Heeger was born in Sioux City, Iowa. He earned a B.S. in physics and mathematics from the University of Nebraska in 1957, and a Ph.D in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. From 1962-1982 he was on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1982 he commenced his present appointment as a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has led to the formation of numerous start-up companies including Uniax, Konarka, and Sirigen, founded in 2003 by Guillermo C. Bazan, Patrick J. Dietzen, Brent S. Gaylord. Alan Heeger was a founder of Uniax, which was acquired by DuPont.
He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000 along with Alan G. MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa "for their discovery and development of conductive polymers;" in 1983 he had won the Oliver E. Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society.