Hi everyone! My name is Cristina, I am from Romania, and I am a second-year master at Leiden University in the Netherlands. To sum up, this summer was AWESOME: I worked with an amazing team, under the supervision of Michiel Brentjens, on a fantastic new project, while having fun in my free time. This is an experience I would highly recommend to anyone passionate about radio astronomy or radio instrumentation.
We all know that the Sun is becoming very active in the upcoming years, so the chances for a powerful solar storm to hit the Earth are high. DISTURB is a small array of LBAs (Low-Band Antennas of LOFAR) which will track the Sun during the day and give warnings when a powerful solar storm is coming towards Earth. Thus, many organizations, such as the Ministry of Defense, will know to expect perturbances in their communication caused by a natural source.
My main task in the DISTURB team was to perform the absolute flux calibration of an LBA. I started with a sky model and tried to understand how it is affected by all the components. In the end, I could convert the antenna output, which is just a set of numbers, into an astronomical unit used to measure fluxes, Jy. Besides this, I found a sensitivity issue with 90% of the LBAs, which existed since the beginning of LOFAR, but no one knows its exact origin. I also had fun side tasks, which included building an LBA antenna (in the picture I am preparing the ground plane) and checking for interferences at WSRT, the site where DISTURB will be built in the autumn. I worked under the supervision of Michiel, but I had great help from many other people from ASTRON (including engineers and maintenance staff).
Besides the work, there was also much fun involved. The ASTRON staff are amazing people with whom you can always play a game of foosball at lunch or go for a drink on Wednesdays after work. ASTRON also organized activities for the summer students, such as a wadlopen, a trip to WSRT and the LOFAR core, and a farewell party in which the summer students had the chance to beat their supervisors in a foosball championship. It was a great experience that I highly recommend to everyone. I could have not hoped for a better supervisor and team to work (and have fun) with!
Hey! My name is Fraser, I am from Scotland and am a final year integrated masters student studying Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. The summer I spent on the ASTRON/JIVE summer student program was amazing and full of great experiences! My research was focussed on using wide-field LOFAR observations to help understand the low-frequency radio background we observe throughout the Universe. I was supervised by André and Maaijke from ASTRON and Bharat from the Kapteyn Institute at the University of Groningen.
Over the course of the summer, I was able to work on my own research project investigating the radio background. Currently, the origin of this background is unknown, and it was extremely exciting to be working on an open question like this. I processed raw LOFAR data to make maps of the radio sky at a low frequency and used source subtraction and imaging techniques to make images of the radio background. These maps of the background could then be used to investigate the smoothness or anisotropy of the background to constrain its possible origins. I was lucky enough to be able to complete my work as part of an international research group involving collaborators in the USA. I particularly enjoyed using data to create these fantastic images of the sky, where most sources in the image are supermassive black holes in distant galaxies! The data processing was challenging but obtaining the final product was immensely satisfying and it felt great to contribute to the science.
Alongside my research I had a fantastic time exploring all over the Netherlands. Dutch public transport is great (as long as you don’t mind a cycle to the train station!) and it was very easy to visit different places around the country. I managed to visit cities such as Groningen, Amsterdam, Leiden, The Hague as well as smaller towns out in the country such as Giethoorn. There were also so many activities organised by some of the staff at ASTRON for the summer students, including meeting some of the local horses, Wednesday night dinners at the Bospub and wadlopen (mud-walking). These are all opportunities not to miss out on!
Overall, the summer I spent at ASTRON was one of the best I have had so far, I met some great people, developed valuable skills, and had an all-round amazing time! I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is at all interested in radio astronomy and a career in research! I would like to thank my supervisors, the other summer students, and everyone I met at ASTRON for being so friendly and making this summer great. I hope to be able to visit again soon!