Contact: Pamela Bogdanski

Department Administrator

Chemical Engineering

(734) 764-7368

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Nicholas A. Kotov | Faculty

Nicholas Kotov

Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Chemical Engineering

Professor: Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering, Macromolecular Science & Engineering

NCRC B10-A159 (Office)
NCRC B26-102S, 108S (Labs)
(734) 763-8768



Profile story

Engineering professor Nicholas Kotov has been drawn to one scientific field or another for as long as he can remember - biology, chemistry, zoology, geology. And before all that, pyrotechnics.

The son of a chemist and a physicist, Kotov didn’t wait until his teen years to start blowing things up. His family spent summers in the countryside outside Moscow, and his chemist mom encouraged him to explore and experiment.  As a seven-year-old, Kotov would collect matches and - with Mom’s endorsement and help from a bunch of friends - stuff them into little tubes to make fireworks. On one unfortunate occasion he sealed one of these homemade rockets with fir sap, which melted and dripped onto his hand, causing a bad burn.

Kotov still has the scar on his hand, but his curiosity, playfulness and sense of wonder remain unscathed.

“Growing up I enjoyed experiments; I enjoyed explosions sometimes. It was a lot of fun,” said Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering. “Middle school put a little bit of a damper on that because school replaces fun with rules, but as soon as I got into the university lab and was able to play with particles, films, chemical reactions, it became fun again.

“The unpredictability of nature is amazing. Just when you think you understand something, it throws you a curve and makes you delve deeper.”

But he says seeing the elegance of nature’s laws never fails to make the journey worth the frustrations.

Kotov has appointments in chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, and the Biointerfaces Institute. He uses nanoscale fibers and particles to design and build materials that solve specific problems in biology, medicine, environmental science, chemistry, pharmaceuticals and any other field with a problem that captures his interest.

“Every field you can imagine needs new materials,” he said. “The bottleneck in every problem humans have comes down to what kind of material you can use to build something.”

Kotov’s building block of choice is the nanoparticle, a tiny bit of material measured in nanometers. (One nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter.) Nanoparticles expand a material engineer's palette from 91 naturally-occurring elements to a nearly infinite variety of particles, films and fibers.

His lab has built materials that give us stronger armor, thinner lithium ion batteries, safer paints, better deep brain implants and accurate cancer diagnostic tools.

“I think nanomaterials are so omnipotent, so versatile,” Kotov said. “I have nanoparticles and nanofibers and some composites, and I’m thinking this is my paintbrush, this is my canvas. I can use this particle, this method, this fiber as a building block.”

From the earliest days of his scientific career, Kotov has been driven to search for novel ideas. He delights in discoveries that break the accepted laws of nature; he encourages his students to embrace the things that make them unique and use those gifts to transcend the academic mold.

Be different, he says, knowing full well how difficult and powerful that can be.

Kotov grew up in the Soviet Union, under immense social pressure to be like everyone else. He stutters, and as a child and teen that was a constant reminder of his nonconformity. It took him a long time to realize being different didn’t mean having to automatically expect less from life.

“I was not part of the herd,” he said. “Only much later did I realize how useful that actually was.”

Kotov’s nanoscale adventures began when he was an undergraduate studying photosynthesis in plants. The photosynthetic center - the place where energy conversion happens in plants - is a nanoscale feature. Around the same time, researchers were discovering how to make semiconductors out of inorganic and metallic particles. Kotov used those new tools and techniques to replicate the intricate photosynthetic centers he was seeing and uncovered a whole new world of structures to work with.

He’s particularly intrigued by the way nanoparticles self-assemble, a seemingly biological process that can happen with inorganic materials at the nanoscale. Teasing out parallels with biological phenomena, he believes, is the key to unlocking major advances in energy and engineering.

“I believe that we’ve just scratched the surface of nanoscience,” Kotov said. “There are some profound discoveries hidden here.”

Short Bio


Moscow State University
PhD Chemistry '90
MS Chemistry '87


University of Michigan
Chemical Engineering Department
Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering, 2012-present
  • Professor, 2008-present
  • Associate Professor, 2003-2008

Oklahoma State University
Chemistry Department
Stillwater, OK

  • Associate Professor, 2001-2003
  • Assistant Professor, 1996-2001

Hamburg University
Hamburg, Germany

  • Visiting Professor, 1997, 1999

Syracuse University
Chemistry Department
Syracuse, NY

  • Postdoctoral Associate, 1992-1996

Moscow State University
Chemistry Department
Moscow, Russia

  • Research Associate, Laboratory of Photochemistry, 1990-1992


  • Materials Research Society
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Association for Advancement of Science
  • American Society for Engineering Education


  • Associate Editor of  “ACS Nano”
  • Advisory Board of ACS Journal “Langmuir”
  • Advisory Board of RCS Journal “Nanoscale”
  • Advisory Board of Wiley-VCH journal “Advanced Functional Materials”
  • Advisory Board of ACS Journal “Chemistry of Materials”
  • Advisory Board of “International Journal of Nanotechnology”


  • Organizer of 24 Symposiums sponsored by ACS, MRS, AICHE, NATO, AFOSR and other national and international organizations in the period of 1998 to 2011.
  • Elected Organizer and Chair of Gordon Research Conferences in 2011, 2009, 2008, 2006.

