two-minute time-lapse of the 350-year history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that brought 12.5 million enslaved Africans by force to the Americas. Built with data from SlaveVoyages, the world’s largest repository of information about the slave trade across the Atlantic and within the Americas, the video displays tiny dots moving off the coast of Africa toward the Caribbean, Brazil and North America across a blue and yellow map. Each dot represents a voyage of enslaved people. Starting in the year 1520, a few tiny dots flow out from the coast of Africa each second. As time inches toward the 18th century and the height of the trade, more dots than the eye can count speed across the ocean — their size (representative of the number of enslaved individuals onboard) consistently growing, many heading directly toward the students’ home state. Khan watches as the students furrow their brows. Some speak out in anger. Others sit in silence, brooding as they begin to make connections. These are



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the moments when the power of SlaveVoyages can really be felt, he says. “There’s a realization that those dots are representing hundreds, if not over 1,000, people,” Khan recalls. “And kind of that moment of going from watching a visualization to realizing that those are lives. Those are people.” Striking interactives like this one — first created by the news site Slate before a similar version was developed internally by the SlaveVoyages team — are just one of the ways the collaborative database of voyage records has been put to use over the lifetime of the project. Khan and his team have spent the better part of 15 years developing lesson plans and resources that educators can use to teach from the data. Scholars around the world have relied on the database for research on topics ranging from genetics to economics. And anyone with internet access can use the platform to take their own deep dives into their ancestry. But the overarching takeaway, Khan says, is the intentionality that the database presents — one that speaks to the global enterprise that was the slave trade. More often than not, the data leaves users asking, “How did I not know this before?” “[The slave trade] wasn’t just happenstance — it was actually intentional actions,” Khan says. “The database offers context and evidence that is oftentimes thought to be not available, but it is quite available.”


A N ORG A N IC A RC H I V E What’s known today as SlaveVoyages got its start in the 1960s when historians like the late Philip Curtin at Johns Hopkins University began to code archival data of ship manifests into machine-readable formats, like punch cards and floppy disks. A few decades later, Emory University historian David Eltis built upon Curtin’s work, releasing what was known as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database via CD-ROM. For Eltis and Curtin, the primary goal was to answer fundamental quantitative questions about the slave trade — and this continues to be a driving goal of SlaveVoyages today. Regardless of its format, over the years the database has helped reveal information about the Middle Passage for users and has provided answers about the number of slave ships that made the voyage across the Atlantic, the survival rate, the male-to-female ratio on board individual ships, when insurrections occurred and much more. The database has been continuously updated by researchers around the world with thousands upon thousands of data points — including information on more than 36,000 voyages and the names of those on board (though very few of the enslaved individuals’ names have survived for inclusion) —

and continues to be revolutionary for its ability to look at the slave trade from a global perspective. Daniel Domingues da Silva, an associate professor of African history at Rice, describes it as an “organic database.” In this sense, “it is always changing, growing,” says Domingues, who has contributed decades of research to the database. “We can add new information about voyages that we already documented [or information about] new voyages, and we can correct any mistakes in the available records.”


Left: An interactive time-lapse video shows the movement of slave ships from the early 15oos through 1866; documents and images such as a plan for a slave ship, a ship manifest and drawings of enslaved people can be found on the SlaveVoyages website.

A close secondary goal has always been to make this information accessible. “Everybody who’s been involved with this project feels the responsibility of maintaining it and making it available to the public,” Domingues says. “One pressing concern is [how] to avoid becoming obsolete.” Domingues joined Eltis at Emory by way of Brazil in the early 2000s as a researcher around the time the team was transitioning the database from a $199 CD-ROM to a freely accessible website, which launched in 2008 as SlaveVoyages.org. Much like the data, the website itself has been updated several times to become more user-friendly and to offer more entry points for users, with time-lapse video and 3D models. Soon, researchers will add “Echoes: The Slave Voyages Blog” along with more qualitative information to the site, says Domingues, who continues to oversee the project. Thanks to grants totaling $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and £250,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, Rice, in partnership with the U.K.’s Lancaster University, will be linking digital records on SlaveVoyages.org to images of the centuries-old documents from which that information was first derived. The grants will support the digitization of a batch of account books, correspondence, manifests and other documents, dating from the 1720s to the 1740s, from one of the largest British carriers of enslaved Africans, the South Sea Company. The three-year project will serve as a “pilot,” Domingues says. If all goes well, it will become the structure for uploading more document images from more libraries around the world. “By having the images in this new repository, we will give the public direct access to the documents,” Domingues says. Still, according to him, now that the database is all on the web, the priority of accessibility has taken a back seat to one of sustainability. And, in many ways, this is what led SlaveVoyages to its current home at Rice.



