Making the Case for Scientific Communication
The Aachen Engineering Award was presented to Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim in an inspiring ceremony.
A fresh breeze blew through the Coronation Hall when the Aachen Engineering Award was presented for the eighth time on Saturday evening in the City Hall. This year, the joint award from RWTH Aachen University and the City of Aachen went to science journalist, presenter and bestselling author Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim for her achievements in communicating science in an understandable and entertaining way.
The award winner surprised the audience with a very personal story about her motivations for studying chemistry (her father is a chemist) and then taking the path of science communicator after all. "At the dinner table, we never discussed politics, but rather chemistry. I only became political when I lived in the US and followed the Trump vs. Clinton election campaign. 'Alternative facts,' 'fake news' and the information crisis are my biggest concerns."
This is precisely why science communication should be established as a "prestige skill" and more researchers should be encouraged to compete "authentically and credibly" against "charlatans". Even though she was delighted to receive the Aachen award, Nguyen-Kim was worried before the ceremony that "the jury would notice that I'm not an engineer," she joked. That's why she sees the award as an "appreciation of science communication."
An Inspiring Laudatory Speech
Science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar, who co-hosted the WDR science program "Quarks und Co" with Nguyen-Kim for some time, gave an inspiring laudatory speech for the award winner. Nguyen-Kim, he said, is an "real guide" who has the "authentic gift of questioning things with wit, sharpness and competence." RWTH alumnus Yogeshwar explained, "Unlike talk shows, which discuss topics that no one really understands, Mai-Thi conveys real information in her videos."
However, Yogeshwar also pointed out that Nguyen-Kim's award is really based on her own achievements: "The insider language and jargon of scientists places a dividing wall between them and the public. Even within science, it is beneficial if you can explain things in an understandable way. But you have to learn that, preferably while you are studying."
Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim began her career as a science communicator with the YouTube channel "maiLab," which the former RWTH chemistry doctoral candidate opened in 2016. What started as an experiment - a young doctoral candidate talking about science online - was to make Nguyen-Kim the best-known science communicator of the social media generation. Whether it's a science experiment or a conspiracy theory-related corona denial, there's no scientific topic that the newly honored award winner will not take up. As a presenter of "Quarks und Co" and "TerraX," she became known to a broad audience outside of social media. Since fall 2021, Nguyen-Kim has been hosting her own science show "MAITHINK X - Die Show" on ZDFneo. She has also written two books, "Komisch alles chemisch" (Isn't it Strange? - Everything is Chemical) and "Die kleinste gemeinsame Wirklichkeit" (The Smallest Common Reality), which landed her at the top of the bestseller lists.
A Commitment to Good Science Communication
The presenting of the Aachen Engineering Award to Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim was a clear commitment to good science communication. "The University is a significant part of the city, and we want to be part of it, too. RWTH can contribute to the solutions in these special times, marked as they are by crises," noted Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, Rector of RWTH Aachen University. For Mayor Keupen, too, the city and science belong closely together: "If people don't understand each other, they can't work effectively together."
Ina Brandes, Minister for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, used the Aachen Engineering Award to thank Nguyen-Kim for her video "Corona is just getting started" from spring 2020. At the time, the minister was still the CEO of a company and used the video, which has been clicked on 6.6 million times to date, to inform her employees about the pandemic: "I am glad that I can thank you tonight for this video. It takes scientists like you to get young people excited about science and research," the minister said. Volker Kefer, President of the Association of German Engineers (VDI), emphasized, "What you do, soundly communicating complex issues, is extremely important. If we didn't have you, we would have to invent you."
RWTH chemist Eric Siemes demonstrated how science can be communicated in an understandable way in a dialog with Thora Schubert. The Merle Böwering Trio provided a musical accompaniment for the evening.
Aachen Engineering Award
The Aachen Engineering Award is a joint award of RWTH and the city of Aachen - with the kind support of the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure VDI (Association of German Engineers) as the award sponsor. Every year, the prize is awarded to a personality whose work has made a significant contribution to the positive perception or further development of engineering or science. This is the eighth time the award has been presented. The first award winner was Professor Berthold Leibinger (died 2018), shareholder of TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG. He was followed by Professor Franz Pischinger, founder of FEV Motorentechnik GmbH in Aachen, astronaut Thomas Reiter, the long-serving director of the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Professor Manfred Weck, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier as a microbiologist and co-inventor of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene scissors, entrepreneur Hans Peter Stihl and, last year, technology pioneer Sebastian Thrun.
Excellent communication: Mai-Thi Nguyen-Kim receives the Aachen Engineering Award 2022 (from left to right) Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, Ina Brandes, Minister for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Volker Kefer, President of the Association of German Engineers (VDI), Mai-Thi Nguyen-Kim, Lord Mayor Sibylle Keupen, RWTH Rector Prof. Dr. Ulrich Rüdiger, and the laudator Ranga Yogeshwar.
Partners of the Engineering Award
With around 135,000 members, the Association of German Engineers (VDI) is Germany's largest technical and scientific association. For 160 years, it has been providing important impetus for new technologies and technical solutions, for a better quality of life, a better environment and more prosperity. The VDI is the donor of a sculpture by artist Mariana Castillo Deball, which the award winner will receive.
Covestro is one of the world's leading manufacturers of high-quality plastics and their components. With its innovative products and processes, the company contributes to greater sustainability and quality of life in many areas. Covestro supplies customers around the globe in key industries such as mobility, construction and housing, and electrical and electronics. In addition, Covestro's polymers are used in areas such as sports and leisure, cosmetics, healthcare and in the chemical industry itself. The company is fully aligned with the circular economy and aims to become climate neutral by 2035 (Scope 1 and 2).