Nicholas L. Abbott

Tisch University Professor
Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering


Nicholas Abbott received a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical Engineering) from University of Adelaide, Australia in 1985, and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991.  He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemistry Department of Harvard University from 1991-1993. His initial academic appointment was at University of California-Davis.  He moved to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998 as Professor and served as Chairman of the department from 2009 to 2012. From 2012 to 2018, he served as Director of the Wisconsin Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, and held the title of Sobota Professor and Hilldale Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering.  In 2018, he joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University as the Tisch University Professor. He is a Member of the US National Academy of Engineering and serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science.

Research Interests

Nicholas Abbott’s research interests revolve around colloidal and interfacial phenomena. They span fundamental issues related to the origins of colloidal interactions through to the application of chemically tailored interfaces in chemical and biological sensors, biomedical devices and separations processes. His research group has designed and synthesized a range of surfactants that incorporate molecular triggers (redox-active and light-sensitive groups) that permit reversible control of surfactant-based properties of aqueous systems. They are exploring their use in separations processes, solar energy harvesting devices, and for the delivery of biomolecules to cells. His research group is also particularly interested in colloidal forces in liquid crystalline phases, and they have designed liquid crystalline interfaces that permit chemical and biomolecular events to be amplified into easily measured signals in sensors.  A third area of interest is related to hydrophobic interactions mediated by complex patterns of chemical functionality on the nanoscale. This latter topic is leading to new design rules for molecular self-assembly, molecular recognition and adhesion in aqueous environments. These technical interests are unified by the challenge of understanding molecules and their assemblies at interfaces.

Teaching Interests

Nicholas Abbott has taught undergraduate classes in thermodynamics, transport phenomena and introductory colloid and interface science. He has also taught graduate classes in statistical thermodynamics and colloid and interface science.

