Ronald David (Ron) Ekers

By February 14th, 2011


Ronald David Ekers was born at Victor Harbour, South Australia on 18 September 1941.

He obtained his BSc in 1962, his BSc (Hons) in 1963, both from the University of Adelaide, South Australia and his PhD from the Australian National University, ACT, in 1967. His PhD research was carried out at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope under the supervision of Dr John Bolton the first Director of the Parke’s Radio Observatory.

Professor Ekers has held positions in several countries. After gaining his PhD from the Australian National University in 1967, he was a Post Doctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1967 to 1970; a Visiting Astronomer at the the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy in Cambridge UK (1970-71); a Research Astronomer (1971-76) and full Professor (1976-80) at the Kapteyn Laboratory in Groningen, The Netherlands; and Assistant Director at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, New Mexico, USA (1980-88).

He was the first Director of the Very Large Array, the major national radio telescope in the USA, from 1980 until 1988, when he returned to Australia and CSIRO to become the Foundation Director of the Australia Telescope National Facility. He continued in this role until receiving a Federation Fellowship in 2003.

Other positions held include: Visiting Scientist CSIRO, 1978; Visiting Fellow, Australian National University 1979; Adjunct Professor, University of New Mexico, (USA) 1981-88; Personal External Chair in Radio Astronomy, University of Groningen, (Netherlands) 1983-85; Adjunct Professor, Australian National University from 1989 to 2005; Honorary Fellow University of Western Sydney, Nepean 1993-95; Visiting Miller Professor, University of California, Berkeley, USA from 2001 to 2002 and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University, Western Australia in 2007.

Research interests

His international career has been distinguished by numerous contributions to radio astronomy and radio astronomical techniques. Professor Ekers’ research interests include extragalactic astronomy, galactic nuclei (the centres of galaxies), and the techniques of radio astronomy. A hallmark of his career has been wide-ranging, innovative experiments involving the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, galaxies, quasars and the cosmic microwave background. He made the first measurements of the gravitational deflection of radio waves (demonstrating the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity) and discovered the hot gas that spirals around the nucleus of our Galaxy ‘ the first sign of what is now thought to be a black hole millions of times the mass of the Sun. Professor Ekers is currently planning an experiment to detect high-energy cosmic neutrinos from the radio waves they create when they hit the Moon.

As President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Ron was responsible for the new definition of a planet and the subsequent reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet.

He has been heavily involved in all aspects of the International proposal to build a Square Kilometer Array (SKA) a future radio telescope which may be located in Western Australia.

Since 2003, Ron’s main research area (as a Federation Fellow) has involved the understanding of the evolution of the very early universe. His specialty is to devise experiments which exploit modern technology in unusual ways. This has resulted in his involvement in two major efforts, both leading teams which make heavy use of CSIRO resources:

  • to make a short wavelength (1cm) radio survey of the whole southern sky. This is particularly sensitive to galaxies with active black holes in there nuclei.
  • a search for ultra high energy neutrinos using radio telescopes to look for the pulse of Cerenkov emission when they hit the moon.

In the period 1990-2009 he had supervised 17 PhD Students in the following topics:

  • ANU:
    • Dynamics & Excitation of Extended Emission-line Regions in Radio Galaxies
    • Distribution of Matter in Clusters of Galaxies
    • The FIR-RC Correlation.
  • U Sydney:
    • The Galactic Centre
    • Galaxies at High Redshift
    • Magnetic Fields in the Local Universe
    • Gas in the Universe
    • 20GHz Survey
    • Properties of 20GHz survey sources.
  • U Adelaide:
    • Cluster Magnetic Fields
    • UHE Neutrino ‘ Lunar Cerenkov Emission.
  • U Melbourne: UHE Neutrino ‘ Signal Processing.
  • UNSW: Gravitational Lens Search
  • UWS: Radio Sample of X-ray Sources
  • U Cardif: The Bivariate Luminosity Distribution
  • SISSA:
    • High-Frequency Properties of Extragalactic Radio Sources
    • Observations of the Large Scale Structure of Magnetic Fields in the Local Universe.

By 2009, he had a total of 365 publications including 173 in refereed journals, 115 Conference Proceedings, 3 Book chapters, 1 Book and 17 other publications. His work has been cited 7383 times for an H index of 47. For details of the H index see Ball P, 2005, ‘Index aims for fair ranking of scientists’, Nature, 436: 900.

Honours and awards

For his contributions to astronomy he has received many honours and awards including:

Fellowships and foreign memberships

2007 CSIRO Fellow
2005 Fellow of Royal Society of London
2003 Fellow American Philosophical Society
2002 Federation Fellow (Australia)
1993 Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
1993 Foreign Member, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences
1988 Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society

Named lectures

2008 Grand public lecture, 2nd Astronomy & Astrophysics Olympiad ‘ Bandung (Indonesia)
2007 Halley Lecturer
2004 Jansky Lecturer ‘ NRAO (USA)
1999 Brodie Hall Lecture ‘ Perth (Australia)
1997 Robert Ellery Lectureship, Astronomical Society of Australia
1995 Pesek Lecture ‘ Oslo (Norway)
1990 Pawsey Lecturer, Melbourne (Australia)
1986 Sigma Xi Society Centennial Lecturer (USA)

Other Honours

2008 Recorded Oral History Interview for the National Library of Australia
2005 Flinders Medal (Australian Academy of Science)
2003 President, International Astronomical Union
2001 Centenary Medal (Australia)
2001 Visiting Miller Professor, University of California, Berkeley (USA)
1997 Oort Visiting Chair, Leiden, The Netherlands

