Professor Emeritus Louis Brus Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Brus was recognized alongside two other scientists “for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.”

October 04, 2023

Professor Louis Brus, a longtime professor and an alumnus of the University, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Brus was recognized along with two other scientists—Moungi G. Bawendi of MIT and Alexei I. Ekimov of Nanocrystals Technology Inc.—for his work on  the “discovery and development of quantum dots, nanoparticles so tiny that their size determines their properties.”

Brus is currently the Samuel Latham Mitchill Professor Emeritus, and Special Research Scientist at Columbia. He is one of 87 Columbians—alumni, faculty, adjunct faculty, researchers, and administrators—to win a Nobel Prize.

“We are thrilled that Professor Louis Brus has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his vital work on quantum dots. His work has been pathbreaking for the evolution of quantum science and for the development of lifesaving nanotechnology. We congratulate him for this career-defining honor and are so very proud to call him a member of our community,” said Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. 

The discovery that this year's Nobel recognizes planted the seed for nanotechnology, according to a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize. “These smallest components of nanotechnology now spread their light from televisions and LED lamps, and can also guide surgeons when they remove tumour tissue, among many other things,” the news announcement said. The announcement specifically cited Brus for being “the first scientist in the world to prove size-dependent quantum effects in particles floating freely in a fluid.”

Nobel laureates in chemistry (from left): Joachim Frank, Louis Brus, and Martin Chalfie share a champagne toast

Upon receiving the news that he had won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Brus said, “This is a collaborative effort ... partly physics, partly chemistry, partly material science,” adding that it was a surprise. “I'm just lucky, I guess, that the Nobel Prize has chosen to honor this particular area of research at this time.” At a reception later in the day held in his honor by the Chemistry Department, Brus shared a toast with two previous Nobel laureates in chemistry from Columbia: Joachim Frank and Martin Chalfie

“We are thrilled that Professor Emeritus Louis Brus has been recognized with this career honor. Professor Brus attended Columbia for his graduate studies and returned after years in government and private industry to develop quantum materials and work with students. We are immensely proud that his research and teaching thrived for so many years in the unique environment at Columbia,” said Amy Hungerford, executive vice president and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Brus was born in 1943 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Rice University on a U.S. Navy scholarship, and was commissioned upon graduation. He was able to postpone his service to attend graduate school at Columbia, where he received his PhD in 1969. After receiving his PhD, Brus was assigned for active duty at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

In 1972, he went to work for AT&T Bell Labs in the materials research division. Brus credits Bell Labs for supporting his small team's work on the nanocrystals that eventually became known as “quantum dots.” In 1996, he left Bell Labs and returned to Columbia, joining the chemistry department. He is a fixture on campus and well-regarded by students and colleagues. He is also an active member of the neighborhood and a generous contributor to Columbia Community Service.

The three Nobel laureates will share a prize of 11 million Swedish kronor, or about $995,300.