The Coastwise Slave Trade


here is Texas on the SlaveVoyages website?” This question animates findings by recent graduates Katelyn Landry ’22, Victoria Zabarte ’22 and Ben Schachter ’22 along with doctoral student James Myers. Although the SlaveVoyages database is the largest repository of information about the transAtlantic and intra-American slave trades, information related to Texas’ involvement is largely absent from the 20-year project. As Fondren Fellows, the team dug into archival records to fill in gaps in the narrative of intraAmerican slave trade into Texas ports. The findings from their yearlong project to reconstruct the 19thcentury coastwise slave trade into Texas are on display in a remarkable poster exhibit at Fondren Library. By searching slave manifests filed in New Orleans, Savannah and Mobile between 1827 and 1860, the team discovered records of more than 15,000 enslaved Africans — including their names and other personal details — as well as the names of their enslavers and the ships that transported them. “Our results show that the coastwise traffic to Texas started years before the 1836 Texas Revolution, that it peaked following statehood in 1845, and that it involved ports stretching from Sabine Lake to the Rio Grande, with Galveston being the principal destination,” they write on one of the illustrated posters. After the exhibit closes Aug. 19, 2022, it will travel to different cultural heritage sites managed by the Texas Historical Commission. By the end of 2022, this new data will be added to the SlaveVoyages database and will become available to the public for future discoveries.



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In March 2021, Rice officially became the host of SlaveVoyages.org, meaning that the university has direct access to the database and is responsible for maintaining it after nearly 20 years at Emory. The School of Humanities and Fondren Library today serve as its co-hosts, with support from the Center for Research Computing (CRC). Additionally, in 2021, Rice and Emory launched a consortium with four other institutions — the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture at William & Mary, and three University of California campuses (Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz) — to ensure SlaveVoyages’ maintenance and longevity through long-term funding and direction. “It’s leading SlaveVoyages to a new phase of its history,” Domingues says. The consortium allows the partners to rely on each other for advice and technical support and to lean on each institution’s expertise in new ways, he explains. Academics like Domingues have contributed years’ worth of research, while others, like those at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are experts at exhibiting that information in impactful ways. “They give a lot of critical feedback on how to [promote] our project to an entirely new audience,” Domingues says. “It’s very beneficial in that sense and also creates a basis for how to keep the project moving forward.” Earlier this year, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados, joined the consortium, making it the first international institution to be part of the SlaveVoyages project and one from a country that shares a significant history in the slave trade. The university’s additions to the database will come from the newly formed republic’s “Reclaiming Our Atlantic Destiny” initiative. The information will confirm and add to records for countless voyages in the Caribbean and is a “huge contribution,” according to Domingues. “It was important for them and it is important for us to have this support and recognition of our project by a Black majority country undergoing an important moment in their history,” Domingues says. Washington University in St. Louis is slated to join the consortium in July, and the SlaveVoyages team hopes to add more international partners from key locations, such as South America and Africa, in future years to continue to push the project forward. With the added technical power, SlaveVoyages is primed for the future. In addition to launching the



consortium, Domingues and his team have migrated SlaveVoyages to the cloud with the help of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and Rice’s CRC. In addition to bolstering the platform’s safekeeping, the CRC team says the move to the cloud will allow the database more flexibility and room for expansion to accommodate new research — including research that hits close to home for Rice.


FI LLI NG I N T H E BL A N K S Around the time that SlaveVoyages made the jump from Atlanta to Houston in 2021, undergraduate history students uncovered a surprising realization: Texas was largely absent from the database. “We had always used the SlaveVoyages website. It was such an important source of information,” says history major Victoria Zabarte ’22. “I was looking at it, and I realized that even though I knew we had a very large slave presence in Texas, there were no voyages that were going to Texas.” With advisement from Domingues and Rice lecturer Molly Morgan, Zabarte and fellow history students Katelyn Landry ’22 and Ben Schachter ’22 teamed up to look at slave voyages along the Gulf Coast. Prior to this fresh look, historians largely believed that manifests containing information about these voyages coming into Texas had been destroyed in the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston. While it is true that the inward manifests collected at the Port of Galveston were destroyed, documents from the port of embarkation (known as outward manifests) still existed. “It was just taking [something] that people had thought of as fact — ‘These records just don’t exist’ — and thinking, ‘Well, maybe they do exist, but in a different place,’” Zabarte says. “And in fact, they did. And they were publicly available this whole time on the National Archives website and on Ancestry.com. But no one really thought, ‘Maybe these actually should be researched and analyzed.’” The results were eye-opening. The team identified and compiled about 3,000 copies of outward manifests originally issued for voyages from New Orleans, Mobile and Savannah heading to Texas, which led to 15,000 enslaved individuals being forcibly migrated to the state during the first half of the 19th century. This number was roughly seven times larger than estimated arrivals directly from Africa or via the Caribbean, the students concluded. Galveston was the main destination, but many other locations along the Texas coast were involved, from Sabine Lake to the Rio Grande. Moreover, from those documents, the team was able to pinpoint historical figures by name — like Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic

Daniel Domingues da Silva, an associate professor of African history at Rice, has contributed decades of research to the database.

of Texas — who had been slave owners. In addition, they were able to uncover trends in the business operations of the Texas slave trade, tracing influxes in trading to points in Texas’ history or policy changes and gaining an understanding of Texas slave owners’ unique reliance on females and children. “Both the prevalence of infants and children in the traffic and the balance of sex distribution differ significantly from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which rarely transported infants and children and greatly favored male captives,” Schachter said in a presentation hosted by Fondren Library. “Slavers in Texas preferred these specific demographics, which they believed would provide physical and reproductive labor in the future.” By the end of 2022, the team will be importing the newly uncovered data into the SlaveVoyages database, along with the names of the more than 15,000 enslaved people transported to Texas’ shores. “It is one thing to show data in the form of numbers. Another altogether is attaching names to these figures. It makes everything more personal, more human,” Domingues says. For Zabarte, the names bring about more “realworld” connection points. “Taking this data and putting it on the website, especially the names of enslaved people, can allow people today to think, ‘Maybe these were my ancestors.’ If they’re reconstructing a family tree, they can actually find these people on the SlaveVoyages website instead of having to jump through all these hoops of traditional archives,” Zabarte says. To her, that accessibility is key: “This is putting information into the hands of the people,” she says. “It’s giving them that opportunity, and I think that’s better than hiding it behind closed doors.” ◆





