Paul Alivisatos named president of University of Chicago

Paul Alivisatos smiles at the camera in front of a bookshelf wearing a purple tie

Paul Alivisatos, UC Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost and the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology has been appointed president of the University of Chicago. (Photo by Chris Polydoroff)

Chemist Paul Alivisatos, who directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for seven years and served the UC Berkeley campus as vice chancellor for research and currently as executive vice chancellor and provost — all while continuing his pioneering work in nanocrystals — has been appointed president of the University of Chicago, his alma mater.

Alivisatos, the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, will remain in his current position at Berkeley through the end of the spring semester.

“I can think of no one better suited for this extraordinary opportunity, and no one who will be harder for us to replace,” said Chancellor Carol Christ. “Paul has been an extraordinary partner; a tireless, visionary leader; a friend; and a true champion for Berkeley’s mission, values and academic excellence.

The campus will launch a national search for a successor as quickly as possible, Christ said.

“Throughout his distinguished academic career, Paul has demonstrated the skills and imagination needed to be an inspirational leader, confront the challenges of our time and guide the University of Chicago during a period of enormous opportunity,” said Joseph Neubauer, chair of the University of Chicago’s Board of Trustees and leader of the search for a new president, in an announcement today (Feb. 26). “He has the vision to further elevate the university’s eminence, uphold its rich traditions and enduring values, and make an impact on higher education and the lives of university students, faculty and staff, as well as enrich the South Side community.”

Armand Paul Alivisatos, who was born in Chicago before moving to Greece with his family, first came to Berkeley as a graduate student in 1981 after receiving a B.A. with honors in chemistry from the University of Chicago. He credits the University of Chicago for instilling in him an appreciation of disciplines beyond science — in particular, art.

He completed his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Berkeley in 1986, working with the late Charles Harris. Following a stint at AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey, where he conducted research in the relatively new field of nanotechnology, he joined Berkeley’s chemistry department in 1988. He began his affiliation with Berkeley Lab in 1991, was promoted to associate professor in 1993 and professor in 1995, served as Chancellor’s Professor from 1998 to 2001 and received a co-appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 1999.

During his 33 years on the Berkeley faculty, Alivisatos made groundbreaking contributions to the fundamental physical chemistry of nanocrystals, which today are used widely in research, including for biological imaging and consumer electronics. He co-founded a startup called Nanosys Inc., which uses colorful nanocrystals, dubbed quantum dots, to produce bright and energy-efficient computer displays.

Alivisatos stands with students in a lab wearing jeans. He is gesturing at scientific equipment

Alivisatos with his research group in 2013. During his 33 years on the Berkeley faculty, Alivisatos made groundbreaking contributions to the fundamental physical chemistry of nanocrystals. (Photo courtesy of Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab)

He also is a co-founder of Quantum Dot Corp., now part of Life Tech, which markets nanocrystals as submicroscopic tracers, and co-invented a technology for making flexible solar cells from rod-shaped semiconductor nanocrystals that has been licensed by Siva Power. He holds 38 patents. He has mentored 93 doctoral students and 83 postdoctoral fellows, and published more than 400 journal articles.

Among the honors he has received for his research are the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the Dan David Prize and the highest honor of the American Chemical Society, the Priestley Medal. Just this week, he was honored with the Frontiers of Knowledge Award from Spain’s BBVA Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Philosophical Society.

He served as founding director of the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute (ENSI), a collaboration between Berkeley and Berkeley Lab scientists, and was the founding editor of Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

During his tenure as director of Berkeley Lab (2009-2016), he led efforts to focus research in the areas of renewable energy and climate change, and oversaw expansions of space for computational research, building efficiency, solar energy research and biological sciences. He also was the founding director of the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Nanoscale Science Research Center.

In 2016, Alivisatos became Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research. He was appointed vice chancellor and provost — UC Berkeley’s No. 2 leadership position and a post in which he represents the entire faculty — in July 2017.

In those roles, he initiated a review of campus research units, institutes and centers; fostered new faculty connections for interdisciplinary research through the creation of Berkeley Collaborative Research Opportunities; helped foster and oversee the creation of the campus’s newest academic division, the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society; and helped with the launch of the Weill Neurohub with UCSF and the University of Washington and the creation of the new Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, which will occupy the fully renovated former Berkeley Art Museum.

Alivisatos also co-sponsored efforts to expand and enhance the discovery experience for undergraduates; played a key role in enhancing and expanding diversity on campus through faculty cluster hiring and his support for the Faculty Leadership Academy and many leadership development programs; and in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, led an all-encompassing effort to swiftly and effectively adapt Berkeley’s entire educational enterprise to the needs and demands of remote learning.

Alivisatos and Christ smile at the camera in front of a background saying UC Berkeley

Chancellor Carol Christ and Alivisatos often spoke at campus town-hall meetings. The two shared responsibility for leading the campus. (UC Berkeley photo by Stephen McNally)

“When I invited Paul to become executive vice chancellor and provost, I told him we would be ‘two in a box,’ meaning we would share responsibility for leading the campus. And that is exactly what our relationship proved and needed to be,” Christ said. “I have been around higher education long enough to know how rare it is to sustain a professional relationship like that, and how it is rarer still to find someone like Paul, with all of the requisite experience, skills and personal attributes to make that sort of partnership possible.

“I am in Paul’s debt, as are we all, and I wish to express my sincerest gratitude and appreciation for everything he has done and contributed to the campus and the greater good. I offer him our best wishes for his continued success in the Windy City.”

“For nearly 40 years, first as a graduate student, and then as a faculty member, and in many other roles — at LBNL and on the campus — I have been challenged, supported and lifted by the Berkeley community of students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends,” said Alivisatos. “I love the sheer kaleidoscopic energy of Berkeley, the commitment to discovery and to challenging convention, and the unceasing desire to challenge society to be better.  I am returning now to my other alma mater, the University of Chicago, but I will always be your colleague and friend. I will always carry Berkeley with me.”