Project manager Zerihun Tegegne gathered his expertise in microwave photonics and optoelectronics in many places in the world. In this edition of In The Spotlight we discover why someone who has traveled so far can still feel right at home in Twente.
It’s tempting to assume that an Ethiopian moving to Europe will have experienced a lot of culture shock, but Zerihun explains that he got used to cultural differences much earlier in his life. “When I started electrical engineering studies at Arba Minch University in southern Ethiopia, I lived in a dormitory room with six fellow Ethiopians and we each spoke a different language. There are a lot of different cultures and no less than 82 different languages in Ethiopia!”. In addition, Zerihun worked together with a lot of foreign colleagues during his first job at a telecom company in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. These experiences made him well-prepared for a move to Europe, where he obtained a master’s degree and PhD in optical communications, photonics technologies and optoelectronics in Turin and Paris, respectively. He went on to work at various companies in France and Belgium. Despite his traveling experience, Zerihun’s journey to the Twente region in The Netherlands was a bit rough. “It was during the chaotic start of the corona pandemic. After a long train ride, I arrived with a dead phone battery and no idea of where to go. Luckily, a very friendly Dutch lady offered to charge my phone and even take me to my destination. This act of kindness reminded me a lot of the culture in my home country”.
The main part of Zerihun’s job at PHIX is to manage several European and national research projects. These projects push the boundaries of integrated photonics to enable new applications or achieve significant performance increases. For example, the POETICS project focuses on speeding up datacenter communication by developing 1.6 Tb/s optical transceivers and replacing electrical switches with optical ones. The use of multicore fibers and flip chip integration of several photonic integrated circuits (PICs) are some of the exciting developments that Zerihun is involved in. “What I love about my job is that I’m not only managing projects and delegating tasks, but also actively participating in them. One day I could be writing a project proposal and the next I could be performing some assembly work in our production facility. And all the while I’m collaborating with many different people and learning a lot from them”.
“There are a lot of different cultures and no less than 82 different languages in Ethiopia!”
In his free time Zerihun loves to go jogging in nature. “A big city like Paris, where I used to work, never really lets my brain take a rest. Enschede is a small city with a beautiful surrounding countryside, perfect for jogging and relaxation. The people are welcoming and greet you when they walk by, so I feel right at home. I just bought a house here and look forward to settling down in Twente with my family. I’m done traveling”, he laughs.
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