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Dorothea Samtleben: Nikhef's first female program leader

As of April 1, physicist Dorothea Samtleben is the first female program leader of Nikhef, the National Institute for Subatomic Physics. Samtleben will lead the Neutrino Physics group there. ‘This is an important step for Nikhef when it comes to diversity.’

Samtleben calls her appointment an honor. ‘This is a great opportunity to lead a talented research group. And I think this step is especially exciting for the institute. It is good that something is happening in the field of diversity now. It shows that Nikhef is changing. Nobody can think that physics is a man’s thing anymore.’

Researching elusive particles

Samtleben is one of the driving forces behind the KM3NeT experiment of the Nikhef Neutrino Physics group. KM3NeT is a neutrino telescope that’s under construction at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The project studies the properties of neutrinos and the sources in the sky where they come from.

Samtleben explains why she finds neutrinos so interesting. ‘Neutrinos are the least understood particles of the standard model. They are almost massless and have hardly any interactions with other matter, and they can even switch identities constantly. I think it's great to study something you can barely see.’

What fundamental building blocks does the world around us consist of? How did our universe form? The scientists at Nikhef search for answers to these big physics questions. Nikhef is the national institute for subatomic physics: the physics of particles even smaller than an atom. The Neutrino Physics group that Samtleben leads from April 1 is investigating neutrinos: uncharged particles that shoot straight through the Earth.

Knowledge from two organizations comes together

In the past, Nikhef already collaborated with researchers and technicians in Leiden for KM3NeT. For example, the expertise in optics in Leiden contributed to the accurate testing of highly sensitive light detectors. ‘We are always looking at opportunities to continue that collaboration,’ Samtleben indicates.

The researcher likes the combination of research at Leiden University and Nikhef. ‘It is enriching to work in both places. I appreciate the connection in my research with other groups in Leiden and get inspired by researchers that do very different experiments. I also enjoy introducing Leiden students to astroparticle physics and involving them in Nikhef projects.’

Science is for everyone

Nikhef director Stan Bentvelsen calls Samtleben’s appointment ‘a groundbreaking moment in every way’. In Samtleben’s view, her appointment as a manager is a good start. She would consider a Dutch colleague in a managerial position a suitable next step. ‘Someone from your own circle is extra valuable for the recognition and as an example function. Then you can rightly say to girls with ambition: look, in this country you can become anything as a woman, also in science.’

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