School of Engineering welcomes 21 new faculty members to Rice

Latest group of researchers and teachers extends school’s prominence in key research areas.

Headshots of 21 new faculty members

Rice Engineering is growing with the hiring of 17 tenure-track and four teaching faculty members. Spanning all nine departments, the new hires further establish the school’s prominence in its key research areas: health and well-being, energy and sustainability, resilient and adaptive communities, advanced materials, and future computing.

This latest group of researchers and teachers includes the largest number of women joining the school in a single hiring season.

“Our school continues to attract top-tier faculty who further our commitment to excellence in research and education,” said Luay Nakhleh, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering. “The success of this year's hiring initiative is a direct result of the collaborative efforts of the school's department chairs, search committees, faculty and administrative staff.

“We are enthusiastic about working together to build a brighter future for our school and the broader engineering community, and we are eager to address the challenges impacting our global society.”

All faculty started July 1, except where otherwise indicated.


Michael King, full professor, BIOE: King is currently the J. Lawrence Wilson Professor of Engineering and Department Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), Biomedical Engineering Society and the International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering. His lab studies cancer metastasis and mechanotransduction, and he will be a CPRIT Scholar at Rice. King is chair of the AIMBE College of Fellows and editor-in-chief of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering. He served as chair of the BME Council of Chairs and previously taught at Cornell and the University of Rochester. He will join the Rice faculty July 1, 2024.

Lane Martin, full professor, MSNE: He earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008. After a stint at the University of Illinois, and since 2014, he was a faculty member in Berkeley where he rose to be a Chancellor’s Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. In 2021 he became chair of that department and in 2022 was elected chair of the faculty of the College of Engineering. He has published more than 275 journal articles and is a fellow of American Physical Society and the American Ceramics Society. As of July 1, he became director of the new Rice Advanced Materials Institute and Welch Professor of MSNE.

Cynthia Reinhart-King, John W. Cox Chair of Bioengineering, BIOE: She is a University Distinguished Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Research at Vanderbilt University in Biomedical Engineering and Cell and Developmental Biology. She serves as president of the Biomedical Engineering Society and is a fellow of BMES, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering. She has won numerous awards for research, teaching and service. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms that drive tissue formation and tissue disruption in such diseases as cancer and atherosclerosis. She will join the Rice faculty on July 1, 2024, when she will become department chair of BIOE.

Jason Adams, assistant professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering (ChBE): He earned his Ph.D. in ChBE from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2022 and has since served as a postdoctoral research associate at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include catalysis for the decarbonization and electrification of chemical manufacturing and wastewater treatment. He combines reactor engineering, operando spectroscopy, and material synthesis to develop design principles relating the structures of catalytic interfaces to their performance. He will join the Rice faculty on Jan. 1, 2025.

Maryam Aliakbarpour, the Michael B. Yuen and Sandra A. Tsai Assistant Professor of computer science (CS): She earned her Ph.D. in CS from MIT in 2020. Since then she has worked as a postdoctoral scholar at Boston University, Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on theoretical computer science, statistical inference, learning theory, differential privacy and hypothesis testing.

Thomas Geoffrey Anderson, assistant professor, computational applied mathematics and operations research (CMOR): He received his Ph.D. in applied and computational mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 2020. Since then he has worked as a mathematics postdoctoral scholar at the University of Michigan. Anderson’s research interests include numerical analysis, spectral methods, scientific computing and numerical methods for PDEs. He is working on the evaluation of singular integral operators in potential theory and integral equations with applications in fluid mechanics and wave propagation.

Raudel Avila, assistant professor, mechanical engineering (MECH): Avila earned his Ph.D. in MECH this year from Northwestern University, where he received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and an Outstanding Researcher Award from the International Institute of Nanotechnology. His research combines mechanics, materials and electromagnetic concepts to engineer bioelectronics for health care and biomedical applications. He is developing a theoretical and computational framework to study the scalability, packaging, power limitations, tissue interactions and energy absorption in such devices.

Jessica Butts, assistant professor, bioengineering (BIOE): Butts earned her Ph.D. in BIOE from the University of California, San Francisco, in 2018. She then served as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Associate in Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. She researches neuronal fate decisions in the developing hindbrain. Her long-term research goals are to utilize tissue engineering strategies and multi-omic approaches to develop mouse and human stem cell-derived brainstem organoid models mimicking native neural development. She will join the faculty on Jan. 1, 2024.

Hanjie Chen, assistant professor, CS: Chen earned her Ph.D. in CS this year from the University of Virginia. There she worked as a research assistant in the Information and Language Processing Lab, developing explanation methods to help understand and model prediction behaviors. Her research interests include trustworthy AI, natural language processing and interpretable machine learning. She aims to develop explainable AI techniques that are easily accessible to system developers and end users for building trustworthy, reliable intelligent systems. She will join the Rice faculty on July 1, 2024.

