As Paul Nealey stepped to the podium in the Keck 100 lecture hall, prepared to give the Thomas W. Leland, Jr. Lecture in Chemical Engineering, he faced an audience of peers, old friends and memories.
Nealey graduated from Rice University with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1985. “Prof. Leland always stressed the three pillars of chemical engineering – transport, thermodynamics and kinetics. I followed thermodynamics,” said Nealey, the Brady W. Dougan Professor in Molecular Engineering in the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago.
This year, Nealey was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, cited for his “development of directed self-assembly of block copolymers as an industrially significant process for nanolithography.” The title of his Leland Lecture, delivered Nov. 15, was “Directed Self-Assembly: Functional Assemblies and Assemblies to Assess Functionality.”
Nealey’s research focus, directed self-assembly of block copolymers, has become central to microelectronics processing as a method for creating integrated-circuit patterns. He is an acknowledged expert on manipulating organic materials, creating physical patterns of structure and composition at the nanometer-length scale, where patterns affect the function of the materials.
In the audience were two of Nealey’s former teachers, Clarence Miller, Louis Calder Professor Emeritus of ChBE, and Kyriacos Zygourakis, A. J. Hartsook Professor of ChBE. Nealey remembered when the future Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley walked out of Keck 100 without explanation five minutes into his lecture. “The myth was that’s when he thought up the buckyballs,” he said.
After graduation from Rice, Nealey worked for three years in Europe at Solvay et Cie. He earned his Ph.D. in the same field from MIT in 1994. After doing postdoctoral research at Harvard, Nealey was the Shoemaker Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The annual lecture delivered by Nealey is named for Thomas W. Leland, Jr., a professor of chemical engineering at Rice from 1954 to 1986. He chaired the department from 1965 until 1970, and held the A. J. Hartsook Chair in Chemical Engineering from 1981 until his death five years later. During his freshman year at Rice, Nealey took a class with Leland in Keck 100.
The Institute for Molecular Engineering was established at the University of Chicago in 2011 and Nealey was hired one year later. For the first time since its founding in 1890, the university was establishing an engineering program. He is also a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory.
“Today we are able to put 100 times more devices on a single wafer than there are people in the world,” said Nealey, noting that the methods he and his colleagues have devised have applications in liquid crystal systems, optoelectronics and nanophotonics.
Nealey holds 14 patents and is the author of more than 180 publications. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, winner of the 2010 Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and of the 2009 Inventor Recognition Award from Semiconductor Research Corporation. According to Google Scholar, Nealey’s publications have been cited more than 26,800 times and his h-index is 81.