Christer Andersson retires from Chalmers after just 30 years. Photo: Michael Nystås

Spider in the web retires after 30 years

Spider in the web, faithful servant and MC2 pioneer. Utility-man. There are many ways to describe research engineer Christer Andersson. A unique and popular employee in the Nanofabrication Laboratory now retires from Chalmers after just 30 years. "Most rewarding has probably been all the colleagues at MC2, and that I've had such free hands," says Christer.
He is a real native "göteborgare". Born 1950 on Spaldingsgatan in Johanneberg, where the family lived until Christer turned five.
"Then we moved to Slottsbron in Värmland, where my father had a machine master service at Slottsbrons Bruk. We lived there until 1960, when my father began to work at Vänersborg hospital," he says.
In 1965, the family built a house in Vänersborg, in which Christer lives today and counts as his childhood home.
He has no children of his own, but lives with the two-year-old turtle Skalman II. The forerunner, Skalman I, became over 80 years old.
"Number 2 is going to survive me," laughs Christer, who also has a five year younger sister.
Trained Electrical Engineer
Christer is an electrical engineer from Chalmers and started his studies in 1972, so his relationship with the university started many years before joining. And actually even earlier than that:
"When I was a little boy, I told my mother that I would be one of those when I grow up, pointing to a Chalmers cap," Christer laughs.
As for many others, the studies went on time because he also worked aside, among other things as operations manager at Teknologtryck. The summer holidays were spent at a hospital, where Christer worked as an engineer with a handful of employees.
"It was a managerial position in charge of boilers, heat, plumbing, electricity and spare power. I would actually have stayed there, but mental health care was about to be put down in Sweden and I did not judge that it was something to invest in."
Christer Andersson flanked by, from left to right, Svante Pålsson, operations manager, Mikael Fogelström, head of department, Peter Modh, head of the Nanofabrication Laboratory, and Ingrid Collin, head of finances and administration at MC2.
Old aviator
A possibly little unknown side of Christer Andersson is that he is also an old aviator and has a background as a combat pilot. When Christer was 18, he went to the air force's military flight school and upgraded his previous gliding license. For one year, he then flew the classic Saab 32 Lansen in an attack division. A dramatic and many times dangerous life:
"At that time, a larger number of pilots ran out every year. During my first two weeks at the flight school, I got single room when my roommate flew to death. It is significantly safer today, but called for some reflection. In the 70's we also had the cold war. Our war exercises were therefore realistic, we bombed with sharp ammunition every day and flew in any weather. We could be in a formation of four aircrafts in northern Sweden and just see the spotlight from one wing. It was fun, but risky," says Christer.
Over the years, he has also towed sailplanes and flown round trips, but nowadays he does not fly at all.
Started at Solid State Electronics
On MC2, Christer has been in charge of purchasing laboratory equipment since the department's establishment. But his career at Chalmers started already in the 80's. Christer still remembers exactly how it began:
"On 11 April 1988 at 11 am, I walked in through the doors to the Solid State Department of Chalmers. I had been called by Professor Sten Norrman and Olle Engström to begin as a research engineer," he says.
He remained at Solid State Electronics between 1988 and 2000. Christer had a broader role than he later got at MC2; he handled all the tasks a technician could have on his table; ranging from service to new installations of electricity and plumbing. He was also involved in various research projects in collaboration with, among others, Per Lundgren. In addition, he also handled the machines plus all purchases and chemicals.
"Another project was about development and etching of different types of sensors. I was quite intimately involved in those processes."
Prior to that, Christer worked as a development engineer at a small company in Surte, in the field of electronics construction.
"At that time you could have three offers to choose from. Today it's significantly harder – you're applying for a hundred jobs and maybe gets one," says Christer.
He has been around at MC2 even before the first shovel of soil.
"I came here before they even started to dig. I was very much involved in the discussions about how and where the house should be built. If you look for a little extra you can actually see a glove embedded in the roof of the clean room!"
In the end, it was decided to build on a place that proved unusually demanding:
