Blog ASPIRE 2021

Read all about the how students experienced the 2021 online ASPIRE programme

As applications open for the online ASPIRE 2022 programme, we look back at some of the students' memories from the 2021 ASPIRE, which was also online. On 14th June 2021 we welcomed eleven ASPIRE-ing students from all over the globe: Lebanon, Pakistan, Madagascar, Uganda, Russia, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, and India (note how this set of nations is, entirely by conincidence, almost completely different from the 2019 set!). On 4th August, they all presented the excellent results of their projects and some have continued to work with their API research groups since. Please read some of their experiences below.

Grace Katusiime

Hi, I am Grace, from Uganda. Uganda is a natural beauty, with abundance of gifts bestowed to her: the snowcapped Rwenzori mountains, named one of the best hikes in the world by National Geographic; mountain Elgon, with the largest volcanic Caldera in the world; the mighty river, River Nile, and Africa's largest lake, Lake Victoria.

I am a master student at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. I hold a Bachelor's degree of Science with Eduction (physics/mathematics) of Mbarara University of Science and Technology. I developed an interest in the field of Astronomy at my undergraduate program as course units like introduction to Astrophysics were being taught. I found the universe and space travel being fascinating objects, and I started yearning for more knowledge about stars specifically. In my third year at undergraduate program, I did a research project in stellar physics. My project narrowed down to asteroseismology of two evolved solar-like stars: KIC 005023953 and KIC 005111949. At master's level, I continued with stellar physics where I worked on determination of atmospheric parameters and chemical abundances of B-A type stars.

After two months of being part and enjoying the academic life at Anton Pannekoek Institute (API), I can not imagine how blessed I have been being an ASPIRE student. Other than all the interesting research going on at API, I really loved the exceptional character of the people, the special love they express for the novices, and the zeal of showing these new folks that the sky is no longer the limit and it is possible to shoot it. I believe the greatest challenge you can give to a person is showing them that they can do it. The API's hospitality made my two months of hard work appear like as if it was for two weeks! API is a great example of how we can come from di erent backgrounds, experiences and  elds of expertise and work in unity to produce undoubtable results. I really enjoyed attending colloquiums, group meetings and seminars, where I got a privilege to listen to insightful discussions. Truthfully speaking, the API will always be my big science family away from home. More so, the ASPIRE program gave me a chance to connect and bond with other astronomers as well as the fellow ASPIRE/LEAPS students all over the world.

During the two months, I got an opportunity to interact with the Jetset group members under the leadership of Prof. Sera Marko . What an amazing group Jetset is! In a special way, I appreciate my wonderful supervisors: Prof. Sera Marko , Dr. Matteo Lucchini and Dimitris Kantzas for their distinguishable e orts towards my project.

I worked on understanding Jet emission of stellar-Mass black holes. Black holes were relatively a new  field to me but my supervisors tried to break down the content in a simplicity way possible. This made me understand and love the field more, and I hope to continue working on Black holes for my PhD. I learnt alot about Black holes, launching of jets, jet emission and re ection as a proxy which Sera came up with in 2004 to differentiate between synchrotron emission (jet dominated emission) and inverse compton scattering (corona/jet base dominated emission).

I can really say that the eight week program was a great plus to my academic life as an aspiring astronomer. I definately had one of the best summers of my life. I learnt alot from my project, supervisors, and the API community at large. Blessings to all!

Eraj Gulraiz

Hey everyone! I am Eraj Gulraiz from Pakistan, and this is my “stellar” ASPIRE 2021 experience.

Needless to say, a person who is passionate enough about astronomy would spend a whole summer on a project that helps him/her to get a little better understanding of the universe than he/ she had before. Same goes for me, I was among the 11 students to be selected for this remarkable experience that is going to be with us for the rest of our lives. Programs like ASPIRE make you believe that there are people in the world and academia trying to make it more tolerable and open to passionate and capable people, regardless of any bias e.g. ethnicity, country or religion.

