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Science between heaven and home


Rather than adapting our environment, today we are learning to adapt ourselves. During confinement, the Royal Belgian Institute is adapting its slogan from "Science between Heaven and Earth" to "Science between Heaven and Home". We'll be sharing with you the little things that brighten our days in our new life and work routines. Find the new additions to the collection here.

Winter 2020-2021 Lockdown

January 4 - Karolien Lefever (Head of Communication)

Board games

How did you spend the holidays ? Besides long icy walks, board games have been very popular in 2020, it seems. Karolien Lefever and her family were well prepared to tackle the winter in lockdown with their impressive collection!

Social activities being cancelled brings along the luxury of empty evenings which in normal conditions hardly exist and this means: family time! Never a dull moment at our home! Owning more than 600 board games, we spend our evenings in a scientifically perfectly sound way !

December 21 - Lucie Lamort (Science Communication)


You could say I am ‘one of those people who likes Christmas’, and I gladly admit it. I’ve always made happy memories around this time, but this year might be the first time I don’t, and it feels unsettling. As uncertain as everything is, one thing I can still enjoy in all covid-safety: the christmas decorations and music, in which I have indulged a lot earlier than usual in 2020. Don’t judge me! 😅

Autumn 2020 Lockdown

November 30 - Miriam Cisneros (PhD-researcher Mechanical Engineering)

Day of the dead

A number of scientists and engineers at BIRA-IASB come from other countries, both in and outside Europe. PhD-researcher Miriam Cisneros, who worked on the JUICE-mission to Jupiter, is from Mexico, and would like to share something about the traditions that help her stay positive through this crisis :

Almost like at home, this year at the beginning of November, we were preparing a religious celebration for the day of the dead as we do in Mexico. This is the first time this was taking place in the catholic Latin-American community of Brussels, mainly because this year we were two Mexicans in the group! Unfortunately, because of the situation, we had to switch to a virtual celebration, but we were still allowed to decorate the church for the live streaming mass. I felt very happy to see people interested in our traditions and with the possibility to share it with others. The offering was mainly dedicated to the people who died because of the virus, but we received also names/pictures from families and friends who wanted to remember a loved one, including myself. All this gave me strength to continue enjoying life with all its limitations, being thankful of what I have, and take care of me and others so I can see my family again soon one day.

November 23 - Jeroen van Gent (Atmospheric Scientist - UV-VIS DOAS Research)


In times of telework, Jeroen van Gent has managed to bring the forest alive with these magical shots of earthly mushrooms. You can almost smell the dark and damp forest floor.

Since the office and home environment have blended together, I find it even more important to regularly step away from the computer screen and go outside for a walk. Mushroom season appeared perfect for some relaxing photography to clear my head.

November 13 - Christian Muller (B.USOC scientist)


Just being together with our families, and our furry friends, can be such a comfort, like it is for Christian Muller and his incredibly cute and loyal companion Lola, who are having their own inside jokes about the Institute’s slogan.

This sensible animal named Lola has shared my family life for 13 years already. Lola is saving me once again during this second lockdown by walking me in the Sonian forest every day. For the slogan “Science between Heaven and Home”: home for us is fortunately a garden where we share siesta’s together. And what about the heaven part? Dogs are not allowed in churches? In fact, Lola does not fly, and me neither.

November 3rd - Pierre Gérard (Electronic engineering)


Something to look forward to in the next few weeks: time to ourselves to enjoy the autumn atmosphere that nature is offering us, and which was beautifully captured by Pierre in this iconic location in Belgian history.

Here is a picture taken during a nature walk organised as part of the FINN (Festival International Nature Namur). We are at the top of the rocks of Marche-les-Dames, the place where King Albert 1st died (his bust is in front of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy). Here you have a clear view over the Meuse valley, in the direction of Namur, as far as the citadel on the horizon.

October 27 - Jessica Bevernaegie (Management support attaché)


Once again, like in spring, we are working from home full-time, an occasion to enjoy the things we have at home to relax and remain focused on our daily tasks.

