Paulina Rincon Delgadillo: The first PhD graduate

In 2014, Paulina Rincon Delgadillo became the first PhD graduate of what is now the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago—an honor that capped off an already distinctive graduate education experience.

After beginning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the group of Prof. Paul Nealey—who ultimately became one of the founding members of Pritzker Molecular Engineering—Delgadillo spent two and a half years at imec, a global R&D hub in Belgium for nano- and digital technologies. There, she helped implement directed self-assembly of block copolymers, a process she had studied that could ultimately be used for computer chip manufacturing.

Collaborating with several chip manufacturers, she worked to determine if the process could be used in high-volume manufacturing. “They helped us optimize our materials and processes to achieve our goal, which was a pretty unique experience, especially for a graduate student,” she said.

When she returned from overseas, Delgadillo joined Nealey at the University of Chicago as his first graduate student to make the move. “I have always thought very highly of Prof. Nealey, and I trusted in the decision he made,” she said. “And University of Chicago is a wonderful university. For a girl from Mexico with a chemical engineering degree, this was the last thing I thought I would accomplish. I was very grateful.”

Though she had left friends and colleagues behind in Wisconsin and Belgium, Delgadillo felt welcomed at the University and made lifelong friendships throughout her final year in graduate school. “It was a big deal for me,” she said about becoming PME’s first PhD graduate. “The whole ceremony was definitely an experience I will always keep in my heart.”

After graduating, Delgadillo joined imec as a staff member and is now a senior researcher who studies extreme ultraviolet lithography.

“Being part of PME and the University of Chicago opened up a lot of possibilities for me, in the U.S. and in Europe,” Delgadillo said. “I was able to choose where in the world I wanted to work.”

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series that features alumni and former postdoctoral scholars for the 10-year anniversary of Pritzker Molecular Engineering. Visit our website to read more and register for an alumni and industry day on Sept. 17 and a scientific conference on Sept. 18.