By Stephen Greenwell
Debora Frigi Rodrigues
After a competitive selection process, the U.S. National Science Foundation has chosen Debora Frigi Rodrigues, Ezekiel Cullen Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the Cullen College of Engineering, as a Program Director under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.
Rodrigues will be the Program Director for the NSF Partnerships for Innovation Program. According to the NSF, the program has a history of providing opportunities for innovative researchers to turn academic research into tangible solutions to societal challenges. The program supports use-inspired translational research, prototype development and the enhancement of partnerships across U.S. academia, nonprofits and industry.
Rodrigues has experience as a CAREER award winner and has earned NSF I-Corps grants.
“I thought that the PFI program was very interesting because it's a program that will help professors develop their technology and commercialize after they participate in NSF I-Corps,” she said. “Also, it helps you develop strong collaborations with industries. This program is a natural step between the NSF I-Corps and an Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) award.”
Through just 2018, Rodrigues has earned more than $4.7 million in grant funding from major organizations like the NSF, EPA and the Department of Energy, among others. She also holds three patents related to water filtration or purification. Water quality and sustainability is her primary research interest.
Rodrigues pointed to her experience with the patent process, and her familiarity with research while at UH, as reasons for her appointment in her letter of interest to the NSF.
“As an interdisciplinary faculty member at the University of Houston, I have worked with fundamental research as well as applied research, which has led me to apply for patents to commercialize the technologies developed in my research laboratory,” she said. “One of these patents allowed me and my student to participate in NSF I-Corps and better understand the commercialization potential of the technology.”
Rodrigues' appointment is for one year, but can be extended up to four additional years.