Selected Publications

  • Noh, J.; Cao, W.; Sun, H.; Yang, Y., Gianneschi, N.C., Abbott, N.L., “Self-Assembly of Macromolecules within Single Topological Defects of Nematic Solvents”, Chem. Mater. 2020, 32(15), 6753-6764.
  • Nayani, K.; Yang, Y; Yu, H; Jani, P; Mavrikakis, M; Abbott, N. L., “Areas of Opportunity Related to Design of Chemical and Biological Sensors Based on Liquid Crystals”, Liq. Cryst. Today 2020, 29 (2), 24-35.
  • Nayani, K.; Evans, A. A.; Spagnolie, S. E.; Abbott, N. L., “Dynamic and Reversible Shape Response of Red Blood Cells in Synthetic Liquid Crystals”, PNAS 2020, 117 (42), 26083-26090.
  • Tsuei, M.; Shivrayan, M.; Kim, Y. -K.; Thayumanavan, S.; Abbott, N. L.; “Optical “Blinking” Triggered by Collisions of Single Supramolecular Assemblies of Amphiphilic Molecules with Interfaces of Liquid Crystals”, J. Am. Chem. Soc2020, 142(13), 6139-6148.
  • Yeon, H.; Wang, C.; Gellman, S. H.; Abbott, N. L., “Influence of Immobilized Cations on the Thermodynamic Signature of Hydrophobic Interactions at Chemically Heterogeneous Surfaces”, Mol. Syst. Des. Eng. 2020, 5, 835-846.
  • Fuster, H. A.; Wang, X.; Wang, X.; Bukusoglu, E.; Spagnolie, S. E.; Abbott, N. L., “Programming van der Waals Interactions with Complex Symmetries into Microparticles using Liquid Crystallinity”, Sci. Adv. 2020, 6(25), eabb1327.
  • Yu, H. Z.; Szilvási, T.,; Wang, K. L; Gold, J. L.; Bao, N.; Twieg, R. J.; Mavrikakis, M.; Abbott, N. L., “Amplification of Elementary Surface Reaction Steps on Transition Metal Surfaces Using Liquid Crystals: Dissociative Adsorption and Dehydrogenation”, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141(40), 16003-16013.
  • Wang, X.; Zhou, Y., Kim, Y. -K.; Tsuei, M.; Yang, Y.; de Pablo, J. J.; N. L. Abbott*, “Thermally Reconfigurable Janus Droplets with Nematic Liquid Crystalline and Isotropic Perfluorocarbon Oil Compartments”, Soft Matter 2019, 15, 2580-2590.
  • Abbasi, R.; Jain, R.; Nelson, K.; Busche, D.; Lynn, D. M.; Abbott, N.L., “Polymeric Films Containing Sodium Chlorite That Release Disinfectant Gas Upon Activation with UV Light”, Adv. Funct. Mater. 2019, 29, 1804851.
  • Cheng, K.C.K.; Bedolla-Pantoja, M.A.; Kim, Y.-K.; Gregory, J.V.; Xie, F.; de France, A.; Hussal, C.; Sun, K.; Abbott, N.L.; Lahann, J., “Templated Nanofiber Synthesis via Chemical Vapor Polymerization into Liquid Crystalline Films”, Science 2018, 362(6416), 804-808.
  • Kim, Y.-K.; Wang, X.; Mondkar, P.; Bukusoglu, E.; Abbott, N.L., “Self-reporting and Self-regulating Liquid Crystals”, Nature 2018, 557, 539-544.
  • Cao, Y.; Yu, H.; Abbott, N.L.; Zavala, V.M. “Machine Learning Algorithms for Liquid Crystal-Based Sensors”, ACS Sensors 2018, 3(11), 2237-2245.
  • Wang, C.; Ma, C.-K.D.; Yeon, H.; Wang, X.; Gellman, S.H.; Abbott, N.L., “Nonadditive Interactions Mediated by Water at Chemically Heterogeneous Surfaces: Nonionic Polar Groups and Hydrophobic Interactions”, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139(51), 18536-18544.
  • Mushenheim, P. C.; Pendery, J.S.; Weibel, D.B.; Spagnolie, S.E.; Abbott, N.L., “Straining Soft Colloids in Aqueous Nematic Liquid Crystals”, PNAS 2016, 113(20), 5564-5569.
  • Wang, X.; Kim, Y.; Bukusoglu, E.; Zhang, B.; Miller, D.S.; Abbott, N.L., “Experimental Insights into the Nanostructure of the Cores of Topological Defects in Liquid Crystals”, PRL 2016, 116, 147801.
  • Wang, X.; Miller, D. S.; Bukusoglu, E.; de Pablo, J. J.; Abbott, N. L., “Topological Defects in Liquid Crystals as Templates for Molecular Self-assembly” Nat. Mater. 2016, 15, 106-112.
  • Ma, C.D.; Wang, C.; Acevedo-Vélez, C.; Gellman, S.H.; Abbott, N. L., “Modulation of Hydrophobic Interactions by Proximally Immobilized Ions”, Nature 2015, 517, 347-350.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • 2018                Lectureship Award of Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, Chemical Society of Japan.
  • 2018                Patten Distinguished Lecture, University of Colorado-Boulder
  • 2018                Reilly Lectures, University of Notre Dame
  • 2017                6th Somer Lectures, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.
  • 2016                42nd Annual Harry G. Fair Memorial Lecture, University of Oklahoma
  • 2016                The Willliam H. Schwartz Lecture, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 2016                Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society
  • 2016                American Chemical Society Award in Colloid and Surface Chemistry
  • 2016                Elected to American Institute of Biological and Medical Engineers
  • 2016                42nd Annual Harry G. Fair Memorial Lecture, University of Oklahoma
  • 2015                Founders Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 2014                Elected Member of National Academy of Engineering
  • 2013                Pirkey Centennial Lectureship, University of Texas, Austin
  • 2013                Amundson Lectureship, University of Minnesota


  • 1991-1993        Department of Chemistry, Harvard University. Postdoctoral research with George M. Whitesides.
  • 1986-1991        Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    Thesis advisors: Daniel Blankschtein and T. Allan Hatton.
  • 1982-1985        Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering, University of Adelaide, Australia.