Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner Receives the Aachen Engineering Award


The "Chemist Smurf" from the Schleich toy brand is 5.5 centimeters in height. The blue figure with white coat and test tube in hand was Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner's first important project at the chemical giant BASF. On Saturday evening, she was awarded the 2023 Engineering Award in the Coronation Chamber of Aachen City Hall.

  People standing on a stage Copyright: © Heike Lachmann

On online auction platforms, the original Smurf is now being traded for 150 euros, while new editions from later years still command 50 euros. Even then, 26 years ago, the common theme that was to run through Maas-Brunner's entire professional life became apparent: "Chemistry," she says, "is not the problem, but the solution." For the Smurf, who has since achieved some level of notoriety, the assignment was to develop a non-hazardous plasticizer that could be used in children's rooms. The project succeeded, and the rest is history. Today, Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner is a member of BASF's Board of Executive Directors as Chief Technology Officer. She has now been honored for her consistent efforts to find answers to climate change and to create a more sustainable society by means of innovations. The Aachen Engineering Award is presented by RWTH Aachen University and the City of Aachen in cooperation with the Association of German Engineers (VDI).

The Minister for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ina Brandes, mentioned a very special fan of BASF's Executive Board member. The minister's mother is also a chemist and doesn't always like what politicians spend their days doing. When Ina Brandes told her about the Aachen Engineering Award and the prize winner, the minister's mother was also very pleased: "Well, that's finally a meaningful appointment," she exclaimed, Ina Brandes reported with a laugh.

Laudator Dr. Markus Steilemann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Covestro AG, was only too happy to recall his days spent studying with the award winner at RWTH Aachen University. Even then, "you, dear Melanie, had an eye for the technical potential of chemical research." This will to act, the will to turn projects into reality, was what distinguished Maas-Brunner then as it does today. Knowing that without chemistry no wind turbine would turn and no electric car would purr, "you engage people with your great expertise, your perseverance and your unpretentious manner, and in this way you move your company forward, a company on which so much depends. You are absolutely the right person to receive the 9th Aachen Engineering Award." A big round of applause followed.

Having been praised so extensively, the RWTH alumna had to first search for the right words. Dr. Maas-Brunner said that standing in a row with such renowned people, including the 2016 award winner astronaut Thomas Reiter, really left her speechless. She took the opportunity to make it clear that "I'm standing here because I get to work with a lot of great people." That being so, she said, it has long since ceased to be enough just to be a chemist, because solutions have to be found jointly and on an interdisciplinary basis. A major concern for her is the next generation of chemists, who, as in so many other fields, are in short supply. This was one of the reasons why she had invited her old Aachen chemistry teacher Dr. Gerd Hachen to the award ceremony. According to Maas-Brunner, it all starts at school, and it's up to the teachers to inspire the students.

A role model for students

It's so much easier when you have such great role models: "You, Dr. Maas-Brunner, are a great role model for our students," said RWTH Rector Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, who also pointed out how important large companies like BASF are for universities. The importance of this point was also made clear by VDI President Prof. Lutz Eckstein: "Instilling an appetite for innovative thinking in young people is our central concern." Aachen's Lord Mayor Sibylle Keupen drew attention to the important role of young companies on the path from research to practice: "Start-ups are the new chimneys", she said, referencing the great industrial past of the old imperial city. Eric Siemes provided the best entertainment with an entertaining chemistry show in in which plasticizers played a leading part, thus bringing the event full circle. The event was hosted by science communicator Thora Schubert and RWTH press spokesman Thorsten Karbach, with musical accompaniment by singer Charlotte Haesen and guitarist Daniel Chavet.

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Aachener Ingenieurpreis an Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner