John Lions Chair

UNSW Australia John Lions Chair in Computer Science is the first Chair at UNSW to be funded by contributions from the university's alumni.

John Lions Chair

About John Lions

A visionary lecturer at UNSW Australia, and the insightful author of one of the world's most famous underground publications, Australian John Lions continues to cast a large shadow across the stage of computing.

John's academic career began when he graduated from Sydney University in 1959 with an honours degree in Applied Mathematics. In 1963 he earned a doctorate from Cambridge University before working in Canada and the USA.

Moving back to Australia in 1972 with his wife and young family, John took up the position of senior lecturer with UNSW Australia's Department of Computing. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1980, and remained a lecturer at UNSW until 1995, when ill health forced him to retire.

During the mid-70s John had the inspiration to record the UNIX source code and write an insightful and often witty commentary on the code in order to better teach his students about programming.

Titled "Source Code and Commentary on UNIX Level 6", the manuscript was a revelation to students. The book quickly gained a reputation amongst the programming community and became the technical bible for students, hackers and qualified professionals throughout the world.

However, the various owners of the UNIX source code over the years always viewed the book as a threat to intellectual property and took steps to have the book suppressed.

This resulted in the book developing a life of its own by "going underground". For almost 20 years pirate photocopies were made and circulated around the world. Owning, or more accurately acquiring a copy of the book became a source of pride and status.

Finally in 1996 the book was legally published — and just in time, John was seriously ill. Upon receiving a copy, John's face reportedly lit up, and he was very excited that the book had finally been openly released and embraced.

John died on December 5, 1998.

The passing of John Lions did not dim the affection in which he was held, and former students Steve Jenkin, John O'Brien and Greg Rose approached the University to create a chair in his name.

  • The Appeal Committee assists in ensuring the continuation of the chair.

    The John Lions Chair appeal is supported by its Patrons:

    • Ken Thompson 
    • Brian Kernighan 
    • Bill Plauger 
    • Peter Salus 
    • Kirk McKusick 
    • Rob Pike 
    • Linus Torvalds
  • Financial contributions from individuals and corporations are gratefully accepted and the University will formally recognise all supporters in appropriate ways.

    Tax deductibility is available in Australia and USA.

  • UNSW is pleased to present the names of those individuals and organisations who have given so generously to the establishment of The John Lions Endowed Chair:

    Major Donors


    • Peter Harding & Associates 
    • Vodafone Network Pty Ltd 
    • Whitesmiths Pty Ltd 
    • Westpac

    Alumni & Friends

    • Jeffery Barker 
    • Peter Harding 
    • R G Hawkins 
    • Gernot Heiser 
    • Steve Jenkin 
    • Chris Maltby 
    • Graham McMahon 
    • Akira & Nobue Nakamura 
    • Gregory Rose 
    • Peter Salus

    UNSW appreciates the support from many others, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and others who are currently being contacted by the committee before being identified.

The John Lions Garden

In 2002, UNSW dedicated the John Lions Garden in front of the Computer Science and Engineering building to Lions' memory. This garden was officially dedicated to John Lions by the Vice-Chancellor Professor John Niland, in the presence of his widow Mrs Marianne Lions, 26 June 2002.

Inaugural Chair

Scientia Professor Gernot Heiser is one of the world's leading operating systems researchers. Presently he leads the Trustworthy Systems research group at CSE. His research interests include truly dependable operating systems, microkernels and microkernel-based systems, virtualization, energy management and real-time systems. 

His team's signature achievement was producing the world's first operating-system kernel that has a mathematical correctness proof of its implementation. seL4 is also the first-ever protected multitasking operating system with a complete and sound worst-case execution-time analysis. seL4 has a world-wide ecosystem of adopters and service providers, and is now supported by the non-profit seL4 Foundation, with Gernot as the founding chairman.

Gernot's other achievements include “time protection” as a principled operating-system abstraction for preventing information leakage through microarchitectural timing channels, and the synthesis of high-performance device drivers, the design and implementation of Mungi, a single-address-space operating system, high-performance user-level device drivers and (still unbeaten) record performance of microkernel message-passing (IPC) on a number of architectures.

Gernot teaches Advanced Operating Systems, a course recognised among researchers as well as industry as producing graduates with outstanding operating-systems skills. Gernot has also co-founded Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs), where he served as director and Chief Technology Officer until the company’s acquisition by General Dynamics in 2012. By then, OK Labs had shipped operating-system and virtualization products in more than 1.5 billion mobile phones.

