− The relationship between family life and work life is very good in Denmark because you can actually have both. But my university work of course doesn't end at 4 p.m. I work all the time. I can't remember a day when I didn’t check email at least ten times, says Professor Petar Popovski.
His 24/7 approach to research is partly due to the fact that he works with researchers around the world who are not necessarily at work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Danish time. But it is also due to his fervent interest in his area – communication technology.
Mobile communication and AAU
In his native Macedonia, Petar Popovski began his academic career with a Master's degree in electronics and communication. After weighing his options as to where to continue his career, in 2001 he and his wife packed their suitcases and went to Denmark where he had been offered a position to do a PhD in wireless communication.
− At the time, mobile communication was very popular. And Aalborg University was one of the places in the world where you went to get a PhD in the field, says Petar Popovski.
The plan was to travel further, perhaps to the United States, after the three years of PhD study. With his PhD in hand, Petar Popovski was offered positions at several universities, including one at AAU, and, as he says, it was a good place, both in terms of family and academic environment. Today, almost 20 years later, he and his wife have had a boy and a girl, and they still live in Denmark where they both work at AAU – she as an associate professor at the Department of Materials and Production, he as professor at the Department of Electronic Systems where he heads the Connectivity research group dealing with communication theory and communication technology.
Music, running and audiobooks
Although Petar is, in his own words, almost one with his research, he also makes time to be with his family. And then he plays jazz – guitar and piano – and he runs. Almost every day.
On his runs, he listens to audiobooks, such as Peter Høeg or Haruki Murakami, but it is not only novels flowing through the headphones as he whizzes around the streets and parks of Aalborg.
− I listen to nonfiction just as often, but never from my own field. For example, I love books on psychology and economics. It's a great way to relax.
He is fond of Denmark, but like many international people here, he finds it difficult to connect with Danes:
− It’s not impossible, but generally difficult to have a large circle of friends if you come from abroad. Danes tend to make friends with Jens and Mette in kindergarten and primary school, and that’s that.
Communication technology is an integral part of everyday life
In the Connectivity research group, Petar Popovski and his colleagues devise and develop new communication concepts, and they develop the theory behind the concepts. They deal with particularly topical areas such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and the systems that come after 5G.
− Connectivity is part of our everyday lives, just like water and electricity. This means that it must be very reliable and it must be there all the time because we can’t function without it. So our mission is to ensure that we have systems that evolve in a way that can meet all the requirements of new industries, new applications and new demands from people using the technology.
Personal data and CO2 emissions
Although Petar Popovski’s work is very theoretical and technology-focused, the entire field of communication, in a broader sense, is of great interest to him and is naturally relevant to his research. He mentions, for example, the profound change that society's information flow has undergone in his 47-year lifetime.
− If I wanted to hear a good jazz album when I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time searching for it in the library and asking friends, etc. From the moment I started searching to the moment I got the album, maybe two months had passed. Now, you think about a song, and then you just go on Spotify or the web and listen to it. We live in a world of information overflow, and it’s a matter of opting out, not opting in.
With society's current communication infrastructure, you get the information you need at lightning speed and it's easy to produce data. Petar Popovski remembers a time when it was harder to produce real data, so data had more value. He believes that we need to learn that our personal data is worth gold and not something we just give away, like in fun quizzes on Facebook. The future is probably data markets where individuals take control of their own data and thus can sell it. And here his research is relevant, for example, using blockchain technology to validate data.
Another major challenge of our time – the green conversion – is also an area where Petar Popovski's research can contribute. His group has developed a prototype of a system that uses IoT and blockchain to regulate or exchange CO2 emissions.
− The idea is that all persons or entities such as cars, factories are allocated specific quotas on how much CO2 they can emit. Using IoT and blockchain technology, you can sell your quota securely, in real time, so that it is automatically transferred to another car or factory. Blockchain technology ensures that it is not possible to cheat by selling the same quota multiple times.
Petar Popovski would like to help establish a new centre at the university: Just as AAU has been a world-leading mobile communications centre, the new centre would be in digital technologies for the green conversion.
Well-being, new concepts and an entirely new textbook
In addition to being a professor at Aalborg University, Petar Popovski is one of only two Danish researchers to be an honorary professor at the University of Bremen, where he also leads a research group. An entire wall in his office is covered with the awards and accolades he has received over the years. But if he were to mention what he is most proud of in his professional work, he emphasises something else:
− I’m most proud that my research group scores very high on well-being and that people want to stay. That I have a group where cooperation and research are going really well. And I especially enjoy my research when I come up with an entirely new concept. It’s always difficult because new ideas meet with scepticism and criticism from all sides. When it turns out it works, you're very proud. And I'm very happy with the book I just wrote. It has a lot of technical content, but explains wireless communication in an understandable way and is illustrated with comics. It’s my impression that the students are happy with it, and I really like to teach.
Relationships inside and outside the walls
Petar Popovski greatly appreciates the collaborative atmosphere both in his section and with other colleagues, for example from computer science and energy technology. On the whole, he believes that collaboration between people will, if possible, be even more important in the future.
− Also collaboration with students and between students, the ability to work together and do something in groups – this is very important. If you think far into the future, when machines are doing the jobs we’re doing now, then human cooperation in general becomes very unique, he says.
He feels that he has received all the support and opportunities he could desire throughout his career – both from great colleagues and the university management. The support was also there in 2008 when he wanted to split his working hours between the university and the company Oticon where he once worked half-time on developing wireless technologies for hearing aids. And in 2013, when he was inspired to try his hand at entrepreneurship by setting up the company Reseiwe that offers wireless communication solutions:
- I founded the company in 2013. It still exists and it was a great opportunity to get some entrepreneurial experience. That's another good thing here at the university, something it should be commended for. Entrepreneurship is appreciated. The cooperation with the university was very smooth when I was setting up the company.
Petar Popovski may not be done with entrepreneurship. In any case, he is strongly considering doing it again because he has an area in his sights where he sees opportunities. But leave the university world altogether, probably never. He is and will always be a researcher.
On Petar Popovski's desk right now:
- IntellIoT and RISE-6G: Two new EU projects with many partners
- IntellIoT relates to future IoT systems where human, machine and artificial intelligence work together. We have three example scenarios in the project: agriculture, industrial production and health.
- RISE-6G is a new concept in wireless communication with electromagnetic meta-surfaces that change how wireless signals propagate in the environment.
- New ESA project on communication in large constellations of small satellites
- Working on more than 20 articles. Spending my time particularly on two articles that define new aspects of space and time in communication systems.