Astronomy stars

According to an international committee of astronomy experts, Dutch astronomers are some of the best in the world. The Groningen Kapteyn Institute is also highly respected.
By Sjef Weller / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The seven-person committee, led by Cambridge professor Robert Kennicutt, says that Dutch academic astronomy belongs to the global top five. The astronomy practised here is just as good as that in the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.

This conclusion was reached after the astronomy departments of the universities in Amsterdam, Groningen, Leiden, and Nijmegen, and the partnership between these institutes, NOVA (Netherlands Research School for Astronomy), were evaluated. The committee judged the institutes to be ‘exemplary’, the evaluation report reads.


The experts praise NOVA, saying it is one of the top five astronomy institutes in the world. This means the Dutch partnership is at the same level as institutes such as Cambridge and Harvard. According to the committee, NOVA is ‘the only programme in the world’ that has succeeded in uniting the country’s academic astronomers in a coherent research and instrumentation programme.

Led by Kennicutt, the experts have concluded that Dutch astronomy is ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to new and groundbreaking subjects in astronomy, such as the evolution of galaxies at the start of the universe, and the astrophysical interpretation of the first gravity waves.

The committee was also impressed by the innovative way NOVA handles public education on astronomy and how it manages to make young people interested in the sciences. In a chapter about the RUG’s astronomical institute, they also praise the Kapteyn Institute’s PR efforts. The male-to-female ratio at the RUG department was also complimented.

The origins of the Milky Way

The Kapteyn Institute also scores high when it comes to research quality. According to the committee, it has improved immensely over the past few years. The experts praise Amina Helmi’s research into the origins of the Milky Way, for example.

Scott Trager, director at the Kapteyn Institute and board member at NOVA, is ‘very proud’ of the evaluation committee’s laudatory words. ‘This evaluation proves that national partnerships can lead to a very strong international reputation and influence, and that the Kapteyn Institute is an important player, both nationally and internationally.’

Helmi is also overjoyed at the evaluation. ‘It’s great to see our work acknowledged outside of the Netherlands’, she responded enthusiastically. ‘And to think that one of the committee members is a Nobel Prize winner (ed.: Brian Schmidt). To hear them praise the work we do here is just really special.’

The committee visited the Netherlands in 2016 to evaluate the various academic astronomy institutes. A similar evaluation took place in 2010. Then, too, their verdict was that the Dutch field of astronomy was one of the best in the world.


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