Rice is leveraging its core research strengths in engineering and science — and its location in the U.S. energy capital — to tackle the urgent challenges of global climate change.


hat do we mean when we talk about energy

transition? At Rice, the term signifies a multifaceted approach to research that aims to decarbonize our energy systems. Because of Rice’s location in Houston, the fossil fuel energy capital of the U.S., our scholars are uniquely situated to address the urgent need for both immediate and long-term climate solutions. When Marcia O’Malley, a mechanical engineer and the associate dean for research and innovation at Rice, thinks of the complex challenges inherent in making energy more sustainable, she imagines a flow chart filled with questions and capabilities. What long-timescale solutions can help us reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources? Where are we getting our sources of energy, and how does location differentially impact communities and neighborhoods? What new technologies will improve energy production? How do we produce, store and transport alternative energies like solar, wind and geothermal? How do we model, predict and adapt to the impacts of climate change, both locally and globally? What technologies will help us consume less energy? How do we capture and sequester carbon? Universities like Rice are perfectly situated to address these complex problems, O’Malley says. “Where else do you have so many different perspectives and research strengths?” In the following roundup, we take a look at six current Rice research projects that offer intriguing answers from the engineering and science perspective to some of these challenges.


Safer CO2 Storage With Fiber Optics

Researchers are studying ways to improve underground carbon dioxide storage.


hese days, carbon capture has become something of a buzzword. The technology seeks to remove greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from smokestacks and vehicles before it can reach the atmosphere, where it contributes heavily to climate change. In theory, it’s a sound idea — but what do you do with all that CO2 once you extract it? One option: Store it underground. The concept is already being tried under the bottom of the North Sea and in various sites around the continental U.S. It involves injecting CO2 thousands of feet down into bedrock, where it will be absorbed by existing reservoirs of salty water. The challenge, however, is that seismic activity could break the reservoirs open, release the gas from cracks and fault lines, and contaminate nearby groundwater. Geoscientist Jonathan Ajo-Franklin wants to prevent these catastrophes. He’s testing a new way to monitor huge


areas of land for even the most miniscule seismic activity and is using a novel method: sensors made from miles of fiber-optic cable. Traditional methods use seismometers — a type of microphone that listens for rumbles in the Earth — to detect small earthquakes as they occur. Each of those sensors only represents a single point on the ground, however. With fiber-optic sensors, Ajo-Franklin’s team can measure movement constantly along a line stretching 25 miles. The devices work thanks to a quirk of the cable itself. Shine a laser in one end, and you’ll see a pulse of light moving through it. If you shake the cable at any point, however, the light will scatter, sending a small amount back up the way it came. By measuring how much of this scattering occurs — and how long it takes for that light to return to its source — Ajo-Franklin can record not only the intensity of a seismic event, but also exactly where it occurred along the

cable with incredible precision. This sort of technology could be a boon for monitoring CO2 reservoirs, he adds. By lowering a single half-inchwide cable into a bore hole, it may be possible to detect tiny movements along the entire depth of the containment site. In addition to testing and monitoring CO2 reservoirs, he says, the technology could also be used to identify sites for hydrothermal energy — which involves circulating water through volcanically heated rock — or could be installed onto existing communication networks above ground, effectively turning them into massive seismic detectors that span entire counties. “You can get a massive amount of seismic data from a fiber the size of a human hair,” he says. “It’s pretty remarkable.” — DAVID LEVIN Jonathan Ajo-Franklin is a professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences.

A New Way to Harness the Sun’s Energy

A crystal structure called perovskite may hold the key to better solar collectors.


ince their commercial introduction in the 1950s, solar photovoltaic panels have been a promising source of clean energy. While these panels, which are largely made of silicon, have improved dramatically over the past few decades, they still can only eke out between 18% and 22% efficiency, at best. A crystal structure called perovskite could change this, however. When used to create solar panels, perovskite crystals — which can be made of many different chemical substances — can generate up to 30% efficiency, says chemical engineer Aditya Mohite. “The only challenge is that as a crystal, it’s pretty unstable,” he says. “It can degrade easily with moisture. If you want to put a panel on your roof, it has to last for 20–25 years.” It’s also a bear to work with: In order to squeeze peak efficiency from a perovskite crystal, it has to be laid down into thin, uniform layers, but it has a natural tendency to clump up as it’s being applied. The result is lower electrical output. Mohite and his collaborator, polymer physicist Amanda Marciel, may have found a way to tame perovskite. The pair dissolved perovskites made from a chemical called methylammonium lead halide into a chemical solution, then used that solution to regrow a new batch of crystals. Shockingly, the perovskite started to behave, forming flat, uniform sheets with ease. “The solution seemed to retain the original crystal’s behavior,” says Marciel. “It didn’t break down into its individual components — instead, it formed into tiny crystal ‘seeds’ that have the same properties as the parent crystal.” From those, the pair were able to grow the crystals into a thin, flexible film, she says.

