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Interdisciplinary Research

Much of the research in the Department of Chemistry is highly interdisciplinary, significantly contributing to the advancement of sciences at the intersection of a variety of fields. Many faculty members hold joint appointments with other departments, including bioengineering, physics and astronomy, computer science and mechanical engineering and material sciences. 

Our faculty research interests and department appointments can be found here.

Bioinorganic Chemistry

The field of bioinorganic chemistry studies the role of metals in biology. Research includes both natural phenomena such as the behavior of metalloproteins as well as artificially introduced metals in medicine and toxicology. 

Biomaterials Chemistry  

The synthesis and study of biomaterials is an important new specialty within chemistry. In this area materials are synthesized from the molecular level and upward to provide useful biological and medical properties that were previously difficult or impossible to achieve through traditional top-down methodologies.  

Bioorganic Chemistry

Bioorganic chemistry is the interface of organic and biological chemistry. Research in this area often directs principles and techniques of organic chemistry to address biological questions or uses biological materials to pursue a chemical goal. 

Biophysical Chemistry

The goal of biophysical chemistry is to understand complex biological phenomena in terms of basic chemical and physical principles.  This field is highly multidisciplinary and includes synthesis, theory, and analytical techniques.  The research effort in biophysical chemistry at Rice reflects this diversity with over 10 faculty working in areas including theoretical and computational modeling of biological systems, biomimetic chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, and the development of new tools for biomolecular imaging. 

Chemical Education

Although there is widespread agreement for the need to innovate the teaching of chemistry, the effectiveness of innovation in improving education is difficult to measure. The interaction between student, class, material, and instructor, and many other factors, make it difficult to know why some initiatives succeed and some don't. Research in chemical education at Rice is focused on the following goals:  

  • to find out how much first-year chemistry students know about topics before they 
    are covered in class, both in breadth and depth; 
  • to compare pre- and post- coverage performance of students to measure the effect 
    of instruction;
  • to see what, if any, effect other variables in students' lives (e.g. attitude, external committments) has on their performance in the course;
  • to systematically examine the effectiveness of specific innovative approaches to teaching chemistry. 

Physical Chemistry and Chemical Physics

Research in these areas harnesses the principles, concepts, and methods of physics to study chemical properties and processes, often with an emphasis on molecular-level understanding.  

Inorganic Chemistry

Inorganic chemistry encompasses the study of all the elements and compounds that are not classified as organic molecules.  It is a very broad field, and a number of these diverse areas are represented at Rice.  Among those areas studied are fluorine chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry, the chemistry of the main group elements and the transition metals, the reaction chemistry of the fullerenes and carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles and their assembly into larger structures, structural chemistry, etc.  Organometallic chemistry, materials chemistry and nanotechnology are largely based upon inorganic compounds and their structures.  Specific examples of projects being studied here include:  the fluorination and derivatization of carbon nanotubes and their use in composite materials,  the chemistry of the alumoxanes and related aluminum carboxylate complexes for their applications in catalysis and ceramic production, catalysis by inorganic and organometallic compounds, metal cluster compounds, synthesis of pharmaceuticals based upon C60 and the higher fullerenes, the synthesis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents, the formation of single source precursors to heterometallic oxides that are used as ferroelectric materials, oxide ion conductors, superconductors, etc. 

Inorganic chemistry depends upon a wide variety of techniques in the characterization of inorganic substances.  These include multinuclear and variable temperature nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry, infrared and Raman spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, power and single crystal X-ray diffraction, UV-visible spectroscopy and magnetic susceptibility, etc. Students are trained in the hands-on operation of these instruments when appropriate for their research programs. 

Materials Chemistry

It is increasingly recognized that progress in the preparation of novel material requires the development of new synthetic techniques. Traditional engineering methods are relatively crude when compared to the sophisticated methodologies available in organic synthesis. The synthesis of organic compounds relies primarily on group-by-group assembly of the whole molecule. Due to the limitations of traditional methods for the production of advanced materials an increasing effort has been directed towards the development of mild chemistry-based approaches. 

Materials Chemistry provides a molecular-level perspective at the interface of chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science. This exciting frontier in chemistry deals with the syntheses, structures, properties and applications of materials, particularly those associated with advanced technology. Among the research areas of interest are solid-state chemistry, both inorganic and organic, and polymer chemistry, especially as directed to the development of materials with novel and/or useful optical, electrical, magnetic, catalytic, and mechanical properties.  Fundamental issues relating to the fabrication and processing of electronic or optical materials and devices is of interest, as well as the chemical modification of surfaces, chemical sensor production, oxidation, and corrosion situations, investigation of polymeric and molecular precursors to solid-state inorganic materials, the preparation and study of biomaterials, liquid crystals, and self-organized molecular assemblies. 


The collaborative environment at Rice was critical to the development of nanotechnology, having facilitated the work of two of the first Nobel laureates in the area. Nanotechnology has blossomed into a major strength of the Department, which houses one of only six National Science Foundation-funded centers for nanoscale science and engineering. 

The word "nanotechnology" is used to describe research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers.  In the future nanotechnology will allow traditional manufacturing methods to be replaced by assembly of new products atom-by-atom. It will be possible to assemble the fundamental building blocks of nature easily and will also allow the fabrication of an entirely new generation of products that that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise.  Research in this area at Rice focuses primarily on carbon-based materials including carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.  Applications that are anticipated include strong fibers, materials for storage of dihydrogen, imaging agents and highly efficient conductors.   

Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is a broad field studying the chemistry of carbon in its many and diverse forms.   Organic molecules form the basis of much of industrial chemistry - it is the basis of the petroleum industry, producing fuels, polymers and a variety of organic commodity chemicals.  Additionally, organic molecules form the basis of life and the chemistry of living systems is largely the chemistry of organic molecules, their structures and functionality.  

Organometallics Chemistry

Organometallic chemistry is the marriage of inorganic and organic chemistry, and encompasses the study of organic molecules and their fragments attached to metals. The chemistry of these molecules is considerably different from those of purely inorganic or organic substances leading to their application for stoichiometric or catalytic transformations of organic molecules. Organometallic compounds have also been widely used as precursors to novel materials. At Rice, the organometallic chemistry of both the main group elements and transition metals is being explored.  

Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Rice University is adjacent to the Texas Medical Center — the largest concentration of medical schools, hospitals and research facilities in the world — as well as several other universities. Rice has cooperative programs with the University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas Health Science Center and Texas Southern University. Many of our Chemistry Department faculty have taken advantage of the proximity of the Texas Medical Center institutions and have established collaborations fostering advancement in pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry development. 

Theoretical Chemistry

Modern theoretical chemistry encompasses chemical dynamics, quantum chemistry, and statistical mechanics.  At Rice we are interested in modeling and simulating processes in chemistry, physics, biology, and materials science. We accomplish this using both analytical methods and state-of-the-art computer models. 

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