Coastal resilience, improved cancer care, Latinx communities and more in focus as Rice announces investment in research centers

New research centers
Globe in illuminated lightbulb
Photo credit:

Rice University has invested in five research centers that will address coastal safety and resilience, improved cancer diagnosis and treatment, challenges affecting Latin American and Latinx communities, and other pressing global issues.

The centers are the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, Center for Environmental Studies, Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies, Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences and Synthesis X Center.

The Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences and the Synthesis X Center build on collaborations with the Texas Medical Center and have important applications for cancer prevention, detection and treatment. The centers rooted in the humanities and social sciences will tackle issues that have broad, global implications and are of special interest to Houston.

“As we continue to strengthen the university’s vibrant research ecosystem, I look forward to seeing how these centers contribute to the public good,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Rice’s executive vice president for research.

“The new centers build on Rice’s unique research strengths across the disciplines to address some of the world’s most urgent needs,” added Amy Dittmar, the Howard R. Hughes Provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

The Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience will focus on the Gulf Coast’s intersecting social and environmental challenges. The center will spur research innovation in interdisciplinary research, help Rice to more effectively aid Houston’s vulnerable and underserved communities, build partnerships across the city to accelerate the mitigation of coastal risks and improve adaptive resilience in Houston, while pioneering new data production and analysis applicable to other coastal industrial cities.

The Center for Environmental Studies, in its fifth year, researches the social and cultural dimensions of environmental problems and leverages the arts, humanities, architecture and design, and the social sciences to imagine solutions for a thriving planet. The center’s researchers work with community partners focused on environmental problems in Houston and the Gulf Coast. The center, based in the School of Humanities in partnership with the School of Architecture, also translates scholarship into resources for the public.

The Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies advances an innovative and expansive approach to area and ethnic studies: multiracial, multilingual, hemispheric, transnational in scope yet rooted in place. It builds upon the work of the Initiative for the Study of LatinX America at Rice and aims to further collaborations with academic institutions in Latin America and the United States, especially in the Gulf Coast region and the U.S. South. The center aims to address and research major challenges affecting Latin American and Latinx communities. It plans to foster interdisciplinary research clusters, bring Latin American scholars and politicians to Rice and finance faculty/student research in the region.

The Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences unites researchers with technical expertise in nanoscale optical imaging, electron microscopy, scanning probe microscopy and computer vision, and science applied within both the biosciences and materials science. The center will build on existing relationships with TMC researchers and strengthen interactions with TMC facilities.

The Synthesis X Center brings together Rice researchers and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine to develop groundbreaking cancer drugs and technologies. The center will leverage innovation in the synthesis of molecules and materials from organic chemistry, chemical biology and nanomaterials. Researchers are working to overcome the difficulty of converting fundamental research into clinical applications and making precise adjustments to the properties of drug molecules.

The centers will be led by the following dynamic faculty researchers:

  • Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology, and James Elliott, professor and chair of sociology, lead the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience.
  • Joseph Campana, the William Shakespeare Professor of English, leads the Center for Environmental Studies.
  • Sophie Esch, associate professor of modern and classical literatures and cultures and program adviser for the Initiative for the Study of LatinX America, leads the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies.
  • Anna-Karin Gustavsson, CPRIT scholar and assistant professor of chemistry, leads the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.
  • Han Xiao, CPRIT scholar, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator and associate professor of chemistry, biosciences and bioengineering, leads the Synthesis X Center.