TAMEST Blog Series: 2014 O’Donnell Awards Recipients (4th post by Dr. Richard Bruick)

The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.

The fourth post in this series was written by Dr. Richard Bruick, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine. Dr. Bruick’s studies on cellular responses to maintain oxygen and iron homeostasis have helped lay the foundation for the development of small molecule therapeutics to replace erythropoietin as a treatment for anemia, to treat renal cell carcinoma, and to address iron overload disorders.

View Dr. Bruick’s presentation at the TAMEST 2014 Annual Conference.
View Dr. Bruick’s portion of the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards tribute video.

The 2015 O’Donnell Awards recipients were announced in December through a press release and a video trailer on the TAMEST website.


Dr. Richard Bruick, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine

By Richard Bruick, Ph.D.

Perhaps the earliest and most frequent advice I’ve received over the years from the chair of our Biochemistry Department, Dr. Steve McKnight, is “make a discovery!” This should not be confused with “publish lots of papers!” as is often intended when well-meaning colleagues coach young faculty preoccupied with launching their careers. Rather, it’s a call to constantly tackle new and challenging problems that may pay off with life-changing advances. There is a great deal of risk associated with this approach. Progress may be slow and hard to measure with no guarantee of success—not exactly ideal selling points when trying to get grant funding.

Drs. Kevin Gardner and Richard Bruick

Drs. Bruick (right) and Gardner (left) have collaborated on the development of small molecules with the potential to treat kidney cancer.

Over a decade ago, my collaborator Kevin Gardner and I embarked on one such project. I had begun my independent career investigating mechanisms that our cells use to sense changes in oxygen availability. This work was highlighted by the identification of key regulatory enzymes that have subsequently been studied by countless groups, and are now the targets of candidate drugs to treat anemia. However, we were intrigued by a potential vulnerability we spied within a different player in the pathway that we hoped could be useful in the context of cancer treatments. This particular target was largely ignored by others in our field, in part because it did not fit into a known class of “druggable” protein targets.

Combining the expertise of UT Southwestern biochemists, structural biologists, and chemists, we sought to develop inhibitors that could exploit our hypothesized liability. Though we gained many insights along the way, the challenges were substantial and progress was often arduous. It wasn’t until 2011—after almost ten years of work—that we achieved the key milestone we aimed for at the outset: a chemical inhibitor that targeted this “undruggable” factor. This technology was licensed to a biotechnology start-up company here in Texas, Peloton Therapeutics, which successfully advanced these early lead molecules into clinical drug candidates for the treatment of kidney cancer. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the start of a clinical trial, and the first patients are receiving the candidate drug as I write this today. It is an exciting time for all involved and we can’t wait to see whether this off-the-wall idea in which we’ve invested so much time will finally pay off with improved treatments for cancer patients.

Structure of a small molecule inhibitor bound to a protein implicated as a key driver of tumor progression in kidney cancer

Shown is the structure of a small molecule inhibitor bound to a protein implicated as a key driver of tumor progression in kidney cancer.

I was very gratified to receive the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST). This award recognizes the efforts of dozens of talented individuals over the years as well as Dr. McKnight’s vision and the willingness of UT Southwestern to encourage bold research programs. I firmly believe the Department of Biochemistry at UT Southwestern was central to my success. Our work required significant investments in infrastructure, including shared facilities for small molecule screening, medicinal chemistry, biophysical analysis, and pharmacodynamics characterization. We relied on the excellent labs neighboring ours that span many scientific disciplines and the collegial environment fostered at our institution. As our work matures, new avenues of research continue to open up, allowing us to engage even more investigators to address ongoing opportunities in both clinical and basic research.

The O’Donnell Award validates the patience and trade-offs required to pursue high-risk, long-term objectives and acknowledges the outstanding mentorship I’ve received as well as the terrific colleagues, collaborators and trainees I’ve worked with over the years. The O’Donnell Award provides the freedom to think as creatively as possible, and helps researchers like me all across this state to boldly recruit the next generation of students and fellows to explore new opportunities. I’m thrilled to be in the company of so many outstanding Texas scientists who have been selected for O’Donnell Awards since the program began. Texas is fortunate to have an organization like TAMEST fostering innovation in our state through this unique, life-changing awards program, which will continue to drive innovation in Texas for years to come.

Dr. Richard BruickDr. Richard Bruick is associate professor of biochemistry and a Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Chancellor McRaven to Welcome New Members at TAMEST’s 12th Annual Conference

Chancellor William H. McRavenThe TAMEST Membership is honored to have new University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven kick off its new member event at the 12th annual conference on Wednesday evening, January 21, 2015, at Houston’s Omni Hotel. The new member event was added to the agenda at TAMEST’s 2012 Annual Conference in Houston and quickly became a popular tradition for acknowledging the previous year’s members who were either elected to the National Academies or relocated to Texas.