For a few weeks now, this mini-humidifier has been bringing a positive note to my teleworking days. In the morning, I renew the water tank and add a few drops of organic radiated eucalyptus essential oil. As well as having a pleasant smell, this essential oil is very effective in stimulating the immune system and has a tonic effect in case of fatigue.

Spring 2020 Lockdown

May 20 - Yves Geunes (IT department)

Retro Boombox

After the Retro Cell Phone, Yves presents to you: the Boombox blUetooth Retro Portable, or BURP.

Are there stylish boom boxes available that are loud enough to scare the pigeons AND carry your tools? The answer is yes. You just need to build it yourself. My specifications for the BURP were:
1. It should be ridiculously stylish
2. It should be annoyingly loud
3. Bluetooth is not optional
4. It should be big enough to store all the necessities for a hard day’s work


So, when I found this old suitcase used to store bows and arrows, the project was a go. At the local thrift shop (they also sell HTF-2920 and TAJ-43’s) I found an old set of speakers that could be recycled into 2x speaker and 2x midtoner. The woofers were too big for this slim suitcase, so I had to buy a DynaVox DY131 13cm subwoofer. I also ordered a 2x50W Bluetooth amp that has a left and a right output combined with a subwoofer. The woodwork consisted of carefully sawing 5 holes in the fragile suitcase, and reinforcing the bottom of the suitcase with some plywood. After mounting and soldering the speakers, and connecting the amp to a recycled laptop power supply, the project was done.

(Warning: this is intended as humor) Testing the equipment:
The first test consisted of powering up the system and playing some nice Penguin Café Orchestra through it. The highs were crisp and clear, while the lower regions were very warm. Since the amp didn’t catch fire, the test was considered to be successful.
The second test (loudness test) was done in the target area: the garden. We picked a sunny day when many neighbours were working in the adjacent gardens. The first test sound we used was Bob Marley’s “No woman no cry” at 50% output level. It took one neighbour only 3 minutes to complain about the sound. But when we switched to Squrl’s “Dead Naked Hipppies” on 75% output level, we noticed the first reactions already after 45 seconds. And in combination with a chainsaw background (and a clean output level of 100%), neighbours were calling the police while gathering their offspring indoors. Test status: success.
Test 3, the pigeon test. The image below shows the sky before and after powering up the BURP. The song that was playing was “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead. Test: successful.
Conclusion: it is possible to have a stylish workday in the garden, accommodated by the pleasures of life, while not forgetting the social aspects of urban projects.

May 8 - Yves Geunes (IT department)


(Warning: Everything that follows should be taken as humor.) Some people have been busy during the lockdown, others have been very busy during the lockdown. It might be safe to say that Yves belongs in the second category.

What to do in case the Corona virus is here to stay and communicating with each other gets a little complicated? I say, add another level of complications by building your very own Retro Cell Phone! I've always loved old technology, especially when it comes in big and unpractical bakelite (a.k.a. polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride) boxes. So, when I stumbled upon this old Russian TAJ-43-MR Field Phone, and a slightly less old Dutch HTF-2920-Z "Onderzoekstelefoon", I immediately saw endless possibilities and hours of fun unfolding in my near future.

I cut out all the old wiring and electronics off the TAJ-43-MR to hook it up to a Raspberry PI with a GSM/GPRS HAT (hardware attached on top). I only use the dial from the HTF-2920-Z, since the TAJ-43 comes without one. Some measuring, Googling and Pythoning later, I had the basic setup for the project. At the moment of the picture, I was converting the rotary dial switch to SPI switch levels, and getting the GSM/GPRS hat working through the Russian telephone hook. My goal is to have a fully working GSM - with a somewhat outdated user interface – so that when the Russians (or even the Martians) attack us, I am fully prepared to call them using their own equipment (compatibility shouldn't be an issue). The developers of the TAJ-43 even foresaw this particular function during design, because it has a nice little locker in the middle of the bakelite box, big enough to hide the battery pack needed for powering the Raspberry PI.

