My High School Physics: My high school teachers cultivated my love for Physics. A young American Peace Corp named Goldstein introduced the concept in mechanics to half a dozen prospective 9th graders during one summer vacation. Though it was difficult to comprehend the concepts of inertia, acceleration, etc., the class was extremely engaging and enjoyable, for the teacher was highly entertaining. My other physics teacher was again a foreign national who boasted it was only him and Einstein who knew Physics. Subconsciously, I was moved to challenging the subject. It was in Polytechnic Institute that I was taught physics by an Ethiopian named Ato (Mr.) Negash. He opened the door to this exact science, but I discontinued after one year in Bahr Dar Poly Tech and joined the Bede Mariam Lab School were I was taught physics by a lady named Mrs. Vergheese. After the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam (ESLCE), she asked those of us who took the physics exam about how we did in each item and commented that she was receiving a golden watch once again from the Emperor. I knew what she meant. At the end of the school year, she gave me several books, first year textbooks for physics and math, a chessboard, and introduced me to her husband, Mr. Vergheese, who was chairman of physics department of the then Haile Selassie I University. She added that she would like me to continue in physics. I promised I would, and landed on planet physics. I never regret. I was told I got one of the highest points in physics ESLCE. At that time, all exams were subjective type and were hand scored.
Haile Selassie I (later Addis Ababa) University: Life in campus was bitter sweet. It was sweet in a sense that I was doing well academically. I won a very prestigious in-country scholarship from Federal Republic (then West) Germany called Enno-Liethmann In-Country Scholarship. The bitter side was that it was the climax of student movement, and some of us stayed many years out of campus. Part of this time was spent in jail for opposing the military junta regime. Ten years after registering as freshman, I graduated with BSc in physics and got employed as a graduate assistant in the same physics department. Two years later, I won a United Nations University fellowship in which four eastern African countries took part in the competition. With this prestigious fellowship I spent 12 months at Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, studying renewable sources of energy. In New Delhi I met my future wife, Ketsela Mekasha, who was pursuing her training at Indian Institute of Mass Communications. We are blessed with two sons, Amlak Bantikassegn and Dagim Bantikassegn. While I was in India, the physics department had started a graduate program and upon return I found my friends immersed in MSc studies. In the fall semester I joined them. As soon as I graduated with MSc degree in Plasma Physics, all Ethiopian and some expatriate professors hard-pressed me to take the chairmanship of the physics department. I became the 2nd Ethiopian physics chairman, next to the late Yohannes Menkir.
As Chairman (Oct. 1985 Sept. 1990): I attended a workshop in Nairobi/Kenya where I came to know the activities of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste/Italy. I wrote a letter to the public relations office indicating my interest to participate in one of the workshops. I was invited. While in ICTP, I took the opportunity to meet Professor Abdus Salaam, director of ICTP and 1979 Physics Nobel Prize winner. I asked him to put the physics department of AAU in the mailing list of ICTP. By the time I returned, there was a pile of brochures of different activities at ICTP. The door was then open for the young faculty to participate in various workshops. I became a Junior Associate Member of ICTP, later to become Senior Associate for about 19 years. ICTP accepted the department as an affiliate so that our graduate students would participate in the ICTP diploma program, and also some fund was availed for books, journals, and computers. Many young Physicists have benefited from this scheme. The rest is history. Professor Salaam also provided me with funds to host two international workshops. The theme was Applicability of Environmental Physics and Meteorology in Africa. The first was held in August 1987 and the second in August 1989, each time for two weeks. About 50 participants were drawn from Africa, and speakers from U.S.A., Europe, Africa and Australia. The workshops were the first of its kind for the department and science faculty and were very successful.
The second major undertaking was to write project proposals for funding. One route was to apply to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to fund applied nuclear physics project aimed at radiation protection and secondary ionization. We were granted the funds for building a bunker and buying a liquid nitrogen plant. Three young physicists were employed to be involved in research in the area. The second project was funded by the International Program in the Physical Sciences, (IPPS) of Sweden as a result of my personal involvement. Through this program, (a) four people, including myself, were trained at a PhD level, three of us in Linkoping University/Sweden and one in India, (b) 48 man-month trainings were granted for sabbatical and short term activities. (c) Several conference participations were funded by IPPS. (d) Substantial sum of money was invested in building two full-fledged laboratories, one for synthetic chemistry in chemistry department to synthesize new conjugated polymers. The other is my lab placed in the physics department fully equipped for semiconductor device preparation and electrical and optical characterization of semi-conducting polymers supplied by the synthesis lab.