Avantika Gori, assistant professor, civil and environmental engineering (CEE): She earned her Ph.D. in civil engineering this year from Princeton, and her B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering from Rice in 2016 and 2018, respectively. At Princeton she received the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Her research focuses on quantifying coastal flood hazards under present and future climate and development conditions. She is investigating the interaction of rainfall flooding and storm surge during tropical cyclone events. She will join the Rice faculty on Jan. 1, 2024.

Stavroula (Alina) Kampouri, assistant professor, ChBE: She earned her Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical engineering in 2020 from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. Since then, she has worked as a postdoctoral researcher in chemistry at MIT. Her research interests include the design of porous, functional materials (e.g., metal-organic frameworks), exploring their structure-property relationship and applications in semiconductor technologies for environmental problems. Applications include light-driven catalysis for fuel synthesis, valorization of waste and remediation of water. She will join the Rice faculty on Jan. 1, 2024.

Scott Keene, assistant professor, materials science and nanoengineering (MSNE): Keene earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Stanford in 2020 and spent the next two years as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cambridge University. His research focuses on the development of bioelectronic devices which use mixed ionic-electronic conducting polymers to address challenges in neuroengineering. His research interests include neuroelectronic interfaces, fundamentals of organic mixed ionic-electronic conductors, biosensors and organic neuromorphic devices. He will join the Rice faculty on July 1, 2024.

HaeYeon Lee, assistant professor, MSNE: Lee earned her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from MIT in 2021 and since then has worked as a postdoctoral research scientist in the Columbia Nano Initiative at Columbia University. Her research interests include understanding fundamental electronic properties of quantum materials (mainly, van der Waals materials) and developing optoelectronic devices. She will join the Rice faculty on Jan. 1, 2024.

Hengrui Luo, assistant professor, statistics (STAT): Luo earned his Ph.D. in statistics from Ohio State University in 2020, and for two years worked as a postdoctoral fellow in applied mathematics and computational research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. His research focuses on Bayesian methodology, topological and geometrical data analysis, and high-dimensional probability. He joined the Rice faculty on Aug. 16, 2023.

Vanessa Sanchez, assistant professor, MECH: Sanchez earned her Ph.D. in materials science and mechanical engineering from Harvard in 2022 and now serves as a postdoctoral fellow in chemical engineering at Stanford University, where she was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research active materials based on supramolecular shape memory polymer fibers. Her research group will work on responsive textiles for assistive wearables spanning from the molecular to the structural and device levels. She will join the Rice faculty on July 1, 2024.

Juliane Sempionatto, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering: She earned her Ph.D. in nanoengineering from the University of California, San Diego, in 2021, and now serves as a postdoctoral researcher in medical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on development of wearable sensors, including electrochemical biosensors for monitoring analytes in sweat, saliva, tears and interstitial fluid. She will join the Rice faculty on Jan. 1, 2024.

Lu Zhang, assistant professor, CMOR: Zhang earned her Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics from Southern Methodist University in 2020, then worked as a term assistant professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University. Her research interests include numerical analysis (discontinuous Galerkin, finite difference), data-driven computational inversion (imaging, fast algorithms, deep learning), and mathematical biology (chemotaxis, population dynamics, pattern formation).

Non-tenure track:

Sinan Kockara, lecturer, CS. He  earned his computer engineering degree from Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey, in 2001 and his Ph.D. in applied computing from the University of Arkansas in 2008. He was a tenured full professor there in computer science and engineering. The courses he taught included CS I/CS II in C++, theory of computation, parallel programming, machine learning, computer Graphics and CUDA C programming. His research focuses on medical image processing, especially in dermatology, and VR surgical simulation development for orthopedics training. He has secured more than $2.4 million in funding from NIH, NSF and industry.

Luis Fernando Guzman Nateras, lecturer, CS. He earned his Ph.D. in CS this year from the University of Oregon. He served for nine years as a CS lecturer at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo in Mexico, where he also worked as a software developer. His research interests include the intersection of cross-lingual learning and information extraction. His recent work has focused on cross-lingual event detection.

Andrew Womack, lecturer, STAT: He earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Washington University in 2011 and served as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida and the University of Southern California. From 2014 to 2022 he was an assistant professor of STAT at Indiana University. Working as a consulting statistician, Womack’s most recent research has been on aphasia modeling in stroke patients with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the Veterans Health Foundation and Portland State University.

Ricardo Zednik, professor in the practice, MSNE: Zednik earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Stanford in 2008, and since 2014 has served as a professor of mechanical engineering in the École de Technologie Supérieure at the Université du Québec. His research focuses on the relationships between structure, geometry and properties of functional materials. He is particularly interested in failure analysis, fracture mechanics and materials degradation in complex materials systems and devices.