The first thing I want to do when it works? Taking it to a Proximus store to freak out their employees by asking if they can help me out configuring the connection settings. I think this is the type of equipment E.T. used in the movie to phone home. I guess I'll find out when I find a big enough satellite dish to use as an antenna. Any tips on handling text messaging?

< this message was sent using my polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride phone >

Come back next time to see Yves’ Transportable Retro Bluetooth Boombox.

May 3 - Jessica Bevernaegie (Management support attaché)


Video of the morning birdsong

The last official day of the full lockdown in Belgium (before phase 1A of the exit strategy). Things start changing tomorrow. But the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy will continue running mostly on telecommuting employees. We miss each other and the Institute in Uccle very much, but working from home does have a few advantages. Let's focus on enjoying those while they last, along with Jessica:

Like many of my colleagues at the Institute, I have a long commute to work and normally spend many hours on public transportation. Since telecommuting has become mandatory, I am able to sleep longer in the morning, and I have more free time in the evening. What I enjoy most is waking up with the sun already up, looking out of my room at my Buddha head and palm tree lit by the sun's rays, and opening the window to enjoy the concert of birdsong.

May 1 - Lenka Zychova (Space physics - space weather)


We’re slowly approaching the official end of the lockdown, with the first phase of the lockdown exit strategy starting next Monday. As most of us at BIRA-IASB can easily work from home, we’ll still be confined for a while. Luckily, we can keep busy, like Lenka:

In the times when we all work from home, being in everyday contact with colleagues through online meetings, I found a bit extra time to practise my grand flute again. It brings so much relief and gives possibility to learn something new.

April 29 - Christine Bingen (Atmospheric science - remote limb sounding)


The Sun has left us, but here are some more rays of sunlight, falling on Christine’s beautiful teleworking spot! It’s like a dream.

Plants and flowers are available again. The lockdown is a unique opportunity to enjoy them together all day long!

April 27 - José Granville (Scientist for the exploitation of atmospheric data)


Don't forget us during the lockdown...

The ‘forget-me-not’ flowers are on our side, reminding us of everyone we miss these days. José Granville proves it with his beautiful nature photos. #patience #keepgoing #dontgiveup

April 24 - Pierre Gérard (Electronic engineering)


Pierre has some rather unusual, but fascinating company!

My energy boost is to enjoy the garden as much as possible, whether alone or with my winged friends, the birds of prey. It's always an enjoyable moment of relaxation.

April 23 - Stéphanie Fratta (Communication)

Baking at home

We all envy Stéphanie who is being rather spoiled during this confinement!

The advantage of confinement and teleworking; of stopping extracurricular, social, sports and cultural activities, is that we have more family time to spend with our two teenagers. Since the start of the quarantine, my son has got it into his head to spoil us with tasty treats and we've already enjoyed pancakes, Liège waffles, tiramisu, chocolate mousse (ah no, that was actually made by his sister), vanilla cream, cookies and white chocolate madeleines. Next goal is to make “merveilleux” pastries, one of his grandmother's favourite desserts, whom he can't wait to see again after the lockdown.

April 21 - Mahesh Kumar Sha (Atmospheric science - infrared observations & lab experiments)


Click here to see Mahesh's video of the Super Moon

Simply taking it one day at a time, living along with nature’s cycles and enjoying the moments she gives us, like Mahesh, is probably a good way to handle the year 2020. We will hang in there! #stayhome #savelives

Even though most things that we are used to are changing, our beautiful Moon has remained the same for centuries. While I was working through the space-time continuum, the supermoon’s shinning light fell on my desk. It was a good chance to take out my telescope and have a closer look, and I made a short video to share the view of the moon with all of you. Stay well!

April 20 - Niels Schoon (Atmospheric science – mass spectrometry)

Duct-tape fixings

Things really are getting better! Think about it: we can already look back at the times when we had to fix things around the house, solely with the tools we had at our disposal (kind of like astronauts, you know). Niels is not the only one who has had to temporarily duct-tape all kinds of things.

My slippers are completely worn out, so since the shops are closed, duct tape is the ideal solution. But I am aware that there is something weird in the photo...

