Fraser Stoddart, a world-renowned expert in molecular nanotechnology, said the honor would allow him "to be more influential, perhaps, in speaking on behalf of the importance of chemistry to science and the importance of nanotechnology."
However, Stoddart, who came to UCLA in 1997, said he would prefer that no one in the United States address him as "Sir."
"I embrace the informality of American, and particularly California, culture," said Stoddart, 64, his native Scottish accent still strong.
Stoddart is director of the California NanoSystems Institute, which is opening a building at UCLA next year.
Nanotechnology is research and development at the atomic level that seeks to create smaller and more powerful devices and systems that supporters say could have a large role in industrial development.
Part of Stoddart's work in tiny nanovalves — smaller than living cells and capable of crossing cell membranes — is being adapted for the delivery of cancer drugs.
Stoddart earned his bachelor's and doctorate degrees at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and later worked at universities and labs in Canada and Britain in a field of organic chemistry that focused on the mechanical bond in molecular compounds.
Chemistry runs through his family. His late wife was a chemist, as are their two daughters.
"Dr. Fraser Stoddart is one of the most eminent scientists in the world today, a towering figure in chemistry and nanoscience both here in California and in his native Britain," Bob Peirce, British consul general for the Los Angeles region, said in a statement Friday.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., said it was rare for an academic working outside Britain to be knighted.
The queen usually announces about 20 knighthoods twice a year.
Stoddart, who lives in Santa Monica, said Friday he did not know whether he would travel to Britain for one of the queen's investiture ceremonies next year or attend a ceremony in Washington.