W.M. Keck Observatory appoints Rich Matsuda as director

The W. M. Keck Observatory today announced the appointment of Rich Matsuda as its next director, effective January 1, 2024. 

The W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawai’i operates the two most powerful optical telescopes on the Earth. They were jointly constructed by University of California and Caltech, entering science operations in 1993. UC scientists have used the telescopes ever since to make transformative discoveries. 

University of California Observatories Director Bruce Macintosh said “Connecting the observatories with the people of islands, making sure we truly benefit the community there, is by far the most important task for astronomy in Hawai’i and California. Rich is the perfect person to bring us together. He’s also an outstanding leader who cares for and uplifts the people he works with, he has decades of knowledge and experience in how the Keck telescopes operate. He’s perfect for the job. It will be a privilege to work with him.”

The Keck Observatory Board’s Search Committee, co-chaired by Macintosh and by the California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech) Professor of Astronomy Lynne Hillenbrand, led the search for a director; many distinguished and accomplished candidates put forth applications for the position.  

“We undertook a formal, international search to ensure our hiring process for this prestigious appointment would find the best candidates and be fair and equitable, and in the end, we are wholly confident that Rich Matsuda is the best-qualified executive to lead this institution forward,” said George R. Blumenthal, Board Chair and Chancellor Emeritus, University of California at Santa Cruz.

Matsuda is the first Hawaiʻi-born director of the Keck observatory. He is well-respected in both the astronomical community and the community at large in Hawaiʻi. He serves as the Maunakea Observatories’ representative to the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority. He has been instrumental in efforts to help the Hawaiʻi astronomy community foster and strengthen community relationships during the 2019 protest movement and beyond. He is a key figure in collaborating with community members, working together to forge a new path forward based on the principles of mutual stewardship for Maunakea. 

His career at Keck Observatory began 30 years ago with the construction of the Keck II telescope. He is kamaʻāina to Hawaiʻi, locally born and raised, and has served in an executive leadership role at the Observatory since 2016. Before assuming the role of interim director of the Observatory in May 2023, Matsuda served as Keck Observatory’s chief of operations for five years, as well as associate director of external relations. His leadership team includes Dr. John O’Meara, deputy director and chief scientist, who will continue to serve as a close colleague and collaborator.

“With the support of our Board of Directors, our Observatory has been making a pivot for the last several years, turning toward a new paradigm of mutuality with and for our community. During my tenure as director, my commitment is that our operations, our technical capabilities, and our potential for astronomical discovery will continue to be world-class, and will be even stronger because our work is rooted firmly here in Hawaiʻi, connected deeply to the community and the culture of this place,” said Matsuda.

Matsuda succeeds Hilton Lewis, the previous Keck Observatory director who stepped down in April 2023 after a 37-year career at the Observatory, including nine years as director.  

For more information: www.keckobservatory.org/new-director.