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Ronald Stark designated next Executive Director NOVA; Amina Helmi appointed as Deputy Scientific Director

23 July 2019

The directorate of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) has two new members. Ronald Stark (currently at NWO) will be the new Executive Director of NOVA from 1 September. Amina Helmi (Professor of Dynamics, structure and formation of the Milky Way at the University of Groningen) will become Deputy Scientific Director on 1 October, in collaboration with the current Scientific Director Ewine van Dishoeck (professor of Molecular astrophysics in Leiden, Kavli prize winner and President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)).

NOVA Board Chairman Huub Röttgering (director of Leiden Observatory, Leiden University) is delighted with the appointment of the two new members of the directorate: “It's great to see that NOVA will enter the future with such a strong team.” Director Ewine van Dishoeck : "With the arrival of Helmi and Stark, the strong link between top science and top instrumentation at NOVA remains guaranteed for the future."

The Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) coordinates and stimulates university astronomy in the Netherlands through a joint research and instrumentation programme. The top research school combines the forces of astronomers at the universities of Amsterdam (UvA), Groningen (RUG), Leiden (UL) and Nijmegen (RU). NOVA works closely with NWO institutes SRON and ASTRON.

Amina Helmi photo: NWO/Studio Oostrum/Hollandse Hoogte
Amina Helmi photo: NWO/Studio Oostrum/Hollandse Hoogte


Amina Helmi is one of the founders of so-called galactic archeology: the reconstruction of the history of galaxies based on the current positions, movements and composition of stars. As an astronomical archaeologist, she searches for the remains of ancient galaxies in order to reconstruct the evolution of our Milky Way. During her PhD research Helmi discovered the remains of a small galaxy that merged billions of years ago with our young galaxy. This collection of stars has since been known as the Helmi Stream. Her discovery was the first confirmation of the idea that our Milky Way galaxy should be made up of smaller, older galaxies. Helmi's vision and leadership have been crucial for steering and realizing the scientific harvest of the European Gaia space telescope. Helmi manages to attract important grants for her research, including the NWO Vidi and Vici grants and an ERC Starting Grant. In addition, she has won several prestigious prizes. This year Helmi, who was born in Argentina, received the Spinoza prize, the highest distinction in Dutch science.

Ronald Stark photo: Federica Wagner
Ronald Stark photo: Federica Wagner


Astronomer Ronald Stark (who obtained his PhD in 1993) has worked at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and atthe Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie in Bonn. Since 2002 he has been affiliated with NWO, from 2008-2017 as head of astronomy and currently as secretary of the Permanent Committee for Large Scientific Infrastructure (the "Roadmap Committee"). He has been closely involved in initiating and enhancing European cooperation initiatives, and in the development of various international and multidisciplinary research programmes. He has also been a board member of astronomical observatories in Europe and the US. As Executive Director, Stark will oversee the NOVA instrumentation programme aimed at the development of optical/infrared and submillimeter instruments, in particular for the large (future) telescopes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). In this position he succeeds Wilfried Boland, who over the past two decades has brought the programme to fruition and put it firmly on the international map.

NOVA's mission is to conduct excellent astronomical research, to train young astronomers to the highest international level, and to share [scientific and technical] results with society. An essential part of the strategy is to design and build the instruments needed to answer the big questions in astronomy, such as: How and when are galaxies formed? What are the characteristics of the mysterious dark matter and energy in the universe? Is there life on other planets? How are compact objects such as black holes formed and how do they evolve? Communication about astronomical research to the press, general public and schools is also an important part of the program.

Last modified:15 August 2019 1.53 p.m.
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