Todd Treangen wins SoE Teaching + Research Excellence Award

Treangen was honored for strengthening Rice Engineering’s ties with the TMC, for his COVID-19 research, and teaching excellence.

Todd Treangen standing outside on the Rice University campus

Todd Treangen, Associate Professor in Rice University’s Department of Computer Science, has been awarded the George R. Brown School of Engineering’s Teaching + Research Excellence Award. Treangen, whose research lies at the intersection of computer science, public health, and genomics, was honored for strengthening Rice Engineering’s ties with the Texas Medical Center (TMC) and for his research during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Award winners are great examples of top performers in our school, each in their own areas of strength — research, teaching and service,” said Luay Nakhleh, William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering. “Recognizing their hard work is one way for us to tell them that we are aware of their efforts and thankful for them.”

“Dr. Treangen is an exceptional researcher with excellent bibliometrics,” said Chris Jermaine, chair of Rice’s Department of Computer Science. “He works in a very timely and hot research area — especially given the COVID-19 pandemic.” He also refers to Treangen as an educational leader in the field of computer science and praises him for being an excellent teacher. 

Treangen’s group, The Treangen Lab, focuses on developing open-source software tools capable of tackling emerging computational research questions specific to biosecurity, infectious disease and microbiome analysis.

“I'm thrilled and humbled to have received the 2024 Rice School of Engineering Teaching + Research Excellence Award,” said Treangen. “First and foremost, many thanks to my amazing research group, this award is a reflection of their hard work and brilliance over the past 6 years. I'd also like to thank my co-instructors and all of the dedicated TAs that have contributed to the classes I've taught, as well as the Rice undergraduate and graduate students that constantly inspire the pursuit of teaching excellence.” He continued on to express his gratitude for the supportive environment at Rice, specifically noting Nakhleh and Jermaine.

While celebrating Treangen’s research, his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic was a highlight. He’s actively pursued SARS-CoV-2 detection and prevention since January 2020 when the first data sets dedicated to the disease became available. In addition, he’s served as a community leader gathering other scientists and colleagues working toward the same goal. This included serving as a co-founder of the COVID-19 International Research Team (COV-IRT) and co-host for their global, virtual symposiums. 

Since then, he and his lab members have continued to develop novel bioinformatics algorithms and comparative genomic analyses to determine how SARS-CoV-2 is changing over time. 

Major milestones in Treangen’s COVID-19 research include receiving a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contract to develop the Harvest Variant software for real-time variant tracking of SARS-CoV-2. The grant was a part of CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology, and Surveillance (SPHERES) Initiative. The ability to conduct real-time monitoring has aided in the understanding of changes to SARS-CoV-2 infectivity, transmissibility and vaccine efficacy.

He has also received a multi-year NSF proposal funding mechanism motivated by understanding the rules of life, and in particular Microbiome Interactions and Mechanisms. The research project involves co-PIs Dr. Luay Nakhleh, Dr. Santiago Segarra, and Dr. Devaki Bhaya (Carnegie Institute of Science).

In combination with Treangen’s research accolades, this Engineering Award also commends him for teaching excellence. The courses Treangen has taught at Rice include COMP 182, Algorithmic Thinking,  as well as higher-level courses such as COMP 416 Genome Scale Algorithms, a Computer Science senior software design course where students develop software tools and algorithms capable of analyzing gigabytes to terabytes of genomic data.

Prior to receiving the Engineering Teaching + Research Award, in 2023, Treangen took home an NSF CAREER Award. These awards are given to early-career faculty looked upon as future academic role models. The grant backed development of a computational platform to spot yet-unseen microbial pathogens.

Treangen joined Rice’s Department of Computer Science in 2018. Before that, he worked as a research scientist at the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) at the University of Maryland in the lab of Mihai Pop, and as a principal investigator at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC). He earned his doctorate in computer science in 2008 from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) in Barcelona, Spain and went on to work as a postdoctoral scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Institut Pasteur in Paris

Visit the School of Education website to see the complete list of Engineering Awards winners.