Nine projects earn nod from Rice Faculty Initiatives Fund

Nice ideas finish first
Nine projects earn nod from Rice Faculty Initiatives Fund


Rice News staff

Rice researchers are nothing if not adventurous. Just look at the kinds of things they propose to do with funds they’ve won through the Office of Research’s Faculty Initiatives Fund.

Nine grants totaling $374,180 have been awarded to Rice faculty members to pursue projects that address the goals of the university’s Vision for the Second Century through their quality, significance and potential impact.

The projects must also have potential to draw additional outside funding and enrich research opportunities for students.

Vice Provost for Research James Coleman said competition for this year’s awards was fierce.

”We had 41 proposals competing this year. Each of them proposed creative and exciting scholarly, education and/or outreach activities across the spectrum of disciplines at Rice, and with many different partners ranging from local to international, that could propel the Vision for the Second Century forward,” he said. “The review team of national academic leaders had a very difficult time selecting the winners and commented to me on how excellent the proposals were.”

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for 20 years, and it’s making something that was a dream become a reality,” said Richard Tapia, University Professor and the Maxfield-Oshman Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His pilot Community and Mentoring Program for Undergraduate Success, or CAMPUS, will enrich Rice undergraduates’ experience during their freshman year, when they most need to feel connected to the university’s intellectual environment and be exposed to role models who can encourage them. Rudy Guerra, professor of statistics, shared the grant and will recruit students for the program, which will begin this fall.

“Simply stated, without the funding, it wouldn’t happen,” Tapia said.

The other winners and their proposals are:

Marcia Brennan, associate professor of art history, plans to host a scholar symposium titled “Museums and Medical Humanities: Our Continuing Conversation,” which will use Houston’s Menil Collection as a baseline to “explore a nexus of themes concerning embodiment, creativity, trauma, diagnosis, medicine, healing, reflection and transformation.”

Rebekah Drezek, professor in bioengineering and in electrical and computer engineering, and Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor and chair of Bioengineering, propose a Rice partnership with Baylor College of Medicine to establish a joint undergraduate program using photothermal nanotherapeutics and nanodiagnostics to accelerate translational breast cancer research.

Rui-Rui Du, professor of physics and astronomy, and Jun Kono, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering, want to establish an interdisciplinary partnership among U.S., Chinese and Japanese researchers to study the quantum spin Hall effect in semiconductors.

Ramon Gonzalez, the William W. Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Michael Wong, associate professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry; and Jonathan Silberg, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, will look into engineering light-triggered bionanoparticles for cellular reprogramming. These would be useful for controlling protein and cellular functioning.

Matthias Henze, the Watt J. and Lily G. Jackson Chair in Biblical Studies and associate professor of religious studies, will expand Jewish studies at Rice while bolstering research and student initiatives and working on community outreach.

Christina Keefe, director of the Rice Theatre Program and a lecturer in visual and dramatic arts, has embarked upon “The Threepenny Project,” a multidisciplinary project that will culminate in six public performances of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” in November at Hamman Hall.

Edison Liang, the Andrew Hays Buchanan Professor of Astrophysics, earned a continuation of his grant to use the newly completed Texas petawatt laser in Austin to create antimatter. Liang was part of a U.S. team that succeeded in creating the world’s most intense positron source using the Titan laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California.

Kenneth Whitney, assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Michael Covington, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, are studying seed-to-seed chemical signaling in Arabidopsis thaliana. The newly discovered process involving the small, flowering plant has implications for evolutionary ecology and molecular mechanisms.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.