Dr. Legesse Senbetu
I retired as Senior Staff Research Scientist at Lockheed Martin Space System Company. (LMSSC) Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, California on 1 November 2009. During 24 years of employment at ATC, I have been primarily involved in solving research and development problems in theoretical condensed matter physics, plasma physics, nuclear physics, optics, and infrared sensor physics. I have also been involved in the research and development of technologies that required applications of advanced signal and image processing, neural networks, and statistical pattern recognition. Prior to joining ATC in 1985, I have held appointments as Senior Scientist (1982-1985) at GA Technologies Inc. (presently known as General Atomics) in San Diego CA; Scientist (1981-1982) at La Jolla Institute, San Diego CA; Research Associate (1980-1981) at University of California, San Diego CA; Postdoctoral Fellow (1976-1978) and later Research Associate (1978-1980) at Northwestern University, Evanston IL; Lecturer (1969-1971) at Haile Selassie I University (HSIU): first at Alemaya Agriculture College (1969-1970) and later at Faculty of Science (1970-1971). I was also a Graduate Assistant (1966-1967) at the Physics Department of HSIU, and Physics Instructor (1964-1965) at Bahr Dar Polytechnic Institute.
I was born on 17 June 1941 in Addis Ababa (specifically on a farm that was located in the North Eastern part of what is presently known Yeka sub-city). My father was a tenant farmer and neither of my parents was educated. When I was three years old, my mother left my father and took me with her to live with her aunt (i.e. my grandaunt) in Sendafa. It turned out that my grandaunt had a very strong desire for me to get educated. But since there was no public school in Sendafa at that time, my grandaunt made several trips in order to make arrangements so that all of us would move to Addis Ababa where there were a number of primary schools. Unfortunately our move never took place because she was killed in 1945 during one of these trips when the bus on which she was a passenger overturned. One significant outcome from this tragedy was my mother's decision to make the commitment and dedication to do every thing she can to carry out my grandaunt's wishes about my education. Thus, when I was four and half years old, she registered me in a private school (a type of church school) that was run by an orthodox priest who taught reading and writing in Geez. In 1946 when the government opened the Ethiopian Police College in Sendafa, it also built a primary school named Jima Senbete School. I attended Jima Senbete School through 4th grade (1947-1951). I could not continue to grade five because the Ministry of Education decided that there were not enough students to justify opening higher grades. There were five of us at the beginning in grade four before the other four either dropped out or quit. So for two years (1951 -1953), the director of the school let me use the school library every day to read and study on my own, and gave me help whenever I had questions. Then in 1953, my mother got married and we moved to Nazareth where I attended Atse Gelawdewos School from September 1953 to June 1957.
After passing the Elementary School Leaving Certificate Examination in 1957, the Ministry of Education assigned me to attend Hailemariam Mamo Secondary School (HMSS) which opened that year in Debre Berhan. I was a student at HMSS from September 1957 to June 1961. It should be noted that during this period, the secondary school curriculum consisted of only Amharic, English, Geography, History, Mathematics, Chemistry and General Science as core courses. For some reason, Physics was not offered as a separate subject and thus becoming a physicist never entered my mind. In fact, while my ambition in primary school was to study medicine, that all changed in high school to a desire to study either mathematics or electrical engineering. Thus my plan was to attend University College (to study math) or College of Engineering after graduating from HMSS. But it turned out that this was only possible if the Harar Military Academy did not select me, since according to a decree passed in 1960 by the Emperor, the Academy was given first priority to high school graduates it selected. Unfortunately, after I passed the Ethiopian Secondary School Leaving Certificate Examination with Great Distinction in July 1961, the Military Academy did select me even though the recruiters knew that I did not want to join the military. I was resigned to joining the Academy when, in August 1961, I found out from the Faculty of Science dean's office that premed students were exempted. Thus I decided to attend University College as premed student.
