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Printed on :
April 24th 2019
05:55:36

Curious about Ivo van Vulpen's book? NWO-I is raffling three copies of the book. Send an email to info-nwoi@nwo.nl before 15 June for your chance to win a copy.

Van Vulpen's book has been enthusiastically received and the third print is now being published. Publisher Atlas Contact asked him to write this book after an interview he gave in 2012 about the discovery of the Higgs particle. 'I was already regularly holding public lectures but I was attracted to the idea of being able to tell the entire story in one go. The task was not to make the story too easy. Each chapter starts with an analogy, which I have often tried out during my lectures, and I then describe how it really works and how that benefits the world. All of a sudden the book was finished. And now I am receiving mails from people throughout the Netherlands who want to thank me for this. I hope that the book also appeals to young people.'

'I very much feel like a Nikhef researcher,' responds Ivo van Vulpen to the question about his own affiliations and the world of Dutch particle physics research, which is spread across the NWO institute Nikhef and departments at the VU University, University of Amsterdam and Radboud University. Van Vulpen is employed by the University of Amsterdam but he works in the Nikhef building. It is a matter of logistics he explains. And one of roots because he gained his doctorate at Nikhef for research he did at CERN. He moved to Geneva for a job as a research fellow at CERN and returned to the Nikhef base for a postdoc. In 2007, he was awarded a Vidi grant and was then given a tenured position at the University of Amsterdam where he led a group consisting of a postdoc and two PhDs. 'A hectic period,' recalls Van Vulpen, 'because I had a new group of colleagues, I had to produce lecture material and on top of that I had just become a father.'

Outreach
Besides his enthusiasm in developing and giving lectures about particle physics to master's students, Van Vulpen is active on Twitter (@IvovanVulpen) and he also took his place on the podium at the recent public lecture from Nikhef in de Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam (attended by 350 people). Why is he so "outgoing"? To shine costs stature, is the observation. Van Vulpen: 'You cannot take it for granted that your favourite research field consumes so much money. You must tell people about what you do and by doing so give something back to society. Scientists need to realise that this is part of their work package. As far as I am concerned, outreach needs to be valued more. Within the Nikhef family we are getting better at allocating the "non-core" tasks: speaking at a bachelor's day, a school visit, participating in the curriculum committee or an exam committee or being involved in the new strategic plan of NWO Science are just some of these tasks. I believe it is important to tell people about my work and it gives me a lot of energy too.'

The Higgs boson
In addition, Van Vulpen wants to devote time to his research again. Together with his colleagues Hella Snoek, Wouter Waalewijn and Peter Kluit he will try, for example, to determine the lifespan of the Higgs boson. 'If you can measure the extremely short lifespan, then you can also determine whether the boson can decay into other particles,' he explains. 'It is incredibly complex. Somebody at CERN got stuck trying to figure it out. We are going to collect more data and analyse this using new ideas. Two PhDs and a postdoc will do most of the actual work. CERN is a steam train and you must be able to work on the problem full time.'

Listening to neutrinos
Over the next six months, Van Vulpen will spend one day per week working on a small exploratory study outside of the usual scope of his research. He finds that refreshing. Van Vulpen: 'Ernst-Jan Buis from TNO is leading the project. He thinks that you can measure neutrinos underwater by listening to them, instead of detecting them with light. Sound is propagated over considerable distances underwater.' Van Vulpen says that Buis plans to place a large number of highly sensitive microphones in the vicinity of the spheres of KM3NeT - in the Mediterranean Sea - to observe the extremely small sounds that neutrinos produce. These neutrinos have far higher energy levels than the neutrinos that KM3NeT can measure. So the research is complimentary. Van Vulpen is enthusiastic: 'The new physics that this could open up is really amazing. Now we first need to calculate and investigate whether this is possible. For example, one thing that you need to know in advance is how much sound is present underwater. Did you know that the most important background noise comes from whales communicating with each other?'