I M Werner van der Weg (1941-2011)
On 24 February 1964 I stepped into a community whose existence I had not dreamed of, an
orchestra of researchers and technicians who shared good and bad on their way to the common goal;
I could join and Werner became my buddy for forty-seven years.
Our lab looked like a factory with beautiful machines designed in house and put together by the
technicians in a big hall full of shiny stainless steel, hissing pumps, clattering valves and high-
voltage sparks, enormous magnets and elaborate electronics, control desks with meters, lights and
switches. Big instruments, more than man-sized, we shared with the whole group, and Werner
taught me, for the nights and the weekends, how to operate them independently. This factory of
Jaap Kistemaker, after his success with uranium isotope separation, was converted into a PhD
factory and Werner and I belonged to the first generation graduate students. I was 'paranymph' at his
thesis ceremony and he one year later at mine.
We were almost neighbors in Amsterdam-Watergraafsmeer, where we celebrated the birthdays of
our children, we worked together under our Citroen 2CV's, we went on holidays together with our
young families, we rented a TV together to see the landing on the moon, we were against Vietnam
and the bomb, we had long hair to our shoulders and miraculously stayed out off military service.
We had deep discussions about: love, children, books, war, history and religion, and Werner
patiently listened and asked questions thus making me think differently. After our PhD he went to
Bell Labs and Caltech and I to Chalk River, our families joined us so we also explored the New
It was the beginning of the Silicon Age, the use of particle accelerators for ion-implantation into
silicon, for the development of micro-electronics and the computer chip. The competition and the
pace were fierce but we were up to it, thanks to the fantastic facilities, the quality of our technicians,
the international collaboration, but most of all thanks to the unique atmosphere of collaboration at
the FOM-Institute in Amsterdam. Philips knocked at the door and Werner became responsible for
technology transfer. It is largely thanks to him that our local industry acquired its leading position.
After the Philips group had moved to Eindhoven and could stand alone, Werner became professor
at Utrecht University. There he started research on thin film solar cells made of amorphous silicon,
which became a tremendous success, also among the students in experimental physics. That was
necessary because nuclear physics, for which Utrecht had been famous, was running on its last
legs. Werner's success was also due to the people on whom he could build, such as Frans Habraken
and John Bezemer. Werner was instrumental for Wim Turkenburg when he became professor of
Science and Society. Again Werner was active in technology transfer, this time all the way to the
University of Western Cape near Capetown.
Also in Utrecht Werner and I were colleagues, not only on PhD committees. Those who for the first
time measured the energy difference between amorphous, crystalline and liquid silicon were our
mutual graduate students. I said to Werner: “Over the years we have co-authored many discoveries,
but if you ask me what I am most proud of? I would say the phase-diagram of silicon.” But such
questions were not for Werner. He was uneasy about being proud, except when he was knighted for
all he had done for Utrecht University and for Science in general.
Werner was an exceptional experimental physicist, who also fully mastered the theory of his subject
and he was gifted in mathematics. He proved to be a marvelous manager and was a most successful
editor of the international journal Applied Surface Science. He had the strange habit, whenever he
was to give a talk, to start with a deep sigh. Yet he was an eager and good teacher. But his greatest
strength was that he could listen so well, his door was always open, he would never ever shy away.
His face could honestly show agony whenever he sympathized with your sorrows, but he also had
his warm winning smile through his droopy moustache and he could dance with joy whenever there
was something to celebrate.
In Leiden University Medical Center the nurse said: “he hovers between heaven and earth”. This
made me think of the most beautiful scene we have ever seen together. It was pitch black in a
moonless night when we drove over the Petawawa Plains toward Chalk River. Suddenly there was
a clear light in the sky, it moved like lightning but stayed, we stopped and got out of our car. The
whole sky came down on us in mysterious white light as a gigantic parasol which spread like a
veil around us until all the way to the horizon. This had to be the Northern Lights but it looked like
heaven had opened up to us.
Frans W. Saris