In 1952, Rice began a program in materials science, following the hiring of Professor Franz Brotzen, who came to the university as an assistant professor of metallurgy. At the time, the home of materials science was in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Materials Science received separate accreditation in 1962, and the department was renamed the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. In the 50 years since, more materials science faculty have been hired in the department and faculty in the departments of bioengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemistry and physics and astronomy have also been doing materials research.
The Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering was officially created in November 2013 to bring together these faculty under one program and focus research efforts. The new department has seven regular faculty, two senior faculty fellows, two research scientists, 11 postdoctoral fellows and six adjunct professors as well as numerous joint appointments with faculty in other departments in the George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Weiss School of Natural Sciences at Rice.