We look forward to Chancellor McRaven’s welcoming remarks at the Wednesday evening event. He will be introduced by TAMEST’s Co-founder and Honorary Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison. As noted in Chancellor McRaven’s bio, his last assignment with the Navy was Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, during which time he led a force of 69,000 men and women with an annual budget of more than $10 billion. We understand from his comments to the media there are many parallels between his previous position and his new one as head of The University of Texas System. He also is a recognized national authority on U.S. foreign policy and has advised the president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of homeland security and other U.S. leaders on defense issues. He has worked extensively with leaders on Capitol Hill, and as a three- and four-star admiral, he was routinely involved in national policy decisions during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Of particular interest to TAMEST Members are Chancellor McRaven’s remarks regarding the value of research recently made to the UT System’s community commenting, “I understand and value the work in a way that others may not, because a lot of the research that starts in Texas has saved lives on the battlefield. I have seen it firsthand.” He is committed to collaborative efforts between academia and industry stating, “I am also excited about the prospects of partnering with the other great academic and research institutions and with industry in the state and beyond. I will quickly reach out to leaders in these areas to find ways to improve collaboration and cooperation for the good of all the people of Texas.” The full text of his message is available here.

Chancellor McRaven created quite a stir in the media with his May 2014 commencement speech to his alma mater at UT Austin going viral with over 3 million views on YouTube.

We envision a long and productive relationship with Chancellor McRaven advancing scientific research and innovation across the UT System, TAMEST Member Institutions, and industry throughout Texas.

TAMEST Blog Series: 2014 O’Donnell Awards Recipients (3rd post by Dr. Thomas Truskett)

The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.

The third post in this series was written by Dr. Thomas Truskett, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering. Dr. Truskett was recognized for fundamental contributions in three areas—self-assembly at the nanoscale, dynamics of confined liquids, and structural arrest of complex fluids—that are important for applications ranging from biomedical imaging to the delivery of therapeutic proteins.

View Dr. Truskett’s presentation at the TAMEST 2014 Annual Conference.
View Dr. Truskett’s portion of the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards tribute video.

The 2015 O’Donnell Awards recipients were announced in December through a press release and a video trailer on the TAMEST website.


Dr. Thomas Truskett, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering

By Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.

Through discovery and innovation, scientists and engineers have a long history of addressing challenges critical to our health, prosperity, and security; i.e., to our quality of life. Since the latter is a priority for the citizens of most communities, a practical question arises. What can be done now (e.g., as a city, state, nation, etc.) to encourage and support a lasting culture of discovery and innovation? More specifically, what actions can be taken to help create and sustain the necessary human capital and infrastructure, as well as the resources and incentives, for these activities to thrive over the long term?

The answers are, of course, community specific and require understanding a complex landscape of political, strategic, and economic considerations. Private investors and companies have financial incentives to support development of promising and profitable technologies, and—all else equal—they favor investments in locations with a healthy business environment, a vibrant technological sector, and a highly skilled workforce, often in close proximity to prestigious tier-one research universities. The latter can be particularly helpful because the intersection of education and the world-class research characteristic of tier-one institutions not only helps to attract and retain top faculty and students, but it also produces a steady stream of graduates educated in a culture of discovery and innovation. More broadly, the tier-one university goals of educating future leaders and creating and disseminating new knowledge complement those of a robust technological sector.

Image of clustering in a simulated model dispersion of therapeutic proteins

An image of clustering in a simulated model dispersion of therapeutic proteins. Colors identify individual clusters. Image credit: Jon Bollinger and Thomas Truskett, UT Austin.

But that still leaves the question of what to do to cultivate an environment conducive to the long-term success of tier-one research universities? In addition to providing the necessary funding for world-class faculty and facilities (dollar amounts that get repaid many times over by the economic impact of these institutions), further investments need to be made to broadly support a culture of discovery and innovation. In Texas, one successful and forward-thinking example of such an initiative is The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST), founded a decade ago to recognize and bring together the top innovators in the state of Texas, including members of The National Academies as well as rising stars. Through its annual conferences and critical issues forums, as well as through the annual O’Donnell Awards, TAMEST has created something truly unique in Texas: a relevant innovation connection point for top educators, researchers, professionals, industry practitioners, media, and the public.

I experienced first-hand the benefits of TAMEST over the last year after being selected as the recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award for Engineering. It’s hard to describe how quickly giving an O’Donnell Awards Lecture at the annual conference in front of hundreds of Academy members and rising stars opens new doors for collaboration. This type of broad exposure is especially important in highly interdisciplinary fields like some of those in which I and my collaborators work, including computational material design and engineering liquid forms of biological therapeutics for at-home treatment of disease. Based on interactions and conversations associated with the O’Donnell Awards and the annual conference, I learned of fascinating complementary approaches, techniques, and ideas from other areas of science and engineering that advanced our research capabilities, and I have also established entirely new collaborations that are broadening the impact of our work. As the new year approaches, I look forward to the chance to return and participate in the annual conference and contribute to what has become a powerful and enlightening interaction forum for discovery and innovation in Texas.


