Milo M. Backus Endowed Fund in Exploration Geophysics

Jul 1, 2010 | Excellence Funds & Program Support

The Milo M. Backus Endowed Fund in Exploration Geophysics was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on February 1, 2004, for the benefit of the Jackson School of Geosciences. Gift funds were provided by Mr. L. Decker Dawson of Midland, Texas.

Milo M. Backus, Ph.D. was one of a group of MIT graduates who entered the field of applied geophysics in the 1950s. He played a significant role in the digital revolution of the field. Dr. Backus was instrumental in the creation and application of digital signal processing techniques and he personally conceived or contributed to the development of many of the first processing algorithms. A decade later, he led the development and promotion of the practical application of 3-D seismic reflection data methods in exploration and production. He was the chief architect and creator of the digital revolution, both as an individual contributor and as a manager of research.

Dr. Backus has been a geophysicist of international stature from virtually the moment he received his doctorate from MIT in 1956. Just three years later, he received SEG’s Best Paper Award for “Water Reverberations: Their nature and elimination,” one of the most important articles ever published in Geophysics. The concepts developed in this paper later emerged into various forms of deconvolution in the subsequent changeover to digital technology.

Milo Backus

More than a quarter of a century later, Dr. Backus gave SEG’s Distinguished Lecture on “The fourth dimension of set dependent reflectivity.” This technique has evolved as one of the most important tools in this research. His research also ranged from antisubmarine warfare to fundamental wave propagation. After two decades as a geophysical contractor and consultant, Dr. Backus joined the faculty at The University of Texas-Austin, where he held the Dave P. Carlton Centennial Professor of Geophysics. He has taught, nurtured, and inspired several generations of undergraduate and graduate students. At UT, Dr. Backus attracted dedicated and talented people whom he stimulated to superior achievement.

Much of this recruitment was accomplished through the consortium he initiated, Project SEER (Solid Earth Exploration Research), a fundamental research program with broad industry support which had the dual objective of fundamental research and thesis support for candidates for advanced degrees. As a result of Dr. Backus’ vision, the University of Texas at Austin originated unique research in wave propagation and trained many students who went on to prominent positions in the geophysical community. In 2011, Dr. Backus, Professor Emeritus and holder of the Shell Companies Foundation Distinguished Chair Emeritus in Geophysics was inducted into the Jackson School’s Hall of Distinction.

This honor pays tribute to individuals who are or were strongly affiliated with the school and who achieved exceptional distinction and standing in academia, industry or government. Mr. L. Decker Dawson created this endowment in appreciation for all Dr. Backus has done for the field of geophysics. Mr. Dawson, as was Dr. Backus, is a former President of the Society of Exploration Geophysics, a not-for-profit organization with 33,000 members in 138 countries that promotes the science of applied geophysics and the education of geophysicists. Of Dr. Backus, Mr. Dawson says “he has a tremendous brain and is a wonderful guy to boot.”

Update September 2019: Dr. Backus passed away in 2018.

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