moving in

Rice University opens new facility to house energy transition research

The 250,000-square-foot building is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition. Photo courtesy of Rice

As the academic year officially kicks off, professors have started moving in and Rice University has opened its largest core campus research facility, The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science.

The 250,000-square-foot building is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition. The university aims for the space to foster collaboration and innovation between the disciplines.

"To me it really speaks to where Rice wants to go as we grow our research endeavors on campus," Michael Wong, Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, whose lab is located in the new facility, said in a video from Rice. "It has to be a mix of engineering and science to do great things. We don’t want to do good things, we want to do great things. And this building will allow us to do that."

At $152 million, the state-of-the-art facility features five floors of labs, classrooms and seminar rooms. Common spaces and a cafe encourage communication between departments, and the top level is home to a reception suite and outdoor terrace with views of the Houston skyline.

It replaces 1940s-era Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory on campus, which was demolished in 2021 to make way for the new facilities. The iconic sculpture "Energy" by Rice alumnus William McVey that was part of the original building was preserved with plans to incorporate it into the new space.

The new building will be dedicated to its namesake Ralph O'Connor on Sept. 14 in Rice's engineering quad at 3 p.m. O'Connor, a Johns Hopkins University grad, became a fan Rice when he moved to Houston to work in the energy industry in the 1950s.

The former president and CEO of the Highland Oil Company and founder of Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates left the university $57 million from his estate after he died in 2018. The gift was the largest donation from an estate in Rice's history and brought his donations to the university, including those to many buildings on campus and endowments and scholarships, to a total of $85 million.

“How fitting that this building will be named after Ralph O’Connor,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said in a statement last summer. “He was a man who always looked to the future, and the future is what this new engineering and science building is all about. Discoveries made within those walls could transform the world. Anybody who knew Ralph O’Connor knows he would have loved that.”

The dedication event will be open to the public. It will feature remarks from DesRoches, as well as Rice Provost Amy Dittmar, Dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences Thomas Killian, Chair of the Rice Board of Trustees Robert Ladd and Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering Luay Nakhleh. A reception and tours of the new building will follow.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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A View From HETI

Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country. Photo via tesla.com

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

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