On 23 February 2022, the Federal Council appointed Tanja Zimmermann as Empa’s new CEO. She is currently a member of the institute’s Directorate and head of the Functional Materials department, as well as co-head of the Research Focus Area Sustainable Built Environment. With Tanja Zimmermann, an internationally renowned materials scientist - and the first woman in Empa’s over 140-year history - takes over as head of the materials research institute.
Tanja Zimmermann (54) will take up her new post as CEO on 1 June 2022. She succeeds Gian-Luca Bona , who will step down at the end of May after almost 13 years at the helm of Empa. The international call for applications for the position attracted 19 men and 7 women. After an intensive selection process lasting several months, the ETH Board unanimously decided to propose Tanja Zimmermann as the new Empa CEO to the Federal Council.
Tanja Zimmermann received her PhD from the University of Hamburg in 2007 for her research that provided the basis for technical applications of cellulose. Between 2001 and 2012, she established the research field of cellulose nanocomposites both at Empa and in Switzerland. From 2011 to 2017, she was head of Empa’s laboratory for Applied Wood Materials; since fall 2017, she has been a member of the institute’s directorate and head of the department Functional Materials with around 200 employees in six research units dealing with a multitude of materials, ranging from woodand cellulose-based materials to concrete and asphalt, high-performance ceramics and polymer fibers, as well as materials and components for energy applications. At the same time, she took over the co-leadership of the Research Focus Area Sustainable Built Environment, in which topics such as circular economy, resource efficiency and the successful implementation of the Swiss energy strategy play a central role. In the last three years, she and her colleagues have also established computerand data-based materials science and - in cooperation with the Imperial College London - the Materials and Technology Centre of Robotics at Empa.
In her research, Zimmermann has worked closely with industry as well as with national and international research partners, focusing primarily on the development and production of functionalized woodand cellulose-based materials with tailored properties. These have many uses, such as in adhesives, packaging and 3D-printed biodegradable structures for sensor and energy applications. Zimmermann is a founding and board member of the Swiss Wood Innovation Network (S-WIN) and a member of various advisory committees such as the "Forum Holz" of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Center for Circular and Sustainable Systems at Stockholm University. She is also a member of the Research Commission of the Federal Roads Office (FEDRO).
Tanja Zimmermann is the author of more than 100 scientific publications, proceedings and book chapters and holds several patents. Together with her team colleagues, she won various innovation and sustainability awards such as the Swiss Green Economy Symposium Award, the "Cadre d’Or" from "Baukader Schweiz" for outstanding achievements in wood construction and the award for the best innovative environmental technology at the Pollutec exhibition in Lyon.
The new CEO aims to continue positioning Empa as the industry’s first place to go to for the development of sustainable materials and technologies in the fields of energy, sustainable construction and personalized health. As "The Place where Innovation Starts," says Zimmermann, Empa is to develop novel manufacturing and decarbonization technologies for highly promising fields of application in close dialog with industry and society - and thus make a significant contribution to shaping our future in a sustainable and livable way.
Digitalization and concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and digital twins will become increasingly important, she adds. "Research at Empa always starts with a profound understanding of the fundamentals of materials science. Based on this, we then go on to develop materials with novel properties or technological approaches that point out new ways of solving specific challenges. And finally, together with our partners from industry and economy, we turn these into innovations that - hopefully - turn out to be successful on the market," says Tanja Zimmermann. "For me, our highly interdisciplinary employees with their outstanding knowhow are at the center of this endeavor."