Research & Teaching


Self-organization of nanocolloids, ultrastrong nanocomposites, tissue engineering with nanomaterials, nanoscale drugs, implantable biomedical devices.


Professor Kotov is committed to engaging in the “most creative, forward looking, and unorthodox scientific and engineering discoveries.” His research activities, publication record, and extensive practical realizations of his discoveries confirm that his efforts have a substantial impact both for fundamental science and technology.

Realization of the technological potential of nanomaterials requires their purposeful organization traversing multiple scales. After the synthesis of nanoparticles and other nanocomponents, finding such methods is regarded as one of the greatest challenges of nanotechnology.

Professor Nicholas Kotov is nominated for the Welch Award for his contributions to the development of cornerstone techniques for preparation of organized nanostructured materials with controlled assembly patterns extending from nano- to macroscale. His primary contribution is the discovery of self-organization of nanoparticles driven by anisotropic force fields around them into discrete and extended superstructures. He also carried out pioneering studies of layer-by-layer assembled nanoparticle materials beyond solely polymeric system enabling preparation of diverse family nanoparticle-polymer multilayers. His works laid the foundation of the theory and practice of these widespread methods of nanoscale organization and elaborated the contribution of different forces for both techniques.

Using a variety of nanoparticles from a variety of semiconductors, metals, and metal oxides, Professor Kotov demonstrated the possibility of spontaneous assembly of nanoparticles into superstructures of increasing complexity: from simple one-dimensional chains to sophisticated three-dimensional constructs such as semiconductor and metal helices. His works also trace the pathway from simple nanoparticle monolayers to purposefully assembled stratified nanoparticles multilayers with finely controlled optical, electrical, and mechanical properties. The generic nature of forces resulting in self-organization phenomena translated in simplicity and universality of these methods which led to their wide adoption in many research groups and companies around the world. It also enabled several breakthrough technologies from sensing to transparent armor and neural implants. Later studies have highlighted profound parallels between self-organization of artificial nanoparticles and analogous processes in biology providing fundamental guidelines for new discoveries related to biomedical applications of nanoparticles for treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s syndrome, and arthritis.



  • Chemical and Engineering Thermodynamics
  • Chemical Engineering Design
  • Chemical Engineering Laboratory I
  • Chemical Engineering Laboratory II


  • Nanotechnology for Energy, Environment, and Biomedicine (graduate)

Honors and Awards

  • ACS Award in Colloid Chemistry, 2017
    American Chemical Society
  • Stephanie L. Kwolek Award, 2016
    Royal Society of Chemistry
  • UNESCO Medal, 2016
    For his work on biometric self-organization of nano colloids, ultra-strong nanocomposites, tissue engineering with nanomaterials, and nanoscale drugs
  •  Rexford E. Hall Innovation Excellence Award, 2016
    University of Michigan
  • MRS Medal, 2014, Co-recipient with Sharon Glotzer.
    Citation: “For foundational work elucidating processes of nanoparticle self-assembly.”
  • Fellow, 2014
    Materials Science Society
  • Langmuir Lecture Award, 2013
    American Chemical Society
  • Kennedy Family Research Team Award, 2012
    University of Michigan
  • Top 25 Materials Scientists in 2000-2010, 2011
    Thomson Reuters
  • Top 100 Chemists in 2000-2010, 2011
    Thomson Reuters
  • Top 100 R&D Award, 2009
    Small Business, R&D Magazine
  • World Class University Fellow, 2009
    Government of South Korean
  • Gutenberg Award, 2008
    Government of Alsace
  • Top 50 Award, 2008
    NASA, Nanotech Briefs
  • First Place in Great Lakes Entrepreneurship Quest Competition (Michigan),2008
  • College Inventor Competition, 2008
    (US Patent and Trademark Office, Kauffman Foundation of Entrepreneurship
  • Department of Chemical Engineering Award, 2008
    University of Michigan
  • Top 10 Discoveries of the Year, 2008
    Wired Magazine
  • College of Engineering Research Excellence Award, 2007
    University of Michigan
  • Caddell Award, 2007
    University of Michigan
  • Chair of Gordon Research Conference “Supramolecular Chemistry,” 2007
    Gordon Research Conference
  • First place in the CoE Competition Future Research Directions, 2007
    University of Michigan
  • Walton Award, 2006
    Government of Ireland
  • Welliver Fellow, 2006
    The Boeing Company
  • Gran Prix, Materials Research Society Entrepreneurship Challenge, 2006
    Materials Research Society
  • Third Prize, BR Ventures Business Idea Competition, 2006
    Cornell University
  • Chair of Gordon Research Conference “Thin Organic Films," 2003
    Gordon Research Conference
  • Junior Faculty Award for Scholarly Excellence, 2001
    Oklahoma State Univeristy
  • NSF CAREER, 1998
    National Science Foundation
  • Humboldt Fellow, 1997-1999

Selected Publications

  • Tang, Z.; Kotov, N. A.; Giersig, M.; Science, 2002, 297 (5579), 237-240. 