"Old Physics stood on a rocky knoll. If you had started to blast conventionally there, you could miss and get the whole facade to fall. Therefore, instead of having a smooth edge, you had to saw up the mountain. It was very difficult," says Christer.
He was employed almost at the same time as Lars-Åke Sidenberg, another MC2 pioneer who was also retired recently.
"I stayed at the Solid State Electronics until they started tearing out the lab there. Lars-Åke came to my aid when I needed help because I did not manage that work by myself," says Christer.
Appreciated knowledge bank
He has been part of the operations manager Svante Pålsson's group. Here too, Christer has been a spider in the web and played an important role as utility-man – in the utmost sense of the word. He has been an appreciated key to important knowledge, and have had a lot of this knowledge inside his mind. Much of the activities have been circling around Christer. He has been good at keeping track of things, and has played a role beyond the formal work description. He says with some self-criticism that he probably got into things he really did not have to do.
"I've had many controversies about the bulky waste with the contractor, and have probably loaded some tens of tonnes of coarse picks myself over the years."
Christer has always worked according to a simple philosophy:
"My whole ambition has been to get something better, and especially environmentally friendly and economical."
Straight-out role
Purchasing has been the main task, but not only that, although his role has been more straight-out here. He has also had the main responsibility for boilers and spare power, among other things. The water treatment plant has also been on Christer's table, he has participated in the reinstallation of new water, and over the years has got through many of his opinions.
"But my role narrowed after all when I got to MC2. In the beginning, I had Kaijas (Kaija Matikainen, technician, editor's note) job to go into the lab and handle chemicals and stuff. Though it turned out to be too much; I barely got into the lab until I had to go out again, so it eventually became untenable. One had just got dressed when a truck could call and say I had to receive a delivery. Kaija therefore came as the merciful samaritan!"
He hopes to get on at MC2 even after his retirement, and has begun a new project that he hopes to have the opportunity to finish:
"It's about a new UPS device for the stepper. A UPS device is a battery backup that acts as a form of backup power which eliminates all interruptions of incoming power and buffers with energy as soon as it gets glitches and other things. If I'm allowed, I'll be happy to finish that project, it's really exciting."
One problem Christer points out as a purchaser is that one often ignore the costs of installing the purchased equipment; both regarding to money and resources. For example, the gas system for the so-called IPC:s costed about 300,000 kronor just to install at its time.
"Nobody understood what a huge job it was; there were several hundred meters of gas pipes and connections. You had to be careful to get it really tight. I was also often interrupted. Just when I were bending a pipe the phone rang and someone needed a pair of rubber gloves. It was just to throw everything you had for your hands and hurry up with the rubber gloves. But I got everything together, and it worked."
What has been most rewarding over the years?
"I think it has been a lot of fun here at MC2. I got more colleagues when I started here, and it all became easier. I also got very free hands, and have experienced that as a very positive circumstance."
What are you going to miss?
"I am a real techie and Chalmers is the stronghold of technology, so leaving is like if someone would steal the motorcycle from me. I shall not hide the fact."
Several irons in the fire
But Christer does not intend to lie on his couch or feed the pigeons in the park. He plans to train himself to be an authorized trustee. In that role, he can certainly also benefit from his experience from many years as elected member in various housing societies. In Surte, for example, he was a member of the board of a HSB association for many years.
The motorcycle and computers are other major leisure interests of Christer. He also manages two gardens of around 700 square meters each. One of the gardens belonged to Christer's mother, but when she passed away in 2017 he took over her house.
"Now I'll keep it until I know what to do with it."
Apparently, he will not have any trouble filling his time as a retiree. With the temporary jobs at MC2, the calendar will certainly be fully subscribed, as well:
"I've told Svante that I'm going to work until I'm 90; then maybe we can discuss a de-escalation! With the right of my age," Christer jokes.
Text och foto: Michael Nystås

Published: Wed 28 Feb 2018.