I am a graduate in Physics with a masters in Computational Science, and in astronomy the most attractive area that compliments my aptitude and fascination is Computational Astronomy. In fact, I chose Physics with the aim of Astronomy in mind. To have a goal of becoming a researcher in Computational Astronomy, I require some significant research experience. With the competition and ongoing fast paced science there’s so much to learn and thrive for. I worked on the project “Cosmic Expansion History with Gravitational Waves Sources” with Suvodip Mukherjee. As amazing as the name sounds, the project was full of excitement and fresh research. I was working on gravitational waves for the first time, and with the news of the detection of the Neutron Star- Black Hole merger this year, I just couldn’t contain the excitement and I was thrilled to work even overtime. To be a part of this field is already a dream, and working on “ the song of the universe” was just a golden opportunity. Everything I worked on was new to me, and I can not give enough credit to my amazing supervisor to teach me so much in a short span of 2 months.

Although the program was remote due to the current COVID situation, API made me feel so connected to every one. Especially, meetings with the research group GRAPPA led by Samaya Nissanke, made us feel welcome, like we have been a part of it since the beginning. I really enjoyed the GRAPPA journal clubs, one of the many experiences that I never had before. There were also some informal sessions with the other candidates, and we sure had fun in Gathertown meetings too. We made friends rather quickly, and hope to cherish these connections for life. Not only the API students but also the supervisors were ready for any guidance you need, academic or general. All the seminars and workshops were very interactive and the opportunity to (virtually) meet amazing present day researchers that are working at the forefront of Astronomy is an opportunity I could’ve not experienced otherwise! It only makes me wonder if it was THIS exciting remotely, I can only imagine what it would’ve been like in person. ASPIRE gave me an opportunity to meet the people I "aspire" to be, and I very much hope to meet them someday in person as well.

I will end by saying that I am glad that somewhere in a galaxy far far away, some blackholes merged and we were able to hear them. Astronomy excites me to my core, the magnificent and the oldest of science, that just tells us how small we are in comparison to scale, but how significant it is that we were able to come this far to try and understand the Universe. If I sum up my ASPIRE experience in one word, I’d say it was, ASTRONOMICAL! :)

Devika P B

Hey folks, This is Devika P B here. I am a fifth-year IMSc Physics Student from the Central University of Tamil Nadu, India. I belong to Kerala which is a beautiful state in the landscape of India famous for its placid backwaters, lush greenery, picturesque hill towns, and beautiful beaches. My keen interest in Astronomy and Astrophysics took its roots from watching popular science programs like “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking”. Soon enough I got engulfed in the world of Astrophysics literature. A Brief History of Time, The Theory of Everything, Mapping the heavens, The 4 Percent Universe, The First Three Minutes, and Black Holes and Time Warps are some of the books that shaped my knowledge of the cosmos. With time I became more and more curious about the universe and I strongly wanted to pursue a research career in this field. Unfortunately, there are no colleges in India that offer a BSc in Astrophysics. But there are some premier institutes for MSc and Ph.D. in this field. Hence I joined a five-year integrated Physics course that could strengthen my base for pursuing a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Being an Aspire intern is the best thing that has ever happened to me so far. Even with the restrictions due to the covid pandemic, they delivered me the best research experience.

I worked with Dr. Lorenzo Pino and Prof. Jean-Michel D sert on the project “Modelling the upper atmospheres of strongly irradiated exoplanets”. This field was completely new and exciting for me. My work was motivated by the two apparently discrepant (Na doublet) observations of the exoplanet HD209458b at high and medium-low resolution. One of the key challenges I am trying to address is to disentangle a hydrostatic signature and a hydrodynamic signature in the transmission spectrum and to try and understand where the escaping layer begins.

The scientific discussions with my supervisor were one of the things that I enjoyed the most in the entire program. They are the most humble and encouraging souls I have ever seen in my life! The weekly meetings with Jean-Michel and the exoplanet team urged me to be more confident in myself and my doubts were thoroughly appreciated. These meetings not only helped me to understand their ongoing research but also gave insight into their thinking process and how different perspectives and opinions play a major role in research. The weekly Exoplanet and Disks Meeting(EDM) was another platform where all the exoplanet and disks enthusiasts gathered to discuss interesting papers and their ongoing works. The organizers were truly outstanding and inclusive of the Aspire students working in these fields.