Dr. Thomas Truskett is Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.Department Chair, Les and Sherri Stuewer Endowed Professor, and Bill L. Stanley Leadership Chair in Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

TAMEST Blog Series: 2014 O’Donnell Awards Recipients (2nd Post by Dr. James Walker)

The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.

The second post in this series was written by Dr. James Walker, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation. Dr. Walker was recognized for his pioneering work, development, and modeling in impact theory, penetration mechanics, material characterization and response under dynamic loading, and their application to resolving problems of international importance in personal protection and safety for defense and the space program.

View Dr. Walker’s presentation at the TAMEST 2014 Annual Conference.
View Dr. Walker’s portion of the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards tribute video.

The 2015 O’Donnell Awards recipients were recently announced through a press release and a video trailer on the TAMEST website.


Dr. James Walker, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation

Decreasing the Analysis Time to Speed Up Development of Ground Combat Vehicles

By James Walker, Ph.D.

I was a principal investigator in the DARPA Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program, which is wrapping up this year (2014). AVM was a large research program with the ambitious goal of reducing the time from concept to production of a ground combat vehicle by a factor of five. There are many topics that come into play in the development and production of a new vehicle. Given our specific expertise in impact and blast, the Engineering Dynamics Department at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), located in San Antonio, Texas, was in charge of delivering the survivability analysis tools. Our effort included three divisions at SwRI and four subcontractors.

The aim was that the vehicle be “correct by construction.” To achieve the AVM program goals, accurate modeling of vehicle systems’ behaviors is required. We delivered survivability tools that greatly sped up the design and analysis process. The SwRI team’s role in this program was to provide survivability models for ballistic, blast, and corrosion protection, and human factors models.

Our work produced significant survivability tools, highlighted by five major innovations:

• Innovation #1. Multi-fidelity analysis/varying levels of refinement in physics models, so that faster/lower fidelity computations could be performed in initial design space exploration, and more detailed analysis was performed during design refinement,
• Innovation #2. Automated meshing and connecting of parts for complex vehicle structure, with particular success in our automatic welding and bolting tools,
• Innovation #3. Uncertainty quantification and development of 95% bounding models thus indicating for minimal additional computational cost the robustness of the design,
• Innovation #4. Sophisticated large deformation/material failure material model library and more accurate blast loads, since the results of the computations cannot be more accurate than the material characterizations and the applied loads, and
• Innovation #5. Automating the whole survivability pipelines for blast and ballistics—essentially the designer can launch the entire analysis from CAD, making the survivability analysis tools easy for the designer to use.

In the DARPA AVM program, these tools went through an extensive testing beta test and a Gamma Test exercise by both commercial firms and engineering R&D laboratories. In that exercise, the SwRI team survivability tools received extensive praise, including

1. “[Survivability tools] are much, much, much faster than the way we typically do things.”
2. “Weeks of work done in an hour” [referring specifically to the automesher, autowelder, and shader]
3. “Very impressed with the automation in blast and ballistics.”
4. “There is nothing else like it [ballistic Shotline Viewer].”

Figure 1. Images from computations during DARPA AVM showing hull deformation

Figure 1. Images from SwRI team computations during DARPA AVM showing hull deformation due to blast and an automatically meshed vehicle hull with internal structural members.

As an example of automating an important behavior, consider the ability to handle welds and heat affected zones (HAZs). In the SwRI team software, this was completely automated, with the software looking for all finite elements that were in contact with a weld and then placing HAZ material properties into those elements. Figure 2 shows the bottom of a double V hull where, on the left, the heat affected zone is not included, while on the right, it is. There is a clear difference in the amount of damage and hull deflection. Accurately modeling the hull deformation requires these capabilities, which traditionally have been very labor intensive to include in a vehicle model prepared for analysis.

Figure 2. Blast computation on a conceptual hull

Figure 2. Images of a blast computation on a conceptual hull without a heat affected zone (HAZ) (top) and with an HAZ (bottom), showing the importance of including the HAZ. The HAZs and the welds in these examples were automatically produced by the SwRI team survivability tools.

An additional feature of the SwRI team survivability tools was the development of uncertainty-based bounds on the blast response. Given the variability in blast events, the uncertainty-based bounds are extremely helpful in identifying robust solutions. The bounds are obtained by assuming probability density functions (PDFs) for the main variables with variation or uncertainty in the blast problem: the charge density, energy, and geometric shape, the soil density and moisture content, and finally the depth of burial of the charge and the standoff with the bottom of the vehicle. With assumed distributions on these variables, the resulting probability density functions for the upward velocity, jump height, and a computed Dynamic Response Index (DRIz) spinal injury metric (with and without a blast seat with active mechanisms) are all computed. These PDFs allow the determination of a 95% bounding solution. A technique was then developed for rapidly determining the 95% bounding solution for similar blast cases, thus not requiring a recomputation of the PDF in each case, thus providing excellent nominal response values and bounds on the blast response (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. nominal-and-95-percent-upper-bound-for-each-plate-response-for-increasing-charge-mass-for-a-test-case

Figure 3. Nominal and 95% upper bound for each plate response (jump height, maximum vertical velocity, DRIz, and DRIz_seat) for increasing charge mass for a test case.

