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Envisioning Solutions

Featuring Engineering

Envisioning Solutions

Turning Points Series Discover nuggets of unconventional wisdom through the excerpts of student interviews with Rice University faculty. Copyright 2014 Rice University. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University. Requests for permission should be directed to Online presence at

Books in the 2013-2014 Series III Engineering: Choosing Academia Connecting Ideas Envisioning Solutions Leading Innovation Empowering Others

Previous Turning Points series: 2012-2013 Series II Natural Sciences 2011-2012 Series I Social Sciences

Rice University School of Social Sciences

Gateway Study of Leadership TURNING POINTS

{series III | 2013 - 2014} Engineering

Envisioning Solutions

Gateway School of Social Sciences Rice University 6100 Main Street Houston, Texas 77005-1827 U.S.A.

Turning Points Series DIRECTOR


Alex Wyatt 2013-2014 GATEWAY STUDY OF LEADERSHIP DIRECTORS Nitin Agrawal Cynthia Bau Bo Kim 2013-2014 GATEWAY STUDY OF LEADERSHIP FELLOWS Mariam Ahmed Nathan Andrus Jyra Bickham Mary Charlotte Carroll Sai Chilakapati Rucy Cui Nicholas Fleder Justin Fu Cathy Hu Richard Huang Wendy Liu Michelle Lo Xinnan Lu James McCreary Giray Ozseker Tanya Rajan Andrew Ta Guangya Wang


The 2013-2014 Turning Points series features excerpts from interviews with the Rice University George R. Brown School of Engineering faculty conducted by the Gateway Study of Leadership students. Each year, the School of Social Sciences Gateway Study of Leadership participants are engaged in interviewbased research on leadership themes and lessons offered by academics. During the interview process, students explore topics such as the influence of family expectations on career decisions, the role of mentors, the sources of inspiration for research projects, and faculty thoughts on leadership and the role of academia in our society. This year, the collection also includes thoughts shared by Rice engineering faculty on creativity, innovation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. We hope the stories and experiences featured in these books provide a window into the life of research scholars and demonstrate the different ways that ideas and careers are born and flourish.

Ipek Martinez


1. 2.

Illya Hicks, Ph.D. Creativity Needs Perseverance


David Johnson, Ph.D. 3 From Goal to Outcome


Illya Hicks, Ph.D. The Quickest Route



Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Eureka Moment



Genevera Allen, Ph.D. Research is All About Creativity



Kevin Kelly, Ph.D. Finding Inspiration from Varied Sources 11


Kevin Kelly, Ph.D. Lining Up with Public Interests



Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Distilling the Chaos


9. 10.

Ashutosh Sabharwal, Ph.D. Rolling Stops, Unfettered Freedoms


Keith Cooper, Ph.D. Hidden Solutions



Jane Grande-Allen, Ph.D. Finding Your Niche


12. F. Kurtis Kasper, Ph.D. 25 Key to Continued Success 13.

Joe Warren, Ph.D. Predicting How Humans Behave



Luay Nakhleh, Ph.D. Computer Modeling for Medicine



Jeffrey Jacot, Ph.D. Spreading Yourself Out



Daniel Cohan, Ph.D. Tackling Climate Change



Amina Qutub, Ph.D. Implications of Basic Research



Rob Griffin, Ph.D.

Simple Problems with Complicated Effects



Jacob Robinson, Ph.D. Taking Risks


About the Contributors Acknowledgements

41 47


Creativity Needs Perseverance Illya Hicks, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Computational & Applied Mathematics, Rice University

The way I describe research is that you need two things: you need creativity and you need perseverance. You can be the most creative person in the world, but if you’re not persistent in doing the work, you’ll never be known, or nothing will come out of it. You can be the most persistent person, but if you can’t be creative and think out of the box to come up with something new, you won’t get a Ph.D. either. You need those two, and I say this for graduate students, but it’s also true that to be a good researcher, you need creativity and perseverance. Because the road is not easy, you need perseverance, but you also need creativity to come up with new research.




From Goal to Outcome David B. Johnson, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

There’s a long history in computer science of the researchers setting out to solve a problem, a problem the researcher believes exists, or envisions the future will need a solution to. Frequently, the original researchers get it wrong in terms of what the ultimate real application for this technology turns out to be. The World Wide Web was not invented for anything you know as the web today. For example the Mobile IP in your phone; we didn’t invent the way it’s used in your phone at all. When I started doing Mobile IP and other researchers were doing it, we thought it was going to be supporting your laptop as you carry your laptop around in roughly the way Wi-Fi works today. It didn’t turn out to be successful; the cell phone industry said hey, this will solve one of our problems. So you do the research with a goal in mind, sometimes that turns out to be 3

directly applicable and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you make good technology, people will use it.