I indeed missed out on being there in person but they truly structured this online event in such a way that we always felt connected and got easily blended in their vibrant scientific community virtually! The seminars and workshops were so interactive and informative. In the info coffee, we were able to meet with the entire API family where they chatted about daily life and exciting updates in their respective fields. Another highlight of the program was the “gather town” which was a fun platform where we Aspire students and other APIs got together to narrow down our distances and simply chat away! The colloquiums and Grappa meetings are guaranteed to stimulate your brain cells. The BSc and MSc symposiums were thoroughly enjoyable as well, where the students of API presented their thesis projects. In all these programs we were always welcome to ask doubts and quench our curiosities.

I did face some challenges during the project since I was comparatively new to coding. My only prior experience was working on a project on meteors in my second year which mostly involved SKiYMET meteor radar data analysis. Dr. Lorenzo always trusted me and encouraged me in the best possible ways. He was a true mentor who believed in my potential and supported me through all the ups and downs. Prof. Jean-Michel also taught me valuable lessons, one of which that I truly treasure is to always find a balance between theory and coding instead of getting completely lost in one. I believe that working in a pressure-free environment yields more promising results and that’s exactly what I accomplished working with my team. Last but not least my fellow Aspire mates are brilliant individuals and I got to learn a lot from their wonderful personalities. Some of them inspired me while some always reassured me whenever my mind was troubled since working from home has its ups and downs. They were always ready to help whenever I needed it.

Aspire is that program where you not only grow as a researcher but also as an individual. Sending lots of love to all the organizers and people of API!!!

Ny Avo Rakotondrainibe

Hi everyone! My name is Ny Avo Rakotondrainibe and I am from Antananarivo, Madagascar. Yes, even if I am from a country where Science and Astronomy in particular are not a priority, I still have chosen to join this family. Since my childhood, I have been amazed by all the colorful and amazing pictures from all the science tv documentaries and magazines. So, I decided to enter the Master of Science in Astronomy and Astrophysics after a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Applications in the University of Antananarivo; all that with the hope of being a cosmologist or a specialist in dying giant stars.

Why did I apply for the ASPIRE? The answer: Cosmology. Actually, I was finishing my Master Degree during the whole ASPIRE project. As my Master project was a cosmology subject, I also wanted to see how we really do Cosmology in the real world of astronomy. So, my participation in the ASPIRE project, with the wonderful Dr. Mukherjee, enlightened me and brought me again to those times where I was amazed by new things, but this time, by Cosmology. Also, as we do not have a future in the country for a field like this, it would really help me for my future applications and indeed it did.

For me, being part of ASPIRE was not only about plotting some figures, reading papers or Pythoning, it literally made me an astronomer for a span of eight weeks. It gave me so many opportunities, like friends from all around the world, attending lectures from professors I thought I would be able to see only on Wikipedia, seeing the cutting edge of methods in astronomy, and so much more.

On the other hand, for the technical part, I was on the “Measuring cosmic expansion history with gravitational wave sources” project with another cheerful student, Eraj, shoutout to her. We were supervised by Dr. Suvodip Mukherjee. So, we have first generated a population of gravitational waves sources. Then, we have used those black hole-neutron star coalescences to estimate the Hubble parameter. From this project, we were introduced to the very famous Bilby and emcee codes in the field of gravitational wave astronomy. Also, a paper will be in preparation as an extension of this project in particular.

So sad that we were not able to be in API physically, but it was still an amazing experience. We were all greatly welcomed in the slack channel of API so it was nice still. This project really helped me, not only on the astronomy part but on the human part. I have really seen the fact that this field is a team work, one cannot resolve a problem by self.

To finish, I would like to thank the entire staff of API, the ASPIRE organizers, my supervisor and all these ASPIRE interns for making these two months happen and go amazingly!

Rua Sulaiman

“Too fast!” is how I would describe my journey as an ASPIRE student through these extraordinary eight weeks. I still remember the day when I got my final acceptance to the program from my amazing supervisor, Dr. Christian Ginski. Full of joy and excitement with overwhelming fear, I prepared myself to join the first meeting of the protoplanetary disks research group that I would be part of. I was scared of being judged, as a Hijabi Middle Eastern girl, or considered as a stranger or not belonging. I entered the first meeting and started exploring everyone’s faces. Very quickly, a network of branching thoughts and interpretations loaded with unjustified exaggeration started growing to fill up my mind completely. Suddenly, I was cut by Kevin, the organizer of the group’s meetings, to hear him welcoming me and starting to introduce himself. Immediately, I introduced myself. I trembled but was able to say a couple of comprehensible words about me. Then, everyone started introducing him/herself.

Never judging but always welcoming my supervisor Christian used to be, listening to anything I would suggest or ask about, encouraging me more to read, think, and ask more questions. I enjoyed every single meeting I had with him. The fears that I started with of being “not belonging” began to fade away as all the people in the group were always very helpful and kind; Rico, Ryo, Lucas, and Carsten all never hesitated to help me with anything asked about. However, one of the things that I had a hard time getting used to is calling people with their first names with no titles! All the people that I have mentioned are either Ph.D. students, postdocs, or Professors. For example, I had a difficult time calling Professor Carsten by his first name as he was the leading professor in our group and the president of the Anton Pannekoek institute. So, I always avoided calling him explicitly and never had to say his name without a title :D This great environment has helped me to delve deeper into my research about a protoplanetary disk around a pre-main star that is called V351 Orionis.

My project was in observational Astronomy. The first time I saw a protoplanetary disk was when I saw the image of the PPdisk around V351 Ori! I was so excited! I am looking at a real object in outer space, and I am the first person to touch its new data! However, the shape of the disk was hard to comprehend at first sight, at least for a person like me who had zero expertise in this domain. As an expert observer, Christian started explaining things to me and walking me through all that I need to know step by step in a very organized and systematic way. I started by the data reduction of the images taken in the near-infrared. Then we moved to produce a model for the disk that is based on our interpretation of the disk's structure to see whether our model is capable of reproducing the real image of the disk. Consequently, the results were so promising!

The program has definitely exceeded my expectations! There was a vast number of events! The great mixture of talks, theses defenses, workshops, lectures, and seminars have opened the door for great opportunities to meet huge authorities and leading figures in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Contrary to my expectations, it was not as scary as it sounds to have a conversation with an authority in the field! Everyone was so humble and always had the ultimate goal of spreading deeper Physics understanding. One time Christian suggested a meeting with a scientist who is called Miriam to discuss few code-related things. We had a great conversation with Miriam as she was a very kind and amazing scientist. After a couple of days, while searching for some research papers, I got a paper "Discovery of a planetary-mass companion within the gap of the transition disk around PDS 70" that is lead by “Miriam Keppler”. In this paper lies one of the most important discoveries of recent years in the field of exoplanet research. along with different awards and prices, I was stunned when I knew that this is the same Miriam I had met a couple of days ago! I really admired the humble and great scientist she is and laughed at the simple and gullible me :D

All of this made the online barrier so negligible and unnoticeable that I never felt that it limited my communication with others. We had weekly social gatherings on “Gather town” where ASPIRE students used to meet and enjoy having informal conversations, playing games, and talking about anything we feel like sharing. We used to meet some API people who would drop by and have a friendly chat with them.

There is no exaggeration in saying that this was the greatest summer I ever had. Despite me having no expertise in the domain I was able to work through all the tasks and get good results. Without Christian’s great supervision, and the time he spent answering my questions and guiding me through, even if it meant taking extra time from his schedule, I would have not been able to get any results or enjoy this great experience. I would never forget the great people I have met here who always made me feel belonging, crossing the barriers of race, religion, and nationality. It was definitely an extraordinary experience that did not only add to my knowledge in Physics considerably, but also introduced me to a scientific environment of huge inclusion and acceptance where every idea and question has its own worth.

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).