Donald Backer
  • 66 years old
  • Date of birth: Nov 9, 1943
  • Date of passing: Jul 25, 2010

This memorial website was created in the memory of our colleague and friend, Don Backer.  Please post your comments and stories here. 

The Donald C. Backer Memorial Fund has been set up at the University of California, Berkeley to honor him and insure that the science he pursued with relentless energy and passion will continue.  If you would like to donate to this fund, please go to

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by Geoffrey Marcy on 9th November 2017

"Dear Don,

We miss you as much as ever.  Your warmth and appreciation of the human and social aspects of science still move me.  You loved people as much as science.  Your science lives on, with the pursuit of many exciting time-dependent phenomena observable at radio and all wavelengths.  And your science lives on, with your many students who are continuing to do beautiful research, a living tribute to you."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 25th July 2017

"You would have really enjoyed the Kerastari conference this year, with growing insights into the transient sky - work you helped initiate."

This tribute was added by Geoffrey Marcy on 25th July 2017

"Dear Don,
Your passion for dialogue, collaboration, and innovative research rings true for everyone to this day.  Thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness.

This tribute was added by Geoffrey Marcy on 26th July 2016

"We're missing you, Don, as much as ever."

This tribute was added by Casey Law on 25th July 2016

"This anniversary comes a few days after I presented results that have grown from our collaboration on fast correlators. I was able to remind my audience of your great guidance and support for our small germ of an idea at the ATA. It has now bloomed into a much larger project and I hope to continue building it in your honor, Don."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 25th July 2016

"Each day, when I drive by your house, I wonder how much better things would be if we still had your wise council.  Aaron and the HERA team are doing well and FAST and Meerkat are enlarging our capabilities.  What would you have added?"

This tribute was added by Geoffrey Marcy on 25th July 2015

"Dear Don,

We need you now, more than ever, in so many different ways.

Meanwhile, we're revving up Green Bank with CASPER technology, all a tribute to your inspiration, still vibrant.  


This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 25th July 2014

"I was thinking of you yesterday - as many of us do - wondering what you might have advised. Hat Creek Radio Observatory still continues and we are very slowly making the ATA a better instrument. I wish you were here to enjoy the exploration. You would have been all over these new FRBs."

This tribute was added by Christopher McKee on 9th November 2013

"You left us too soon, Don. We miss your friendship, your leadership, your inspiration. Time has healed the shock of your passing, but it will never erase our memories of you."

This tribute was added by Fred K. Y. Lo on 9th November 2013

"Remembering Don on his 70th birthday, I am struck by how much I miss him, a thought that has come up on so many occasions since his passing away.  Thoughtful, visionary, creative, insightful, responsible, gentle and gentlemanly, perseverance, leadership, ... come to mind when I remember Don."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 25th July 2013

"Don - in your absence the UCB Radio Astronomy Lab may not be strong enough to withstand the ministrations of your departmental colleagues. The world changes. We at the SETI Institute continue to support the ATA and keep trying to make it shine. Though you did not start the ATA, you literally gave your all to support it. In your life you did much good, for many, and we miss you."

This tribute was added by Thomas Wilson on 24th January 2013

"Both Ursula and I were surprised and shocked by Don's passing. I have only now become aware of this web site. Ursula and I wish to use this as a chance to honor Don for his contributions to science and his wonderful personality. Our condolences to Susan and his son.
Sincerely, Ursula and Tom Wilson"

This tribute was added by Judey Miller on 25th July 2012

"Don - There are been a number of times that I wished for you to join in the conversation or lead the debates as we deal with the myriad issues relating to the construction of New Campbell Hall.  But, you planted many seeds and set many plans in motion that are still unfolding.
The curved wall near the entrance to NCH seems to be acquiring its only proper name -  the "Backer Wall"."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 25th July 2012

"It's been two rocky years since we lost Don.  The ATA is still operating, but there remains a vacuum of wisdom and kindness that I miss every day."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 9th November 2011

"Happy birthday, Don.  I've been following behind you from birth, to Cornell, to struggling to support the ATA.  There is some progress, and as i drive by your house almost daily, I say a brief hello."

