Australian astronomer wins prestigious award

THE 2014 GROTE REBER MEDAL for innovative and significant contributions to radio astronomy has be awarded to Professor Ron Ekers of Australia. Professor Ekers was the Foundation Director of CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility at Narrabri, and is a former director of the Very Large Array in New Mexico, USA, operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

He is currently a CSIRO Fellow at the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF), CSIRO Division of Astronomy and Space Science in Australia, and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University in Perth and the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, India.

Headshot of Ron Ekers

Professor Ron Ekers

The Grote Reber Medal is named after a pioneer of radio astronomy (see below).

Ekers is being recognised for his many pioneering scientific radio astronomy investigations, which extend over half a century. Working with various colleagues, Ekers studied galaxies, made precise measurements of the way the Sun’s gravity deflects radio waves, made some of the first high-resolution images of the centre of the Galaxy at radio wavelengths, and critical early observations of pulsars.

More recently he is leading a project to detect radio emission resulting from ultra high-energy neutrino interactions with the Moon.

Ekers also played a key role in developing what was probably the first interactive computer language for analysing radio astronomy images. In the mid-1990s he became the strongest force in advocating support for the international Square Kilometre Array initiative.

“Over a career lasting nearly half a century Ron Ekers has worked in almost every area of radio astronomy. As a strong believer in international collaboration, he was the earliest advocate for the Square Kilometre Array, and perhaps, more than anyone else, he was responsible for building the current level of international support for the SKA”, said Dr Ken Kellermann of the NRAO.

“Ron is the complete internationalist and has contributed significantly to the major radio astronomy instruments in Europe, the US and Australia,” said Dr David Jauncey, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Affiliate and ANU Visiting Fellow.

The medal will be presented to Professor Ekers during the 31st General Assembly of the International Union of Radio Science to be held in Beijing, China in August, 2014.

About Grote Reber

Grote Reber was born on 22 December 1911. Before he was 30 years of age, he became the world’s first radio astronomer. In 1937, constructed the world’s first purpose-built radio telescope, adjacent to his home in Wheaton, Illinois, just west of Chicago. Reber’s telescope was the forerunner of the classic design of the world’s famous radio telescopes (including the famous ‘dish’ at Parkes, in Australia). The same principle is used widely today in many other applications, including satellite dishes in private homes.

Reber used his telescope to make the first detailed radio map of the sky. “His work was a huge step forward for astronomy”, said Martin George, Administrator of the Grote Reber Medal. “For the first time, the Universe was being studied at wavelengths other than those visible to our eyes.”

Grote Reber using radio equipment

Grote Reber

In 1954, Reber moved to Tasmania, Australia, where he began observing at very much longer wavelengths using a quite different type of ‘telescope’: an array of dipoles, which took the form of antennas strung between the tops of poles.

Reber constructed an array that covered an area of one square kilometre. Although now dismantled, in terms of collecting area it still holds the record for the world’s largest single radio telescope ever constructed.

Although Reber’s research and ideas often fell outside the mainstream activities of other astronomers, his contributions, especially in the early days of radio astronomy, were both pioneering and critically important. He was awarded a number of prizes and an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Ohio State University in the USA.

“Grote Reber’s achievements showed, most importantly, that one person can make a difference”, said Dr David Jauncey.

Grote Reber died in Tasmania on 20 December 2002, two days before his 91st birthday.

Adapted from information issued by Trustees of the Grote Reber Foundation. Ron Ekers and ATCA photos courtesy of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. Grote Reber photo courtesy NRAO.

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