Sandwiching these films between layers of organic molecules, the researchers found, could improve the perovskite’s efficiency and stability, Mohite adds. “This is a huge step toward long-lasting, robust solar cells. And since they’re flexible, they open up all sorts of new applications. You could imagine wrapping an entire structure in panels like these.” — DAVID LEVIN

Aditya Mohite is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering. Amanda Marciel is the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

This container of 2D perovskite “seeds” (left) and a smaller vial containing a solution of dissolved seeds can be used to produce thin films for use in highly efficient optoelectronic devices like high-efficiency solar panels.


Underground Economy

Rice scholars are developing new standards to make carbon sequestration a valuable property right for landowners.


cross rural Texas, miles and miles of grassland prairies, savannah and shrub offer diverse habitats for wildlife, grazing lands for livestock and recreational opportunities for families. These valuable natural resources support key economic enterprises such as ranching and farming. Environmentalist, Rice professor and attorney Jim Blackburn sees a new kind of enterprise in these iconic landscapes — one that sequesters and monetizes organic carbon in the loam and clay of Texas soils. Along with colleagues Carrie Masiello, a Rice soil scientist and the W. Maurice Ewing Professor of Biogeochemistry, and Ken Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, as well as other stakeholders, he has developed a protocol called BCarbon, which measures, verifies and certifies soil carbon capture for carbon credit trading. The newly created market essentially pays landowners to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the dirt. “BCarbon is practical, works for landowners and is absolutely needed now in our attempts to address atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide,” Blackburn says. “This effort has the potential to transform ranching and farming in the U.S., restore ecological systems in one of the largest land conservation and restoration programs in United States history, and help carbon emitters by providing lower-cost carbon capture and storage options. It is a win-win-win concept.” — LYNN GOSNELL To learn more about soil carbon sequestration and the BCarbon standards, check out our Q&A with Jim Blackburn at magazine.rice.edu.

Jim Blackburn is a professor in the practice of environmental law in Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center. He is a faculty scholar at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a practicing environmental attorney.



Concept drawing for a house using windowpanes designed by Rice University engineers to redirect light from inside and out to edge-band solar cells

Through a Glass, Luminescently Rice engineers propose a new method for converting sunlight to electricity.


ice engineers have suggested a colorful solution to nextgeneration energy collection: luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) in windows. Led by chemical engineer Rafael Verduzco ’01 and postdoctoral researcher and lead author Yilin Li, the research team designed and built colorful, foot-square “windows” that sandwich a conjugated polymer between two clear acrylic panels. The thin middle layer is designed to absorb light in a specific wavelength and guide it to solar cells that line the edges of the panel. “The motivation for this research is to solve energy issues for buildings through integrated photovoltaics,” said Li, who began the project as part of a “smart glass” competition. “Right now,


solar rooftops are the mainstream solution, but you need to orient them toward the sun to maximize their efficiency, and their appearance isn’t very pleasing. We thought, why can’t we make colorful, transparent or translucent solar collectors and apply them to the outside of buildings?” While the amount of juice generated by the test units is far less than that collected by even average commercial solar cells, which routinely convert about 20% of sunlight into electricity, LSC windows never stop working. They recycle light from inside the building into electricity when the sun goes down. In fact, tests showed they were more efficient at converting ambient light from LEDs than they were from direct sunlight, even though the sunlight was 100 times stronger. “Even indoors, if you hold up a panel, you can see very strong photoluminescence on the edge,” Li said. The panels he tested showed a power conversion efficiency of up to 2.9% in direct sunlight and 3.6% under ambient LED light. Various types of luminophores (atoms in a chemical compound responsible for its luminescent properties) have been

developed over the last decade, but rarely with conjugated polymers, according to Verduzco. “We’ve learned a lot about improving the stability of conjugated polymers in recent years, and in the future, we can engineer the polymers for both stability and desired optical properties,” Verduzco said. The study appears in the journal Polymer International. Research was supported by Solera City Energy. — MIKE WILLIAMS Rafael Verduzco is a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering.

A Renewable Energy Model

A Rice study shows how proposed projects could eliminate the need for coal and drastically cut pollution.


exas can be a model for the nation on how to effectively replace coal with wind and solar for the state’s energy needs while meeting environmental goals. Environmental engineer Daniel Cohan and computer science major Richard Morse ’22 used optimization modeling to identify the most costefficient combinations of proposed wind and solar projects that have the potential to replace coal-fired power generation in Texas. The team’s research found that just a third of the wind and solar projects already proposed to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) as of June 2020 could replace almost all of the state’s coal generation. Since June 2020, PHOTO CREDIT T K

dozens of those projects have been built, and the queue of proposed solar projects has doubled. “Transitioning away from coal as quickly as possible is imperative,” said Cohan. “Texas still burns more coal and emits more sulfur dioxide and other pollution than any other state,” he said. Several large Texas coal plants closed in 2018, and most remaining plants have operated far below capacity, an issue that came to the forefront amid the hard freeze and subsequent outages of February 2021. The key to success for wind and solar will be an expansion of transmission lines connecting the windiest and sunniest parts of the state to cities. The study shows that wind power from West Texas tends to peak overnight, whereas South Texas wind peaks with sea breezes on summer afternoons and evenings. Together with daytime solar, these complementary sources can cover most, but not all, hours of the day throughout the year. Cohan noted that natural gas will continue to be critical to Texas’ electric reliability in the near term, especially as ERCOT works to recover from the 2021 freeze. “Even with complementary siting,

