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2012 "Niki" Award Recipient

“for his distinguished contribution to science and his research into nanotechnology.”


Dr. Paul Alivisatos

Berkeley Lab Director

Paul Alivisatos is an award-winning chemist and internationally recognized authority on the fabrication of nanocrystals and their use in solar energy applications. He was named the seventh director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on November 19, 2009 by the University of California Board of Regents on the recommendation of UC President Mark Yudof and with the concurrence of the U.S. Department of Energy. In 2001 he was named to head a new U.S. Department of Energy center for nanoscience called the Molecular Foundry, which is hosted at Berkeley Lab. He continued to direct research at the Foundry until 2005.

Under Alivisatos’ leadership, Berkeley Lab has been awarded in excess of $282 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, lifting its total funding for FY 2010 to a record $827 million. Much of this ARRA funding was the direct result of sustainable energy initiatives that Alivisatos spearheaded along with Chu, most prominently the Helios Project, a joint effort between Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley to develop methods of converting solar energy into renewable transportation fuel. As director of the Helios Solar Energy Research Center, a position he retains, Alivisatos has overseen transformational research into artificial photosynthesis and nano-based photovoltaic technology.

As director of Berkeley Lab, Alivisatos has launched two major scientific initiatives, “Carbon Cycle 2.0,” a multidisciplinary approach to developing ways to help restore the balance in Earth’s carbon cycle, which has been adversely affected by human activity, and the “Next Generation Light Source,” the world’s first facility capable of producing x-ray pulses measured in attoseconds, the timescale needed to capture the movement of electrons. Alivisatos has also proactively invigorated Berkeley Lab’s safety culture and elevated the Lab’s community outreach efforts.

In addition to his Berkeley Lab duties, Alivisatos holds appointments with UC Berkeley as the Larry and Diane Bock Professor of Nanotechnology and as a professor in the departments of materials science and chemistry. He is a scientific founder of two prominent nanotechnology companies, Nanosys and Quantum Dot Corp, now a part of Invitrogen, as well as a board member of Solexant, a highly touted photovoltaic start-up. Alivisatos is also the founding editor of Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

Armand Paul Alivisatos was born in Chicago on November 12, 1959. He lived there until the age of 10, when his family moved to Athens, Greece, where he would remain through high school. Alivisatos has said of his years in Greece that it was a great experience for him because he had to learn the Greek language and culture then catch up with the more advanced students.

 “When I found something very interesting it was sometimes a struggle for me to understand it the very best that I could,” he has said of that experience. “That need to work harder became an important motivator for me.”

Alivisatos returned to the United States to attend the University of Chicago where in 1981 he earned his  B.A. in Chemistry with honors. He attended graduate school at UC Berkeley, graduating with a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics in 1986. He went to AT&T Bell Labs as a post-doctoral fellow and returned to Berkeley in 1988 as an assistant professor of chemistry. He was promoted to associate professor in 1993 and full professor in 1995. He served as UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Professor from 1998 to 2001, and added an appointment as a professor of materials science and engineering in 1999. 

Alivisatos was appointed to lead Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division by then Lab director Charles Shank who hailed him as “one of the fathers of nanoscience.” One of the first to publish scientific results in the field, Alivisatos went on to publish well over 100 papers. He is widely recognized as the man who altered the nanoscience landscape with the creation of rod-shaped semiconductor nanocrystals that could be stacked to create nano-sized electronic devices. Until then, semiconductor nanocrystals came in one shape only, that of a sphere. He followed that milestone with numerous other technical breakthroughs that  advanced nanotechnology, including the creation of a new generation of hybrid solar cells that combined  nanotechnology with plastic electronics.

 “Paul Alivisatos has been a world leader in the synthesis of artificial nanostructures and quantum dot technology, and one of the principal scientific drivers behind the use of nanoscience technologies to create a new generation of solar photovoltaic cells,” Steve Chu said when he named Alivisatos as Berkeley Lab’s deputy director.

The many awards and recognitions Alivisatos has received for his science include:
- the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award
- the Wolf Prize in Chemistry
- the Eni Italgas Prize for Energy and Environment
- the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics Award
- the Wilson Prize, the Coblentz Award for Advances in Molecular Spectroscopy
- the U.S. Department of Energy’s Award for Sustained Outstanding Research in Materials Chemistry and Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Materials Chemistry

In addition, Alivisatos has held fellowships with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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