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Two Faculty Members Win Inaugural Hill Prizes for Research With Significant Real-World Impact

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Maria A. Croyle

Two UT Austin faculty members have been awarded with 2024 Hill Prizes, which accelerate high-risk, high-reward research ideas with significant potential for real-world impact. Funded by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and announced by TAMEST (Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science & Technology), the Hill Prizes are given in five categories: medicine, engineering, biological sciences, physical sciences and technology. They recognize exceptional innovators by providing seed funding to advance groundbreaking science and highlight Texas as a premier destination for world-class research.

Allan H. MacDonald

This year’s recipients from UT are Maria A. Croyle, professor of pharmaceutics in the College of Pharmacy, who won in the engineering category, and Allan H. MacDonald, professor and director of the Center for Complex Quantum Systems in the College of Natural Sciences’ Department of Physics, who won in the physical sciences category. The other three Hill Prize recipients are Dr. Martin M. Matzuk, of the Baylor College of Medicine, who won in the medicine category; Russell A. DeBose-Boyd, of UT Southwestern Medical Center, who won in the biological sciences category; and Hermann Lebit, of Alma Energy, who won in the technology category.

The prizes aim to bridge the path from research to business development and further innovations that need additional funding for greater impact. A committee of TAMEST members (Texas-based members of the National Academies) selected the recipients, and finalists were endorsed by a committee of Texas Nobel and Breakthrough Prize Laureates and approved by the TAMEST Board of Directors.

Principal investigators of the winning proposals will be recognized this evening, Feb. 5, at the opening reception of the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference in Austin, Texas. Each of the five winning proposals will receive $500,000 in funding from Lyda Hill Philanthropies to accelerate their work.

“Our organization is committed to funding game-changing advances in science and nature and that is exactly what the Hill Prizes’ mission is,” said Lyda Hill, entrepreneur and founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. “We hope that the funding awarded to these Texas scientists will help enable them to launch their pivotal research into development and continue to make advancements in scientific innovation.”

Croyle’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Engineering for demonstrating innovative techniques that will allow vaccines and biological drugs to be transported without the need for temperature control, which could lead to the rapid global distribution of life-saving medicines. Using methods from virology, immunology and drug delivery, her team developed a simple, resource-sparing system to preserve vaccines so they can be shipped worldwide without the need for ice or to be kept at a specific temperature. Her team’s work has advanced to the point that a company has been created to bring the technology to the marketplace. Croyle’s team will use prize funding to advance the product to full scale production, allowing for the innovation to move from the lab to the clinic and have a profound impact in the developing world.

MacDonald’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Physical Sciences for its potential to create a new energy storage device, the quantum supercapacitor, a new, low-carbon way to store energy. If successful, this work would create a new energy storage technology with longer lifetime and faster charging speeds. MacDonald and his team will utilize prize funding to advance their ongoing research and probe the performance limits of quantum supercapacitors.

“We had an astonishing amount of interest for our inaugural year of the Hill Prizes, which truly showcases not only the groundbreaking research happening in our state but the vital need to support and fund high-impact research in Texas,” said 2024 Hill Prizes Committee Chair David E. Daniel, of The University of Texas at Dallas. “The real work came from our volunteer subcommittees, who reviewed more than 160 applications and had the difficult task of selecting five proposals for funding. Their hard work paid off, and we are proud to put forward these five diverse and truly innovative research proposals to advance with the support of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. We can’t wait to see the results of this commitment in the years to come.”

Each recipient will submit an annual impact report to TAMEST and Lyda Hill Philanthropies to showcase their progress and highlight how the prize has accelerated their research.

After an incredibly successful first year of the prizes, Lyda Hill Philanthropies has committed over $10 million in funding to continue the prize program for the next three years. The $10 million will include the addition of a new prize in the category of public health, resulting in six prizes per year of $500,000 each. In addition, at least $1 million in discretionary research funding will be allocated by Lyda Hill Philanthropies on an ad hoc basis to highly ranked applicants and finalists not selected as recipients.