Interview with PACWorld guru Andrzej Wiszniewski

PAC World: When and where were you born?
A.W.: I was born In Warsaw 4 years before the Second World War. However until it started I lived with my parents some 200 km. north of Warsaw, in the family estate.
When Poland was occupied by the Germans after 1939 my father was arrested and we were displaced from the estate.
Then, until 1946 we were living in a village 50 km. south of Warsaw, being very poor.

PAC World: You were a child during the years of World War II. What impact do you think this had on you as a person?
A.W.: I developed very strong patriotism. Besides, probably because I was often hungry, I hate lack of respect for food. I dislike if somebody leaves food on the plate during meals, what my granddaughters do not understand and make fun of me.

PAC World: What interests did you have while in school?
In school I was interested mainly in sport (athletics, skiing and rock climbing) and … girls.

PAC World: Why did you decide to become an engineer?
My family and I were always anti-communists, and to avoid strong indoctrination at the liberal arts university I decided to study engineering, because the ideology had not affected the laws of physics.

PAC World: Why did you choose the Wrocław University of Technology?
Since 1947 my family and myself were living in Wroclaw, therefore Wroclaw University of Technology (Politechnika Wroclawska) was the obvious choice.

PAC World: What was the reason to select power engineering?
Perhaps because people I liked and respected were power men.

PAC World: After graduation you started your academic career. Why did you select to work at an university and not in the industry?
When I was at the final year of my studies Professor Jan Trojak – who was a head of the power system protection group, offered me a job as a teaching assistant.
I liked it so much, that I continued the teaching of protection until this day.

PAC World: You spent several years at the university in Benghazi, Libya. How different was this experience from the university in Poland?
In Libya the organization of study was similar to what I knew in Poland, but the mentality of the students and teachers was much different. I was there for 3 years, and I developed a respect for the Arab culture and the Holly Koran. If one accepts the fact, that they are different, and respects them, if one does not want to cheat them, they reciprocate with friendship.

PAC World: How and when did you develop an interest in power system protection and control?
When I was at the 3-rd year of study I fell in love with a girl who was living in Warsaw. From Wroclaw to Warsaw is some 380 km. and I was too poor to travel by train. And once upon a time during a lecture Prof. Jan Trojak - who was a protection man - asked a volunteer to go to Warsaw, to make the laboratory test of the R1KZ4 distance relay (made by East Germany firm).

I was the first to rise my hand, and the University covered my travel expenses, which gave me the opportunity to spend several delightful evenings with my sweetheart.
I liked the laboratory job, my final report was well received by the professor, and in such a way it began.
(The lady did not become my wife, although I wanted it desperately. However until now we are good friends – perhaps because we did not marry. She made a brilliant career in the US as a physician.)

PAC World: When and why did you start working on communications?
After 1980 when the Solidarity was created, and when afterwards it was all but crushed by the martial law I delivered hundreds of speeches and lectures on politics, history etc. (The communist authority did not like it at all, and several times I was arrested and persecuted in a number of ways).
I realized that I have a talent for public speaking. Therefore after I became the rector, I started cooperation with the Central Connecticut State University and jointly we established vocational courses in communication.
In the same time I learned a little theory in the field, and I wrote a book on public speaking. (It was the first Polish modern book on the subject).
I also started teaching communications and I continue that line until now.

PAC World: What do you consider your top academic achievement?
A very difficult question. Perhaps the deep study of the effect of ferromagnetic upon the performance of protective devices.

PAC World: You were not only involved in teaching and research, but also got involved in the management of the university by becoming Vice-Rector of the Wrocław University of Technology. Why did you do that?
I was active in the Solidarity, and I had a sound academic position. There were comparatively few persons who were better equipped. And I thought that somebody had to do the job. To do and not to shout. And in my vanity I thought, that I can do it well.

PAC World: At about the same time you were an active member of Solidarity. What made you work in Solidarity and what was the experience doing it at the time?
In the 80's Solidarity was the only hope for change from the repressive regime. All my life I was against communists therefore when the opportunity came I jumped in. Of course I expected that the regime would fight to keep monopoly of power, but hope was stronger than cold calculation. However I knew Western Europe well enough to expect, that the fall of communism would bring a perfect political system.
I think, I was right in both. The martial law in 1981 and the protest against it brought me the arrest and the court sentence.
The political and social scene after the collapse of the regime in 1989 which has lasted until now is far from perfect. Well, Winston Churchill said that democracy is a very bad system, but nobody has found a better one.