there will still be hours when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing,” Cohan said. “Historically, the main challenge has been summer afternoons, when air conditioners are running full blast, and conversely, the occasional deep freeze. Solar and coastal winds perform well during summer peaks but can have lulls on some evenings when we’ll need something else to kick in.” “Cleaning up the energy that we use to power society is one of the most important things we need to do,” said Morse, who won the Malcolm Verdict Memorial Poster Competition at the Texas Energy Summit in 2020 for his work on the project. — MIKE WILLIAMS Daniel Cohan is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. Richard Morse graduated this May with a degree in computer science and computational and applied mathematics. This research was published in “Renewables: Wind, Water, and Solar.” Co-authors of the paper are Rice undergraduate civil engineering major Sarah Salvatore ’23 and mathematics and philosophy major Joanna Slusarewicz ’20. The Energ y Foundation supported the research. MAGA ZINE.RICE.EDU



Stronger, Tougher, Cleaner At Rice’s Carbon Hub, researchers are creating new sustainable materials to fight climate change.


teel-making is one of the most carbon-intensive processes there is. Each year, steel plants release nearly 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or about 8% of global CO2 emissions. That puts the steel industry somewhere between India and the United States in terms of greenhouse gas pollution. At the moment, there aren’t many materials available that share the same traits as steel. Steel is strong, easy to manipulate and relatively cheap, a trifecta that has made it an essential material for global infrastructure. Chemical engineer Matteo Pasquali thinks bridges and buildings made from steel columns could someday be a relic of the past. He’s directing the Rice Carbon Hub, a research initiative focused on making products out of carbon while co-producing clean hydrogen. Within the Carbon Hub, his team is working to efficiently turn natural gas into new materials based on carbon nanotube fibers. “These fibers are kind of the best of all worlds — as a material, they’re stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar and, on a mass basis, more conductive than copper,” he says. Since they’re made directly from hydrocarbons, the molecules that make up fossil fuels, these materials also come with a distinct advantage over steel: Instead of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, the manufacturing process never generates CO2 at all, because the carbon makes up the material itself. “Basically, that means we can lower CO2 emissions and fight climate change

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by using hydrocarbons to make sustainable materials,” Pasquali says. “If we use fossil hydrocarbons as feedstock, we reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions; if we use biogas, these materials could be a net sink of CO2. And, of course, hydrogen is a very valuable coproduct.” Scaling up materials manufacturing and attaining industrial efficiency takes years. In the meantime, Pasquali is collaborating with other researchers at the Carbon Hub to find new uses for carbon nanotube fibers, with success. Two years ago, they reported joint research with the Texas Heart Institute and Baylor College of Medicine, where Rice’s carbon nanotube fibers were used to rewire damaged hearts. More recently, electrical engineer Junichiro Kono used carbon nanotube fibers sewn into fabrics to turn heat into electrical energy. Among other uses, this application could eventually lead to wearable medical sensors that don’t require batteries. The Carbon Hub work goes beyond carbon nanotube materials and includes research on carbon by bioscientists Carrie Masiello, Daniel Cohan and Pedro Alvarez that can be used to improve soil; work by architect Juan José Castellon and civil engineer and Rice President Reginald DesRoches on carbon-based materials for buildings; as well as work by mechanical engineer Geoff Wehmeyer and physicists Matthew Foster and Douglas Natelson on carbon-based electrical conductors.


Matteo Pasquali is the A.J. Hartsook Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering , the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering, and the director of the Carbon Hub. Junichiro Kono is the Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering and a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering.




Seeds of Life

Artist Dornith Doherty finds beauty and optimism in the layers of catastrophe and preservation.





ORNITH DOHERTY ’80 has spent much of the last 15 years of her career photographing the microscopic — pollution particles that have torn through bird feathers, fern spores that can travel thousands of miles in the wind and hundreds of meticulously preserved seeds from around the world. Her art focuses on the intersection between climate change, ecology and human endeavor; the seeds, feathers and spores are what she calls visual metaphors for the optimism driving research and preservation in the face of potential catastrophe. Her most renowned series, “Archiving Eden,” presents a photographic documentary of seed banks, as well as artistic interpretations of the seeds preserved within them. “I think it’s a profoundly important subject matter,” Doherty says. It’s one that presents endless possibilities, too. “So much of what we’re hearing is that [climate change] is inevitable, that it’s all on the individual and that the problem is too big — so people get discouraged.” Doherty first became fascinated with seed banks in 2008 after reading