This tribute was added by Neil Biswaß on 6th September 2011

"I met Don in 2004 while working on the first antenna and backend for the Precision Array for EOR in Green Bank, West Virginia. I remember sitting on the sidewalk in front of Jansky lab and eating pizza with him, and driving back to Charlottesville. Great man !"

This tribute was added by Mary Urry on 26th July 2011

"Lynn and Mary Anne Urry really miss Don"

This tribute was added by nina ruymaker on 26th July 2011

"Can't help but imagine Don settling in at HFA, our 'summer camp' - i can hear him referring to it as Biblical: Pestilence in bldg C (giant black flies & squirrel invasion), Sweltering Heat in bldg D, & Floods in bldg B...
remembering him & missing him here."

This tribute was added by rick forster on 26th July 2011

"Remembering Don brings up images of his kind face and gentle smile.  He was very special both as a scientist and a person."

This tribute was added by Shauna Sallmen on 25th July 2011

"After a year I can still hardly believe this news. Don was a warm and friendly thesis advisor who always offered encouragement."

This tribute was added by Tom Bania on 25th July 2011

"Jim Moran's recent obit in Physics Today made me think about Don.  I first met Don in 1971, my first year of grad school at UVa when he was on his NRAO postdoc.  He was always willing to chat and support a callow grad student.  I just posted a story here about him."

This tribute was added by Casey Law on 25th July 2011

"One year ago, Glenn Jones and I were observing at Hat Creek when we received the news of Don's death. Don made those very observations possible by his warm encouragement and his technical expertise. Today, by publishing that work, we hope to add a little more to his legacy."

This tribute was added by Maxim Lyutikov on 17th December 2010

"Don was such a fiery, lively person. I'm  very very saddened."

This tribute was added by Penny Strauss on 22nd October 2010

"I graduated high school with Don.I just found out about his passing when we were looking for our reunion.There are so many good things L could say about Don,although I hadn't seen him in many years.He was one of the most handsome men in our class.HE was also very intelligent.There is nothing bad I could say.He will be missed by all our classmates.Penny Strauss"

This tribute was added by Franck Marchis on 28th September 2010

"Don has been always a support for the research and administrative staff of the department. After 10 years working at UC-Berkeley and at the SETI Institute, I am certain that we will miss this great scientist, humble professor, dynamic mentor and gentle friend. My condolences to all his family."

This tribute was added by Louis Abrahamson on 27th September 2010

"While we were both students at Jodrell Bank from Sept. 1966 until March 1967, Don and I shared an attic "flat" in Wilmslow England.  We had many many hours of discussions on almost every topic imaginable including those rooted in our different backgrounds: mine in South Africa and his in the Eastern US.  At my wedding in April '67 he was my "Best Man."  I'm shocked and saddened at his death."

This tribute was added by Janet kutulas on 27th September 2010

"As an administrative staff member of the Radio Astronomy Lab, I think back on the everyday contact with Don with pleasure, whether just walking past him in the hall (with his characteristic fast walk), or remembering his good natured laughter at all the Xmas party Don impersonations. Busy as he was, with his desk and chair right next to the door, he made me feel like he was always there for us."

This tribute was added by Alex Filippenko on 22nd September 2010

"It is still very difficult for me to accept that Don Backer is no longer with us. He was one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever known, and a tremendous scientist as well. His leadership within our Astronomy Department, his great passion for discovery, and his wonderful friendship will be deeply missed."

This tribute was added by Matthew Fleming on 21st September 2010

"Although I have worked at RAL for a long time, I only recently began to know Don.  I was so impressed and hopeful as I watched him assume a larger leadership role.  He was clearly very gifted in many ways.  I miss the opportunity to know him better.  My condolences to Susan, David and family, and my thanks for sharing him with us."

This tribute was added by rick forster on 21st September 2010

"Don's integrity as a person and scientist impressed me when I first met him in the 1970s and continued to inspire me to try to be more like him over the next 35 years. There's no one like Don Backer."