Gernot has won numerous prizes and awards, including 2009 NSW Scientist of the Year (category Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Sciences) and named an Innovation Hero. He is a Fellow of the ACM, the IEEE, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Royal Society of NSW (RSN).

John Lions Distinguished Lectures

This lecture series has been established in honour of the life of John Lions and is held annually by the UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering.

  • Session 1: Dr Vanessa Teague

    Verifying Australian election outcomes – whose job is that?

    Elections are a special security problem because it is not good enough for systems to be secure and results correct – they must also be verifiably so. But producing publicly verifiable evidence of a correct outcome requires carefully-designed processes.

    Dr Teague discusses the attacker model, verifiable election auditing, innovative instant-runoff election auditing, as well as important open problems, particularly for the single transferable vote. She also evaluates the sate of Australian election administration, identifying which processes earn public trust and how we can make improvements.

    Session 2: Professor Timothy Roscoe

    Real Operating Systems for Real Computers

    Modern operating systems are written to run on, and manage, a class of computer that, at best, simply doesn't exist, and at worst, is a dangerous fiction.  Faced with denial, hardware vendors collude with this fiction by hiding most of a real, modern computer from the so-called operating system, and devote considerable resources and convoluted designs to maintain the illusion.  All parties might do this for more or less rational local reasons, but the result is a crisis in security and efficiency.

    This is a lamentable state of affairs, but Prof. Roscoe take an optimistic view. This should be a golden age of new operating system designs that engage with, and solve, pressing real-world problems across the full range of computer systems.  He describes some ways in which academic computer scientists can come out of denial about operating systems design and implementation, and take advantage of this opportunity.

  • Session 1: Professor Willy Zwaenepoel

    Software for Fast Storage Hardware

    Storage technologies are entering the market with performance vastly superior to conventional storage devices. This technology shift requires a complete rethinking of the software storage stack.

    Professor Willy Zwaenepoel, Dean of Engineering at The University of Sydney, showcases parts of his joint work on Optane-based solid-state (block) devices that illustrate the need for and the benefit of a wholesale redesign.

    Session 2: Pia Andrews

    Open Source – the Foundation for Open Government in the Internet Age

    Many open source and maker communities demonstrate participatory governance everyday, with extendable architecture where anyone can contribute to shaping the world based on their values and skills. This kind of values-led, participatory and empowered approach to co-creation provides profound lessons for governments.

    In this talk, open government, digital transformation and data geek, Pia Andrews will discuss how open source supports more open government and more equitable societies for us all.

  • A celebration of operating systems and open source - past, present and future.

    Session 1

    Welcome & message from Unix co-creator Ken Thompson

    Gernot Heiser, John Lions Chair, UNSW Sydney

    Fireside chat with John O'Brien

    Brian Kernighan, Co-author of the famous "K&R" book on the C Programming Language at Bell Labs & John O'Brien, Former student of John Lions

    The early days of UNIX at UNSW

    John O'Brien, Former student of John Lions

    When Databases met UNIX: A Love Affair

    Margo Seltzer, OS researcher, UBC

    Session 2

    Hints and principles for computer system and design

    Butler Lampson, OS researcher, Microsoft, Turing Laureate 

    Session 3 

    From UX (User Experience) to DX (Developer Experience)

    Elizabeth Churchill, Director UI, Fuchsia, Google

    The Go Programming Language and Environment

    Rob Pike, co-creator Plan 9 @ Bell Labs, co-creator of Go Language, Google

    Session 4

    FOSS over the years

    Andrew Tridgell, creator of Samba, AU open-source hero

    Navigating through The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - FOSS Communities from an Australian Perspective

    Sae Ra Germaine, President Linux Australia

    Session 5

    The sel4 microkernel: From research breakthrough to real-world deployment Gernot Heiser, John Lions Chair, UNSW Sydney

    Lessons Learned from 30 Years of MINIX

    Andy Tanenbaum, creator of Minix, FU Amsterdam

John Lions Scholarships

John Lions Computer Science Honours Award

The purpose of the Award is to support a high-achieving student undertaking an Honours year in Systems at the School of Computer Science & Engineering.

John Lions Women in Engineering Scholarship

The UNSW Women in Engineering Scholarships Program aims to encourage and assist female students commencing studies in the Faculty of Engineering at UNSW.