The HHPI team is an interdisciplinary group of scientists and health practitioners, passionately committed to improving the health of the Bay Area Houston community and advancing human performance.
The Health and Human Performance Team
William E. Amonette, Ph.D.
William (Bill) Amonette, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Health and Human Performance Institute (HHPI). In this role he serves as the chief science officer for HHPI, leading the vision and the strategic direction for research, programming, and educational outreach. Amonette is also a tenured associate professor of exercise science; his research identifies physiologic and mechanical factors that may predict or limit human performance in populations ranging from professional and Olympic athletes to patients with chronic diseases or neurologic injuries.
Prior to his work at UH-Clear Lake, he served at Wyle Life Sciences (NASA-JSC) as an exercise physiologist as well as an astronaut strength conditioning specialist and rehabilitation specialist. He was also a strength and conditioning coach for the Houston Rockets and Chinese National Basketball Team at the Olympic Training Center in Beijing, China. Amonette earned a Ph.D. at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in rehabilitation sciences, with a research emphasis in clinical exercise physiology and endocrinology. Amonette is a senior editor for the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, an ad hoc peer reviewer for many biomedical science journals, and the co-director of the Low Carb Houston Conference.
Joseph B. Hazzard, Ed.D., ATC
Joseph Hazzard, Ed.D., ATC is the Clinical Director of the Health & Human Performance Institute. In this role he serves as a senior leader on the Board of Directors for HHPI, oversees all clinical operations, supervises graduate and undergraduate students, and works to integrate and develop research and clinical programs for the Institute. Dr. Hazzard brings more than 30 years of experience to HHPI as a clinician, teacher, and scholar in sports medicine and rehabilitation. His career includes 31 years as a faculty member and Head Athletic Trainer at the collegiate level; he also served as a site PI for the NCAA/DoD Grand Alliance Concussion Assessment, Rehabilitation, and Education (CARE) Consortium which was the largest longitudinal study of sport-related concussion at NCAA Institutions and the Military Service Academies ever funded. Dr. Hazzard also previously served as the Program Director of a graduate clinical athletic training education program and a graduate certificate program in concussion/TBI studies. He founded the Institute for Concussion Research & Services providing assessment and recovery services following head trauma.
Dr. Hazzard is a nationally certified athletic trainer and a National Board Certified Counselor who holds an M.S. in Counseling and a Doctorate in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sport & Exercise Psychology. He is a member of National Athletic Trainer's Association, American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, and Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers' Society. Dr. Hazzard currently serves as the Co-Chair of the ACRM's Athlete Rehabilitation Networking Group. His research interests include concussion/TBI rehabilitation, exercise as medicine, neurorehabilitation, and sports medicine.
Nadir Ali, M.D.
Dr. Nadir Ali is a senior scientist and member of the core leadership team in the HHPI. He also holds an academic appointment as a research professor in the Department of Clinical, Health, and Applied Sciences. Dr. Ali's primary research interests include the effect of low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets on cardiovascular and metabolic health. An interventional cardiologist with over 25 years of experience, he also serves as the chairman of the Department of Cardiology for a major hospital system in Bay Area Houston, and as a director for the Low Carb Houston Conference.
Before working as a cardiologist, he served as an assistant professor of medicine for eight years at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he also received his medical training. He has championed the low-carb lifestyle in the local Clear Lake area since 2013. Dr. Ali organizes a monthly nutritional seminar in the Searcy Auditorium of the Clear Lake Hospital that receives more than 100 visitors every month from the local community. He is a leader in the nutrition community whose research and passion have inspired many to profound health changes.
Anne Anders, Ph.D.
Anne Anders, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of economics in the College of Business and a research scientist in the HHPI. In this role, Anders works to establish the research infrastructure across all projects to tie personal health benefits to health care expenditure savings. Moreover, longitudinally, she is interested in quantifying the effect of preventive versus reactive care on personal health, wellness, quality of life, and productivity with the intention of affecting health care policy.
A former professional and collegiate soccer player, Anders' research also investigates how youth sport participation affects later life outcomes. She holds a B.S. in sports management and marketing from Seton Hall University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Clemson University. Although her degrees are in business, you will often find her in the laboratory collecting physiologic and biomechanical data or on the floor assisting with strength training and conditioning.
