Rice has been a leader in nanotechnology since the discovery of the buckyball in 1985.
That’s a tiny latticework ball of carbon atoms, and its discoverers won a Nobel Prize.
Since then the field has blossomed, with the discovery of carbon nanotubes and carbon sheets only one atom thick.
Ned Thomas is dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice.
He says nanotechnology is engineering, just at the atomic level.
“But nanotechnology is more of systems of molecules or crystals, thin layers and what not, that work together to perform a function: to take a photograph, to record your voice.”
Nanomaterials can be found in sunscreens, smart phones, fracking, aerospace, you name it.
Since the buckyball, Rice has continued to be a leader in materials science and nano science in particular, and Thomas says it was time to recognize that in a more formal way.
The new department will be called Materials Science and NanoEngineering.
“Putting ‘NanoEngineering’ in there will also bring attention to students who might say ‘Oh, that’s an interesting discipline that I didn’t know existed. And Rice has got it.’ We’ve had it, but we really haven’t advertised it. This way we can build on it and bring more students and more faculty, more attention from industry and government funding.”
The new department will be spun off of Mechanical Engineering, which will remain a separate department.