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  Dr. Paul Chu, University of Houston

By Jeannie Kever, University of Houston Marketing and Communications

Energy has been the driving force of human civilization since the discovery of fire, but the invention of electric generators and electric motors in the 1870s marked a clear turning point. Almost 150 years later, most of us consume energy via electricity — the juice that powers everything from air conditioners to cell phones and laptop computers. Increasingly, even our cars may be powered not directly by gasoline or diesel, but by electricity.

But keeping up with growing demand, especially in the face of calls for a cleaner environment, has sparked one of the next great energy challenges. Texas scientists are working to develop materials that can store energy, allowing it to be deployed on demand, not only at the time of generation.

The modern movement took a leap forward in 1987, when physicist Paul C.W. Chu and members of his team at the University of Houston discovered a compound that acted as a superconductor at a temperature above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen, which promised to dramatically lower the cost of operating superconducting devices. Dr. Chu is now Founding Director and Chief Scientist at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston.

High temperature superconducting materials, along with batteries and other new materials, hold enormous promise for electrical energy storage, boosting the ability to use renewable and clean energy without compromising the quality and stability of the grid.

The late Nobel Laureate chemist Richard Smalley, from Rice University, ranked energy first on his Top Ten list of problems facing humanity over the next half-century. The rest of the list — water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy and population — should be more easily resolved once questions surrounding energy, including reliable, low-cost energy storage, are answered, he said.

Texas researchers in both academia and industry, along with our booming wind energy sector, have pushed the state to the front of the field, boosted by federal funding from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and other agencies. Greentech Media last year listed Texas as one of three states leading the effort to develop energy storage technologies, along with California and New York.

Solar power is slowly gaining market share here, and giant wind turbines stretch to the horizon in West Texas and the Panhandle. A $7 billion transmission project to connect wind farms with the state’s major cities only increased the need for a way to bank intermittent wind power and solar, relieving stress on the grid.

Right now, about 70 percent of global electric generation comes from fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — while the International Energy Agency estimates 22 percent of world electricity generation is from renewable energy.

Experts point to electrical energy storage — converting excess electric energy to a different form, storing it and converting it back to electric energy when it is needed — as the necessary bridge to a lower-carbon future, reducing the greenhouse gases, acid rain and particulate pollution associated with fossil fuels. The expanding demands of mobile electronic devices and the rapidly developing electric vehicle market add to the urgency.

Scientists at the state’s top research universities, including the University of Houston, Rice, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Dallas are on the job. Their projects range from improving the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries to creating flexible batteries, superconductors and other new materials, some of which incorporate advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

People have known for decades that excess energy can be stored in the form of magnetic energy in a superconducting coil, technology Chu says has been successfully tested using low temperature superconducting materials, which require expensive liquid helium to cool.

His discovery of high temperature superconductivity brought superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) a step closer to market.

Other key researchers at the Texas Center for Superconductivity include engineers Venkat Selvamanickam, who is focused on improving the storage capacity of magnets and leading efforts to create an Advanced Superconductor Manufacturing Institute, and Yan Yao, who works with new types of batteries.

Research in the private sector is surging, too. Utility transmission company Oncor last year released a report showing that 5,000 megawatts of energy storage could be added to the Texas grid to boost its efficiency. Smaller projects continue around the state, including one spearheaded by Duke Energy in Far West Texas. The Notrees Wind Energy Storage Project, partially funded by the Department of Energy, launched in 2012, using lead acid batteries to store electricity produced by the company’s wind farm. Duke earlier this year announced a plan to replace the lead acid batteries with lithium ion batteries in 2016.

Better batteries and other energy storage materials could ease some of the irritations of modern life, allowing cell phones and other personal electronic devices to last longer between charging. But more importantly, the materials also will help determine what sources of energy are used in the future, with huge implications for the climate.

Dr. Chu will be presenting on energy storage at the TAMEST Texas Research Summit on Friday, November 13, 2015. The Texas Research Summit will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas, while giving researchers in Texas a better understanding of federal agency priorities. The objective is to make Texas research institutions more competitive in seeking federal funding for research, which would lead to increased job growth and stronger research programs at major academic and industrial institutions. You can learn more about the summit here.

The world is moving online at a breakneck speed. In the last eight years, data traffic on AT&T’s mobile networks alone increased a whopping 100,000%. Across the globe, we’re seeing faster internet and a greater proliferation of mobile devices, combined with more and more digital connectivity in health, transportation and retail.

But as more and more of our everyday lives take place online, new threats and dangers have arisen that challenge the ease and convenience of living in a digital world. Credit card hacks, identity theft and spyware wreak havoc on individual consumers, while businesses and governments have to deal with all-out assaults on their servers and networks. Last year, there were nearly 43 million security incidents at businesses, the equivalent of 117,000 attacks a day. These attacks come with a cost, sometimes in the tens of millions of dollars. Prevention also comes at a price: global spending on information security is expected to reach $76.9 billion this year.

The National Science Foundation is helping find answers to these questions by funding research into new and improved encryption techniques that will help make sure the data you send and receive stays secure. (In the video above, the Foundation explains how more scientific research could lead to better encryption.)

