Anton Zensus

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

Exploring
Leading
Encouraging

EXPLORING: 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, which are thought to harbour gigantic black holes of masses billions of times that of the Sun. In my research I try to unravel the secrets of theses giants in the Universe. We use the technique Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) and we connect many radio telescopes around the World and in Space, to form an Earth-size or even larger virtual telescope. This way we made in 2019 the first image of the supermassive Black Hole in the galaxy Messier 87.

LEADING: The first image of a Black Hole was a scientific breakthrough possible thanks to the international cooperation of experts and engineers in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. For over 30 years and in addition to my research activity I engage in building global teams of hundreds of researchers. And once again, as Founding Chair of the Collaboration Board, I have brought together institutions and scientists from around the World.

ENCOURAGING: In the course of my career I have learned from brilliant and leading pioneers in my field. For many years I myself have led talented young scientists in my research teams. And as a mentor and coach I support the next generation of research leaders and executives on their way to the top.

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

EHT Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – Founder and 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

Radio astronomy and very long baseline interferometry

Galaxies and black holes

Scientific and organisational evaluation

Mentoring for high-potential research leaders

Coaching for scientific and executive leaders

Public lecturer and keynote speaker

Advanced Grant Award – European Research Council 2021

Named Founding Chair of the Board – Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration 2020

Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics 2020,  Einstein Medal 2021, Group Award of the Royal Astronomical Society 2021 and other awards with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (complete list)

Golden Medal – Institute of Applied Astronomy St. Petersburg 2013

RadioAstron Bronze Medal – Astro Space Center Moscow 2010

Max-Planck-Forschungspreis 1999

Alexander-von-Humboldt Forschungspreis 1994

Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes 1982

Exploring

My team of astronomers and I study distant galaxies in the Universe, which are thought to harbour super-massive Black Holes. We make observations with sensitive radio telescopes around the World and in Space, which allow testing and challenging standard paradigms of complex physical models explaining these enigmatic giants. 

The central tool for our research is the specialised astronomical technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry. This connects radio telescopes thousands of kilometers apart. VLBI achieves the highest imaging resolution by observing at the shortest radio wavelengths and with antennas in space. 

We have been advancing this research method to new limits for over thirty years, and along the way we made a numerous astronomical discoveries about active galaxies and their central nuclei.

Breakthrough scientific results in our field require the most sensitive telescopes equipped with cutting edge sensor and digital processing technology. 

We have developed and commissioned VLBI observing capabilities for telescope sites in France, Spain and Chile and we enables operate one of the World’s most powerful VLBI data processing centers, operating a dedicated computer cluster, which combines and analyses the digital data from radio telescopes all over the World and in Space.

We develop cutting edge technology and software for current and future VLBI applications.

For decades we have laid the foundations, built and contributed to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, which made the first image of a Black Hole in the centre of the galaxy M87. 

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

Galaxies in the depths of Space

Leading

Global Research Teams

Together with my group and our partner institutions around the World we have been developing Very Long Baseline Interferometry at millimeter waves since 1994 and we are key contributors to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, which in 2019 published the first image of a Black Hole.

The image of the black hole in M87, made possible only through a world-wide collaboration, is widely considered one of the most important scientific results of the decade.  Estimated more than one billion people have seen the image and the EHT Collaboration received the 2020 Breakthrough Prize 2020 for this achievement.

I lead my science and R&D teams on par with the world class research groups in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. At the same time I hold responsibility for the whole collaboration of several hundred scientists in the Collaboration Board, which I founded in 2017, following nearly a decade of preparation.

I have been the Coordinator of RadioNet. With national and European Union funding, the premier radio astronomy facilities in Europe – telescopes and development laboratories – collaborate in this EU Horizon 2020 project.
They offer trans-national access to observatories and pursue technical development and networking activities.

The GMVA offers peer-reviewed observing opportunities for all scientists to VLBI observations at 3mm.

The MPIfR is a founding member of the European VLBI network and the Effelsberg radio telescope is the centerpiece of the array since 1984.

The Russian satellite made possinble VLBI observations with baseline lengths of almost the distance of Earth to Moon and it gave an unprecedented opportunity for astronomical observations with extreme resolution.

