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Arnold retires, at least formally

Submitter: Harvey Butcher
Description: Today we mark the formal retirement of Arnold van Ardenne, a giant in the field of radio astronomy technology. For several decades now, he has played a leadership role in the field's development. His list of contributions is long, and underpins the recent conclusion by an international evaluation panel that ASTRON is "re-inventing" radio astronomy.

For example, in the early 1980s Arnold used ESA's Orbital Test Satellite (OTS2) to demonstrate for the first time how satellites in low Earth orbit can be used to do VLBI. He also played an important role in the instrumentation for the JCMT submm telescope on Hawaii. In the early 1990s, after returning from industry to lead ASTRON R&D, he embraced the refurbishment of the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope and oversaw its return to a front-line facility.

Perhaps most importantly, he was among the first to understand, amid much skepticism from astronomical and technical colleagues, that radio astronomy would need the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, and that the design and development required would yield important spin-off and scientific results along the way. He realized that new design tools and innovative technologies would be required, and in the mid-1990s he hired world-class antenna and IC teams to take up the challenge.

He made certain that ASTRON's new (1996) building in Dwingeloo included the engineering infrastructure for testing the new designs, both in radio and optical astronomy. By the early 2000s, Arnold's engineering laboratory would be known the world over for its consistently innovative R&D in support of astronomy. In the ensuing decade, ASTRON engineers produced state-of-the-art instruments for ESO and for NASA, designed and built LOFAR, and took a leading role in R&D for the SKA. His European SKADS programme generated intense continent-wide activity, while forging many valuable contacts between SKA contributors.

One secret of this success may be found in the engineering culture he brought to ASTRON, following his years as R&D executive at the giant Ericsson technology company. Arnold worked tirelessly to achieve the right balance between the rather disparate cultures of academia and of industry best-practice engineering. That he generally managed the resulting tensions well, realizing the intended synergy, is demonstrated by the many successful forefront instruments that are operational on telescopes both European and foreign.

Enjoy your retirement, Arnold, although it is unlikely that this marks the end of your contributions. You have set a high standard for future generations of radio astronomy ingenieurs. Moreover, there are only a handful of labs that can build SKA, and you have built one of them.
Copyright: various
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