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Interview with Leonard Benkendorff

  • Please introduce yourself

Hi, my name is Leonard Benkendorff. I’m born in Dresden, but I live in Heidelberg now.

  • What institution do you work for?

I work at ARI, the Astronomische Recheninstitut am Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg; and I’m a master’s student, so I’m writing my master’s thesis there.

  • What was your career?

I classically started studying physics in Heidelberg, and I am now also studying physics in the master’s program with a focus on computational astrophysics.

  • How did you get into exoplanet research?

That was actually a coincidence. My current supervisor gave me a lecture on computational physics methods, i.e. how to simulate things with computers, and I told him: Hey cool, can I write my bachelor thesis on this topic? That’s how I more or less slipped into this topic of planets and the dynamics of planets, but it fascinated me so much that I still like to do research on it.

  • Please briefly describe your research topic.

This is a little bit complicated. There is a very special category of planets called ‘Hot Jupiters’, which are actually much too close to the star to be explained. I do simulations and try to explain how they get there through mechanisms. And I also do research on the dynamics of planetary systems in so-called star clusters, where many stars are very close together.

  • What scientific question(s) do you seek to answer?

I want to answer how these planets that I just described got there, and I want to do my part in how to visualize this whole planetary formation and where they are measured now, and so a bigger picture emerges from that.

  • What methods do you use?

I use the so-called N-body simulations. The N-body stands for a whole number of bodies, planets but also the stars in the star cluster; the gravity between them is simulated with computers, very precisely and relatively quickly, and then I do computer simulations and create models based on them.

  • Why do you find your research topic in particular interesting?

I think it’s interesting because these planets that I’m investigating, or the gravitation of star clusters on planetary systems, hasn’t really been researched and understood at all, and I think it’s incredibly exciting to be researching something that really still has unanswered questions and to which I also have the feeling that I can contribute something.

  • Where do you see connections between your topic and other fields of research?

We are trying to answer the question, where does this enormous diversity of planets come from, and this is where my topic contributes, for example in connection with the observations, that is, the observations that first discovered this planet category that I am modeling. And in addition, the methods that I use, which is called Gezeitenkräfte in German, or tidal dissipation in English, are now also used to answer whether life is possible on moons that orbit Jupiter-like planets, for example.

  • Do you regularly collaborate with other SPP 1992 projects?

There was no direct collaboration, but I was always able to obtain the expertise of others, especially at conferences, and was thus able to answer many questions that were still unclear to me, especially in the larger context.

  • Which SPP 1992 offers did you make use of?

I have already been to two conferences, and there was an incredibly large pool of scientific exchange and scientific presentations, especially in a larger context, which has been very useful for my work, and in addition I have accepted offers specifically for young researchers, for example, the rhetoric training or presentation training, or even just network meetings.

  • Could the SPP 1992 support your research?

On the one hand, some of the money for the computers I use for the simulations comes from that; that’s one thing, the purely monetary-technical aspect. But of course also through the research community, through the connections, that has given me an enormous amount of knowledge and also supported me as an inexperienced master’s student tremendously to go into active research now.

  • What might we know about your topics in 10 years?

That is a good question. I imagine that knowing about all these Hot Jupiters, where exactly they come from now, or how they were formed, will help explain other planetary theories. And I also hope to understand much better how the star clusters and the planetary systems that form in them influence each other, which is still very unclear.

  • What are your hobbies outside of science?

I like sports very much; I play soccer in the club and also go kite surfing regularly in the summer. And sometimes I play chess and piano.

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