Blog ASPIRE 2019

Read all about the how students experienced the 2019 ASPIRE programme

As ASPIRE 2021 applications open, we look back at some of the students memories from the inaugural ASPIRE. On June 3rd 2019 we welcomed eight ASPIRE-ing students from all over the globe, including Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador, Kenya, Pakistan, Venezuela, and Zambia! They have been busy getting into their projects and meeting all the people at the API. They have also had a good welcome to the Dutch weather from glorious sunshine to wind and rain all in one week, but that has not deterred them from getting into Dutch culture, from biking to borrel-ing. Stay tuned over the coming weeks, where each student will be writing for this blog describing their projects and their experiences in the Netherlands so far!

Sara Zahoor

I am Sara Zahoor, a graduate student from National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan. In my country, people are doing some amazing scientific research but unfortunately when it comes to Astronomy, we do not have any technological facilities, especially for observations. So this field did not attain as much attention compared to other research areas. So for me, who grew up aspiring to become an "Astronomer" one day and whose only source of information was the internet, popular science books and documentaries - being an intern in ASPIRE program at API (Anton Pannekoek Institute at University of Amsterdam) is like having a dream come true.

Last but not the least; "Cosmic Fingerprints" is the blog that drove me to purse my career as a scientist in this field. During my bachelors I did some theoretical research on Space Plasma but the drive for Astronomy and Astrophysics remained inside me. Later on, I was fortunate to be able to work with Dr. Chris Power from ICRAR, Australia on cosmological simulations and studied galaxy evolution. Since there is no one currently working in this field in Pakistan, so I had to work through the internet. As they say, learning by experience is better than just information and therefore ASPIRE is the perfect experience for me in this regard. I not only have the opportunity to work with brilliant professionals, but also get to work at one of the worlds best institutions.

Dr. Emily Petroff is my advisor here, who is known for her famous first real-time fast radio burst discovery. We are working on the detection of galactic RRATS (rapidly rotating radio transients), from the data of Parkes Telescope from Australia. RRATs are neutron stars but unlike Pulsars they are not periodic, in fact they are detected with single pulse searches. There are lots of tests on the signals that one has to go through before the pulse can be regarded as useful or just noise. This process gets even more challenging in the case of RRATs because their true nature is still unknown to astronomers and they are much less explored. All these factors makes this project even more exciting.

Every human being fantasizes something in their life, as for me being in academia and surrounded by scientists – talking about science is the one. I am a part of such an amazing research group and every week I learn something new from their discussion. It is a challenge for me to be able to reach to their intellectual level, and that is one of the many reasons that I choose to come here. Science is not just about reading and thinking, in fact it is more about communicating – being able to talk about your ideas and to discuss because this is how your knowledge evolves. At this stage I mostly listen and observe, how they take one plot or research paper – then openly discuss it. It made me realize how you can help and then can learn more at the same time. The Friday paper discussion session is particularly wonderful meeting to be at. The presenter chooses an interesting research paper, talk about the things he or she understands and then they all discuss together. Since they know that I am a novice so they encourage me to ask questions and give special attention to me. It not only gives me courage but also the sense that I am a part of their group now.

One of the best things about API is that it is a very interactive institution. There are dates and times, always fixed, for some wonderful research talk (Colloquium), either it is from GRAPPA or API. You will always find enthusiastic master students, PhDs, postdocs and faculty member fully involved in these talks, ready to gain insight beyond their research areas. After all this, special ASPIRE talks from the API faculty is like having a cherry on the top. I am also impressed from their tradition of getting together every Thursday morning at 11 am for the “Good coffee", just to hang out with their colleagues and share a pleasant chat over coffee. Our first official dinner was at Pancake House, where we had traditional Dutch pancakes. We interns were also invited on the annual API outing. They arranged activities for all of us together, like beach cleaning, games (Expeditie Robinson) and also some tasty food - making us truly feel like a part of the API family.

Beside the life at API, Amsterdam is a worthy city to be explored, especially its museums. The most exciting thing for me here in the Netherlands is to bike, which you can do literally to everywhere. I really appreciate how easy the authorities have made it for everyone and how it looks like this country is naturally created for biking. As many different communities from different parts of the world are living here, so apart from traditional Dutch food you can also taste Turkish, Italian, Indonesian and French etc. There are lots of wonderful things that can be explained about this multicultural city and thus the list goes on.

