The sky’s the limit: exploring our universe

Discoveries that have been beyond the realms of human imagination – from the centre of the sun to the edge of the universe could be made possible by the next generation of young astrophysicists thanks to the support of Professor Richard Hunstead of the University of Sydney, and his wife, Penny.

The $1.4 million Dick Hunstead Fund for Astrophysics will support the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA) to achieve a broad range of discoveries across many disciplines.

The institute, based in the School of Physics, is one of the most diverse astrophysics groupings within Australia, spanning optical, radio, infrared, x-ray, theoretical and computational astrophysics.

The gift will support current students and encourage more to take up study in the area of astrophysics.

For nearly 50 years Professor Hunstead has been researching astronomy and teaching physics to students at the University. He has made several important discoveries and published more than 200 articles, with quasars, black holes, galaxy formation and evolution just some of his areas of interest.

“It is crucial that the institute positions itself to make the most of opportunities,” says Professor Hunstead.

“As part of lifting its profile I want prominent astronomers such as Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cambridge [in England], to visit.

“The field is on the cusp of a new era of discoveries across the whole electromagnetic spectrum. But of course the most exciting discoveries are the ones we cannot yet name or even imagine.”

Helping astrophysicists shine

Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn, Director of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy says that the gift will help strengthen the institute and support its students, “Good students are the future of any research institute, and providing a welcoming and supportive environment to engage the most talented students is critical to our future success.

“SIfA has a strong record of mentoring students and now, thanks to Dick and Penny’s generosity, we will be able to put more programs in place to help our research students get the most out of their time here.”

In the first instance the fund will be used to attract high profile visitors to SIfA who can share their expertise and knowledge. This will benefit all SIfA members, in particular postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, allowing visitors to stay longer, giving them more time to interact with early career researchers.

In the longer term, the fund will help enhance the student experience and support more students and early career researchers as they pursue careers in astronomy and the wider industry.

“Many of our students go on to incredibly successful careers in astronomy or other scientific areas as well as the technical and financial industries. By helping to train our students in transferable skills, we will produce outstanding PhD graduates who will make significant contributions to the world,” Professor Bland-Hawthorn says.

Dr Tara Murphy, a senior lecturer at SIfA, was the first person in her family to attend university.

Professor Hunstead was the first academic she met. “Dick quickly became my model of what a good scientist should be, as he is for many students and staff. He has an outstanding record of scientific achievement, but what most people remember even more than that is his caring attitude towards everyone in the group.”

Professor Bland-Hawthorn says the gift to the institute is the latest example of Professor Hunstead’s incredible generosity. “The support of both Dick and Penny means a great deal. Dick has inspired many students and this gift will enable us to share our research results more widely to help inspire future generations of scientists.”