Professor Grant Willson Retires

Grant Willson may be retiring from teaching this year, but it’s clear his lasting legacy will be one of impacting a generation of students and researchers. On June 7, more than a hundred former students and colleagues gathered on the UT campus for a day-long retrospective celebration of Willson’s career, achievements, and friendships fostered along the way.

Willson joined the faculties of the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin in 1993. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.S. degree in Organic Chemistry from San Diego State University. He came to the University of Texas from his position as an IBM Fellow and Manager of the Polymer Science and Technology area at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. He joined IBM after serving on the faculties of California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, San Diego.

His research focused on the design and synthesis of functional organic materials with emphasis on materials for microelectronics, spanning the boundaries between chemical engineering, organic chemistry and materials science to understand the interaction of organic materials with light.  He developed chemically amplified resists and advanced patterning technology and led the way to groundbreaking applications for monomeric and polymeric liquid crystalline materials, polymeric non-linear optical materials, and novel photoresist materials. Willson’s research helped manufacturers overcome physical obstacles in reducing the size of circuits leading to a five-fold increase in storage capacity for microprocessors and memory chips. His contributions revolutionized the industry and earned him prestigious accolades like the Japan Prize (2013) and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2007).

Willson is a member of the ACS, APS, SPIE, SPE, AAAS, ASEE, Sigma Xi, and the National Academy of Engineering. He co-authored more than 300 journal publications, wrote and edited several books, and is the co-inventor on more than 25 issued patents.

But more than his many awards and achievements, his former students and friends will remember his teaching legacy, his commitment to mentorship, and the knowledge he passed on to help jumpstart countless careers in chemical engineering and chemistry. In honor of his retirement, former students rallied to create the Grant Willson Endowmenta philanthropic fund that will support the departments of chemical engineering and chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin.

If you would like to make a gift to support Professor Willson’s legacy endowment, please visit

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