Incoming UChicago President Paul Alivisatos accepts Priestley Medal

UChicago Board of Trustees’ gift launches new $200 million commitment to undergraduate financial aid and educational access

Prestigious award honors ’foundational contributions’ to nanoscience, chemistry

Paul Alivisatos, the incoming president of the University of Chicago and the John D. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, received the Priestley Medal on Aug. 22 at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta.

The highest honor bestowed by the American Chemical Society, the award recognizes distinguished service to the field of chemistry. In its citation , the organization noted Alivisatos’ "foundational contributions to the chemistry of nanoscience, development of nanocrystals as nanotechnology building blocks and leadership in the chemistry and nanoscience communities."

Alivisatos, who will begin his UChicago tenure Sept. 1, is widely known as a pioneer of nanoscience, the study of the world at extremely tiny scales-down to a few nanometers, less than the width of a human hair. In the 1990s, he helped develop some of the fundamental processes to make nanocrystals that underlie almost all nanotechnology made today, from solar panels to TV screens. For example, his research group showed how to grow nanocrystals all at the same size, a crucial step for using them in devices and at scale.

His group also demonstrated how to use these nanocrystals for medicine: They can be made of biocompatible materials that light up, enabling improved clinical tests of tissue samples and offering biomedical researchers the means to gain improved insights.

"These tiny crystals have brought a sense of wonder, not just to me but also to thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world who study them," wrote Alivisatos in his remarks on receiving the award. "Their study offers renewed insight into the laws of physics and principles of chemistry and demonstrates the challenges of materials science and the pitfalls and joys on the road from discovery to their uses today in medical diagnostics and color displays."

Read his full essay at Chemical & Engineering News.

Through the end of this month, Alivisatos is serving as the executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley. He will actively maintain his research program as UChicago president and plans to move his research group to Chicago in 2022.

Among his more than 25 awards and honors, Alivisatos has received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, and the international BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He also founded two prominent nanotechnology companies: Nanosys, Inc. and Quantum Dot Corp. (now part of Thermo Fisher).

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1981, Alivisatos earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. After several years with Bell Labs, Alivisatos joined the Berkeley faculty in 1988. He served as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2009 to 2016 and as executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley until this year. He is a founding editor of the journal Nano Letters.


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