Faculty grants for COVID-19 research awarded

Rice University researchers have been awarded grants to research COVID-19's effects as well as develop technologies and protocols to mitigate its effects.

By Jade Boyd May 27, 2020

The Rice University COVID-19 Research Fund Oversight and Review Committee awarded nine final grants to faculty working to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. Researchers at Rice, some with collaborators at other institutions, will study social, political, psychological and epidemiological aspects of COVID-19, as well as the development of genetic tools, a new ventilator design, a method to efficiently schedule nurses and social distancing performance protocols.

The winning proposals include:

Fred Oswald of Rice, Rodica Damian and Tingshu Liu of the University of Houston and Patrick Hill of Washington University plan to examine critical long-term effects of COVID-19 on human development following adversity across a range of social contexts including occupational, educational, community, family, lifestyle, health and financial. They will study how people change in response to adversity, and whether adversity across different social contexts impacts people differently.

Daniel Kowal and Thomas Sun of Rice will build a predictive model or the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Houston by borrowing information from locations that are similar to Houston and further along the disease incidence curve. The model will differ from epidemiological models that are sensitive to inputs they say are not well-known for COVID-19 and have led to inaccurate predictions. They expect their model to improve the accuracy of real-time predictions and to inform key policy decisions.

Amelyn Ng of Rice and Gabriel Vergara of One Architecture and Urbanism will investigate how stay-at-home orders have disproportionately disrupted the domestic lives of Houston households, particularly low-income families with children. They will produce a survey concentrating on Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward that identifies which home stresses require urgent mitigation, which may be quickly overcome through spatial reorganization and which are likely to persist or worsen beyond the emergency.

Laura Segatori and Omid Veiseh of Rice plan to engineer cell lines for the rapid development of clinically translatable neutralizing antibodies for infection control. This genetic “landing pad” will include a fluorescent reporter and a drug-resistance marker that will allow for evaluation of expressed antibodies and antibody fragments that neutralize SARS-CoV-2, rendering it unable to spread and reproduce.

Danielle King of Rice is working to better understand how COVID-19 has changed work conditions for critical human service employees who can no longer go to the workplace, like teachers, and those required to, like nurses. Her statistical analysis will help determine what personal and professional resources are most effective in reducing COVID-19-induced strain across occupational types.

Michael Wong and Rafael Verduzco of Rice and John Graf of NASA will continue development of a NASA-designed prototype ventilator for rapid deployment based on an off-the-shelf automotive oxygen sensor. Rice’s engineers would help NASA establish the operating principles of the oxygen-sensing technology for its ventilator, called VITAL. Those principles are essential for delivering oxygen at precise flow rates and pressures.

Ashok Veeraraghavan, Robert Yekovich and Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice and John Mangum of the Houston Symphony will investigate proper social-distancing protocols for rehearsal and performance by musicians and singers. The team will study the air flow created by wind instruments and singers using high-speed imaging. Their dataset and analysis will be made public to benefit musical organizations and individual musicians.

Hulya Eraslan, Rossella Calvi, Dibya Deepta Mishra and Ritika Sethi of Rice will study how state and local officials have employed public health measures in response to COVID-19 and whether the patchwork of jurisdictions is making the response to the pandemic more or less effective. Their research is based on an original dataset that combines election results with disaggregated data on policies and outcomes. The goal is to understand the impact of political alignment across levels of government on the effectiveness of its response.

Andrew Schaefer, Illya Hicks and Joseph Huchette of Rice and Nicole Fontenot of Houston Methodist Hospital will use optimization models to plan nursing schedules during times of uncertainty, when a hospital’s needs are highly variable. Their proposed approach will use stochastic programming (a modeling under uncertainty framework) to allow for improved and dynamic decision making using forecast demand.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Jade Boyd, Rice University.