SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research is moving. In 2021, the Utrecht branch of the institute will be located in South-Holland. Leiden professor Paul van der Werf sees the move as a great enrichment: ‘It will all be much easier when SRON is located here behind us in the parking lot two years from now.’
For his work, Van der Werf depends on very precise observations. As a professor of Extragalactic Astrophysics, he investigates the physics outside our Galaxy. ‘Our observations therefore require super-sensitive equipment,’ he explains. ‘Such as telescopes and space satellites with sensitive receivers and detectors.’ This is where SRON and TU Delft come into play.
One of the longer lasting collaborations between SRON, Delft and Leiden is the DESHIMA project, in which SRON has built a complete space receiver on a single chip with the aid of Delft nanotechnology. Van der Werf is also involved in the project: ‘TU Delft has the fundamental knowledge, and SRON can convert this knowledge into beautiful technology. I, in return, know a great deal about the applications of these instruments. So it’s a very fruitful collaboration.
According to Van der Werf, this cooperation would never have come about if TU Delft had not been so close. ‘And it will only become easier when SRON moves right into the parking lot behind us.’ It really is a very pleasant cross-pollination of technology and science.’ Leiden benefits from the new technologies, but also Leiden’s knowledge makes a valuable contribution. Van der Werf: ‘Our scientists know exactly what is going on in their field, what the new technology should be able to do and what is needed. After all, they are the end-users!’
Hot of the press
Education will also benefit from the proximity of SRON, according to Van der Werf. The Master’s specialization in Astronomy and Instrumentation fits in very well with SRON’s work: the development of new space instruments. ‘It would be fantastic if our students could do a research project at SRON. Conversely, we can involve SRON’s people in our education. The knife cuts both ways: we train exactly the people they need, and the students deal with subjects that are hot of the press.’
Collaborations and opportunities
Van der Werf is particularly looking forward to the continuation of the DESHIMA project. ‘After the first success, we are now brainstorming about DESHIMA 2. This has to be a very serious instrument, so no more prototype.’ But he is also excited by a project that takes a longer view: the SPICA satellite. ‘This satellite currently only exists on paper. But in 25 to 30 years’ time -because that is the lead time of this type of project – this should lead to the next major satellite project.’ But, these are Van der Werf’s personal favourites. ‘If you ask someone else, it would be about collaborations in the field of exoplanets or X-rays. Because both SRON and Leiden are interested in this as well.’
‘I see this move as a great enrichment’, concludes Van der Werf. He tastes a lot of enthusiasm from the Leiden Observatory. ‘The relocation boosts our energy. I only see lots of new opportunities.’