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.

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).