The School of Natural Sciences offers 20 majors and seven minors in our departments and interdisciplinary programs. Students do not have to declare a major until the second semester of sophomore year. You may change your major at any time, including changing to a major in another school. In fact, many Rice students double major across academic schools and still graduate in four years.
Most of our departments offer both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. In general, a BA program contains more free elective hours than its BS counterpart. This flexibility makes it easier for you to pursue your other interests, a double major or a minor. If you are preparing for a career that is not primarily in the scientific discipline of your major and want time in your schedule to pursue other areas of interest, the BA degree might be right for you. If you are planning to go to graduate school or pursue a career in a scientific discipline, you should consider the BS degree.
Biochemistry and Cell Biology BS, BA, minor
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology BS, BA, minor
Biological Sciences BA
Faculty members in the Department of Biosciences have a deep commitment to students even as they pursue their own research programs. They share a love of the natural world that inspires their teaching and mentorship. Students at all levels engage in research in Biosciences laboratories, and many undergraduates publish work in top journals. The multiple major degree paths offered by the department will prepare you for graduate, medical or other professional schools and a surprisingly wide range of careers in the life sciences.
The biochemistry and cell biology (BIOC) program emphasizes a broad understanding of cell biology and biochemistry and provides room for exploration across Natural Sciences or Engineering. BIOC students are strongly encouraged to pursue their research interests through independent research experiences at Rice or other Houston-area institutions. The BIOC minor incoporates many of the life science core courses required for the health professions and is intended for those with an interest in the life sciences who may be majoring in other areas.
The ecology and evolutionary biology (EBIO) program addresses important ecological and evolutionary questions with collaborative research initiatives and innovative ecological, evolutionary and genomic tools. The coursework emphasizes a broad understanding of basic biology together with an in-depth knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology. Students pursuing a BS in EBIO are required to conduct independent research under the supervision or co-supervision of an EBIO faculty member, though the research can take place in other locations or institutions such as the Texas Medical Center, the Houston Zoo or at field sites throughout the world. The EBIO minor is intended for those with an interest in the life sciences who are majoring in other areas.
The biological sciences degree incorporates elements of the EBIO and BIOC programs to give students a broad understanding of the full range of biological disciplines. Although Biological Sciences majors must distribute their upper-level electives between the two programs, they have few restrictions on which upper-level Biosciences courses they select. This flexibility gives Biological Sciences students the opportunity to design a path that suits their specific interests. As the Biological Sciences BA combines coursework from both the BIOC and EBIO programs, this major may not be combined with any other Biosciences degree.
Chemical Physics BS
The Chemical Physics degree is jointly offered by the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. It is designed for students with a strong aptitude in both chemistry and physics. Students take upper-level courses in both chemistry and physics, focusing on the applications of physics to chemical systems.
Chemistry BS, BA
The Department of Chemistry BS program rigorously prepares students for Ph.D. programs in chemistry and related disciplines. The degree requirements are consistent with the guidelines for certification by the American Chemical Society. BS students complete a series of foundation courses in general chemistry and each of the core areas of chemistry: analytical, biological, ingorganic, organic and physical. Students then complete a specialization in one or more of these areas: biological and medicinal chemistry, inorganic chemistry and inorganic materials, organic chemistry, and physical and theoretical chemistry. This curriculum provides a broad and comprehensive introduction to core areas of chemistry while establishing deep understanding in one or more specific fields.
The BA degree is a more flexible program that provides a broad overview of chemistry but includes less focused study in any single area. The chemistry BA is an ideal background for premedical students as it requires only 10 credit hours over the standard premedical requirements. It also couples well with a second major for students who want to pair a science and non-science major for breadth of knowledge.
Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences
Earth Science BS, BA
An Earth science degree prepares students for the challenges of the 21st century in geology, geophysics, geochemistry and environmental sciences and offers the opportunity to pursue exciting careers in energy, the environment, government, education and academia. The BS offers five tracks: geology, geochemistry, geophysics, environmental Earth science and a self-designed track designed by the student and a faculty member. All of the programs of study include experiences with analytical equipment, computer systems and fieldwork. The BA provides greater flexibility of course choices.
Environmental Science BS, BA
Environmental Studies minor
The environmental science majors are jointly offered by the Department of Biosciences and the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. This interdisciplinary program explores the interconnection between humans and the natural environment, drawing courses from biosciences; Earth, environmental and planetary sciences; civil engineering and across humanities and social sciences. Environmental science majors address environmental issues in the context of what we know about Earth, ecology and society, enhance their critical thinking skills required to address the increasing complexities facing our planet and learn to develop solutions to enhance the environment. Students declare a concentration in either ecology and evolutionary biology or Earth science, which enhances the depth of study in that field.
The environmental studies minor provides a cross-disciplinary, holistic understanding of the challenges and solutions for creating a sustainable world. Undergraduatse from a broad range of academic backgrounds undertake a cohesive program of study offering foundational literacy in the social, cultural and scientific dimensions of environmental issues.
The Kinesiology Department is home to two distinct programs and is one of the first of its kind in the nation to allow students to concentrate their studies in one of these specific sub-disciplines — health sciences and sports medicine.
The health sciences program provides students with a fundamental background in health promotion and disease prevention. Viewing health from the broader community level, students acquire the knowledge and skills for careers in public health related positions.
The sports medicine program provides a strong basic science foundation and then interfaces this foundation with application to the human body. It is the only academic specialization on campus that provides detailed instruction in human anatomy and human physiology in addition to nutrition, biomechanics, motor learning and exercise physiology.
Mathematics BS, BA, minor
Mathematics is the study of the structure that provides a language and tools for interpreting our world. The Mathematics Department offers training in the traditional areas of pure mathematics: analysis, algebra, geometry and topology as well as courses in combinatorics, computational algebraic geometry and mathematical biology. Mathematics students are also trained in problem solving, analytical thinking and the logical and precise communication of their ideas — skills that are valuable in the marketplace, law schools and business schools.
The BS program prepares students for Ph.D. programs in mathematics and related disciplines. It requires courses from each of the subfields of mathematics.
The BA program is extremely flexible; it allows students to design their own program in conjunction with their advisors. This also makes math a popular double major. Today's budding scientist, engineer, computer scientist, economist or social scientist needs much more mathematical training than did previous generations. The ease and flexibility of the double major in math allows students to get degree credit for their work.
Neuroscience BA, minor
Neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system: how it develops, how it works and what happens when it doesn't work properly. Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary field that encompasses most areas of modern science, from genetics and biology to mathematics and engineering to social and physical sciences to medicine. The neuroscience degrees are administered by the Department of Biosciences and involve participation in core and elective courses at Rice, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center as well as research in active faculty laboratories throughout the Texas Medical Center. Each student undertaking a minor in neuroscience chooses one of two unique tracks. The Humanities and Social Sciences track represents cognitive and behavioral approaches to neuroscience, while the Natural Sciences and Engineering track represents genetics, cellular/molecular, bioengineering, computation and systems-level investigations.
Physics and Astronomy
Physics BS, BA, minor
Students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy will acquire and demonstrate a solid foundation of knowledge in physics and/or astronomy and deeper knowledge of subdivisions of the field related to their interests. They will build the theoretical, computational and laboratory skills necessary to succeed in graduate school or in the workplace and become leaders in their chosen discipline.
The BA degrees in physics and astronomy provide a broad liberal education with a concentration in physical science, while allowing time to pursue other interests. Graduates typically seek employment in a range of professional fields or in secondary teaching.
The BS degrees in physics and astrophysics are intended to provide intensive pre-professional training. Options for specialized study include applied physics, biological physics and computational physics. Most graduates continue in graduate study or find immediate employment in a technical field.