This tribute was added by Christopher McKee on 21st September 2010

"You left us before your time. The world will miss what you would have accomplished, your colleagues will miss your wise counsel and leadership, and I will miss your friendship."

This tribute was added by diana duong on 16th September 2010

"I will always remember and be grateful to Prof. Backer for the way he treated his administrative staff with kindness and dignity.  I am sorry to hear of his sudden passing."

This tribute was added by anne green on 26th August 2010

"It is with enormous sadness that the astronomy world must accept we have lost one of our great scientists. Don was a excellent astronomer and a wonderful human being, always showing warmth, consideration and enthusiasm to all of us who knew him. I learned so much from him. He had a great sense of life and fun. What a loss. However, his legacy will remain. My deepest sympathy to all his family."

This tribute was added by Gerry Harp on 19th August 2010

"Don was always generous with his time, answering naive questions when I joined the group and later to vetting my ideas for experiments. He was a mentor, a trustworthy advisor, and friend."

This tribute was added by Gerrit Verschuur on 18th August 2010

"I knew Don from the first MSc course we set up at Jodrell and delighted in his and Susan's friendship back in the "old" days.  This is very sad and my sympathies are with Susan and the family."

This tribute was added by Reinhard Genzel on 18th August 2010

"Don, you were a wonderful person. Straight, honest and always with the right perspective. Your passing so early saddens me. A great friend and scientist gone."

This tribute was added by Shep Doeleman on 13th August 2010

"It was always a pleasure to see Don.  He had wonderful insights on science and how to get things done, and he never failed to offer hearty encouragement.  I will miss his good spirits."

This tribute was added by Andrew Jaffe on 9th August 2010

"Don was a humble man, and a wonderful scientist, collaborator and friend. I miss the work we will not get to do, and the conversations we will never have. My condolences to his family and loved ones"

This tribute was added by Alberto Bolatto on 5th August 2010

"Don's figure looms large as a scientist, a technical person, and an exceptional human being. I am proud to have work alongside him a the RAL. I will forever miss his insight and humility."

This tribute was added by Jill Tarter on 5th August 2010

"I just spoke with Bernie Fanaroff in South Africa, and he asked me to pass along his condolences, and those of all the SKA and PAPER team members, to Susan and David. Don had many friends in SA."

This tribute was added by Athol Kemball on 3rd August 2010

"Don will be greatly missed - for his science, his vision and efforts on behalf of future instruments, and for his warm, engaging personal style. Condolences to his family and colleagues."

This tribute was added by Paul Vanden Bout on 3rd August 2010

"Shocking and sad news.  Don was an outstanding scientist and wonderful person.  He will be sorely missed.  Condolences to his family."

This tribute was added by Namir Kassim on 3rd August 2010

"I was a grad student at Don's 1987 Galactic center meeting, where his warmth and support turned an otherwise intimidating experience into a fun and memorable one instead. Don remained an inspiration throughout my career, and I will sincerely miss him."

This tribute was added by Jack welch on 2nd August 2010

"Don was an outstanding scientist.  Just as important, he was the kindest, most generous, and supportive person that I have known.  I'll miss him for that.  We all will.

This tribute was added by Alyssa Goodman on 2nd August 2010

"From our time in the 80's at Arecibo, up through his current statesman-like roles, I always admired Don's irreplaceable unusual combination of intelligence, humility and integrity.  A lesson to us all"

This tribute was added by Maura McLaughlin on 1st August 2010

"I admired Don as a brilliant scientist, but even more for his understanding, openness, gentleness, and lack of pretension. He was a wonderful mentor and friend to so many and he will be dearly missed."

This tribute was added by Jeff Mangum on 1st August 2010

"As an undergraduate astronomy major at Berkeley Don became my de-facto advisor.  He introduced me to radio astronomy, which set me on a path that I continue to follow today.  He will be greatly missed."

This tribute was added by Darrel Emerson on 31st July 2010

"This was quite a shock.  Don has been a good friend for many years, and will be missed in so many ways.  Sincere condolences to all his family."

