Melanie Johnston-Hollitt

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Melanie Johnston-Hollitt
Born (1974-09-08) 8 September 1974 (age 44)
ResidenceWellington, New Zealand
Perth, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Adelaide
Known forDesign, construction, & governance of international radio telescopes
Radio observations of Galaxy Clusters
Cosmic Magnetism
Scientific career
Radio Astronomy
ThesisDetection of magnetic fields and diffuse radio emission in Abell 3667 and other rich southern clusters of galaxies (2003)
Doctoral advisorProf. Ronald Ekers AO FRS FAA
Prof. Richard Hunstead
Doctoral studentsSiamak Dehghan
Sara Shakouri
Gerardo Aviles Martinez
Stefan Duchesne
Torrance Hodgson

Melanie Johnston-Hollitt (born Melanie Johnston; 8 September 1974) is an Australian Astrophysicist. She is known for having worked on the design, construction, and international governance of several major radio telescopes including the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and the upcoming Square Kilometre Array (SKA). She is currently Director of the Murchison Widefield Array and a full Professor at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

Early life[edit]

Johnston-Hollitt was born in Darwin shortly before cyclone Tracy destroyed the city. She and her mother were evacuated to Brisbane on December 29, 1974[1] en route to Townsville. During her early life she lived in various parts of north Queensland including Townsville, Mt Isa, and Cairns before her family returned to Darwin in 1979. In 1986 her family moved to Adelaide and she completed High School and later simultaneously undertook two undergraduate degrees at the University of Adelaide; one, a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Theoretical and Experimental Physics and the other a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics & Computer Science) with a major in Pure Mathematics. She also completed a BSc (Hons) in Astrophysics under the supervision of Prof. Roger Clay, and a doctorate in radio astronomy jointly with the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility under the supervision of Prof. Ron Ekers and Prof. Richard Hunstead.

Professional Activities[edit]

Following completion of her PhD she moved to Leiden Observatory at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands as the inaugural LOFAR Fellow,[2] joining the group of Prof. George Miley to work on the design of the LOFAR telescope. This was the start of a career dedicated to the design, construction and operation of international radio telescopes.

In 2004, at the age of 29, she took up a continuing faculty position at the University of Tasmania.[3] In January 2009 she moved to Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand to establish and lead a new radio astronomy group. This group, quickly expanded to a team of 19 people split across the faculties of science and engineering,[4] working on scientific and technical aspects of radio telescope design, and conducting astrophysical research using new instruments such as the MWA.

Having arrived in NZ, Johnston-Hollitt quickly became instrumental in NZ's engagement with the Square Kilometre Array, and she has played an advisory role for the New Zealand Government on the project since April 2009. Shortly after commencing her term advising the NZ Government, it was announced that NZ would join Australia in bidding to host the SKA telescope .[5] Johnston-Hollitt was subsequently an author of the Australia-New Zealand bid to host the SKA, responsible for identifying possible SKA station sites in New Zealand. From 2011 she was a Government-appointed member of the preparatory group set-up to establish the SKA as an legal entity in the UK, and then a founding member of the Board of Directors for the SKA Organisation Ltd. (December 2011 - January 2018) .[6] For her scientific leadership she was appointed by the SKAO as founding co-chair of the SKA Cosmic Magnetism Science Working group (March 2013 - December 2015),[7] and along with her co-Chair, Dr Federica Govoni, was responsible for defining the key SKA requirements to associated with cosmic magnetism, editing the magnetism sections of the SKA Science Case and writing the cosmic magnetism scientific summary paper.[8] Johnston-Hollitt also took up the role of technical lead for the Science Data Processor (SDP) Science Analysis Pipeline (2012 - 2016), and was a Board member of the SKA Science Data Processor consortium (2012 - 2017)[9] which was tasked with designing the compute system needed to ingest the massive raw data the SKA is to generate.[10] From December 2016 to April 2017 she chaired the Cost Update Subcommittee of the SKA Board and was responsible for overseeing a process to deliver a reduction in the projected cost of SKA Phase I construction of over 200 million euros. To date Johnston-Hollitt is the only person to have simultaneously had held roles which span the governance, scientific and technical aspects of the SKA project.

