Earth Science Dept. is now Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences

Chair: New name reflects interdisciplinary strengths, aspirations

By Linda Welzenbach
Special to Rice News

Rice University’s Department of Earth Science is changing its name to the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at the start of the new academic year, July 1.

Stock images and word mark for Rice's Dept. of Earth, Environmental and Planetary SciencesDepartment Chair Cin-Ty Lee said the change reflects both the evolving, interdisciplinary landscape of the field and the department’s commitment to expand in the directions of environmental and planetary science.

“We’ve been a leader in exploring Earth and other planets from a more holistic and integrated perspective, and the name change more accurately describes the department’s strengths and aspirations,” Lee said. “Our department is producing a new generation of undergraduate and graduate students who are uniquely trained to see the world as a complex and interconnected system. Wherever our students go, these concepts will help them.”

Lee said the department’s versatility has fostered a collaborative and synergistic culture that has allowed it to become a leader in interdisciplinary studies, particularly in connecting deep Earth to surface Earth processes, planet formation to planetary habitability and, recently, biosciences to Earth sciences.

“Our current success as a department is largely due to an aggressive but thorough faculty recruiting strategy that focuses on creativity, versatility and complementarity rather than on trying to fill or replace traditional niches,” Lee said. “Our new name embodies that strategy and our commitment to keep pace with our rapidly changing field.”

Cin-Ty Lee

Cin-Ty Lee

He said future priorities of the department include establishing a center for the Earth, environment and energy as well as assembling a team of planetary scientists who can build upon Rice’s and the city of Houston’s legacy in planetary and space exploration. He said the department also will continue to strengthen its subsurface geoscience program in partnership with the Houston energy industry.

Originally founded as the Geology Department with just three faculty in 1952, the department graduated its first senior class in 1955, awarded its first doctorate in 1958 and has since produced nearly a thousand geologists and geophysicists. The Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories that serve as the department’s home were completed in 1959.

The department’s name was changed to Geology and Geophysics in 1985 and to Earth Science in 2001. Today, the department boasts 17 tenured and tenure-track faculty as well as a number of faculty with joint appointments in the schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering. The department has been nationally ranked for nearly 50 years and was listed among the nation’s 25 best in the most recent rankings by U.S. News and World Report.

–Linda Welzenbach is a science writer in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice University


About Jade Boyd

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