This tribute was added by Al Wootten on 30th July 2010

"This cams as a very great shock. Don exuded a great combination of cleverness and approachability. He was a wonderful friend and an inspiration. Please convey my sympathy to Susan and to Don's family."

This tribute was added by John Dreher on 30th July 2010

"Don was a great human being.  He was generous of his time, even though the demand for his time was so high.  He had a talent as a peace maker when things got contentious.  Such a loss!"

This tribute was added by Justin Jonas on 30th July 2010

"Without him knowing it, Don was one of my mentors from well before I actually met him - the scientist-engineer. I will always remember the bottle of red wine we shared in the Karoo."

This tribute was added by David Nice on 29th July 2010

"Don's death is a shocking loss to the pulsar community.  His engineering skill, scientific ability, energy,  enthusiasm, leadership, goodwill, and friendship will be greatly missed."

This tribute was added by Jonathan Marr on 29th July 2010

"In his quiet and unassuming way, Don was a special advisor for me who made me comfortable in my work with him. He always gave his full attention and respected others’ opinions. He'll be missed."

This tribute was added by Tom Pierson on 29th July 2010

"The gaping hole left by Don's passing is difficult to comprehend.  He was such a fine and gentle man, yet a giant in his field.  I will sorely miss Don, and send my warmest condolences to his family."

This tribute was added by Craig Nordlie on 29th July 2010

"We all are deeply saddened by the passing of Don.  His Air Force admirers send the family their very best"

This tribute was added by Alan Rogers on 29th July 2010

"I remember with great pleasure working with Don on VLBI at millimeter wavelengths. Don was a wonderful guy as well as a great astronomer and engineer and will be remembered by all."

This tribute was added by maureen barnato on 29th July 2010

"In his quiet and thoughtful way, Don always brought the humanity factor to decision-making.   I think he was unique in that regard..."

This tribute was added by Anthony Readhead on 29th July 2010

"I am deeply shocked, having known Don for over thirty years, since we first worked on VLBI together.  It was always enjoyable working with Don. A great loss, both scientifically and personally."

This tribute was added by Tom Bania on 29th July 2010

"I met Don when I came to Charlottesville in 1971.  Through the years we had many a pleasant conversation about Life, The Universe, & Everything.  I will miss him.  Condolences to
his family."

This tribute was added by Robert L. Brown on 29th July 2010

"My deepest sympathies to Susan and family, and to Don's colleagues at Berkeley and around the world.  His life touched us all; he enriched us all."

This tribute was added by Michael Kramer on 29th July 2010

"I am deeply shocked and saddened by this great loss. It is impossible to capture the impact and impression he left on people with his abilities, warmth and understanding with a few words. We miss him."

This tribute was added by Jasper Horrell on 29th July 2010

"With Don, an immediate connection. Full, quiet attention in that look. Many sensed it. Openness, warmth, humility, directness, truth and of course, the energy. Happy in the trenches! Travel well, Don"

This tribute was added by Steven Beckwith on 29th July 2010

"Don was one of the great members of a great department, and he represented Berkeley as one of its finest diplomats, in addition to being a great scientist. He will be impossible to replace."

This tribute was added by Fred K. Y. Lo on 29th July 2010

"I was scheduled to meet with Don at NRAO today (July 29) to discuss RSSP. Now, I will miss him, a good friend, a gentleman and a great scientist! My deepest condolences to Susan and David and family."

This tribute was added by Geoffrey Bower on 29th July 2010

"Joeri van Leeuwen wrote a memorial for Don that has been posted with the ASTRON picture of the day:"

This tribute was added by Michael Strauss on 28th July 2010

"I was deeply saddened to hear of Don's death.  I have known him since the 1980's; he was a great scientist, a man of great integrity, and a genuinely nice and humble guy."

This tribute was added by Aaron Parsons on 28th July 2010

"I wrote down some thoughts at"

This tribute was added by b h on 28th July 2010

"We are collecting photos of Don.  Please send them to Barb Hoversten at"

This tribute was added by b h on 28th July 2010

"Nature has published a short obituary for Don Backer:"

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