Smalley InstituteSmalley Institute

 Smalley Institute History

The Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology was originally named the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.  In 2005 after the passing of Professor Smalley, the Rice University Board of Trustees renamed the Institute in his honor.  In this historical account, the Institute will be referred to as the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology prior to Fall 2005 and the Smalley Institute thereafter.

In 1993, Professor Richard E. Smalley envisioned the first nanotechnology center in the world.  Thus, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) was born.  With full support from the university, CNST was tasked with defining and implementing the nanotechnology initiative at Rice University.  CNST set forth a bold objective to provide a venue where researchers from all disciplines of science and engineering can come together to share ideas and discuss their views and prospects of nanoscience, nanoengineering, and nanotechnology.  CNST concluded the best way to achieve this objective was to provide the administrative and technical infrastructure to conduct cutting-edge nanotechnology research, sponsor seminars and conferences, advocate entrepreneurism, encourage multi-disciplinary collaborations, connect to external organizations, and support educational initiatives from the kindergarten to the professional level.

In order to effectively execute the objectives of CNST, a major fundraising campaign was undertaken which amassed $37 million.  CNST then laid the foundation for Rice University’s nanotechnology initiative by creating a $5 million research equipment fund, constructing a new 70,000-square-foot laboratory (Dell Butcher Hall), and recruiting several prestigious faculty members.  Additionally, Smalley was granted the Norman Hackerman/Welch Chair of Chemistry with financial support for his research group. 

Within 8 years, CNST had fostered the formation of a nanotechnology spin-off company (Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc), received NSF funding for a new nanotechnology center (Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology), and developed a centralized, well-managed equipment collection valued at greater than $10 million (Shared Equipment Authority).

Building on this success, CNST began branching out to incorporate technical training, industry partnership, and community outreach.  In 2002, CNST held the 1st Annual TunaFest Celebration, an informal venue for industry, academia, and nanotech enthusiasts to network.  In just 6 years, TunaFest has grown to over 1000 attendees making it the premier nanotechnology social event of Houston.  From 2002 to 2004, CNST advanced nanotechnology education through a variety of initiatives.  The NanoKids program, based in Professor Tour’s group, brings key concepts of nanoscience to middle school students.  Additionally, CNST worked with several departments at Rice University to create undergraduate curriculum, a professional masters program, and continuing education courses in a variety of nanoscience and engineering topics.

While expanding their initiative portfolio, CNST continued cultivating its scientific strengths, fostering 10 spin-off companies, developing 5 unique nanotechnology centers and components, and growing the shared equipment at Rice University to over $12 million.  By 2005, CNST supported the research efforts of 100 faculty members with over 400 graduate students spanning 14 departments at Rice University.

After Smalley’s passing in Fall 2005, the Rice University Board of Trustees renamed CNST the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

As the Smalley Institute matured over the last 15 years, the vision of the Institute evolved to leading the world in solving humanity’s most pressing problems through the application of nanotechnology.  As Professor Smalley so aptly put it, “Rice’s research reputation comes from solving the hardest problems in science.  Others can work on the easy ones, the applied problems.  Focus on the grand challenges, the holy grails in nanotechnology.  Don’t be distracted by the other things!  To this end the Smalley Institute continues to provide the world-class facilities, experienced leadership, and collaborative environment necessary to advance fundamental knowledge and implement discoveries in nanoscale science and engineering.

Currently the Smalley Institute …

  • includes 151 faculty members in 21 departments with over 500 students researching nanotechnology in a variety of societal and scientific arenas including energy, education, aerospace, ethics, and human health;
  • consists of 5 major centers and components including $15 million in shared equipment and facilities for nanotechnology research;
  • affiliates with 8 nanotechnology organizations in Houston and around Texas; and
  • collaborates with over 50 associations to promote nanotechnology in all aspects of science and society.

