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BioHouston honors Rice’s Lydia Kavraki

‘Celebrating Women in Science’ also recognizes Rice alumnus, UTHealth chair Dianna Milewicz

By Mike Williams
Rice News Staff

Lydia KavrakiLydia Kavraki, Rice’s Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and Bioengineering, was honored at BioHouston’s fourth annual “Celebrating Women in Science” luncheon Nov. 14 at the River Oaks Country Club.

Kavraki joined the Rice faculty in 1996 and “began to explore ways robotics could be employed in biology and medicine and to look at ways that her understanding of robotics could be used in a very creative and very different way,” said Rice Provost George McLendon in his introduction.

At Rice, Kavraki has branched into bioinformatics and robotics, complementary disciplines that require the development of advanced computer science for reasoning about the physical world. Her group at Rice has pioneered algorithms she expects will speed the delivery of drugs to market. She and her students, McLendon said, “imagine and accomplish things that 10 years ago would have sounded like science fiction.”

“Many women who live and work in Houston could be standing here in my place today,” Kavraki said, thanking her students and colleagues. “I’ve been very fortunate to get started and develop my career at an extraordinary university with forward-looking leadership.”

Kavraki was elected this year as a member of the Institute of Medicine, one of four organizations that make up the National Academies. She is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Association of Computing Machinery, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the World Technology Network. She has a joint appointment in the Graduate Program of Structural and Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Rice alumna Dianna Milewicz ’78 was also honored at the luncheon. A professor of internal medicine and holder of the President George H.W. Bush Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston (UTHealth), she was introduced via video by Amy Yasbeck Ritter, the widow of actor John Ritter and co-founder with Milewicz of the John Ritter Research Program for Aortic and Vascular Disease at UTHealth. Milewicz has a B.A. in biochemistry from Rice.

Previous BioHouston honorees from Rice include Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of bioengineering; Kathleen Matthews, the Stewart Memorial Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology; and Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering, along with two alumna, astronaut Peggy Whitson ‘86, former commander of the International Space Station, and Jessica Zenker Nasseri ’99, a science teacher at YES Preparatory School in Houston.