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Department History

R-1 Computer at Rice University
The R1, shown here, was the first computer built at Rice.

Rice Computer Science Since 1984

Before the Department of Computer Science was launched in March 1984, Rice University had a long tradition of excellence in computer science and engineering, starting with the development of the Rice Computer Project in 1956. While it wasn't the first computer at Rice, this super computer, known as the R1, was the university's first large computational research computer. 

In this Centennial Video, Centennial Historian Melissa Kean, tells the story of the R1.

Watch the Video



Prior to 1984, the CS program was offered jointly by the mathematical sciences and electrical engineering departments. Mathematical Sciences professor Ken Kennedy chaired the interdepartmental Computer Science Committee, championing CS as an undergraduate major in the early 1980s. Kennedy became our first chair when the new department was created in March 1984. His leadership shaped the department to meet his expectations for both excellence and camaraderie until 1989, when he took a sabbatical. Following his sabbatical, he returned to chair the department from 1990 until 1992.

In the early years, faculty research was concentrated in the areas of compilers, programming languages, and parallel and distributed programming systems.

Pre-history

  • 1960 - A graduate level course in Civil Engineering offers the first introduction to programming. Civil Engineering 631, The Application of Electronic Computers to Structural Problems; Introduction to computer programming. Matrix methods of structural analysis. Optimization of structures. Prerequisites: Mathematics 300 or 310, Civil Engineering 542, 562 and 581, or their equivalents.
  • 1965 - Henry H. Rachford was the first person listed in the General Announcements with the title of Professor of Computer Science. He was recruited away from the Humble Oil and Refining Company by the Mathematics Department in 1964, and his first appearance in the General Announcements the following year was as a full professor of Mathematics and Computer Science.
  • 1968 - John K. Iliffe from London, England was listed as a Visiting Professor of Computer Science, but his sole focus was working on the Rice Computer Project (R1, R2).
  • 1968 - Several computer science courses are offered through Electrical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. Coincidentally, Edward Feustel was hired as an assistant professor of Computer Science with responsibility for software design and emulation of the R2 computer. Feustel later became a tenured associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Rice before leaving in 1979.
  • 1970 - According to the General Announcements for 1970-71, the recently completed Ryon Lab has computer facilities that are deemed "ample for undergraduate and graduate instruction and research. They include an IBM 1620, the Rice computer, and a Burroughs 5500."
  • 1973 - Computer science is primarily offered as part of a Mathematical Sciences degree or as an electrical engineering degree option called Computer Science and Engineering. The engineering option program was divided into three topics: (1) hardware engineering; (2) software engineering; and (3) discrete system modeling. The courses could be taken for EE or MS credit.
  • 1979- J. Robert Jump, professor of Electrical Engineering, became chair of the Computer Science Committee and taught CS courses with Electrical Engineering professors Edward Feustel, Daniel Hirschberg, and James B. Sinclair, as well as Mathematical Sciences professors Ken Kennedy and Meera Blattner.

The 80s

Several early faculty members and research scientists who helped establish our strong tradition of excellence included:

