Tord Claeson welcomes us in his office on the fifth floor of the building where the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience – MC2 – houses since the beginning. It is also his workplace, just as Chalmers has been for 60 years.
But this interview almost not happened. It took time to convince Tord Claeson that his knowledge and experience could be interesting reading for someone else. He rather tones down his own importance, and raises others who have borne him through life instead. He himself thinks that he has had great luck getting to where he is today:
"Without supervisors, colleagues, students and, not least, super-secretaries who have ensured that the economy has been good, and hyper-skilled technicians who managed the laboratories, it would never have been possible", he says.
At last, Tord Claeson allowed us to get behind the door to his office. And this is where we are now. The shelves are full of binders, books, magazines and papers. An entire professional life and more to that. On walls and in shelves, there is a not insignificant collection of clocks of different shapes and sizes.
"Eventually I'll clean out here and move. But I'm probably a little lazy too. Every time I make piles of things to be thrown away I find interesting things to read", he smiles quietly.
Are the clocks going right?
"It varies. Sometimes they stop and I try to start them again."
Over the past year, the milestones have almost stood as a rake for him. 2018 it was 50 years since he was promoted and it was noticed by Chalmers appointing him as a jubilee doctor."At that time there were not so many who were promoted, so one had to gather the doctoral students for two or three years to get up in just over a handful. But it has of course changed and grown over the years", says Tord.
In November he turned 80 years. And in 2019 it is exactly 60 years since he stepped in through the doors of the university and started his studies in engineering physics. This autumn, a reunion with the comrades from the student time is planned.
"It was 1959, I was 21 years old, and we were 400 students who were accepted, of which 19 were on engineering physics. In total, Chalmers had only around 2,000 students then. It was a cohesive class, from the very first day we were welded together and helped each other", Tord recalls.
"I remember being welcomed by the president. It was a smaller organization back then. The administration at that time consisted of the president and his secretary, and another man who handled the finances and the staff. There was also a part-time registrar. Each professor had his own secretary. When I started there were only two physics professors at Chalmers. At the same time, the great expansion began which characterized the 1960s. When I later graduated as a doctoral student, there had already been four professors in experimental physics."
Clothing manager for cortègen
It has gone well for Tord Claeson and his fellow students. Twenty percent were elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), as many percent were honored with awards such as IVA's gold medal, the Chalmers Medal, the Gustaf Dalén medal, and the Global Energy Prize. Some became honorary doctors at Chalmers. This in a class of only 19 students.
The studies were time-consuming with more than 40 scheduled hours a week and some read upper courses to increase grades. But Tord instead got involved in the student life at Chalmers. During the first year he was a member of the cortège committee.
"It was a lot of fun and rewarding. I was a clothing manager. Then you are responsible for the participants on the wagons getting some funny clothes and makeup on them. It was a work that was most concentrated on getting clothes together from different organizations and second hand stores. Either we got the clothes donated or we had to borrow them for a while. At that time, the committee consisted of ten people. I was not building any carriages, there was no time with that. The committee had many different tasks that were shared between us. Among other things, we were responsible for making a program that could be sold. But after the first year it is generally other things that takes over", he says.
However, Tord continued to engage; he became a member of the international committee in the student union management team.
Two years in the US
After graduating in engineering physics in 1963, Tord started doctoral studies at Chalmers. In 1964 he was given the opportunity to travel to the United States on a scholarship on the advice of the professors Gösta Brogren and Stig Lundqvist, who were Tord's supervisor. He wanted to show California to his wife Madeleine, as he had previously spent an exchange year there.
"Stig gave me many good advice on where to go, and helped me find a good group at the University of California in San Diego who was a leader in superconducting. There I was lucky and could concentrate on doing experiments and writing a number of papers", Tord says.
He stayed in San Diego for just under two years. But apart from the time abroad, Tord has been Chalmers faithful. When he came back to continue his postgraduate education in 1966, he already had a licentiate degree. Peter Myers, Chalmers first professor of solid state physics, who became his mentor for many years, now took over after Gösta Brogren.
Just before Christmas 1967, Tord received his PhD degree. During his education he was given the opportunity to build up his own research group and supervise younger doctoral students. Tord was then himself only in his 20s. The research group consisted of Tord himself, two licentiates, an engineer and a couple of thesis workers.
