I grew up in a small Belgian town called Hamme-Mille (N 51, E 5) about 20 miles east of Brussels. It is a great place to grow up in, surrounded by fields and forests yet very close to major cities. My mother taught Biology at the high school level and my father taught Botany at the college level, and this apple did not fall far from the tree.
Primary school was right across the street and the stage of much benign mischief. I hitch-hiked to high school and college, and also to Casablanca, Copenhagen, around Iceland, and to many caves and canyons in Belgium and France (this was an active time of rock-climbing, spelunking, and canyoneering in my life). This mode of transportation allowed me to meet a great many people from all walks of life.
There were no opportunities for undergraduate research in Belgium, so I spent my summers traveling or volunteering. I was heavily involved in scouting, backpacked the West Highland Way in Scotland and the GR20 across Corsica, and helped care for mentally and physically disabled children in Tunisia. I volunteered for two months in Pweto, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), a remote fishing village on the northern coast of Lake Mweru, to facilitate a drinking water project (with engineers without borders). The following summer I went to Butare, Rwanda, to teach basic electricity and photography, shortly before the genocide. I spent my last semester of college in Denmark.
I was captivated by exploration, science, and technology at an early age, but I had no formal Astronomy training until I started graduate school at Cornell University. After graduate school I was a research associate at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for two years, and then a OK Earl postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. I was an Assistant Professor (2004-2008) and Associate Professor (2008) in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University before relocating to UCLA.
Some of my favorite activities include running, skiing, rollerblading, sculling, hiking, and canyoneering. I also quite enjoy walking, reading, and chasing our toddler at Santa Monica's Palisades Park.