April 19 - Fabien Darrouzet (Space physics - magnetosphere)

Tomato seedlings

In these times of confinement and teleworking, time passes in a very different way than usual... My tomato and chili pepper seedlings, warm and snug in their little greenhouse, remind me of it daily, when I see their stems growing little by little and always looking towards the light of the sun...

It’s not just our pets and nature outside that keep us company to get through social distancing. For many, the budding lives of the plants that we grow are also a source of joy and patience, as is the case for Fabien. So, what did you plant?

April 17 - Jessica Bevernaegie (Management support attaché)

Walking the dog

We’re not so sure about cats, but dogs must be really enjoying having their humans home all day, aren’t they?

After my day of teleworking, I love to go outside for a walk with Django. I'm living in the countryside in a region my dutch-speaking colleagues call "De Vlaamse Ardennen". It is very relaxing walking here, since there are plenty of roads where you see nothing other than fields, interspersed with and an old farm here and there.

April 15 - Martine De Mazière (Director general a.i.)


When you go into the hallways of BIRA-IASB today, you experience something like a ghost institute, empty, abandoned except for a few people. It’s totally different from the usual busy atmosphere, the voices in the corridors and offices, the occupied meeting rooms, the lively faces... The Uccle plateau sees more birds than usual, the avenue Circulaire sees more joggers than cars. Silence reigns everywhere...

However, behind the scenes, many things are happening, albeit in a slower, quieter and more resigned manner: we call, Skype, email, hold Webex meetings - some hold Webex coffee breaks or team meetings. We've organized ourselves to get on with our daily tasks as best we can, and we regularly inquire about everyone's health and well-being. We are happy as long as we don't get alarming messages. Many of us spend the day wearing different hats: father or mother, researcher, teacher... But BIRA-IASB keeps moving forward, and research related to the impact of COVID-19 on our natural environment  has even gained momentum.

We are getting used to the lockdown, but we all crave the return to our familiar corridors and offices, and especially the reunion with our colleagues.

Read Johan De Keyser's comments on the current slowdown in space research in this DailyScience article (in French).

April 13 - Karolien Lefever (Head of Communication)


We have to keep up the confinement measures, don’t give up now! Here is some positivity from Karolien and her beautiful garden. Happy Easter Monday everyone!

What makes me happy during this time of confinement, is to see how nature doesn't seem to care about what is going on. It's reviving completely and you don't even have to go far to notice this. Just outside in the garden, the bees are filling the holes in the bee hotel, tulips are opening up and buds are showing themselves here and there. We see how nature is claiming and gaining back terrain, where human beings were prominently present before. We see how COVID-19 disease positively impacts air quality and climate. I hope this period of confinement will teach us some important lessons for the future.

April 10 - Tim Somers (Communication and web design)

Cat and booksCat

We forgot! It’s a long weekend! We’re going to follow the example of Tim’s cat, Chipie (both of them, apparently, working for BIRA-IASB in communication and web design), and relax all the way to Tuesday. Thank you for the hard work, Tim and Chipie.

The newest member of our web team. Faithfully at my side every day, but unfortunately very little interested in the professional literature on offer. Also in terms of exercise, we cannot follow his example. He only leaves his lazy office chair for lunch.

Is that lunch lasagne by any chance?

April 9 - José Granville (Scientist for the exploitation of atmospheric data)

Pink Moon

Have you seen the Moon yesterday? José managed to capture the beauty once more.

Confinement also means there are no plane condensation trails to spoil our beautiful sky during the full moon.

April 8 - Steven Compernolle (Scientist for the exploitation of atmospheric data)

Home project

It’s time to revive some long-lost hobbies, or… maybe get new ones ? As long as you’re doing it at home, you can try out anything, really! Steven’s family might have discovered some hidden talents? Olaf seems excited about it.

My oldest son got an outburst of creativity, took some old material from our house and started building on his new project. But what exactly is he constructing?

We’re wondering about that, too … Any ideas?


A skateboard ledge! A hint was visible on the original photo, on the bottom left.


