Dr. Solomon Bililign
I am currently a professor of Physics at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University,(NCA&T) Greensboro, NC. In addition I am the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funded Interdisciplinary scientific Environmental technology Cooperative Science Center (ISETCSC), - involving thirty one scientists and engineers formed as a partnership of seven universities led by NCA&T. (www.noaaiset.org). In addition to directing the Center and teaching physics I conduct research in atmospheric chemistry and physics. After over fifteen years of conducting basic research in theoretical and experimental chemical physics and laser spectroscopy, I have refocused my lab to conduct more applied research in atmospheric Sciences including vibrational overtone spectroscopy using cavity ring down spectroscopy, and negative ion proton transfer mass spectrometry to measure acidities and reaction rates of carboxylic acids. Three graduate students and three undergraduate students currently work in my group and this is part of the ISET Center and partially funded by the national Science Foundation. Besides my research and teaching at NCA&T I am also involved in international collaborations through funding by the National Science Foundation with Ethiopia-Addis Ababa University and South Africa in geosciences and atmospheric sciences. I am very pleased with the activities in the ISET Center and the working group I have been able to assemble. The work is satisfying. My interest in physics is aroused in high school when a professor from the Haile Selassie University (now Addis Ababa University was visiting my high school in Makalle. I was in grade 11 then and was more interested in history and geography. I then joined the Prince Bede Mariam Laboratory School and went on the Haile Selassie University Science faculty as a physics education major to be trained as a high school physics teacher. I enjoyed and liked physics as an undergraduate but my dreams and aspirations were cut short soon after graduation as I was thrown into prison by the Derg regime. This was a major set back as a young man, but also a growing opportunity. The five years of hardship and isolation helped me to evaluate my life and mature up. It gave me the opportunity to value life. It taught me the value of faith and trust of fellow human being, the value of self respect. I learned to hope in a place where there was no hope. I learned to dream big and bold in a place where I was kept in darkness. It helped me overcome bitterness and the courage to love enemies. After five years in the Ethiopian maximum security prison, I came out as a different person. My desire to pursue physics however was motivated by the desire to escape the reality of life around me. There was a cultural decline, loss of values of honor, thrust, and respect I grew up with were getting lost under the military regime. I could never fit into the system of corruption, mistrust and cultural decline that was rampant then. So physics was my escape- It worked. I joined the Addis Ababa University graduate program in Physics and did a masters degree in Surface Physics. I pursued the study of physics even after graduating and continued to study for GRE and apply for graduate school in the US and Europe. In 1987 I got the opportunity of a graduate assistantship and tuition scholarship at the University of Iowa. My initial aim was study materials science and was involved in the high TC superconductivity research which was very hot at the time. But the unfortunate sudden death of my PhD advisor (the only condensed matter experimentalist in a department where space physics and plasma and high energy physics was dominant) was a big blow. In my search for a different research area and advisor, I was visiting several labs and but always fascinated by a lab next to my office. This was a brand new laser lab run by a new assistant professor studying atomic scattering experiments using lasers. I wasn't sure if I could handle such a high tech lab with my poor experimental background and coming from Africa. But my success in the qualifying exam gave me the confidence to go and ask the professor if he would consider me for research assistantship. The response was a big yes, and I was given the lab key immediately. I had just finished my first year at Iowa and passed my comprehensive exam at this time Three years later after three papers in Phys. Rev. A and Chemical Physics; I was offered a post doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah. This was the motivation to rush my thesis writing in the summer of 1991. I moved to Salt Lake City a day after my defense in September 1991 to start a two year postdoctoral appointment. In Utah I had the opportunity to work with a quantum chemistry group where I learned (thanks to my many body problem courses in Iowa) to do ab initio quantum calculations leading to several theoretical publications in two years in Utah. In 1993 I received an offer from NCA&T state university. Accepting this position was challenging considering the fact that the University was small and research was very underdeveloped. But I also saw an opportunity for building something in place none existed. I was motivated by the desire of the then chairperson to build a strong physics program. I have been active in research and education since joining North Carolina A&T State University in 1993. My area of specialization includes Experimental and Theoretical Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics /and Chemical Physics. I conducted collaborative research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and University