The following is a timeline summarizing the evolution of the Smalley Institute and Rice University’s Nanotechnology Research, presented in reverse chronological order:


Smalley Institute Milestones

Rice NanoResearch Milestones


  • nano Carbon Center, nC2, formed, a center to strengthen and promote Rice University’s carbon based nanotechnology research
  • LANCER launched, a Lockheed Martin and Rice University collaboration
  • Professor Vicki Colvin named Co-Director of the Smalley Institute
  • Workshop on Probabilistic and Resilient Architectures for Nanoscale Computing held in collaboration with 3 other Rice University institutes
  • Advanced Energy Consortium chooses the Smalley Institute as their lead technical partner
  • 7th Annual Tunafest – 1350 attendees
  • NanoShells approved by FDA for clinical trials treating cancer
  • World’s Darkest Material discovered, a special arrangement of carbon nanotubes, Professor Pulickel Ajayan’s laboratory in collaboration with Professor Shawn-Yu Lin of Rensselaer University
  • COVER – “Mesoporous silicon particles as a multistage delivery system for imaging and therapeutic applications” Nature Nanotech, Professors James Tour and Mauro Ferrari’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Fullerene nanocage capacity for hydrogen storage” Nano Letters, Professor Boris Yakobson’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Synthesis and Monte Carlo structure determination of SSZ-77: A new zeolite topology” J Phys Chem, Professor Michael Deem’s laboratory




  • CONTACT launched, a nanotechnology in aerospace consortium,
  • 6th Annual Tunafest – 1100 attendees
  • 2nd Annual France-USA Science and Technology Workshop held in collaboration with 4 other Rice University institutes
  • INSIDE COVER – “Rings of nanorods” Angew Chem Int Ed, Professor Eugene Zubarev’s laboratory
  • COVER – “From coarse-grain to all-atom: Toward multiscale analysis of protein landscapes” Proteins, Professor Cecilia Clementi’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Mathematical adventures in biology” Phys Today, Professor Michael Deem




  • Rice University named 4th best overall nanotechnology program
  • 5th Annual Tunafest – 700 attendees
  • 120 Faculty Members associated with the Smalley Institute
  • First motorized nanocar invented, Professor James Tour’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Symmetry, time, and temperature dependent strength of carbon nanotubes” Proc Natl Acad Sci, Professor Boris Yakobson’s laboratory
  • COVER – “The molecular basis of self-assembly of dendron-rod-coils into one-dimensional nanostructure” Chem Eur J, Professor Eugene Zubarev’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Self-assembly of single-walled carbon nanotubes into a sheet by drop drying” Adv Mater, Professor Matteo Pasquali’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Plasmonic coupling between a metallic nanosphere and a thin metallic wire” Appl Phys Lett, Professor Peter Norlander’s laboratory




  • Board of Trustees renamed CNST the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology
  • 4th Annual Tunafest held – 600 attendees
  • NanoFANS membership grows to more than 100 members
  • Guinness world record nanotube model built!
  • 10th spin-off company started based on Rice research technology
  • 100 Faculty members associated with the Smalley Institute
  • Texas Community College Nanotechnology Program developed
  • Smalley/Curl Innovation Fund awards seed grants to 3 Rice University professors
  • Nanocar produced, Professor James Tour’s laboratory
  • Fullerenes demonstrate antibacterial properties, Professors Joseph Hughes and Vicki Colvin’s laboratories
  • Gold and palladium nanoparticles shown to be effective catalysts for groundwater remediation, Professor Michael Wong’s laboratory
  • Rice  nanotechnology patent portfolio ranked #1 in USA (Small Times Magazine)
  • COVER – “Nanoparticle self-assembly of hierarchically ordered microcapsule structures” Adv Mater, Professor Michael Wong’s laboratory
  • COVER – “Parallel tempering: Theory, applications, and new perspectives” Phys Chem Chem Phys, Professor Michael Deem’s laboratory



