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Vale Professor Richard Hunstead

3 February 2020
In recognition of a life dedicated to the stars
Professor Richard Hunstead will be remembered as an excellent researcher and teacher, but more importantly as a generous, caring scientist who has left an enduring legacy for staff and students.
Professor Richard Hunstead in the School of Physics in 2017.

Professor Richard Hunstead in the School of Physics in 2017.

It is with great sadness that we record the passing of Professor Richard Waller Hunstead, known to his colleagues as Dick. He passed away on Thursday 30 January, following a sudden illness, aged 76 years.

Dick was with the University of Sydney continuously since 1960, which is an extraordinary statistic. This year marked the 60th anniversary of his enrolment as an undergraduate student (BSc(Hons)), which was followed by a PhD in astrophysics, and subsequent appointment as a member of staff in the School of Physics in 1974.  

He was promoted in time to Professor and his service to the School and University in teaching, research and leadership has been extraordinary. Indeed, his enormous contributions to the School of Physics were recognised in 2011 with the award of the Harry Messel Award for Excellence.

In research, Dick gained an international reputation based on work over many decades and published in nearly 200 refereed papers. He was awarded the Robert Ellery Lectureship by the Astronomical Society of Australia in 1995, in recognition of outstanding contributions in astronomy.

Scientific achievements

His achievements included the discovery of variability of radio sources at low frequencies (Hunstead 1972); pioneering work on the calibration of the Molonglo Telescope, including identifying optical counterparts of radio sources; seminal work on quasars and radio galaxies, especially giant radio galaxies; ground-breaking studies of quasar absorption lines at high spectral resolution; and studies of radio transients, including his most recent work on the detections of fast radio bursts with the UTMOST telescope.

The significance of his research was recognised with an ISI Web of Science Citation Laureate award for the impact of his publications in the period 1981 to 1998. His influence and broad contribution to astronomy are recognised by the naming of a minor planet in his honour, 171429 Hunstead. As well as being an excellent collaborator and researcher, Dick was a wonderful supervisor. He has been the supervisor and mentor of an extraordinary number of staff and Honours, PhD and undergraduate students.

Dick taught in lectures and laboratories at every level. His particular passion for experimental physics saw him make invaluable contributions to the design and constructions of numerous experiments, with outcomes that have greatly enhanced the student experience. From 1998 to 2012, Dick was Coordinator for the Talented Student Program, an initiative that introduces top academic students to scientific research from their first year.

His leadership roles included serving as Head of the Astrophysics Research Group (now known as the Sydney Institute for Astronomy) in the School of Physics, as Chair of the Physics Academic Programs Committee and as Director of the Molonglo Radio Observatory for more than a decade.

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence, said: “Professor Hunstead was not only a brilliant scientist, teacher and mentor but has been an invaluable member of the broader University community for 60 years. We are privileged that he and his wife Penny made a very generous gift to the University, the Dick Hunstead Fund for Astrophysics, and through this he will continue to contribute to our well-deserved reputation in astronomy for decades to come.”

Dick showed his passion and dedication to the field of astronomy and the School of Physics with this extraordinarily generous gift from himself and his wife, Penny, to support ongoing research and education activities in the Sydney Institute for Astronomy.

He will be remembered as an excellent researcher and teacher, but more importantly as a generous, caring scientist who has left an enduring legacy for generations of staff and students. He will be so sadly missed but long remembered.

Dick and Penny Hunstead.

Dick and Penny Hunstead.

Celebrate Dick's life

On 14 February there will be a celebration of the life of Emeritus Professor Richard Hunstead and his 60-year association with the University of Sydney.

RSVP at this link.

Anne J Green

Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics

Tim Bedding


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