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) will host the first Texas Research Summit Friday, November 13, 2015, where prominent Texas researchers will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas in cybersecurity and other areas. Top federal agency officials like Dr. France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation, will describe their research priorities in these fields. (You can read more about the summit here.)

Dr. Krish Prabhu, Chief Technology Officer of AT&T Labs, will give a presentation on cybersecurity and some of the research and innovation taking place at their company and in the sector as a whole. AT&T has focused on helping businesses navigate the threats of the digital world, like building tools to help withstand Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. AT&T has seen these types of attacks on their networks grow over sixty percent in the last two years

How to secure the digital world is one of the great challenges of our time, and one that must be met with dynamic, intelligent responses that will require the cooperation of federal agencies, academic researchers and industry. 

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  Dr. Joseph Beaman of UT Austin

A Conversation with Dr. Joseph Beaman of UT Austin

When you think of “manufacturing,” perhaps images of old American steel mills long since closed might come to mind. Or maybe you think of frenetic assembly lines across the sea, where the next generation of smartphones is being built.

But it’s possible that soon you’ll think of manufacturing much differently: smarter, more precise, much smaller, and once again in North America. Technologies like 3D printing will allow for the design and production of ever more niche products, and jumpstart a manufacturing renaissance in the country. And Texas could take the lead in getting us there.

To learn how Texas can make that happen, we recently spoke with Dr. Joseph Beaman, Professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Beaman was the first academic researcher in the field of Solid Freeform Fabrication — also known as 3D Printing, or ‘Additive Manufacturing’ — and his lab developed the process known as Selective Laser Sintering, which uses a high-powered laser to integrate materials into a three-dimensional form. The funding for these initial projects came from the state, which was looking to broaden its economic reach during an oil bust in the eighties.

Now, in the midst of a similar downturn in the oil and gas industry and a surge in advanced manufacturing technology, Beaman argues its time for the state to once again commit to the manufacturing sector. And he has an idea for how they could do it.


What Additive Manufacturing Is, and Where It Could Take Us

“Manufacturing is all about high volumes, right? High-volume, low-value manufacturing. If I’m going to manufacture something in the traditional way, I have to tool, and that’s really expensive. And the price drops as I hit more and more volume — that’s what economies of scale are all about.

But what additive manufacturing enables is essentially small-lot manufacturing — you can start to do high-value, low-volume manufacturing.

People are now using advanced manufacturing to make parts that go on parts, real products — they’re not just prototypes anymore. But the machine isn’t quite there to do it yet commercially, the cow’s not out of the barn yet. And I think that’s where the real monetary value is going to end up being, so I think it’s important for Texas to be in the mix on that.

With additive manufacturing, it allows me to build one thing just as cheaply as I could ten thousand of them. If you just want one of something I can give it to you, it’s just a software file. You don’t have to tool.

Now you’re not going to make razor blades that way, but things that are high-value, low-volume are where it makes sense. Things like personalized prosthetics. Let’s say there’s a below-the-knee amputee. You’d scan their residual limb and then 3D print a custom prosthetic. It’s no one else’s, it’s personalized. If you’re a runner, we’ll make you a custom shoe. And that kind of advanced manufacturing is a lot closer than you think.

It also completely disrupts the supply chain. In the future, you might not have an additive manufacturing machine at your house, but it might be somewhere in your city or region. And you’d send it a digital file and have it printed, then you’d go down there to pick it up. Or a drone will fly it to your house!”


On the Importance of State Funding for Advanced Manufacturing

“Other states are putting money into these advanced manufacturing research projects, matching money. And it’s making it hard for Texas to compete. You know, the Ohios, the Michigans — they’re all investing in it.

Manufacturing isn’t something that’s dying out, it’s something that we need. It turns out that something like 60–70 percent of all patents come from manufacturing. So the message there really is, even though it’s maybe only 30 percent of the economy, it’s where you do a lot of the invention.

There’s a lot that happens when you come up with a product, but there’s a lot more that happens when you actually make that product. 60–70 percent of all R&D spending is done in manufacturing. Per capita, it’s the biggest area for patents.

For instance, look at producing medical devices. In making medical devices, the big question is, ‘Could I make this faster?’ Well, additive manufacturing and 3D printing is one of the options, but there’s other things. We’d like to set up a system where you bring doctors and engineers together to come up with medical device solutions, and then actually get them built.

To actually do the initial testing, get to trial faster, and get the product out faster, and basically build a new medical device industry. I think there’s a real opportunity for that right now in Texas. And I think advanced manufacturing enables that, along with good medicine. We have some of the best medical schools here in Texas.”


The Model for Funding Advanced Manufacturing Research

“The model for Texas is the Fraunhofer model [a German research society]. The federal government, as well as the local regions, put up money, and then companies can get R&D done for something like 70 cents on the dollar. So they’re not getting it for nothing, but they’re getting it at a discount.

And it’s great for universities, too, because they’re co-located with universities, so students get to come over and work on these projects, and faculty get to come over as well.

So you have this really applied research, which creates a lot of engineering value. And it’s one of the reasons why the German economy is typically an export economy, and we’re not right now. I think the state of Texas itself could emulate that. I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is doing that right now.

