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

World together.

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