  • Mamedov, A. A.; Kotov, N. A.; Prato, M.; Guldi, D.; Wicksted, J. P.; Hirsch, A.; Molecular Design of Strong SWNT/Polyelectrolyte Multilayers Composites, Nature Materials, 2002, 1, 190–194.

  • Tang, Z.; Kotov, N. A.; Magonov, S.; Ozturk, B.; Nanostructured Artificial Nacre, Nature Materials, 2003, 2(6), 413–418.

  • Tang, Z.; Zhang, Z.; Wang Y.; Glotzer, S. C.  Kotov, N. A.  Self-Assembly of CdTe Nanocrystals Into Free-Floating Sheets, Science, 2006, 314 (5797) 274-278.

  • Michel, M.; Taylor, A.; Sekol, R; Podsiadlo, P.; Thompson, L.; Kotov, N. A. High Performance, Nanostructured Membrane Electrode Assemblies for Fuel Cells Made by Layer-By-Layer Assembly of Carbon Nanocolloids. Adv. Mater. 2007, 19(22), 3859–3864.

  • Podsiadlo P.; Kaushik A. K.; Arruda E. M., Waas A. M., Shim B. S., Xu J., Nandivada H., Pumplin B. G., Lahann J., Ramamoorthy A.,  Kotov N. A., Ultrastrong and Stiff Layered Polymer Nanocomposites, Science, 2007,318, 80-83.

  • S. Srivastava, A. Santos, K. Critchley, K.-S. Kim, P. Podsiadlo,  K. Sun, J. Lee,  C. Xu, G. D. Lilly,  S. C. Glotzer, and N. A. Kotov, Light-Controlled Self-Assembly of Semiconductor Nanoparticles into Twisted Ribbons, Science, 2010, 327, 1355, 1355-1359.

  • N. A. Kotov, Inorganic Nanoparticles as Protein Mimics, Science, 2010, 330 (6001) 188-189.
  • M. Yang, K. Sun and N. A. Kotov, Formation and Assembly−Disassembly Processes of ZnO Hexagonal Pyramids Driven by Dipolar and Excluded Volume Interactions, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010, 132 (6), 1860–1872.

  • Y. Xia, T. D. Nguyen, M. Yang, B. Lee, A. Santos, P. Podsiadlo, Z. Tang, S. C. Glotzer, N. A. Kotov, Self-assembly of virus-like self-limited inorganic supraparticles from nanoparticles, Nature Nanotechnology, 2011, 6, 580-587.

  • Kim Y., Zhu, J.; Yeom, B.J.; Prima, M.D.; Su, X.L.; Kim, J.G.; Yoo, S.Y.; Uher, C.;. Kotov; N. A.; Stretchable nanoparticle conductors with self-organized conductive pathways; Nature, 2013, 500, 59-64.

  • Ma, M.; Kuang, H.; Xu, L.; Ding, L.; Xu, C.; Wang, L.; Kotov, N.A. Attomolar DNA Detection with Chiral Nanorod Assemblies. Nature Comm. 2013, 4, 2689.

  • Park, J.I.;  Nguen, T.D.; De Queiros Silveira, G.; Bahng, J.H.; Srivastava, S.; Zhao, G.; Sun, K.; Zhang, P.; Glotzer, S.; Kotov, N.A. Terminal Supraparticle Assemblies from Similarly Charged Protein Molecules and Nanoparticles. Nature Comm. 2014, 5, 3593.

  • J.Yeom, B. Yeom, H. Chan, K. W. Smith, S. Dominguez-Medina, J. Hwan Bahng, G. Zhao, W.S. Chang,  S.J. Chang, A. Chuvilin, D. Melnikau, A. L. Rogach, P. Zhang, S. Link, P.Král, N. A. Kotov, Chiral Templating of Self-Assembling Nanostructures by Circularly Polarized Light, Nature Mater. 2015, 14, 66–72.

  • K. Hirai, B. Yeom, S.-H. Chang, H. Chi, J. F. Mansfield, B. Lee, S. Lee, C. Uher, N. A. Kotov, Coordination Assembly of Discoid Nanoparticles, Angew. Chem. 2015, 127 (31), 9094-9098.

  • S.-H. Cha, J. Hong, M.McGuffie, B. Yeom, J. S. VanEpps, and N.A. Kotov Shape-Dependent Biomimetic Inhibition of Enzyme by Nanoparticles and Their Antibacterial Activity, ACS Nano, 2015, 9 (9), 9097–9105.

  • T. C. Shyu, P. F. Damasceno, P. M. Dodd,  A. Lamoureux, L. Xu, M. Shlian, M. Shtein, S. C. Glotzer, N. A. Kotov, A kirigami approach to engineering elasticity in nanocomposites, Nature Materials, 2015, 14, 785–789.

  • J. H. Bahng, B. Yeom, Y. Wang, S. O. Tung, N.A. Kotov, Anomalous Dispersions of  Hedgehog Particles, Nature, 2015, 517, 596–599.

  • C. Batista-Silvera, R. Larson, N. A. Kotov, Non-Additivity of Nanoparticle Interactions, Science, 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.1242477.