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‘SRON and South-Holland can reinforce each other well’

SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research is moving. In 2021, the Utrecht branch will settle in South-Holland. Pieter Dieleman is group leader at SRON. He tells why the upcoming move is such a good idea: ‘SRON is a connecting factor between Delft and Leiden.’

Making the non-existent

Pieter Dieleman has been working at SRON since 2000. He leads the Instrument Scientists group, situated in Groningen and Utrecht. ‘We are technical physicists,’ he says. ‘We develop new technologies and then integrate them into an instrument  in such a way that it will survive the launch and the harsh condition in space as a robust system.’ The group members work together with both universities and engineers to achieve this. They translate what scientists want into concrete instrument requirements. ‘In that way, you automatically encounter things that do not exist yet. We then make the non-existent,’ he adds.

Pieter Dieleman at work. Photo: Ivar Pel

Binding factor

SRON conducts space and climate research, but is therefore also involved in the physical science that is needed to develop new instruments. ‘You can only develop something new if you understand exactly how it works,’ explains Dieleman. He therefore sees SRON as the linking pin between Delft and Leiden: ‘By working together with the more applied scientists from Delft, we can build innovative instruments that the scientist from Leiden and SRON can use.’ He believes SRON and South-Holland can reinforce each other well.

He hopes the move will also induce new impulses. ‘When you are far away from each other, you can of course call or email. But you only do that if you already work together and need each other for something. But, if you are closer, and you supervise PhD students together, you will automatically be facilitated to meet and talk. This way, all kinds of new ideas and collaborations emerge spontaneously. '

Knowledge in abundance

‘For example, look at Delft. There is so much knowledge there. When we have established ourselves in the neighborhood, we can look much more seriously and broader to all technical possibilities. I think of the fundamental knowledge of their physics group, such as detectors for gravitational waves, but also the optical knowledge. And of course the aerospace engineering course, where the system knowledge is present to carry out the developments in a structured way.’ In Leiden, Dieleman thinks of the Leiden Observatory, but also the LIS (Leiden Instrument makers’ school) and the LION (Leiden Institute of Physics) with which SRON will cooperate in the field of superconductivity.

Walk-in for students

In Groningen, SRON is located in a building of the University of Groningen and there is a lot of contact with students. Dieleman hopes that this will also be the case in South-Holland, but then at an even greater extent: that students will come to SRON and can do an internship, graduation or promotion. Vice versa, SRON can offer students interesting lectures, knowledge and expertise. ‘That way, we can make abstract subjects much more concrete. With us you can see how the knowledge is applied. We are actually in between the university and the industry, because we conduct research and we make things. When students get a tour, we can show what we do with the subject matter they just have treated theoretically. That way we make the knowledge tangible and hope to make the students enthusiastic.’



Dieleman is glad that the move offers an opportunity to do more outreach and to share knowledge with the general public. ‘SRON, Delft and Leiden are proud of what they do. Together, we can set up a fantastic package to encourage people who want to know more. Think of open days, specials events or students who have to make a study choice. By looking around at SRON, students see how physical principles are used in instruments to answer questions from astronomy or earth sciences.’


Dieleman is pleased with the future central location of SRON in the Netherlands. Therefore, he is thinks it is very nice to be so warmly welcomed by their new home base. ‘I am very grateful that we get this opportunity and are facilitated in this way, in a beautiful building. And that the universities take the effort to develop study directions that fit even better with our ambitions. We really want to involve the industry of South-Holland in our projects. We also want to share our knowledge to make education and research at universities even more complete.’

Instruments for in space

Netherlands Institute for Space Research SRON is now still based in Groningen and Utrecht. Here it develops technologies and instruments that it then uses for research from space. At great heights, SRON not only studies the universe, but also the earth itself. ‘From space, you can view the entire earth in one day,’ explains Dieleman. SRON has its own scientists but also cooperates with other knowledge institutions. These are not just astronomers or earth scientists: making optical instruments and detectors also requires physicists.

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