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“If you’re passionate about astronomy and geology, the Einstein Telescope is definitively the place to be”

Bjorn Vink is one of the most familiar faces in the project for the Einstein Telescope (ET). He’s a geohydrologist and was already involved in the project – as an interested volunteer – back in 2014. He now works on the telescope at Nikhef. His job status may have changed, but his passion and commitment are as strong as ever.

Bjorn Vink (Jonathan Vos Photography)
Bjorn Vink (Jonathan Vos Photography)

I remember perfectly: it was 2014 and I was working on construction of the tunnel for the A2 motorway under Maastricht. Right when the final shovelful of soil was being heaved out of the ground there, I received an e-mail from Jo van den Brand and Rob Klöpping. Jo is a physics professor with his roots in Hoensbroek (South Limburg) and it was he who first came up with the proposal for locating the Einstein Telescope in this region. Because of my experience working on the A2 tunnel, the A73 motorway, and the Maaswerken – the big water management project along the River Meuse – he asked me to brainstorm about his proposal.

That was actually the start of the preliminary study. What do we already know about the subsoil? What do we need to think about? What about other countries? I joined up as a volunteer so as to contribute my expertise. But having expertise is just one aspect; what’s far more important is that I’m passionate about astronomy and geology – and those aspects really come together in this project. So it’s no surprise that the Einstein Telescope project became a big part of my life. Back then, I devoted a lot of holidays to the telescope. My advice was that you could basically construct the Einstein Telescope here, but that you also needed to take the Belgian and German border area into account, because of the hard layers of rock.

Our enthusiasm really got a boost in 2015 when the Dutch Province of Limburg also saw the opportunities and joined in. That led to the first exploratory drilling test at Terziet in 2017 and a second one a year later. My role was to liaise indirectly with local residents, and ultimately ensure that drilling was carried out smoothly – which was quite a challenge! We repeated it again two years later. Meanwhile, we walked around the area at weekends to take measurements in the field.

So you can imagine how happy I was in 2020 when I was dispatched by my then employer to supervise further exploratory drilling at Cottessen, Aubel, and Banholt for the Interreg E-TEST programme. The collaboration between geospecialists, tunnelling experts, and astrophysicists quickly expanded into a network including people from the universities in Liège and Aachen and from Nikhef – the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics. The E-TEST project has shown us how we can tailor future drilling operations to the local geology more effectively.

I’ve been working for Nikhef on the ET project since February 2023. It’s clear that the project has become more professional. There are now not just scientists on board, but also specialists working on the practical design of the telescope and how it will be constructed. I now spend more time at my desk, but fortunately I’m also out and about in the region a lot. I’ve become a familiar figure in all the various villages! And living in Mheer, very close to the Dutch-Belgian border, I hear a lot about what people think of the ET. What strikes me is that older people hope it will be constructed here, very often because it will provide opportunities for their grandchildren, but also because of pride in their own region.

When will I be truly satisfied? Well of course if our bid is successful and we can construct the ET here in this Euroregion. But I won’t be truly satisfied until construction is complete. And you won’t be surprised to know that I want to be involved in construction too.

-Bjorn Vink

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