of Connecticut and was a JILA visiting fellow in 2000-200, and recently I was a visiting professor at the University of Marseille in France. With several awards (including an NSF-CREER award, and NSF-MRI award) in Experimental Physical Chemistry from NSF, and with very limited internal support and while carrying a full teaching load, I contributed to the development and building of a nationally competitive research program, the physics research infrastructure and graduate education at NCA&T. I was also a Co-PI in an NSF proposal to develop a geophysics track and international collaboration in geosciences in the Department of Physics. I pursued international collaborations since I joined the University. I am a sub contractor with Penn State on a very competitive partnership for international education and research NSF-PIRE multi million award that promotes geophysics research at NCA&T and international experience for students in South Africa. I also have an NSF-IRES international research experience for student's award that promotes interdisciplinary research activity in atmospheric sciences and geosciences for NCA&T students in Ethiopia. Most recently I lead a team of thirty-one scientists and engineers in eight institutions to win a $12.5 million award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As a consequence I am now the director of the NOAA-ISET Center. In 2001-2003 I was named "Outstanding Senior Researcher " for NCA&T. I have received over 15 million in grants, authored 3 book chapters and over 25 refereed publications and made over 50 presentations. I have been active in undergraduate and graduate education in the department of Physics. Through out my tenure at NCA&T I provided high quality training and education to undergraduates at A&T and developed several new courses, degree programs and interdisciplinary projects. Through Grants from the SLOAN foundation I have been able to attract high quality students to the Physics program. Using NSF funds I provided international experience to NCA&T students in South Africa, France in the past and will continue to provide more opportunities in Ethiopia, and South Africa in the coming years. I served as the coordinator of the graduate program in Physics 1997-2001, then Department chair from 2001-2006 and I was a research advisor for more than half of the graduate students enrolled in the department and two of the students were recruited from Ethiopia. I served in the committees that established interdisciplinary degree programs in Energy and Environmental Studies, Computational Sciences, and Nanosciences. I have helped develop several new courses and degree concentrations in the department. I am active in the community as well. I conducted summer camps to school children, visited local schools, helped in science fairs, organized teachers workshops, and promoted science education in local schools. Over the last 10 years I provided service to the scientific community as a panel member at NSF and NIH, as a journal article reviewer, and conference organizer. I was awarded an Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award by NCAMP in 1998 (NSF funded program) and was teacher of the year for College of Arts and Sciences in 2006. I don't consider my self a very smart person (I had only a GPA of 2.8 when I came to Iowa, and my GPA when I graduated from Iowa was only 3.6, and only 3.5 when I graduated with MS in Ethiopia where quite a number of my class mates had 4.0 GPA. But I believe in hard work and persistence, and follow up. I never give up, and try the same thing over and over again. I got my first NSF grant after three trials, I got the Career award after three trials, and then things got easier. I enjoy what I do, I delight in what I do, and that is the only motivation that drives my effort. I don't do anything to please any one or person. I have learned long time ago that no matter how hard you try you cannot please everyone. So I do what I enjoy to do and do it for the love of the science I do. Most important in my life is my faith in God. The source of all my strength. I do all I do to glorify and honor God. So what I do to honor God pleases most people. I have gone through lots of ups and downs in life. I lost my father when in Jail and didn't know it until after three years. I lost the most important people in my life while I was in prison. I lost a number of family members and very dear friends. There was nothing to hope for and live for, and yet I was filled with dreams and hope. I lost the sense of revenge and bitterness towards those who tortured me and hurt me... even named my two sons after the names of the torturers' in prison (I had forgotten about them when I named my boys, but was reminded by a curious relative why I chose that name.) I think the emotional health and the hope is a result of my thrust in God. I still enjoy teaching, and helping young people achieve their dream. I never give up on any one, and I always have hope for all. I am very pleased that we have now a functional physics society. I think all of us need to work hard to enlarge the membership, and help physics education and research in Ethiopia. We have worked hard in the US, competed for the very competitive awards, and succeeded in life in the US. I think we owe Addis Ababa University everything since it is that gave us the foundation for success. We need to work as a community to improve Physics research in Ethiopia. We must help as advisors to graduate students, as visiting professors, and help the program development and movement to make physics relevant to the economic growth and prosperity of the nation.
EPS-NA: Thank you Dr. Solomon!