My first University experience was not physics, but aerospace engineering. To summarise, material science seemed most interesting to me, so after one year I switched to the stuff we do and love. My first long project was in nuclear physics, specifically in perturbed angular correlation of radioactive isotopes in the reactor institute of Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands. We used the effect of the environment (e.g. acidity level) on the timing of cascade gamma emission of those isotopes to probe said environment. Next was particle physics and I was lucky enough to do a project on optical alignment of future linear accelerators at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
After a short project at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) on Silicon microstrip detectors for X-ray free electron diffraction experiments, I started a PhD at Nikhef in Amsterdam. There I worked for Virgo and the Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector (KAGRA), while developing an interferometric readout of a Watt linkage type accelerometer. This was a great experience and, as we all know, ‘well timed’ (or, I was lucky once again). It gave me ample opportunities for outreach that led to 10+ public seminars and a national TV appearance in the Netherlands!
In June 2016, a few months after the first gravitational wave detection was announced, a Dutch TV crew flew to Pisa, Italy, to shoot an episode for Klokhuis—a Dutch children’s TV show. Explaining the story of gravitational waves to our target group (8-12-year-old children) was challenging, but I like to think we did a good job. Our script was presented to perfection by the presenter, and I even got a few seconds of fame as the ‘physics expert’. Growing up watching Klokhuis every day, so this meant a lot to me. The show was aired in February 2017, and a few months later I was pointed to a tweet by a Belgian professor. He praised the ‘excellent’ show, but the biggest compliment of all was the drawing he posted there by his 10-year-old child depicting the concepts we had explained in the episode!
My next goal is to help design, fund and build the 3rd generation of gravitational wave detectors. In addition to the opportunity to study OzHF where we push a 2.5 G high frequency detector to a good position, I would love to work on the Einstein Telescope or Cosmic Explorer. The future is bright for our field; I hope to benefit from the momentum and hope that we’ll ‘never stop listening’!