engineered excellence

5 Houston researches ranked among the engineering world's most elite

5 Houston researches ranked among the engineering world's most elite

Pradeep Sharma UH
Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair at the University of Houston, was named to the National Academy of Engineering. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

A national organization has named its latest cohort of new members — which includes Elon Musk — and five Houston-area innovators have also made the cut.

The National Academy of Engineering elected 111 new members and 22 international members, bringing the total U.S. membership to 2,388 and the number of international members to 310. The appointment is among the highest professional distinctions in an engineer's career. Each member has been found to have made significant contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature," according to a news release.

The newly elected class will be formally inducted during the NAE's annual meeting on October 2. The five Houston-area appointees and what they are being recognized for are:

  • Richard G. Baraniuk, C. Sidney Burrus Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rice University. For the development and broad dissemination of open educational resources and for foundational contributions to compressive sensing.
  • Donald Nathan Meehan, president, CMG Petroleum Consulting Ltd.. For technical and business innovation in the application of horizontal well technology for oil and gas production.
  • Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston. For establishing the field of flexoelectricity, leading to the creation of novel materials and devices and insights in biophysical phenomena.
  • Leon Thomsen, chief scientist, Delta Geophysics Inc. For contributions to seismic anisotropy concepts that produced major advances in subsurface analysis.
  • David West, corporate fellow, Corporate Research and Innovation, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. For solutions to problems with technological, commercial, and societal impacts while advancing chemical sciences by applying reaction engineering fundamentals.

In a news release from UH, Sharma says it's the highest honor he could achieve as an engineer. The NAE recognized Sharma's work within flexoelectricity, a relatively understudied, exotic phenomenon that has the potential to provide similar functionality as piezoelectrics.

“Nature has provided us very few piezoelectric materials even though their applications in energy harvesting and in making sensors is very important. What we did was use theory to design materials that perform like piezoelectric ones, so that they can create electricity,” says Sharma in the release.

Sharma has worked at UH since 2004, and previously conducted research at General Electric for three years.

“The recognition of Professor Sharma by the National Academy of Engineering highlights a career full of outstanding research that has contributed to the understanding of engineering and helped uncover solutions for some of the world’s most significant problems,” says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release.

Over at Rice, Baraniuk's engineering career includes computational signal processing, most recently as it relates to machine learning. He's best known for spearheading the creation of Connexions, one of the first open-source education initiatives, and its successor, OpenStax, which publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free to download.

“It’s auspicious timing that the NAE citation mentioned open education, because the seventh of February was the 10th anniversary of OpenStax publishing its first free and open textbook,” he says in a release from Rice. “It’s neat to have this happen in the same week, and worth pointing out that if ever there was a team effort, it was Connexions and OpenStax.”

Baraniuk has been at Rice since 1992, has three degrees in electrical and computer engineering.

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This story originally ran on our sister site, InnovationMap.