Farewell symposium for Alex Dommann

Researcher with heart and soul – and a soft spot for X-ray analysis


On 19 January, a farewell symposium was held at the Empa campus in St. Gallen in honor of Alex Dommann, member of Empa's Directorate, who retired at the end of January. For ten years, the physicist headed Empa's Materials Meet Life department and the research focus area Health and Performance. In doing so, he represented Empa and the ETH Domain in Eastern Switzerland and established numerous partnerships in research, with hospitals and industry, for example recently with the Switzerland Innovation Park Ost.

"Gardening and cooking are not for me," Dommann said recently, and he let it be known that even after his retirement he will remain involved in research with his "favorite toys", X-ray instruments. Image: Empa
Taking over from Alex Dommann as head of department ad interim in February: René Rossi, head of Empa's Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles lab. Image: Empa

To mark the retirement of Alex Dommann, the symposium "Future Opportunities in Materials Meet Life: Conclusion and Outlook" was held on 19 January in St. Gallen in the presence of representatives from politics, research and industry as well as numerous employees. Empa Director Tanja Zimmermann paid tribute to Dommann as a talent promoter, networker and enabler and presented some highlights from the past ten years of his tenure. For instance, the establishment of Empa's X-ray Center: This was opened in 2014 and, in addition to a high scientific output, has since produced countless fascinating images and insights for research projects, such as of blood clots in 3D that can lead to a stroke, the structure of the cochlea in the human ear, but also of rhinoceros skulls, historical coins and disused satellites. Zimmermann described X-ray technology as one of Dommann's passions, and the equipment for it as his favorite "toys." She could not imagine Alex Dommann abandoning research in future and hinted at another hobby for his: railroads – both in model scale and in life size.

Another focus for Dommann was networking and dialog and exchanges with society. At Empa, for example, he built up the Medtech department and established numerous collaborations and partnerships with universities and hospitals such as ETH Zurich, the Universities of St. Gallen and Berne, as well as the Inselspital Berne and the Kantonsspital St. Gallen. He also represented Empa on various committees and maintained an exchange with politics. At the same time, he was not above standing in the lab himself on the Open Day in 2019, as well as on many guided tours for visitors, and introducing them to the topics of medtech and materials development for the preservation of human health. Promoting young talent was also important to him. Many of his former employees and doctoral students are now at highly reputed institutions and have been appointed professors at universities. During his tenure, the output of scientific publications also increased considerably.

"Gardening and cooking are not for me," Dommann said recently, and he let it be known that even after his retirement he will remain involved in research with his "favorite toys", X-ray instruments. At Empa, the search for a successor as a member of the Directorate is currently in full swing; ad interim, René Rossi, head of the Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles lab, will take over as head of department in February.

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