Michael Backes

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Michael Backes

Visitor | Senior Lecturer: University of Namibia


Senior Lecturer
Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Namibia, Windhoek, NAMIBIA

Extraordinary Senior Lecturer
Centre for Space Research, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, SOUTH AFRICA


Dr Michael Backes is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Namibian H.E.S.S. group at the University of Namibia, as well as Extraordinary Senior Lecturer at North-West University (South Africa).

Among his awards, he got elected a member of the Global Young Academy (GYA), a Fellow of the GSO Leadership Academy (both in 2018) and got invited to the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in 2019. He received the University of Namibia Meritorious Award 2017 for Best Academic Performance in the Faculty of Science, and the GfKl Application Award 2012 by the German Classification Society (GfKl).

Currently, he holds an Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) Travel Grant, and is Namibian-PI on the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project "Namibian participation in the H.E.S.S. observatory 2019-2021".


During his post-graduate studies at TU Dortmund University, Michael Backes spend study visits at the Ruhr-University Bochum (D) in 2005 and the University of Birmingham (UK) in 2006 to attend astrophysics classes. He conducted the research for his Diplom Thesis (M.Sc.; 2008) and his Dr. rer. nat. (Ph.D.; 2012) in the Astroparticle Physics group at TU Dortmund University. There he held the positions of a Graduate Teaching Assistant (2006-2008), Research Assistant (2008-2010) and, later, as Research Associate (2012-2013). His Ph.D. thesis focused on the investigation of emission properties of a specific Active Galactic Nucleus, employing gamma-ray and multi-wavelength observations. Meanwhile, he was an active member of the FACT (First g-Apd Cherenkov Telescope) and MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov telescopes) collaborations. The FACT collaboration successfully set up the world's first Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescope (IACT) utilizing a camera based on semi-conductor light sensors, dubbed G-APDs. The MAGIC collaboration operated a twin-system of the (then) world's largest IACTs and made enormous discoveries like the first detection of very high energy gamma-rays from a pulsar and from an extremely distant active galaxy (both published in Science). Additionally, he was strongly engaged in the Collaborative Research Center SFB 876: "Providing Information by Resource Constrained Data Analysis", an interdisciplinary research centre on data analysis. In that context he worked with statisticians and computer scientists on both, periodicity detection in unevenly sampled data and on an optimal signal/background separation for gamma-ray astronomy. In 2013, he joined the University of Namibia as Lecturer and conducts research in gamma-ray astronomy with H.E.S.S., the world-leading IACT system, and the planning of the next generation IACT project, the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). In 2015, he got appointed as the group leader of the Namibian H.E.S.S. group and since accelerated promotion in 2016, Dr Backes is employed as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of Namibia. Recently, Dr Backes got appointed as Extraordinary Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Space Research, North-West University (South Africa). In 2018, he got elected a member of the Global Young Academy (GYA). He holds an Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) Travel Grant and is Namibian-PI on the Oxford-UNAM Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project "Namibian participation in the H.E.S.S. observatory 2019-2021".

At the University of Namibia, Dr Backes predominantly teaches 4th year undergraduate (Advanced Electrodynamics, Astrophysics) and MSc courses (Astro- & Space Physics, Research Methodology) and is the coordinator for postgraduate studies. Further, he supervises BSc(Hons), MSc and PhD project students at the University of Namibia and at the Centre for Space Research, North-West University, Potchefstroom (South Africa).


Dr Backes' research focuses on gamma-ray astronomy of Active Galactic Nuclei with the H.E.S.S. telescopes. Besides that, he is particularly active in the fields of advanced data analysis methods and camera electronics for very high-energy gamma-ray astronomy, and site-testing for future observatories. Further, he works on the establishment and science program of the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT), and occultation observations of Trans-Neptunian Objects.

For a summary of Dr Backes' publications, see your preferred of the following links:


Since 2014, Dr Backes serves on the managing board of the Namibia Scientific Society and since 2015 as its Vice-Chairman. He is member of the Collaboration Board and Steering Committee of the H.E.S.S. Telescopes since 2015 and also serves on the Steering Committee of the IAU Southern African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development. Further, since 2019 he is member of the South African SALT Time Allocation Committee (SASTAC).

Keen on sharing his passion for astronomy, Dr Backes heads the Astronomy Section of the Namibia Scientific Society.

He has featured in a multitude of radio interviews (in German and English) and also in television as below.

African/European collaborations press briefing at EWASS 2018

European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) 2018
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
ACC LIVERPOOL, 05/04/2018

Mirjana Povic, Michael Backes, and Kevin Govender discuss diversity and the African/European collaboration at EWASS 2018 with Marieke Baan, and Robert Massey from the Royal Astronomical Society. Filmed on day three of the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS), held at the Arena & Convention Centre (ACC), Liverpool, United Kingdom, 3 – 6 April 2018.

One Africa Television - Today on One

Namibia, the leading destination for Astronomy

Interview with Dr. M. Backes and two students about H.E.S.S. in Namibia
S. Taapopi - Namibia is on the map when it comes to science, especially in astrophysics as many scientists aspire to carry out astronomical observations in the country. The University of Namibia (UNAM) announced this week that Namibians were among a group of international scientists who won the Physics World 2017 Breakthrough of the Year award. Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at UNAM, Dr Michael Backes, says astrophysics research is a prestigious project and good exposure for Namibia.