Paul Alivisatos attended the University of Chicago, where he received a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry with Honors in 1981. He continued his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked under the supervision of Charles Harris. His Ph.D. thesis concerned the photophysics of electronically excited molecules near metal and semiconductor surfaces. In 1986, he went to ATT Bell Labs where he worked with Louis Brus as a postdoctoral, and it was at this time that he first became involved in research related to Nanotechnology. In 1988, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, where he is presently Professor of Chemistry and Materials Sciences. He has received the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation fellowship, the ACS Exxon Solid State Chemistry Fellowship, the Coblentz Award, the Wilson Prize at Harvard, the Materials Research Society Outstanding Young Investigator Award, the ACS Award in Colloid and Surface Chemistry (2004), the Rank Prize (2006), the University of Chicago Distinguished Alumni Award (2006), the Eni Italgas Prize for Energy and Environment (2006), the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award (2007), and the Kavli Distinguished Lectureship in Nanoscience, MRS (2008). He is a Fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004, he was elected into the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the Editor of the American Chemical Society Journal and Nano Letters.
He is a senior member of the technical staff at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has served as Director for the Materials Sciences Division (2002-2008); Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Sciences (2005-2008) and Deputy Director of the Laboratory (2008-).
His research concerns the structural, thermodynamic, optical, and electrical properties of colloidal inorganic nanocrystals. He investigates the fundamental physical and chemical properties of nanocrystals and also works to develop practical applications of these new materials in biomedicine and renewable energy.