At the Rice History Corner, Everybody is Somebody

Remember, I warned you that I might post at unauthorized times this summer. This is one of them.

I feel compelled to talk a little bit about yesterday’s comments, which brought me great happiness. Having spent a couple of decades studying the history of the place where I work, I’m just now beginning to get a sense of the many and deep connections that run through the life of the institution. I think these two comments both illustrate and help preserve these connections. They might seem small–hell, they are small–but I believe it’s this multiplicity of tiny strands that bind us as people and as participants in the project we call Rice. Our shared life, if you will.

First, this: It’s interesting to note from your picture of the Thresher front page, the story on Edward Potter’s retirement as Cashier. The end of the article (which happens to be on the page with the Roger Penrose article) mentions that Patty was to replace Potter as Cashier. Patty retired this year. Full circle. A nice association. Thanks.

Among other things, Patty Ciampi has been a good friend to the Woodson. She’s brought several things to my attention that needed to go into the archives and she bemusedly let me climb up on a ladder and take this little guy off a really, really high shelf in the Cashier’s Office and bring him to his proper home in the library. I can say that there was a significant amount of dust on him.


Next, I truly loved this bit of info from John Polking, which I probably could never have discovered any other way: That “student” you see me with is actually Robert Bryant very early in his career at Rice. Unfortunately, Robert left Rice to go to Duke. Presently he is the Director of the Mathematics Research Institute in Berkeley, CA.

I began to get a sense that I ought to know who this Robert Bryant fellow is, so I immediately went and looked up the Mathematical Research Institute at Berkeley. Here’s a screen shot of Bryant’s bio page (you can zoom in to read it):

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 10.34.40 AM

Two things instantly jump out at me. First, his office is in Evans Hall, which is named after Griffith C. Evans, one of Rice’s original faculty members.


Evans arrived here as an assistant professor but very quickly rose to full, married a Rice student (Isabel Mary Johns, ’17) and was a trusted colleague of Lovett. He left to head Berkeley’s math department in 1934, convinced that tight Depression-era funding and an institutional commitment to athletics over academics would make it extraordinarily difficult to continue building a first-rate department at Rice. (Amusingly, he was a bit startled to discover that University of California trustees were just as interested in sports as Rice trustees.)

Second, take a look at the first title on his publication list: Bryant, Robert L. and Manno, Gianni and Matveev, Vladimir S. (2008). A solution of a problem of Sophus Lie: normal forms of two-dimensional metrics admitting two projective vector fields. Math. Ann. 340 No.2, 437-463.  As I’m sure all you Edgar Odell Lovett aficionados are aware, Sophus Lie was the Norwegian geometry professor with whom Lovett studied for his doctorate from the University of Leipzig. Here’s his portrait:

Sophus Lie portrait

And finally, just to bring this back to where it started–with an image on a Rice building– here is the image of Sophus Lie carved into one of the columns of Lovett Hall:


Bonus: The Conference USA baseball tournament is being played at Rice this week. I don’t know what school this team is from. I realize that they were just doing some mundane stretching but from where I was standing it looked like they were dancing. Surprisingly pretty!


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10 Responses to At the Rice History Corner, Everybody is Somebody

  1. John Polking says:

    I was not aware of the connection between Lovett and Sophus Lie. Robert Bryant made his reputation by extending the work of Lie.

    My second comment is that the baseball team is from UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Rive beat them 3-1 on Wednesday.

  2. mjthannisch says:

    This all was extremely neat. Connections and connections.

  3. loki_the_bubba says:

    I feel like I just watched a James Burke show.

  4. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    Do we have information on who sculpted the various faces, cartoons, etc., on the Rice buildings?

  5. Bill Allison says:

    Hard to tell on the baseball unis but I think it is USF.

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