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Doherty has traveled to 20 different seed banks on five continents to produce documentary photographs and artistic interpretations of their holdings. about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a scientific endeavor to stockpile important crop seeds in case species start to go extinct due to climate change, diseases, war or other catastrophes. Scientists from countries such as Ireland, Syria, Colombia, Mexico and Japan have deposited seed samples in the vault, which is buried under layers of permafrost, ensuring that the seeds stay in a frozen state — even during a power outage. Today, there are over 1 million distinct crop samples, representing tens of thousands of years of agricultural history, preserved in the remote Svalbard vault. “I was fascinated by the idea of [seed banks] being utopian and dystopian,” Doherty says. “There’s a need to establish this fortified vault on an inac-

cessible island near the North Pole. But on the other hand, it’s a collaborative project from nations around the world. I was really inspired by that kernel of hope embedded in the whole concept of the seed bank.” But for the University of North Texas studio art distinguished research professor, the project initially started much closer to home. In 2008, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, she captured the intricate labor required to count, dry and package seeds to send off to other research institutes and banks. A connection at the Wildflower Center led her to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado. With a stroke of luck, Doherty says, the scientists allowed her to come into the lab and take documentary photographs. The laboratory building itself was an austere concrete bunker. But inside, scientists were handling seeds that contained the potential for life. In particular, the use of X-rays to analyze the seeds piqued Doherty’s interest. “I was very interested in the lab space and technology that was required to place

ALUMNI seeds in a state of suspended animation required for seed banking,” she says. “I thought it was really visually and metaphorically interesting to peer inside this seed and see the interior of this spark of life that they’re trying to make last for more than 200 years.” Since then, Doherty has traveled to 20 different seed banks on five continents to produce documentary photographs and artistic interpretations of their holdings. Many of the artworks in “Archiving Eden” are composite images of those seed X-rays from around the world. In one artwork, dozens of X-rays of starburstlike seed heads of an Australian bush are combined and colored indigo — a color that itself evokes metaphors of the Columbian exchange, when global trade circulated seeds and plants between continents for the first time. The scientific process that Doherty captures in her photography is likely inaccessible to most Americans, or the general public, in any of the countries she’s visited for the project. Seed banks, like a lab, require a carefully calibrated environment so that seed samples don’t get contaminated or damaged; in many countries, they are also a matter of national security and economic interest. However, “I have not had anybody say, ‘no,’” Doherty says, of the scientists who have let her into high-security labs. “It’s a small group of people working globally on this project.” Though the COVID-19 pandemic has paused her travels, she hopes to resume soon. On her list of possible destinations: a seed bank in the Philippines that has preserved varieties of rice, one in Africa focused on wheat, and one in Peru, where potato specimens are being preserved. “I think it’s such an important endeavor — through saving seeds, we’re trying to save the human race itself, because we’re so dependent on plants,” Doherty says. “So [the project] just keeps going. I don’t have plans to end it.” PAGE 43: Dornith Doherty. “Acacia” Digital chromogenic lenticular photograph , 58 x 38.5 inches FAR LEFT: Dornith Doherty. “Kangaroo Grass” Archival pigment, 33 x 49 inches Digital collage made from X-rays captured at PlantBank (Australia) LEFT: Dornith Doherty.

“Millennium Seed Bank Research Seedlings and Lochner-Stuppy Test Garden No. 1” Digital chromogenic lenticular photograph, 79 x 36 inches Digital collage made from X-rays captured at the Millennium Seed Bank (England)





Good Work in the World

Erica Ollmann Saphire studies viruses and immune molecules to develop life-saving therapies.

ERICA OLLMANN SAPHIRE ’93 still remembers the exact moment she realized what she was going to do with the rest of her life. It was the second semester of her senior year, and she was sitting in a lecture in George R. Brown Hall listening to George Phillips, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at the time, describe how to calculate an electron density map — the physical locations of all the atoms — in a protein.



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“You could see how the information was knit together and the 3D shape unfolds, and it was like the clouds parted and the light came down [on me]. It was the most satisfying thing I’d ever seen,” she said, “because I realized this is how genetic information becomes biological activity.” A dual biochemistry and biology major, Saphire had postponed the reputedly brutal molecular biophysics course for as long as possible to avoid a potentially bad grade that might derail her graduate school plans. Instead, the course cemented a new scholarly direction for the senior and put her on the path of a lifetime: using high-tech microscopes to image (solve) molecular structures — from antibodies to viruses — that help or harm our health. Today, Saphire is president and CEO of La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) near San Diego. She is also a professor in LJI’s Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research,

where her lab of over 20 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and technicians employs an extremely low-temperature (nearly –300 °F) microscopy technique called cryo-EM to study how viruses cause disease. Prior to switching her lab to cryoEM, Saphire made groundbreaking discoveries with a demanding method called X-ray crystallography, perhaps best known for solving the double helix structure of DNA. Saphire is considered a leading structural biologist for her work, solving such structures as the first human antibody in its entirety as well as proteins that enable the deadly Ebola, Sudan and Marburg viruses to infect cells. Her work has paved the way for vaccines and new antibody therapies and contributed to scientists’ understanding of how a single protein can fold into distinct structures with different functions — something scientists did not think happened. Her fearlessness in tackling difficult scientific problems led Saphire, in 2014, to bring together 44 often-competing labs across five continents to collaborate on developing life-saving antibody therapies for some of the world’s deadliest viruses. The Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium, or VIC, informed six candidate therapies for Ebola, among other milestones. The VIC collaborative model was so successful that Saphire is now leading a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-supported consortium called CoVIC to assess antibody therapies for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Saphire credits her professional success to a combination of innate doggedness, great role models, and an inclusive and collaborative approach. “Rice set me on my current career path and introduced me to people who are still my best friends,” said Saphire of her days at Sid Rich and her biochemistry classes. “It’s a ‘do good work in the world’ kind of place, and I loved it.” — ALLIE AKMAL



Thermosets can be found in rubber tires and airplane and windmill components.


