Gernot Heiser
Gernot Heiser speaking at the UNSW CSE Research Expo October 25 2022
Born1957 (age 66–67)
NationalityGerman, Australian
EducationUniversity of Freiburg, BSc
Brock University, MSc
ETH Zurich, PhD
Known forOperating system teaching, research, commercialising
AwardsLeopoldina Member (2023)
RSN Fellow (2022)
ACM SIGOPS Hall of Fame Award (2019)
ATSE Fellow (2016)
IEEE Fellow (2016)
ACM Fellow (2014)
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
InstitutionsUniversity of New South Wales (Scientia Professor and John Lions Chair of Operating Systems)
NICTA (research group leader)
Open Kernel Labs (founder, former CTO, director)

Gernot Heiser (born 1957) is a Scientia Professor and the John Lions Chair for operating systems at UNSW Sydney, where he leads the Trustworthy Systems group (TS).


In 1991, Heiser joined the School of Computer Science and Engineering of UNSW Sydney, originally as a lecturer, reaching the rank of full professor in 2002, a position he retains to date.

Also in 2002 he joined the newly created research organisation NICTA as one of its initial Program Leaders, in charge of the Embedded, Real-Time and Operating Systems (ERTOS) program. After a re-organisation in 2011 ERTOS became the Software Systems Research Group (SSRG) which he led. When NICTA was absorbed into CSIRO in 2016, Heiser stepped back from management of the group, which was then called Trustworthy Systems (TS). In 2021 CSIRO abandoned TS,[1] at which time Heiser took the group back to UNSW and re-assumed its leadership.

Since April 2020, Heiser serves as the Founding Chairman of the seL4 Foundation.


Heiser's research focuses on microkernels, microkernel-based systems, and virtual machines, and emphasizes performance and reliability.

His group produced Mungi, a single address space operating system,[2] for clusters of 64-bit computers, and implementations of the L4 microkernel with very fast inter-process communication.[3] His Gelato@UNSW team was a founding member of the Gelato Federation, and focused on performance and scalability of Linux on Itanium. They established theoretical and practical performance limits of message passing inter-process communication (IPC) on Itanium.[4]

After joining NICTA at its creation in 2002, his research shifted away from high-end computing platforms, and toward embedded systems, with the aim of improving security, safety, and reliability via use of microkernel technology.[5] This led to the development of a new microkernel, called seL4, and its formal verification, claimed to be the first-ever complete proof of the functional correctness of a general-purpose OS kernel.[6]

His work on virtualization was motivated by the need to provide a complete OS environment on his microkernels. His Wombat project followed the approach taken with the L4Linux project at Dresden, but was a multi-architecture paravirtualized Linux running on x86, ARM and MIPS hardware. The Wombat work later formed the basis for the OKL4 hypervisor of his company Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs). The desire to reduce the engineering effort of paravirtualization led to the development of the soft layering approach of automated paravirtulization which was demonstrated on x86 and Itanium hardware.[7] His work on virtual non-uniform memory access (vNUMA) demonstrated a hypervisor which presents a distributed system as a shared-memory multiprocessor as a possible model for many-core chips with large numbers of processor cores.[8]

Device drivers are another focus of his work, including the first demonstration of user-mode drivers with a performance overhead of less than 10%,[9] an approach to driver development that eliminates most typical driver bugs by design,[10] device drivers produced from device test benches,[11] and a demonstration of the feasibility of generating device drivers automatically from formal specifications.[12] He also conducted research on operating-system-level energy management.[13]

Since leaving OK Labs in 2010 he focussed almost exclusively on seL4 and high-assurance seL4-based systems, both in research and in technology transfer. Notable research achievements include sound and complete worst-case execution-time (WCET) analysis of seL4, claimed to be the first ever such analysis for a protected-mode OS kernel.[14][15] His work on extending seL4’s functionality to support mixed-criticality systems (MCS) led to making time a first-class resource in seL4’s capability system.[16]

Focussing on microarchitectural timing channels, he demonstrated in 2015 the first practical cross-core timing side channel attack.[17] This led to work on the systematic prevention of timing-channel leakage, and the proposal of a set of mechanisms for achieving this, collectively referred as time protection.[18]

In the past, he also worked on semiconductor device simulation, where he pioneered use of multi-dimensional modeling to optimize silicon-based solar cells.[19]