The Quickest Route Illya Hicks, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Computational & Applied Mathematics, Rice University

My research is basically in finding the best of something. That’s what you would call optimization, finding the best of something. In my case, you make decisions or you find the best of things that are discrete. So, say I’m UPS and I have a truck and I want to drop off packages at different customers and come back home, I want to find the best route to visit those customers and come back home. You can’t go halfway. There is no such thing as a fractional path going to these customers and coming back. Either you’re going to visit that customer or not. So it’s a discrete type of solution: either I’m going to that customer and dropping off a package or not. I’m taking either Highway 288 or Interstate 45 to get to that customer. My work is looking at these types of decisions and finding the 5

best solution given that these decisions have to be discrete. It’s called operations research. It is used a lot in a lot of industries. In the airline industry it is about what crews need to be on what planes, and when a plane is taking off. Anytime you have to make some type of decisions, you can use math to try to decide the optimal decision for you.



Eureka Moment Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

It was a kick to study and teach with Professor Art Gottschalk, Chair of Music Composition, in a joint course called “Good Vibrations,” as I had enjoyed working in acoustics in the past. One of the things I’ve talked about recently with music students from the Shepherd School is what is one’s creative “aha”/”Eureka” moment, and where does it come from? There was a mathematician at the turn of the century who found a Mozart quote that said something to the effect: “I often walk around all day and some important element of my composition will come to me out of nowhere.” Engineers and mathematicians have the same experience in the discovery of new theories and equations! Creativity has a common core.




Research is All About Creativity Genevera Allen, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Statistics, Rice University

I loved high school.

It was a conservatory, which

was run more like a college, and it was terrific. I think that it has made me a well-rounded person. There are a couple of specific things that high school taught me that are really useful now. As a musician, you have to stand up in front of people and play, and it’s a very personal and intimate thing. Music is a very personal thing that you’re sharing with a very large audience. Because of that, and unlike a lot of people when they’re first starting out in academia, I have zero trouble speaking in front of groups or lecturing. To me, the more people are in a lecture hall, the better. I’ve absolutely zero fear of crowds. The other thing is creativity. I think the most important thing in research is creativity. A lot of people think that all math is boring - it’s just following a black and white set of rules. It’s probably 9

black and white at the high school and beginning undergraduate level, but, to do research in it, it’s all about creativity. You have to have that technical background, but the bulk, the most important thing is creativity, and having training in the arts helps a ton.



Finding Inspiration from Varied Sources Kevin Kelly, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

I just come up with a different idea every day. And I throw most of them out. And then I go back and I work on the ones that I think are feasible. But it is part of once you get an idea you incrementally try to improve it and measure it and understand it. And then at the same time you’re always on the lookout. At least my motivation is I see talks, I see colleagues on campus, read the paper here or there and think “Has somebody ever measured this or built that?” And if they haven’t then I ask, “Why not?” And if it’s really hard then I don’t do it. But if it’s only kind of hard then I think about doing it.




Lining Up with Public Interests Kevin Kelly, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

One of the reasons, the big reason, the space shuttle failed in the ‘80s, was not for technical reasons, but it was for organizational and budgetary reasons in the ‘70s. They basically tried to go to space with half a space ship and without a goal. There’s still talk of putting people on Mars. I’m not sure what we’re going to do when we get there. I’m a big fan of the rovers on Mars. They’re a lot cheaper and they don’t need food and water. But research goes like that and you have to be willing to change your research area to what the public wants if you want to stay in academia, but you always want to keep some pile of funds for wacky, fundamental research because something like studying antiparticles and positrons back in the ‘50s, nobody ever thought much of it. But now we have a whole medical imaging technology 13

out of it called positron emission tomography. So you want to keep people doing some of that basic stuff. But for the really big projects I think sometimes scientists and engineers are spoiled when they try to tell society, “No, you should give me money for this.” When society says, “No we really think that technology’s good enough now. We don’t need any more. We don’t need any improvement.”



