Australian astrophysicist to lead prestigious centre

15 Mar 2022

One of the world's leading astrophysicists, Professor Lisa Kewley, has been appointed as the new director of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA).

Professor Kewley is the first woman and Australian to lead CfA. 

Headquartered at Harvard University, CfA brings together scientists from Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute to tackle humanity's greatest questions about the universe.     

Professor Kewley, who is currently director of ASTRO 3D, a $40-million Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence that seeks to understand the evolution of matter, light and the elements, from the Big Bang to the present day, will take up her new role on 1 July.

"It is an honour to become director of the CfA," Professor Kewley said.

"The CfA is a tremendously exciting organisation with expertise across the entire spectrum from millimetre and radio waves to X-rays. I plan to bring people together from across these different areas to answer some of astronomy's biggest questions, and at the same time, ensuring a positive and supportive environment for all CfA members."

Professor Kewley is a world leader in the theoretical modelling and observation of star-forming and active galaxies. Her seminal contributions include understanding the gas physics in star-forming galaxies, investigating galaxies containing actively accreting supermassive black holes and tracing the star-formation and oxygen history of galaxies over the past 12 billion years.

ANU Vice-Chancellor and physics Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt, congratulated Professor Kewley on her appointment.

"Lisa is one of Australia and the world's leading astrophysicists. In her time at ANU, first as a PhD student, and later as a faculty member, and as director of the ARC Centre of Excellence ASTRO 3D, she has made an incredible contribution to our understanding of the Universe, from how stars form to the mysterious, dark depths of black holes," he said.

"Her list of breakthroughs and published papers is as long as her list of incredible honours in the field of astrophysics and distinguished scientific achievements.

"But she hasn't just been a champion for science; Lisa has also been a champion for positive change across academia leading the charge for improved gender diversity and representation in research and wider society. This is something Lisa has worked tirelessly to achieve in ASTRO 3D

"I want to thank Lisa for all her incredible work and congratulate her on this well-deserved appointment. While we will miss her at ANU, we know she will be a wonderful partner, as she leads one of the world's most important astronomical institutions, the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics - an institution that has played an important part of her development, as it has in mine. "

As director of CfA, Professor Kewley will oversee about 800 Harvard and Smithsonian staff, in eight scientific divisions across CfA's nine major scientific facilities and institutes, which include the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii, and the Chandra X-Ray Center in Massachusetts.

"For decades, the Center for Astrophysics has given the world profound insights into the cosmos," said Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian.

"It is exciting to welcome Professor Kewley back to the site of her first fellowship, where the Smithsonian can once again benefit from her leadership and brilliance as we seek to understand the fundamental nature of the universe."

Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard described Professor Kewley as a "versatile and visionary scientist, a dedicated and inspiring teacher and mentor and an exemplary colleague, community builder and institutional citizen".

"Professor Kewley will undoubtedly build Astronomy and Astrophysics at Harvard to further strength and distinction and provide an even more important resource for scientific inquiry," she said.

"We are truly delighted that she is joining our academic community."

Among her many accolades, Professor Kewley is a recipient of the James Craig Watson Medal, the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy.

Prior to joining ASTRO 3D, Kewley served as the associate director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at ANU from 2012-2016, where she oversaw 17 staff and 35 graduate students.

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