The Wiess School of Natural Sciences has always represented new frontiers for Rice University. Its roots date to 1912, the year of the birth of the Rice Institute. In fact, all of the Institute’s four founding departments — biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics — are still part of the Wiess School. The Wiess School’s namesake, Harry Carothers Wiess, was a Rice trustee, Houston philanthropist, and businessman who was acutely aware of the importance of science to both Rice and Houston’s success. Today, the Wiess School is still pioneering educational frontiers by incorporating research into more classes and undergraduate students into research laboratories. In the majority of Rice labs today, undergraduates can be found working side by side with faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to advance the boundaries of human understanding in astronomy, biochemistry, cell biology, chemistry, earth science, ecology, evolutionary biology, mathematics, and physics. The Wiess School of Natural Sciences comprises six departments:
- Earth Science
- Physics & Astronomy
Natural Sciences faculty participate in several Interdisciplinary institutes and centers including the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice Quantum Institute, the W.M. Keck Center for Interdisciplinary Bioscience Training, Gulf Coast Consortia, and Rice Space Institute. Research partnerships encompass local institutions including Baylor College of Medicine, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, NASA, The University of Texas Health Science Center, the University of Texas Medical Branch, and the University of Houston, plus foundations, museums, industries, and other universities and corporations worldwide. The research of Nobel Laureates Robert Curl and Richard Smalley heralded the new discipline of nanoscience and technology that brings together many fields of science and engineering. In addition to providing the foundation of nano-research, the School also recently recruited three renowned scientists, all members of the National Academy of Sciences. Their research labs in cancer, physics, and chemistry will work in partnership with cancer specialists in the Texas Medical Center to apply new concepts from physics to cancer research and treatment. Members of our faculty have received prestigious awards such as: Packard Fellowships, Beckman Foundation Fellowships, NSF CAREER Awards for junior faculty, Feynman Prizes, Norman Hackerman awards in Chemistry, the Athelstan Spilhaus Award for Enhancement of the Public Understanding of Earth and Space Science, and the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Science. The School offers numerous research opportunities to its undergraduates, and many publish work in top journals. A small sampling of research being conducted illustrates the broad range of possibilities: exotic plant and animal invasions into Texas ecosystems, evolutionary dynamics of genes and genomes in populations and species, effects of salt chemistry on freezing of saturated Martian soil, neurogenesis in Alzheimer’s Disease, and building lasers for cooling atoms to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero, to name a few. The space that supports Natural Sciences is remarkably diverse in the state-of-the-art equipment provided to the undergraduate and graduate research programs. The School also supports a professional science master's program in several areas.