Professor emeritus of Astronomy
From his discovery of the most distant object in the universe and his proposal for the new radio telescope, LOFAR, to his fight against the budget cuts as Director of Leiden Observatory (1995 to 2003) and his newest educational programme, Universe Awareness, Miley has always pioneered groundbreaking projects, but not because he wanted to make a career, he says: 'I was just working on fun, exciting things. For me, that’s the most important part.'
Miley was the Scientific Director of Leiden Observatory from 1995 to 2003. Leiden Observatory has grown to become one of the largest and most productive astronomy departments in Europe.
But Miley was always looking further. While he was a member of the board of the ASTRON foundation, he was looking for a way to boost radio astronomy in the Netherlands and Europe. In 1997, he wrote a proposal for a new radio telescope that would look even further into the early Universe, which he called the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) — it succeeded. In 2006, ASTRON started to build LOFAR, which consists of 7000 small antennas, situated in the north of the Netherlands and four more European countries. 'It’s fantastic that it has become a reality now and that it is actually being built. The project has become much more ambitious than my original plan. I’m a bit proud, I have to confess,' says Miley joyfully. He is now part of various LOFAR observation programmes.
Distinguished professor KNAW
In 2003, Miley was awarded one of the first distinguished academy professorships by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He used this time to work further on his research on protoclusters, groups of galaxies that begin to form clusters around distant radio galaxies. He has also supervised more than 25 PhD theses since 1978.
Astronomy for Development
Besides research, Miley used his time as a KNAW-professor to ‘stick his neck out’ in developing a new education programme for young, disadvantaged children, called Universe Awareness (UNAWE). The idea — to inspire very young kids with astronomy — had already occurred to him much earlier, when he went to his daughters’ primary school to tell kids about the Universe.
'I saw how excited kids become when you tell them about the Universe,' Miley says. 'But astronomy is not only suitable to show them the fun parts of science, it also gives them perspective and it stimulates global citizenship and tolerance. Fanaticism and nationalism are put into perspective when you show young children how small our world is compared to the Universe.'
UNAWE has grown into a worldwide programme, funded by the European Union and is now active in more than 50 countries, where it inspires children from 4 to 10 years old with the wonders of our Universe.
Since the foundation of UNAWE, Miley’s career has taken a turn. As UNAWE was starting up in 2006, he was appointed Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). As vice-president, he designed the IAU strategic plan ‘Astronomy for Development’, which advocates the use of the technological and educational aspects of astronomy to stimulate technological and human capacity building throughout the world.
Miley is responsible for overseeing the implementation of this strategic plan until 2015 and he talks about this with a lot of passion.
'During my youth I was a political left-wing. I’m therefore particularly happy that I can now, in addition to doing pure research, help contribute more directly to society. Astronomy is linked to cutting-edge technologies, fundamental science and the most profound culture, so it can be a unique tool for development throughout the world. Several countries, such as South Africa and China, have acknowledged this during the last few years.'