Paul Alivisatos

University of Chicago President-designate Paul Alivisatos

Paul Alivisatos, an alumnus of the College of the University of Chicago and current executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley, will return to Hyde Park to become president of the university, the Board of Trustees announced Friday.

His first day will be Sept. 1.

Born in Chicago and raised in Greece, Alivisatos, 61, will be the first U. of C. president with an undergraduate degree from the school since Edward H. Levi, who had the job from 1968 to 1975.

“I am honored for this opportunity to lead the distinctive intellectual community at the University of Chicago, a special place that was so transformative in my early education and guided me throughout my academic career,” Alivisatos said in a statement. “I look forward to partnering with members of our campus and South Side communities, who are so integral to the university’s role as a great research university in one of the world’s greatest cities.”

The Herald has requested an interview with him.

Alivisatos is a nanoscientist with a doctoral degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley and has spent his professional life in the Bay Area, joining the faculty in 1988, directing the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2009 to 2016 and joining the school's administration in 2016, first as vice chancellor for research before his current role.

His inventions are used in biomedicine and quantum dot television displays, and his work is tied to more than 50 patents. He founded two prominent nanotechnology companies: privately held Nanosys, Inc., and Quantum Dot Corp. which was acquired by Thermo Fisher in 2018.

He is the recipient of the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and the Priestley Medal, the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society. He has frequently been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

“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 Board of Trustees, who led the search for a new president, in a statement. “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.”

As UC Berkeley executive vice chancellor and provost, Alivisatos has been the second-in-command at California's flagship research university, widely seen as one of the best public universities in the world.

A release from the U. of C. touts his initiatives to increase diversity in the student body and faculty, support for free speech and social justice on campus, leadership on a campus-wide initiative to create immersive learning projects students and forums meant to promote mentoring between faculty and graduate students.

On the financial front, annual giving to UC Berkeley exceeded $1 billion in 2020; the U. of C.'s release said Alivisatos oversaw with more than $450 million in gifts from 2016 to 2020.

A 2017 profile by The Daily Californian relates that Alivisatos's boyhood move to Athens was caused by his mother's death, and that he lived with family in the Greek capital.

After returning to the United States to matriculate at the U. of C., he wavered between majors in the humanities and STEM before graduating with a chemistry degree, taking the minimum number of chemistry classes required. He earned his doctorate in five years. He worked first for Bell Labs before taking the UC Berkeley faculty position — turning down, the newspaper reported, several offers from other universities.

“How could I leave my beloved Berkeley?” Alivisatos said in an interview. “I never thought that by going someplace else, there was something I could do there that I wouldn’t be able to do here.”

Incumbent President Robert J. Zimmer will transition out of office on Sept. 1 and become chancellor after 15 years as the U. of C.'s chief executive. In a statement, he called Alivisatos a colleague as well as an extraordinary scholar and academic leader.

“Paul Alivisatos is superbly equipped to serve as president of the university in a way that honors its legacy while building upon it for the next generation of scholars and students,” he said. “This outstanding choice will serve the university community and our partners locally and around the world well in the coming years.”

Alivisatos, who is also an amateur photographer, is married to Nicole Alivisatos, a retired chemist and former editor of the journal Nano Letters.

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