• 66 years old
  • Born on November 9, 1943 .
  • Passed away on July 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 http://givetocal.berkeley.edu/browse/?u=7

Posted by Jill Tarter on July 26, 2019
Dammit, Don this doesn't get easier! i wish i had you as my partner to keep pushing the envelope of what is astrophysical and what is astroengineering.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on July 26, 2019
Don, this is the 9th anniversary of your passing.
When I reflect on you, I always think of two aspects of your life.

You were dedicated to extraordinary innovation, both in ideas and instrumentation. From millisecond pulsars to CASPER, you so enjoyed new productive directions.

I also reflect on your dedication to respectful interactions and peaceful bridges. Sometimes I thought you emphasized human connections and handshakes more than necessary, but I now know you were right. 
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 26, 2018
Don - this dystopian world we live in today would be much improved if we could again bask in your radiant smile and consult with your wisdom.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on July 25, 2018
Dear Don, I think of you often, especially when passing your house on Euclid and Cedar. Your kindness toward the people in your circles still leaves me wishing you were here. You would be delighted at the evolution of Berkeley Radio Astronomy Lab, CASPER, and the ATA that contributed science motivation, technical knowledge, and pathfinders to the inauguration of MeerKAT, celebrated last week in South Africa, and to the future SKA. You are dearly missed, but also still contributing.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on November 9, 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.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on July 25, 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.
Geoff
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 25, 2017
You would have really enjoyed the Kerastari conference this year, with growing insights into the transient sky - work you helped initiate.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on July 26, 2016
We're missing you, Don, as much as ever.
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 25, 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?
Posted by Casey Law on July 25, 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.
Posted by Geoffrey Marcy on July 25, 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. 

-Geoff
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 25, 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.
Posted by Fred K. Y. Lo on November 9, 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.
Posted by Christopher McKee on November 9, 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.
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 25, 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.
Posted by Thomas Wilson on January 24, 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
Posted by Jill Tarter on July 25, 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.
Posted by Judey Miller on July 25, 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".
Posted by Jill Tarter on November 9, 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.
Posted by Neil Biswaß on September 6, 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 !
Posted by Rick Forster on July 26, 2011
Remembering Don brings up images of his kind face and gentle smile. He was very special both as a scientist and a person.
Posted by Nina Ruymaker on July 26, 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.
Posted by Mary Urry on July 26, 2011
Lynn and Mary Anne Urry really miss Don
Posted by Casey Law on July 25, 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.
Posted by Tom Bania on July 25, 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.
Posted by Shauna Sallmen on July 25, 2011
After a year I can still hardly believe this news. Don was a warm and friendly thesis advisor who always offered encouragement.
Posted by Maxim Lyutikov on December 17, 2010
Don was such a fiery, lively person. I'm very very saddened.
Posted by Penny Strauss on October 22, 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
Posted by Franck Marchis on September 28, 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.
Posted by Janet Kutulas on September 27, 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.
Posted by Louis Abrahamson on September 27, 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.
Posted by Alex Filippenko on September 22, 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.
Posted by Christopher McKee on September 21, 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.
Posted by Rick Forster on September 21, 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.
Posted by Matthew Fleming on September 21, 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.
Posted by Diana Duong on September 16, 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.
Posted by Anne Green on August 26, 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.
Posted by Gerry Harp on August 19, 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.
Posted by Gerrit Verschuur on August 18, 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.
Posted by Reinhard Genzel on August 18, 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.
Posted by Shep Doeleman on August 13, 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.
Posted by Andrew Jaffe on August 9, 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
Posted by Jill Tarter on August 5, 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.
Posted by Alberto Bolatto on August 5, 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.
Posted by Namir Kassim on August 3, 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.
Posted by Paul Vanden Bout on August 3, 2010
Shocking and sad news. Don was an outstanding scientist and wonderful person. He will be sorely missed. Condolences to his family.
Posted by Athol Kemball on August 3, 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.
Posted by Alyssa Goodman on August 2, 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
Posted by Jack Welch on August 2, 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.
Jack
Posted by Jeff Mangum on August 1, 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.

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