Dr. Guebre X. Tessema
Dr. Tessema has been an active participant of EPS since its formative years. When asked about the exciting moments of his lifetime career, Dr. Tessema mentions his participation in the International Panel on Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, he says that this was a most gratifying payback time to Africa. He appreciates and his collaboration with other Ethiopian nationals in advancing the cause of science in Ethiopia (Ethiopian Science Society, Ethiopian Physics Society). Dr. Tessema still enjoys doing research and interacting with students. He spend one day a week at George Washington University where he teaches part time and participates in research on transport properties of self assembled gold nanoparticles. With the advancement of cyber-infrastructure and the increased world-wide connectivity, it is fair to say that the international situation is now most favorable to bring science to the most remote places in the world. A reorganized and invigorated EPS will galvanize Ethiopian physicists in North America and in Ethiopia in responding to this situation and support most effectively research and education in Ethiopia. The future role of EPS will be to coordinate and unify the growing number of individual talents and skills and allow them to shine even brighter for young Ethiopians and African and serve as role models. A strong EPS owned and supported by all Ethiopian Physicists will play a key role in supporting nurturing the untapped scientific youth of Ethiopia and Africa to contribute to the advancement of physics and materials physics in general. As for your question concerning the secret of my success. I would say it relies one simple attitude: never capitulate in face of failure, and take a positive attitude about failure. This was true concerning bad grades in school and catastrophic failure in experimental research. I have to admit that I do not like to fail, in fact I hate it. The important question is what do you do after you fail: do you quit and abandon it? Or do you try to find out the reason for failure, draw the lessons and move on to the next challenge. The latter has been my approach to life. Of course this does not come overnight. I would like to share a short anecdote if it can help the young physicists. This is a story I had to tell some of my graduate students when I felt they need to hear it. It was back in 1975 I was a beginning graduate student in experimental low temperature physics. It was quite a challenging time for all Ethiopians young or old and I shared the pain at the time. But here is a small personal challenge I experienced personaly. I never was trained in making things with my hands. Turning the volume of a Phillips radio, or a transistor, was the most advanced technical skill I had, of course I build some shaggy book shelves and a bicycle with fence wire. I had a very good training in math and physics mostly in analytical. My undergraduate education was a good preparation to become a theorist or a mathematician. However, I decided to do a graduate research in experimental physics. The idea was that I would do theoretical calculations upon returning to Ethiopia where major equipment for experimental work would not be available. How naive? But. Going back to the anecdote, in 1975 I was handling a Helium cryostat in which I had to insert a sample probe, through a very tight hole. This was a very delicate operation because a very thin layer of ice formation around the probe could block the insert and you would have to warm the whole thing to get it out. Of course as per Murphy's law, this happened to me at the right time when I needed to provide results for my departmental presentation scheduled for the next day. I was green, it was a scary thought. As you can imagine I did everything imaginable to get the probe to move out or in it did not matter. I used a hair dryer to melt the ice, I shook the probe, I put warm gas to blow the probe out. It was stuck! Nothing worked. A moment of inspiration, and I did the ultimate, I hang my weight on the probe, and down and crash! it goes. Helium boils off like crazy! I had to leave the room. Luckily there was nobody in the building it was a Sunday afternoon. I just stood there with my fingers on my mouth. What did I just do?! I was ashamed. I just walked out of the lab and went straight to my room. I could not face anybody, not even my friends. quit! I said. I was not meant to be an experimentalist anyway! Next day around 11 am my advisor came to my room. Took me out for lunch and asked me why I did not show up for the talk. I explained the situation and informed him of my resolve not to go back to that lab anymore and to switch to theoretical physics. In a few magical words my advisor made me change my mind. Here is what he said. He said Of course you can quit, it is an easy thing to do. Then you will always be remembered as the guy who broke the cryostat and the sample holder and as quitter. He added: and of course with that you will also develop the typical pattern of failure to quitting every time you make a mistake. However, if you go back and fix it and then switch to theory, you will feel much better about yourself and your reputation around the lab will be preserved. The guy knew the power of his words, he did not even wait for my response, he informs me that he has rescheduled the talk, he pays for the meal, and left. As you expect, I went back to the lab and repaired the whole thing. I live happily ever after, breaking things and never feeling that it is the end of the world.
EPS-NA: Thank you Dr. Tessema!