Contribution to the celebration of the 20th anniversary
of the International Training Institute for Materials Science (ITIMS)

F.F. Bekker,
former project coordinator and secretary of the International Advisory Board (IAB).
Dear co-workers of ITIMS, dear colleagues.

Representing the Stichting Science International (SSI) I’ll tell you shortly about this foundation. In 1999 Peter Brommer (PB), Jan Oldenziel (JO) and I retired as staff members from the University of Amsterdam (UvA). PB in cooperation with Jaap Franse (JF) had guided quite a number of PhD students of the Cryogenic Laboratory (Cryolab) and ITIMS. JO was active in setting up a physics department in the University of Cantho. In that very year ‘99 we founded SSI.  For me that was after 25 years of Vietnam-Holland (VH) University Cooperation.

Jaap Franse joined us in 2002 after his retirement as rector of UvA. His first PhD student was Kim Ngan; she is now a professor in Krakow, Poland.

With limited funds we started two projects; one on detection of cosmic rays in cooperation with the University of Hanoi and some secondary  schools in Hanoi. And a second one on the use of computers to do simple experiments on physics for secondary schools in India in cooperation with the Miranda Institute, a department of Delhi University. For both projects training and equipment were organised and provided.

In 2009 on occasion of 10 years SSI we decided to publish a book on the start and impact of the first three VH university cooperation projects. In this book there are contributions of T.D.Hien and N.X.Chanh on the Cryogenic and the Micro Electronics (ME) laboratories; projects, that started in 1977. Now we can, without any doubt, state, that the main impact of these two projects was and still is ITIMS.

I want to tell the young generation of ITIMS co-workers something about decisive events in the prehistory of their institute and I was so happy to find some old documents in my archive. They were very help full; they returned disappeared memories.

When in 1974, after the offer for support from  Dutch universities, the answer of Vietnam was: Laboratories for Cryogenics (=Low Temperature Physics) and for Micro Electronics. Many scientists in the Netherlands (NL) but also in Vietnam (VN), as we learned later, were amazed about this answer. This , however, was indeed the proposal of the VN minister of education, Ta Quang Buu. Nowadays we must admit, that he had in the almost last year of the war an impressive view on and trust in the potency of his fellow  countrymen to make first steps in the direction of future self-reliance of VN.

Another minister important in the prehistory of ITIMS was Jan Pronk, a left wing social democrat, minister of development cooperation (DC) from 1973 till 1977. Preparation of the first three projects started in 1975.

In this period nine more projects were discussed with the Netherlands University Foundation For International Cooperation (NUFFIC). This organisation got its funds from the ministry of DC.  Members of the board of NUFFIC were the presidents of the administration of the Dutch Universities

In 1979 these new projects started in, what was called, the first phase of the VH (Vietnam-Holland) projects. Cryogenics continued in this phase under number VH 13.The University of Twente stopped the Micro-electronics project; the Dutch project leader, a pacifist, could not agree, that students in military uniforms visited his lectures in Hanoi.

In the NL parliament several times suggestions by right wing parties have been made to stop the VH university cooperation with an argumentation related to the boat refuges or the occupation of Cambodia. In 1982 the parliament took a decision, that only projects with a clear humanitarian impact should be supported and a special commission has been sent to VN to find out which projects could be considered as such.

Starting from 1979 in the Cryolab support to hospitals had been organised, using liquid nitrogen and specific equipment delivered by the Cryolab. The commission, after visiting some hospitals and taking note of the results of several applications of cryosurgery, mostly introduced and guided by Nguyen The Hien, staff member of the Cryolab, came to the conclusion, that the project VH13 should be considered indeed as humanitarian. As a consequence the Cryolab could continue its research in cooperation with Amsterdam (UvA) on Rare Earth inter-metallic materials in the second VH phase, that started in 1983.

In march 1989 a delegation with the rector of Wageningen University H. v.d. Plas (HP) and the chairman of the board of UvA J.K. Gevers (JG) visited all the VH projects as preparation on the meeting of the NL-VN common commission. One of the members of the NL delegation was Han van der Horst (HH), representing NUFFIC.

They met Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary general of the Dien Bien Phu battle, then as  vice-prime minister responsible for the education and research policy. HH has described this meeting in the May 1989 number of “Overzicht” (Survey) of NUFFI

JG en HP agreed with Giap, that the VH cooperation needed an extra impulse in the next VH phase with new projects and Giap proposed a new project: management and economy.

It became one of the three discussed projects in the VH common commission meeting some days later. HH warned: more than one new project probably would not get support. The project Institute for Materials Science then got the highest priority in the common commission. However, promises could not be made; the NL delegation could not foresee if the then planned retreat of the VN army out of Cambodia would be followed by an improvement of the NL-VN relations.