Your experience is always incomplete without meeting new people. My ASPIRE colleagues are brilliant people from different continents of the world. Within such a short period, we all are so close and have learned so much about each others native countries. We started a tradition in our residence that every weekend one of us will cook some traditional food from their home country and it turned out to be a really enjoyable activity for all of us. So far, we have tasted the Bechamel pasta from Venezuela, last week I cooked Pakistani food and I am looking forward to taste the Brazilian cuisine this weekend.

API is such a place to work, where you know that we will discover that we might come from different geographical locations but we all have our best interest under the same one sky and that is to explore the our cosmos. So far, it’s been truly an amazing experience for me in ASPIRE program and looking forward to learn even more till end.

Chileshe Mutale

Hello! My name is Chileshe, a Physics and Geology graduate from the University of Zambia. I am passionate about science, learning and sharing knowledge. My first brush with astronomy was the development in Africa with Radio Astronomy basic training that consists of four units which covered the general concepts and a introduction to the theory and technical aspects. Little did I know this was the beginning of my radio astronomy journey. One of my first thoughts was "so much could be achieved with this and used in several meaningful ways to make an impact in our day to day lives". After, I knew I wanted to learn more and naturally the ASPIRE summer school seemed to be one of the best opportunities to do this. Apart from ASPIREs completely unique approach, tailored projects and supervisors to go with. A science filled summer in one of the most beautiful back drops the Netherlands has to offer was a choice I gladly made.

The research project I am currently working on involves carrying out a radio transients survey using the 12 stations of the low frequency array. AARTFAAC, is a one of a kind instrument because it has the capability to monitor the low frequency radio sky at a wide field of view in real time which is great for an extensive survey such as this. I have the immense pleasure of working with the Tony Stark of Fast Radio Burst astronomy, well he is much cooler than Tony. The passionate Dr Aleksandar Shulevski, who specializes in all sky surveys with AARTFAAC, (Amsterdam-ASTRON Radio Transients Facility And Analysis Center) as well as AGN radio relics relationship with radio phenomena, so I am in the most accomplished hands.

What I love most about the API is the atmosphere, the people,the vibe and feeling of community. Other than all the interesting research going on here, there really is something special. I believe when we allow people to be extremely comfortable in their working environment great things can happen, and beautiful serendipitous science prevails. The Anton Pannekoek Institute is a great example of how we can come from different backgrounds, experiences and areas of expertise and work constructively with others in the most amazing ways. It kind of reminds me of a quilt, unique, well structured, warm and inviting. Weird right? The API will always be my big science family away from home. The ASPIRE program has given me the chance to connect and bond with other astronomers as well as the seven other aspire students from all over the world. I have made lasting friendships that will continue even after the summer school ends.

Amsterdam! What can I say,it is a fun, lively city with magnificently breath taking 17th century architecture in a 21st century setting. The views will always bring me to a halt....., I always have to remind myself to not get hit by the bikes. With such picturesque cities it was hard to not wander, while here, we visited charming and a new favorite of mine, Haarlem, Lieden, the Hague and some lovely coastal beach I do not quite know where.

I have definitely had one of the best summers of my life, I have learnt so much from my project field and supervisor. Grown so much as an individual, academic as well as made meaningful connections with the friends, scratch that family I have now. It has been such a wonderful experience and I am so grateful to have taken part.

Peace, love, laughs.

Thallis Pessi

Hi! My name is Thallis Pessi and I am a Master student at Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (UFSM), in Brazil. After two and a half months living in Amsterdam and being part of the academic life of API, I can feel now how lucky I was in being an ASPIRE student and how it has changed my personal views on astronomy and on academic life in general. My original background is in physics, but I knew that astronomy was the path I wanted to follow since the first year of my bachelor course, when got in touch with the work done by the Astrophysics Group at UFSM. Although the group is quite small, I can only be very proud of my colleagues and professors and of what they can do with so few resources, sometimes dealing with a fire in the building and always dealing with the leakage of resources and financial support (an ever-growing problem).

