Richard A. Tapia bigraphy, stories - American mathematician

Richard A. Tapia : biography

March 25, 1939 -

Richard Alfred Tapia (born March 25, 1939) is a renowned American mathematician and champion of under-represented minorities in the sciences.

Tapia is the Principal investigator on a $2 million NSF grant (2007-2010) addressing networking for a "minority student or faculty at a majority institution". In recognition of his broad contributions, in 2005, Tapia was named "University Professor" at Rice University in Houston, Texas, the University's highest academic title.  The honor has been bestowed on only six professors in Rice's ninety-nine-year history.  On September 28, 2011, President Barack Obama announced that Tapia was among twelve scientists to be awarded the National Medal of Science, the top award the United States offers its researchers.  Tapia is currently the Maxfield and Oshman Professor of Engineering; Associate Director of Graduate Studies,  Office of Research and Graduate Studies; and Director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice University.    

Tapia's mathematical research is focused on mathematical optimization and iterative methods for nonlinear problems. His current research is in the area of algorithms for constrained optimization and interior point methods for linear and nonlinear programming.

University positions

  • 2005–present: University Professor, Rice University
  • 2005–present: Maxfield and Oshman Professor of Engineering, Rice University
  • 2000–present: Adjunct Professor, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Houston
  • 1999–present: Director, Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, Rice University
  • 1991 - 2005: Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rice University
  • 1989–present: Associate Director of Graduate Studies, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Rice University
  • 1989 - 2000:Director of Education and Outreach Programs, Center for Research on Parallel Computation, Rice University
  • 1986 - 1988: Lecturer, Department of Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine
  • 1978 - 1983: Adjunct Professor, T.I.R.R., (then called the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) Baylor College of Medicine
  • 1978 - 1983: Chair, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Rice University
  • 1976–present: Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Rice University
  • 1972 - 1976: Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Rice University
  • 1970 - 1972: Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Rice University
  • 1968 - 1970: Assistant Professor, Mathematics Research Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison


  • Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 1967 (Mathematics)
    • Dissertation: "A Generalization of Newton's Method with an Application to the Euler-Lagrange Equation"
    • Advisors: Magnus Hestenes, Charles Tompkins
  • M.A., University of California, Los Angeles, 1966 (Mathematics)
  • B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, 1961 (Mathematics)

Other interests

  • Drag racing, world record holder, 1968,1969,1970.

Honors and awards (selected)

  • Hispanic Heritage Award in Math and Science, September 2009.
  • Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession, Portland OR, July 2004.
  • Community Service Award, University of California Los Angeles Alumni Association, Los Angeles, California, May 2004.
  • Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology Magazine, "One of the 50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business" April 2004.
  • Distinguished Public Service Award, American Mathematical Society, Phoenix, Arizona, January 2004.
  • Texas Science Hall of Fame Inductee, Institute of Texan Cultures, University of Texas, San Antonio, Texas, January 2002.
  • Reginald H. Jones Distinguished Service Award, NACME, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, October 2001.
  • Distinguished Scientist Award, Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, October 2000.
  • 1999 Giants in Science Award, Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, Washington, DC, February 1999.
  • 1997 Lifetime Mentor Award, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 1998.
  • Recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, National Science Foundation, Washington, DC, September 1996.
  • Appointed to the National Science Board by President Clinton, August 1996.
  • National Academy of Engineering, February 1992.
  • Was chosen to have a "Celebration of Diversity in Computing" conference named after him (usually held biannually ). Actually, maybe that should be 1.5 conferences, counting [half of] the Blackwell-Tapia_prize#Blackwell-Tapia_Conference.
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