Board and other memberships

2007 – 2011 Australian Academy of Science Council
2007 Manly Astrophysics Board
2006 – 2009 Adviser, International Astronomical Union
2006 – 2008 Member, Peter Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize Advisory Board (USA)
2005 – 2010 Member, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Advisory Board (Germany)
2003 – 2006 President, International Astronomical Union
2002 – 2007 Member, Australian Astronomy Board of Management
2002 – 2004 Chairman, Anglo-Australian Telescope Board
2000 – 2003 President-Elect International Astronomical Union
1999 – 2003 Member, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Advisory Board (Germany)
1998 – 2002 Member of the Editorial Board for Science and Technology
1998- NOVA Advisory Board (Joint Netherlands Research School for Astronomy)
1997 – 2001 Member, Anglo-Australian Telescope Board
1995 – 2002 Member of the Executive of the AIPS++ Board
1995 Member ‘Project Auger’ evaluation board UNESCO (Paris)
1994 – 1999 Member Advisory Board, Research Centre for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Sydney
1994 – 1996 Member editorial board of Experimental Astronomy (Europe)
1990 – 1993 Chairman URSI Commission J
1989- Editorial Board, Journal of Astrophysics & Astronomy (India)
1987 – 1990 Vice Chairman URSI Commission J
1985 – 1988 Member of Board of Directors of Rio Grande Technology Foundation (USA)
1982 Member of the TDA Advisory Council, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA)
1975 – 1980 Member of the Board of Directors NFRA
1971- Member IAU

Committee Memberships

2008 – 2009 UNESCO IYA International Advisory Committee
2008 Chair, NAOJ Review Committee (Japan)
2007 Nançay Advisory Committee (France)
2006 Member, FAST Senior Review (China)
2005 – 2007 Member, Academy of Science Sectional Committee 2
2004 – 2007 At-Large member International SKA Steering Committee
2002 – 2003 Member, Steering Committee, OECD Global Science Forum Workshop on Large Scale Astronomy Facilities
2001 – 2003 Member, Radio Astronomy Task Force, OECD Global Science Forum
2001- Member, Allan Telescope Array Advisory Committee (USA)
2000 – 2002 Chairman, International SKA Steering Committee
2000 Member, Pawsey Medal Selection Committee (Australia)
2000 – 2004 Member, The Australian Academy of Science Elizabeth and Frederick White Conference Committee
1999 – 2004 Member, Australian Gemini Steering Committee
1998 – 2000 Chairman of IAU Working Group for Future Large Scale Facilities
1997 – 1999 Australian representative OECD Megascience forum working group on radio astronomy
1997 – 1999 Chairman SETI Institute Science and Technology Working Group (USA)
1997 Member of the Advisory Panel for the Mauritius Radio Telescope
1996 – 2003 CSIRO sector coordinator for radio astronomy
1996 – 1998 Member of the University of Wollongong Faculty of Science Visiting Committee
1995 – 1997 Member of IAU Working Group for Future Large Scale Facilities
1995 Chairman of the Joint Review of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Review of the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories (Australia)
1994 Member NCA Large Optical Telescope Working Group (Australia)
1994 Member Netherlands ASTRON Foreign Evaluation Committee (Netherlands)
1993 – 1999 Member of the URSI, IAU Large Telescope Working Group
1993 – 1996 Member URSI Long Range Planning Committee
1993 – 1994 Chairman, ARC Astronomy and Astrophysics Grant Review Committee (Australia)
1992 – 2003 Member National Committee for Astronomy (Australia)
1991 – 1992 Member ASTEC Working Party on Major National Research Facilities (Australia)
1991 Chairman of the Visiting Committee of the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (Netherlands)
1990 – 2003 Ex Officio member ATNF Steering Committee
1990 – 2000 Member URSI Global VLBI Working Group
1989 – 1992 Chairman National Committee for Astronomy (Australia)
1989 – 1992 SERC Radio Astronomy Review Panel (UK)
1988 – 1991 Member of VLBA Advisory Committee (USA)
1987 – 1988 Member of the Haystack Visiting Committee (USA)
1987 – 1988 Member of Sigma XI, Committee on Lectureships (USA)
1987 Member of the Science Application Sub-Committee of the National Committee on Super-Computing Policy (USA)
1986 Member of the Visiting Committee of the Meudon Radio Observatory (France)
1985 Member of the Scientific Review Committee for the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics (Australia)
1984 Member of the Review Subcommittee on Radio Astronomy and Solar Physics at the HIA of the National Research Council (Canada)
1982 – 1988 Member of the Advisory Committee for the construction of the Australia Telescope
1980 – 1987 Member of the Visiting Committee of the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (Netherlands)
1979 – 1980 Member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Institute for Millimeter Astronomy (France)
1977 – 1978 Member of the Program Committee Effelsberg (Germany)
1975 – 1978 Member of the Visiting Committee of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (USA)
1975 – 1977 Member of the Visiting Committee of the Meudon Radio Observatory (France)
1975 – 1976 Chairman of the Program Committee NFRA
1973 – 1979 Member of the Advisory Committee for the construction of the VLA (USA)
1972 – 1976 Member of the Program Committee of the Netherlands Foundation for Radio Astronomy (NFRA)


  • Ekers RD, 2009, Personal communication.
  • CSIRO astronomer elected to Royal Society, 2005 (Media Release)