Prof. Johnston-Hollitt also led the 2011 bid for NZ to join the Murchison Widefield Array, a low frequency precursor to the SKA, raising a combined government, research and industry funding package of over 2 million dollars. She joined the MWA Board in 2012, became Vice-Chair in 2013, and held the position of Chair from January 2014 to January 2018, making her the longest serving MWA Board Chair. She was responsible for expanding the MWA Collaboration from a project involving Australia, the US and India, to include membership from NZ, China, Canada and Japan; expanding the institutional membership from 12 to 21 international partners and expanding the size of the collaboration from 120 to over 270 individual researchers.

In early 2017 she became CEO and Founder of Peripety Scientific Ltd. an independent research organisation specialising in radio astronomy research and consultancy based in Wellington. She resigned from Victoria University of Wellington in September 2017 and it was subsequently announced she would take up the position of Professor of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University and Director of the Murchison Widefield Array.[11]

Research career[edit]

Johnston-Hollitt's primary research interests are cosmic magnetism and observations of galaxy clusters, primarily through the use of radio telescopes. She has authored over 200 publications, and supervised over 30 research students (Honours, MSc and PhD). She has served on the Editorial Board of Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia since January 2015, commencing a 3-year term as Editor-in-Chief from January 2018.[12]

Johnston-Hollitt has been successful in gaining funding for design, construction and exploitation of radio telescopes across Europe, Australia and New Zealand.[13][14][15][16]

Johnston-Hollitt has held several visiting positions in different institutions including as a guest professor at the Excellence Cluster Universe, Munich, Germany, the Sophia Antipolis University, Nice, France and the University of Bologna, Italy.[17] She has also held visiting fellowships at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Bologna, Italy and the National Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2006 – Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology, Faculty Early Career Research Award, University of Tasmania[18]

Public Speaking[edit]

In addition to speaking at research conferences, Johnston-Hollitt has an increasing profile as a public speaker having given keynote and other presentations at several major events including TEDx Christchurch (2016), Singularity University New Zealand Summit (2016),[19] www2017 (2017)[20], O'Reilly Media's Strata Data Conference on Big Data (2017)[21], and L'échappée Volee 2018.[22]


  1. ^ "List of Darwin evacuees". Department of Social Security. Department of Social Security. 1975. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Radio Telescopes of the Future". AIP/ASSA joint meeting. Australian Institute of Physics - South Australian Branch. August 2003. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. ^ "University of Tasmania, Web Access Research Portal, Individual Researchers Report: Johnston-Hollitt". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Aus and NZ Join in Mega Science Bid". Gerry Brownlee. Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand. 22 August 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  6. ^ "UK Director listing for M. Johnston-Hollitt". Companies House, United Kingdom. 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Magnetism Working Group Documentation". Square Kilometre Array Organisation. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Using SKA Rotation Measures to Reveal the Mysteries of the Magnetised Universe". Johnston-Hollitt et al. Square Kilometre Array Organisation & Proceedings of Science. 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Linkedin". Johnston-Hollitt. Linkedin. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Science Data Processor". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Professor to Help Drive Western Australia Toward the Square Kilometre Array". Curtin University. Space Ref. 13 December 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  12. ^ "Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, Editorial Board". Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  13. ^ "University of Tasmania, Web Access Research Portal, Individual Researchers Report: Johnston-Hollitt". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Australian Research Council Funding Outcomes". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  15. ^ "Marsden success for Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt". Victoria University of Wellington. 25 October 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Marsden Awards 2016". Royal Society of New Zealand. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Visiting Fellows in Science: Melanie Johnston-Hollitt". Istituto di Studi Superiori. Universita di Bologna. 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  18. ^ "SETting the standard in UniTAS ISSUE 294, page 5" (PDF). 27 April 2006. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  19. ^ "Astrophysics and Algorithms". Singularity University. YouTube. 18 February 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  20. ^ "Net heads gather in Perth for gab fest". Peter Milne. The West Australian. 3 April 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Computational challenges and opportunities of astronomical big data". O'Reilly Media. 6 December 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  22. ^ "L'échappée Volee". Melanie Johnston-Hollitt. L'échappée Volee. 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018.