Employee Spotlight – Robert Heck

A lot can happen through the years and since ScienceAtHome first emerged, it has been ever-changing. A person who has been here from the start is Robert Heck. We are highlighting his changing roles in our organization as he now not only works as an experimental physicist but also as a data scientist!

How did you start to work here and when?
I have been part of ScienceAtHome since the very beginning. Job titles have changed throughout the years since I first joined in 2013 in order to start my Ph.D. as an experimental physicist. Back then ScienceAtHome only consisted of Jacob Sherson (founder of ScienceAtHome) and a few student helpers. My role was mainly to build our quantum physics experiment in the basement, a really complex machine that can cool, manipulate and image single atoms. At first, our projects were quite parallel and not really intersecting. This changed in the last year of my Ph.D. when we decided to develop and launch the “Alice challenge”, the citizen science project that allowed players from all over the world to remotely control our experiment in real-time to optimize (successfully) the cooling process of our atoms. After the Ph.D., I continued as a postdoc and senior scientist on the experiment.
Just before the foundation of the Center for Hybrid Intelligence and the partial move of our group to Aarhus BSS (School of Business and Social Sciences) I started working 50% as a data scientist employed at BSS, while still working 50% as a physicist in the lab.

What is your role at ScienceAtHome?
Now my official title is Data Scientist. I am part of the data science team where we support all our different projects when it comes to planning and implementing data acquisition as well as the analysis of the data afterward. We use established methods but also try to research and develop new methodologies that are perhaps more efficient and better or give us new and exciting angles on what we can extract from our data.

What are you passionate about in relation to your work?
It is really the variability of work. I learn so much about new technologies and methodologies in so many different areas. Some days this could be all the way down to the hardware level when I work on the experiment, other days in a completely different direction when I have to learn how to develop and customize web applications for social science experiments. And this is merely a by-product of all the fascinating research we are doing. Here I really enjoy that I am exposed to not only fundamental physics research but also to the newest research of probing the border between human and artificial intelligence.

What is your best work-related memory?
I think one of the greatest days was when we saw for the first time single atoms in our experiment. It was a Friday evening (great things often happen on a Friday 😄), almost exactly 3 years ago, just a few days after my birthday and my colleagues had already left. We had made some changes to the setup that I needed to try out and I kind of felt that things were really good. So it was around 8 pm when I saw the first nice images and I was simply amazed and could not really believe it at first. I called Ottó, my colleague, and told him to look at our digital labbook. What he saw made him come back to the lab and I think we worked till 10 pm and produced the nicest images (e.g. our ‘Atomic luv’, see image below). Of course, we needed to celebrate this with a beer afterward. A nice end of the week and a nice belated birthday present for me.

The image of single atoms named ‘Atomic luv' that Robert Heck and Ottó Elíasson produced.

What is your favorite thing about working here?
The flexibility and interdisciplinarity. Now especially that I work half-time as a physicist and the other half-time as a data scientist. I am really quite free and can decide from day to day what I want to work on. I can work literally hands-on in the lab and act as a physicist, or I can focus on one of our other exciting projects in ScienceAtHome, analyse some data, help and support collaborators with data acquisition, etc.

Robert’s journey also reflects the development of our activities at ScienceAtHome from being mainly physics-related to also focus on hybrid intelligence and the opportunities afforded by many different disciplines like social science, cognitive science, and quantum physics coming together. Check out the Center for Hybrid Intelligence to find out more about our research and projects.


Employee Spotlight – Robert Heck