A day counts 24 hours, a year usually 365 days. Everyone has the same amount of time to fill his or her life. But some people's lives are so full that they are secretly suspected of having extra hours in the day. One such person is Bart Buelens, Senior Data Scientist at VITO.  

Data Science Hub 

Since 2018, Bart Buelens (48) has been part of the Data Science Hub at VITO. He works in Mol and in Genk, the city where he lives. And that in itself is already special. Bart Buelens: "My wife, children and I have lived in Genk for several years. My wife is a GP here, and before I started at VITO I worked for 12 years at the Central Bureau for Statistics in the Netherlands. It was rather by chance, during one of our walks in Genk, that I discovered the Thor Park, which was in full development, a technology and science park housing renowned research institutions such as VITO, among others. When VITO started up the Data Science Hub in 2018, I immediately applied. It was right up my street! Besides a few internal employees, I was the Hub's first external recruit. And so now, for the first time in my life, I'm working in Belgium, and often just a few kilometres from my door (laughs)." 


Bart studied mathematics in Leuven, followed by a master's in Artificial Intelligence. He then went to England and completed his doctorate in Australia (data mining for oceanography and fisheries). Then he went to work in the Netherlands. Bart: "And now I work in Belgium, of all places (laughs). A job close to home but with international allure and ambitions. Data is becoming increasingly important in more and more research areas. Our Data Science Hub is a horizontal structure that connects the five strategic themes within VITO (chemistry, energy, health, land use and materials) and creates cross-pollinations. Unlike my previous jobs, my current one is much more research-related. To give an example, we are developing methods to make predictions based on photos and data. Very interesting for the topic of land use but also for energy or health-related research." 


"The pure academia of my studies has taught me a lot. I find it particularly enriching that I can put theory into practice. At first I was a bit apprehensive about coming to work in Belgium, when I heard my friends talk about the immense workload and the disturbed work-life balance in many companies. This is much less the case in Australia and the Netherlands, for example. At VITO, it's fine too. And that gives me the space for my hobby, or rather passion, being astronomy and astrostatistics. I am also on the board of the observatory Cosmodrome in Genk." 

No speculations 

Recently, Bart published, in his spare time, together with other authors, the controversial article 'The Vanishing and Appearing Sources during a Century of Observations Project. I. USNO Objects Missing in Modern Sky Surveys and Follow-up Observations of a "Missing Star"'. In their research, the authors compare old American observations from the 1950s and 1960s (now open data, ed.) with new observations. Bart: "Many of the observations are status quo, others are different. For example, we noticed celestial bodies that were brighter, or even seemed to have disappeared. In astronomy, that is of course very interesting and even special; this is food for further research. So speculating about extraterrestrials is out of the question, I'm certainly not going to do it (laughs). 

On skis through Lapland 

Working close to home also has the big advantage that Bart can now free up more time for his children Siska (17) and Korneel (14). Although he recently said goodbye to Siska; the daughter is attending six months of secondary school in .... Australia. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Does Bart have any time left for other hobbies? Of course, he does! He and his wife love nothing more than spending their free days hiking in the countryside. Last summer, they backpacked for eight days through Swedish Lapland; a few years ago they did the same on skis in winter: "Those days are worth a lot to us. Our lives are indeed full; those few days a year far away from civilisation in the middle of nature give us oxygen. And then, with recharged batteries and a fresh head, we can give the best of ourselves in our job. 

Find Bart's article (altmetric-score: 543) on vito.be/en/publications or https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-3881/ab570f  

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