Gmachl named head of Whitman College at Princeton

By Karin Dienst, Office of Communications
March 26, 2019

Claire Gmachl, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering, has been named head of Whitman College, one of Princeton’s six residential colleges. She will begin her four-year term on July 1.

Claire Gmachl portrait, in front of a white board with colorful writing.

Gmachl will succeed Sandra Bermann, the Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and professor of comparative literature, who has been head of Whitman College since 2011.

The appointment was announced by Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan. A faculty member serves as the head of each of Princeton’s residential colleges, working closely with their deans, directors of studies and directors of student life to build community and to devise programs and activities to extend students’ education beyond the classroom.

Gmachl joined the Princeton faculty in 2003. She is a specialist in optics, photonics and lasers, and is a pioneer in creating quantum cascade lasers, work for which she won a McArthur Fellowship in 2005. One of her recent research innovations is developing a device that directs a specialized laser at a person’s wrist or palm to measure blood sugar without a pinprick.

Gmachl has been widely recognized for her teaching and mentorship. In 2014, she received a President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and in 2009, a Graduate Mentoring Award, both from Princeton. She also has been honored with several teaching awards from the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In helping students achieve academic success, Gmachl teaches a first-year physics course as part of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education's new sequence of courses for first-year students in engineering that integrates foundational math and physics with modern engineering challenges. She also has been involved in the Freshman Scholars Institute, a summer program that provides incoming students, primarily those who are first in their family to attend college and those coming from lower- to moderate-income backgrounds, with an early opportunity to experience the many academic and co-curricular resources that Princeton has to offer.

Gmachl is director of the Program in Materials Science and Engineering and is associated with the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials. From 2006-16, she led Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE), a National Science Foundation-funded research center at Princeton. Before coming to Princeton, Gmachl worked at Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, for seven years.

She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Austria’s Technical University of Vienna, and her master’s in physics from the University of Innsbruck. She has authored or co-authored more than 400 publications and holds 30 patents.

Among her administrative responsibilities, Gmachl served as vice dean of the engineering school from 2013-14. She is a member of several professional associations.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to become the next Head of Whitman college,” said Gmachl. “Princeton University’s colleges are a home-away-from-home for our students, and I’m looking forward to helping build an environment that’s communal and rich in social and intellectual stimuli. I believe that all Princeton community members have so much to share beyond their own specialty and job description, and that much good comes from communicating across the disciplines. I look forward to meeting all Whitman students, especially the first-year students joining soon!”

“Claire Gmachl will be a wonderful head of Whitman College,” said Dolan. “Her commitment to teaching — illustrated, among many other examples, by her engagement with the Freshman Scholars Institute, as well as her participation in reinventing the first-year engineering curriculum — points to her profound dedication to students’ intellectual, as well as co-curricular, experiences. Claire is known for her kindness, her clarity and her concern for others, all of which will grace the lives of students at Whitman and across our campus,” said Dolan.