Public outreach

Science communication is of great importance to help increase the public’s education and understanding of science. My involvement in science communication and public engagement has been a long lasting one. My alma mater for science communication is the iconic Sonnenborgh observatory in Utrecht, situated in the center of The Netherlands. When it comes to learning the ropes of public speaking, this was (and still is) the place for me. I’ve been actively engaged with the public for more than 17 years now and continue to enjoy explaining astronomy and showcasing the night sky to those who want to know more about it.

Over the past decade I have also contributed to various events, given many public lectures (70+) and numerous interviews on radio and television (100+). In addition I guided geologic tours in Iceland and I enjoy developing ‘kitchen table experiments’ that support the explanation of scientific phenomena during lectures and media appearances.

Book: Practical planetary science for a Saturday morning

Omslagontwerp van 'Praktisch planeetonderzoek', Pankra
Cover design of ‘Praktisch planeetonderzoek’, by Pankra

In March 2016 I published my very first popular scientific book written especially for the general public (it has already sold more than 2300 copies!). The book features a trip trough our solar system that exposes the planets through the eyes of a geologist. What links the cooling of bridges in Amsterdam during summer, with the shrinking of planet Mercury? How do rocks and landscapes narrate the history of a planet over huge expanses of geologic time? And why is the landscape of (dwarf)planet Pluto more comparable to Earth than the name ‘ice dwarf’ implies? Interwoven are historical notes and anecdotes to illustrate the personal side of planetary science. What makes the book further stand out are the ‘kitchen table science experiments’ at the ending of each chapter. These experiments allow the reader to tinker and experiment at home with a phenomenon central to each chapter. In doing so, these experiment help to bring planets and planetary phenomena even closer to home.

Praktisch planeetonderzoek voor de zaterdagochtend | 272 p. | ISBN: 9789048829767 | Lebowski Publishers | 25-03-2016 | in Dutch

Sidewalk Astronomy in Amsterdam

While cities abroad may be familiar with the concept of sidewalk astronomy, Amsterdam is not. During the huge nautical event ‘Sail Amsterdam’ in August 2015, we pioneered the concept on the boulevards along the IJ waterway. The approach to these pop-up observatories is quite simple; bring a telescope, set it up on the pavement and invite passersby to have a look at the moon, planets and any other object of special interest. Our pop-up was a success and illustrated that sidewalk astronomy, even in a light-polluted urban setting such as Amsterdam, can be an enjoyable activity for the public at large. More of these pop-up events will be set up in the near future, with details available via our new website stoepsterrenkunde.nl.

Stoepsterrenkunde tijdens Sail Amsterdam 2015
Side walk astronomy during the nautical event ‘Sail Amsterdam’ in 2015. With the help of several students I set-up a sidewalk astronomy event on the pavement in front of the EYE film museum, at the water’s edge of the IJ waterway. Photo credits: Hanne Nijhuis/Universiteit van Amsterdam

Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy (KNVWS)

On 26 May 2018 I was elected as president (chairman of the board) of the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy (abbreviated in Dutch to: KNVWS). This is a national federation of 59 popular-scientific organisations active in meteorology and astronomy, which includes regional and thematic associations, and public observatories. Together they garner the interest of more than 5,200 members and 92,000 visitors on an annual basis.


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