Danny Arnold is a consultant in the HHPI where he collaborates and lends his expertise in the development and implementation of sport science and testing protocols. For over 18 years he has been recognized as an industry leader in human performance offering the highest level of integrated and innovative sports training and sports medicine for anyone regardless of age, sport or skill level. With a proven track record, he is the Founder and Director at Plex and has designed programs that have helped thousands of individuals, from Super Bowl Champions, Olympic Gold Medalists, to developmental athletes learning to play their first sport improve their performance and overall wellbeing.
Arnold's pursuit of excellence and innovative approach to training has received much acclaim from local and national media. He doesn't settle for tradition - he challenges it. Arnold believes that you don't just do things because we've always done it that way. One of his biggest contributions to athletic development is the belief that you do not always need to lift heavy weights to improve strength and power at your position. To Arnold, range of motion, reaction, balance, and exercise velocity play a larger role in functional power development. John McClain, Associated Press and Head of Sports Division at the Houston Chronicle said of Arnold, "I've never seen someone improve athletes in their craft, as much as I’ve seen Danny Arnold do. He's the best in the business."
Jason Bentley, Ph.D.
Jason Bentley is a biomedical engineer in the HHPI with an academic appointment as a senior lecturer. An avid cyclist with multiple state championship time trials awards, he worked previously as an engineer and scientist in the Exercise Physiology Laboratory for Wyle Life Sciences (NASA-JSC). In this role, he investigated exercise countermeasures to mitigate spaceflight induced muscle and bone loss.
Bentley received an M.S. in physiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin and a B.S. in biomedical engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He earned his Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Sciences from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas in 2021. His doctoral dissertation explored physical activity motivation among breast cancer survivors; his goal is to identify targets for physical activity interventions aiming to improve long-term physical activity behavior.
Ariful I. Bhuiyan, PhD
Ariful Bhuiyan, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering and a senior scientist and engineer in the HHPI. In this role, he collaborates with the team on biomechanics related research and product development across all four centers and leads the Center for Performance Innovation. Leveraging his computational (finite element analysis), experimental, and image analysis skills, Dr. Bhuiyan’s current research investigates biomedical devices and mechanisms of sport-related injuries. A recent award from Barrios Technology recognizes his early-stage promising research on total knee replacements. His other additive manufacturing-driven spinal fusion project generates an intriguing set of data that will help further research to relieve back pain.
Dr. Bhuiyan received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Texas Tech University in 2013. His thesis was titled "Anterior Cruciate Ligament Response Due to Forces Resulting from Quadriceps Muscle and Ground Reaction." He earned an M.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the National University of Singapore in 2005 and B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2002. He has over ten years of industrial experience as a lead project engineer, systems engineer, principal mechanical engineer, and finite element analyst.
Kate Caughlin, B.S.
Kate Caughlin is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI and is currently working towards a graduate degree in Exercise & Health Science with a concentration in Clinical Exercise Physiology. Kate holds a B.S. in Aerospace Studies, has experience as a certified personal trainer, and served as a Captain in the United States Army. Kate is passionate about exercise & loves helping others embrace the active lifestyle. She is a nationally qualified bikini bodybuilding competitor and competed in over 60 triathlons, running, and cycling races including Ironman Arizona and the London marathon. In addition to her notable athletic career, she is a Bronze Star Medal recipient in 2009 for her leadership. After completing the graduate program, she is interested in continuing to work with individuals with chronic conditions to improve their overall health and wellbeing.
Lewis K. Clarke, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Lewis Clarke is senior medical advisor in the HHPI and has a private practice clinic in Webster, TX, as a board certified physiatrist (or rehabilitation specialist) which is a specialty that treats patients with strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, neurologic diseases, musculoskeletal and sports injuries and chronic pain syndromes.
He initially received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Baylor University in Waco, Texas and then earned a Master of Science degree at University of Texas at Dallas in psychophysiology, biostatistics and neurophysiology. His interest in pharmacology and neurochemistry developed during these years led to acceptance into the Cell Biology program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School of Biomedical Sciences where he completed his Ph.D. in cell biology and neurochemistry.
