TUM Ambassador Alice Gast

“Science only works internationally”

Alice Gast knows how valuable international cooperation is. The President of Imperial College London has previously worked as a researcher on projects all over the world. Together with TUM President, Wolfgang A. Herrmann, she recently launched a strategic partnership between the two universities.

Many of the most important scientific achievements are the result of international cooperation. In 2003, the SARS coronavirus was identified with unprecedented speed – by a team working in eleven laboratories in nine different countries. And scientists from all over the world meet up at the Large Hadron Collider in the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva to search for the Higgs-Boson. These are only two examples that demonstrate for Alice Gast, President of the renowned Imperial College London, how innovative science can be when researchers with different cultural approaches look at a problem together.

International projects

The US-born Alice Gast speaks from her own experience. As a young researcher, she had a great time as a postdoc student working with French colleagues at NATO in Paris. Later, she conducted research with colleagues from Mexico and Germany. In the end, the greatest difficulties turned out to be of the greatest benefit. The respective approaches seemed incompatible with one another at the beginning. Later it turned out that it was precisely this clash of opinions that led the German-American-Mexican team to success, as Alice Gast mentions in an article she wrote for Scientific American. “Since we all grow up in different cultures, I think that international collaborations are very beneficial because we look at and tackle problems differently”, she says.

The way we tackled problems was different and that was precisely the benefit.

Working in international teams involves a lot of logistical problems. “Maintaining collaborations and relationships requires time and energy – something that also applies for research partners.  Both parties have to be willing to work at a distance and to travel to be together from time to time” is something one has to bear in mind, says Alice Gast. As the visa situation in some countries can get in the way, the political realm is called upon to make it easier for academics and students to enter countries. “It can also be a problem moving with your family or taking care of children when you are traveling a lot”, says Alice Gast, who has a daughter and a son together with the IT expert Bradley J. Askins. “That’s why I was pleased that TUM had a Welcome Center for international visiting scientists.”

Research period at TUM

An award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation brought Alice Gast to Germany in 1999, and to TUM, where she worked in the research group of experimental physicist Erich Sackmann, one of Europe’s most important and influential biophysicists. Alice Gast has benefited in multiple ways from her time at TUM. “At the scientific level, I was able to develop from a more physical-chemical background further towards biophysics.  It was a very important period in my career and my students and I enjoyed the hospitality of Professor Erich Sackmann and his students.“ She brought her family with her to Munich back then and so they were also able to gain impressions and experiences of Bavaria: “Our children have been passionate travelers since they were born and they very much enjoyed Germany and German food and culture.“

Alice Gast und Erich Sackmann.

Alice Gast spent her period of research at TUM in 1999 at the chair of TUM Professor Erich Sackmann, one of the most important and influential biophysicists in Europe, where she gained fundamental impulses for her own work. Erich Sackmann is now retired and is one of the TUM Emeriti of Excellence (Photo: Astrid Eckert/TUM).

2015 saw Alice Gast awarded the honorary title “TUM Ambassador” by TUM President, Wolfgang A. Hermann. This honor is given to top researchers who have spent longer or shorter periods of stay at TUM in the last decades and made a valuable contribution to the university with their scientific expertise and their international experience.

Anniversary Greetings from TUM Ambassador Alice Gast


Strategic partnership

Since October 2018, TUM and Imperial College London have also been strategic partners in research, teaching and technology transfer. This partnership was of course initiated by Alice Gast and Wolfgang A. Herrmann, who are both convinced that, by partnering, two of Europe’s leading technical universities will be able to expand their complementary strengths in high technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Digital Medicine, Bioengineering, and Aerospace Science. “TUM and Imperial are made for each other in terms of their completely identical research portfolios,” said President Wolfgang A. Herrmann on the occasion of the signing. And Alice Gast added that “Imperial College is a global university, and we are delighted to strengthen our international ties with TUM as a great partner”.