Today’s guest is Dr. Fisseha Kassahun. He was born in Aksum city. His parent's house was not far from the obelisks found there. He is an Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, Addis Ababa University (A.A.U). He is a pioneer elite in Quantum Optics expert in Ethiopia.
He has been teaching Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Optics at undergraduate level apart from supervising over 39 MSc and 5 PhD research projects in Quantum Optics. Seven graduate students are currently working for their PhD under his supervision.
Likewise, Dr. Fisseha has been doing research on basic Quantum Optics. In particular, he has developed a substantially original theory of Laser Dynamics. Furthermore, he has introduced and discussed in some detail the notion of Local Mean Photon Number and Local Quadrature Squeezing. He is currently working on the annihilation and creation operators that satisfy a commutation relation different from the usual one. In addition, he has some research works published in reputable journals.
The associate professor as well had served as the chairman of the Department of Physics at the Addis Ababa University for about nine years. He was heavily involved in the preparation of the PhD program of the Department in 2002. In addition, he had participated in the preparation of the BSc Program in Physics for Ethiopian Universities in 2003. He had also served for more than three years as Associate Editor for SINET.
The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Dr. Fisseha Kassahun with the purpose of familiarizing his personal and professional life with readers. Excerpts:
What was your childhood like?
As a child, I had passed through many twists and turns as the challenges of life were unbearable. My life was full of problems as my parents standard of living was above the dead and below the living. At the beginning they had a car that they bought outlaying hard-won Mother Teresa’s coin. Spendthrift, my parents used to spend their money on religious purposes more often than not. They were in the habit of trusting everyone with all their hearts . Through the passage of time, they faced bankruptcy. Finally, they ended up losing the whole thing they had.
Even worse, there were times that we were suffering stomach pangs. Pertaining to my childhood I do not have good memories to cherish. To add an insult to injury, I was not allowed to play with my age mates. To surprise of many, my dad once caught me playing with a boy in the neighborhood and walloped me over and over again. From that day on wards, I gave up playing with my age mates and shifted focus to fully focusing on my studies.
Discuss your educational background?
When my dad got transferred to Adwa, I attended primary school there. Had he not been transferred to Adwa, I would have ended up illiterate. The idea of sending me to school did not come to my dad’s mind. As luck would have it, our relative who was making a living as a teacher in Adwa sent me to school of his own initiation . My dad was not ready to send his children to school.
As I proved one of the outstanding students , in just five years I became 8th grader.
I became the talk of everyone at that specific juncture considering my intelligence. What was unique about me was scoring high grades with not much reading.
Then, I joined Atse Yohannes High School found in Mekelle. During our time, there was only one high school throughout the current Tigray State. We used to get 20 birr from the school.
I was in the habit of standing first almost all the time.
I did pass through many challenges time and again to reach where I am in today.
What challenges did you pass through?
After I joined Atse Yohannes High School, I was disrupting my studies now and then on account of illness. The whole lot was out of my control. I did not know what I had to do except cutting classes. There was even a time that I did not attend school for two terms.
Someday, when I went to school on the third term, our homeroom teacher coerced me to come with a permission slip from the school’s principal. I did not know what I had to do. Shaking all over with fear, I headed straight to the principal and explained the whole lot to him. After attentively hearing my case he felt pity. As my sole income was the twenty Birr that I used to get from the school, he did not want me to lose the money. He did not know what he had to do. He failed to reach into a conclusion within the shortest time possible.
Did the school director give you the go ahead then?
After a long fight with his thoughts, the director showed me a green light to start class. It did not crossed his mind that I would harvest the fruit of success. I kept on attending classes. More often than not, it was on and off I was going to school. In due course, to the surprise of the principal and members of the school community, I stood first despite cutting classes every so often. When I learnt the news from my classmates, I could not believe my ears. I was showered with various awards.
While a 12th grader, I did not attend the first semester. Later, when I headed straight to school with the intention of joining for the second semester, I learnt I was was relegated to low-achievers student group. At long last, students of the batch sat for the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination (ESLCE). All together, we were 78 . Out of which, two students including me passed the ESLCE.
What was the next move?
I joined the Science Faculty found at Arat Kilo to study Engineering.
I was financial constrained. I could not overcome the challenge. When I became at a loss what to do, I joined the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia. I was responsible for data collection. Having worked there for some time, I rejoined A.A.U. This time, I changed my mind and joined the department of Statistics as I was not interested to join the previous department.
After a year, I headed to German. But for no apparent reason nothing could make me feel comfort. When I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, I made up my mind to return home. The whole thing turned out to be a bitter pill to swallow.
I mongered to hating everything to death. In due course, I got myself engaged in the teaching profession. After I had distanced myself from education world for some years, I rejoined the Science Faculty.
What was the feeling like?
I found one of my classmates and a student of mine to be my instructor and classmate respectively. It was a discouraging moment for me. I did not know what I had to study. I was not interested in various fields of study. My biggest problem was getting a field of study my interest chimes in with.
Slowly but surely, I made up my mind to study Physics given that I found it to be a very much interesting subject. In due course, I successfully completed courses and embarked on working as a graduate assistant.
How did you get the chance of working at Addis Ababa University?
While I was pursuing BSc in Physics, I was teaching in a certain school. There was even a time that I cut classes for a semester. The only strategy I brought into play was borrowing exercise books from students. When I was a third year student, our teacher was an Egyptian. We rarely met in class. One day when we met face to face “Are you working somewhere?” she asked. I informed her that I was working in the Ministry of Education. Although she wanted to discover why I was not attending her classes, she dared not ask me. She was offering two courses. One day she gave us an exam. The other day, when I was sitting for the second exam, getting closer to my ear she said “Congratulation you have scored “A” in the previous exam!”
My Grade Point Average (GPA) was four point at that term. I never attended classes as it should be. Given my handsome cumulative GPA, I jump started working as a graduate assistance at A.A.U. Inch by inch, I did my MSc degree in Physics and PhD degree in Poland, Warsaw University.
What was the teaching-learning process in Warsaw University like?
When I left for Poland, Warsaw University, an adviser was assigned to me. He was too careless. He was not following up my research works. At some point, my adviser proposed a topic and left for America. In due course, I forgot about him and kept on doing the whole lot on my own. I did researchers on my own.
When he returned home, with a confused feeling of vexation and surprise, he asked me “Why did not you in advance let me know about my research works?” It was three research works I did. Of which, he had two of them published in a little while. I had a wonderful time in Warsaw University.
I was the sole Physicist in Ethiopia with PhD for many years. I as well was the only Physicist who studied Quantum Optics. There was no anything called Quantum Optics course in Ethiopia. Currently, most Ethiopian scholars in Quantum Optics are my students.
What is your marital status?
I am not married as I almost got spliced with Physics . It is my sole spouse. I did not have a wee-drop of idea to get married at this point in time. Though I do not advise others to second my life principle, I hate marriage to death. I did not want to have a child who would depart this life. My children are my brain children—my books and articles spread across the globe bearing my name and that will go down from generation to generation. I am not interested to lead myself in this kind of meaningless life. I do not even understand why I came to this world. The only thing that I know about life is the last of us is going to depart this life. For me, life seems pointless.
Without exaggeration, I regret being born in this material world. I am minimalist. I do not have anything at home except a bed, a table, a cupboard and two sofas. I do not have my own residential house even.
I am going to have my own residential house thanks to my brother’s generosity at the present time. He is well educated and lives abroad. He bought the house to me after observing my lifelong romance with Physics.
What is all about Physics?
To begin with, the way Physics education is delivered seems not that satisfactory in Ethiopia. I do not think people who teach Physics know the significance of teaching the subject. By the way, Physics is concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. The subject matter of Physics includes mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms. Physics answers various questions like how the universes began, the change our universe could experience down the road, the basic building blocks of matter and other related aspects. Physics consists of theoretical as well as experimental parts. The former one revolves around observed facts. Physics indirectly helps a given society every so often. Without Physics, we cannot have engineering fields.
Most students seem to fight shy from joining the department of Physics. What is your take on this?
Students would like to join various fields of study based on their interest. In fact, most students be it here or abroad are not interested to pursue further education in Physics. I am not saying that all students are not interested to join the department of Physics. The reason behind their disinterest is attributable to the demanding nature of the subject.
Moreover, studying Physics, specially in developing countries, is not that rewarding financially. If truth be told, Physics is an antediluvian as well as extensive field of science, which puts in plain words natural observable facts in the universe. Above and beyond, it is a springboard for all sciences such as Chemistry, Geology, Biology and what not.
What should be done to take Physics education to a new level of success here?
As for me, one should do research to answer this question. It is easier said than done to simply express one's ideas, thoughts and feelings regarding the way forwards.
The culture of Physics is not developed in our country. Most people are interested in getting themselves actively involved in different social issues. People should give due weight and attention to research works for the most part on Physics. I would really appreciate if people get themselves engaged in Physics in addition to giving more time for research works.
What is all about Quantum optics?
To start with, the word "Quantum" refers to the nominal quantity of any physical creature that can intermingle with another entity and the word "optics," in Physics, refers to the study of light. Quantum Optics is a field of Quantum Physics that deals for the most part with the interaction of photons with matter seeing that individual photons is decisive to interpreting the behavior of electromagnetic waves all together.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT