Head of Astrophysics Research
Head of Virtual Institute for Scientific Computing and Artificial Intelligence
Department of Physics, Chemistry and Material Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Engineering and Natural Science, University of Namibia, Windhoek, NAMIBIA
Alumnus and former Executive Committee Member (2021–2023)
Global Young Academy, Halle (Saale), GERMANY
Dr Michael Backes is Associate Professor, Head of the Namibian H.E.S.S. group, of Astrophysics Research in general, and of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Computing and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Namibia, as well as Extraordinary Associate Professor at North-West University (South Africa).
Among his awards, he got elected a member of the Global Young Academy (GYA) (2018–2023), a Fellow of the GSO Leadership Academy (2018), and got elected an Associate at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) (2024–2029). He got invited to the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in 2019 as Heraeus Fellow, to the World Science Forum in 2022 as plenary speaker and to the World Laureates Forum in 2023. 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 Data Science Society (GfKl). He
He recently held an Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) Travel Grant, and was Namibian-PI on the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project Namibian participation in the H.E.S.S. observatory 2019-2021 (PI Garret Cotter) and is Co-Investigator of the recently awarded ERC Synergy grant "Blackholistic" (PIs: H. Falcke, S. Markoff, Rob Fender).
He serves as Chair of the Namibia Scientific Society and before 2023 as Vice-Chair since 2015, and as elected Executive Committee Member of the Global Young Academy from 2021–2023. Further, he serves as voting member on the Steering Committees of H.E.S.S. and of the International Astronomical Union's Southern African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development.
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 (2011-2013). 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 is Co-PI of the Africa Millimetre Telescope. Since accelerated promotion in 2016, Dr Backes was employed as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of Namibia. In 2017, 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 held an Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) Travel Grant and was Namibian-PI on the Oxford-UNAM Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project "Namibian participation in the H.E.S.S. observatory 2019-2021". Since 2020, he is also the founding head of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Computing and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Namibia and in 2021 he was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor.