Zahra Fakhraai


Zahra Smiling

Associate Professor
Department of Chemistry
University of Pennsylvania



Google Scholar Profile


  • Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Associate Professor, 2017-present.
  • Topic Editor, Journal of Physical Chemistry, 2021-present. 
  • Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Secondary Appointment, 2017-present.
  • Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Graduate Group Member, 2019-present.
  • Executive Committee Member, Center for Soft and Living Matter, University of Pennsylvania, 2021-present.
  • Member of Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM), 2011-present.
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Graduate Chair, 2018-2020.
  • “Research and Education for Active Coating Technologies (REACT) for the Human Habitat”, NSF-Funded PIRE, Co-PI, 2015-2021.
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Assistant Professor, 20112017.
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, NSERC Post-Doctoral Fellow, Advisor: Mark D. Ediger, 2009 11.
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Advisor: Gilbert C. Walker, 2007 08.


  • Ph.D. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo,2003- 07.
  • M.Sc. Department of Physics, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran,1999-2001.
  • B.Sc. Department of Physics, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran,1995- 1999.

Awards and Scholarships

  • Dean’s Award for Mentorship of Undergraduate Research, University of Pennsylvania, 2021.
  • Dillon Medal, American Physical, 2019.
  • Penn Fellow, 2018.
  • University of Waterloo, Young Alumni Award, 2017.
  • Journal of Physical Chemistry B Lectureship Award, American Chemical Society PHYS division, 2017.
  • Sloan Research Fellowship in Chemistry, 2015.
  • NSF CAREER award, 2014-2019
  • NSERC Post-Doctoral Scholarship,2009- 2011.
  • Frank J. Padden Award, American Physical Society,2007.

Short Biography

Zahra received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in physics from the Sharif University of Technology in Iran. In 2003, she joined James Forrest’s group at the University of Waterloo and studied the dynamics of polymers in thin films and on their surfaces. She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Waterloo in 2007, for which she received the American Physical Society’s Padden award. From 2007 to 2008, Zahra worked in Gilbert Walker’s group at the University of Toronto and studied the structure and chemical composition of block copolymers and protein aggregates using tip-enhanced near-field infrared imaging. Subsequently, she moved to Mark Ediger’s group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2009-2011) with an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship from the Canadian government.  She joined Penn Chemistry in 2011, completing her transition from physicist to chemist. She is currently an Associate Professor of Chemistry with secondary positions at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.  

Since joining Penn Chemistry, Zahra and her group have explored the properties of materials at nanometer length scales.  Fakhraai group explores enhanced surface mobility and its role in the formation of stable amorphous packings, as well as thermodynamics of nano-confined and nanostructured polymer nanocomposites and block copolymers. The inclusion of 2D materials in polymers and their resulting thermal, transport, and optical properties are also of interest.

In biological systems, the group is interested in understanding the aggregation of peptides and proteins in two and three-dimensional geometries, as well as the interaction of light with nanoscale structures. Zahra is an active member of both the American Physical Society and the American Chemical Society and serves as a Topic Editor for the Journal of Physical Chemistry. Zahra identifies as a material scientist interested in materials properties in small length scales and extremely slow dynamics.