An Interview with
Professor Frederik Heineken
As a new regular feature of MainGate, “AUB Reflections”
will profile the impressions of former AUBites on the significant
facets of their academic life while serving the University. In each
issue from now on, this page will present an interview with a former
faculty or staff member, in which the same set of questions will
When did you
arrive at AUB?
We arrived in Beirut in October 1959, which was when I started as
an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. The department
at that time consisted only of the main building…the east
wing had not yet been added.
What was your first impression?
Other than the research laboratories of Dr. Nassar and Dr. Zahlan,
the physics department consisted of only classrooms and offices.
My friends, Dr. Frans Bruin and his wife Margreet (Peggy), who had
arrived a year earlier, had started building a magnetic resonance
laboratory and I joined them in working on it. The lack of supporting
facilities—such as a mechanical workshop, a glassblowing shop,
an electronic shop, and liquid air supply—was difficult to
get used to at first. We had to do all the work ourselves. Slowly,
however, we were able to add those facilities and technicians as
Where did you teach most
of your classes?
Teaching and student laboratory sessions were all held in the building
of the physics department on the lower campus.
What was the biggest change
you noticed while at AUB?
The biggest change was the growing awareness, especially in the
experimental sciences, of the importance of teaching laboratories
and research facilities. One of my high points at the University
was when one of my graduate students earned a PhD degree in experimental
physics…this was at a time when AUB was still granting doctorates
in some departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
What do you think your
students most remember about your classes?
I hope they’ll remember the time and effort I spent on preparing
my lectures and laboratory sessions, at the undergraduate as well
as at the graduate level.
Are you still in touch
with many of your former students?
Yes. Some of them have even visited us in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Did you stay at AUB throughout
the war (1975-1990)?
Yes, we were at AUB during that period. Times were difficult. Colleagues
were suddenly departing and we who were left had to make up for
all kinds of classes. Budgets were drying up and our equipment for
research and in the teaching labs suffered from wear and tear. We
had to be inventive and design new equipment and then have it made
in our workshops.
Do you have particular
memories from those years?
Of course there were a number of very sad events, like the murder
of the dean of engineering, the dean of students, and President
Malcolm Kerr. Also, one of my promising graduate students was
killed. Shelling had started again and she wanted to go home with
her sister. I urged her to spend the night with us. A shell landed
on her car on the way home. There was also the destruction of
College Hall and the front façade of the physics building
that damaged our equipment.
There were also memorable moments. Towards the
end of my time at AUB, we had a group of enthusiastic graduate
students in the magnetic resonance laboratories who all continued
for their PhDs and now have jobs in Canada, France, Lebanon, and
the United States.
When did you leave AUB?
Have you been back?
I retired in 1998, but we stayed in Lebanon. After having lived
for 40 years in Lebanon, the decision to stay was not difficult
What impact has AUB had
on your life?
It was the joy of building up a respectable Department of Physics
and keeping it going during the war. I also enjoyed being able
to help so many students.
Do you have something
you would like to say to your former students?
I always like to hear from them—where they are, what they