Tribute to an ESS Pioneer

ESS 2007
ESS-Scandinavia team 2007, with Karl-Fredrik Berggren (fifth from left) Photo: ESS

We remember Karl-Fredrik Berggren, ESS’s first Project Manager, who passed away on 26 April this year.

As Project Manager of the original ESS-Scandinavia between 2003 - 2007, “Karl-Fredrik led the project with great skill and determination, but also with a personal warmth and strength that gave the team energy. Several of his decisions and initiatives were crucial for the work to succeed," recalls Patrik Carlsson, Director for Special Projects at Chalmers Industriteknik who previously worked alongside Berggren as Technical Project Coordinator, and later, Director for Accelerator & Target at ESS. "He could explain why hosting ESS was important and how we could build it using Sweden's strengths in science and industry,” Carlsson says, adding,  “Many of the suggestions and ideas first put forward by Karl-Fredrik are today a reality at ESS. I learnt a lot from him and he is still a role model in my daily work.”

Berggren and Carlsson worked closely with Chalmers University's Lars Börjesson, and Allan Larsson, Chief Negotiator for the ESS project and former Swedish Finance Minister. The four were later joined by Johan Holmberg, representing the Swedish Research Council, and together, they comprised the first team to travel to approximately 20 European countries with the aim of championing the ESS project and lobbying for its placement in Lund. Berggren was also a key contributor to the report submitted to the Swedish Government, which resulted in parliamentary support being given in 2007 for the Swedish bid to host ESS in Lund. That, as the saying goes, was just the beginning.

Colin Carlile took over leadership of ESS-Scandinavia in October 2006, but Berggren remained as a consultant until mid 2007, at which point, he returned full-time to Linköping University. The solid foundations he put in place in those formative years played an invaluable part in Sweden finally securing its bid to host ESS in Lund in May 2009. “Karl-Fredrik kept ESS-Scandinavia going during those middle years. A steady-hand running various representative committees with local politicians, Swedish scientists and Lund University. He was not only a robust defender of ESS, but a kind man with a twinkle in his eye and a ready chuckle,” reminisces Colin Carlile, former CEO of ESS AB.

“Karl-Fredrik used his unique abilities as a very determined and goal-oriented scientist, who always had the best for Science and Innovation in mind, to skilfully drive the project through a landscape of excellence of science priorities, national and European strategies for societal challenges, and political support on different levels. On a personal level, he was a role model for an insightful scientist, with great integrity and far-reaching perspectives on life and society who also expressed his well thought-out views in clear and understandable ways,” states Lars Börjesson, Professor at Chalmers University and former Chair of the ESS Council.

John Womersely Karl-Fredrik Berggren

John Womersley (right) showed Karl-Fredrik Berggren (left) around the facility during the 10-year anniversary site tour in 2019

Photo: ESS

Over the years, Berggren followed ESS’s development, and was one of a number of special guests given a tour of the ESS site in 2019; an event which marked the 10th anniversary of the site award. During the tour, ESS Director General, John Womersley was able to show him the ‘under construction’ facility he played such a crucial role in securing. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to the earlier pioneers of ESS in Lund, like Karl-Fredrik, who did so much to lay the scientific and political foundations for the facility that we are building today,” Womersley states.

Berggren studied at Uppsala University, gaining a MSc in Physics and Mathematics in 1965 and a PhD in Quantum Chemistry in 1969. He became Professor in Theoretical Physics at Linköping University in 1971, was the founder of the National Supercomputer Centre in Linköping in the early 1990s, and President of the Swedish Physics Society between 2010-2012.

In an interview with Sveriges Radio in 2009, when the realisation of ESS seemed far away, Berggren said "…this is the beginning of a long, long journey”, and now, in 2020, with ESS approaching the 70% complete mark, and the goal almost in sight, we have a great deal to thank him for, as that particular journey nears its end, ready for the next one to begin.