It would be a great time for us to set up this model in Texas and really become the state for advanced manufacturing. We don’t want to do what everyone else does. We want to create the products of the future. Ten years from now, we want to be where manufacturing should be twenty years from now.”


Dr. Beaman will be presenting on advanced manufacturing at the TAMEST Texas Research Summit on Friday, November 13, 2015. The Texas Research Summit will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas, while giving researchers in Texas a better understanding of federal agency priorities. The objective is to make Texas research institutions more competitive in seeking federal funding for research, which would lead to increased job growth and stronger research programs at major academic and industrial institutions. 

By Christi Fish, Executive Director of University Communications, UTSA

From The University of Texas at San Antonio

Rena Bizios with Nicholas Peppas

Bizios with fellow National Academy of Medicine member Nicholas Peppas, professor of biomedical engineering at UT-Austin, at a ceremony celebrating new members in Washington, D.C.

UTSA faculty member, educator and researcher Rena Bizios, a pioneer in biomedical engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors for medical sciences, health care and public health professionals. Bizios’ election to the National Academies moves UTSA one step closer to Tier One, a designation that includes, among other things, the number of faculty at a university with memberships in the National Academies.

Bizios is the first tenure-track UTSA faculty member to be elected to the National Academies and the third overall.

The research interests of Bizios, a Peter T. Flawn Professor in the UTSA Department of Biomedical Engineering, include cellular and tissue engineering, tissue regeneration, biomaterials (including nanostructured biomaterials) and biocompatibility. She is recognized for making seminal contributions to the understanding of cell-material interactions, protein/cell interactions with nanostructured biomaterials, and for identifying the effects of pressure and electric current on cell functions during new tissue formation. Her research has applications in the tissue engineering and tissue regeneration fields.

“When I started in this field, biomedical engineering was not well-known or well-understood,” said Bizios. “I didn’t know if it would be successful or not. I took a risk.”

While Bizios takes great pride in the achievements of the undergraduate and graduate students she has mentored, her work extends well beyond her own classroom and laboratory. She has taught fundamental undergraduate and graduate engineering courses and developed new biomedical engineering courses. Moreover, she has co-authored a landmark undergraduate textbook, An Introduction to Tissue-Biomaterial Interactions. The textbook is a standard in the biomaterials field and has been adopted for upper-class undergraduate and beginning graduate courses by several biomedical engineering programs in the United States and abroad.

“Rena Bizios is a wonderful example of the tremendous faculty that top-tier universities are known for,” said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. “Through her teaching, research and mentoring at UTSA, Dr. Bizios has made significant contributions that have shaped, and will continue to shape, biomedical engineering. I am so pleased to see her work recognized by her peers in the National Academies.”

Bizios’ career includes long-standing service to engineering at the departmental, university, regional, national and international levels. She has served on numerous committees and held elected officer positions in several societies including the Biomedical Engineering Society, Society for Biomaterials, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She frequently speaks at universities around the world, and at national and international conferences.

Professor Bizios’ peers also have recognized her research accomplishments and contributions to education. She has received several awards including the Rensselaer Alumni Association Teaching Award (1997); Clemson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Literature, from the Society for Biomaterials (1998); Distinguished Scientist Award, from the Houston Society for Engineering in Medicine and Biology (2009); 2010 Women’s Initiatives Mentorship Excellence Award, from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; Founders Award, from the Society for Biomaterials (2014); Theo C. Pilkington Outstanding Educator Award, from the Biomedical Engineering Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (2014); and Amber Award, from the UTSA Ambassadors (2014). She was also elected a charter member of the UTSA Academy of Distinguished Researchers earlier this year.

Moreover, Bizios is a fellow of five professional societies: the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, International Union of the Societies for Biomaterials Sciences and Engineering, Society of Biomedical Engineering, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Our newly elected members represent the brightest, most influential, and passionate people in health, science, and medicine in our nation and internationally,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor Dzau. “They are at the top of their fields and are committed to service. The expertise they bring to the organization will help us respond to today’s most pressing health-related challenges and inform the future of health, science, and medicine.”

UTSA College of Engineering Dean JoAnn Browning added, “We are proud to have such an outstanding professional like Dr. Rena Bizios teaching and conducting research here at UTSA. Not only has Dr. Bizios made many significant contributions to her field, she is also an outstanding mentor to our students in the biomedical engineering program and is so deserving of this honor.”

“I am delighted and I feel humbled by this honored inclusion by my peers,” said Bizios. “I share it with all of my students, past and present, and with my colleagues who have collaborated with me.”

The National Academy of Medicine is an independent organization of eminent professionals from the fields of health and medicine as well as the natural, social and behavioral sciences. Founded in the 1970, the NAM administers fellowships, scholarships and awards in addition to hosting workshops, expert meetings, symposia and other initiatives to respond to current and emerging needs in health and medicine.

This year, the National Academy of Medicine will induct 70 new members and 10 international members, raising its total active membership to 1,826 and its number of international members to 137.

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Learn more about the Rena Bizios.

Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biomedical Engineering.