After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Clarke decided that the application of this basic science was best served in the area of clinical medicine; he then attended Texas Tech University School of Medicine where he earned his M.D. degree. Dr. Clarke moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he was completed his internship in internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine after which he returned to Houston and completed his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine. He founded a hospital in Webster, Texas for general physical rehabilitation medicine upon finishing his training.
John Cottingham, M.D.
Dr. John Cottingham, a senior medical advisor and member of the core leadership team in the HHPI, holds an academic appointment as a research professor in the Department of Clinical, Health, and Applied Sciences at UHCL. A primary care physician who is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, Dr. Cottingham is an active member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and the American Academy of Family Medicine. His research interest involves the interaction between high intensity exercise, nutrition, and metabolic and musculoskeletal health.
A graduate of Clear Creek High School, Dr. Cottingham earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch and completed his residency in family practice at the Baylor College of Medicine. Outside of his clinical responsibilities, he enjoys strength training, conditioning, surfing and sprinting. Dr. Cottingham's passion for preventive care and wellness leads him to approach medicine in a more natural way. He says, "After all, humans are a species of athletes. When we eat and exercise as we are designed to do, we live happier and healthier lives."
John DeWitt, Ph.D.
John DeWitt, Ph.D., is the senior biomechanist in the HHPI, where he leads projects, mentors students, and uses unique modeling applications to solve complex problems related to human movement. He also serves as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Clinical Health and Applied Sciences at UH-Clear Lake, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in biomechanics. A senior biomechanist for KBRWyle at NASA Johnson Space Center, DeWitt works in the Human Health and Performance Directorate specializing in the planning for health and technology needs to support human exploration space flight, with a specialization in exercise.
He has conducted numerous biomechanical research studies at NASA, including original research on the International Space Station. DeWitt previously worked as a coach and sports scientist for collegiate, youth and professional soccer teams including the Houston Dynamo Academy, Houston Dash, Trinidad & Tobago Senior Women's National Team, and Afghanistan Senior Women's National Team. He has ongoing collaborations with collegiate and professional sports teams in the area of sports science, data analytics, and performance assessment & improvement. DeWitt earned a Ph.D. at the University of Texas Medical Branch, a M.S. at Arizona State University in biomechanics, and a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Toledo.
Dana Gardner, B.S.
Dana Gardner is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. She is originally from San Antonio and completed her BS in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Physiology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is now working towards her MS degree in clinical exercise physiology and aspires to work in research for NASA. Dana served in the Air Force for 6.5 years and was a physical training leader as a special duty. After leaving the Air Force to attend college, she became an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Live Oak, Texas for 3 years. Dana loves to hike, camp, and engage in any activity outdoors. She has a strong love for dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, metal music, and horror movies!
Disha Kapoor, B.P.T, M.P.T
Disha Kapoor is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. She has completed her Bachelors in physical therapy and Masters in physical therapy (Neurological sciences) from Ashok and Rita Patel Institute of Physiotherapy in India. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Exercise Sciences with concentration in sports science and will graduate in December 2023. Disha is a believer in evidence-based practice and she applies the knowledge of recent researches in her clinical decision making. She is having great experience in treating the patients with stroke, Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions. Apart from this, she has also developed some devices which assists the individuals with disability. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. and be an academician in future. Outside of work she enjoys skating, cycling, public speaking and playing badminton.
Dhara Katira, B.P.T, PT
Dhara Katira is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. She holds a physical therapist license issued by the State of New York. She graduated with her B.S in Physiotherapy from Sarvajanik College of Physiotherapy in India. She will complete her MS in Exercise and Health Sciences with a concentration Clinical Exercise Physiology in the Fall 2022. Prior to joining UHCL, she worked as a licensed physical therapist in India where she treated patients with neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. She has also worked as a physical therapist for U-17 badminton players in India. Dhara’s career goal is to work as licensed PT in United States and help her patients to restore, maintain, and maximize their mobility, function, and quality of life. She is serving as one of the board of directors for the International Student Advisory board and is working towards building a community for international students. Dhara is also a trained classical dancer and in her leisure time she enjoys playing badminton and watching TV shows.
Nick Kelling, Ph.D.
