UChicago awards first PhD in molecular engineering to Paulina Rincon-Delgadillo

Paulina Rincon-Delgadillo graduated June 14 with the first doctoral degree in molecular engineering from the University of Chicago. A dual-degree student, Rincon-Delgadillo is receiving a second doctorate, in electrical engineering, from Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven.

“One of the most amazing things about Paulina is her adventurous spirit,” said Paul Nealey, the Brady Dougan Professor in Molecular Engineering. Her work with Nealey took her first to Wisconsin, then Belgium, and finally to Chicago. “It’s entirely appropriate that she’s the first graduate of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. That’s totally in line with the way that her PhD has progressed in general.”

Her path to the PhD was trailblazing, Nealey noted, one that required “strength of will and perseverance” to traverse successfully.

“It’s a big honor for me to be able to be the first one,” said Rincon-Delgadillo, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. The title of her dissertation is “Origin of defects in directed self-assembly of block copolymers using feature multiplication.”

Rincon-Delgadillo received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Guadalajara, Mexico. She worked in the private sector for five years before moving to the United States for graduate study.

Rincon-Delgadillo joined Nealey’s research group, then at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 2009. A year and a half later, Nealey sent her to Belgium, where he collaborates with researchers at imec, a global consortium of semiconductor companies. “We thought she was only going to Belgium for a year and she ended up being there for two and a half years. She was really our group’s ambassador to imec,” Nealey said.

At imec, Rincon-Delgadillo helped to implement a new technique developed by Nealey’s group for transistor fabrication in a manufacturing environment, then tested it with different materials under a variety of processing conditions.

Nealey’s imec collaboration enabled her to meet with colleagues all over the world. “I’ve been to different conferences in the United States, of course, but also in Belgium, Japan, France and Germany, presenting our work,” she said. “I’ve been a very lucky graduate student.”

Upon her return to the states, Rincon-Delgadillo became the first student to move with Nealey to UChicago after he became a founding member of the Institute for Molecular Engineering in 2012.

Soon she will return to imec, which has hired her as a researcher.

“I guess they liked the work that we did there, because they asked me if I wanted to go back,” she said.

The Institute for Molecular Engineering was established in 2011, with Matthew Tirrell as its founding Pritzker Director. UChicago’s Council of the University Senate authorized the Institute to begin offering the PhD in molecular engineering a year ago.