  • 1980 - Corky Cartwright, who was an assistant professor at Cornell when Kennedy recruited him for Rice in 1980, helped create the department's intense research focus on programming languages, a specialty for which Rice is still highly ranked today. Today, Cartwright still teaches courses and conducts research in the CS department; his current focus is balancing performance with energy efficiency, testing the limits of acceptable results in systems designed to continue execute basic commands in hostile environments
  • 1982 - Rice won a five-year NSF CER grant for 1.5 million dollars in competition with major CS Departments across the U.S. The grant was submitted by the Computer Science Committee spanning Math Science and EE. The joint PIs were Ken Kennedy, Bob Jump, John Dennis and Corky Cartwright. The committee strongly recommended the formation of the CS Department.
  • 1983 - Keith Cooper joined Rice University as a staff member. He moved to Computer Science when the department was formed on July 1, 1984.
  • 1984 - Willy E. Zwaenepoel developed his expertise in operating systems and distributed systems while serving as the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice from 1984 to 2002. He then returned to Europe as Dean of the School of Computers and Communications Scineces at EPFL, where he is still advising graduate students and teaching operating systems courses.
  • 1984 - Scott Warren moved over from the Mathematical Sciences department to become an Adjunct Assistant Professor of CS. He's now a senior research scientist in the department, focused on programming languages and systems, high performance computing, and interactive graphics.
  • 1985 - Guy Almes arrived at Rice just as the National Science Foundation (NSF) was considering how to link its recently created supercomputer centers. In 1985, Almes won a $40,000 NSF grant to connect Rice University's internal network to the Phase I NSFNET, which became the backbone of what is now called the Internet. Continuing to pioneer new frontiers in the development and expansion of the Internet, Almes followed his fascination with infrastructure into to roles as the Chief Engineer for Internet2 as well as a two-year rotation at the NSF's Office of Cyberinfrastructure. He's currently the director of Texas A&M's Academy for Advanced Telecommunications and Learning Technologies.
  • 1985 - Linda Torczon and Michael Caplinger earned the first Ph.D. degrees awarded in CS by Rice. Torczon was hired as staff in May of 1985.
  • 1986 - Joe Warren was recruited to return to Rice as soon as he finished his Ph.D. at Cornell. Warren had earned one of the early Rice B.A.'s in CS, when it could only be declared as a double-major with electrical engineering or math sciences. His passion is computer graphics and computational geometry protocols, which might be why the Intro to Interactive Programming in Python MOOC he launched with Scott Rixner in 2015 became and remains one of the most popular massively open online courses offered.
  • 1986 - Lori Pollock joined the department as an Assistant Professor in 1986, specializing in compiler optimization for parallel architectures. She was recruited by the University of Delaware and has since won recognition for her teaching, as well as for her leadership on the Executive Board of the Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing (CRA-W).
  • 1986 - in December, the Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITT) was created by Keith Cooper with several engineering colleagues, most notably Sid Burrus and David Hellums. It was approved by the Rice of Trustees on a proposal by President Rupp.
  • 1987 - David Callahan, Keith Cooper, and Linda Torczon came on as research associates. Callahan has served in industry, academic and research positions and is now a software engineer at Facebook. Cooper and Torczon focused their contributions inside the Rice community --through the CS department, Brown College, and a wide variety of administrative roles.
  • 1987 - Matthias Felleisen, another programming languages guru, was recruited in 1987, developed a theoretical framework for modelling programming languages, and then revamped our freshman introductory course while John Dennis was chair. He continues pursuing his research and his passion for disruption at Northeastern University.
  • 1988 - Mark Krentel, recruited straight from Cornell's Ph.D. program shortly after Joe Warren, came on as an assistant professor and is now a senior research scientist specializing in high performance computing in the department.
  • 1989 - Corky Cartwright became Chair of the CS Department.
  • 1989 - Alejandro Schäffer began teaching courses as an Assistant Professor in 1989. His research in genetics caught the attention of the NIH, where he has worked since 1998.
  • 1989 - John Mellor-Crummey was recruited as a research associate, coming to Rice from the University of Rochester's CS Ph.D. program. His research focus is on software technology for high performance parallel computing, including work on tools for measurement and analysis of application performance, compiler and run-time technology for parallel and scientific computing, correctness tools for parallel programs, and application performance modeling.
  • 1989 - the Center for Research in Parallel Computing (CRPC) was created. Some of the first work in Grind computing was done as part of CRPC. It was a STC lead by Ken Kennedy with participation of many leaders of parallel computing.

The 90s

The department's second decade saw growth in both student body and faculty.

  • 1990 - Ron Goldman was recruited away from the University of Waterloo and arrived in July as a full professor. Goldman's research interests lie in the mathematical representation, manipulation, and analysis of shape using computers. His work includes research in computer-aided geometric design, solid modeling, computer graphics, and splines.
  • 1990 - Cooper was promoted from research scientist to assistant professor of computer science.
  • 1990 - G. Anthony Gorry, who had been associated with the department as an adjunct professor since 1987, became a visiting professor.
  • 1990 - David B. Johnson was hired as a Research Assistant and Lecturer, a position he held for two years until Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department hired him away, only to lose him again to Rice eight years later.
  • 1990 - Ken Kennedy became Chair of the CS Department.
  • 1992 - Alan Cox was recruited directly from his Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester and began working for Rice's CS department as an assistant professor in August. He worked with Zwaenepoel and Schäffer to develop FASTLINK, a software package for genetic linkage analysis and is currently chairing the CS Undergraduate Student Committee.
  • 1992 - John Dennis, Rice's Noah G. Harding Professor of Mathematical Sciences and former chair of that department, accepted a two year term as CS chair in order to recruit new faculty and manage a global search for a new department chair.
  • 1992 - Mellor-Crummey was promoted from research associate to faculty fellow, a research faculty position analogous to assistant professor that enables him to advise Ph.D. students.
  • 1992 - Gorry was promoted to full professor.
  • 1993 - Moshe Y. Vardi, who had been managing four groups at IBM 's Almaden Research Center as well as serving as a consulting professor in Stanford's CS department, arrived as the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science.
  • 1994 - Vardi became Chair of the CS Department.
  • 1994 - Peter Druschel was hired as an assistant professor.
  • 1996 - Devika Subramanian was hired as an associate professor.
  • 1997 - Lydia Kavraki was hired as an assistant professor.
  • 1997 - John Greiner was hired as a lecturer.
  • 1998 - Mellor-Crummey was promoted to senior faculty fellow, a research faculty position analogous to associate professor.
  • 1999 - Dan Wallach was hired as an assistant professor.

