Interview with Roy Smits

Roy Smits works as an astronomer at the astronomy department of ASTRON. He has the Dutch nationality.

Roy during one of the activities at the IMC weekend school. 

What and where did you study?
I studied Physics at the Radboud University of Nijmegen and did a PhD in Astrophysics at the same university.

What does your work involve?
My work is very diverse. My most important task is to develop a method to combine five European telescopes for the purpose of pulsar observations. I am also in charge of maintaining all hardware at the Westerbork Telescope regarding pulsar observations. Apart from this, I am involved in different astrophysical projects and I often have to travel to participate in conferences or to reach the general public with stories about astronomy.


Schematic view of a pulsar (click here for the original file). The sphere in the middle represents the  neutron star, the curves indicate the magnetic field lines and the protruding cones represent the emission zones. (Author: Roy Smits; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution‑Share Alike).

What is the best part of your job?
The best part is that my research is entirely unexplored territory. You never know what you might discover, nor what problems you will have to solve.

What's not so great about your job?
I don't like that some problems take a lot of time to solve. This sometimes make me feel as though I'm not making much progress.

What does it feel like when you are getting measurements from a telescope?
It feels very satisfying and reassuring. There are so many things that can go wrong, that every successful observation counts.

What do you see when you gaze at the sky on a bright night?
A wonderful spectacle. I immediately start looking for the planets, the famous constellations and the Pleiades.

Roy (second from the left, see original file here) in the control room at the Parkes telescope in Australia(, next to NASA astronaut James Reilly.

What was your favourite course in high-school?

What was a positive influence on your choice for Astronomy and Physics?
The universe has always fascinated me. By studying Physics and Astronomy you learn about all the discoveries and gain a remarkable insight into how the universe works.

What makes working at ASTRON different from working at other companies?
I have a great amount of freedom at ASTRON to perform my own research and to make my own hours. The difference, I think, is that a company needs to make money from you, whereas you work at ASTRON to discover the universe.

Why do you think that boys and girls should choose a technical education?
You will learn a critical way of thinking that can be applied to almost anything. It doesn't matter where you end up; people who can think sensibly, are useful everywhere.


Would you like to know more about Roy and his work at ASTRON? Send him an e-mail at: smits [at] astron [dot] nl.

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