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Heroes of Chemical Engineering (Part 3): Alice Gast

Welcome back to Heroes of Chemical Engineering! This month's Heroine is Alice P. Gast (*1958), the 16th and current President of Imperial College London. She is an outstanding example of a Chemical Engineer taking up leadership roles and rising through the ranks of the science world!


Born in Houston, Texas, Mrs. Gast graduated from the university of Southern California in 1980 with a B.Sc. in chemical engineering as the first of her class. She then moved on to Princeton University, where she received a M.A. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Following a year of scientific exchange in Paris, she began at Stanford University in 1985.

Early Career

Her research focus was the study of surface and interfacial phenomena, in particular the behavior of complex fluids. In 1992 she won the prestigious National Academy for Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research as well as the Colburn Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for her work. She was promoted to full professor in 1995 and remained in Stanford until 2001.


Example of leadership

She was then drawn to a leadership positions in one of the most famous universities in the world, becoming the Vice President (for Research) and chairwoman of the chemical engineering department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Serving in that role for 5 years, she demonstrated leadership administrative skill and her higher calling become clear. In 2006, she became the 13th President of Lehigh University. There, she left her mark by increasing cooperation with the local community as well as international partners, adding a new campus  and launching new initiatives from innovative teaching to strategic planning. In 2010 she was selected by the US Secretary of State Clinton as a science envoy and traveled several Asian countries in that role and advising the US Government.

President of Imperial College London

Her latest career step has been the nomination to become the 16th, and first female, President of Imperial College London. She received many eulogies, including the following:

Alice Gast is one of the foremost chemical engineers of her generation and an exceptional university leader. She has the ability to develop deep and lasting relationships to advance the universities she has served, both close to home within local communities and further afield with international partners in business and industry, government, and private support." (Professor James Stirling CBE FRS, Imperial’s first Provost)

We think that Alice Gast is a great inspiration to many scientists, and particularly to chemical engineers. She is an example of the combination of scientific genius and great leadership skill. Along with her numerous awards, honors and fellowships, we declare her a Heroine of Chemical Engineering!

22 October 2015