Smalley InstituteSmalley Institute

Benefactors Power the Smalley Institute 
Why we have the premier fellowships in nano research

Starting with the efforts of Rick Smalley to evangelize the importance of nanoscale research, the Institute has long had the support of community and business leaders in Houston and beyond. Each of our benefactors has a unique story and provides a powerful example to the following generations.  


This fellowship program was established in 1997 by Carl and Lillian Illig, and funding to Rice University was completed in 2012.

Carl and Lillian met in high school in Houston at the height of the Great Depression, matriculated together at Rice University and married after Carl completed law school at the University of Texas in 1933. Carl began his career in Galveston by working at a law firm – as was then the custom – for almost no pay. Soon after, Carl became legal counsel at the Humble Oil Company, which later became part of Exxon. Carl and Lillian became active members of the community, brought up three children and accumulated their wealth through savings and investment.The Illigs Graduating from Rice

As children of the Great Depression, Carl and Lillian knew the value of hard work, of family, community and education. They were acutely aware of the opportunities that the affordable Rice education opened for them: Rice tuition was, famously, free of charge in their era. By the time they met Rick Smalley in the 1990s, the Illigs had “returned the favor” to the community by endowing scholarships at both Rice and UT. They became friends with Rick when he was busy promoting the cause of nanotechnology and building the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which was converted to the Smalley Institute at the time of his death in 2005.The Illigs

The Carl and Lillian Illig Postdoctoral Research Fellowship was born of that relationship, launched with a seed contribution in 1996 and formalized as a part of the Illig will in 1997. The fellowship was funded in full at Lillian’s death in 2012.

The Illigs’ three adult children maintain a cordial dialogue with the Smalley Institute, and it is to them that we will report, in honor of their parents, the ongoing pursuit of excellence embodied by Smalley Institute postdoctoral research.



During the critical 1980s and ‘90s, J. Evans Attwell helped Rice University choose a president, grapple with the impact of athletics on campus, and steer a course for the 21st century.  Mr. Attwell earned a J Evans Attwellbachelor of arts degree from Rice in 1953 and served on the Board of Governors for the University from 1982 to 1996.  Mr. Attwell was a member of the William Marsh Rice Society and was a major individual donor during Rice’s record-breaking 1989-90 private-giving campaign.  Attendance at Rice was something of a tradition for Attwell, who had four cousins, two uncles and an aunt graduate from the University.  Mr. Attwell served as a vice chair of the University’s Baker Institute for Public Leadership Committee, served on the Rice University Fund Council and was a contributing life member of Rice Associates.   

After earning his bachelor’s degree at Rice, J. Evans Attwell received his law degree in 1956 from the University of Texas.  In 1965, Mr. Attwell became the youngest partner in the history of the Vinson and Elkins law firm, and served as managing partner from 1981 to 1991.  The law firm has a 10-year term limit for its managing partner under a rule that was written by Attwell himself.  He was a Fellow of the Texas and American Bar Foundations and a member of the American Law Institute.  This fellowship honors his extraordinary legacy and a lifetime of dedication to Rice University.

The J. Evans Attwell Fellowship is supported by an endowment, established from both Rice University and Welch Foundation funds, which is sufficient to make the award attractive to the best young Ph.D. recipients in nanoscience and nanoengineering-related fields.  The goal is to attract and retain leading nanoscientists, thus further augmenting the level of basic scientific research, not only for Rice University, but also for the State of Texas. 


Established in 1998, and first awarded in 2004, the Peter and Ruth Nicholas Fellowship has supported the same high level of research as the Evans Attwell fund. For example, Matthew Blankschien, the 2010-2012 awardee, helped to discover light-activated enzymes that produce the benefits of high-temperature manufacturing without needing a high-temperature environment.