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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering


Department History - World War II to Present  

1941-1945: The first M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering are granted: 

  • Sam Bethea - "Studies on Decolorizing Clays", and
  • Ervon Eggimann - "Performance of an Adiabatic Fractionating Column"

1942-1945:  Enrollment decreases as Karl ten Brink and many of the students leave Rice to take part in the war effort.


1947:  The Chemical Engineering Department receives a mandate from President Houston to start a full-scale graduate program. At the same time, the GI Bill encourages many veterans to return to school. The department now has 44 seniors, 60 juniors and 9 graduate students. Karl ten Brink leaves to go to work in the industry and is replaced by Bill Akers. Construction begins on the Abercrombie Laboratory building. 


1948:   Construction of the Abercrombie laboratory is completed and the formal dedication of the new building is held on November 20, 1948. The building cost $1,038,157.62 to construct and is named in honor of the Abercrombie family. The undergraduate chemical engineering program and Professor Hartsook remain in the Chemistry Building, while the graduate students and other faculty occupy the center wing of Abercrombie.  history02_11950-1960:  Undergraduate enrollment drops to 25-30 per class (as the veterans graduate), the graduate enrollment steadily increases to 45-50 and several new faculty members are hired to bring the total number to 7. This is a most active time:  
  • Orrin K. Crosser is awarded the first Ph.D. in 1955. His thesis is titled "Condensing Heat Transfer Within Horizontal Tubes".
  • In 1955 the department initiates a program in nuclear engineering. The AEC approves a large grant to support this effort. The result is a fully equipped radiation lab and an operating 10 watt nuclear reactor.
  • The department purchases an LGP-30 digital computer (Rice's first computer) and later buys an IBM 1620 (Rice's first solid state programmable computer) that can be programmed with a new language called FORTRAN.
  • Chemical engineering annexes a sanitation laboratory program in Civil Engineering and begins to address the broader problems of environmental pollution. A graduate program in Environmental Engineering is started.
  • The department is rated seventh in the country among chemical engineering graduate schools.
1960-1970:  With the appointment of Fritz Horn and Roy Jackson, coupled with new strong young faculty, the department is acknowledged to be one of the very best in the country. During this period, the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory is established with the help of a large federal grant. This laboratory produces the first successful left ventricular heart bypass in cooperation with the Department of Surgery at Baylor. It also develops an implantable artificial lens for the eye with Dr. Louis Girard which restores sight to hundreds of patients. Several faculty leave the department to start the Environmental Science and Engineering department. 



1970-1996:  The Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering is created in 1986 in recognition of the revolutionary advances in biotechnology. The George R. Brown Hall is built in 1992 to house the Institute and chemical engineering faculty associated with the institute move their offices and laboratories to the new facility. In 1996, the Department of Bioengineering is created with funding assistance from the Whitaker Foundation and four chemical engineering faculty transfer their primary appointments to the new department.


1997-2004:  The department formulates a strategic plan and begins its implementation with the help of a select Advisory Board and the full support of the Rice Administration. Five new faculty members are hired in the areas of materials and biosystems.; more than 14,000 sq. ft. of laboratory and office space are renovated to house state-of-the-art facilities for research on complex fluids, catalysis and nanomaterials; successful fundraising campaigns for endowed graduate student fellowships are carried out; and the undergraduate and graduate curricula are restructured to meet the changing requirements of the industrial and academic employers of our graduates.


2005: The department changes its name to
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to reflect our firm belief that the integration of biological sciences with chemical engineering will lead to unique and powerful scientific and technological advances.