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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 be asked.

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 well.

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 to make.

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 are doing.