Dick Simons

08 MAY 2014


Prof. Dick G. Simons


Professor of Acoustic Remote Sensing, currently working on aircraft noise in the (new) Aircraft Noise and Climate Effects (ANCE) section at TU Delft. He is also the director of the Graduate School of Aerospace Engineering.

Tell us about your personal life

'I have a son and a daughter, Richard (17) and Esther (14), and of course I take a great interest in them. One of my hobbies is history, which is a nice counterpart to the technical nature of my profession. I share this passion with my son, which gives this hobby an extra dimension. We often read about and discuss historical matters. Richard even wants to study history and I'm secretly rather proud of that. Physics is another interest of mine. I'm constantly buying books on physics, including both popular science titles and research-based works. I really enjoy immersing myself in that subject!'

What is your favourite pastime?

'I enjoy going to the theatre and listening to music. I've been going to the theatre frequently with friends for thirty years now. We attend all kinds of performances, from cabaret and plays to music. In this way, we often see the same actors, but we also make some wonderful and surprising discoveries. In the past, I used to play music myself, but these days I enjoy listening to it. I still have all kinds of musical instruments at home, which my daughter, especially, finds uses for. She plays the clarinet and piano beautifully, among other instruments. I also enjoy watching films, preferably the classics.' 

What has been the highlight of your career?

'My appointment to a full professorship in 2006. That step was always in the back of my mind, but my academic career did not follow the standard pattern exactly. After completing my degree in physics at Leiden, in 1988 I obtained my doctorate at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and worked for the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) for 16 years. There the plan was for me to go into management, which made the prospect of a professorship very unlikely. I chose to focus on the content, however, which ensured that in 2004 I was given the opportunity to become a part-time professor at Delft, financed by TNO. This eventually led to my appointment to a full-time chair in 2006, which was a true highlight.'

What do you enjoy most about your work?

'The content - the combination of teaching and research, in that order. The teaching component was new to me when I started at Delft, but I found it very inspiring. I did have a schoolteacher in me, it seemed. The combination with research is gratifying, but also useful - it makes you a better researcher. After all, if you want to explain something, you have to truly understand it. Students will constantly test your knowledge with their questions! Naturally, my research work is mainly carried out by my PhD students. As a professor, I have more of an initiating and coordinating role, and I try to impart my experience.'

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

'In 2010, I switched fields to some extent - from acoustic remote sensing (earth observation with sound) to the measurement and modelling of aircraft noise at ATO. Recently I've started working independently, together with the ANCE section and the associated MSc profile in the Control & Operations department. Our research focuses on the environmental effects of aviation in relation to noise and climate. The priority now is to establish a top section focusing on the environment within the faculty, with a programme that is very attractive to students. Our club may be small, but we have a lot to offer, partly thanks to two visiting scientists in the field of aircraft noise and climate from DLR Göttingen and DLR Munich. A second significant challenge concerns my work for the Graduate School. I strongly believe that we have something positive to offer our PhD students and I am very glad to do my part.'

Why Delft?

'I'm not a Delft engineer, but Delft was still the most logical place for the next step in my career, given my background, knowledge and experience at TNO. I learned about acoustics at TNO. If you want to continue in that field at the level of a professorship, then TU Delft is the right place, especially since acoustics is an important focus here.' 

What is your best character trait?

'I'm good at explaining things (even my children think so), I'm reasonably flexible and I have a wide range of interests. Just look at the many side steps I've made in my career. I'm also frequently the person who has ideas and implements them. Furthermore, in addition to imparting information, I also believe I'm a good listener.'

What is your worst character trait?

'I am very impatient. When something needs to be done, it has to be taken care of right away. I really can't wait and that's not a handy trait to have at all. I also prefer the direct approach. My cards are always on the table. Politics are wasted on me, but you could also see that as a positive trait, right?'

What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?

'The Dutch government should invest a lot more in energy and the climate. This can be done by stimulating innovations, but also through the more effective application of the available technology. It's absurd that you only rarely see solar panels in our country. You see them everywhere in Germany! Another example is windmills. You don't see enough of them in the Netherlands, but there are enormous wind farms off the coast of Denmark. Our government should really invest more in these types of technologies. Additional financial injections are also urgently needed to stimulate qualitatively excellent research, education and science in the Netherlands. Finally, it should be easier to obtain subsidy for research. The many complicated research programmes should not be the only way to do this.' 

Your source of inspiration?

'In my current line of work, my source of inspiration is teaching and conducting research. If I have made calculations, discussed a research proposal and taught a class all in one day, I'm satisfied. John Bleeker, my physics teacher at secondary school and later my promoter and former director at SRON, provided the inspiration for my career. Despite his busy schedule, he did a great job at supervising young PhD students. Finally, with regard to physics: Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. His independence and honest principles are a great source of inspiration to me. One of his books, Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!, is a delight to read. Everyone should read it.'

Your life philosophy?

'Be honest in everything you do. Be open, tell it like it is and work with others to find solutions. You should also enjoy your work. There will always be matters that are less agreeable, but you should never lose sight of the pleasant aspects.'  

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