Scalable, Economical — and Recyclable

Julian Cooper’s research focuses on a more sustainable future for thermosets.

AS AN UNDERGRADUATE at Rice, Julian Cooper ’14 first discovered his love of chemistry. “It just clicked,” he said. After completing his Ph.D. in

chemistry at MIT, Cooper began working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a postdoc fellow in the lab of Jeff Moore, professor of chemistry and of materials science and engineering, where he applies chemical tools and principles to problems in materials science. “One such problem I am addressing is sustainability in thermosetting polymers, or thermosets,” Cooper said. Thermosets are ubiquitous and prized for their mechanical properties. They can be found in everyday items, such as rubber tires, and high-performance applications, such as airplane and windmill components. Many of the beneficial properties of these thermosets arise from crosslinks — connections between polymer strands — in the material. This makes the materials tough and durable and inhibits their flow — vital properties for materials

used in high-performance applications. But these same crosslinks pose challenges for recycling thermosets. When they reach the end of their lifespan, thermosets can’t be melted or remolded into new materials without losing many of their properties, so they end up in waste streams. “Thermosetting plastics are everywhere, and their production has become easy and inexpensive. For the longest time, we’ve been concerned about how to make better materials, never thinking about what happens to them when they are no longer usable. We’re just accumulating materials that become waste in landfills,” said Cooper. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to manufacture materials — in a way that is both scalable and economical — that can meet desired performance requirements but also can be recycled at the end of their serviceable lifetime. “What I’m trying to do is take this concept that’s emerging in materials science of putting chemical functionality in these crosslinks so they will operate the way we want them to but then can be thermally reprocessed to recapture the original performance,” said Cooper. “That’s effectively what I’m looking at: a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of engineering, a whole lot of materials science that I’m learning on the fly.” Cooper is excited about the possibilities for his research. “In the long term, it helps address a very real issue that’s in front of our faces. I’m not saying that I’m going to solve the plastics crisis and the waste problem. But I get to apply my skill set in a space that has many approaches to the problem, and I get to contribute uniquely in that. I think that’s very cool.” — JENNY WEST ROZELLE ’00





A Force Multiplier

Bryan Hassin combines technology, dedication and passion in his fight against climate change. BRYAN HASSIN ’01 had just completed his junior year when the computer science and electrical and computer engineering major co-launched his first tech startup. He made what is known as an app store for the recently released Palm Pilot — basically the first handheld computer. When that was acquired the year he graduated, Hassin knew he was hooked on entrepreneurship. His next project — an app for people responding to oil spills — was an early hint at the entrepreneur’s career path, which meshes his tech know-how with



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a passion for helping to halt climate change. First and foremost is the sheer amount of work and urgency, he says. “Climate change is not some dystopian science fiction future,” says Hassin, who also has a master’s degree in computer science from Rice. “It’s here.” New innovations are needed to ultimately run all electrified goods and services on green energy, while global supply chains, air travel, shipping and industry all have to be decarbonized. Carbon removal needs to vastly accelerate. “Technological innovation is not a panacea,” he says, “but, not only can it help ward off climate change, it can improve the lives of many at the same time. I’ve always been inspired by missions and fights against long odds.” Hassin’s mother was a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and he grew up fascinated by the quest to land on the moon. “It’s amazing what humans can do when we band together united and when people have resources,” he says. He also drew inspiration to surmount challenges from

his scientist father, who died of cancer when Hassin was 11, but had survived for 10 years beyond his six-month prognosis. Hassin, who also has his MBA from the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, has founded or co-founded several software startups in the energy sector, including Smart OES — which uses wireless hardware and cloud artificial intelligence to optimize how buildings use energy — and R7 Solutions, a company started by seven Rice alumni that helps traditional energy companies use location-based data to become more efficient with environmental compliance and safety management. The best way to maximize his personal impact, he now believes, is to be a “force multiplier,” helping others along their journey and breaking down barriers to success. Most recently, he launched and led climate tech accelerator Third Derivative, which finds, funds and funnels resources to startups with the potential to impact climate change at scale. The nearly 80 startups he’s helped include Digital Harvest, which uses machine learning to increase agricultural yields, and Project Vesta, which is developing technology to speed up Earth’s natural process of removing carbon dioxide from its oceans. Since leaving Third Derivative, Hassin is considering his next move. He and his partner, Katie Barrett ’04, “believe in living a life of service and adventure, not of comfort and complacency,” he says. He’s currently focused on helping with the difficult, more ambiguous challenge of decarbonizing industries and carbon removal. Over the next 30 years, some $4 trillion in technology investment a year will be needed to create a sustainable future, Hassin estimates. “When climate change news is dark, I try to be a beacon of light to remind myself and others that we will overcome. I choose optimism. I choose hope. I choose faith. And I invite others to join me.”