Research: The way to quality education in universities is to integrate research and teaching. To this end, I systematically restructured the department and recruited high caliber expatriate faculty to strengthen the graduate program. Few research articles started to appear in international journals like Phys Rev, J. of Synthetic Metals, Applied Phys, etc. for the first time in the history of physics department of AAU. Together with hosting international workshops, regional conferences and other academic activities, the department of physics started to appear on world academic almanac. My polymer physics lab was the only experimental physics research lab with state of the art equipment that we intended to be used by eastern African countries that included Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Several professors and their graduate students have worked in the lab for weeks at a time. A PhD student from Sudan worked in the lab under my supervision in a sandwich program scheme and published two papers and defended at Khartoum University. Fourteen students have earned their MSc degree after defending their theses researched under my supervision. Some of these researches ended up in publication in international journals.
In the course of supervising graduate students, I did not limit students to lab activities alone, rather I took them with me to workshops and conferences outside Ethiopia. I have assisted and encouraged faculty and graduate students to participate in activities at ICTP. I remember vividly a story of one of my colleagues who wanted to quit the job as a lecturer. I begged and bargained and finally arranged for a four-week visit to ICTP/Italy. Upon return, the first demand was I have to find a scholarship for a PhD training. I did get one in U.S.A. That was one of my happiest moments. During my chairmanship between October 1985 and September 1990, I managed to break the university bureaucracy and sent 10 young faculty members to Europe and U.S.A. to pursue their PhD. One technician was also given the opportunity to be trained in UK. When I left for Sweden, there was only one faculty member senior to me. I asked him to go first, but turned down since the training was on experimental Physics. Instead I took the chance to later arrange the training for the person. The last people to pull out of the department for training were myself, and Dr. Mulugeta.
Professional Associations: There were many departmental, faculty and university wide services I gave, such as curriculum committee, graduate program committee, academic commission, senate professional development committee, etc., to mention a few. The major professional undertakings include:
Immediately after resuming chairmanship, I was invited to attend a conference in Abidjan sponsored by African Network of Scientific and Technological Institution (ANSTI) Physics sub-network. I was elected a member of five-man committee. I served for five years, hosted one international conference in Physics Department, AAU.
I was a Junior, Regular, and Senior Associate member of ICTP/Italy for about two decades (see above).
I was one of the founders of Ethiopian Physics Society (EPS) and Secretary of EPS for the first two terms; hosted annual conferences and published annual EPS News Letter.
I served as a Board Member of the National Radiation Protection Authority in a capacity as a scientist.
I was elected board member of Professional Associations Joint Secretariat (PAJS) that brought together about 60 professional societies (22 in health, 17 in agriculture, 6 in natural science, etc.). Five-man board members were housed in the former Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission building and the commission oversees our activities. We were able to group these societies per their discipline and hosted HIV/AIDS awareness conferences for university and college students with societies in the health sector. We got societies in Engineering and Natural Science together and hosted a national workshop on ENERGY CRISIS IN ETHIOPIA. We also coordinated the societies in Agriculture and hosted another national conference on FOOD SECURITY. There were other small-scale seminars in themes such as THE ROLE OF BASIC SCIENCES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A COUNTRY, etc.
In the meantime, the polymer physics lab and the polymer synthesis lab are paving a path towards a materials science lab. A similar activity was being undertaken in Physics Department of University of Dar es Salaam/Tanzania, where some of my graduate students participated in bi-annual conferences. With this background in the region, I was invited to participate in a conference in Pretoria, South Africa. I was not aware of the motive. At the end of the meeting I was told that the aim was to bring African material scientists and engineers together. After a couple of years, we founded Africa Materials Research Society in Dakar/Senegal. Princeton University was in charge of all the conferences. I was a founding member of Africa-MRS.
I was also actively engaged in community services like 1) establishing non-profit private school named Ethio-Parents School (Pre-K - 12). In charge of academic quality, recruiting teachers, publishing 26 titles of grades 1 to 6 supplemental textbooks, etc. (2) Publishing high school physics books (4 titles).