International search confirms local-born executive to lead the Observatory
Maunakea, Hawaiʻi – The W. M. Keck Observatory today announced the appointment of Rich Matsuda as its next director, effective January 1, 2024.
“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.
The Keck Observatory Board’s Search Committee, co-chaired by Director of the University of California (UC) Observatories Bruce 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. “With his steady hand as a long-trusted leader over his 30 years at Keck, his extensive technical expertise, and the respect he earned from the global astronomical community, we know that the Observatory will thrive during his tenure.”
An electrical engineer by trade, Matsuda started his career at Keck Observatory helping 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.
Matsuda is well-respected in both the astronomical community as well as 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.
“For the many years I’ve known Rich, he has always upheld the highest standards of technical excellence for Keck’s scientific operations, but what makes him so valuable as a leader in this space is his ability to build real pilina—lasting relationships—that foster trust and collaboration within our community,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director of ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.
Matsuda is the first Hawaiʻi-born director of Keck Observatory, and the second local-born director of an observatory that operates on Maunakea. The first was Dr. Alan Tokunaga, who served as the director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility from 2000-2016. 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. Matsuda served as interim director during the search period, before being formally selected by the Board of Directors to lead the Observatory as the next director.
Born and raised on Oʻahu, Matsuda left an engineering position at Boeing in Seattle in 1993 to join the early Keck Observatory team, relocating his young family to Waimea (Kamuela). He and wife Leslie raised their two sons on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, together with their large local family spanning across the islands. In addition to his role as a member of the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority, Matsuda also serves on Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s Hawaiʻi Island Leadership Council, is a past-trustee at Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy, and is an Omidyar Fellow.
ABOUT W. M. KECK OBSERVATORY
The W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes are among the most scientifically productive on Earth. The two 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes atop Maunakea on the Island of Hawaiʻi feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometers, and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. We wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Maunakea has always had within the Native Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.