Distilling the Chaos Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

There is something very interesting about research and the unique process of thinking that produces results. The process of research is one of recognizing patterns, recognizing trends. As I moved back to being a researcher and faculty member, after having served as the dean of an engineering school, I wrote a play. It was a Sammy Award-winning play produced by the undergraduate students. It was about the IRA, the IrishBritish situation. I tried some other playwriting, while all the time, simultaneously, I was working back towards being a researcher in areas of engineering I enjoyed. The missing ingredient while I was primarily a dean was the “saturation factor.� If you want to achieve new results in research, you have to immerse yourself in the field(s) of study. To me, the process is one of saturating yourself in the subject; letting ideas bump each other around. Out of this seeming confusion comes order. The first step 15

is saturating your mind, your subconscious especially, with facts and data and trends and possibilities in the chosen area. When you do that, the next step is for these things to sort themselves out, and I really mean sort themselves out. I haven’t found many instances where I’ve said, “I want to do research on this subject; I will surely bring something wonderful to the table.” You have to distill the chaos and then “rediscover,” transfer it from your subconscious to your conscious mind. It took me two and a half years to get “back.” By that time, I had written another play about President Lyndon Johnson, a person I didn’t like at all until I wrote the play, when I realized what a great man he was. I did a lot of study at his presidential library in Austin when I happened to be in that area. Playwriting is something I may go back to in retirement, because that was fun. The second play, the LBJ play, was produced in Fort Worth at a theater. To see a script become a play with a director, and an exceptionally good lead actor, is about as satisfying an experience as one can have. I felt very fortunate in stumbling in the direction of the possible “second career,” but I do not know yet whether I’ll work on math problems or plays in my old age, probably some of both!



Rolling Stops, Unfettered Freedoms Ashutosh Sabharwal, Ph.D. Professor, Electrical & Environmental Engineering, Rice University

In my experience you have to have a set of people who think like you around you. If you’re a singular person, then it becomes sometimes hard to achieve extra-ordinary things. Most people cannot stand “standing out” for very long. But if you have other people who are also thinking like you, then it also helps you, it raises your level and you also have likeminded people to work with and feed off. I think there should be an environment that allows you to fail, and lets you dust yourself off and stand up and try again, and let you do it multiple times without any fear of consequences which could work against you. Your first prototype, second prototype, third prototype, often does not work. But our education system doesn’t like failures. I think someday you have to have that unafraid freedom which I had as a kid, 17

which allowed me to burn my hair repeatedly and short circuit the house hundreds of times, and blow up circuit boards. But never did my parents say, “You will have to stop doing it.� I think it was absolutely crucial for me to keep going on, not be worried about being stopped and have unfettered freedom in trying as many times as I needed to.



Hidden Solutions Keith Cooper, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

My research is the translation of programming languages. People program computers in some abstract language and that has to be translated into a form where it can execute on a computer and our research has focused for 30 years on how to do that translation efficiently and how to do that translation so that the result is efficient. The recorder in your hand has a computer processor that has so little memory that it’s shocking. The cell phone you carry is 15 times more powerful. This printer has a processor, this hearing aid has a processor that is, in real time, adjusting the sound in this room and, for example, tuning out, for me, noise out there. In each of those situations you want the translated code to have very different properties and 19

this is what we work on. People have proposed some radical ideas about how to build processors that use very little energy. Why would you care about that? Well, I would care more than you would because my hearing depends on a lifetime of batteries of this size. And if it goes from a week to a week and a half then that is a great thing. It makes it more likely it won’t die in the middle of lecture, and while explaining a complicated algebraic principle I won’t be fumbling and putting in new batteries and trying to do it without either breaking step or missing a sentence. And there is a certain skill involved in doing that. If we go back to the invention of the mechanical clock, mechanical clocks were invented in China, but the invention in the Western world which seems to have been independent. The mechanical clocks were invented in monasteries populated by Catholics and the prime dictate that they were trying to follow is Christ’s “pray without ceasing.” The way the Catholics interpreted this was they instituted liturgy where they divided daylight hours into 7 ceremonies and they invented the mechanical clocks to tell you when to pray. But if you think about that problem, 20

