Professor Peter Quinn

2016 Alumni Award for Research and Innovation

Executive Director, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and Professor at University of Western Australia

Bachelor of Science (Physics) (Hons), 1978

When most people look up at the night sky they see stars, but Professor Peter Quinn sees so much more than that.

Peter is a world-renowned astrophysicist, ranked among the top 250 astronomers in the world over the past 25 years. He has led an outstanding international research career at the forefront of his field, with a particular focus on the formation and evolution of galaxies using supercomputer computations and simulations.

Peter is at the helm of one of the most important space projects on the planet, as part of an Australian team working to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. The SKA will be the world’s largest telescope, and more than 10,000 times faster than any other radio telescope in existence. Thanks to Peter’s incredible vision, astronomers will soon be able to probe back to the beginnings of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.

His early research on galaxy collisions in Australia and the United States led to a new appreciation of the way galaxies interact and how these interactions have driven the process of their evolution. His PhD thesis dissertation on dynamics of disc galaxy mergers was hailed as a major contribution to international astronomical research, and as a post-doctoral researcher, he discovered the Quinn-Goodman effect for angular momentum dependent galactic accretion.

After working with NASA on the Hubble Telescope, Peter led a research team back home in Australia to a major scientific breakthrough: the discovery of the hitherto unknown dark matter in the Milky Way Galaxy. The MACHO Dark Matter Search Project took the front cover of prestigious journal Nature in 1991, hailed as the first microlensing evidence of baryonic dark matter.

Later, he led more than 130 scientists at the European Southern Observatory in Munich to develop and operate the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), the world’s largest and most productive optical observatory. His work on the VLT saw him awarded a Computerworld 21st Century Achievement Award for Science.

While at ESO, Peter also led ground-breaking programs to realise and advance Virtual Observatory capabilities, and co-founded the International Virtual Observatory Alliance to facilitate international coordination and collaboration and share astrophysical data among the world’s nations for greater scientific return. The Alliance currently counts 21 observatories from nations across the globe among its members, and has reached truly world-wide cohesion in debating and agreeing on key astronomical standards.

Over the past 25 years, he has produced more than 300 publications in journals, conference papers and books, and has been honoured as a Highly Cited Researcher in Space Science by Thomson Reuters. He was awarded the Western Australian Premier’s Fellowship in 2005, and in 2012 was named Western Australian Scientist of the Year.

Alongside his work on SKA, Peter is Professor of Astronomy and Executive Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia, where he continues to plan and implement large-scale and international research infrastructures and inspire the next generation of research leaders.

Chancellor, Professor Peter Quinn has made a significant and lasting contribution to astronomy and astrophysics, and to building a deeper understanding and knowledge of the universe we live in. He is an exceptional researcher and innovator.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to present Professor Peter Quinn for the Alumni Award for Research and Innovation.

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