These examples are specific details that add up to analysis tools that address the larger goal of quicker turnaround for ground vehicles that can provide crew protection for a variety of threats. We are proud to support our troops and to work to provide them the best protection possible. Historically Texas provided ground vehicles to the U.S. military and hopefully such manufacturing will occur in Texas in the future. Nonprofit research establishments such as ours (SwRI), whose mission is “benefiting government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology,” will continue to promote efforts to provide protection to individuals in threatening environments of any kind, both natural and manmade. I’m pleased that The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas recognized the importance of our efforts to understand impact and blast events and to provide protection in such events. The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation in 2014 was great recognition of our work in protection systems over the years, from work on bullet proof vests to work on shielding the International Space Station. The recognition invigorated our entire research team and is much appreciated.

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards are unique awards that encourage, promote, and recognize Texas researchers by recognizing them by the Texas residents of the National Academies and by the heads of research universities and organizations. These awards are highly regarded by the leadership of the various institutions and demonstrate that resources invested in various programs have been good investments. I know that Southwest Research Institute leadership was very excited by our O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation, the first O’Donnell Award to be awarded to a San Antonio researcher. Further, O’Donnell Awards recognition brings the work of the recipients to a wider audience. Recognition of research demonstrates to various professional organizations and funding agencies that it is valued and has been reviewed by prestigious committees, and thus helps us quickly convey the importance and the relevance of the work.

Texas is a large state with lots of ongoing research, both basic and applied. Recognition of good research programs helps us advertise our work and attract funding and collaborators, both within and outside the state. Scientific and engineering research is an important component of the growing Texas economy. By recognizing innovation and cutting-edge technology advancements that occur in Texas laboratories, such as our work at Southwest Research Institute, it helps build connections and increase industrial outreach, which helps the economy and promotes more growth. Texas and the nation benefit by growth of high-technology positions and industry, and the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards help highlight science and technology success and promote more innovation and investment.


James Walker, Ph.D.Dr. James Walker is an institute scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a nonprofit engineering research and development center based in San Antonio.

TAMEST Blog Series: 2014 O’Donnell Awards Recipients (1st Post by Dr. Zhifeng Ren)

In anticipation of the upcoming announcement of the 2015 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards recipients, we are highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. We have invited 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients to contribute a post to this special blog series.

The first post in this series was written by Dr. Zhifeng Ren, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Science. Dr. Ren has made seminal contributions to five scientific fields: carbon nanotubes, thermoelectrics, zinc oxide nanowires, high temperature superconductivity, and molecule delivery/sensing. He was the first to grow aligned carbon nanotube arrays in large scale, make nanostructured bulk thermoelectric materials with much improved properties, and synthesize hierarchical zinc oxide nanowires.

View Dr. Ren’s presentation at the TAMEST 2014 Annual Conference.
View Dr. Ren’s portion of the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards tribute video.

The 2015 O’Donnell Awards recipients will be announced on Tuesday, December 9, 2014, through a video trailer on the TAMEST website.


Dr. Zhifeng Ren, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Science

By Zhifeng Ren, Ph.D.

Receiving the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Science was great, an important reminder for me and everyone in my research group that good work will eventually be recognized. It has made us work even harder and driven us to want to achieve much more in the years to come.

High transmittance and large stretchability of flexible transparent electrodes

Fig. 1. High transmittance and large stretchability of flexible transparent electrodes. (Top) High transmittance is shown by the clear letters below the electrode, and (bottom) the electrode is stretched at least 100%.

In just the 10 months since the awards were announced, we have published about 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals and filed 10 patent applications, all as we continue our work on high-performance thermoelectric materials and other devices for efficient thermal energy conversion. In addition, we have also started several other exciting programs, such as extremely stretchable conducting transparent electrodes for potential applications in wearable optoelectronic devices, along with work in novel nano materials and our work to create devices for drug delivery into and out of cells, work which can be used to interrogate the activities inside the cells and ultimately may provide a new method for killing cancer cells.

The O’Donnell Awards are an important acknowledgment of scientific and technological achievement in Texas. But the state still has a long way to go to reach its potential as a center for science and technology, and the economic benefits that would come with that.

Nano size of the grains of newly developed thermoelectric material MgAgSb

Fig. 2a. Microstructure and thermoelectric properties of a newly developed thermoelectric material MgAgSb. This shows the nano size of the grains.

Everyone knows that the United States has had the largest economy in the world for decades. The question is, why? The answer is that the United States has the most advanced science and technology because of the continuous governmental support for both the basic research and practical technologies programs, in addition to a good academic system and a stable political system. These programs have discovered numerous basic science phenomena and also invented many technologies, and simultaneously educated many people over the last century. These talented people come from all over the world, drawn here to pursue their American dream.

