Rice’s James Tour named to National Academy of Engineering

Professor honored for work on “novel forms of carbon”


Rice University chemist James Tour was named to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest professional distinctions accorded “in recognition of distinguished contributions” to the field.

James Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor and professor of chemistry at Rice University’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences. (Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University)

Tour, the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor, professor of chemistry and of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science, was recognized for his research on the “synthesis, fabrication, properties, applications and commercialization of novel forms of carbon and their composites and derivatives.”

“I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for putting me forward for this honor,” Tour said. “It’s wonderful to join the ranks of Rice engineers that bear this honor, and to see our work on carbon materials recognized. We think of the impact our research will have in the real world, and aim to put our findings in the context of current needs and challenges we face as a society.”

Tour’s research areas include organic synthesis, chemical biology, spectroscopy and imaging, and nanomaterials synthesis. His work has helped drive discovery and innovation in new materials synthesis through techniques such as flash Joule heating, laser-induced graphene, and single-molecule nanomachine synthesis for biomedical applications.

“Rice University takes immense pride in the recognition bestowed upon Professor James Tour as a distinguished member of the National Academy of Engineering,” President Reginald DesRoches said. “Jim is one of those rare talents who can both conduct creative and groundbreaking fundamental research, while also developing technologies that are finding their way into the marketplace. Jim’s dedication to innovation and his profound impact on advancing nanotechnology exemplify the spirit of excellence that defines our institution. We congratulate Jim on this well-deserved honor and look forward to his continued leadership and inspiration within our community and beyond.”

Tour has a significant publication track record exploring sustainable methods to make carbon-, graphene- and silicon oxide-based materials with potential for use in nanoelectronics, photovoltaics, supercapacitors, lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, carbon dioxide capture, water splitting and purification and more. Applications stemming from this research could, at scale, enable new, more sustainable recycling, manufacturing and energy use practices and impact national security. Single-molecule nanomachines such as the molecular motors and molecular jackhammers developed by Tour and his team were proven effective against infectious bacteria, cancer cells and treatment-resistant fungi, showing the potential of a molecular mechanical approach in therapeutics. The Tour lab is also home to the world’s first nanocar with turning buckyball wheels.

“The breadth of Jim’s discoveries across the scientific disciplines, including chemistry and engineering, is truly remarkable,” said Amy Dittmar, the Howard R. Hughes Provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “I’m pleased to see the National Academy of Engineering recognize him for his distinguished accomplishments, including over 800 research publications and more than 200 patents. His research is transforming medicine and the energy transition.”

Informed by his research, Tour started more than a dozen companies in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to electronic memory and advanced materials that he says now have a collective value of nearly $2 billion. Three of the companies are publicly traded.

“This honor is incredibly well-deserved, and I am delighted for Jim,” said Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy. “His contributions to chemistry are broad and profound, spanning from fundamental discoveries in carbon nanoscience to applications that address great societal challenges related to energy, the environment and human health. His success in translating his research into high-impact companies is remarkable, and he has also been a dedicated mentor to many graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.”

Tour is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including recognition as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Inventors, and as a recipient of the Feynman Prize in Experimental Nanotechnology, the NASA Space Act Award, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society, the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.

He is one of 114 new members and 21 international members in the NAE’s newly elected class of 2024. The new members will be formally inducted at the academy’s annual meeting Sept. 29.

Click here for the complete list.

Tour joins 14 current Rice faculty who are members of the academy ⎯ Pedro Alvarez, Richard Baraniuk, Reginald DesRoches, Gene Frantz, Naomi Halas, Abbas Firoozabadi, Antonios Mikos, Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Pol Spanos, Moshe Vardi and Richard Tapia — along with emeritus Rice professors George Hirasaki and Ronald Nordgren.

Image downloads:

CAPTION: James Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor and professor of chemistry and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. (Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University)


James M Tour Group: https://www.jmtour.com/

Department of Chemistry: https://chemistry.rice.edu/

Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering: msne.rice.edu

Wiess School of Natural Sciences: https://naturalsciences.rice.edu/

George R. Brown School of Engineering: https://engineering.rice.edu