TAMEST 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards

2024 O'Donnell Awards Recipients

Opening a new field of study to understand the way brain cells communicate. Discovering the magic of taking a pristine picture through fog, smoke and driving rain. Bringing to light how we deal with the molecules that we put into the environment. Understanding a whole new approach to treating COVID-19. Developing new methods for making robots more usable by humans across time delays in space.

These are the breakthroughs by Texas’ rising stars in research being honored with the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards by TAMEST (Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science & Technology):

  • Medicine: Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine
  • Engineering: Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., Rice University
  • Biological Sciences: Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center
  • Physical Sciences: Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., University of North Texas
  • Technology Innovation: Kimberly A. Hambuchen, Ph.D., NASA Johnson Space Center

“The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards bring together a broad group of disciplines and expertise and creates the space to talk about cross-disciplinary approaches to future solutions – and we couldn’t be prouder of this year’s group of innovative recipients,” said Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Committee Chair Oliver Mullins, Ph.D. (NAE), SLB Fellow, SLB. “These researchers are transforming the future of science and innovation in our state, and these awards are an important mechanism for maintaining a link between academia and industry and moving the research needle forward for our society.”

Over $1.5 million has been awarded to more than 75 recipients in the categories of Medicine, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Technology Innovation since the inception of the O’Donnell Awards in 2006. Sixteen O’Donnell Awards Recipients have gone on to be elected to the National Academies, including four who hold dual academy elections.

The 2024 recipients will be honored at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, at 6:30 p.m. CT and will give presentations on their research before and after the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin, Texas. All are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the TAMEST Conference.

Learn more about the 2024 O’Donnell Awards recipients:


“Knowledge of these neural circuits could potentially lead to new treatments of various brain disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even brain cancer. Dr. Deneen is very passionate about his work and excited about his trainees and what they’re achieving. You can’t run a laboratory by yourself, you’ve got to have good people. And Dr. Deneen and his team are truly transforming our understanding of how brain cells communicate.”

Malcolm K. Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Founding Director, Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Baylor College of Medicine

Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D.

World-leading neuroscientist Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D., Professor and Dr. Russell J. and Marian K. Blattner Chair in Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Cancer Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST. He was chosen for his groundbreaking research that has opened an entirely new field of study set to ultimately impact brain tumor patients and give potential insights into a wide range of developmental diseases.

For many years, neurological research has focused on one particular cell in the brain: the neuron. Dr. Deneen’s research flipped the script. He and his team have focused instead on the most abundant brain cell: the astrocyte. Dr. Deneen’s research has revealed that astrocytes influence brain circuits and animal behavior by communicating with neurons. These lines of communication play an essential role in everyday behaviors and if they get disrupted, diseases and neurological disorders follow.

Learn more about Dr. Deneen and his research >


“Dr. Veeraraghavan is tackling one of the hardest problems in imaging, what many consider to be a ‘holy grail problem’ of optical engineering. Every time we improve our ability to see what is unseen, the number of things we can do increases. The NeuWS technology is going to allow us to see things we cannot even imagine today.”

Alan Bovik, Ph.D. (NAE), Professor and Cockrell Family Regents Endowed Chair in Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D.

Trailblazing engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Engineering from TAMEST. He was chosen for his revolutionary imaging technology that seeks to make the invisible visible.

Imagine taking a pristine picture through fog, smoke and rain. Imagine taking interior images of the human body through skin, bone and other tissue that scatter light and limit human vision. Dr. Veeraraghavan and his team at Rice work on creating imaging systems that use novel multi-dimensional image sensors along with machine learning algorithms to undo the effects of light-scattering and see-through scattering media such as fog, smoke, rain and human tissue.

Learn more about Dr. Veeraraghavan and his research >

Biological Sciences

“With a keen eye for new biology, Dr. Tagliabracci has discovered a distant family of proteins that are related to the kinase family, but are distinct, identifying them by a variety of structural characteristics. This family of pseudo kinases is a biological goldmine. Dr. Tagliabracci then dug deeper to try and figure out their functions. And one at a time, he has unearthed some amazingly interesting and important biology.”

Eric N. Olson, Ph.D. (NAM, NAS), Professor and Chair, UT Southwestern Medical Center

Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D.

Forward-thinking biochemist Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for his potentially life-saving research in understanding how enzymes work.

Dr. Tagliabracci and his team at UT Southwestern Medical Center have shined a new light on an array of physiological processes that rely on enzymes called protein kinases (PKs) and their biological cousins called “pseudokinases.” His research revealed how the virus that causes COVID-19 builds a structure called an RNA cap that’s critical for viral replication. The hope is that this discovery could lead to new strategies to attack COVID-19, which has sickened nearly 700 million and killed almost 7 million worldwide thus far.

Learn more about Dr. Tagliabracci and his research >

Physical Sciences

“Dr. Ma’s research is concentrated on figuring out how we can get the things we don’t want to be exposed to out of the environment. I think he is creative and he’s a great mentor for his students. Dr. Ma’s work exudes enthusiasm and delivers results. He is highly regarded internationally within his field and there aren’t enough positive words for Dr. Ma and his work.”

Pamela Padilla, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of North Texas

Shengqian Ma, Ph.D.

A worldwide leader in nanoporous materials research, Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., Professor and Welch Chair in Chemistry, the University of North Texas, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for his innovative work in the field of decontamination.

In a time of growing concern for the Earth and humanity’s ecosystem, Dr. Ma’s work could have an incredibly important impact on environmental and energy sustainability. His research was primarily inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April of 2010, which caused extreme ecological disaster, piquing his interests in water-related research. He began to search for solutions to remove oil from the ocean, aiming first to understand this very complicated environment.

Learn more about Dr. Ma’s and his research >

Technology Innovation

“Not only is Dr. Hambuchen an outstanding engineer and innovator providing solutions to the control of robotics, but she is also an exceptional team leader. Her work involves hardware, software, electronics and robotics, so it’s a very interdisciplinary and all-encompassing field. It’s not just that she’s a brilliant innovator in the lab in her own right, she also has the ability to lead teams and coordinate different activities seamlessly. Her work is going to prove very valuable as NASA continues its mission to go back to the moon, to Mars and beyond.”

Steven Fredrickson, Ph.D., Chief, Software, Robotics and Simulation Division, NASA Johnson Space Center

Kimberly A. Hambuchen, Ph.D.

A true pioneer in space, robotics engineer Kimberly A. Hambuchen, Ph.D., Deputy Chief, Software, Robotics and Simulation Division at NASA Johnson Space Center, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation from TAMEST. She was chosen for her seminal research in developing new methods for making robots more autonomous and usable by humans across a time delay.

Dr. Hambuchen’s research focuses on human-robot systems. As she likes to put it, robots are great for “dull, dirty and dangerous jobs,” so the more humans can control them remotely, the better. The idea is: with a higher level of autonomy, robots are able to get more done.

Learn more about Dr. Hambuchen and her research >


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