Thermoelectric figure-of-merit and its energy conversion efficiency of thermoelectric material MgAgSb

Fig. 2b. Microstructure and thermoelectric properties of a newly developed thermoelectric material MgAgSb. This shows the thermoelectric figure-of-merit (left) and its energy conversion efficiency (right) in comparison with the state-of-the-art bismuth telluride.

In my own lab at the University of Houston, I have found both the financial support – for both financial assistance for graduate students and for facilities – and importantly, through the collaborations with colleagues, to be crucial. It has been especially important to work with researchers from the UH Cullen College of Engineering, and about one-third of my Ph.D. students come from the college, in the fields of mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, electrical engineering, and chemical and biological engineering. These students and their advisors view the projects my group is carrying out from different angles, allowing us to solve challenging issues by bringing different approaches to the problems.

Molecular extraction by spearing cells

Fig. 3. Molecular extraction by spearing cells. (A) An external magnetic field drives multiple wall carbon nanotubes (MCNTs) toward a cell cultured on a polycarbonate filter. To indicate the molecular extraction, the cell is transfected for GFP overexpression beforehand. (B) MCNTs spear into the cell under magnetic force. (C) MCNTs spear through and out of the cell and extract GFP. GFP-carrying spears are collected in the pores of a polycarbonate filter. (D) GFP representing the intracellular signal molecules can be used for analysis of individual pores.

But even though the United States has been at the center of science and technology internationally for many years, Texas clearly has not been at the nation’s center of science and technology. That honor has gone to Massachusetts and California, which have the largest number of top research universities and probably most technology-driven startups. Boston alone has seven of the nation’s top 50 research universities, and California has 9.

Texas, the second most populous state in the country, should put more funding into universities to boost existing programs and attract many more top scientists. When Texas catches Massachusetts and California, it will draw more talented people to Texas. They will make new discoveries and create new technologies, which will generate new jobs and, ultimately, spur a better future for Texas.

In summary, science and technology are key for Texas to become the economic center of the United States, but we are not there yet.


Zhifeng Ren, Ph.D.Dr. Zhifeng Ren is M.D. Anderson Chair Professor in the Department of Physics and principal investigator at the Texas Center of Superconductivity at the University of Houston.

UT Dallas Faculty and Students Lead the Way in Exploration of the Brain

By David E. Daniel, Ph.D.

In the early 1990s, the federal government launched a 15-year program to map the human genome, and in the process revolutionized the way researchers conducted science. The Human Genome Project required the collaborative work of biologists, engineers, computer scientists, clinicians and more. It involved a hefty investment of research funding that, by some estimates, returned $141 for every dollar spent.

Now, Washington’s research establishment has issued a new challenge to the scientific community — the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). This bold idea — that we can develop ways to provide a real-time view of the working brain — is of great interest here at UT Dallas, which has long been dedicated to discovering the brain’s inner workings.

Neuroscience Undergraduate EnrollmentLast year alone, the National Institutes of Health awarded 14 UT Dallas faculty members a total of 23 new grants to research the brain. These projects are spread across the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

These federal grants support research that will help our scientists and engineers better understand anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, aging of the brain and autism. They support efforts to develop new methods for delivering molecules across the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers here realized long ago that advancement was likely to come faster if experts across an array of academic specialties worked together, as reflected in the varied missions of the Center for BrainHealth, the Center for Vital Longevity, the Texas Biomedical Device Center and the Department of Bioengineering, as well as in partnerships among researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT Arlington and UT Dallas.

These researchers not only focus on their own quest for knowledge but also pay keen attention to training future generations of neuroscientists. Our undergraduate neuroscience program is still relatively young, first enrolling students in 1996. Enrollment has more than tripled in the past eight years. Our master’s program in applied cognition and neuroscience and the doctoral program in cognition and neuroscience have both steadily increased in size.

Grants from the NIH and other sources support faculty inquiry, and also bring students into the lab to gain hands-on research experiences. For example, Drs. Christa McIntyre-Rodriguez and Sven Kroener were awarded a grant with a provision that undergraduate students be trained as researchers to investigate the mechanisms behind anxiety disorders. Upwards of 30 undergraduate volunteers spend time in our larger neuroscience research labs. More than 80 are involved in work in the Texas Biomedical Device Center, according to a report given recently by the center’s director, Dr. Rob Rennaker. The valuable experience these budding researchers gain can provide a major advantage when applying to top graduate schools.

It remains to be seen what will be discovered through the nascent BRAIN Initiative and where those discoveries will lead. But we expect that within this generation of scientists and researchers working on the project there will be a significant number of important connections and discoveries here at UT Dallas, where we focus on creating the future.


David E Daniel, Ph.D.David E. Daniel, Ph.D., is president of UT Dallas. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and past president of TAMEST.