When classes at University College started in September 1961, there were fifteen (including me) high school graduates that chose to be premed students instead of joining the Military Academy. The fifteen of us were told to stay on campus at all times, until the University and the Military Academy reached some sort of accommodation, to prevent being picked up by the military. After about a couple months, there was an agreement that allowed the University to keep only ten of us. Thus this agreement eliminated the threat of being picked up off campus. So during my freshman year (1961-1962) I concentrated on my studies and got very good grades in all the courses. Moreover, since it turned out that I liked the physics and math courses the most, I ended up re-evaluating my premed status. Thus, after getting the Faculty of Science deanâ€™s approval, I started my sophomore year (September 1962 to June 1963) at Haile Selassie I University (established in late 1961 by combining University College, College of Engineering, Building College, and Alemaya Agriculture College under a single charter) as physics major with minor in mathematics. I had to interrupt my studies in order to fulfill my National Service obligation from September 1964 to June 1965, as I was sent to teach physics at Bahr Dar Polytechnic Institute. I completed my senior year (1965-1966) and graduated with BSc (with Very Great Distinction) in physics and was awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal. From July 1966 to July 1967, I was employed as Graduate Assistant in the physics department, primarily to be in charge of the first year physics lab: set up experiments and grade lab reports.
The only Ethiopian who taught physics during my undergraduate years was Yohannes Menkir who came back to Ethiopia in 1962. I took a mechanics course from him during my sophomore year. There was another Ethiopian from the mathematics department who taught my advanced calculus class. The other lecturers and/or professors of physics and mathematics during my undergraduate years were foreign nationals from Canada, Britain, India, United States, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland. Most of them were in Ethiopia for a year or two as visiting professors on some sort of fellowship (UNESCO, Fulbright etc.) For example Professor M. J. Skove of Clemson University was a Fulbright visiting professor in the physics department during the year when I was a graduate assistant.
In September 1967, I left for the United States on USAID scholarship to get the Masters degree in physics at University of California, Davis (UCD). At the end of my first year at UCD, I took and passed the physics PhD qualifying examination hoping the sponsors will let me continue my studies for the doctorate degree. It turned out someone at HSIU did not want me to stay longer than two years even though USAID was willing to continue my fellowship. So I graduated with the MA in physics in June 1969, and returned to Ethiopia. I held an appointment as Lecture at HSIU: initially at Alamay College (1969-1970) where I taught physics and calculus, and later was transferred to the Faculty of Science physics department to teach first year physics (1970-1971). In 1971 I was awarded and accepted an AFGRAD Fellowship to study for the PhD degree at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Dr. Mulugeta Bekele and I were colleagues in the physics department during the academic year (1970-1971) until my departure to USA for my PhD studies. We have kept in touch since 2004, and hopefully if every thing works out I would like to visit him and have collaboration on a physics research problem of mutual interest.
At the end of my first year (1972), I took a summer job with the nuclear physics group at UCSD and was asked to derive an improved formula that would describe Super Heavy element life times better. By the end of summer I was successful in deriving a new formula, and submitted the results in paper which was accepted and published in Physical Review C. It was hard to describe the joy I felt as this was my first research publication as a physicist. This publication later became part of my theses work. After passing the oral and written qualifying exams at UCSD, the late Professor Shang-Keng Ma agreed to be my PhD theses advisor and I started my theses work on research problems in Critical Phenomena, and Low Temperature Physics. After I graduated in March 1976 with the PhD degree in theoretical condensed matter physics I accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University (NU).
During my four years (1976-1980) at NU, first as Postdoctoral Fellow and later as Research Associate, I participated in basic research of the molecular theory of liquid crystals, surface properties of quantum fluids, and phase transition in adsorbed layers. I left NU to take an appointment as Research Associate (1980-1981) at UCSD where I was involved in the development of a phenomenological model to study the stopping power of ions in solids and plasmas. I also held an appointment (1981-1982) as Scientist at La Jolla Institute, in San Diego, where I did research in nonlinear dynamics and laser interaction with materials. My final employment before joining Lockheed Martin in 1985 was as Senior Scientist (1982-1985) at GA Technologies Inc. in San Diego where I did basic research in the theory of two-dimensional systems, and electronic properties of graphite intercalation compounds.
EPS-NA: Thank you Dr. Legesse.