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.