‘A central pioneer’: UC Berkeley’s Paul Alivisatos wins Priestley Medal

Paul Alivisatos sitting in a chair
Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/File
Paul Alivisatos has served as UC Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost since 2017. He has spent 33 years as campus faculty, and he also entered UC Berkeley as a graduate student in 1981.

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Internationally renowned chemist, UC Berkeley professor and campus Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos was awarded the 2021 Priestley Medal on June 25.

The Priestley Medal is the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society and is awarded for distinguished service in the field of chemistry. Alivisatos is being recognized for his foundational contributions to the chemistry of nanoscience, his development of nanocrystals as nanotechnology building blocks and his leadership in the chemistry and nanoscience communities.

“The research of my coworkers and I has been all about nanocrystals, tiny enough crystals that their intrinsic properties are different from ordinary matter on the human scale,” Alivisatos said in an email. “As an example we studied quantum dots, very small pieces of semiconductor that make the colors behind QLED or Quantum Dot TVs you may have seen. ”

Alivisatos “is highly regarded as a central pioneer in the field of nanoscience,” states a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory press release.

According to American Chemical Society spokesperson Elizabeth Zubritsky, several Nobel Prize winners have been recognized with the Priestley Medal as well.

Alivisatos said he thinks the honor recognizes the supportive and inspirational environment on campus.

“For me, this award recognizes Berkeley more than me,” Alivisatos said in the email. “Since the moment I arrived here more than thirty years ago, I have been lifted up by my many coworkers and the inventive and collaborative environment that is Cal.”

In addition to the Priestley Medal, Alivisatos’ many accolades include the National Medal of Science, the Spiers Memorial Award, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and more than 10 other awards for his research.

But Alivisatos is far more than a scientist with numerous awards, and he said he feels like his honors further the intellectual community.

“An honor like this helps to build community around discovery and draws in more people to contribute,” Alivisatos said in the email.

Alivisatos also oversees a group on campus, the Alivisatos Group, which focuses on investigating colloidal nanoparticles, particularly quantum dots.

Graduate students from the Alivisatos Group speak well of his character.

“Paul strikes me as somebody that really cares about the researchers that are working in his lab, and I think that he genuinely is concerned about us and being able to succeed,” said campus graduate student Jason Calvin. “He is very, very smart, and he thinks about things outside the box. He has proven that now with enough hard work, you can achieve a lot of really amazing things.”

Despite juggling his responsibilities as executive vice chancellor and a professor of nanoscience and nanotechnology research, materials science and engineering as well as chemistry, Alivisatos still makes time for his group, said campus graduate student and Alivisatos Group member Jakob Dahl.

“Paul is a very thoughtful and dedicated scientist and administrator,” Dahl said. “Even after being in the group for four years, it is still amazing to me that he is one of the most senior administrators of the university and still finds time to oversee a group of 20 researchers.”

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AryiaDm.