Advancing Medicine through Nanotechnology: a Look at Houston Methodist Hospital

by Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D.

Houston Methodist Hospital is one of the biggest hospitals in Texas. Our Research Institute turns 10 this year and has made great strides in advancing medicine that focuses on getting effective treatments to our patients.

We have grown to 280 members and 1,400 credentialed researchers in our first 10 years. While this may seem small in comparison to the larger teaching hospitals, we are small by design. There are many excellent universities and institutions that excel at basic research, of course—it is the foundation of all science and technology. Our goal is to take the next step in helping our patients—building bridges from labs to the clinic. All our research is geared toward rapid application and begins with identifying our clinical needs. We perform some basic research in the spaces between scientific and clinical areas. Most of our work focuses on platforms like nanomedicine, information systems, and outcomes research that benefit multiple disciplines of medicine. And we partner these with what some have called a nirvana of applied research- expertise and strong support systems for clinical trials, small-scale clinical-grade manufacturing, and regulatory guidance for FDA approval.

Houston Methodist made the early choice to focus on a handful of emerging, exciting areas of applied medicine that, we believe, hold the most promise to transform the lives of our patients, and patients around the world.

One such area is nanomedicine, the development of safe and potent nanotechnologies for use in diagnosis and medical therapies. I began my own career in nanomedicine at Ohio State University, then transferred my laboratory first to UT Health Science Center at Houston and then to Houston Methodist in 2010. I served as special expert on nanotechnology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2003-2005, providing leadership into the formulation, refinement, and approval of the NCI’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, currently the world’s largest program in medical nanotechnology

I’ve been fortunate to work with principal investigators doing transformational work in nanomedicine at Houston Methodist, including Ennio Tasciotti, Ph.D., Tony Hu, Ph.D., Paolo Decuzzi, Ph.D., and Haifa Shen, Ph.D., and other excellent scientists. Their work is being applied to areas of medicine as diverse as rapid-diagnostic devices, drug delivery, regenerative medicine, and imaging. This work has attracted millions of dollars to Texas in public research funding from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense, and the progress our researchers make is published every month in major, high-impact journals such as Nature, Nature Nanotechnology, American Chemical Society Nano, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why such interest in nanomedicine? Because it has already transformed other areas of our lives, including electronics, computing, and manufacturing, and because we have figured out how to make nanotechnology safe for people. The silicon-based nanoparticles being developed in our laboratories have a low toxicity profile in the body and are usually removed from the bloodstream in 24 to 48 hours. The nanoparticles find their targets and act precisely, allowing them to efficiently accomplish their intended functions, such as delivering life-saving drugs, killing cancer cells, or improving the resolution of diagnostic imaging.

The next step—now underway—is to show how nanomedicine-based therapies can improve upon traditional ones, and for this, collaboration is key. In Houston we have the Alliance for NanoHealth, established with the support of U.S. Rep. John Culberson, Gov. Rick Perry, and TAMEST co-founder and retired U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Alliance unites Houston’s top academic institutions working in the field of nanomedicine. I have had the privilege of leading the Alliance since 2005, succeeding Bob Bast, Jr., M.D., of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the late Samuel Ward “Trip” Casscells III, M.D., of UT Health, a great man of exceptional vision, to whom all of Texas owes gratitude for his inspired work and leadership. Dozens of collaborative projects in nanomedicine have been spurred forward by the Alliance, and for that and other reasons, we believe it has been a huge success.

Nanomedicine’s secrets harbor great opportunities for Texas. Having participated in the creation, Texans are world leaders. Our state stands to benefit greatly from its application to health care, science, and education, and because of the economic opportunities it presents to entrepreneurs. Not everything must be big in Texas. Indeed, some of the things we’re famous for should be very, very small.


Mauro FerrariMauro Ferrari, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Houston Methodist Research Institute and director of the Institute for Academic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, is a regular speaker at TAMEST events, and is generally considered to be one of the founders of nanomedicine.

How High-Tech Computing Makes Everyday Life a Little Better

By Thomas J. Lange

We take them for granted, those products that help us start nearly every day. We shampoo and condition our hair, wash our skin, dry off with a fresh-smelling towel, shave, brush our teeth, fix our hair. Maybe we’ll also change the baby, feed the dog, start the dishwasher.

For more than seven generations, P&G has been inventing the products and building the brands aimed at making the morning’s start, and the day, just a little better. From the candle that lit the morning gloom in the 1837, to the floating bar of Ivory soap—‘99 44/100% Pure.’ To today, with brands like Pantene, Gillette, Crest, Covergirl, Hugo Boss, Pampers, Charmin, Cascade, Tide….

What most people don’t know is that behind each of those daily experiences, lays an amazing amount of Science, Engineering, and High Performance Computing.

P&G doesn’t usually talk about that because consumers really care more that Charmin is soft and strong, not really how it got that way. So, instead of an engineer in a white coat standing in front of a specialized machine making Charmin, we create ads with Mr. Whipple the friendly, quirky, grocer and today, cuddly cartoon bears.

