Anton Zensus

Astrophysicist
Director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy

The Astrophysicist

I am Director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy and head of the Research Department for ‘Very Long Baseline Interferometry’. My research focus is on galaxies in the Universe, which are millions of light years away from us.  I combine radio antennas around the World and in Space to form an Earth-size and larger virtual astronomical telescope capable of making images of the central galactic regions.  I also brought together the global collaboration that showed the World the first image of the supermassive Black Hole in the galaxy Messier 87 in 2019.

The next focus of my research: How are the Black Holes and the huge super-energetic jets of hot gas in galaxies connected?

My journey in astrophysics began over 40 years ago on the day I saw the giant radio telescope in Effelsberg for the first time. A formidable yet very elegant steel structure 100 meters in diameter weighing 3500 tons! At the same time a very sensitive instrument, placed in the solitude and rough beauty of Germany’s mountainous Eifel region. Such astronomical telescopes give us a view at the vast depth of Space, unreachable for us with any space craft. They let us study distant galaxies in the Universe similar to our own Milky Way. We think that they harbour gigantic black holes of masses billions of times that of the Sun. I have been a radio astronomer ever since.

Student of physics and astronomy in Cologne and Münster 1976-1980

Graduate researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy 1980-1984

Doctorate University Münster 1984

Postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) 1985-1991

Basic Research Staff at NRAO 1991-2001, tenure from Associated Universities Inc. 1995

Scientific Member of the Max Planck Gesellschaft and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy since 1997

Professor (hon.) at the University of Cologne Institute for Astrophysics since 2005

Advanced Grant of the European Research Council 2021

Breakthrough Prize 2020, Group Award of the Royal Astronomical Society 2021, Einstein Medal of the Swiss Einstein Society 2020, Bruno Rossi Group Award of the American Astronomical Society 2020 and other awards, with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (see full list)

Bronze Medal of the Astro Space Center Moscow, for contributions to the Radioastron Space Mission 

Golden Medal of the Institute for Applied Astrophysics St. Petersburg

Prof (hon.) at the University of Cologne 2005

Max Planck Research Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society

Humboldt Research Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Doctoral Stipend from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes

My research is published in the professional astronomical literature. Recent results are available as preprints before publication.

I find answers to fundamental questions about our Universe

The Leader

I lead world-wide science collabo­rations

As a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society and Director at one of the World’s leading institutes for astronomy I am in a unique position of being able to undertake difficult long-term research endeavors. Futhermore, I have been engaged  in building the European and global collaborations of institutions and scientists necessary for our ambitious projects alongside my research activities for over 25 years.

I lead an outstanding team of scientists. We are astrophysicists, radio astronomers, engineers and technicians and we are experts in Very Long Baseline Interferometry. We use this powerful technology to image distant galaxy cores with extremely high resolution. For 25 years we have pushed the limits of this method to millimeter wavelengths. And we have joined forces with global groups to perform the most precise experiments from Earth and also using antennas in space. These form the foundation for our astrophysical studies.

In 2017 I organized the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (EHTC) with a group of international partners. As Founding Chair of the EHTC Board, I played a key role in this project. We brought together the most powerful and precise radio telescopes world-wide and over 200 scientists and engineers from more than 60 institutions. In 2019 this global effort succeeded in producing the first image of a Black Hole in the Galaxy Messier 87. This is widely considered one of the most important scientific results of the decade, seen by an estimated more than one billion people. We had made the invisible visible. 

In Europe we have a number of world-class radio telescopes, which are used for a broad range of astrophysical studies. These facilities are available to all qualified scientist in Europe and beyond. This ensures that the best science can get done by the brightest minds. For over 20 years we have partnered with the European Commission in the project RadioNet to enable such meritbased access, and also technical development and training. I led this project as Coordinator for eight years until it ended in 2020 and I am now a Scientific Coordinator of the EC’s follow-up OPTICON-RADIONET PILOT project, which is developing the means to maintain this access provision into the future.

I founded the “International Max Planck Research school for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne” in 2002. This has become a top-of-class structured program ensuring the highest quality of training and support for our doctoral students. Many of our alumni have moved on to successful careers in astronomy and beyond.

EHT Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – Board member; Founding Board Chair 2015-2020 

RadioNet, a project funded by the European Union under Horizon 2020 – Coordinator

ORP OPTICON-RADIONET Pilot, a project funded by the European Union under Horizon 2020 – Scientific Coordinator

IMPRS International Max-Planck-Research School (IMPRS) for Astronomy and Astrophysics, at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne – Founding Director and Speaker since 2002

EVN European VLBI Network – past Chair Board of Directors

JIV-Eric Joint Institute for VLBI European Research Infrastructure – Council member and Past Chair of the JIVE Board

ISSC International SKA Steering Council and SSEC SKA Science and Engineering Council

GLOW German Long Wavelength Consortium – Founder and past Chair

RISC RadioAstron International Science Council

VSOP VLBI Space Observatory Programme – Past Chair International Science Council

The Mentor

In the course of my career I have learned from brilliant and leading pioneers in my field and I myself have trained young scientists in my team for many years. Going further I help as a mentor and coach the next generation of research leaders and executives on their own way to the top in their field.

I serve as a mentor in the Elisabeth-Schiemann-Kolleg for high-potential female research group leaders and I offer mentoring in the Mentoring Programme of the Deutsche-Gesellschaft der Humboldtianer.

My experience with individuals, and distributed and diverse teams led me to include coaching methods in my leadership. Becoming a certified systemic coach has widened my perspective on leading and supporting the individuals under my stewardship.

It is my job to support and encourage the next generation of research leaders

The Speaker

I build bridges between science and society

We have a responsibility as scientists to demonstrate the importance and relevance of our efforts to the public. Ideally, we inspire and make our audiences appreciate the importance of science.

In my public lectures and interviews I explain our discoveries to non-experts and I put my experience as a leader in basic research into the wider context of our society.

Join my teAm!

As a postdoctoral researcher in my team you will take your career to the next level. We offer outstanding research opportunities and we support you in your career development.

We are now hiring post docs with relevant expertise for M2FINDERS, an ambitious project enabled by an Advanced Grant I hold from the European Research Council during 2021-2026. M2FINDERS will measure the strength and structure of magnetic fields in the inner 1000 gravitational radii of active galaxies.

As a selected doctoral degree candidate you receive a 3-year funded appointment and individual supervision by an experienced researcher in my team. We support you in developing your independence in research and in taking your next career step. You will be a member of the International Max Planck Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne. This provides a structured support framework tailored to the needs of our diverse international group of students.

Research projects for students working on their Master’s thesis are supervised by experienced scientists in my group. Hourly work contracts as „Studentische Hilskraft“ are available for eligible and qualified students.

Send inquiries for working with us for your Master‘s thesis to Prof. Eduardo Ros at eros@mpifr.de

The Max Planck Society has a comprehensive set of provisions to foster a diverse, multi-cultural and inclusive environment.

All employees are bound to abide by the society-wide code-of-conduct, the rules of scientific conduct and Germany’s comprehensive relevant national legislation.

As Director I am committed to ensure that the department is enabling top-class research and maintaining a collegial, fair, safe and supportive working atmosphere. 

"As a student and postdoc in the Bonn VLBI group I had the unique opportunity to collaborate with outstanding scientists and to become an independent and successful scientist."

A former doctoral researcher