By Greta Shum
Gerhard “Gerry” R. Andlinger died December 22, 2017, at age 86. A memorial service was held on January 20, 2018, in the Princeton University Chapel.
In 1948, as the world raced to recover from World War II, an Austrian teenager named Gerhard R. Andlinger wrote an essay titled “The World I Want” in response to an American newspaper’s contest.
In the seven decades since that essay won him a ticket to the United States and, ultimately, Princeton University, Gerry Andlinger set about building that world. Through a storied career in business and philanthropy, Andlinger brought passion, vision, and managerial acumen to building companies and supporting institutions. His leadership would add value, solve problems, and shape future generations of leaders.
That passion and vision came together in 2008, exactly 60 years after his essay, with his gift of $100 million to the University to accelerate research on effective and multi-faceted solutions to the problems of energy and the environment. With the gift, the University created the Gerhard R. Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
“We’re tremendously grateful for his gift of this center,” said Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center and Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “He set an example in his generosity, and he worked very hard to bring life to the optimistic vision he had.”
Loo also recalled Andlinger’s devotion to solving the world’s most daunting energy and environmental problems, moving the needle persistently toward large-scale progress.
“Founding the Andlinger Center was a critical step in Princeton’s long-term commitment to helping secure the world’s energy and environmental future,” said the Andlinger Center’s founding director, Emily Carter, who is currently the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She continued, “Gerry’s clear vision and generous support were essential in making the center the focal point of Princeton’s energy-related research and teaching, connecting energy-technology development to environmental policy and behavioral science, to achieve solutions with the greatest possible impact.” Carter is also the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics.
Andlinger took a personal interest in the center’s success, serving as chair of its Advisory Council. In May 2016, the Andlinger Center celebrated the opening of its new home with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In his address, Andlinger challenged researchers and students to face the problems of energy and the environment with open minds.
“The lowest-hanging fruit is to reduce waste or increase the efficiency of energy, and it can be done a thousand different ways,” Andlinger said.
In a Q&A with the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Andlinger, who graduated in 1952 with degrees in economics and Arabic, explained that his decision to bestow the gift was layered. He saw scientific research and innovative technology at the core of solutions, but also wanted thorough integration with public policy and close ties to business.
“The research in my opinion is the basis for solving what I consider the largest problem that mankind has,” he said. “And not only solve the problem, but at the same time provide an enormous opportunity for American business to be in the front row.”
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Andlinger recounted the profound experience of flying in a helicopter over a glacier in New Zealand and seeing markers that showed 20 feet of ice loss in 14 months.
“My decision to try to do something about it is out of a sense of responsibility that I feel that I can do something that not that many people can do,” he told the newspaper.
The Andlinger Center’s mission is to take an interdisciplinary approach to meeting these global energy and environmental challenges by accelerating innovation through funding the best possible research, providing state-of-the-art instruments and facilities, engaging with a wide variety of corporate and other external partners, and fostering vibrant educational and training opportunities for students.
Gerry Andlinger’s vision for engaging businesses is exemplified by Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, an academic-industry collaboration administered by the Andlinger Center that promotes technology transfer between Princeton University and corporate partners and enhances interactions between students and practitioners.
The center has brought to Princeton nine new faculty members, each jointly appointed with departments in disciplines ranging from electrical engineering to psychology. The center works with more than 115 faculty members and researchers across 44 departments. It has thus far supported more than 40 research projects and over 150 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. It also supports teaching and research integrated with public policy in coordination with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs and with the natural sciences with the Princeton Environmental Institute.
The Andlinger Center’s 2017 Annual Report details more of the center’s specific accomplishments.
Andlinger was generous to Princeton in various ways over the years, including endowing professorships in the social sciences and in the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
In 2000, he gave a $25 million gift to the University for new campus projects. The gift helped to fund the renovation of East Pyne hall and the creation of the Andlinger Center for the Humanities.
At that time, he expressed his warm feelings toward his alma mater: “Princeton holds a very special place in my heart… I feel privileged to be able to give back to this great University and to the country that has offered me a welcoming home and a wealth of opportunity.”