August 06, 2013

It’s often said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. The old axiom may well be personified on campus by Torbjorn “Toby” Bergstrom, operations manager for manufacturing laboratories, who says that when people ask if he works at WPI, he replies with, “They pay me to go there, but it is hard to call it work when it is so much fun.”

Not taking himself too seriously doesn’t stop there. Whenever Bergstrom is introduced with his impressive job title, he quickly adds, “My title makes it sound like I’m in charge, but, in actuality I’m [just] responsible; the students are in charge.” With a setup like that, the Daily Herd just had to learn more…

When did you arrive at WPI? I’ve been at WPI on and off since 1989 when I came in as a freshman. I spent a year as an exchange student at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and worked for a year as an engineer on a co-op program at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. I spent summers working on construction crews as a millwright’s apprentice and finally as a millwright.

What does the operations manager for manufacturing laboratories do? My primary responsibility is to ensure the safe operation of the manufacturing laboratories in the Washburn Shops and Higgins Laboratories, though there were 19 items listed on my job description last time I counted. These include teaching lectures, organizing and operating labs, developing and implementing metrics for lab use, and overseeing daily activities of the facilities, to name a few.

What have been some of the milestones during your time there? When I took over the facility in 2006, there was virtually no mechanism for students to work there after hours. One of the first, and probably the most important, things I did was to enable qualified students to open and supervise the use of the facility. I have also empowered students to train each other in the use of lab equipment―in fact I require it.

You’re about as WPI as one can get, with a BS in ’95, MS in 2000, and PhD next spring. Don’t you have a family history here as well? The family legacy is likely why I came to WPI in the first place. My grandfather, Paul Bergstrom, was Class of ’38, and my father, Donald Bergstrom, was Class of ’68.

You’re also associate director of the Metrology Surface Lab; what goes on there? The lab does fundamental research into the measurement and characterization of surfaces, typically looking at surface roughness or surface texture. The work we’ve done in the lab has resulted in a couple of patents and input on national and international standards in this area.

You co-chaired the 7th International Conference on Axiomatic Design here last month. How was that, and what exactly is axiomatic design? The conference was a great success; we had over 80 attendees from 14 countries. The basic premise of axiomatic design is that the design process can be a science instead of an art. The axiomsof axiomatic design tell us that the best design for a particular need or set of needs is the one that controls each function independently and contains the least information.

What do you enjoy doing away from work? With a 120-year-old Victorian home, a wife, and two small children, there is always something to do when I get home. I’ve recently gotten back into running and ran in a Spartan Race a few weeks ago in upstate New York. I also have a 1970 Catalina 22-foot sail boat that we never have enough time to sail, but always needs work.


― Mike D’Onofrio 

Photo by Louis Despres