This period covers:- Youth- High school- Delft University of Technology- UC Berkeley- Royal Navy- Utrecht
It is a story of gratitude to the many people who facilitated that I could have such a blessed life, and to the people I could help to start a career.
I was born on 21 March 1952 (the first day of Spring) in Linschoten, a small village in the center of the Netherlands.
I was 4 years old when my father was appointed as a mayor of Wolfaartsdijk, a tiny village in the Southern province of Zeeland with just 2000 people. He was, at 32, the youngest mayor of the Netherlands at that time.
It was a wonderful youth, with my two younger sisters, with lots of space and nature in the quiet village environment. This province had experienced the breaking of the dikes and the disastrous flood in 1953, and I remember how few trees there were. In 1962 Wolfaartsdijk was integrated into the larger city of nearby Goes and my father had to look for a new job opportunity as a mayor. Being 10, we moved to the city of Souburg in the same province. I was 14, when Souburg was integrated into the much larger nearby city of Vlissingen, and we moved again.
My father became mayor of the city of Woerden, and I shifted school again. All in all I lived in 7 houses before I left home, 18 years old, to study Applied Physics at Delft University of Technology.
My highschool time was in Middelburg and Gouda, both at a classical Gymnasium. The school in Middelburg was in the historic center, in the 'Latin School Street', and has been there for ages. A small school, with in total 120 pupils in 6 classes, which was a delight. In Gouda at the Coornhert Gymnasium it was the same.
In those days this meant 5 hours of Latin and 5 hours of Greek every week, next to all other classes. Apart from physics, my favorite, I loved classical languages. It was a continuous puzzle solving, and I was an excellent pupil. It gave me, together with the many biblical stories I heard on the two (liberal) Christian primary schools (and the readings by my mother from the Children's Bible at lunch which I remember as fascinating), a great cultural luggage. And a much better appreciation of all the scientific words I would encounter later.
About my family name: In 1817 Ds. Hendrik Romeny married to Maria ter Haar. As Maria did not like her family name to disappear, they named their second sun with the given names: 'Barend ter Haar' and family name: 'Romeny'. These given names were interpreted by mistake as a family name. So from this single person Barend ter Haar Romeny the line of ter Haar Romeny descends, currently 125 persons.
At the end of 6 years Gymnasium, it is tradition to make a journey with the highest class to Italy, to see and experience the highlights of the Roman Empire, with the classics teachers as tour guides. For this, my parents saved a guilder each week in a 'savings clock'. I started in Middelburg, and when moving to Gouda, continued contributing to the trip with my old school.
Florence, Rome and Naples:In June 1970 I went with my 20 first Middelburg class mates for 3 weeks to Italy, by train: 1 week in Florence, I week in Rome and 1 week in Napoli (each with lots of excursions outside these cities, such as the Etrurian tumbs in Cerveteri, Villa Hadriana, Pompei and Herculaneum, Paestum etc.).
I was fascinated, and since that trip I have decided to make many more cultural journeys. It came true, the travelling has never stopped. After this came Greece, Israel, Egypt, and later 80 more countries ...
I was a born physicist already during highschool. At age 14 I was given by my parents the complete large basement in the house, where I (with my friend Rob de Nie) established a fully furnished experimental lab, to do electronics, physics, astronomy and chemical experimenting. This included an oscilloscope of an old TV (you remember these huge TVs with a large projection tube with an electron gun), a large dashboard with all voltages from 1 - 1000 Volt AC and DC, a wave generator, a stellar telescope with a precise 24-hours rotation motor (made with Meccano and a bicycle dynamo as a motor on 50 Hz) on a bicycle frame in the garden, an adjustable stroboscope etc. It was an exciting time, and my parents let me free. Even after I blew all windows of the ground floor when I ignited (from a safe distance) a full-blown big balloon spanned over a test tube with pieces of zinc in hydrochloric acid ...
My first oscilloscope. I disconnected the deflection coils, and drove them with the output of the sound amplifier.
The telescope looked like this. Source.
I acquired the degree 'MSc in Applied Physics' in the group Biological Physics (prof. Gert van den Brink) in 1978, at the Department of Applied Physics at Delft University of Technology.
My graduation project at TUD was a study on eye movements, measured with a locally developed infrared limbus reflection method [Russo1975]: a pair of spectacles with 4 infrared LEDs at 5KHz illuminating the border of iris and sclera (the limbus). Horizontal accuracy 0.5 degrees, vertical 0.8 degree, not bad. Together with my friend and colleague physics student Erik Tenkink I developed a 'foveal typewriter', operated by eye movements, which was able to type 180 characters per minute, which qualifies for a typing diploma.
It was successfully used by 10 patients with Locked-In Syndrome, a condition where a patient is aware but cannot communicate other than by eye movements due to virtually complete paralysis. Eye movements remain intact relatively longtime due to the proximity to the brain.
In Rotterdam University, about 15 km from Delft, the eye movement research of prof. Collewijn was famous. He invented the scleral coil eye movement detection system, in which a coil in a contact lens moves in a high frequency magnetic field. I was fortunate to visit his lab several times, and participate in the experiments.
Also at Nijmegen University was a large biophysics group. I participated once in the experiments on stabilized retinal eye movement of Henk Gerrits, where a contact lens with flexible fiberoptics was suck to my cornea. Figure (this is not me) from [Gerrits1974]. A lasting experience.
My time as a student in Delft was just wonderful. I rented a small room in a small private student house in a small street named 'De Vlouw'. The friends I made there became friends for a lifetime and we kept seeing each other many times a year, all these years. Recently, in August 2020, we celebrated (of course with a reunion in Delft) that we know each other for 50 years!
For 5 years I had a Citroen 2CV (Deuxchevaux, 125 cc), which was great fun. Many repairs, many times to Paris/France, and at the end I converted it into a cabriolet (with a big umbrella on board).
I earned some extra money as a part-time student-assistent for 3 years at Rotterdam University, where I was supervising physics labs of medical students (microscopy, photography, statistics of measurements).
During my MSc project I heard prof. Larry Stark (School of Optometry, UC Berkeley) giving a lecture on eye movements at Eindhoven University of Technology, and I was caught by his research, enthusiasm and personality. We agreed on an externship in UC Berkeley, April-July 1976. I applied for a grant from the Delft University Fund, which was rewarded.
I stayed there for 4 months, during which I was introduced to the lively meetings of the Bay Area Vision Community, and worked in Minor Hall on UCB campus on a fully automated video-pupillometer, being supervised by George Hong.
Larry Stark was a fascinating professor. The first week of my arrival I was welcome to stay in his home, while looking for a student room. He took me to many vision meetings in the Bay Area. I joined him several times on excursions, such as on an early morning at 5:00 AM to the countryside. It was to judge in the evaluation of an accident if the rising sun on the horizon could have blinded a car driver at a railway crossing (yes, it was blinding). I also learned a lot on eye movements, their characteristics, how measured, the 'scan path theory' and clinical applications. My fascination for vision was established.
This period was defining in my life. Campus life on UCB campus was fascinating, in the just post-Woodstock period. I lived in a wonderful student house near campus, I biked everywhere, I enjoyed the speaker's corners world-improvers, the Saturday afternoon blues jam sessions, walked the Golden Gate in the middle of the night with my friend Patricia and joined many parties. It was a perfect combination of 'work hard, play hard'.
I learned to travel, by hitch-hiking many weekends, discovering the amazing Bay Area, its surroundings and beautiful California. Dancing the salsa in San Francisco, the moss-covered trees of Point Lobos, chilling a waterpipe with a housekeeper at his wooden cottage near a huge mansion in Half Moon Bay, etc.
I decided to hitchhike back across the USA, and managed to get in 3 weeks from San Francisco to New Orleans, via Los Angeles, Death Valley, Las Vegas, staying with the Hopi Indians, Oklahoma, and Houston. The many exciting adventures during these (~ 60) all-different-people-hikes in Summer 1976 would have been nice stories in a hitchhiking guidebook ...
This trip changed my life: I knew how to travel on the wild side, and I loved it. See the adventures on
In those days military service was still obligatory in the Netherlands, 14 months. For me it was 18 months. I decided to join the Royal Navy (+2 months), as reserve-officer Special Services (+2 months). After the basic military training in Den Helder (fun!), I started working in the famous Infrared Technologies Lab of Arie N. de Jong at TNO in Scheveningen as a researcher. I assisted the development of a far-infrared 'drowned person detector', a scanning device that could detect warm bodies in a cold sea. The Navy has an important search task in emergencies, but normal search operations had to end at dawn, but with this device the search could continue.It was fun to test the device in many flights with a dedicated helicopter equipped with our infrared scanner, and marines floating for us in the North Sea (now it is done with a drone). It was my first encounter with developing pattern recognition software.
In this period I also took a course in parachute jumping, and walked the International Four Days Marches in Nijmegen, 40 km per day, in Navy uniform with a 10 kg backpack.
After my studies in Delft I moved in 1979 to Utrecht, a wonderful city with canals, like Amsterdam, but more intimate, and special, with the historic wharfs.
Inspired by my artistic uncle Edlef Romeny, a fine painter, and my brother-in-law Jeannot Bürgi, famous city sculptor of Utrecht, I started a small art gallery in my house: 'Galerie Romeny' (1979-1980). Every month I had new exposition of young local artists. I recruited them by visiting final exam presentations of Utrecht's art schools, and by recommendations. I was only open in the evening, as I had started my PhD job at Utrecht University (see below). It exhibited paintings, aquarels, sculptures, miniatures, etc.
It was non-commercial, I only asked for a voluntary gift of the artist. I was open for 12 months, and it was quite successful. Several times the whole collection was sold. I remember the nice discussions on what to ask for a work, and how difficult it is to sell a piece that you have made with so much love. Among the artists were painter Gerrit Hardenbol, sculptor Martine Vlieger and aquarellist Anke Schaepkens.
In 1980 I bought my first house (in the same street: Haverstraat, see arrow) in the heart of the beautiful historic city of Utrecht.
In 1986 I met my wife Hetty and we lived in this house untill 2007, when we moved from Utrecht to the city of her roots: 's-Hertogenbosch.