On September 23, 1912, Rice Institute opened the doors to its first class of students. A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is among the degrees offered. The first Rice catalog (published in 1915) states that "...courses will be offered in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. A complete course in any one of these branches will extend over five years. A student who has successfully completed the first four years of a course will be awarded a bachelor's degree, and after successfully completing the remaining year of his course he will be awarded an engineering degree..."
There are three chemical engineering graduates among the 36 members of the Rice Class of 1916. James Lee Bramlette (San Angelo, Texas), William Marion Standish (Houston, Texas), and Herbert Wray Wilber (Kingsville, Texas) receive their bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering from President Lovett.
Bramlette, Standish and Wilber receive their master's degrees in chemical engineering.
A. J. Hartsook is hired as an instructor of industrial chemistry. His arrival on campus marks the beginning of an independent program in chemical engineering at Rice. Hartsook had received B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from MIT and his choice of Rice and Houston was not an accident. At MIT he had gathered information that convinced him that the city and its vicinity would, in time, grow into one of the foremost chemical and engineering centers in the country and the world. "The opportunity was right here, even then, back in 1921", remarked Hartsook in a 1970 interview. "Houston was already showing signs along its ship channel of developing into a major processing center for oil, lumber, cotton and sugar... It did not take much vision to see a splendid future for the entire area..."
Hartsook is promoted to assistant professor of chemical engineering and officially assumes the leadership of chemical engineering, a post he will hold until 1956.
Anna Rebecca Lay becomes Rice's first woman graduate in chemical engineering.
The department is housed in half of the first floor and the basement of the Chemistry Building. An annex is added for the installation of a very complete Unit Operations Lab. Hartsook's students begin to fill many of the positions created by the growing industrial establishment along the Houston ship channel. For many of these graduates, the ship channel becomes the launching pad for important leadership positions, first in corporate headquarters in New York or other major U.S. financial centers and, subsequently, to key posts overseas.
During this period, chemical engineering had the largest enrollment in engineering, awarding between 15 and 29 B.S.Ch.E. degrees every year. Efforts to get the chemical engineering program accredited by E.C.P.D. (the precursor of A.B.E.T.) are initiated. In 1938, chemical engineering ceases to be a part of the department of chemistry and becomes one of the four branches of the department of engineering. Grover Leon Bridger (Rice '33) is hired as an instructor in chemical engineering, becoming only the second faculty member of the department. He leaves, however, in 1939 after only one year at Rice and Karl ten Brink (Rice '37) is hired to replace him. In 1939 and 1940, Ervon Eggiman, Sam Bethea (Rice '39) and Price Elkin join the department as Fellows in Chemical Engineering.
The Department of Chemical Engineering at Rice becomes the first accredited chemical engineering department in the state of Texas. Chemical engineering departments at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University received their accreditation in 1943 and 1946 respectively.
The first M.S. degrees in chemical engineering are granted to:
- Sam Bethea, "Studies on Decolorizing Clays"
- Ervon Eggimann, "Performance of an Adiabatic Fractionating Column"
Enrollment decreases as Karl ten Brink and many of the students leave Rice to take part in the war effort.
The Department of Chemical Engineering receives a mandate from Rice University 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 industry and is replaced by Bill Akers. Construction begins on the Abercrombie Laboratory building.
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.
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 ten-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.
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 Department of Environmental Science and Engineering.
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.
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 square feet 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.
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.
Rice University announces a $150 million initiative in strategic research areas, which includes $49 million in the area of molecular nanotechnology.
The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering hires two new faculty members under the university's initiative in molecular nanotechnology.