In Humans of ASTRON we 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? This time antenna design engineer Dr. David Prinsloo talks about his work at ASTRON, where he started working in 2016.
Published by the editorial team, 20 October 2020
What was the happiest moment in your working life at ASTRON?
I had been fortunate enough to work on the Netherlands China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) project. This project developed a low-frequency receiver that has been placed on the Chang’e 4 relay satellite, currently situated in a fixed orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 point (64,500 km behind the Moon). Our team at ASTRON had been responsible for the analog front-end design, for which we had roughly 18 months to go from paper to launch. The day we handed over the analog front-end for integration on the satellite is without a doubt one of my best memories at ASTRON. It’s now been over two years since that day, and I still smile when looking up at the Moon: knowing somewhere behind it is a printed circuit board with my initials on it. I don’t think that will ever change.
Which person was the most important in your career?
This has to be my Ph.D. supervisor at Stellenbosch University, Petrie Meyer. It was on his suggestion that I ended up pursuing a Ph.D. in the first place. In addition to this, I would probably never have entered the field of antenna engineering if he had not encouraged me to define my own research topic for my Ph.D. Besides the technical expertise I gained under his supervision, I can now appreciate the additional teaching and supervising skills I gained while working under his supervision.
What inspired you to choose this field of work?
I’ve had an interest in astronomy from a young age. This interest was amplified when I received my first telescope around 16, at which point I was convinced I would become an astronomer. Here, I have to confess that that dream had been extinguished after a family visit to the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland. Naturally, the instruments had me in awe, but the solitude of it all, was too much for the 16 year old me to bare. Hence, I settled for engineering.
During my undergrad years, an article in Popular Mechanics reported that South Africa was bidding to host the most powerful radio telescope in the world – The Square Kilometre Array. Seeing the artist impression back then, I had one thought: “I have to be a part of this.” Since then, most of my decisions regarding my education and work have been based on that thought.
Why did you choose for ASTRON?
Well, I almost want to say: “See above.” But I’ll try to elaborate a bit.
Like many things, it mostly comes down to being at the right place at the right time. In the first year of my postdoc with Stellenbosch University, I undertook a research visit to ASTRON. It was during this visit that I was informed that a position for an antenna engineer would be opening soon within the Radio Group at ASTRON. Having followed the work that ASTRON had done towards the radio telescope concepts proposed for the Square Kilometre Array, I knew that this opportunity will bring me more in line with my initial thought that brought me to ASTRON in the first place: “See above.”
I typically wake up around 07:30 AM – making the most of the fact that my usual half-hour commute is not always required anymore. The first few minutes of the morning are sacred. I mostly dedicate this time to staring at the ceiling and planning my strategy for the day – the time this takes depends on the complexity of the day’s strategy. Following the usual morning routine: coffee, Cruesli (yes, every weekday morning), reading NOS.nl, I typically end up in front of my laptop by 09:00 AM. From this point onwards, my day is dedicated to the execution of the planned strategy with the exception of the following breaks: coffee at 10:00 AM (only if said strategy allows for it), lunch at 12:00 PM, and finally a run or a walk in the afternoon (critical to vent the day’s woes and assess the day’s progress). Once back inside, I try to close off the most urgent remaining tasks for the day and retire for the evening, where, besides cooking, my time is divided between playing the piano, bringing order to my home and/or garden again, or relaxing on the sofa staring at either the television, a book, or the fire place – the ceiling I leave for the following morning.