"In 1967, I also started a course in low-temperature physics that actually still exists. I led it myself for 35 years. At the same time, I started a number of lab experiments where we worked with superconductors and floating helium", he says.
As a supervisor, Tord has had the strategy of not standing behind the shoulder of the doctoral students and monitoring their smallest steps. Instead, he has taken a step back and let the doctoral students bloom. It has made him appreciated.
"They have more opportunities to choose problems themselves and develop in an atmosphere where there have been equipment, resources and others to interact with. If you are good then it will be very good researchers of it", says Tord.
The first doctoral student to graduate was Claes-Göran Granqvist, who then went to Uppsala University and is still active there, known for his smart windows.
You supervised him?
"Supervised and supervised... he was in the group", Tord notes in his quiet manner.
Working three percent
He still works three percent and is on site at MC2 every day.
"I usually get in around half past nine, then I go home when it gets dark, a little earlier in the summer. I have lessen my working hours a lot, now maybe it is not even 40 hours a week ... and that's about half against before!"
"I'm sitting here at the computer, reading a lot, writing some. If I find something interesting, I pass it on to colleagues. Sometimes I read articles written by the researchers and come up with some comments. Sometimes I help with formulations in applications. Then I get requests to participate in evaluations of grant applications, review submitted manuscripts for journals and more. I do this to be able to participate and get the benefit of interacting and discussing with doctoral students, attending seminars and such."
Chalmers was not the obvious choice
But the road to Chalmers has not been straightforward. As a child, Tord was not even particularly interested in technology and science:
"My cousin and I used to play in the attic at home and in the countryside. There was also my uncle's old radio receiver that we tried to listen to. Then I had a small box in the shelter room with a lot of chemicals you could experiment with."
He wasn't set to research at the beginning either. The turning point came in the upper secondary school - in the meeting with a history teacher!
"I was quite interested in history and first intended to study economic history at the School of Business, Economics and Law. But my teacher in history did not think you could get big A in grades if you didn't master the latin language. Then I got tired of it all! Competitive as I am, I therefore applied for what was most difficult to get admitted into, engineering physics.
It seems like it was indirectly thanks to your history teacher that you came to Chalmers?
"(Laughter) I might exaggerate a little... But Chalmers was the natural point. It was already quite visible, you were well aware that Chalmers existed. I also had a good companion who was very interested in chemistry. He was completely set to go to Chalmers and it contributed to my own decision."
Most important research contributions
Tord Claeson is generally considered as the one who took the research in low temperature physics and superconducting to Chalmers. Something like this had previously only existed on a limited scale at the university. To his most important research contributions, he regard the work on series-connected tunnel transitions and electron beam lithography.
"Since we had worked with series-connected parametric Josephson amplifiers, it was natural to also try series-connected tunnel transitions. We were lucky, it worked well. Then a prototype was made in Erik Kollberg's lab, and after that a reciever at Onsala Space Observatory. It was developed into a real product that has been used at several similar observatories and in satellites. It was something that got really great. It's fun", he says.
To be able to produce even smaller circuits, the research group began to explore electron beam lithography. Tord sent over two of his co-workers, Bengt Nilsson and Dag Winkler, to the world's then only submicron lab, which was located at Cornell University in the USA.
"Bengt and Dag learned the technology there, and then came back. Bengt set up an electron microscope that we bought used from the Norwegian oil fields. He had a small Sinclair computer with a memory of 128 kilobytes, it was very much at that time! With it he managed to control the electron microscope and start drawing circuits. Eventually we got funding to buy a new and better electron beam lithography instrument."
The research group was crowded with others in a small clean room of eight square meters in the basement of the physics house. The lab was basically used around the clock by about a hundred users. It worked but was unsustainable in the long run. Soon the discussions began about merging the smaller clean rooms that were at the Physics and Electrical Engineering departments to something larger.
Tord is one of the pioneers at MC2 and was involved in influencing the establishing of the department. But he rather describes himself as a brake pad than a driving force. The fact remains, however, that it is difficult to imagine the current clean room exist without any help from Tord. Together with professors such as Torvald Andersson, Peter Andrekson, Stefan Bengtsson, Olof Engström, Erik Kollberg, Torbjörn Lagerwall, Anders Larsson, Göran Wendin and Bengt Stebler, he belonged to the driving forces.