Encouraging

I believe in giving back to society and the scientific community through training and fostering young scientists. As mentor and trained coach I support high-potential starting scientific leaders, sharing with them my experience as a scientist, head of a world-class research department and leader in international scientific endeavours. At the same time I personally greatly value the opportunity to learn and benefit from their own wide ranging experiences and perspectives.

I serve as a mentor in the Elisabeth-Schiemann-Kolleg for female research leaders on the way to top positions and I offer mentoring in the Mentoring Programme of the Deutsche-Gesellschaft der Humboldtianer.

Starting and experienced research group leaders alike may at times face common challenges in leadership. These can arise from the transitioning from individual research to leading their own research group, from struggling to balance competing for a future top level appointment and personal life, or from simply dealing with difficult people or environments.

I am convinced that coaching, even as a short-term intervention, can be helpful in such a situation. I highly recommend you consider working with an experienced coach if this resembles your own situation.

Over the years, in my own work with individuals, teams and large distributed and diverse collaborations, I felt a need to become better equipped to support the people under my stewardship. That led me to complete professional training as a certified systemic coach. This has profoundly widened my perspective on leadership, management and mentoring.

Today, in my own work leading and supporting individuals or teams I am dedicated to a professional principle-based and person-centric approach, and I am convinced that makes for better leadership.

Individuals associated with the Max Planck Society, in astrophysics or in other fields especially in the natural sciences, may contact me about mentoring or coaching at azensus@mpifr.de

All other inquiries from individuals or organizations interested in working with me as speaker, consultant or coach may be sent to anton@antonzensus.de

the Next Generation of Leaders in Research

Explaining

Discoveries and what they mean for us

In my public lectures I explain our complex scientific research results to non-experts. („As simple as possible but not simpler“). I tell my stories of scientific discoveries and share with my audience my personal experience as a researcher and scientific leader.

As a keynote speaker I place my international experience in managing basic research and in the training of the next generation of researchers into the contexts of society and business.

Contact me with inquiries about scientific colloquia and lectures at universities, research institutes or conferences, public talks, interviews or media productions at azensus@mpifr.de

All other inquiries from individuals or commercial organizations interested in working with me as speaker, consultant or coach may be sent to anton@antonzensus.de

Interested?

I am now assembling the science team for M2FINDERS, an ambitious project enabled for the next five years by an Advanced Grant I hold from the European Research Council. M2FINDERS will measure the strength and structure of magnetic fields in the inner 1000 gravitational radii of active galaxies. We are looking for postdocs with advanced relevant experimental or theoretical experience. You want to join my team? Get in touch!

I encourage and welcome postdoctoral researchers to join ongoing experimental and theoretical projects in my department, e.g., with the Event Horizon Telescope, the Global Millimeter VLBI Array, the European VLBI Network and our radio telescopes. They may naturally  combine this with their their own independent research projects.

If you are a interested in a postdoctoral research position with me, please write to mailto:azensus@mpifr.de or look for current postings below.

In my research group at the MPIfR, doctoral students work on their dissertations, individually guided by experienced scientific mentors, and with 3-year funding from the Max-Planck-Society. I founded the International Max Planck Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne in 2002. This provides a stimulating and fostering environment for a diverse international group of students, with access to world-class research facilities.

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 mailto:eros@mpifr.de

The Max Planck Society and its institutes are committed against any sort of discrimination of individuals for any reasons.  The MPG has a comprehensive set of provisions to foster a diverse, multi-cultural and inclusive environment.

Violations are not tolerated and will be appropriately addressed. Criticisms and complaints may be raised anonymously and they will be followed up.

All employees are bound to abide by a society-wide code-of-conduct, rules of scientific conduct as well as Germany’s comprehensive relevant national legislation. Employee training relevant to this topic is available. There is an ombuds system for scientific conduct issues, and comprehensive nationally governed worker‘s protection.

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

I welcome and support personal professional development and specific measures, such as individual leadership development or soft skills and intercultural training  for doctoral candidates.

I have been guiding since 2018 an institute-wide project, which conducted an employee climate and physical/mental health survey. This was useful in identifying areas for improvements regarding physical and mental well being.

I also guided the development of an equal opportunity plan for the MPIfR.

All doctoral students in my group have an experienced scientist guiding their research and a thesis committee, normally including myself as examiner and other experts. The institute provides comprehensive full access to employee protection provisions, at all times.

All postdoctoral researchers have regular opportunities with group leadership to discuss career aspects and concerns.

Join the Team!