Alivisatos graduated with a bachelors in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1981, and with a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986, where he worked under Charles Harris.
In 1986 he joined AT&T Bell Labs working with Louis E. Brus, and began research in the field of nanotechnology. He returned to Berkeley in 1988 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, becoming associate Professor in 1993 and Professor in 1995. He was Chancellor's Professor for 1998-2001.
In January 2003 he was appointed director of the Materials Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is also director of LBNL's Molecular Foundry. Alivisatos was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.
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