April 6 - Arno Keppens (Scientist for the exploitation of atmospheric data)

Kids playing outside

It is not easy for the parents among us, who take care of their children at home while continuing their work. Bravo for their excellent multitasking skills and patience! At the same time, the moments we share with the family have really become the most fun of the lockdown days. Arno shares his "happy moment" with us:

The four of us play outside every day and have a picnic with fruit and / or biscuits.

April 3 - José Granville (Scientist for the exploitation of atmospheric data)


Another weekend is knocking at our door. Enjoy the weather and nature, keep moving, but do it responsibly. José is sharing his piece of nature with quite a few creatures :

Nature and fresh eggs at the back of the garden.

April 1 - Lucie Lamort (Science communication)

Video Conference

Does everything you watch also remind you of the fact that you can’t actually hang out with anyone anymore? Watching the show Friends is an easy go to for me for some innocent, ‘feel good’ time for me, but even this now feels far from our reality. Let’s just be grateful we have much easier ways to stay in constant contact!

March 30 - Jessica Bevernaegie (Management support attaché)


We’re thanking nurses and doctors, we’re thanking grocery store staff, but have we thanked the people making this massive telework undertaking possible? Jessica, and all of us, are grateful to our highly skilled IT-department, who work both on assisting us in our tech issues with great patience, and providing specialised support to our scientific research (data management, websites, high performance computing…).

I’m very excited to experience a new way of working! Due to the Coronavirus threat, all BIRA-IASB staff who has the possibility to do so must telework. I have had to adjust to the remotely organised meetings. On Friday March 27, I took the minutes of the Staff Meeting using a video conferencing application for the very first time. I had a training session with our IT department a couple of days before in order to get familiar with the programme. I want to thank IT for their support, they are doing a great job to make our work in confinement as easy as possible!


March 27 - Lucie Lamort (Science communication)


Horses relaxing in the “Lockdown Lounge”. Going for a run outside has become my favourite moment of the day. Three parts nitrogen, one part oxygen and a splash of trace gas aromatics = the best cocktail you can get!

March 26 - Karolien Lefever (Head of the Communication department)


This series is all about focussing on the positive. The positive side of a crisis, as Karolien points out, is often how communities are formed and people brought together (from a distance), even when it’s just a matter of celebrating a birthday.

What makes me happy is to see how people care for each other. They are so attentive to each other. They go shopping for at-risk patients, they are ready to help others... All kinds of warm initiatives are set up. People make time for their family, for their neighbors... Even from a distance, they are so much closer. That makes me feel very warm and I hope that many of those initiatives will continue in the post-corona era. The picture shows one of the ‘sweet’ presents dropped at the door for my corona-birthday.

March 25 - Noel Baker (Project manager for satellite missions)

PaintingsCat Painting

Spending more time indoors (and maybe the sunny weather is helping as well) is an opportunity to let our creativity fill the parts of life usually reserved for ‘being busy’. Noel Baker, project manager for some of BIRA-IASB’s satellite missions, has found her own way of adding colour to her days:

Self-isolation has given me extra time to work on other passions, including painting. As an added bonus, I have my paintings hanging on the wall where they are visible to colleagues during video calls, bringing a smile to others as well!


March 24 - Tijl Verhoelst (Atmospheric composition scientist)

The younger generation doing science

Expert judgement on NO2 levels during lockdown.

Tijl is getting help from an unexpected source as he studies the levels nitrogen dioxide (a pollutant) over Europe.

March 21 - Eddy Neefs (Head of Engineering)

Down Syndrome Day

Last Saturday, Eddy showed his support for World Down Syndrome Day by joining the movement of wearing unmatched socks.

Maybe it is strange that I want to share a picture of ... my feet today. But you probably know that it is World Down Syndrome Day. As a basketball trainer of a lot of children and young adults with the Down Syndrome, I know how difficult it is for them, and for other persons with a mental disability, to understand what is happening these days. Therefore I send my love and support to all people with a mental limitation and their parents.


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What makes you happy during confinement?