Frequently Asked Questions About the Universe

By Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson ’97 Riverhead Books, 2021

DANIEL WHITESON AND JORGE CHAM love questions just as much as — or maybe more than — answers. In their last book, “We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe,” Whiteson, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Cham, a cartoonist with a Ph.D. in robotics from Stanford University, tackle some of the universe’s greatest mysteries — which they also explore in their podcast, “Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe.” In their new book, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Universe,” they apply their curiosity to the existential musings that keep many of us up at night: Where did the universe come from? Is an afterlife possible? Do we live in a computer simulation? And why haven’t aliens visited us … or have they? We caught up with Whiteson recently and lobbed him a few questions of our own.

You mention that while a great many mysteries remain, things in the understanding-the-universe department seem to be going in the right direction. What do you think have been the greatest revelations in recent years? One of the most mind-blowing moments in recent years is the discovery, from studying supernovae, that the universe is not just expanding, but that some not-understood mechanism is accelerating that expansion and requires 70% of all of the energy of the

universe. I love this because it was so unexpected, and it makes me hope similar revelations are in the future. Asking questions about the universe is part of what makes us human, and as you point out, there’s power in asking them, even if the mystery can’t be fully unraveled (yet). Can you say more about why questions matter even if they can’t be answered? Science questions matter because they have objective

answers, even if they are currently out of our reach. Asking those questions and looking for answers is a way of saying that the universe makes sense and that we hope we can make sense of it. What’s your favorite question and/or answer in the book? What’s the most surprising? I really enjoyed thinking about whether science can predict the choices you will make and what that means about free will. It’s a question that’s very important

philosophically and morally, but the answer sits just past the edge of our knowledge of quantum mechanics and chaos. Is time travel possible? I think if it would ever be possible, it would always be possible. What about teleportation? Yes! This is something we can do today for particles and might be able to do for people in the future, if you’re willing to be scanned, destroyed and recreated.

Readers can catch episodes of the podcast “Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe” on iHeartRadio. The podcast is linked online at magazine.rice.edu.




Swainson’s Thrush Scissortailed Flycatcher

Scarlet Tanager

Painted Bunting

Barn Swallow Sum mer Tanager

Ruby-throated Hum mingbird

American Redstart

Great Horned Owl



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CIN-TY LEE, the Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology, has turned his lifelong passion for birds into a full-time hobby at night. For two decades, the professor has followed the annual migratory habits and patterns of birds. This spring, he began recording the patterns of nocturnal birds, shedding new light on these feathered beauties as they make their way through Texas. Read more at magazine.rice.edu. I L L U S T R AT I O N S B Y C I N -T Y L E E

Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall

The visual arts at Rice have grown significantly since the late 1960s, when Houston arts icons Dominique and John de Menil made an extraordinary gift to bring a team of art historians, an art library, and a photography and film program to Rice University. With a lead gift from Susan and Fayez Sarofim and continued support from the Rice community, the new student arts facility will build on this tradition by opening exciting avenues for creative experimentation and collaboration. This $45 million, 80,000-square-foot home for student creativity will allow for an expanded arts curriculum and complete a fully integrated and connected arts campus. To learn how you can support this exciting facility, contact Emily Stein, senior director of development for humanities, at emily.m.stein@rice.edu or 713-348-3424.

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


magazine.rice.edu VIDEO

Shrinking Cancer Tumors

Back to the Garden A POP-UP PRAIRIE GARDEN in the shadow of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music and adjacent to the Turrell Skyspace intends to exemplify what Houston’s future landscape could look like. “Prairie Plots” is a living installation created by Maggie Tsang, a Wortham Fellow at the Rice School of Architecture, in collaboration with Rice’s Facilities Engineering and Planning. Installed by volunteers, it incorporates more than 1,300 plants and seeds selected for their ability to thrive in a harsh South Texas climate. The installation required the removal of turf grass from the roughly 10,000-square-foot grid of plots separated by aisles. The plants were selected for their resilience in Houston’s extreme heat, flood and drought conditions and include such familiar Texas wildflowers as tall Indian blanket, Texas coneflower and shorter rattlesnake master and native grasses like little bluestem. “[W]ith this project, the university can act as a model for the rest of the city by rethinking lawns, planting perennial species that increase biodiversity, improve soil health and groundwater infiltration, and require fewer resources for maintenance and upkeep,” Tsang said.

See a video about the project at magazine.rice.edu.


Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh, graduate student Amanda Nash and colleagues created tiny implants that activate immune cells to destroy cancer. “One of the challenges [in ovarian cancer] is people are diagnosed at a pretty late stage, which means there’s already cancer all over the IP [intraperitoneal] space,” Veiseh said. “The nature of the cancer is it creates a lot of fluid around it[self] and puts a lot of pressure in the stomach area, so getting drugs there is really difficult.” Their research in developing “drug factory” implants that could activate immune cells to treat advancedstage ovarian and colorectal cancer was recently published in the scientific journal Science Advances. Watch a video that explains the research behind this innovative therapeutic approach. ONLINE EXTRA

Jim Blackburn and BCarbon

We sat down with attorney and environmentalist Jim Blackburn, who teaches environmental law at Rice, to learn more about BCarbon, a protocol that measures, verifies and certifies soil carbon capture for carbon credit trading. It’s a bold idea, Blackburn says. “This effort has the potential to transform ranching and farming in the U.S., restore ecological systems in one of the largest land conservation and restoration programs in United States history, and help carbon emitters by providing lower-cost carbon capture and storage options. It is a winwin-win concept.”