Bill Akers, who died last week, arrived at the Rice Institute as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1947. His was, by anyone’s measure, a high-impact hire. He began his career here with work that helped pave the way for the development of our graduate program in engineering, using the retooling of wartime industries for peacetime production to help Rice take advantage of an important economic opportunity as well as a trove of research projects.
Later, as a key participant in the project to develop an artificial human heart with Dr. Michael DeBakey, Akers helped found and also directed the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, beginning what would be an extraordinarily fruitful research turn for the university:
Throughout much of his mature career Bill Akers was privileged to sit at or near the center of decision making on campus. In addition to serving as department chair from 1955 to 1965, he was at various points head of development, Vice President for External Affairs, and Vice President for Administration, according him an opportunity for influencing Rice’s course that few others had. That experience gave him a perspective that was uniquely valuable. He was always generous with me, answering my questions thoughtfully and clearly, often raising issues and suggesting avenues of research that proved worthwhile.
Bill Akers, rest in peace.
Bonus: My friend Patrick Kurp in Engineering has written a more thorough story about Dr. Akers at this link.
I remember that heart Dr Akers and Dr DeBakey developed and successfully used in 1966. That was one of the many things that influenced my decision to go to Rice. There was a point in my undergraduate experience when I thought I might be interested in pursuing Biomedical engineering, and Dr. Akers took the time to make sure I understood, in unvarnished terms, what the pursuit would require of me. I ended up not taking that direction, but I will always value our discussions, and I greatly admire him, and am glad he was in my life.
Hi! I’m writing an obituary for him for the Thresher to celebrate his life and impact. Could I email you about your experience with him or quote what you’ve written here? Thank you!
Yes! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org