Rice University President David Leebron announced a $150 million investment in strategic research initiatives last week. The three-part investment will fund Rice’s molecular nanotechnology research, establish a program in data sciences and promote a broad range of research competitiveness across the university, Leebron said. The investment draws from a combination of endowment, philanthropy and reallocation of resources.
Leebron said Rice faculty and alumni, along with leaders in industry and the Texas Medical Center, identified areas to invest where Rice could excel over the next five to 10 years. Criteria included the ability to secure outside funding, access interinstitutional support and achieve national prominence. According to Leebron, nanotechnology and data sciences best fit these criteria.
$49 million of the investment will go to the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, as well as Rice’s programs in materials science and molecular technology. According to Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, this will give Rice a strategic advantage in competing for federal grants. The investment will also further Rice’s reputation as a pioneer in nanotechnology, which began in 1993 with the founding of the world’s first nanotechnology institute.
James Tour, a member of Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute, agreed that the investment will bolster Rice’s standing in the field.
“This investment will keep Rice among the premier institutions in nanotechnology, the very place that Rick Smalley and his colleagues had envisioned when he so pushed for the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which became the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology [the nation’s first nanotechnology center] upon his passing,” Tour said.
Miranda said Rice will also invest in data sciences, an emerging field with a broad impact.
“Data science extends to almost every school, institute and department,” Miranda said. “Name a department and I can tell you … how data sciences can be helpful, from processing and interpreting digital humanities collections, to understanding voter turnout patterns, to improving cybersecurity.”
$43 million will establish a program in data sciences, which Miranda said will focus on developing statistical methods and algorithms and apply them to solve real-world problems.
The initiatives for nanotechnology and data science will also fund 21 new faculty positions, technical staff positions and startup funds. $58 million will be designated to enhancing the postdoctoral candidate program, starting a research venture capital fund for high-risk, high-return initiatives, bolstering resources for grants and facilitating faculty networking.
“The most valuable resources of any research university are the time, ideas, initiative and leadership of its faculty and students,” Miranda said. “These initiatives … support the extraordinary faculty who are already here in each department … and fill critical gaps that will allow us to achieve our aspirational goals.”