"I felt some sympathy and affinity with the physics department and would like it to be a great atmosphere, where we could interact in a larger collective. The unifying link was actually that we needed a better equipped laboratory, larger premises, we were sitting quite crowded, with us there were four doctoral students in each room and I used to always have a couple of guests in my office. Likewise, it was elsewhere, we were quite crowded and needed more space. Then it was said centrally that "yes, then you will form a new own department to be able to get a new building". And then it became a new building that over time has become good", says Tord.
Today he describes MC2 as an activity that tries to stand on two legs; one consisting of more pure basic research, and one that adjoins applied research.
"It has been good to be able to motivate the activities in this way. The most enjoyable thing has been to see the development that has taken place and that it is such a high quality of the work being done. I have been lucky to work with fun areas that have been growing over the years. It also means that those who have come after me have been able to work and become much better", says Tord.
What are you most proud of?
"For my own part, that I have survived - both as a researcher and a human. I am also proud that the department has grown and to some extent gained recognition nationally and internationally."
Honourable awards and assignments
Tord Claeson is a member of prestigious organizations such as the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg (KVVS), the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) and the Korean and Flemish science academies.
He has received numerous prestigious awards, such as the Chalmers Medal, IVA's gold medal and Jacob Wallenberg's prize. In 1994 he was awarded the Celsius Medal, which is given by the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala.
"Some awards have made me happy and honored, both IVA's gold medal and Jacob Wallenberg's prize. A prize that I appreciate a lot was from the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala. It is unusual that they give their finest award to outsiders. Thanks to my co-operation with others, I have also succeeded in being elected to a couple of foreign academies."
For twelve years he sat in the Nobel Committee for Physics, one of which as chairman. He describes it as an inspiring assignment:
"It has been very stimulating. This meant that you had to practice in areas other than your own. On average, I spent maybe a month a year studying all the different questions."
A boy from Fjärås
Tord Claeson was born in 1938. He grew up in the old dairy in Fjärås with parents and two younger sisters. His father was dairy manager until the closure in 1950, when he instead accompanied the dairy in Gothenburg. His mother was a housewife but worked extra as a shop-assistant every Saturday.
"My mother was very fond of getting out. She was very outgoing and liked to meet people. Actually, she should probably have had a more extensive job, it might have been more fun for her, but it wasn't that common at that time", reflects Tord.
After two years in each class in the elementary school in Fjärås, a so-called B-school with merged classes, he was accepted to Lundby Samrealskola. It then had no own premises. The training was instead placed at the Kvarnberg School and the Labor Institute at Grönsakstorget in Gothenburg.
"It was an ambulatory existence for four years. It was a small shock that it was so different from the B-school in the countryside. I remember, among other things, the gymnastics. In the countryside we never had any gymnastics, so I didn't know how to behave. At the first lesson, the teacher took me out and asked me to turn cart-wheels in front of the rest of the class ... When he saw me he said "this is not how you should do!" After that it has not become so much gymnastics for my part..."
Bike to the office
Tord stays in shape with cycling, training and caretaking of the house in Toltorpsdalen in Gothenburg – where he and his wife Madeleine have been living for 50 years – and the holiday cottage in Skåne.
"In the past I used to ride all year round, but when it gets slippery, I no longer do it. I have become a little faint-hearted now with my age. I also started working out when Kaija Matikainen had her groups in the chemistry house. It was very good and nice. When it ended, I got a membership at Friskis & Svettis and started going there instead. It's good for my stiff back."
The 80th anniversary was celebrated with a quiet brunch at a restaurant with his wife Madeleine, the couple's four daughters and the nine grandchildren. He emphasizes the support he always have had from Madeleine, and that she constantly has been encouraging his work:
"Without her, there would never have been anything", he says lovingly.
The colleagues at Chalmers also paid attention to the anniversary with a cake party in Café Canyon.
"I still enjoy being here. There are so many nice people around that makes you feel welcome and as a part of a community. When you get older, you will end up slightly more outside with time. MC2 has grown and become much larger as well. So far, it does not seem like someone wants to get rid of me here. But I must try to be responsive and gradually reduce my presence", concludes Tord.
Text and photo: Michael Nystås
Photo from the Doctoral Conferment Ceremony: Anna-Lena Lundqvist
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