Category Archives: Blog

Hejdå Sverige, vi ses igen!

For those of you that are not Swedish, the title says: Goodbye Sweden, we’ll see each other again. After nearly 3 years living in Gothenburg, the time has nearly come to move on. In a bit less than 1 month, I’ll exchange Gothenburg for Leuven (Belgium). I will start working at imec again, now as “Photonics design engineer”. In that sense, I’ll be coming home again, even though the project will be totally different from my Ph. D. work in imec, or my post-doc work in Sweden. I’ll start working in the team of Xavier Rottenberg, in close collaboration with my former supervisor Pol Van Dorpe. The project is part of imec’s life science program, which is briefly outlined in the movie below.

The main idea is to use nanotechnology in order to come to new miniaturised lab-on-chip devices, which in future will lead to a dramatic reduction in health care spendings, while at the same time obtaining test results much faster than with current technologies. Needless to say that I like this challenge a lot, and look forward to coming home again in Leuven.

In fact, I must admit that the last 3 years have really flown by, which means that I truly enjoyed the time in Gothenburg. Therefore, I want to take the time to say thank you to quite some people that have been an important part of my life in the last few years.

Let’s start from the start, the reason why I moved to Sweden, being my job at Chalmers. Thanks a lot to my boss Sascha Dmitriev for offering me the opportunity to be part of his research team within the division of BioNanoPhotonics of Mikael Käll. I want to thank everybody in the department for the fun times we’ve had, both on the job and at social side activities. Apart from that, I also want to take the time to say thank you to some of our collaborators within Chalmers, most importantly the work done together with Eva Olsson. At the same time, I want to thank our hardcore magnetism friends from the Åkerman lab, namely Johan Åkerman and Randy Dumas, who were always there to help us out when our magnetism knowledge was to limited.

I was also fortunate enough to be involved in quite a few international collaborations, and I would like to thanks everybody involved. First of all, I want to thank everybody in the PhotoNVoltaics project, you are with too many to address every one of you individually. Also, I want to thank our friends Paolo Vavassori and Nicolò Maccaferri from NanoGUNE in San Sebastian, for the very fruitful collaboration. The same goes for my predecessor at Chalmers, Valentina Bonnani and her colleague Francesco Pineider in the university of Firenze. Also, I would like to thank many more collaborators from all around the world: Ilya Razdolski (Radboud University Nijmegen), Maxim Shcherbakov (Moscow State University, Russia), Niels Verellen (Imec, Belgium), Tavakol Pakizeh (K. N. Toosi University, Tehran, Iran), Daniel Higley (Stanford University, USA), Anke Sanz-Valesco (Chalmers, Sweden), Casey Miller (University of South Florida), and probably a few more that I forget at this time…

Obviously, there was also plenty of time to relax, and that often involved a few pints in the two Dubliner pubs at Kungsportsplatsen and Järntorget, where I made many, many, many friends. I want to thank everybody at Dubs for always making me feel welcome, you were my second home during the last 3 years. Now that we’re on the subject of Dubs, this immediately brings me to my freelance stagehand job at The Gothenburg Crew, with whom I enjoyed a lot of nice working nights over the past few years. Thanks in particular to Kevin for getting me into the crew, and arranging me a spot on the shows that I really didn’t want to miss (Metallica, Roger Waters, Volbeat, In Flames to just name a few). Also born – or should I say reborn? – at Dubs is our dart team The Assassins, with whom I spent so many lovely evenings. So thanks to our “manager” Scouse Steve, Gary – Shrek – McKiernan, Gerry – Gandalf – Lions, Gerrard – Gerry Jr. – O Callaghan, Davey G (THE best barman in town), Aidan and Andy. Hope to see the lot of you in Lommel and Edinburgh for some more Euro-League games, and I’ll promise I’ll bring the Belgian team over to Gothenburg next summer 😉

Oh, and before I forget: I couldn’t leave Sweden without throwing a party, so mark your calendar for the 9th of May if you want to join for a few beers and some good craic. (Check Facebook or your mail for more details ;-))

Swedish winter 2.0 looking around the corner…

I almost cannot believe that I already live for one and a half year in lovely Sweden now, time really flies when you’re enjoying yourself! Now we are slowly preparing for the long and dark Swedish winter, which is almost peaking around the corner. When I say preparing, what I really mean is mentally preparing for the very short days too come. Somehow I never really care about the cold, which is still reasonable in the south of Sweden. We’re now close to the point where the last colorful leaves fall from the trees, and the sun quits her duty already at 5. A few weeks from now we’ll get temperatures below zero, and hopefully loads of snow! More then ever before I like snow now, as it kind of brightens up the dark nights, and it’s just so lovely to hear the cracking of fresh or even frozen snow below your feet.

As a consequence of the short days and long nights, all Swedes will put out Christmas lighting very soon, and damn if you don’t! This of course makes the winter scenes much more nice as the Christmas atmosphere is all around you for a quite long time. One of my personal favorites is definitely “Jul på Liseberg”, the Christmas market in amusement park Liseberg, over which I have a nice view from my garden. They have the largest Christmas tree in Gothenburg, which is built by lights hanging from the 120 meter high Atmosphere ride (another favorite of mine I realize now 😉 ). The park is lighted up by over 6.000.000 twinkling lights, which give the place some true magic. And of course, the food is awesome, many traditional products to taste, although I must say that I miss the Jenever that we usually have at a Belgian Christmas market 🙂

Jul på Liseberg

After the Christmas market, it is time to meet with the family and friends again, two weeks of holidays in Belgium it is! It will be fun again to have a few slightly longer days for a change 😉 Of course I also look forward to seeing my lovely godson Toon again, I imagine he’ll suddenly seem very big to me now! But to be honest, I’m not going to wait that long, in 3 weeks I’ll spend a few days in Belgium as well, after I made a quick stop in London to see Motörhead touring with their new album Aftershock!

toon_en_ik
Me and Toon

peter
Because I promised so, I kept word: I disguised myself as Jack Sparrow for the baby shower party!

In the mean time, things are very busy at work, a lot of nice results coming in recently. The first two projects are nearly finished and will hopefully be published very soon, and I hope for many more to come!

In order to prevent myself from getting a burn-out I have plenty of relaxing side activities going on now, to begin with our dart team “the Assassins” here in Gothenburg. Next to that, an other dart trip with my 2 Belgian teams to Scotland (Edinburgh) will follow in the end of march, and a visit to Anfield for Liverpool vs. Chelsea will follow one month later. Only have to start making up my mind for the festival agenda of next summer and hopefully some nice shows to serve at with the Gothenburg crew 😉

One year in Gothenburg

There’s an old saying which states that time really flies when you’re enjoying yourself. After living for about one year in Gothenburg in the south-west of Sweden, I have to admit that I came to realize how very true this is. Before I even realized, it turned out that my first year in Sweden is already over, which means that I had a really great time here.

Why Gothenburg, why Sweden?

When I decided last year to move to Sweden after finishing my PhD project at IMEC, many people were surprised by my choice to move to Sweden. “You know how cold it is there in the North?” was one of the comments I heard so many times from my friends in Belgium. Truth is, it is not really that much colder here than it is in Belgium, as Gothenburg is located in the South of Sweden at the west coast. I guess in winter and summer it might be about 2 or 3 degrees colder on average, while in spring and fall the climate is pretty much comparable to Belgium.

Obviously, the real reason for moving here had nothing to do with the climate, but was actually the fact that I could get a new professional challenge at Chalmers University of Technology, where I’m currently working as a post-doctoral researcher in the exciting field of magneto-plasmonics. In our everyday work, we investigate the interaction of magnetic nanoparticles with light, looking at the possibilities to control the polarization state of light by means of magnetic fields, or to try and use light to change the magnetization state of these nanoparticles. This might lead to very new applications in optical chips, magnetic memories and different types of sensors. The work I do here is very closely related to the things I was investigating before, although the magnetic part of the work takes things up to a higher level, opening up many more possibilities for future applications.

When deciding whether or not I wanted to move here, I thing the main drive was that I could go and get some international experience, which is very valuable in our line of work. On top of that, being single at the time, I also saw no reason to not accept this new challenge, because I realized I would probably never take such a step if I wouldn’t have done it at that point. And at this moment, I cannot say that I regretted it for a single minute…

Another important reason for me was that I really liked Gothenburg when I visited it two years ago for a conference at Chalmers that was hosted by my current boss. Although Gothenburg with its 500.000 inhabitants is the second largest city of the country (after the capital Stockholm) it still has a small-town feel. This is something I particularly like in a place, as everything feels very relaxed, while there are always a lot of things going on. On top of that, there is a lot of green in the city and everything is nearby so one can easily get around with public transportation or by bike.

And obviously, being into metal and hardrock music, Scandinavia is a nice place to be at 😉

What did I learn about Sweden?

Obviously, being immersed into a new culture, I learned quite a lot of things about the Swedish life style, and some of them I think are worth mentioning here…

Everything is very strictly organized

I would say this can both be seen as something good or bad. What I mean with this statement is that the government is pretty rigid in the services they offer to the inhabitants, so it makes it quite easy to move here (at least as an EU-citizen), although you’ll be meeting with the people from Skatteverket (the government institution that takes care of taxes, but also health insurance and other documents such as you ID-card) a lot in the first few weeks. They provide you with a personal number, which is something that you’ll need for almost everything, and then I really mean everything. Some examples: when you want a bank account, internet connection, mobile phone contract and many more.

Some more examples are to be found in the tax and pension systems. After working here for only about 3 months, the government told me that I could retire the first of May 2049, a letter that is worth keeping I guess 😉 When I got my tax declaration from last year, I only needed to confirm online, through the app or by SMS that I agreed on the data supplied by the tax agency. After doing so, I got my refund only a few days later, so it turns out that it doesn’t really have to be that complicated. Also, in terms of pension, I received a statement about how much I would be getting from 65 to 70 and how much I would get for all the years after that. Not only was I pleasantly surprised with the amount (as it only related to a half year of working here), but also by the fact that they actually tell you upfront what to expect. I guess the Belgian government is not really in a position to make any promises in this respect, assuming it would still exist by the time I retire.

One example of where I don’t like all these strict rules: Swedish festivals. Being Belgian, my first festival experience here was really a big surprise, as we are used to festival where almost anyone can consume a beer wherever and whenever he/she wants. Not in Sweden of course! First of all, you need to be 18+ before you can go to the bar, and obviously security will check your ID in case of doubt 😉 Secondly, you’ll be drinking your beer in a separated drinking-zone. It’s not surprising that at the end of a festival day most people will be sitting there and watching the shows from a distance.

The same thing applies when you just go to a pub, each and everyone of them will have security guards at night, which in many cases to me seems like an over-kill.

Fika

The habit of enjoying Fika is something really important in the Swedish society. Fika is when people meet up to enjoy some pastries and coffee, which happens both at the workplace or just on a day off when you can go to one of the many bars in the city. Coffee is something very important to the Swedes anyhow, as they are the second largest coffee consumers per capita after the finnish. Luckily I love coffee so I’m helping them to become first, varsågod!

Did IKEA explode in your house?

A simple answer: Yes! I don’t think it is possible to find any house in Sweden where there is no IKEA items to be found.

Systembolaget

Well, this is exactly what it says: the company of the system, the only place where one can go to buy alcoholic beverages (apart from bars that is ;-)). You find many of them spread all over the country. As a belgian this is also something strange to see, as we are used to being able to buy alcohol in almost any store (supermarket, gas station, night shops). Needless to say that Friday afternoon and Saturday are top selling days here, and you can expect a pretty big queue on those days. I must say that originally it felt kind of strange to have to go to the government stores, but in the end the concept is actually very nice. Although you pay a lot for your drinks, the selection they offer is so broad that it makes up for it. I really tried some Belgian beers that I never even saw in Belgium before, and obviously they were nice!

Take a number

It doesn’t really matter where you go, you are pretty likely to find a queueing system where you have to pick a number and wait your turn. By itself this is not really that odd, but you get surprised by the number of places where you need to get one…

The high tax rate

I must say that actually in Sweden I never have the feeling that I’m paying too much taxes. I would even say that it is no surprise that Belgian politicians often mention the Scandinavian countries or Sweden in specific when debating about taxing systems. The key lies in the fact that the income tax (including social security) is not extremely high (at about 30% on average), and even if you get a raise which takes you to a higher tax level, the higher rate is only applied to the part that is above the limit of the tax level. On the other hand you pay more taxes on consumption, with the standard V.A.T. rate being 25%, and the taxes on alcohol being ridiculously high.

Last but not least

The Swedes are in my opinion a very open society, who welcome newcomers very easily. With nearly everybody being fluent in English, it is really easy to move in and to meet new people. As soon as people realize that you’re not fluent in Swedish, they will talk to you in English. This is something positive at first, but when trying to learn the language then it can also be kind of a burden.

I guess that’s all for now, up to an other exciting year in Sweden!