Coding Expert Antonia Wachter-Zeh

“I want to shape the future of coding and cryptography”

With Antonia Wachter-Zeh, TUM has brought in an exceptional talent. The young professor develops algorithms that make communications engineering safer. Internationally, she is one of the experts in her field.

Already as a child Prof. Dr. Antonia Wachter-Zeh had a fascination for number series. In school, she regularly demonstrated her keen sense and passion for Mathematics in state competitions. For a long time she knew that she would study Mathematics. But then she felt that the subject seemed too far removed from life after all. She decided to study Communications Technology at the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg in cooperation with Airbus. Here, her interest in Communications Technology continued to grow. Her goal was to develop so-called error-correcting codes based on mathematical theories from modern algebra, which would ensure efficient and flawless communication via smartphones, sports watches and computers around the globe.

Cutting-edge research

Antonia Wachter-Zeh quickly made a name for herself in Theoretical Communications Engineering. Her doctoral thesis on highly efficient coding algorithms was awarded twice and was well received by the international research community. Her Rank-Metric Codes for modern data transmission in networks make it possible to increase the efficiency of transmission while at the same time increasing the reliability of the data.

As a postdoc Antonia Wachter-Zeh wanted to go abroad at all costs. What others would have been more than happy to accept – a position at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA – she politely declined. It was more tempting for her to go to the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa for further research. The Computer Science Department there was home to more world-renowned experts in her than anywhere else in the world. Antonia Wachter-Zeh did not want to miss out on this unique opportunity, and the Israeli scientists were also extremely interested in this promising young talent’s highly efficient coding algorithms.

Top rank

Antonia Wachter-Zeh quickly made a name for herself in the scientific landscape, always worked purposefully only with the best of her field and was always welcomed with open arms wherever she went – which is not necessarily self-evident as a woman in a rather male-dominated discipline. For her future career, she was looking for a university that was in no way inferior to what she had already achieved. In 2016 she discovered the announcement of a Rudolf Mößbauer assistant professorship within the framework of the TUM Faculty Tenure Track Programme. “It’s an incredibly good position at an incredibly good university with equally good professors”, she says. “Of course I immediately applied.” And of course she was instantly appointed – shortly after she also received Emmy Noether Grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG).

It’s an incredibly good position at an incredibly good university.

TUM and DFG were particularly impressed by the fact that Antonia Wachter-Zeh’s work always builds a bridge between theoretical-mathematical basic research and practical applications. She has been researching and teaching at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2016 and is equally impressed by her work environment. “I have complete freedom in my research, receive great financial and administrative support and am supervising very capable doctoral students,” she says. “The research climate at TUM truly is great.”

From her long-standing research focus on error-correcting codes, here at TUM her interest has shifted more and more towards the areas of code-based cryptography and security. “This really is a very exciting and highly topical area”, she says with eyes gleaming. “I want to shape the future of coding and cryptography.” At the next Women of TUM Talks on the 8th of October 2019, Antonia Wachter-Zeh will talk about her ambitious goals: together with her working group, she plans to come up with novel encryption principles in the near future that will, despite attacks by quantum computers, make secure data transmission and storage possible. Most certainly the brilliant scientist will also succeed in this endeavour.