He’s Emeritus Professor at School of Polytechnic and Sciences at the University of Naples “Federico II”. He was Full Professor of Polymer technology, head of the Department of Industrial Process and Materials Engineering and head of the Materials Engineering course and the Postgraduate course on biomaterials. From 1981 to 2003 he was visiting professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Washington University of Seattle, Missouri (USA) and from 1986 to 2004 associate professor at the Institute of Materials Science of the University of Connecticut (USA). He founded and chaired the Institute for Biomedical and Composite Materials of the National Research Council (CNR) and the Technological Cluster on Composite Materials and Structures Engineering (IMAST). He was President of Città della Scienza SpA, in Naples, and the Agency for Technology and Innovation of Apulia Region (ARTI), in Bari.
From 2000 to 2005 he was Minister of the Regional Council of Campania, for the Scientific Research and Technological Innovation. He was Minister of Italian Republic for public Administration Reforms and Innovation form 2006 to the end of legislature and member of Chamber of Deputies and Vice president of Cultural Commission of Italian Parliament from 2008 to 2012.
From 2012 to 2016, he was President of National Research Council (CNR) of Italy and from 2012 he is President of COTEC, the Foundation for the improvement of the technological competitiveness of Italy, Spain and Portugal, the only foundation in Italy in which the President of the Republic holds the status of Honorary President.
From 2016 he is Member of the Board of the University of Milan “Bicocca” and President of Real Foundation of Carditello Site owned by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Campania Region and San Tammaro City.
From 2016 he’s Senior Advisor Italia for Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft with competencies in Industrial and Material Sciences and Senior Consultant at Deloitte.
He is President of Materias srl and from 2016 he is member of the board of Adler Group, President of GETRA Engineering & Consulting Srl and since July 2016 he is President of Tecnosistem S.p.A.
He has received a number of awards, such as the Award of the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering (SAMPE), the George Winter Award of the European Society for Biomaterials (ESB) and he has been honoured as “Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana”.
He is author (co-author) of more than 600 scientific publications in peer reviewed international journals, reviewer for different scientific journals, author of more than 25 International patents.
In 2017 Nicolais was appointed, by the Italian Minister of Education, Universities and Research, as Italian Representative at European Science Advisors Forum (ESAF) and in 2018 he was named President of Campania Digital Innovation Hub.