  • First neat carbon nanotube fiber produced, Professors Richard E. Smalley and Matteo Pasquali’s laboratories
  • Nanoshell ablation therapy for non-invasive treatment of breast cancer demonstrated, Professor Jennifer West’s laboratory in collaboration with Professor Naomi Halas’ laboratory
  • Carbon nanotube fluorescence maintained in living cells, Professor R. Bruce Weisman’s laboratory
  • Fullerene toxicity mitigated by surface functionalization, Professor Vicki Colvin’s laboratory
  • Professors Naomi Halas and Jennifer West awarded “Best Discovery of 2003” by Nanotechnology Now  
  • COVER – “Phase Behavior and Rheology of SWNTs in Superacids” Macromolecules, Professor Matteo Pasquali’s laboratory




  • First rapid, sensitive whole-blood immunoassay developed, Professors Naomi Halas and Jennifer West’s laboratory
  • Carbon nanotubes sorted by electronic structure, Professors Richard E. Smalley and James Tour’s laboratories
  • Carbon nanotubes coated with silica, Professors Richard E. Smalley and Andrew Barron’s laboratories
  • Professor Richard E. Smalley awarded 2003 Small Times Magazine Best of Small Tech Lifetime Achievement Award




  • SWCNT near-infrared fluorescence discovered, Science, Professors Richard E. Smalley and R. Bruce Weisman’s laboratories
  • First 3-D map of SWCNT near-infrared fluorescence helps determine chirality, Science, Professor R. Bruce Weisman’s laboratory
  • Hollow nanoparticle spheres assembled, Professor Michael Wong’s laboratory




  • Gold nanoshells show promise in medical applications including cancer therapy, Professors Naomi Halas and Jennifer West’s laboratories
  • Photonic multilayer crystal fabricated, Professors Mittleman and Colvin’s laboratories
  • Alumina ultrafiltration membranes derived from nanoparticles, Professors Mark Wiesner and Andrew Barron’s laboratory
  • COVER –Scientific American, Professor Richard E. Smalley




  • Ozone etches carbon nanotubes, Professor Richard E. Smalley’s laboratory




  • Professor Richard E. Smalley testifies before Congress about the future of nanotechnology
  • Space Science building is renovated to support carbon nanotechnology research
  • Switch for molecular computer created, Professor James Tour
  • Endohedral metallofullerene radiotracers utilized for in vivo studies, Professor Lon Wilson’s laboratory




  • CNST signs statement of collaborations with NASA to develop nanomaterials for the space program
  • HiPco process for producing large quantities of SWCNTs discovered, Professor Richard E. Smalley’s laboratory
  • Carbon nanotubes tethered to gold nanoparticles, Professor Richard E. Smalley’s laboratory
  • Fullerenes promising for medical use, Professor Lon Wilson’s laboratory
  • Nanoshells developed in Professor Naomi Halas’ laboratory
  • Neal Lane appointed as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy




  • Carbon Nanotubes Opportunities, Requirements and Challenges held at Rice University
  • New Building is dedicated—Dell Butcher Hall
  • Shell Oil Company donates $500,000 for nanotechnology equipment
  • Doughnut-shaped nanotube anomalies found in nanotube product, Professor Richard E. Smalley’s laboratory
  • Gadolinium endohedral-fullerenes utilized for MRI contrast, Professor Lon Wilson’s laboratory





  • NOBEL PRIZE in CHEMISTRY awarded to Richard E. Smalley and Robert Curl of Rice University and Harold Kroto of University of Sussex




  • Fundraising by Rice ($37M)
  • The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) approved by Board of Governors with Professor Richard E. Smalley appointed Director
  • Neal Lane appointed as Director of the National Science Foundation





  • Smalley, Curl, Kroto, O’Brien and Heath publish the discovery of the Buckyball in Nature




  • Rice Quantum Institute formed by Professors Richard E. Smalley and Neal Lane and Faculty Fellow Ken Smith, predecessor to CNST