they are trying to divide the time between sunrise and sunset into sevenths, so they built clocks that had variable length hours, divided daylight into 7 hours, and over the course of the seasons the clock would adjust that length. So when they first moved clocks into public, the technologists thought a general increase in piety and righteousness would occur because everyone would know when to pray. Of course, what happened was farmers wanted to know when they should get up to feed the cows, and people wanted to know when to meet their friends for appointments, so the clocks rapidly went to a fixed length hour. Mechanical clocks and, subsequently, digital clocks have changed our world. We now think linearly instead of cyclically; it has completely changed our conception of the universe but not at all the way the guys in Europe that invented mechanical clocks thought. They thought they would get everyone to pray, so I think you always have to take technologists with a huge grain of salt when they tell you something is going to happen. When Zuckerberg invented Facebook what was he trying to do? He was trying to meet cute girls at Harvard, he was trying to pin together the cute 21

photographs. Little did he think that it would lead to the mess that is Facebook, and I say this is as a father of 2 girls, little did he think it would be a billiondollar corporation that is now trying to capitalize and figure out how to get ads onto your cell phone. That wasn’t his goal, his goal was to impress his friends and pull out pictures of cute girls at Harvard.



Finding Your Niche Jane Grande-Allen, Ph.D. Professor, Bioengineering, Rice University

We look at mechanical properties of heart valves. We look at heart valves microscopically, the cells and how the cells behave inside and outside of heart valves. We tried to look at, not just normal heart valves, but also diseased heart valves, where we try to create the diseases in our lab, or I can get diseased heart valves from the medical center. Now we’re working toward trying to create synthetic but living heart valves to enlarge the knowledge about heart valve biology and biomechanics so that medications for treating heart valve diseases can be developed. That’s the main driving goal. When I got into the field, everyone was trying to create better truly artificial heart valves. These have been developed for fifty years or so. I was a little bit more interested in trying to find out what happens to the valves and what makes them go wrong at the first place. Why 23

did it even need replacing? There weren’t that many people looking at that. So that was very exciting for me.



Key to Continued Success F. Kurtis Kasper, Ph.D. Faculty Fellow, Bioengineering, Rice University

We all face failures. Because one could say an inability to meet an expectation is a failure, and that can be within your control or it could be outside of your control. Certainly unexpected things happen in life and there are a number of circumstances that can lead us to failing, however we define that. I think that what’s important, what I found in the failures that I’ve had, and there have been many, is that it’s important to continue onward and to not dwell on failures, but to try and find in each failure an opportunity to move forward. You may hear often people say that when one door closes, there’s always another door or window that opens, and it can be difficult to find that opening, but to be able to find the opportunity that’s present in any challenge or any failure, is key to maintaining a positive outlook. And I think it’s also the key to continued success. 25



Predicting How Humans Behave Joe Warren, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

How do I keep myself motivated? Well I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I think for 25 years of them I was doing computer graphics and I’ve worked on it for a long time. I’ll be the first to admit that working on something for 25 years, your motivation level kind of goes down a little bit. So one of the things that I did is I’ve been working on this online class that I’ve built. I’ve worked on that for about the last year and a half and that’s kind of reinvigorated me. I think that the interesting thing about building this online class is that, instead of being an exercise in mathematics, it’s an exercise in understanding humans. When you teach a class with tens of thousands of students, you get to see firsthand human nature in action. You get to understand, predict, and explain how humans behave and it’s really hard. It’s actually harder than doing math. Predicting and understanding how 27

humans behave is very difficult but it’s an interesting challenge and so I think the thing that, you know, has kind of come to me in terms of what keeps me invigorated is work on things that I like. If I’m not working on something I like, then I’m not going to do a great job. I really like teaching this online class, and so for me it’s a very invigorating thing to say, okay I want to sit down and figure out, can I make it better in this aspect, can I build a tool that will improve the learning process, or can I build some better assessments, or kind of go through and redo some of the lectures so that they’re easier for students to understand. So for me, that’s recreation, it’s not a job. For almost my entire career, I worked on what I’m working on not because of a paycheck, but because I really like doing it. It’s like solving a puzzle. The best thing I can recommend is; you work on things that you like and let that drive you, and if you end up finding that you don’t like what you’re working on, and then find a new area. Choose a new area; find a new area that gets you invigorated.



