Paul Alivisatos named next president of the University of Chicago

UChicago alumnus, distinguished leader and scientist at the University of California, Berkeley to become 14th president

The University of Chicago’s Board of Trustees has named Paul Alivisatos as the University’s 14th president.

An accomplished leader in higher education and a world-renowned scientist, Alivisatos, 61, is currently executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in the Department of Chemistry and the former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Following an extensive international search, Alivisatos was elected president at a meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees on Feb. 25 and will assume his role on Sept. 1. He will succeed Robert J. Zimmer, who has served as president since 2006. Zimmer will transition into a new role as chancellor of the University on Sept. 1.

“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, MBA’65, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, who led the search for a new president. “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.”

A native of Chicago, Alivisatos is also a University of Chicago alumnus, having received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1981. Alivisatos will become only the second University of Chicago graduate to serve as University president in its 130-year history. Edward H. Levi, who attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the undergraduate College and the Law School, led the University 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. “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.”

As Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost, Alivisatos has been responsible for the planning, development, implementation, and improvement of campus academic programs and policies. Since taking the role in 2017, he supported new initiatives to increase diversity in the undergraduate and graduate student body and achieve greater faculty and leadership diversity. He also has been deeply engaged in issues of free speech and social justice. Alivisatos spearheaded efforts to transform undergraduate education—leading a campus-wide initiative that created immersive learning projects and discovery experiences for students, while starting a series of forums that promoted mentoring between faculty and graduate students. During his tenure, Berkeley also launched a new division focused on data science, creating opportunities for students in the humanities and the social sciences to join the fast-growing field.

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

Alivisatos oversees a significant development portfolio as provost. Annual giving to Berkeley exceeded $1 billion in 2020, with Alivisatos stewarding more than $450 million in gifts from 2016 to 2020. As director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2009 to 2016, Alivisatos guided the U.S. Department of Energy lab through a period of transformational change, creating new programs in biosciences, renewable energy and entrepreneurship. From 2016 to 2017, he served as Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research, fostering greater interdisciplinary faculty research and strengthening opportunities for undergraduate research.

A preeminent scientist and entrepreneur, Alivisatos has made pioneering research breakthroughs in nanomaterials. His inventions are widely used in biomedicine and QLED TV displays, and his scientific advances have yielded more than 50 patents. He also founded two prominent nanotechnology companies: Nanosys, Inc. and Quantum Dot Corp. (now part of Thermo Fisher).

“The University of Chicago is characterized by a distinctive approach to our work of research, education, and impact, and we share ambitious aspirations for the future,” Zimmer said. “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. This outstanding choice will serve the University community and our partners locally and around the world well in the coming years. I have known Paul in our professional capacities, and I have found him to be an extraordinary scholar and academic leader. I look forward with great enthusiasm to working with him in my new position as chancellor of the University.”

In his nearly 15-year tenure as president, Zimmer increased the University’s eminence and helped raise its status among the world’s top research universities. As chancellor, Zimmer will focus on high-level strategic initiatives, stewardship of key relationships and high-level fundraising.

Reporting to the Board of Trustees, Alivisatos will serve as the chief executive of the University and a member of the Board of Trustees. The president is charged with driving excellence and impact across multiple aspects of the University and engaging a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, both locally and internationally, to define the vision for the University.

The Trustee Search Committee and Faculty Advisory Committee received recommendations and feedback from the University community and friends of the University as part of the presidential search process. The Trustee Search Committee worked closely with the Faculty Advisory Committee over the past six months to conduct a broad international search. The Faculty Advisory Committee also conducted dozens of listening sessions with members of the University community, including faculty, students, alumni, staff and former University presidents. Members of the Trustee Search Committee participated in several of these meetings, in which our community shared their insights on the opportunities and challenges facing the University. 

Prof. Robert Rosner, who chaired the Faculty Advisory Committee, said: “In Paul Alivisatos, we believe we have found a collaborative and inspiring leader who is deeply committed to excellence, including our support for the high ambitions of faculty, students and other members of the University community. The committee believes he will be an outstanding partner, with a deep commitment to rigorous academic inquiry and innovative approaches to interdisciplinary scholarship, research and education.”

Among his more than 25 awards and honors, Alivisatos has received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and the Priestley Medal. It also was announced this week that Alivisatos will share the prestigious 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.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, Alivisatos earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. Alivisatos joined the Berkeley faculty in 1988 as an assistant professor, was appointed associate professor in 1993 and professor in 1995.

Alivisatos is married to Nicole Alivisatos, a retired chemist and former editor of the journal Nano Letters.