Wiess School of Natural Sciences
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Biochemistry & Cell Biology
Earth Science
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Physics & Astronomy

History of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences

DedicationThe 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. Notably, Rice’s first four presidents Edgar Lovett (1912-1946), William Houston (1946-1961), Kenneth Pitzer (1961-1970) and Norman Hackerman (1970-1985) — each came from backgrounds in the natural sciences. 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. Wiess told the Rice Association of Alumni in 1945, “Scientific research and technical ingenuity have unleashed forces that threaten to overwhelm us unless we soon learn how to utilize them for the benefit of human welfare and progress.” It is no wonder he and his family have endowed laboratories, facilities, and chairs in numerous scientific disciplines at Rice.

The Natural Sciences were Rice’s foundation as it established itself as a world-class university in the early 20th Century. The sciences took center stage when Rice received the most international attention: from the crucial founding of NASA and the space sciences, to the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of buckyballs to the 21st Century melding of nanotechnology with life sciences, information technology and environmental science.

Rice’s interdisciplinary institutes, long a hallmark of the university’s collaborative scientific culture, also trace their beginnings to the Wiess School. The School is home to the first of these, the Rice Quantum Institute, as well as the Institute for Biosciences & Bioengineering, the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the Rice Space Institute. Leveraging our institutes, Rice researchers have proven they can remain on the cutting edge of science without sacrificing the university’s commitment to education and vision for modest growth.

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.

Follow the timeline of the Wiess School’s dynamic history at the most important of human boundaries — the frontiers of knowledge.


1900 - 1909

1910 - 1919

1920 - 1929

1930 - 1939

1940 - 1949

1950 - 1959

1960 - 1969

1970 - 1979

1980 - 1989

1990 - 1999

2000 - 2009

2010 - 2019