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Portrait of Don Backer

Don Backer
Professor of Astronomy
Director, Radio Astronomy Laboratory

PhD 1971 (Cornell University)

Campus address and phone:
403 Campbell Hall
(510) 642-5128



Specialty areas:
High-Energy Astrophysics, Pulsars, Epoch of Reionization, Instrumentation

Research projects:

My research interests include: the death of stars with particular attention to pulsars, the interstellar medium with a focus on small scale plasma turbulence, and active galactic nuclei which harbor massive black holes. An ongoing research program is the timing of an array of millisecond pulsars for use as celestial clocks. We discovered the prototype millisecond pulsar, B1937+21, in 1982 at the Arecibo Observatory. The long term goal of the timing array program is the detection of a stochastic background of gravitational radiation that results from the coalescence of massive black hole binaries in distant galaxies. My colleagues at NRAO/UVA and I have launched an experiment to detect highly redshifted 21cm emission from hydrogen during the epoch of the Universe when the first stars  form, redshifts from 7 to 10. 


I was born in 1943 in Plainfield, NJ.  I received a B.Engr.Physics degree from Cornell Unversity in 1966, an M.Sc. degree in Radio Astronomy from Manchester University in 1968, and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Cornell University in 1971. I spent  two years as a postdoc at NRAO in Charlottesville, and two years as an NRC Research Associate at NASA/GSFC in Greenbelt, MD. Since 1975 I have been at the University of California, Berkeley.