News / 15 March 2021

Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus died on 3 March 2021 after battling complications of cancer. Kat was an inspirational scientist and a much-loved friend, colleague and collaborator.

Kat, 48, was a world-leading immunologist and molecular microscopist and leader of the Australian EMBL Partner Laboratory in the University New South Wales. She was central to the early growth of the EMBL Australia initiative and drew on the EMBL program to establish her world-leading Single Molecule Science Centre at UNSW.

An inspirational scientist and mentor, Kat was greatly admired by those in the scientific community for her kindness, intellect and generosity. She attracted exceptional scientists to her Centre and developed a wonderful culture and community that has enabled her recruits to flourish and that will empower her vision to continue to grow into the future.

“Kat was an incredible, visionary scientist and a key person behind the development and expansion of the EMBL Australia initiative,” EMBL Australia Scientific Head Professor James Whisstock said.

“She was a huge support for me personally, for her scientific team and for the EMBL Australia leadership team as a whole. Over the years we had so many great conversations about science and life in general – I will miss her enormously.” 

Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus FAHMS, world-leading immunologist and molecular microscopist and leader of the Australian EMBL Partner Laboratory in the University New South Wales.

Professor Gaus was an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and also the Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging.

She initially studied physics and mathematics at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. After receiving her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1999m, Professor Gaus joined the Cell Biology Group at the Heart Research Institute in Sydney. Professor Gaus then founded the Cellular Membrane Biology Lab at UNSW Sydney in 2005 and went on to co-lead a team developing powerful and innovative single molecule microscopes to better understand the molecular basis of T cell decision-making.

Professor Gaus was recognised widely for her contributions to scientific research. Among the many accolades she received was the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering in 2013, the prestigious Gottschalk Medal from the Australian Academy of Science in 2012, the NHMRC Achievement Award (Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship, 2014-2018) and the Khwarizmi International Award in 2018.

In 2005, Professor Gaus was awarded the ARC Early Researcher Award, a NSW Young Tall Poppy Award and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, which allowed her to spend six months in the laboratory of Professor Kai Simons at the Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany.

Professor Gaus recruited many talented EMBL Australia group leaders, including those in her Single Molecule Science Node – Dr Maté BiroDr Yann GambinDr Richard Morris and Dr Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan. She also recruited and mentored Dr Senthil Arumugam, who is now an EMBL Australia Group Leader at Monash University.

The Jackson Laboratory Scientific Director (and former Scientific Head of EMBL Australia) Professor Nadia Rosenthal said she will always be grateful for the enthusiasm and drive Kat brought to the establishment of the UNSW Partner Laboratory in 2014.

“It was early days for EMBL Australia, and having Kat as a colleague who was not only familiar with the EMBL system from her days in Heidelberg, but a spectacular scientist in her own right, was a real vote of confidence,” Prof Rosenthal said.

“I remember our first conversation, discussing EMBL Australia as a new way to support and train young scientists down under, as EMBL has done for decades in Europe. Listening to her enthusiasm for the idea reminded me of the impetus that had brought me to Australia in the first place, and reinvigorated my resolve to make it happen.

“Within a year she had attracted an extraordinarily talented cohort of young group leaders to Sydney, and was a driving force behind the establishment of the EMBL Australia Partnership PhD Program, which is still delivering on her dream.

“It was a real joy and honour to work with Kat. She is sadly gone but her energy will live on in her research discoveries, and the vision she realised for the future of Australian science.”

EMBL Australia group leader Dr Arumugam – who worked with Professor Gaus at UNSW Sydney before starting his lab at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute – praised Kat’s ability to dream big.

“Prof. Katharina Gaus – you gave me my first gig, my lab is your legacy,” Dr Arumugam wrote.

“You enabled big visions, and taught me how to get tough and keep going. Your visions will continue to grow beyond Single Molecule Science, and you are in our hearts forever.”

UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston AO said of Professor Gaus: “She had an awesome intellect, she was a determined inventor, a builder of teams & an inspiring role model. We will miss her strength, her ‘smarts’ and her smile.”

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute lab head Dr Kelly Rogers described her as “an inspiring and highly accomplished leader who pushed the boundaries of advanced microscopy and single molecule imaging.”

Kat will be greatly missed. However, the research team she so carefully developed will continue to progress her remarkable work.

Our deepest sympathies are with her partner, Scientia Professor and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow Justin Gooding, her family, her friends and close colleagues.


Her recent advances in single-molecule localisation microscopy, enabling direct distance measurements between molecules in intact cells on the scale between 1 and 20nm (featured in Laser Focus World’s ‘Top 20 inventions in 2020’)

Coelho S, Baek J, Graus MS, Halstead JM, Nicovich PR, Feher K, Gandhi H, Gooding JJ & Gaus K. (2020) ‘Ultraprecise single-molecule localization microscopy enables in situ distance measurements in intact cells’, Science Advances, 6(16):eaay8271.

Coelho S, Baek J, Walsh J, Gooding JJ & Gaus K. (2021) ‘3D active stabilization for single-molecule imaging’, Nature Protocols, 16:497-515.

Advancing knowledge of T cell biology, a discovery enabled by Kat’s deep understanding of both biophysics and microscopy

Williamson DJ, Owen DM, Rossy J, Magenau A, Wehrmann M, Gooding JJ & Gaus K. (2011) ‘Pre-existing clusters of the adaptor Lat do not participate in early T cell signaling events’, Nature Immunology, 12:655-662.

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