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From Academia to Industry – Working at BASF

Esteban Rucavado, originally from Costa Rica, came to Switzerland 8 years ago to do his PhD in physics at EPFL. After that, he found a job as a postdoc researcher at BASF and has been at BASF ever since. Learn more about Esteban's research and work.


What did you study and how did you come to BASF?

My background is in physics and material science. The motivation for me to start working in this field was that you can tell a lot about a society depending on the material they are using. Historically, we have been calling societies by the main material they used, for example bronze era, iron era etc.. Now we are living in the silicon era. So, we have to acknowledge the importance that materials have for a society. In addition, I like to ask myself basic questions and this is why I ended up studying physics. After my PhD, I came as a postdoc researcher to BASF and have now been working for 2 years as a scale-up expert.

Why did you choose BASF as an employer?

First, it is a global company, which is always attractive. Such companies give you a lot of possibilities to grow, to change your field and there is a lot of networking that you can do. Secondly, the transition from academia to industry is a challenge because you pursue different types of questions and goals. When I changed from academia to industry, BASF was just perfect for this because it gives you the opportunity to develop yourself and to grow professionally as well as personally. Plus, it is a great place to work in general.

What do you do at BASF? What are your tasks and activities?

I currently work as a scale up researcher and engineer. We are working on a product for optoelectronic applications, based in thin film technologies. Our work is all about using our know-how in chemistry and physics to fabricate tailored thin film solutions for our clients. Now we know how to do this in a small volume, but we want to scale up this process to industrial volumes. For illustration: for academia our sample size was 1cm2, now in industry the surfaces are higher than 10 km2 per year. So, this is the challenge we are facing. And with this come many questions regarding process engineering, product design and quality control that we need to establish and solve.

Could you share a current project with us?

Currently, I am working on developing quality control measurements for products of areas higher than 10 km2. Our products are characterized by several key performance indicators, which describe how our products interact with the environment and in our costumer applications. But how do you measure quality on such big surfaces? To really control quality, it is not sufficient to only focus on a small part of the production. We have to first create and then optimize the way that we measure our performance indicators on the entire product. So far, we have achieved several milestones, but the full project is not yet finished. Which in part is challenging, because there are still questions that we cannot yet answer. But on the other hand, I really enjoy this kind of work that challenges me to find answers to all those questions.

In general, where do you think chemistry can significantly contribute to a better future?

Chemistry and material science are very important sciences, not only from the material point of view but also regarding their impact on sustainability, clean energy sources, agriculture or pharmaceutics. To face environmental challenges, you have to consider science and also big companies like BASF. Without these companies showing the way for a better world, it would not be possible to fulfil the tasks we have set ourselves for the next 20 to 30 years.

Is team work and collaboration important to you?

Team work is mandatory for my work. Without teamwork it would not be possible to solve the issues we are working on. For example, parts of the products that we are designing are meant to revolutionize certain areas of clean energies. For this, we have three teams with every team being located in a different country – one here in Basel, one in Germany and one in the Netherlands. Together as one team, we are aiming to solve these problems and create sufficient products for our customers.

IChO 2023 in Switzerland: What do you wish the participants of IChO 2023?

I wish the participants to be grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Olympiads and I hope that they are able to use everything they learnt during the preparation period. I also wish success to all the students participating. I was also once preparing for one of the International Physics Olympiads.

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