Rice’s COVID-19 research fund awards final grants

Third round backs research in social, psychological and political effects, genetic tools, ventilator design, nursing needs and protocols for musicians

The Rice University COVID-19 Research Fund Oversight and Review Committee has awarded nine final grants to faculty working to mitigate the effects of the new coronavirus.

COVID-19 research fundResearchers at Rice, some with collaborators at other institutions, will study social, political, psychological and epidemiological aspects of COVID-19, as well as the development of genetic tools, a new ventilator design, a method to efficiently schedule nurses and social distancing performance protocols for musicians at the Houston Symphony and elsewhere.

The grants are part of the third and final round to be backed by the fund, which announced its first round on April 20 and second round on May 7. The committee is led by Marcia O’Malley, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Mechanical Engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science. O’Malley is a special adviser to the provost on educational and research initiatives for collaborative health.

The winning proposals:

Fred Oswald of Rice, Rodica Damian and Tingshu Liu of the University of Houston and Patrick Hill of Washington University plan to examine critical long-term effects of COVID-19 on human development following adversity across a range of social contexts including occupational, educational, community, family, lifestyle, health and financial. They will study how people change in response to adversity, and whether adversity across different social contexts impacts people differently.

Oswald is the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Psychological Sciences and a professor of management at Rice. Damian is an assistant professor of social psychology and Liu a graduate student at the University of Houston. Hill is an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University.

Daniel Kowal and Thomas Sun of Rice will build a predictive model or the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Houston by borrowing information from locations that are similar to Houston and further along the disease incidence curve. The model will differ from epidemiological models that are sensitive to inputs they say are not well-known for COVID-19 and have led to inaccurate predictions. They expect their model to improve the accuracy of real-time predictions and to inform key policy decisions.

Kowal is an assistant professor of statistics. Sun is a graduate student.

Amelyn Ng of Rice and Gabriel Vergara of One Architecture and Urbanism will investigate how stay-at-home orders have disproportionately disrupted the domestic lives of Houston households, particularly low-income families with children. They will produce a survey concentrating on Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward that identifies which home stresses require urgent mitigation, which may be quickly overcome through spatial reorganization and which are likely to persist or worsen beyond the emergency.

Ng is a Wortham Fellow at Rice Architecture. Vergara is an architect and urban designer at One.

Laura Segatori and Omid Veiseh of Rice plan to engineer cell lines for the rapid development of clinically translatable neutralizing antibodies for infection control. This genetic “landing pad” will include a fluorescent reporter and a drug-resistance marker that will allow for evaluation of expressed antibodies and antibody fragments that neutralize SARS-CoV-2, rendering it unable to spread and reproduce.

Segatori is an associate professor of bioengineering and of chemical and bimolecular engineering and biosciences. Veiseh is an assistant professor of bioengineering.

Danielle King of Rice is working to better understand how COVID-19 has changed work conditions for critical human service employees who can no longer go to the workplace, like teachers, and those required to, like nurses. Her statistical analysis will help determine what personal and professional resources are most effective in reducing COVID-19-indused strain across occupational types.

King is an assistant professor of psychological sciences.

Michael Wong and Rafael Verduzco of Rice and John Graf of NASA will continue development of a NASA-designed prototype ventilator for rapid deployment based on an off-the-shelf automotive oxygen sensor. Rice’s engineers would help NASA establish the operating principles of the oxygen-sensing technology for its ventilator, called VITAL. Those principles are essential for delivering oxygen at precise flow rates and pressures.

Wong is the department chair and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a professor of chemistry, materials science and nanoengineering and civil and environmental engineering. Verduzco is an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. Graf is an engineer at Johnson Space Center.

Ashok Veeraraghavan, Robert Yekovich and Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice and John Mangum of the Houston Symphony will investigate proper social-distancing protocols for rehearsal and performance by musicians and singers. The team will study the air flow created by wind instruments and singers using high-speed imaging. Their dataset and analysis will be made public to benefit musical organizations and individual musicians.

Veeraraghavan is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Yekovich is dean of the Shepherd School of Music and the Elma Schneider Professor of Music. Sabharwal is department chair and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Mangum is president and CEO of the Houston Symphony.

Hulya Eraslan, Rossella Calvi, Dibya Deepta Mishra and Ritika Sethi of Rice will study how state and local officials have employed public health measures in response to COVID-19 and whether the patchwork of jurisdictions is making the response to the pandemic more or less effective. Their research is based on an original dataset that combines election results with disaggregated data on policies and outcomes. The goal is to understand the impact of political alignment across levels of government on the effectiveness of its response.

Eraslan is the Ralph S. O’Connor Chair and a professor of economics. Calvi is an assistant professor of economics. Mishra and Sethi are graduate students.

Andrew Schaefer, Illya Hicks and Joseph Huchette of Rice and Nicole Fontenot of Houston Methodist Hospital will use optimization models to plan nursing schedules during times of uncertainty, when a hospital’s needs are highly variable. Their proposed approach will use stochastic programming (a modeling under uncertainty framework) to allow for improved and dynamic decision making using forecast demand.

Schaefer is the Noah Harding Chair and a professor of computational and applied mathematics and of computer science. Hicks is a professor of computational and applied mathematics. Huchette is an assistant professor of computational and applied mathematics. Fontenot is an instructor in nursing at Methodist.

About Mike Williams

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