Y2K & beyond

  • 2000 - For much of the rest of the world, the dawning of the new millennium caused concern due to the practice of coding computerized system dates to include only a two-digit year. The probability of overlapping two digit year dates in different centuries was expected to lead to issues in computers and computing systems around the world when their internal clocks changed to "00" at the beginning of the year 2000. In CS, no one appeared worried. As Cartwright said, "Perhaps because we relied almost entirely on Unix-based systems, which were pretty much unaffected as I recall, for the scientists and students in Rice's CS department, there was little cause for concern."
  • 2000 - Dave Johnson was recruited back from Carnegie Mellon and hired as an associate professor.
  • 2001 - Scott Cutler was hired as a professor in the practice.
  • 2001 - Scott Rixner was hired as an assistant professor.
  • 2001 - Stephen Wong was hired as a lecturer.
  • 2001 - Kavraki was promoted to associate professor.
  • 2002 - Druschel was promoted to associate professor.
  • 2003 - Subramanian was promoted to full professor.
  • 2003 - Keith Cooper and Linda Torczon published "Engineering a Compiler," a popular text book still used in CS courses around the country.
  • 2003 - Druschel was promoted to full professor and remained for two more years before becoming the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany.
  • 2004 - Eugene Ng was hired as an assistant professor
  • 2004 - Luay Nakhleh was hired as assistant professor
  • 2004 - Kavraki was promoted to full professor
  • 2005 - Wallach was promoted to associate professor
  • 2006 - Mellor-Crummey transitioned from a research faculty appointment to an appointment as a tenure-track associate professor
  • 2007 - Kennedy lost his battle with pancreatic cancer
  • 2007 - Mellor-Crummey became director of the Center for Scalable Application Development Software, a Department of Energy SciDAC Institute
  • 2007 - Krishna Palem hired as the first Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor of Computer Science
  • 2008 - Mellor-Crummey promoted to full professor
  • 2009 - Chris Jermaine hired as an associate professor
  • 2010 - Nakhleh promoted to associate professor
  • 2011 - Swarat Chaudhuri hired as assistant professor
  • 2012 - Wallach promoted to full professor
  • 2014 - Vivek Sarkar accepted the role of department chair
  • 2014 - Cox and Rixner were promoted to full professor
  • 2015 - Anshumali Shrivastava was hired as an assistant professor
  • 2015 - Chaudhuri was promoted to associate professor
  • 2016 - Mack Joyner hired as a lecturer
  • 2016 - Jermaine, Nakhleh, and Ng promoted from associate professor to full professor
  • 2016 - Luay Nakhleh named Associate Chair, the first in the growing department
  • 2017 - Luay Nakhleh named Chair of the Computer Science Department
  • 2017 - Ang Chen and Anastasios Kyrillidis hired as assistant professors 
  • 2017 - Joyner named Director for the Professional Master Program
  • 2017 - Risa Myers hired as lecturer
  • 2018 - Konstantinos Mamouras, Todd Treangen and Nathan Dautenhahn hired as assistant professors
  • 2019 - Risa Myers promoted to assistant teaching professor
  • 2019 - Vicky Yao hired as assistant professor
  • 2019 - Lydia Kavraki named director of the Ken Kennedy Institute 
  • 2019 - Rice CS Celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the Department
  • 2019 - Rice launched the Online MCS Program
  • 2020 - Rebecca Smith hired as an assistant teaching professor
  • 2020 - Lydia Kavraki honored with 2019 ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award
  • 2020 - Vaibhav Unhelkar and Kaiyu Hang were hired as assistant professors

Department Chairs

  • Ken Kennedy: 1984-1989, 1990-1994
  • Corky Cartwright: 1989-1990
  • John Dennis: 1992 -1994
  • Moshe Vardi: 1994 - 2002
  • Keith Cooper: 2002 - 2008
  • Joe Warren: 2008 - 2013
  • Vivek Sarkar: 2013-2016
  • Luay Nakhleh: 2017-present

Prolific Publishers

By 2001, three CS professors had made the top 100 most highly cited list in computer science literature. Kennedy was ranked the 23rd most cited author, with 3,438 citations. Vardi,was No. 75, with 2,388 citations, and Zwaenepoel, was No. 89, with 2,286 citations.By comparison, Princeton University had one person in the top 100, Stanford University had eight and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had seven. The CS departments at Stanford and MIT are significantly larger than Rice’s.

The number one spot in the 2007 Computer Science Faculty Scholarly Productivity rankings went to our department; the rankings were drawn from an algorithm that included the number of professors in an academic program, the number of books and journal articles they have written, the frequency of citation by other scholars, and the federal research grants, awards and honors received.

Vardi made publications headlines again in 2017, when his downloaded ACM publications passed the one million mark.

Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology

Launched as the Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITI) in January 2001 under the direction of Moshe Vardi, the institute was renamed for Ken Kennedy in 2008 and remains dedicated to the advancement of research in the fields of computing, data science and information technology. Jan Odegard was hired as the institute's executive director in 2002 and Keith Cooper joined Vardi as a co-director in 2015. The Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology is responsible for the success of many cross-disciplinary grant applications, extending the connections between computer science and information technology to a wide number of fields. In 2019, Lydia Kavraki was named the director the Ken Kennedy Institute.

CS Department History

Alumni and current and former community members like faculty, staff and research scientists, if you know more of our history, please email the CS Publicist.