Berthold Leibinger Receives Aachen Engineering Award

Copyright: © Andreas Schmitter

The Aachen Engineering Award, an honor jointly awarded by RWTH Aachen and the City of Aachen, was presented for the first time in a celebration event at Altes Kurhaus on September 5, 2014. This year, Professor Berthold Leibinger (83) was honored for his life’s achievement. The passionate engineer and visionary thinker from Ditzingen in Swabia has made a significant contribution to the development and establishment of laser technology in Germany.


Speech by the Recipient

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The laudatory speaker, Professor Reinhart Poprawe, Chair of Laser Technology at RWTH Aachen and head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, characterized the nature of an engineer in general and sketched the life and work of Berthold Leibinger in particular: “A good engineer is hard-working, curious, and in awe of nature. And he or she combines well-ordered knowledge with technology.” These properties characterize awardee Berthold Leibinger very well, whose life’s motto was quoted by Poprawe: “At one point in my life, I realized that we are in this world to achieve something.”

A Life for Lasers

Leibinger lived up to this motto over and over again, with persistence and energy. He started out as an apprentice at the Trumpf company and studied mechanical engineering at Stuttgart University. At Trumpf, he became responsible for the development of new machines, and in the late seventies, he introduced laser technology for the purpose of cutting and welding. To this purpose, he developed lasers himself, tools that became ever more powerful and precise over the years. Under his management, Trumpf evolved into a globally operating toolmaker. It is also due to his achievement that 40 percent of all beam sources worldwide are produced in Germany.

As Reinhart Poprawe emphasized, the awardee is not only characterized by technological genius: Berthold Leibinger has always understood technology as part of our culture. He has always made every effort to get to the bottom of things, and has been and is “ascetic, focused, and unpretentious.” For this reason, following a term used in the 19th century to designate engineers, he is a true “master of the arts.”

Orientation for Young People

As Mayor Marcel Philipp emphasized, the Aachen Engineering Award is also meant as an inspiration for young people. The first awardee, with his achievements, serves as a role model especially for engineering graduates; he illustrates in an exemplary fashion that success requires ambition and spirit.

Professor Leibinger’s function as a role model was also stressed by RWTH Rector Ernst Schmachtenberg, who serves as the spokesperson for the Advisory Board that is responsible for selecting the award recipients. According to Schmachtenberg, the Board succeeded in selecting a highly deserving awardee who has realized the chances offered by new technologies and implemented them to great success in his company.

Awarde recipient Berthold Leibinger showed himself impressed by the award sculpture, which consists of intersecting ellipses made of steel. As he explained, he has always had a special relationship with RWTH Aachen, through participation in conferences and invitations to give guest lectures in Aachen. When starting to develop lasers about 40 years ago, manufacturers had to draw on scientific expertise – the German laser industry drew inspiration from and was accompanied by research from Aachen. Today, according to Leibinger, German companies in the sector are facing strong competition, especially from China. Aachen as a location of science and technology, and RWTH in particular, play a major role in meeting this new challenge.

Sparkasse and VDI

The Aachen Engineering Award, which is presented once a year, is sponsored by Sparkasse Aachen, which seeks to promote the reputation of Aachen and RWTH as a hotbed of engineering talent and entrepreneurship. The award sculpture is sponsored by VDI, the Association of German Engineers, whose president, Professor Udo Ungeheuer, lauded RWTH Aachen as “one of the most renowned centers of German engineering education worldwide”. For future engineers, it is “apposite and important to be aware of the increasing significance and reputation of this professional field. And the Aachen Engineering Award will contribute to raising this awareness.” One of the aims of the award is to showcase success stories which are to provide orientation, to inspire, and to highlight the important contributions to society made by engineers.


From left: Mayor Marcel Philipp, Hubert Herpers, Chairman of the Board of Sparkasse Aachen, and RWTH Rector Ernst Schmachtenberg present the Aachen Engineering Award to Berthold Leibinger (second from left).


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Impressions from the Celebration Event