Computer Modeling for Medicine Luay Nakhleh, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

I work mainly on evolutionary biology questions. How did life evolve on earth, how did everything evolve, from DNA to genes to individuals to organisms? I even work on natural languages, how did languages evolve from each other, European languages in particular? What I do is I do mathematical models and computational tools that will allow biologists to do inference and analysis of evolutionary questions. So a biologist, for example, has a collection of genes from human, chimp, gorilla, mouse, rat, whatever, they want to understand how they evolve, how they mutated and why or what mutation is responsible for what trait and so on. We develop computer tools to do these kinds of things in an automatic fashion. I work a lot in the medical 29

field as well, with Methodist Hospital on bacteria. One of the biggest health issues that face the country and the world is bacterial infections. We always think of devastating diseases as cancer and stuff like that, but bacterial infections are a serious health issue, and one of the things that people are doing in hospitals today is that when a patient with infection shows up to a hospital, the hospitals now have the capability, in a very short amount of time and for very low price, to sequence the entire genome of the bacteria, that isolate in the patient, and the question is when you do this for thousands of patients, now you have thousands of genomes lying around, and how do you analyze them? So now you need to do what we call bioinformatics analysis, computational analysis, because manually you cannot do this. This is large amount of data. We do our work to understand how bacteria get transmitted in a population or why certain bacterium, for example, is resistant to antibiotics or a patient is not responding to antibiotics and so on. Manual analysis is not the answer, and you have to use computer science, so our work relates to cancer, to bacteria, to all these kinds of questions. 30


Spreading Yourself Out Jeffrey Jacot, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Bioengineering, Rice University

I feel that when something is close or about to finish then I will put all my effort just to make sure I get it to finish. But I think much of the time, I tend to spread myself thin and do a lot of things and I try to be good about just giving up on ones that do not work. And I think that I may be successful in my research by starting a lot of projects, starting more projects than I can finish. In some cases it is tough. Just having projects that you cannot commit to and you just have to finish those you think are not working. But usually the best for me is to try a lot of things, then just become really focused on one thing once it is clear that you are going to finish it.




Tackling Climate Change Daniel Cohan, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Rice University

My main research is to better understand how air pollution forms, and how to cost effectively control it. In recent years, we are trying to use satellite data to improve understanding of air pollution. Looking forward, we are going to study more about effective use of energy, and modeling of the energy systems and economic impacts that resulted from different uses of energy. I mainly focus on technical and rigorous science and publishing it in journals that focus on scientific community, but I was motivated by the take-home messages of these studies and how are they going to benefit the decision makers who need to find ways to clean up the environment. Even back in 1989, when I was in middle school, I was interested in global warming. The importance of protecting the environment was a hot topic in public 33

consciousness even at that time. If you look closer into the climate change, and compare it to what is understood now, the main outlines of understanding essentially stayed the same. We filled in a lot more details, complexity, and a better estimation of how the world is going to warm up.



Implications of Basic Research Amina Qutub, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

My lab studies how we respond to low oxygen levels. That sounds like a very basic thing. We are breathing in air right now, made up of 21% oxygen, and we take that for granted. But, throughout your body we have very different levels of oxygen. If it changes slightly it is going to affect your health. It happens in all different diseases. If you have diabetes or if you have a stroke, or if you have cancer, your levels of hypoxia change locally. That makes the disease more aggressive and sometimes it can cause a disease. Hypoxia can also be beneficial. If you went out and ran around Rice’s outer loop and came back, your cells would be under hypoxia. They would start sending out signals to deliver more oxygen, and recruit or grow new blood vessels – with consistent exercise, you’d grow new capillaries. We are trying fundamentally to understand this in order 35

to treat different diseases. A lot of my focus is on neurodegenerative diseases, for example, how do we regenerate the vessels in the brain after a stroke, using this hypoxic response? Another part of it is on cancer, how do we eliminate the hypoxic response that makes cancer more aggressive? I like the way we have used different tools to tackle problems. We are not wedded to a particular tool. We will find what it takes to solve a problem, which often means making our own tools, designing our own algorithms, and being fearless in the lab in terms of designing new experiments.



Simple Problems with Complicated Effects Rob Griffin, Ph.D. Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Rice University

There are two big impacts that I would consider for my research. One is related to climate and particles that are in the atmosphere. They can reflect sunlight or absorb outgoing planetary radiation. Those impacts depend on how big these particles are and what they are made of chemically. These particles are also the seeds around which cloud droplets form so these particles impact cloud formation. Clouds reflect solar radiation back to space and can counteract the greenhouse effect. The ability of these particles to make clouds depends on their size and chemistry, which again goes back to the processes I research. The other big impact is in terms of human health. You breathe these particles in. There is a very strong 37

statistical correlation between the mass concentration of these particles and increased rates of morbidity and mortality compared to statistical norms. There are a lot of questions as to how low particle concentrations need to go to avoid these health impacts. There are a lot of questions about whether health effects are related to specific components in the particles. There are questions as to whether there are synergistic effects. If you breathe in one type of particle and it is just by itself, it may not be bad. If you breathe this type of particle with something else, there may be compounding effects. There are lots of open questions about the health impacts of these particles. Then you have to bring in all kinds of sociological factors into that discussion. Where do people live relative to the freeway, relative to the industrial source, relative to the predominant wind direction from downtown? How are these health outcomes distributed across the ethnic groups? There are huge, huge health impacts of this work.



Taking Risks Jacob Robinson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

Big failures, maybe not getting something that I wanted, a job, or an acceptance of a paper, I think those are just things that happen. You run into a roadblock, it just didn’t work out for you, you just find something else that will. I think if you want to get inside my head a little bit more, I think more of what I think I struggle with, and I think a lot of faculty struggle with it, people don’t know or understand or they don’t talk about, is that, for me, there’s doubt every day that I’ve made it this far, but maybe that’s it. Maybe my next set of things won’t work and the project that I have now invested so much time in, ultimately isn’t going to be successful. And so there’s this fear and this doubt that you live with. And that, I think, is what people try and hide. You don’t want to show weakness, you don’t want people to think 39

that… I especially don’t want my students to think that, “Here’s a project, I’m hoping it’ll work, or maybe it won’t, and you’re going to spend three years only to discover that this was a terrible idea.” I think what helps me get through that is the idea that this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. You feel this way any time you take a risk. So you start working on a project that your advisor gives to you, and you’re like “I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t even know what he’s saying. I’m going to go read Wikipedia and figure out the heck he’s even talking about.” But you realize that it was a struggle, you had no idea what you were doing when you started, but somehow you made it work. And you do enough of these over and over again that you just have some faith that you can start something, be really insecure, maybe face potential failure. But you always found a way to make something a success, even if it wasn’t initially what you planned on making. So I think that just managing that insecurity and managing that fear of failure is what, I think, is what keeps me going when I’m working on these ambitious and uncharted, “I don’t really know what I’m doing yet” kind of projects.



Dr. Genevera Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics at Rice University. Her research interests include developing mathematical tools to help scientists understand massive amounts of data sets that are produced by technological advances in medicine, engineering, the Internet, and finance. Her applied research interests include neuroimaging, high-throughput genomics, imaging, and metabolomics. Dr. Allen received her B.A. from Rice University in 2006 and her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2010. Dr. Michael Carroll is the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and professor in Computational and Applied Mathematics, at Rice University. He was born in Thurles, Ireland, in 1936, came to the U.S. in 1960 and became a naturalized citizen in 1970. Carroll earned his B.A. in mathematical sciences and master’s degree in mathematical physics from University College, Galway, in 1958 and 1959, respectively, and his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Brown University in 1965. He received the D.Sc. for published work from the National University of Ireland in 1979. Dr. Daniel Cohan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. His research specializes in the development of photochemical models and their application to air quality management, uncertainty analysis, energy policy, and health impact studies. Before joining Rice, Dr. Cohan worked for the Air Protection


Branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. He received a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry from Georgia Tech, and served as a Fulbright Scholar to Australia at the Cooperative Research Centre for Southern Hemisphere Meteorology. Dr. Cohan is a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER young investigator award and a member of the NASA Air Quality Applied Sciences Team. Dr. Keith Cooper is the Associate Dean for Research at the George. R. Brown School of Engineering and the L. John and Ann H. Doerr Professor of Computational Engineering at Rice University. His research involves the use of adaptive techniques in code optimization, improved algorithms for code optimization, instruction scheduling, and register allocation, and the application of optimization techniques to reduce the energy consumed by microprocessors. From Rice University, Dr. Cooper received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1978, his M.S. in Mathematical Sciences in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences in 1983. Dr. Jane Grande-Allen is a Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Chair of External Partnerships at Rice University. Her primary research applies engineering analysis to understand and fight heart valve disease. After receiving a B.A. with top honors in Mathematics and Biology from Transylvania University, she received a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from University of Washington. Dr. Rob Griffin is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. Dr. Griffin’s research involves aerosol thermodynamics and chemistry, air


