Skip navigation
The Australian National University

Professor Harvey Butcher

BSc in Astrophysics Caltech, PhD Astronomy ANU
Director Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics
ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • High Energy Astrophysics; Cosmic Rays 020106
  • Astronomical And Space Sciences 0201

Research interests

Cosmic nucleosynthesis, galaxy evolution, particle astrophysics, advanced astronomical instrumentation


Harvey Butcher has made contributions in observational astronomy and advanced instrumentation.

At Caltech as an undergrad he contributed to the development of advanced infrared photometry applied in the first survey of the sky at infrared wavelengths (the Two Micron Sky Survey project).

For his PhD he built one of the first high resolution echelle spectrographs in astronomy, and measured differential chemical abundances in dwarf stars of widely differing ages and mean abundance levels.

He continued his focus on developing instrumentation to solve observational problems in cosmology as the Bart J. Bok Fellow at the University of Arizona from 1974 to 1976, where he characterised anomalous abundances in extreme halo stars and pioneered the application of the then new 2D (digital TV) vidicon systems and early CCD detectors for photometry of faint stars and galaxies.

From 1976 to 1983 at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, he spearheaded the technique of multi-aperture spectroscopy for observing very faint, high redshift galaxies, and was project scientist for several new observing instruments including an early speckle spectrograph for obtaining spatially resolved spectra at resolutions approaching the diffraction limit.

In 1978, along with Augustus Oemler, Jr., he discovered that rich galaxy clusters at large distances (z>0.2) have an excess of galaxies with blue colors when compared to similar nearby low redshift clusters. This is now known as the Butcher-Oemler Effect.

In 1983 he moved to the University of Groningen, where his research focused on galaxy evolution, using the Hubble Space Telescope and ground based systems. He also designed and built a stellar seismometer that achieved metre/sec stability and was used to detect seismic oscillations on Alpha Centauri.

From 1991 until 2007 he served as Director of ASTRON, the Netherlands' national astronomical organisation. He oversaw Dutch contributions to observatories around the world and for the James Webb Space Telescope. He laid the groundwork of the Dutch R&D for the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project, and led the funding efforts and interdisciplinary development of LOFAR, an innovative low-frequency radio telescope.  For this work, he was awarded a knighthood in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.


Return to top

Updated:  23 August 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers