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ECE Professor James Morris receives honorary doctorate for post-Cold War outreach
Author: Julie Rutherford, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science
Posted: August 12, 2015

In June electrical and computer engineering professor James Morris received an honorary doctoral degree from the University POLITEHNICA of Bucharest. The ceremony coincided with the 20th anniversary celebration of the university’s Center for Electronics Technology and Interconnection Techniques (CETTI), an organization that credits Morris with helping it emerge from behind the Iron Curtain.

Pictured from left: Professor Zsolt Illyefalvi-Vitez (Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary), Professor Norocel Codreanu, Jim Morris, Professor Karlheinz Bock (Technical University of Dresden, Germany), Linda Morris, Professor Ciprian Ionescu, Dan Pitica (Dean of the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca), Paul Svasta (Director, CETTI), and Professor Ioan Plotog.

A native New Zealander, Professor Morris followed his intellectual curiosity across the globe to pursue a PhD in Canada. His first international trip after his return to New Zealand brought him to Budapest, Hungary in 1975 for a conference on thin film electronics. He took this as an opportunity to travel Europe to visit other academics pursuing thin film research, ultimately hopping on the Orient Express to Bucharest to meet one such expert.

“All vestiges of Agatha Christie luxury were shed in Budapest, after which second-class carriages were where the locals transported livestock, “describes Morris. From the train, my first impressions of Romania were a Dracula castle, that I’ve tried to track down ever since, and oxen pulling carts with wooden wheels. In Bucharest I was struck by the tiny neighborhood chapels, now almost all gone to make way for modern construction, filled with gold leaf and medieval relics and open 24/7.”

Scientists in the Eastern Bloc were isolated and had little opportunity to engage with the scientific community beyond its borders. Those that made a rare appearance at international conferences were typically high-ranking members of the Communist party. When the Curtain lifted, governments and the institutions they sustained abruptly dissolved. Through the chaos, the world opened wide to several generations of researchers, academics and students who were suddenly free to interact with their counterparts across the globe.

Morris served as Treasurer of the IEEE Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology Society (CPMT) between 1991 and 1997. In 1996 he went on sabbatical as a guest professor at the Chemnitz University of Technology. Chemnitz, formerly named Karl Marxstadt, East Germany, is an industrial and manufacturing center in the reunified Germany. At the same time, he developed a relationship with the Dresden University of Technology.

It was the latter which got him involved in the annual International Spring Seminar in Electronics Technology, which was begun in 1977 to provide an international conference experience for students behind the Iron Curtain, and ultimately to CETTI and its small local conference which became the international Symposium for Design and Technology in Electronic Packaging. This event also helped kick-start the IEEE Hungarian and Romanian Joint CPMT Chapter, which remains very active to this day.

“After leaving Chemnitz, I have returned to Germany and Eastern Europe almost every year since,” says Morris. “Again from the train I would notice subtle improvements in what were once run-down villages. One year I’d see a new roof, another year something else. These villages are almost unrecognizable now.”

At the ceremony Morris was celebrated for his intellectual power and ethic sincerity. Also noted was his humility.

“Whether or not I can honestly take credit for what they say I’ve done,” said Morris, “it’s been a privilege to witness the dramatic transformation of this region and chapter of history.”