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People of ASTRON: Caterina Tiburzi

People of ASTRON is a new series in which we will share stories about the people at ASTRON. Who are the people behind the discoveries and innovations and also, who are the people that make sure that everything runs smoothly? In this first part of the series, we’ll be sharing the story of Caterina Tiburzi, an astronomer at ASTRON since 2018.

Published by the editorial team, 26 May 2020

What was the happiest moment in your working life at ASTRON?

I have been working with my friends/colleagues on searching for occultations of astronomical objects induced by phenomena generated by the sun, called ‘coronal mass ejections’. One of us has developed very cool software to carry out the search, and when we tested it, not only did we find the events that we were searching for, but we also found that the software of my friend could predict the modifications that the coronal mass ejections were inducing on the light of the astronomical object. We were all so excited, we were running around ASTRON telling everyone what we found –best professional moment ever!

Which person was the most important in your career?

It would be reductive to mention only one person. My PhD supervisor was one for sure, along with the supervisor I had in Germany for my first postdoc, and a brilliant scientist that I am working with who is now a professor at AUT in Auckland. A particularly important person for me is one of my closest collaborators at ASTRON, who is also my best friend. He helps me brainstorm, we plan, we can discuss how to deal with situations, and he has a coffee machine in the office that I can criticize at will :-).

Caterina Tiburzi

What inspired you to choose this field of work?

The choice to pursue astronomy built up slowly over the years, but I am quite sure that it has something to do with my mother, who is fond of Sci-Fi and had me watching Star Wars, Star Trek and Dune since when I was a kid. The choice to get into radio astronomy came during university. I really loved compact objects, and when I decided to go for pulsars, radio astronomy was almost a natural choice.

Why did you choose for ASTRON?

I chose ASTRON because I wanted to apply pulsars to the study of the solar wind, which consists of a flow of particles and a magnetic field that leave the sun to fill the solar system (and beyond!). ASTRON allows me to work together with researchers who are experts in solar physics and to closely follow the operations of one of the main low-frequency radio telescopes in the world, LOFAR, which also happens to be the telescope that I use the most.

What does your average day look like?

Outside the pandemic, I usually get up quite early to have some time for myself in the morning before joining a few colleagues for the carpool from Groningen, where we live, to ASTRON in Dwingeloo. Sometimes I fall asleep in the car 😀 shame on me. Once at the office I immediately get a coffee –otherwise I do not function properly –I go through the mails and I revise the main goals for the day. Midday, I usually have lunch with my colleagues, and if the Dutch weather spares us, we have a walk in the woods surrounding ASTRON before coffee number 2 (at my friend’s coffee machine) and going back to work until the bell rings. Back in Groningen, I typically go to the gym before dinner, and after dinner I do some painting, reading, or writing, or I catch up with my collaborators in the southern hemisphere. It is hard to keep focused at 10 pm in the evening, but totally worth the effort!

Caterina was also interviewed for International Women’s Day 2020, you can view the video here.



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