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22 October 2004

AAO engineer receives University's highest honour

Peter Gillingham, AAO instrumentation engineer, has been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of New South Wales for his contributions to the development of astronomical instruments and the design, commissioning and engineering of telescopes.  The degree, which is the highest honour the University can award, was conferred at UNSW in Sydney, Australia, on 22 October.

Dr Gillingham’s distinguished career in astronomy has spanned three decades. After receiving an honours degree in engineering from the University of Queensland, he worked for a few years in Victoria and South Australia for the Weapons Research Establishment. In 1968 he switched to astronomy, joining the Royal Greenwich Observatory as a senior scientific officer. In 1970 he joined the Project Office of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, and subsequently became a design engineer for the telescope, then the commissioning engineer, chief engineer, and finally the telescope's officer-in-charge. He contributed to Japan’s Subaru telescope, and was appointed the first Visiting Professor to its Project office. In 1992 Dr Gillingham became Operations Director of the WM Keck Observatory in Hawai’i, a position he held until 1997, when he returned to the AAO and a more ‘hands on’ engineering role.

At the AAO, Dr Gillingham has been involved in the design, manufacture and commissioning of instruments including:
  • the ground-breaking IRIS, an infrared array imager and spectrograph, and its recent successor, IRIS2 (both winners of Engineering Excellence awards from Engineers Australia (formerly the Institution of Engineers);
  • an ultra high resolution spectrograph which took advantage of the bright phase of  supernova 1987A to probe the intergalactic medium;
  • the OzPoz multi-fibre positioner for the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope;
  • the radical Echidna multi-fibre positioner now being built for Subaru; and
  • a forthcoming dual spectrograph for the AAT, AAOmega.
In 1987 Dr Gillingham foresaw that the higher points of the Antarctic plateau might offer extraordinarily good astronomical seeing – an idea spectacularly confirmed by recent test results from Dome C in the Australian Antarctic Territory, published in Nature on 16 September this year. From 1989 he began to advocate Australia’s participation in Antarctic astronomy.

Dr Gillingham has published more than forty papers. His contributions to astronomical instrumentation have profoundly influenced the development of the field.

The full UNSW citation can be found at

For more information:

Dr Peter Gillingham, Anglo-Australian Observatory (Sydney, Australia)
Tel: +61-2-9372-4845 (office) between 0600 and 1500, AEST (UCT/GMT + 10 hours)

PIO contact: Helen Sim, Anglo-Australian Observatory
Tel: +61-2-9372-4251 (office) +61-419-635-905 (mob)

Peter Gillingham at ceremony

Dr Gillingham at the award ceremony
The leis – not a traditional part of the garb of a Doctor of Science – were provided by a member of Peter Gillingham's family, in memory of the years he spent working in Hawai'i at the W M Keck Observatory. Picture courtsey of UNSW PR group.
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