University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering


Engineering Faculty Among Those From UH to Receive State ARP Funding


Erin D. McKenzie

UH was one of 24 institutions that received money from the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program in April.

A competitive, peer-reviewed grant program funding science and engineering research projects by faculty members at Texas higher education institutions, more than $15 million was given out this year.

Of the 2,387 pre-proposals submitted, just 573 were selected to go to full proposal stage. Of those 95 were awarded funding—13 of the two-year grants went to UH. The Cullen College of Engineering received five of those, totaling $678,050.

The highest earners were Peter Vekilov, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Gangbing Song, professor of mechanical engineering. Both earned $197,220 for studies on sickle cell anemia and a piezoceramic-based multi-functional structural health monitoring system for wind turbine blades.

Vekilov’s proposal, “Does Free Heme Enhance the Polymerization of Sickle Cell Hemoglobin?” will analyze the effects of heme—a potent oxidant—on polymerization of the hemoglobin, which results in the obstruction of blood flow and can eventually lead to death in sickle cell patients.

“If polymerization is prevented or slowed down, sickle cell crises do not occur,” said Vekilov. “Thus, insight into the mechanisms of hemoglobin polymerization and the search for a means to slow it down or prevent it are pathways in the search for a cure for this debilitating disease. The main potential outcome of the proposed research would be clinically relevant recommendations for control of hemoglobin polymerization."

The next highest, Han Le, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, earned $100,000 for his proposal, “A New Imaging Tool: Multi-spectral Laser Diffuse Scatter Microscopy,” while Qianmei Feng, assistant professor of industrial engineering, and Richard Willson, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, were awarded $98,610 and 85,000, respectively.

Through her proposal, “Stent Reliability and Maintenance: Integrating Probabilistic and Physics-of-Failure Models,” Feng is using mathematical models to help develop more reliable stents.

“I’m looking at an innovative methodological paradigm for stent reliability and maintenance modeling by integrating physics-of-failure models with probabilistic reliability models,” said Feng. “The long-term goal of this research is to develop new models and analysis tools that can facilitate continued advancement of implant devices, and provide fundamentally new perspectives on the application of reliability concepts to evolving medical devices.”

Willson is collaborating with Katerina Kourentzi and Uli Strych, both research assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, on the study, “Ultra-sensitive and Specific Detection of Biomarkers Using Magnetic Immuno-particle Amplification.” Through their research, they are hoping to develop a tool for early disease detection.

“There is an urgent and critical need for extremely sensitive and highly specific tests for the early detection of disease and for effective prognosis based on very limited specimens,” said Willson. “This project focuses on evaluating the use of novel magnetic immuno-particles as a tool in the development of ultrasensitive assays to detect very low levels of protein and micro RNA biomarkers in blood and other bodily fluids.”

For a complete list of winners, and more information about the Norman Hackerman ARP Awards, visit



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