Triple Owl joins Purdue University’s engineering faculty

Rice research experience leads Zak Kingston, ’16 ’17 ’21, to an academic career.

Zak Kingston

Zak Kingston is a “Triple Owl,” having graduated from Rice University with a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science in 2016, 2017 and 2021, respectively. He recently completed his postdoctoral fellowship, also at Rice, and he will join Purdue University as an assistant professor of computer science in August 2024.

For nearly a decade, Kingston has studied motion planning in robotics in the lab of Lydia Kavraki, Noah Harding Chair and Professor of Computer Science. “I took Lydia’s class (COMP/ELEC/MECH 450/550) as a junior, and I worked with her in the lab after that class and didn’t leave,” said Kingston, who most recently served as Kavraki’s lab manager. “Working with Lydia was the reason I stayed at Rice [for my graduate and postgraduate studies].”

“Zak embodies the intellectual prowess and unwavering curiosity of Rice students,” said Kavraki. “He has acquired vast experience working on different robotics projects over the years. His enthusiasm is contagious, and it has been a pleasure to have him in our lab.”

While at Rice, Kingston spent his summers working with the robotics team at NASA’s Space Center through the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships (now known as NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities). This program equipped him with practical experience in solving real-world problems in robotics, setting him apart as he entered the academic job market. 

At Purdue, Kingston will continue researching how to make robots plan to solve more complex problems as fast as possible while making fewer assumptions about the world around them. “I am looking forward to building the lab, bringing together the team, and figuring out how we can solve these problems together,” said Kingston.

Working in Kavraki’s lab at Rice helped Kingston establish his own research agenda, and in his new faculty position, he will have the opportunity to accelerate Purdue University’s robotics programs. 

“It is an exciting time to join Purdue because robotics is growing in the computer science department, and I’m excited to bring my flavor of robotics research to the university,” said Kingston. “You can tell there is a lot of investment from the university and they want to push robotics forward.”