From an Engineering perspective, this can leave the impression that everyday consumable goods are ‘low tech’—when the challenges our Scientists and Engineers face everyday are very much Rocket-Science hard. You see, our job is to break engineering ‘contradictions,’ and that is quite a challenge. For rocket science, it’s controlling an explosion—something that is inherently uncontrollable.

For us, we need to make Charmin that dissolves when wet, but is strong AND soft when dry. Bounty must be absorbent, but VERY strong when wet. Pampers need to be absorbent—but fit and comfort babies like cloth. Laundry treatments need to remove stains, but protect fabrics—including cloth dyes—and be concentrated yet still easy to use. Containers should never leak, but open easily. Containers, when dropped, should not break—but use a bare minimum of plastic that also recycles. Most importantly, all these products must be a good value for improving daily life, not just affordable for use once in a while.

Tide PODS® is truly a “one-wash wonder,” enabled by sophisticated computer simulation technology. The challenge of bringing together three different liquids into one pod, separated by a film that is both able to dissolve in cold water yet not dissolve from exposure to the contents is quite complicated. We had to do sophisticated computer simulations of how the pod could be mass produced without leaking—one splash droplet in the wrong place and we have a mess.

Diapers create another technological challenge. They need to fit like pants, but keep the baby and its surroundings dry and fit almost any size and shape. While there are thousands of baby shapes, no one can provide hundreds of sizes. Instead, we offer four to six options for the first two years of life. To get this right, we have teams working with computer models and simulations to identify what stretches where; how the waist band surrounds the tummy; and how leg holes will fit for both small and larger legs alike.

Finally, think about a shaving system that removes hair close to the skin, but protects your skin. The physics of hair removal, what pulls, what cuts, how sharp or slick the blade needs to be, at what angle the blade needs to be, all is precisely evaluated and determined by computer simulation.

Thomas Edison found 1000’s of things that did not work in his search for the materials that made the light bulb possible. We even have a name for that approach: ‘Edisonian investigation.’ For our products, we too are always ‘looking for a better way.’ High Performance Computing and the Engineering and Science Modeling & Simulation that it enables make possible hundreds of thousands of iterations on the computer in less time and with less cost. That allows us to continue our brands’ promise that our great, great, great grandchildren will start their day a little better than we did today.

The Procter & Gamble Company supports a number of programs and projects aimed at putting high-tech Modeling & Simulation tools in the hands of small businesses to help accelerate innovation and U.S. manufacturing quality.


Thomas J. Lange Thomas J. Lange, Director, R&D, Modeling & Simulation at Procter & Gamble Company was a keynote speaker at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s) Annual Conference, January 16-17, 2014. The conference addressed the computational revolution in medicine, engineering, and science. Click to view a video of Lange’s keynote address.

Computational Science: The “Third Pillar” of Science

By Dr. Tinsley Oden and Dr. Omar Ghattas

A simple definition of science is this: the activity concerned with the systematic acquisition of knowledge. The English word is derived from scientia, which is Latin for “knowledge.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, science is “the enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” It is designed to reduce or eliminate ignorance by acquiring and understanding information and involves the mental comprehension of perceived truth or fact through cognition.

The question of how knowledge is acquired has been a subject of debate among philosophers of science for almost 3,000 years and, as far as is known, began in writings of Plato and Socrates. After millennia of debate by the greatest minds of human history, two avenues to scientific knowledge emerged: 1) observations, experimental measurements, information gained by the human senses, guided by instruments; and 2) theory, inductive hypotheses often framed in mathematical language. Observation and theory are thus, the two classical pillars of science.

Understanding HIV

ICES researchers have simulated the behavior of the HIV RT protein to help design therapeutic drugs. Protein motions are displayed as multiple light blue ribbons. The green and dark blue spheres represent the DNA which the protein HIV RT synthesizes.

Is there a third pillar? Is there a new avenue to gain scientific knowledge and guide engineering design? The answer, in our minds, and in the minds of most contemporary scientists and engineers, is very clearly “Yes.” It is the new discipline of computational science: “the use of computational algorithms to translate mathematical models that represent how the physical universe behaves into computer models that predict the future and reconstruct the past, and that are used to simulate a broad spectrum of engineered products, processes, and systems.”

Computational science represents the single most important scientific advance in human history. It has transformed forever the way scientific discoveries are made and how engineering design and manufacturing are carried out. It lies at the intersection of mathematics, computer science, and the core disciplines of science and engineering.

What can computational science and engineering (CS&E) do that classical science cannot? It can look into the past with so-called inverse analysis to determine which past events caused observed phenomena. It can explore the effects of thousands of scenarios for or in lieu of actual experiments. It can be used to study events beyond the reach of contemporary experimental science. It can optimize procedures for the design of products and systems. It can even explore the consequences of a breakdown in models and theories.

