Quizzing the captain

He has a degree in geology, but today he’s the only person at Aarhus University with ‘skipper’ as a job title. Meet Torben Vang, whose day job is to ensure that AU’s Aurora research vessel is fit to sail – and whose time as a student dragged out because of his pure interest in attending lectures on other subjects, such as Professor Johannes Sløk’s engaging talks at the Department of Theology. In 2019, he received an honorary medal for the role he played in the search for the murdered journalist Kim Wall.

[Translate to English:] Skipper Torben Vang sammen med bl.a. Kronprins Frederik
In 2019, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik presented oceanographer and ship’s captain Torben Vang with an award from the Anders Lassen Foundation for his exceptional efforts during the investigation of the murder of the journalist Kim Wall. Vang provided crucial evidence based on his many years of research on sea currents and seafloor morphology. This photo shows Vang with the crown prince and the head of the Danish special forces (Frømandskorpset), Commander Jens B. Bach (left), who recommended him for the honour. Photo: Anders Lassen Foundation.
[Translate to English:] Skipper Torben Vang på ekskursion i 1984.
Excursion to Slemmestad in Norway 1984. The town, in Røyken Municipality in the country of Viken in Southern Norway, is a popular destination for geologists, since it was centred around Norway’s largest limestone quarry. Torben Vang can be seen in the centre wearing a striped top. Tine Thyregod is sitting in the bottom right, and Lars Chresten Lund-Hansen is standing in the back row to the left of Torben. Private photo belonging to Associate Professor Ole Bjørnskov Nielsen.

What is your favourite memory from your university days?
Field trips. It was on these trips that you got to know your lecturers and their passion for their subject. I can remember a trip to the chalk cliffs on the Danish island of Møn. Our lecturer started to tell us about the cliffs – almost on autopilot. But then, all of a sudden, he caught sight of a rare snout beetle, and it was this sighting that united the group’s interest – our passion for nature. It is this same passion that we witness when young students visit Aurora.

Who was your favourite teacher? 

I can’t name a specific one. There were so many. There was the inspirational Holger Lykke-Andersen, associate professor of geology (who was part of the Galathea 3 expedition, ed.). There was also  Christian “nine fingers” (Chr. Christiansen, ed.). He was a very funny and kind-hearted man. Jens Thyge-Møller was sometimes a frightening professor, but he had an extraordinary passion for natural science. A passion that was infectious.

What piece of advice do you wish that you had been given when you started your first job? 
A piece of advice that I once got from the smart professor Peter Grønkjær was that people “never regret a no.” So perhaps I could have been better at saying no every once in a while.

Are you still in contact with anyone from your time at AU? 

Absolutely – I am still in touch with several of my university friends, including some of those in the picture. Tine Thyregod and her husband Erik Pedersen (not in the picture) as well as Lars Chresten Lund-Hansen. He works at Biology , so I meet up with him regularly.

What are your current interests? 

Now that I’ve turned 63, I’ve begun to think about what it is that I give to the university. I’ve been involved with three out of the four research vessels run by AU. I would like to put a crew in place – and not least a culture that ensures continuous operations, high quality and expertise. Then perhaps I can also help design the next AU research vessel.