"Rice University's New Computational Engineering Building"


Ken Kennedy, Director
The Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC)

Friday, November 1, 1996

See also "How will the CRPC collaborate with ... occupants of the new ... building?"


Indent"Thirteen years ago, in the fall of 1983, a visiting commission was convened at the request of President Hackerman and Provost Gordon to consider the future of computer science at Rice. At the time, computer science was spread over two different departments -- Mathematical Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering. The commission recommended that a separate Computer Science Department be founded in the George R. Brown School of Engineering, a recommendation implemented on April 1, 1984. As a result of this action, the Mathematical Sciences Department requested and was granted a transfer to Engineering, so that the close ties between the two departments would continue."

Indent"These changes brought to the Brown School a special quality. Although computer science is located in engineering at many universities, few engineering schools have both computer science and applied mathematics departments. I think it is fair to say that this has led to the ground-breaking efforts to strengthen the practice of engineering through the use of computation, including the Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITI) and Rice's successful proposal to the National Science Foundation to create the Center for Research on Parallel Computation, the largest and most visible NSF Science and Technology Center today. It has also led to the strong mathematical and computational flavor to other institutes in engineering, such as the Energy and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). Finally, it fostered engineering's pioneering vision on the use of computation in education -- the Owlnet electronic studio -- which has served as a model for educational computing across the entire campus."

Indent"Another less publicized recommendation from the Computer Science panel report was that Mathematical Sciences, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science be located together in a single building. Although that was impractical at the time, the dream of bringing these disciplines together in a facility designed for collaboration has remained in our hearts over the last thirteen years."

Indent"In the interim, the Brown School's activities in computational science and mathematics led us to the view that the twenty-first century presented a unique opportunity for energizing engineering practice through computation, making it possible, for example, to reduce design times from years to months or even weeks -- thereby freeing tomorrow's practicing engineers to explore many more new ideas and directions and enabling them to build things that cannot be built today. Rick Smalley, one of Rice's two Nobel Laureates in chemistry, flatly states that future nanomaterials cannot be produced without computational design methods. This is the vision of computational engineering -- to foster a revolution in engineering similar to the revolution that computation has brought about in science."

Indent"This beautiful facility will be integral to realizing that vision. It has been designed from the outset to support the functions essential to the success of computational engineering. It has ample research space configured to enhance collaboration across different disciplines. It has a lot of teaching space, which will make it possible to transfer new ideas on computational engineering rapidly from the research laboratory to the undergraduate classroom. Finally, it is designed for collaboration with industry and the community, with an auditorium, conference rooms, and this wonderful main hall, that will draw people to the campus to work with Rice faculty, staff and students. It is a significant omen for the future that the first official function of the building earlier this week was to host the site visit for the largest computational proposal ever submitted to the National Science Foundation -- $216 million dollars over five years."

Indent"On behalf of those who will soon occupy the Ann and Charles Duncan Hall for Computational Engineering, I thank the members of the Rice Administration and Board and all the generous donors for making our dream a reality. You have my personal commitment, and that of the entire George R. Brown School, that we will use it to keep Rice on the forefront of engineering research, education, and practice in the twenty-first century."

For More Information...

IndentFor more information, contact Danny Powell at, 713-348-6100, or 713-348-5136 (fax).

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Updated by Debbie Campbell (
Posted November 7, 1996.