Mapping the Human Brain

Researchers in the Center for Computational Visualization, directed by Chandrajit Bajaj, have been automating construction of nanoscopic resolution models of the human brain and its activity. This picture shows an active chemical synapse between a (green) neuron axonal segment and a (yellow) dendritic spine head, surrounded by spherical neurotransmitters (blue, red, white ) at different stages of ion-channel activation.

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a contemporary engineered product, process, or system that has not been designed by the modern tools of computational science. From power systems, chemical processes, civil infrastructure, automotive and aerospace vehicles, and advanced materials, to electronic devices, communication systems, medical devices and procedures, pharmaceutical drugs, manufacturing systems, and operational logistics, and many more—sophisticated models running on high performance computers are used as surrogates of reality to facilitate virtual design, control, planning, manufacture, and testing, resulting in faster, cheaper, and better products and processes.

Moreover, the prediction of the behavior of natural systems using computer models has led to vastly improved understanding of these systems, which range from severe weather, climate change, energy resources, and earthquakes, to protein folding, genomics, chemical processes, and virus spread, to supernovae and evolution of galaxies, to name but a few. Indeed, the traditional core disciplines of science and engineering must now be reviewed and reconstituted because what had once been out of reach by traditional science is now well within reach due to the advent of powerful new tools and approaches afforded by computational science.

This past year marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), the leading research institute in the world in CS&E with over 250 faculty, research scientists, and graduate students, located here in Austin, Texas. Moreover, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in 2013 deployed Stampede, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. These two resources, and others, have placed The University of Texas at Austin at the forefront of research and education in computational science and engineering. The impacts on the region and the state are just beginning to be felt, and will accelerate rapidly in the coming years.


Drs. J. Tinsley Oden and Omar GhattasDr. Tinsley Oden (director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Science (ICES), associate vice president of Research and professor at UT Austin) and Dr. Omar Ghattas (director of the Center for Computational Geosciences at ICES and professor at UT Austin) will both be speakers at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s) Annual Conference January 16-17, 2014. The conference will address the computational revolution in medicine, engineering, and science.

Mapping the Human Brain with Supercomputers

by Henry Markram, Ph.D.

Reconstruction of brain cells

This image shows the reconstruction of a handful of brain cells. About half way up is the spherical somata, containing the cell nuclei. The network of branches allows extensive interconnection between even a few cells, which gives the human brain highly efficient, massively parallel processing power. Indeed, a simulation of a few thousand cells appears like a very dense jungle, in which individual cells are virtually indistinguishable. In this image, the short branches you can see clustered around the somata are dendrites and the long ones running up to the top of the image are axons. The vertical nature of the network of branches allows connections between brain cells located in different layers of the cerebral cortex.

The Human Brain Project (HBP) is working to unify our understanding of the human brain. We’re harnessing the power of supercomputers for problems we cannot solve with experiments alone—mapping the human brain and its diseases and using our map to develop even more powerful computers.

The potential of this work is highlighted by the fact that the HBP is funded by one of the largest scientific grants ever awarded by the European Commission. We bring together leading researchers in neuroscience, medicine and computing from 80 partner universities in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Our main challenge is that the human brain is so extraordinarily complex that it’s very difficult to understand exactly how it’s put together and how it works. Each of our roughly 87 billion neurons is intricately connected to thousands of other neurons. Yet it is the precise arrangement of these connections, coupled with the sheer number of them, that gives us our unmatched mental abilities.

At the same time, it has never been more urgent for us to address the many health challenges related to problems of the brain. We are living longer lives than ever before, and that makes us more vulnerable to brain-related old age diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.

Modern neuroscience is gathering more and more experimental data, but it still covers only a small fraction of the brain’s overall structure and functionality. The task is further complicated by the need to understand brains from males and females, different species, and healthy as well as sick individuals. In short, knowledge derived from experimental data still contains massive gaps, and we can’t accumulate new data quickly enough to transform this situation anytime soon, without some extra help.

This is where supercomputers come in. They allow us to construct and refine mathematical rules, derived from the limited experimental evidence we have, to predict with increasing accuracy the structure and functioning of sections of the brain.

As the power of supercomputers increases, we can predict and simulate larger parts of the brain, more accurately. By 2020, we should have supercomputers powerful enough to attempt an initial reconstruction of the structural and functional organization of the whole human brain. Ultimately, we hope to apply disease-specific rules to build models of brain diseases, allowing us to understand them better and to speed up the development of new medicines. At the same time, our vastly expanded insight into brain function will help transform information technology, paving the way for more efficient and flexible computers.

By using supercomputing power to leverage neuroscience data, we can turn mapping the human brain into a tractable problem, laying the foundations for a unified theory of brain function, as well as revolutionary applications in healthcare and computer technology.


Henry Markram, Ph.D.Henry Markram (Director of the Blue Brain Project, Coordinator of the Human Brain Project and Professor of Neuroscience at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) will be a keynote speaker at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s)  Annual Conference, January 16-17, 2014. The conference will address the computational revolution in medicine, engineering, and science.