The vibrant atmosphere at API was the complete opposite of what I have ever seen and lived. With talks, colloquia and seminars every day, given by people from the most important groups from all around the world, I could feel for the first time how it is to be part in such a big institute. During these 10 weeks, I was working in a project advised by Tanja Hinderer and Geert Raaijmakers. I learned a lot about the structure of neutron stars, about the possibility of a phase transition to quark matter inside of it and how we can detect it with the star oscillations and the emission of gravitational waves! In addition to all the astronomy knowledge that I acquired in the program, I also learned a lot of valuable information about the academic and scientific life of an astronomer, especially in the weekly meetings of the group led by Samaya Nissanke, in which I was so well received.

Although it is a big institute, API can still be a very welcoming environment, and the feeling of friendship between its members is perceived in the small details, as the daily coffee at 11 a.m. or the traditional borrel every Friday afternoon, where everyone in the institute get together to enjoy some beers and to relax. Even though a lot of hard work is done, relaxing is a serious business at API! The social activities were always planned so people could have the most of fun. We went to a bowling, to eat pancakes, to know some bars and we did an official summer outing to the beach! We have also made some scientific trips where we went to some amazing astronomy sites in the Netherlands, as ESA ESTEC, Westerbork and LOFAR.

Beyond the walls of API, Amsterdam is an amazing city to spend the summer. During this time, the city is flourishing with concerts, music, parties and many others cultural activities. It was amazing to know all the wonderful museums and to be face-to-face with the masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age. The city itself is a masterpiece from that period and by simply walking in the streets you can be amazed by all the XVII century houses, palaces, canals, bridges and windmills. And the best way to know all those places is definitely by bike! For me, the best thing in Amsterdam is how you can reach everywhere biking and how the city is so well designed for it. We have even explored outside the city just by bikes, where we discovered some amazing places as parks, an island and even a castle! However, I must say that riding a Dutch bike can be harder than you think (especially when it is windy, raining and you have just been to a borrel). The Dutch societies open mindedness was a good surprise to me, as it is a stark contrast to the society I come from. Amsterdam has always been a place that receives people from all around the world and with many different backgrounds, making the city a plural environment. This is highly perceived during the Pride week, usually in the last week of July, when the city turns into an extremely colorful place and everyone goes out to the streets to celebrate love.

These 10 weeks in ASPIRE were so special to me and I could say a lot more of what I have lived and learned. I am pretty sure that I turned into a better person and that being part in the program was the best thing that could have ever happened to me as an aspiring astronomer!

Vivian Otieno

Jambo! I am Vivian Adhiambo Otieno from University of Nairobi, Kenya. If you love wildlife, nature and warm weather, Kenya is the place to be. I hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics from University of Nairobi and a Post Graduate Diploma (Level 1 Master) in Space Mission, Design and Management from University of Rome ’La Sapienza’. During my postgraduate studies I worked on 1KUNS (First Kenyan University Nanosatellite) mission, which was sponsored by Italian Space Agency (ASI), Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). In my Undergraduate, I worked on cosmology project, entitled "Structure formation within the standard cosmological model", which was accepted for oral presentation in the MEARIM IV conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I'm passionate about Space Sciences but I love Astronomy and Astrophysics. My country is in the process of developing Astronomy and Astrophysics, but the bachelor's curriculum is more focused on theoretical physics with some courses in Astronomy and Astrophysics. I have loved Astronomy from childhood and would have opted for MSc in Astronomy. Unfortunately, there are no Master in Astronomy/Astrophysics courses in my country, thus I opted for MSc in Physics, partaking theoretical physics courses but working on a thesis which involves simulating light curves of LEDsat (a CubeSat embedded with Light Emitting Diodes).

Participating in ASPIRE gave me the opportunity to work on exoplanet atmospheres. I worked with Dr. Kamen Todorov, one of the kindest people you will ever come across. He specializes in Exoplanet Atmospheres and he was quite helpful, since it was a relatively new field for me and I hope to continue working on exoplanets for my PhD. I enjoyed attending colloquiums and group meeting, where I got a privilege to attend insightful discussions. What I liked most about API is its rich diversity of supportive people of different nationalities. It is definitely a place to be for Astronomy with fan. And to top it all, my favorite, the water canals and clean beaches in Netherland, I’m sure I’m a water creature in some other universe (for multiverse believers).