PAC World: After the fall of the Iron Curtain you first became Rector of the Wrocław University of Technology and later Minister of Science, and Chairman of the State Committee of Scientific Research.
What was this experience like and do you still believe that a person can make a difference?
My activity after 1989 had 3 layers: administrative, academic and political. I liked the first two the most, and I think that I was a good administrator.
I did not like politics however it was difficult to drop it altogether. Besides, politics is a kind of addiction.

One may not like alcohol, but when one becomes addicted, one drinks. I am happy, that while being a politician I did not do anything which could haunt me nowadays as a shameful act.
I believe that I was a decent politician, but perhaps not a very efficient one. Unfortunately in the period of my political activity I had very little time for academic activity.
After I ended my political and administrative activities in 2003 it took me a couple of years to go back and be fully efficient in the academic world.

PAC World: You have been involved in national and international professional organizations for many years. Do you think that their role has changed in the last 25 years?
I think, that the role of professional organizations diminished in the last decades. It is because previously the organizations were the best vehicle for exchanging information and experience. Recently the internet offers the better alternative.

PAC World: You have published 9 books and more than 100 papers.
What makes you write and do you have a method that you use to do it?
I wrote books because it was the best way to be in line with the “real world.”
My first book about instrument transformers was edited in 1982, and I did the proof-reading in jail, with the special permission of the authority.
When I was a rector I wrote books as a break of the administrative problems. When I ended my political career I wrote books to facilitate my return to the academic life.

PAC World: Are you familiar with IEC 61850 and if “Yes” what do you think about its impact on our industry?
No, I am not familiar with the IEC 61850.

PAC World: Do you think that we will have protection and control systems running in a “cloud” in the near future?
Efficient protection needs reliability, selectivity and speed. I have doubts, if “the cloud” can assure it. But I may be wrong. I remember that in the 60-ties I doubted if the digital technology may ever find wide application in the protection. So now looking at the modern relays I am ashamed of myself.

PAC World: You have received many orders and awards. Which is the one (if there is one) that is the most important to you?
I shall begin with an anecdote. One of the famous Polish mathematicians Prof. Hugo Stainhous got a commander’s cross of the Order of Merit, when he was 80 years of age.
A young journalist asked him: “What does one have to do to be decorated with such a big order.”
He answered: “Nothing, but for a long time.”
In a way it was my case as well.
But the awards I am proud of are the honorary doctorates of three universities.

PAC World: What do you consider your top professional achievement?
The 6 years as a rector of the Wroclaw University of Technology. I think I did the job in the right way, and I made only a few mistakes.

PAC World: How do you mix your professional and your personal life?
I think it was a big problem, and my family suffered a lot. I am sorry for that. The consequences of it last until today.

PAC World: What do you consider your main personal achievement?
I managed to have the same wife for 55 years now, and the family - me and my wife, my daughter and two granddaughters - live in the same house in a peaceful way.

PAC World: What do you like to do when you are not involved in professional or social activities?
Reading and walking with my dogs. I love animals, particularly dogs, and I was very happy to make friends among them.

PAC World: You are still a professor at the university? What keeps you going? What is your definition of “retirement?”
I think that it makes me young, when I have daily contacts with students and young doctors. I also like doing research and I think that I am still capable of generating new ideas.
Therefore during the recent years I have patented several new algorithms. Retirement for me is the fact, that if I feel like sleeping longer, I may do it.

PAC World: What do you think we need to do as an industry to attract young people to power engineering, protection and communications?
: We must convince them, that the main tools of a power engineer are not constructional spanners and screwdrivers but computers and telecommunication devices.

PAC World: What advice do you give to the young engineers or students you work with?
Do not think that the result of a computer calculation is as sacred as a bible, because in the case of computers one may say: “rubbish in – rubbish out”.
Always rely on the common sense and the basic principles of physics. And always check and double check the results of computer simulations and ask yourself, if they are possible in real world.

PAC World: Do you have a motto?
Yes, I do:
Be always prepared to compromise on your goals, but never on your principles.

PAC World: Is there anything important that we didn’t ask you?
I think it was more than enough.

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