Rice merges two institutes to form Smalley-Curl Institute

New institute will expand on missions of Rice Quantum Institute, Smalley Institute

Rice University is merging two of its multidisciplinary research institutes, the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the Rice Quantum Institute, to form a new entity, the Smalley-Curl Institute.

The merger was approved by Rice’s Board of Trustees Thursday and takes effect immediately, but Naomi Halas, the new institute’s director, said it will take several months to complete the consolidation.

Smalley-Curl Institute

The Smalley-Curl Institute will engage faculty and students and foster new collaborations at the frontiers of science.

“The merger and the choice of the name for the new, merged institute reflects the fact that these were two distinct but complementary institutes with a largely overlapping membership,” said Halas, who has directed both parent institutes for the past six months. “We anticipate that this merger will bring an even greater level of excitement for our research activities across campus and throughout the world.”

Halas said more than half of the faculty members of the Rice Quantum Institute and the Smalley Institute had joint membership in both entities. The Smalley-Curl Institute will support the activities of each of its parent institutes while simultaneously broadening its efforts to engage more faculty and students and foster new collaborations at the frontiers of science.

“We will establish a more open and interactive leadership by means of both internal and external advisory committees,” said Halas, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor of chemistry, bioengineering, physics and astronomy, and materials science and nanoengineering.

Halas said Alberto Pimpinelli has been named executive director of the Smalley-Curl Institute. Pimpinelli, faculty fellow in the Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering, has served as executive director of the Rice Quantum Institute since 2012 and as executive director of the Smalley Institute since January.

“The new institute will engage faculty, postdoctoral and student researchers at all levels to participate in activities where they communicate their breakthroughs, establish new collaborations, forge into new, cross-cutting and interdisciplinary research areas and seek new means of supporting their work,” Pimpinelli said.

The Rice Quantum Institute was founded as the university’s first interdisciplinary institute in 1979 by Robert Curl, Richard Smalley, Frank Tittel and other Rice faculty members. Since 1990, it has hosted a highly successful and internationally respected graduate program in applied physics. It has also hosted undergraduate summer researchers at Rice for many years, and it hosts an increasingly popular summer research colloquium each August for members to showcase their research results. Rice Quantum Institute also has fostered the establishment of international research exchange programs between labs at Rice and universities in Germany, France, Poland, China and Japan.

Smalley, who died in 2005, shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Rice’s Robert Curl and Florida State University Professor Harold Kroto for the discovery of carbon fullerenes at Rice in 1985. Curl is University Professor Emeritus and the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences.

The Smalley Institute grew from Rice’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which was established by Smalley in the mid-1990s to foster growing interest in nanotechnology. The center was renamed in Smalley’s honor following his death. From 2000 to 2010, it hosted one of the nation’s first National Science Foundation-funded nanoscale science and engineering research centers. The Smalley Institute also has overseen the establishment of several endowed postdoctoral research fellowships, and it has established strong industrial collaborations and fostered educational and outreach programs.

Halas said a Rice faculty committee recommended merging the two institutes following an extensive programmatic review in 2014. Both the merger and the choice of the new name were supported by an overwhelming majority of faculty members of each institute.

“The new name reflects the exemplary contributions to scientific research by both of our Nobel laureates,” Halas said. “It also reflects the importance, the successes and the ubiquity of nanotechnology research across an astonishingly broad range of disciplines in the sciences and engineering.”

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.