Lehigh President Alice P. Gast was named to the prestigious post of science envoy by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the U.S. State Department late last week.
As one of three new science envoys named, Gast is charged with encouraging U.S. global engagement in science and technology. She will travel to the Central Asian and Caucasus regions in the coming months, and will advise the White House, the State Department and the U.S. scientific community about the knowledge and insights she gains from her travels and interactions.
In this role, she will seek to “deepen existing ties and foster new relationships with foreign counterparts and gain insights from other nations about potential areas of collaboration that will help address global challenges and realize shared goals,” according to the State Department.
“I am honored by this appointment and the opportunity it provides to enhance collaborations between nations to seek solutions to the scientific challenges we face in the world,” said Gast. “I have always felt that science diplomacy is an extremely fruitful way to build relationships between countries and people; it is exciting to see our government taking a leading role in such an approach and I am pleased to be a part of it.”
World-renowned and a world traveler
An internationally renowned scholar, researcher and academic leader, Gast was the vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prior to 2006, when she was named president of Lehigh University, a school with strong international programs and partnerships.
The focus of her distinguished research career was the study of surface and interfacial phenomena, in particular the behavior of complex fluids. Her areas of research include colloidal aggregation and ordering, protein lipid interactions and enzyme reactions at surfaces. She is the coauthor of Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, a classic textbook on colloid and surface phenomena.
Gast spent several years of her scientific career overseas, first as a postdoctoral student on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) fellowship at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris. While serving as professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, she returned to Paris for a sabbatical as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in 1991. In 1999, she was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow in Munich, Germany.
Gast currently serves as a member of the Academic Research Council for the Singapore Ministry of Education.
This past academic year, Gast participated in a number of international conferences and forums, including the Lord Dearing Memorial Conference at England’s University of Nottingham, where she joined education experts from around the world to discuss the global economic crisis and higher education, and the Fourth Annual Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. At that forum, Gast joined top business leaders, international political leaders, intellectuals and journalists to discuss sustainable competitiveness.
Last fall, Gast was invited to Kyoto, Japan, along with scientists from 85 different countries to discuss science and engineering education at the sixth annual Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum.
A centerpiece for global engagement
The Science Envoy program, announced by President Obama in Cairo in June 2009, is a centerpiece program to implement U.S. global engagement in science and technology and to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, provide clean water and grow new crops.
Also appointed with Gast were Dr. Rita Colwell, former Director of the National Science Foundation and Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University and an acclaimed plant breeder and geneticist.
The official announcement was made by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) at a recent event hosted by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF).
In November of 2009, Secretary of State Clinton announced the first three science envoys. They are Ahmed Zewail, Nobel laureate in chemistry and the Linus Pauling chair of chemistry and professor of physics at California Institute of Technology; Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science Magazine, former president of the National Academy of Sciences and biochemistry professor at the University of California at San Francisco; and Dr. Elias Zerhouni, former director of the National Institutes of Health, senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and professor of radiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
In 2010, the State Department reports, these envoys have traveled to 11 countries in North Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and Europe.
For more information, please visit the website of the State Department.