In the VH common commission Gevers repeated an important proposal, that he earlier made in the University Council of Amsterdam University:  in case of new projects the cooperation should be lifted to European level.  This was the impulse to start preparations for an International Workshop on Materials Science to be held in October 1990 in Hanoi.

There were two sessions: Semiconductors and Solar Energy Cells and Rare Earth Based Materials and their Applications introduced respectively by Arthur Willoughby (UK) and Jaap Franse.

Eight attendants from Asia, eighteen from Europe, two from the USA, three from the USSR and about ninety from Vietnam made the workshop very success full, indeed. Many of the foreigners wanted to be involved  in future cooperation with VN universities!

In 1989 Jan Pronk came back as minister for Development Cooperation. In January 1990 the UvA board contacted him and in March Pronk answered, extremely diplomatic, that he decided “to enlarge the possibilities for interuniversity cooperation with Vietnam on a limited scale” The Dutch VH inter university steering committee then decided to apply for three new projects with the Materials Science  (MS) Institute as first priority.

For more than a year there was no answer from NUFFIC. More or less by accident I discovered Pronk as invited speaker on the 20th world conference of “the Society for International Development” in May 1991. After his speech I found him at the bar in the conference hall, introduced myself and asked him about the Materials Science application. It came out, that he, himself, was very interested and positive about the MS project and he explained me, that this “suspect” project had to pass a commission of the ministry of Foreign Affairs (FA). He advised me to organise a “heavy university delegation”, and gave me the telephone number of his secretary, who should make an appointment with the secretary of the FA commission.

In June 91 the heavy delegation, Gevers, Franse (UvA)en Popma (UT) visited the secretary of the FA commission. Apparently the fact, that Franse and the FA secretary knew each other from their student  time had a positive effect. At the end of 1991 the MS project got the green signal.

In June ’91 NX Chanh and TD Hien were in Amsterdam. On June 24, some days after the visit of “the heavy delegation” to the FA secretary  Chanh and Hien signed the notes I had made about the discussions we had on the MS project. They were well prepared, they had a list with interesting proposals as is clear from these notes. For instance to set up a network of groups involved in MS in Hanoi to use each-others equipment as well as to use the international contacts of these groups.
Sometime in 1990 Rob Ammerlaan from UvA told me that the colleagues from the former Micro Electronics project wanted to renew the cooperation with VN. That was good news. Staff of the Cryogenic and  the Microelectronics laboratories could be involved in the new institute. Moreover in the seventies I had closely cooperated with Jisk Holleman, coordinator of the ME project from Twente.

In May 1992 I was in Hanoi together with Theo Popma from the UT and Peter de Goeje, working for the International Relations Office of UvA,  for the official formulation mission; due to the preliminary work of Hien and Chanh this was a relatively easy job.

In the June 24 1991 notes  under “Steps to be worked out before formulation mission” we can read:

Research programme approved by international board

Such a board had been discussed since Gevers proposal in the University council in Amsterdam in 1988. In June 1990   I was, together with Peter de Goeje in Stockholm to visit SAREC, the Swedish equivalent of Nuffic, to discuss with Lennart Hasselgren support for the MS project. He agreed to be a member of the organising committee of the October 1990 Workshop, we also asked him to become member of an international advisory board for the MS project. This he refused but mentioned the names of Bo Monemar and Krisnha Garg, professors in Upsalla and Jaipur Universities respectively; they both agreed.

During the formulation mission in May ‘92  the international advisory board  (IAB) got its official status. From the Physical Laboratory (Natlab UvA) JF and RA became members; they suggested Givord and Willoughby respectively from Grenoble (France) and Southampton (UK): both agreed. JF became president and I secretary of the IAB. From Twente Jisk Holleman and Piet Bergveld took part in the yearly meetings; from ITIMS Hien, Thuy, Chanh and Don. The original idea of Gevers to lift the cooperation to European level had been realised!

Many ITIMS students got their PhD in Amsterdam, Twente, Uppsalla, Jaipur or Grenoble, often after a sandwich construction: some years research abroad, sometime in ITIMS under two cooperating promoters. Working in this way guaranteed international standards!

It’s time to invite my oldest VN friends T.D. Hien and N.X. Chanh and the present director of ITIMS, Hung, to receive on the occasion of 20 years ITIMS an SSI present. Together with this flower basket I transfer five copies of the book “The first three projects; their start and impact” to you for the library of ITIMS. Hopefully many of the young ITIMS students will read them. Moreover specially for the two of you a copy of the document, that we signed in June ’91, when preparing this project, that became so extremely success full and is still going strong!

It’s for Jaap Franse, Peter Brommer, Jan Oldenziel and myself, members of the board of “Science International” a great satisfaction to see, that Prof. Marc Golden, Prof. Tom Gregorgewicz and Dr. Anne de Visser, all co-workers of our own former laboratory are actively taking part in this conference. They continue the 35 years cooperation between our laboratory and Vietnam!

Hanoi, December 2012