pollution transport, atmospheric chemistry, regional air quality modeling, and urban air quality. Dr. Griffin’s research interests lie in performing field, laboratory, and computational experiments designed to understand the effects and behavior of organic species in the troposphere. Dr. Griffin received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Tufts University in 1993 and his M.S./Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Caltech in 1997/2000. Dr. Illya Hicks is an Associate Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. His research interests are in combinatorial optimization, integer programming, graph theory and matroid theory. Some applications of interest are social networks, cancer treatment and network design. His current research is focused on using graph decomposition techniques to solve NP-complete problems. After receiving his B.S. in Mathematics at Texas State Univerity in 1995, Dr. Hicks received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice in 2000. Dr. Jeffrey Jacot is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University. His research specializes in the study of congenital heart disease and heart defects, and in the translation of novel regenerative cardiac therapies for young patients of various stages in their growth and development. After receiving his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Colorado, Dr. Jacot obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University (2005) and completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship in Cardiac Myocyte Mechanics at University of California, San Diego (2005-2008). Dr. David B. Johnson is a Professor in the departments of Computer Science and Electrical & Computer


Engineering at Rice University. His research interests include network protocols, distributed systems, operating systems, and the interactions between these areas. Dr. Johnson received a B.A. in Computer Science and Mathematical Sciences in 1982, an M.S. in Computer Science in 1985, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1990, all from Rice University. Dr. F. Kurtis Kasper is a Faculty Fellow in the department of Bioengineering. Dr. Kasper’s research focuses on the development and evaluation of novel biomaterial-based approaches for tissue regeneration, cell encapsulation, and the controlled delivery of thepeutics. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 1999, and his Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006. Dr. Kevin F. Kelly is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the leader of the Kelly Lab, focused on cutting-edge imaging research. He earned his undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics from the Colorado School of Mines in 1993 and his graduate degrees in Applied Physics from Rice University in 1996 ad 1999. He received his post-doctorate degree in Japan and at Penn State. He has been at since 2002. Dr. Luay Nakhleh is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Rice University. His research is in the bioinformatics field and develops methodologies, through implementing software tools and conducting analyses, that are aimed at answering and empowering research into biological questions, specifically evolutionary questions, his main topic of interest. Dr. Nakhleh was born and educated in Israel. He received his B.S. in Computer Science from the Technion in Israel, his M.S. in Computer Science in Texas A&M and a Ph.D. degree at UT Austin. He is the


recipient of numerous teaching and fellowship awards such Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, John P. Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and more. Dr. Amina Qutub is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University. Her research at Rice University integrates biological systems theory and design to characterize hypoxic response signaling and neurovascular dynamics. After receiving her B.S in Chemical Engineering from Rice University in 1999, Dr. Qutub went on to receive a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from University of California, Berkeley in 2004, as well as graduating from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2009. Dr. Jacob Robinson is an Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Rice University. His research group uses nanofabrication technology to create devices that can perform large scale high resolution studies of neural circuit activity. Dr. Robinson graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.S. in Physics in 2003. He then entered the Applied Physics Ph.D. program at Cornell University. In 2008, he joined Professor Hongkun Park’s research group in the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at Harvard University. Dr. Ashutosh Sabharwal is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University. His research includes “distributed” network information theory, full-duplex wireless communications, directional communication on mobile devices and scalable health. Professor Sabharwal received his B.Tech. in electrical


engineering from Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi in 1993 and his MS and PhD in electrical engineering from the Ohio State University in 1999. Dr. Joe Warren is a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University. His research interests focus on the application of computers to geometric problems and are centered around the general problem of representing geometric shapes. More specifically, he works with computer graphics, computer gaming, geometric modeling, and visualization. Dr. Warren received his B.A. from Rice University in 1983 and went on to complete his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1986.



Special thanks to Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering faculty who graciously spent time sharing their career experiences and educational life stories with the Gateway students through one-on-one interviews. Much appreciation goes to School of Social Sciences Dean Lyn Ragsdale for her ongoing support of the Gateway Study of Leadership program. We would also like to give special recognition to Dr. David Nino, Dr. Phillip Kortum, Dr. David Johnson, Dr. Sergio Chavez and Dr. Royce Carroll, as well as Rice alumni Neeraj Salhotra (’13), Amol Utrankar (’14), Danny Cohen (’14) for their contributions to the training of the 2013-2014 GSL fellows, and to Ms. Jennifer Gucwa for her assistance with editing the publications. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Gateway Associates and the supporters of the Gateway program for making projects like this possible. Many thanks also go to the current and past Turning Points team and the GSL fellows for the tremendous amount of time and effort they commit to bringing the faculty stories to life.


Envisioning Solutions