Environmental Sciences and Engineering



Energy and Environment are themes that cut across academic boundaries. Development of these themes is a natural vehicle for advancing Rice University’s position of national and international academic leadership through a combination of the highest quality liberal education and groundbreaking research. Faculty from departments across the University are active in teaching and research directed at understanding the environment and exploring means of sustaining environmental quality in conjunction with society's activities. Increasing numbers of students are looking to environmental curricula in the pursuit of their professional preparation and personal enrichment.


Rice University’s School of Engineering and School of Natural Sciences are well positioned to make important contributions in solving environmental problems of international, national and regional importance. Our current strengths, reputation, size, and location combine to present substantial opportunities for playing center stage in many of the environmental issues to be confronted over the next 20 years or more.


To these ends, Rice University is implementing an environmental initiative that includes: 

  • Curricular innovations including integrated environmental courses and curricula which will create avenues for interdisciplinary and liberal education for undergraduates and graduate students as well as meeting the need for solid educational preparation in environmental problem solving and critical thinking, 
  • A roadmap for faculty replacement and additions which will invigorate current divisions while servicing environmental curricula and stimulating interdisciplinary research in four selected areas: 
  • Society, urban metabolism, and industry;


  • Ecosystems and natural resources;


  • Surficial Processes; and
  • Atmospheric Processes.
  • Establishment of a Steering Committee for Environmental Programs which will serve as a curriculum-based, campus-wide focal point for coordination of coursework and curricula, a forum for intellectual inquiry and discussion, and a source of information on opportunities for study and research on the environment at Rice University.


Energy and environment present unique opportunities for integrating research and teaching in science and engineering with activities in the business school, architecture, humanities, and the social sciences. These issues are of are prime importance for our local and global communities, and are well positioned to support strategic activities in Rice’s Institutes.


Implementation of Rice University’s Environmental Initiative will strengthen four strategic poles of expertise being developed in the Schools of Natural Science and Engineering in the context of traditional areas of scientific inquiry represented in Rice’s Institutes, Centers, and Departments:


  1. Bioscience/Bioengineering


  • Microbial processes
  • Biochemistry and biogeochemistry
  • Biodiversity


  1. Chemistry, Materials Science, and Nanotechnology


  • Environmental chemistry 
  • Geochemistry 
  • "Green" chemistry
  • Environmental monitoring and analysis


  1. Information Technologies


  • Environmental Statistics 
  • Computational fluid mechanics 
  • Process optimization 
  • Energy trading 
  • Transportation optimization


  1. Applied Physics


  • Fluid mechanics
  • Atmospheric transport
  • Geomorphology
  • Hydrology


Key elements of the environmental initiative within the Natural Sciences and Engineering include:





  2. Coordinate activities of Rice’s environmental teaching faculty with activities in the Energy and Environmental Systems Institute.

1a) Stimulate and coordinate environmental research initiatives across all divisions

  • Technologies for environmental quality control, remediation, and pollution prevention (Natural Sciences and Engineering)
  • Natural Resources and Ecosystems, Surficial and atmospheric processes (Natural Sciences and Engineering)
  • Urbanization/ urban metabolism (Architecture and Engineering)
  • Environmental Policy (Social Sciences and Baker Institute)
  • Corporate Environmental Management (Engineering and Jones School)


1b) Expand Institute activities to include technical and computational aspects of energy markets and energy policy.

  • Energy development and use (Natural Sciences, Engineering, Social Sciences, Jones School, Baker Institute)
  • Mathematical Finance and energy trading (Engineering, Social Sciences, Jones School)


2) Encourage the development and instruction in the use of tools in Information Technologies in environmental applications

  • Environmental Statistics
  • Process Optimization
  • Computational aids to environmental decision making
  • Computational fluid mechanics



3) Develop Biotechnologies for remediation, pollution prevention, environmental quality control, and resource recovery

  • Environmental microbiology
  • Phytoremediation
  • Biomimetic membranes
  • Biologically-derived endpoints/ bioavailability


4) Develop environmental applications for Nanotechnology-based

  • "Green" materials and syntheses
  • Environmental monitoring






5) Develop Ecology and Earth Systems as a theme in the School of Natural Sciences


5a) Bolster the development of Environmental Geology within the Department of Geology and Geophysics

5b) Reinforce strengths in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology



6) Develop Materials, Green Chemistry and Nanotechnology in the Schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering


Work with Chemistry, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, and Physical Electronics faculty to develop processes for more environmentally benign materials and syntheses.

    Identify promising applications for nanotechnology in green materials, environmental monitoring, pollution prevention and environmental quality control.

  • 7) Encourage the participation of the Architecture School in work on urban growth, land use and civil infrastructure.


    8) Develop and coordinate environmental expertise throughout the School of Engineering


    8a) Build on existing strengths in Environmental Science and Engineering

    8b) Bring cutting edge developments in computational mathematics, statistics, and system modeling to bear on environmental problem solving, decision making, and data management 

    8c) Develop Transportation and Civil Infrastructure as a theme within Civil Engineering

    8d) Develop Pollution Prevention as theme within Chemical Engineering

    8e) Develop fluid mechanics and combustion as areas of service expertise in Mechanical Engineering

    8f) Involve Rice’s Electrical Engineers in developing new sensors for environmental monitoring.