The appreciated pioneer and faithful servant Lars-Åke Sidenberg clocks out after a total of 33 years at Chalmers. Photo: Michael Nystås

Appreciated pioneer and faithful servant leaves MC2

He was the first employee hired when MC2 was founded. Now the appreciated pioneer and faithful servant Lars-Åke Sidenberg clocks out after a total of 33 years at Chalmers. "When I came here, the nanofabrication lab was just a big empty floor", he recalls.
Lars-Åke Sidenberg can look back on a long working life. He entered the labor market on June 1, 1970. We met him to get to know a little about how it feels to retreat after so many years.
"It feels joyful, but strange. One has had this routine for so many years, in working life, for 47 years", says Lars-Åke.
His Chalmers history began at the Civil Engineering department (Väg-och vattenbyggnad) in 1984. Lars-Åke Sidenberg was employed as a research engineer with the task of maintaining and repairing the lab equipment.
"I worked at an institution called Water Supply Technology (Vattenförsörjningsteknik), which had a water analysis laboratory. In addition to making lab equipment, there was also some construction work; among other things, I improved measurement methods. That's also when the computers started to come out of the measure perspective, so you had to start scratching this with programming and the like for measurement collection systems", he says.

Lars-Åke and his brand new bike.

The title research engineer and duties have followed him all the way.
"Yes, it has basically been identical at all three places I've been here at Chalmers; service, maintenance and electronic construction activities. There have only been different types of equipment. You have learned the equipment that has been at each place."
His time on Väg-och vattenbyggnad became quite short. In 1986, Lars-Åke was offered a post at the Department of Physics. He remained there until he was employed at MC2 at the year-end 1999-2000.
"I had the same job at Physics, I entertained and serviced measuring and process equipment. There was also some construction activities there; improvement of equipment and so on, and some new construction as well", says Lars-Åke.
For the past 17 years, the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience – MC2 – has been his permanent point of residence. He was the first employee in the new state-of-the-art research environment built around the nanofabrication laboratory.
"The house was not even ready when I was hired. I was sitting in an office in Vasa's old hospital area and planned the systems, the media supply here; ventilation, process cooling and ... we sat with thick bins and flipped through drawings and looked them through. After six months, the lab started to be ready for occupation.
You can say that you were building up the business?
"Yes, when I got here the lab was just a big empty floor. I've seen how it the floor was installed inside, how waterbeds were put in process one after another, and then the whole lab was growing up; the machines started coming ... I'm the pioneer!"

Lars-Åke Sidenberg has been enjoying his time at Chalmers and MC2. That's why he has remained in the house for all these years.
"It's a nice crew, good task assignments and relatively high freedom, and you can plan your work at the same pace as you like. If something is urgent, you put down the lower priorities and take on what's urgent, and then you're working on that. It has been good. In that sense, you are a little self-employed person in the service almost. That's what has made it possible to stay and that the years have passed", he says.
What did you like about your duties?
"I've been most commited to the construction business, I think. To build things – a measurement system or something that will then be used in the business. Repairs are also nice because it is about problem solving. You can rub the bumps of genius a bit, start unravel things and see how to solve the knot."
Over the years, Lars-Åke has met many different people. Over the years at the Department of Physics, he collaborated with the PhD students in a smaller research group that supported them.
"When the PhD students wanted a device that would work in a certain way, I built and arranged it so that it worked as they wanted. Often it was the measurement system. It was very nice because I worked with researchers and graduates from almost the whole world. One got the most insight into how it was in their culture and how they lived."
On MC2 it has looked a little different:
"Here I'm not as intimate with the researchers as we are our own staff who do service and maintenance. This means that you do not have the same close contact with the researchers; you only get the assignments and then you do it, you fix what is broken. Then you don't see that person anymore. It is a little different, but on the other hand, you have more contact with your colleagues instead, so it is leveling out."
The memories are of course many after such a long career. Lars-Åke explains how it happened when he was employed at Chalmers. It turns out to be a fate of a fate and something that happened by chance.
"I worked in a laboratory called IVL (current Swedish Environmental Research Institute) before I arrived at Chalmers. IVL was an institute that also had a lab for water analysis and air particle analysis. Then it turned out they had some cooperation with Chalmers. A colleague at IVL asked me to go to Chalmers and look at a broken tool. No one else wanted to do it and then he asked me as the last person: "Please, please, they almost prayed on their bare knees, can you go up to Chalmers?" Okay, kind as I was, I went up and looked at it, and the machine turned out to be identical to the one we had at IVL. Then I fixed it so that it started and then it was fine. The lab engineer, who was the head, humbly thanked.
"A year passed and then a post at that department was announced, and I thought I would apply for it. I got there for a job interview and was shown around. When I got into that lab, the manager I met earlier greeted me happily: "Hey, are you here!?" The professor was surprised and said, "Well, do you two know each other?" "Yes, he was here and fixed a machine, it works great still!"
"After talking for a while, the professor said, "You can consider yourself employed!" I've never experienced that before. It was only because this lab director knew me since I had been there earlier and repaired the tool. Had I not been there that time I might not have been here at all today. It was really just a coincidence that made me come to a new place", says Lars-Åke.
Is there anything you will miss now when you stop?
"Yes, of course. I will miss the fact that I no longer can go into the lab, fix tools and solve problems. But it's like they say, you don't get younger. Some day you reach the end of the road, but it will of course feel strange. Then my free time is also enriched; I have many interests and I don't think I will have any problems getting time pass."
Lars-Åke Sidenberg was born in 1951 and grew up in Utby in northern Gothenburg. He is a real "original gothenburger", who turned 66 years earlier this year.
"I've been staying on overtime here, but it's fine as long as you can keep your health, then you'll get along."

Inspecting his new bike with colleagues Fredrik Johansson and Johan Persson. Lars-Åke to the right.
Now he wants to devote his newly acquired freedom to the family and his other interests. Lars-Åke is married and has two adult sons. Last year he also became a grandfather of a little girl.
"There I have to do! I don't think I will have any trouble doing things in my leisure time. I also have a wife! House and garden. The whole kit. It's only work, he laughs.
Otherwise, he does not like planning too much, but thinks it's best to take the day as it comes. Cycling is a major leisure interest and he thinks he will stick to it. He was given a fancy bike as retirement gift from the colleagues at MC2.
"No, you really should not care about planning. But if I knew I'd be 95 years old, maybe I could start repairing the house, fix it and travel a bit. One can safely spend time with the grandchild; these are the traditional things many want to do; I don't differ so much from the crowd. Of course I will take a ride on the bike one day a week! I promised everyone here to do so and then I have to keep it! I'll take a round and just like sliding past here, say hi and then cycle on."
He also looks forward to being able to get sleep-in mornings in the future:
"Yes, I like sleep-in mornings! Because I sleep a little bad at night, it will be sweet to stay in bed. There are many who are jealous of not having to get up! In summer, it's usually no problem, but imagine in winter, when it's dark, then it's much harder!"
Lars-Åke Sidenberg was thanked for his services with cake and flowers at MC2 on 30 June. Many colleagues stopped by to wish him a warm good luck in his new life as a pensioner, and thank for all his efforts over the years. We will miss him!
Text and photo: Michael Nystås

Published: Mon 07 Aug 2017. Modified: Tue 08 Aug 2017