Nick Kelling, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and human factors engineer in the HHPI and an assistant professor in the Applied Cognitive Psychology Program at the UH-Clear Lake. Kelling's focus is the teaching and application of human factors and applied cognitive psychology. Specifically, his research interests include identifying individual differences in object motion perception especially in motion prediction and investigating the use of technology in environments where education and entertainment goals coexist. Kelling is currently working with institute scientist to develop virtual reality applications to enhance the exercise experience and improve health outcomes. In his research, he has collaborated with college athletics, computing companies, amusement parks, and zoos. Kelling previously served on the faculty at Marshall University, University of South Florida – Polytechnic, and the University of South Florida.
Charles S. Layne, Ph.D.
Dr. Charles Layne is a senior science advisor in the HHPI and is a full professor of motor control in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston's main campus. He is a founding member of the Center of Neuromotor and Biomechanics Research at UH. Dr. Layne is a specialist in the study of posture and locomotion among a variety of populations, including astronauts, healthy, young adults, individuals with cancer, and Parkinson's Disease. Recently, he has intensively investigated the movement characteristics of individuals with single gene mutation syndromes including Rett, Syngap1, Duplication and NGLY1.
He received his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, Master of Education in Adaptive Physical Education, and PhD in Kinesiology at the University of Texas at Austin. After completing his doctorate, he served as an assistant professor at Kansas State University. He then served as the Laboratory Supervisor and Senior Scientist of the Movement and Coordination Laboratory at Johnson Space Center for KRUG Life Science (now KBR). Next Dr. Layne joined the University of Houston where he has served for the last 25 years, 16 of which he was the chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance.
He has supervised 16 doctoral students and multiple undergraduate interns, published nearly 100 scientific articles, and has been continuously funded in support of his research for over 25 consecutive years. He brings his expertise in sensory processing, biomechanics, and neuromuscular activation as well as a wealth of research design experience to the HHPI.
Beth Matusoff Merfish, Ph.D.
Beth Merfish, Ph.D., is the Director of Policy and Community Relations in the Health and Human Performance Institute, an Associate Professor of Art History and Chair of the Department of Liberal Arts in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities. Her research and teaching interests include Museum Studies and Public Arts and Science presentations, including past partnerships with Space Center Houston and the UHCL Art Gallery. She earned her doctorate and MA from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and her BA from Wellesley College.
In 2021, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed Dr. Merfish the inaugural chair of the Houston Women's Commission. In that role, she leads a team of diverse commission members whose charge is to advance equality and equity for women in the City of Houston by identifying and addressing disparities in healthcare, employment, safety and security across communities and industries, both in Houston's public and private sector.
Angelica Moore, B.S.
Angelica Moore is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. She graduated with her B.S. in Fitness and Human Performance from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in December of 2020. She is continuing her education through UHCL and is currently working towards her M.S. degree in Exercise and Health Sciences with a concentration in Clinical Exercise Physiology. Angelica began working with the institute during her undergraduate internship where she demonstrated her skills and knowledge; after completion she was offered a full-time position. She is known by the faculty and her fellow workers for being a dedicated and hard worker. As a former recreational gymnastics coach of seven years, Angelica is experienced in working with a wide range of ages, abilities, and disabilities. In her future career she hopes to increase quality of life for children and young adults. She plans on using the practical experience and knowledge received from HHPI and applying it in a clinical pediatric setting. Outside of work she enjoys strength training, studying, and is a lover of all things coffee.
Kinnari Nakrani, B.P.T
Kinnari Nakrani is working as Exercise Physiologist in the Human and Health Performance Institute (HHPI). She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from India. Following her graduation, she started working as a physical therapist in an orthopedic clinic for one and a half years, where she worked with post-surgical patients , Total knee arthroplasty patients, and patients with musculoskeletal conditions. Now she is doing her masters in Exercise Physiology and Kinesiology with a concentration in Clinical Exercise Physiology. Her future goal is to work as a licensed physical therapist in Washington state after completing her master's. In her leisure time, she loves to travel new places or binge watch TV shows.
Phonephathep Philavong, B.S.
