Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos

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 January of that year, he had been named interim Laboratory director by the UC Regents after Steven Chu stepped down to become the Secretary of Energy. Prior to that Alivisatos had served under Chu as Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director, a position he assumed on April 7, 2008.

Under Alivisatos’ leadership, Berkeley Lab has embarked upon an ambitious period of strategic scientific infrastructure renewal.  During his tenure, the Lab began construction on new buildings for computational research, buildings efficiency, solar energy research, and biological sciences.  During this time, the lab also cleared the legacy Bevatron site and has partially cleared and is working to finish cleaning the “Old Town” site.  This has left the lab better able to contribute to the Department of Energy’s mission today, and with room for potential growth on brownfield sites in the future.

As director of Berkeley Lab, Alivisatos supports the incredible range of research and technology development being pursued at Berkeley Lab in the interest of society.  To lay the groundwork for large-scale accomplishment in the future, he has set forth four strategic scientific initiatives for the lab to pursue: Energy Innovation, a multidisciplinary approach for science and technology solutions that could move humanity toward net zero impact in the global carbon cycle; a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and using microbial life for clean energy, environment, and health; an early-stage proposal to upgrade the Advanced Light Source to the diffraction limit, achieving 100 times more brightness than the current photon imaging machine is capable of; and, harnessing the computing and data revolution to greatly advance scientific discovery. Alivisatos has also proactively invigorated Berkeley Lab’s safety culture, elevated the Lab’s community outreach and operational efficiency efforts, and is currently working to build a more diverse and inclusive community within the lab.

In addition to his Berkeley Lab duties, Alivisatos holds appointments with UC Berkeley as the Samsung Distinguished Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and as a professor in the departments of materials science and chemistry. He is the Director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley and a scientific founder of two prominent nanotechnology companies, Nanosys and Quantum Dot Corp, now a part of Life Tech. Alivisatos is also the founding editor of Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

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’ affiliation with Berkeley Lab began in 1991 when he joined the staff of the Materials Sciences Division. He rose to become director of that division in 2002, a position he held for six years. 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. From 2005 to 2007 he served as Berkeley Lab’s Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Science.

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 285 papers. He is widely recognized as the person 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 U.S. National Medal of Science, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the Wolf Foundation Prize in Chemistry, the Von Hippel Award from the Materials Research Society, the ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials, the Eni Italgas Prize for Energy and Environment, the Rank Prize for Optoelectronics, the Wilson Prize at Harvard, the Coblentz Award for Advances in Molecular Spectroscopy, and 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.

When UC President Yudof announced Alivisatos’ appointment as Berkeley Lab director, he said this, “Paul Alivisatos’ scientific expertise and management experience have earned the respect and confidence of the lab staff, the academic community, the DOE, and other federal and industrial sponsors. I am confident that Paul is the right leader for the Berkeley Lab at this pivotal point in its history. Under his leadership, Berkeley Lab will continue to make great contributions in science and to the world around us.”