Awards and honours


  1. ^ Data61 drops world-class seL4 security team, 21 May 2021,
  2. ^ Heiser, Gernot; Elphinstone, Kevin; Vochteloo, Jerry; Stephen, Russell; Jochen, Liedtke (1998). "The Mungi Single-Address-Space Operating System". Software: Practice and Experience. 28 (9): 901–928. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-024X(19980725)28:9<901::AID-SPE181>3.0.CO;2-7. S2CID 62189930.
  3. ^ Liedtke, Jochen; Elphinstone, Kevin; Schönberg, Sebastian; Härtig, Hermann; Heiser, Gernot; Islam, Nayeem; Jaeger, Trent (May 1997). "Achieved IPC performance (still the foundation for extensibility)". 6th Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating Systems. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States: IEEE. pp. 28–31.
  4. ^ Gray, Charles; Chapman, Matthew; Chubb, Peter; Mosberger-Tang, David; Heiser, Gernot (April 2005). "Itanium: a system implementor's tale" (PDF). Proceedings of the 2005 USENIX Annual Technical Conference. Anaheim, CA, USA.
  5. ^ Heiser, Gernot; Elphinstone, Kevin; Kuz, Ihor; Klein, Gerwin; Petters, Stefan M. (July 2007). "Towards trustworthy computing systems: Taking microkernels to the next level". ACM Operating Systems Review. 41 (4): 3–11. doi:10.1145/1278901.1278904. hdl:1959.4/39906. S2CID 9036194.
  6. ^ a b Klein, Gerwin; Elphinstone, Kevin; Heiser, Gernot; Andronick, June; Cock, David; Derrin, Philip; Elkaduwe, Dhammika; Engelhardt, Kai; Kolanski, Rafal; Norrish, Michael; Sewell, Thomas; Tuch, Harvey; Winwood, Simon (October 2009). "seL4: Formal verification of an OS kernel" (PDF). 22nd ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles. Big Sky, MT, USA.
  7. ^ LeVasseur, Joshua; Uhlig, Volkmar; Yang, Yaowei; Chapman, Matthew; Chubb, Peter; Leslie, Ben; Heiser, Gernot (August 2008). "Pre-virtualization: Soft layering for virtual machines" (PDF). 13th IEEE Asia-Pacific Computer Systems Architecture Conference. Hsinchu, Taiwan.
  8. ^ Chapman, Matthew; Heiser, Gernot (June 2009). "vNUMA: A virtual shared-memory multiprocessor" (PDF). USENIX Annual Technical Conference. San Diego, CA, USA.
  9. ^ Leslie, Ben; Chubb, Peter; Fitzroy-Dale, Nicholas; Götz, Stefan; Gray, Charles; Macpherson, Luke; Potts, Daniel; Shen, Yueting (Rita); Elphinstone, Kevin; Heiser, Gernot (September 2005). "User-level device drivers: Achieved performance". Journal of Computer Science and Technology. 20 (5): 654–664. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s11390-005-0654-4. S2CID 1121537.
  10. ^ Ryzhyk, Leonid; Chubb, Peter; Kuz, Ihor; Heiser, Gernot (April 2009). "Dingo: Taming device drivers" (PDF). 4th EuroSys Conference. Nuremberg, Germany.
  11. ^ Ryzhyk, Leonid; Keys, John; Mirla, Balachandra; Raghunath, Arun; Vij, Mona; Heiser, Gernot (March 2011). "Improved device driver reliability through hardware verification reuse" (PDF). 16th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems. Newport Beach, CA, USA.
  12. ^ Ryzhyk, Leonid; Chubb, Peter; Kuz, Ihor; Le Sueur, Etienne; Heiser, Gernot (October 2009). "Automatic device driver synthesis with Termite" (PDF). 22nd ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles. Big Sky, MT, USA.
  13. ^ Snowdon, David C.; Le Sueur, Etienne; Petters, Stefan M.; Heiser, Gernot (April 2009). "Koala: A platform for OS-level power management" (PDF). 4th EuroSys Conference. Nuremberg, Germany.
  14. ^ Blackham, Bernard; Heiser, Gernot (April 2013). "Sequoll: a framework for model checking binaries" (PDF). IEEE Real-Time and Embedded Technology and Applications Symposium (RTAS). Philadelphia, USA.
  15. ^ Sewell, Thomas; Kam, Felix; Heiser, Gernot (April 2016). "Complete, High-Assurance Determination of Loop Bounds and Infeasible Paths for WCET Analysis" (PDF). IEEE Real-Time and Embedded Technology and Applications Symposium (RTAS). Vienna, Austria.
  16. ^ Lyons, Anna; McLeod, Kent; Almatary, Hesham; Heiser, Gernot (April 2018). "Scheduling-Context Capabilities: A Principled, Light-Weight OS Mechanism for Managing Time" (PDF). EuroSys Conference. Porto, Portugal.
  17. ^ Liu, Fangfei; Yarom, Yuval; Ge, Qian; Heiser, Gernot; Lee, Ruby B (May 2015). "Last-Level Cache Side-Channel Attacks are Practical" (PDF). IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. San Jose, CA, USA.
  18. ^ Ge, Qian; Yarom, Yuval; Chothia, Tom; Heiser, Gernot (March 2019). "Time Protection: the Missing OS Abstraction" (PDF). EuroSys Conference. Dresden, Germany.
  19. ^ Aberle, Armin G; Altermatt, Pietro P.; Heiser, Gernot; Robinson, Stephen J.; Wang, Aihua; Zhao, Jianhua; Krumbein, Ulrich; Green, Martin A. (1995). "Limiting loss mechanisms in 23-percent efficient silicon solar cells". Journal of Applied Physics. 77 (7): 3491–3504. doi:10.1063/1.358643.
  20. ^ Member of Leopoldina
  21. ^ Fellows of the Royal Society of NSW
  22. ^ ACM Distinguished Speakers list
  23. ^ ACM SIGOPS Hall of Fame Award
  24. ^ ATSE Fellow
  25. ^ Fellow of the IEEE
  26. ^ ACS ICT Researcher of the Year 2015
  27. ^ ACM Fellows 2014
  28. ^ NSW Premier's Prizes for Science & Engineering