New Director for Anglo-Australian Observatory

Dr Matthew Colless, a Senior Fellow of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, has been appointed Director of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO). He will take up the position, based in Sydney, in January 2004.

The AAO is a research facility for UK and Australian astronomers. It is funded by the Australian government (through the Department of Education, Science and Training) and the UK government (through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, PPARC).

The AAO operates the 3.9-m Anglo-Australian Telescope, the largest optical telescope in Australia, and the 1.2-m UK Schmidt telescope. Both are sited at Siding Spring Observatory in north-west New South Wales.

During 1997-2001 Dr Colless was co-leader (with Dr John Peacock of the University of Edinburgh) of the largest project ever carried out with the Anglo-Australian Telescope – the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey. This international collaboration, involving more than 30 scientists from 11 institutions, has been described by Professor Carlos Frenk of the University of Durham, as “undoubtedly Australia’s largest contribution to astronomical research ever.”

The survey determined the positions in space of more than 220,000 galaxies, giving us the best picture to date of how galaxies are distributed throughout the Universe. This information was then used to refine estimates of the Universe’s mass and density and its relative amounts of baryonic (‘normal’) matter, ‘dark matter’, and the recently discovered ‘dark energy’.

Dr Colless succeeds former AAO Director Professor Brian Boyle, who in July became Director of the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility.

His appointment was welcomed by Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), who said, "Professor Colless has great experience and expertise in astronomy. I am confident that his skills will be of great value to the Anglo-Australian Observatory."

Professor Mark Birkinshaw, the William P. Coldrick Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Bristol and a member of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board, said Dr Colless’s appointment would be “a major step towards an even more effective future for the AAO”.

“The dynamic leadership that he will bring, along with an innovative staff, should be a recipe for long-term success,” he said.

Dr Colless received his undergraduate degree from the University of Sydney and his PhD from the University of Cambridge (UK). He held positions at the University of Durham (UK), Kitt Peak National Observatory (USA) and the University of Cambridge (UK) before joining the Australian National University in 1993.

Dr Colless has published more than 110 papers in astronomy. In 2001 he was ranked by the information-management organisation ISI as one of the most highly cited Australian scientists, with seven high-impact papers published during 1981-1998.

Professor Penny Sackett, Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, said that Dr. Colless was one of Australia's finest researchers, and that “we shall miss him greatly as a daily colleague”.

“But knowing him as we do, as a wise and determined astronomer who places emphasis on scientific excellence in everything he does, it is with pride and pleasure that we look forward to his leadership of the AAO, and the ability to work with him in that role,” she said.

On accepting his appointment to the AAO, Dr Colless said that leading the organisation would be both “a challenge and a pleasure”.

“It will be a challenge because astronomy is a fast-changing field driven by rapid technological advances, and a pleasure because the AAO has outstanding staff and facilities working at the forefront of science and technology,” he said.

“The AAO of the future will continue to support world-leading research by Australian and British astronomers, both by using its own telescopes in Australia and by building advanced astronomical instruments for new large telescopes around the world.”

Dr Matthew Colless
Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, ANU
Tel: +61-2-6125-8030



Dr Matthew Colless (Photo courtesy Dr Colless)

The Anglo-Australian Telescope dome at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, with the dome of the 1.2-m UK Schmidt telescope in the background. Photo: David Malin.

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A gallery of images of the 2dF instrument on the Anglo-Australian Telescope

A visualisation of data from the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey. Visualisation: Paul Bourke, Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology. (216K: 1280 x 1024 pixels)
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