Phonephathep Philavong (Thep) is an exercise physiologist in HHPI. She graduated from Texas A&M Kingsville with a B.S. in business administration and management. Thep is currently pursuing her M.S. in Exercise and Health Sciences with a concentration in Public Health. She brings a unique perspective to the HHPI as a former elite athlete. A tennis player for almost 19-years, Thep competed nationally in her home country of Laos. In January of 2016, she received a full scholarship to play tennis for Grambling State University (GSU) where she maintained the number one position in both singles and doubles at GSU; she was honored with the most valuable player (MVP) award in 2016-2017. She transferred to Texas A&M University Kingsville in 2018 and maintained position 2 in both singles and doubles during her last 2 seasons of college tennis. Her goals after graduation are to work with a humanitarian organization or healthcare facility to help as many people as she can along the journey.
Prinjal Raj, B.P.T
Prinjal Raj is an exercise physiologist in HHPI and is pursuing her master’s degree in Exercise and Health Science in concentration with Sports Science at UH-Clear Lake. Prior to arriving in the United States, she earned her B.S. in Physical Therapy from India where she worked as a licensed physical therapist treating pediatric, adult, and geriatric population with musculoskeletal, neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, scoliosis, Parkinson’s disease, and osteoarthritis. Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic she worked in an ICU department in public hospitals in India, treating emergency cases as a part of her internship. Her career goals are to work as a licensed physical therapist in the United States with athletes and to help individuals improve their quality of life with exercise. Apart from work, she enjoys playing online games, chess, singing, and reading.
Pooja Shah, B.P.T, M.P.T
Pooja Shah is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. Prior to arriving in the United States, received a B.S.in Physiotherapy at Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences, India (2019) and a M.S. in Musculoskeletal Sciences Physiotherapy at NMIMS University, Mumbai, India (2021). A dedicated learner, Pooja now working towards her second M.S. degree in Exercise and Health Sciences with a concentration in Sports Science. Prior to joining UHCL, she served as a licensed Physical Therapist in India. She has an extensive knowledge regarding Zumba, aerobic dance, ergonomics, and Aquatic fitness therapy. Pooja is extremely passionate about her goals of serving as a Physical Therapist and aspires to continued growth in her field. In her leisure time she loves to travel, play sports, listen to music, and watch TV shows.
Sneh Shah, B.P.T
Sneh Shah is an Exercise Physiologist in the HHPI. He earned his B.S. in Physiotherapy from Ashok and Rita Patel Institute of Physiotherapy in India. He is a currently pursuing his Masters in Exercise Science with a concentration in Sports Science, and will graduate in Fall 2022. Sneh brings a solid background of clinical experience to the team. He worked previously in Vadodara, India as an assistant therapist where he treated patients with neurological and musculoskeletal conditions such as Parkinson's, stroke, and osteoarthritis. He is passionate about helping others build strength, manage weight, and providing therapy for multiple disease and disorders. After graduation, Sneh will sit for his physical therapy licensing exam in the United States, continuing his career as a PT and helping others improve their lives with exercise.
Olympia Watts, M.S.
Olympia Watts is an Research coordinator in the HHPI. She graduated in the Summer of 2022 with a M.S. in Exercise Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As a student, she was identified by several faculty members for her comprehension of sophisticated physiology and ability to ask and answer in depth questions. Upon joining the institute staff, she made an immediate impact with her leadership and positive attitude. She developed and launched weekly virtual exercise classes, creating an innovative solution to ensure members of the HHPI were continuing towards their health goals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her personal goals are to continue learning how to help individuals, through evidence-based practices, to live a better and healthier life. She is passionate about learning, exercise, jiu jitsu, and food.
HHPI Contracted Employees
- Alex Gantt, M.S., Human Systems Integrator, Human Health and Performance Contract, NASA - Johnson Space Center
- Kyle Hjorth, B.S., Chemist, Human Health and Performance Contract, NASA - Johnson Space Center
- JeNale Scarlett, M.S., Gateway Human Factors Engineer, Human Health and Performance Contract, NASA - Johnson Space Center
- Binal Bholariya, MS, PT
- Brianne Black, MS
- Tomas Chapman-Lopez, MS
- Meg Choate, BS
- Luis Gonzalez, MS
- Nikhat Jharia, MS
- Brandon (Ryan) McGee, MS
- Uthpala Nayak, MHA
- Karishma Patel, MS
- Randall Sharp, MS
- Annabelle Truelove, MS