“I want to put quantum technology into space”

Bob Dirks always wanted to be an astronaut. As a systems engineer in optical and space technology at TNO, he has come surprisingly close to achieving his childhood dream.

“As a systems engineer, I’m responsible for the technical progress of projects. I make sure that, together with the various professionals and experts involved, we reach a solution the customer can work with. The great thing about my role is that I need to know a lot about everything, without having to be a specialist. At the moment I’m supporting a joint team with Delft University of Technology. It’s developing quantum technology for safe network connections and quantum computers. I’m also creating momentum for a space project involving quantum technology. Putting quantum technology into space – that’s what I’m going for at TNO.”

Into space

“Physics was my favourite subject at school, and after school hours I was always working on experiments. I went on to study Applied Physics at the University of Twente. The choices I made there, and subsequently, were always shaped by my desire to become an astronaut one day. But when I wasn’t selected for the European Astronaut Corps in 2009, I suddenly had the feeling that a whole world had opened up to me. It was because I wanted to broaden my horizons and engage with disciplines that were new to me that I chose TNO. And I’ve never regretted that.”

Two old loves

“In the six years I’ve been with TNO, I’ve worked in several different sectors and focus areas. Building and infrastructures, oil and gas, and now space. So I’ve returned to two old loves of mine: physics and space travel. I’m completely at home here, with some even more exciting challenges just around the corner.”

Never at a loss

“Even so, I haven’t ruled out exploring new paths at TNO. There are just so many opportunities here. The huge diversity of disciplines and projects means that you’re never at a loss for something new to do. Although that does brings a challenge of its own: you have to find the right place for you. You’re just like a lone entrepreneur trying to generate his own business. I do that mainly by talking with many different people and telling them about what I do. Through face-to-face contacts, time and again I’ve found myself working on great projects.”

Tough deadlines

“In the applied research we do here at TNO, time and money are not unlimited. That can be frustrating sometimes, but it keeps you aware of how long things take and how much they cost. Which ensures that you work more efficiently, professionally and effectively. That’s a real difference compared with doing research at a university.”

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