Mats Persson completed his PhD in Mathematical Physics at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, Sweden under the supervision of Bengt Lundqvist. The thesis project was a theoretical study of electron-hole pair damping of vibrations and surface lattice dynamics. His two year postdoctoral stint at Cornell University working with John Wilkins was funded by a fellowship from the Swedish Natural Science Research Council (NFR). This work involved theory of sticking in the quantum regime and structure-induced surface phonons.
In 1988 he took up a Lectureship back at Chalmers, where he expanded his research into the theory of physisorption and Eley-Rideal reaction dynamics . In 1997 he was awarded a six year NFR Senior Researcher Fellowship in "Condensed Matter theory", which also a supported a year long research stay at UC, Irvine working with Doug Mills and Wilson Ho. During his fellowship period, he pioneered the theory of single molecule chemistry and vibrational spectroscopy and microscopy by scanning probe techniques and later single charge control in collaboration with Gerhard Meyer at IBM Zurich. In 2001 he was promoted to Professor in Physics at Chalmers and in 2004 was a recipient of a Humboldt Senior Researcher Award.
In 2006 he moved to the Department of Chemistry and the Surface Science Research Centre at University of Liverpool as the Centenary Chair in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry. Research interests now also include theory of covalent assembly of molecular nanostructures and alternative routes for information storage and transfer on the atomic scale. In 2012, he was the winner of the RSC Interfaces and Surfaces Award.