Interview with Nikhef alumnus Zdenko van Kesteren

Opening up new worlds

When Zdenko van Kesteren participated in CERN’s ATLAS project, he couldn’t know that his ensuing career steps would lead him to the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) and the Amsterdam Medical Centre (AMC), where he currently operates as a medical physicist. “When my PhD project neared its completion, I found myself at a crossroads,” he says, “where I had to make a decision either to continue in my field of expertise and venture abroad or to stay in Amsterdam and move into a different discipline. Making this choice wasn’t easy, as my decision would obviously affect the rest of my professional career, but then I realised that my physics background and the skills I had acquired during my Nikhef years would actually stand me in good stead in a great many areas.”

“You see,” Zdenko explains, “my tasks at CERN involved the commissioning of muon detectors that had been built at Nikhef, and they included the final testing of the detector systems before their installation. I also developed reconstruction software for the identification of muons in the ATLAS detector, validated with the help of modelled data and real data from cosmic muons. I imagined that my skills in detection, data modelling and data analysis, paired with a thorough knowledge of statistics, would make me suitable for positions in realms that would appear to be miles apart, such as defence and security or actuarial sciences and the share trade, for instance, or clinical physics and radiotherapy. I opted for the latter and accepted a post-doc position at the NKI, where I concentrated on the implementation of new treatment planning techniques, bridging research and application.”

“In 2011, I moved to the AMC,” says Zdenko, “to work as a medical physicist. Here, I continued to enjoy the best of two worlds: being involved in research as well as its application for the benefit of cancer patients. It is precisely the applied nature of my tasks and the patient care involved that makes my work so appealing, inspirational and rewarding. I am fortunate to be able to make a fundamental contribution to improvements in the treatment of cancer, and thus to make a true difference for patients. My background in physics has been instrumental to my development, and being part of CERN’s multicultural and highly focused international team has proven to be an excellent preparation for working in the strongly motivated multidisciplinary group that I am part of today. There’s a great deal of mutual inspiration, learning and synergy, with everyone involved pulling their weight in the design of new treatment options.”