Recognition for her Tireless Pursuit of Discovery

Photo: Heike Lachmann

BASF Board Member Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner Chosen to Receive Aachen Engineering Award

When Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner talks about her science, one phrase sticks with you: Chemistry is not the problem; chemistry is the solution, says the member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE. Her time at BASF – the DAX-listed company founded in 1865 as Badische Anilin- & Sodafabrik and now operating worldwide – began 26 years ago with small solutions. As a Research Scientist, i.e., a young scientist who had earned a doctorate in chemistry at RWTH Aachen University, she researched plasticizers in Ludwigshafen. This research turned into a success story, which can also be said about Maas-Brunner’s career at BASF.

The German journal Manager Magazin recently called her the company’s “super minister” because Melanie Maas-Brunner, born in 1968 in Korschenbroich on the Lower Rhine, has, since 2021, been a member of the Board of Executive Directors, the Chief Technology Officer, Director of Labor Relations, and Site Manager for the Ludwigshafen site. And as such, she has long been in charge of the outstanding products developed by one of the world’s largest chemical companies, and together with it, she is also tackling the even bigger challenges facing society – from digitalization to climate change. “To master global challenges such as climate change and the optimal use of limited resources, our society needs innovations from the field of chemistry more than ever. In addition to our chemistry-based approaches, biotechnology also opens up many new opportunities for us,” she says.

Recognition for her Tireless Pursuit of Discovery

In recognition of her tireless efforts to make the industry more sustainable through innovation and intensive action, Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner has been awarded the Aachen Engineering Award on Saturday, September 2, 2023, in a ceremony hosted by RWTH and the city of Aachen at Coronation Hall of Aachen City Hall.
“Dr. Melanie Maas-Brunner is a recognized chemist with outstanding management skills.

She is always striving for innovations that find their way into actual operations. In her thinking and actions, she resembles an engineer with an eye for technical potential. She has been chosen to receive the 2023 Aachen Engineering Award because she has been instrumental in accelerating research and implementing its findings in new and, at the same time, sustainable production processes, products, and business models,” said Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, Rector of RWTH Aachen University, explaining the decision.

“In addition to her innovative spirit, Melanie Maas-Brunner is particularly known for her optimism. Both qualities, combined with sound scientific know-how, will drive our world forward. With people like Melanie Maas-Brunner, we can push for a circular economy and successfully tackle climate change. She is one of the most influential women in the German business world, making her an important role model for young women at the start of their careers – especially here, at our university of excellence in Aachen, but also in many other places,” says Aachen’s Mayor Sibylle Keupen.

Melanie Maas-Brunner’s tireless pursuit of discovery also becomes apparent when she talks about hurdles and obstacles. “We all want a CO2-neutral world. But to achieve this, we must be allowed to leverage our innovative power. We need regulations that are not laid out to prohibit but to enable and accelerate innovation,” explains the designated award winner. With her company, she is undoubtedly breaking new ground. With Chemovator, for example, an innovation platform has been set up in which employees can pursue their own ideas and take them all the way to a spin-off.

For us to find good solutions to problems, there also needs to be more openness toward technology, says Maas-Brunner. Her early career in BASF research shows what a good solution looks like. This solution started with the plan to develop a phthalate-free plasticizer that is harmless to health. The alternative Hexamoll® DINCH, which she was instrumental in developing at the time, is still a component in many plastic applications 20 years later – such as children’s toys. Today, Melanie Maas-Brunner still keeps an eye on production every day. Now, however, she is not watching processes in a laboratory but keeps in the loop from another vantage point, namely the boardroom. Both those facets of her career were important reasons for choosing her as this year’s prizewinner.

The Aachen Engineering Award is presented jointly by RWTH and the City of Aachen thanks to the kind support of VDI, who sponsors the prize. It is annually awarded to a prominent personality whose work has significantly contributed to a positive perception of engineering or science or to driving further development. This is the ninth time the award will be presented. The first winner was Professor Berthold Leibinger, deceased in 2018, a TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG partner. He was followed by Professor Franz Pischinger, founder of Aachen-based FEV Motorentechnik GmbH; astronaut Thomas Reiter; Professor Manfred Weck, the long-time director at RWTH Aachen University’s Laboratory for Machine Tools WZL; Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, microbiologist and co-inventor of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene scissors; entrepreneur Hans Peter Stihl, technology pioneer Sebastian Thrun, and finally, last year, science journalist Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim.