About ETRO
ETRO’s Prehistory
Oscar Steenhaut
  • May 1968: student revolt impacting citizen’s mindset, and changing society as well as university governance.
  • 1968-1969 The unitary ULB/VUB starts a curriculum in mechanical/electrotechnical engineering in Dutch.
  • 1969-1970: Prof. (Major) Marcel Verlinden teaches Electronics on the ULB-Campus Solbosch. While vacuum tubes and sometimes bipolar transistors are still the predominant devices, he teaches MOSFETs.
  • 1969-1970 VUB – ULB split: VUB becomes an independent university – in the aftermath of “Leuven Vlaams”, Belgium gradually becomes a federal state between 1970 (3 communities are created) and 2014.
  • 1970-1971: Oscar Steenhaut joins VUB from Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge, and Jacques Tiberghien becomes the first full time assistant.

First VUB building (Transitorium) on brand new VUB Campus (old exercise field for the gendarmerie).

Start of the ETRO – Electronics Lab. Founder Prof. Oscar Steenhaut (two tracks: electronic circuits and systems and semiconductor technology and devices); lots of empty cupboards, two transistor testers and 1 oscilloscope.


Growth of personnel: 5 staff members: Jacques, Jean (assistants) Ingrid Sansens and André Pletinckx (technicians), as secretary Gilberte Lievens and Oscar Steenhaut (HoD).

Fairchild became the first company to produce a commercial charge coupled devices.


Two extra assistants join ETRO: Joris Lievens and Jan Cornelis (electronic circuits and instrumentation) – Prototype PCB manufacturing facility. Bulky instruments based on 74xx MSI ICs are designed: e.g. calculator, noise generator, datalogger with multipen printer, …

  • Equipment for diffusion, oxidation and epitaxial growth, a huge repro-camera, mask-aligner and vacuum deposit equipment is arriving.
  • Microwaves are metallic waveguide, klystrons en Gunn oscillators were one of the play grounds of Jean Taeymans.
  • Motorola launches its 6800-microcomputer system.
  • The lab receives the MC6800 development kit – the logic state analyser, was the mostly used development instrument, followed by programming in assembler. The system was interfaced to a mechanical teletype.
  • First thesis work in microelectronics technology on CCD-MNOS combination. Roger Vounckx join the lab.
  • An analogue bucket brigade system is built with discrete components.
  • Worldwide first BSPM measurement system with 128 channels based on MSI ICs.
  • Marc Nyssen joins the lab (August 1975).
  • New instrument designs – Digital correlator and Histogram measurement system, Fourier transformer.
  • CDC central ULB-VUB computer facility exclusively for numerical calculus, with punch card readers as interface; FORTRAN is the dominating programming language.
  • First PhD thesis in the field of biomedical engineering (equipment and physical modelling).
  • First home made thin film active electrode for electrocardiology.
  • Semiconductor technology team counts 3 members.

ETRO organizes the first hands on industrial summer course in Belgium on “Microprocessors” (in collaboration with KVIV).

Design and realisation of the CCD camera’s (Abbe Comparator and Rainbow light spectrum analyser)

1977 - 1978

Several new buildings on Campus Oefenplein become operational.

  • ETRO moves from Transitorium to Building K.
  • Climatised clean room and a panel with diverse (deadly) gasses are installed.
  • Marc Nyssen takes over the coordination of the unit MINF in the faculty of Medicine.
  • Second PhD in biomedical engineering – Jan Cornelis.
  • The scope of ETRO widens and a separate department on Informatics (INFO- HoD Jacques Tiberghien) is created.
  • Unit HART is created on Campus Jette, as an interface between ETRO and the Cardiology department in UZ.
  • First PhD in collaboration with Technical University Twente about ISFETs. (Luc Bousse).
  • Oscar Steenhaut – Rector at VUB.

Jan Cornelis – unoffcial HoD ad interim

  • Foundation of IMEC – spirit at that time “If you cannot beat them join them”.
  • The year of the first IBM PC, the first Apple Macintosh and the period of the floppy disc.
  • Second PhD in semiconductor technology on ii-V transistors in collaboration with Bell Laboratories USA (Roger Vounckx).

Financed by IMEC, CAD for VLSI circuits is launched at ETRO.

  • Third PhD in biomedical Engineering – Edgard Nyssen.
  • After the creation of IMEC, the semiconductor technology is extended with LPCVD, e-beam processing, sputtering, plasma deposition, etching, lithography mask alignment up to 0.25 µm and measurement equipment. Technical personnel are recruited. The semiconductor technology team counts 5 members.

Creation of research groups LAMI (Micro-and Photon-Electronics)and IRIS (Image and video processing).

  • Structured collaboration with IMEC on semiconductor Technology. The PhD of Hugo Thienpont (ALNA, now B-Phot) on optical bistability is based on fully VUB-owned technology.
  • PRIMIS: Workgroup on AI in Diagnostic Imaging – A structured and funded research platform UZ Brussel and several engineering groups in the hospital.

Knowledge Engineering in Diagnostic Imaging – a huge project on AI in medical image analysis, the foundation of the internal ETRO ICT computer network.

1988 - 1992
  • Jan Cornelis becomes HoD.
  • First Patent on an optical switch (IMOS) is filed.
  • ETRO becomes co-founder of the International Postgraduate Course on Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics (University of Patras) – Erasmus/Tempus.
  • ETRO’s first EU framework project, BIOLAB: An Integrated Biomedical Laboratory – AIM- Advanced Informatics in Medicine.
  • Data collection, drafting and validation of the first ever table of sizes for the Belgian apparel industry.
  • From 1990 onwards, publications and PhDs are regularly produced, and two world firsts are realised: an electro-optical switch (optical thyristor) with a sensitivity of 18aJ and a surface-emitting LED with a quantum efficiency larger than 50 %. Research themes are now in Photonics and Opto-electronics and Artificial Life. LAMI counts approximately 20 collaborators.
  • First integrated circuit design and realization: a median filter for image processing in collaboration with Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Collapse of the Soviet Union – a disaster for Russian science and research, an opportunity for structural collaboration on hitherto unexplored theories (mm waves 30- 300 GHz).

First visit to NPU- Xi’an China


Prof. Marcel Verlinden becomes emeritus.

The Institute of Radio-Electronics in Moscow is studying properties of III-V semiconductors with a view to more efficient components (opto-electronic modulators, detectors, switches, sensors) and research is started in the domain of mm waves, a virtually non-existent activity in Western Europe with the application of detection of hidden objects (weapons, explosives) for scanning in airports, among others.


Photon link sees the light of day for optical interconnection of electronic chips, based on high-efficiency LEDs, a new CMOS detector and image fibres, developed by Schott Glass gmbh.