Milo Backus

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Milo Backus
Milo M. Backus headshot.jpg
President year 1979
Membership Honorary Member
BSc university Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD university Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Milo Backus was an American geophysicist, pioneer in 3D seismic imaging, and the 1979-1980 SEG President.

Biography

Milo Backus has won the highest honor given by SEG (the Maurice Ewing Medal in 1990) and by EAGE (the Conrad Schlumberger Award in 1975); he was made an Honorary Member of SEG in 1988; he has been elected to the SEG Executive Committee on two occasions; and he was a major factor in the Distinguished Achievement Awards that SEG bestowed on GSI in 1986 and 1989.

This abbreviated list of honors endorses the point made in his citation (see TLE, February 1991) for the Ewing Medal that here is an individual of great vision, possibly one of the greatest in the history of our profession.

Early Years and Education

Milo was one of that fabulous group of MIT graduates who entered the field of applied geophysics in the 1950s and played such a huge role in the digital revolution in our field. Milo's contributions to the field are significant. He was the mastermind in the creation and application of many digital signal processing techniques, and he personally conceived or contributed to the development of many of the first processing algorithms. A decade later, he thought through and led the development and promotion of the practical application of 3-D methods to exploration and production, the contribution for which he is being honored today.

These two contributions, in and of themselves, would indisputably elevate Milo into the ranks of the giants of geophysical exploration. He was the chief architect and creator of the digital revolution, both as an individual contributor and as a manager of research.

Professional Career

Milo 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.

More than a quarter of a century later, Milo gave SEG's Distinguished Lecture on "The fourth dimension offset dependent reflectivity." This technique has evolved in the present decade as one of the most important items in the explorationist's toolbox. In between, he did research that ranged from antisubmarine warfare to fundamental wave propagation.

UT Austin

After two decades as a geophysical contractor and consultant, Milo joined the faculty at the University of Texas-Austin, where he is currently the Dave P. Carlton Centennial Professor of Geophysics. He has now taught, nurtured, and inspired several generations of undergraduate and graduate students. At Texas, as he had at GSI, Milo quickly attracted dedicated and talented people whom he stimulated to superior achievement. Much of this has been done through the consortium he initiated, Project SEER (Solid Earth Exploration Research), a fundamental research program with broad industry support which has the dual objective of fundamental research and thesis support for candidates for advanced degrees. As a result of Milo's vision and success in this endeavor, Texas is now a prime source for valuable original research in wave propagation and for well-trained graduates, many of whom have gone on to prominent positions in the geophysical community.

Milo's contributions have been original, fundamental, and long lasting.

Obituary

Dr. Milo Morlan Backus III, born in Chicago, Illinois on May 3, 1932, died peacefully on May 25, 2018 in Dallas, after enjoying great travel adventures in the later years of his life. Dr. Backus was a renowned petroleum exploration geophysicist and a pioneer in 3D seismic imaging.

He was the second child of Milo and Dora Backus. Dr. Backus married Barbara Cairns of Melrose, Massachusetts in 1952 and they remained happily married for over 50 years until her passing in 2002. They had five children, son Stephen, who passed away in 1986; daughter Colleen and spouse, Gary Nabhan of Plano; daughter Marcia and partner, Mike Hood of Houston; son Kurt and spouse, Lisa of Atlanta; daughter Kathleen and spouse, Kevin Priller of Frisco. Also left to miss their beloved Grandpa and Great Granddad are Katharine Nabhan Heldt and spouse Gaird Heldt of Plano and their children Ryker, Axel and Diem; Michelle Nabhan; Emily Nabhan De La O and spouse Gerardo De La O; Jeffrey Backus; Stephen Backus and betrothed Jackie Joyce; Austin Backus; Brittany Priller and spouse Tony Horter; and Matt Priller.

Dr. Backus received his doctorate from MIT in 1956. Just three years later he received the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) 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 seismic technology. Dr. Backus was the 1979-1980 SEG President, and was made an honorary member in 1988. Among many other professional awards and honors, he received the highest honors given by the SEG (the Maurice Ewing Medal in 1990) and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE) (the Conrad Schlumberger Award in 1975). Both awards cited him as the chief architect and creator of the digital seismic revolution, as an individual contributor and as a manager of research.

After two decades as a geophysicist and ultimately Vice President of Research for Geophysical Services Inc. (GSI) (a former subsidiary of Texas Instruments) and as a private consultant, Dr. Backus joined the faculty at the University of Texas-Austin, where he was the Dave P. Carlton Centennial Professor of Geophysics and the Shell Companies Foundation Distinguished Chair Emeritus in Geophysics. He taught, nurtured, and inspired several generations of undergraduate and graduate students. At the University of Texas, as he had at GSI, Dr. Backus attracted dedicated and talented people whom he stimulated to superior achievement. Much of this was accomplished through the consortium he initiated, Project SEER (Solid Earth Exploration Research), a fundamental research program with broad petroleum industry support, which has the dual objective of fundamental research and thesis support for candidates for advanced degrees.

In 2004, the Milo M. Backus Endowed Fund for Exploration Geophysics was created by the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System for the benefit of the Jackson School of Geosciences. Gift funds were provided by Mr. L. Decker Dawson, who said of Dr. Backus, "He has a tremendous brain and is a wonderful guy to boot." On retirement from UT in 1998 Dr. Backus became a Senior Research Scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology, where he continued to provide direction and make significant research contributions until his full retirement at the age of 80.

While Dr. Backus' contributions to science have been original, fundamental, and long-lasting, he was also a role model to his children. He challenged them to be open to new ideas and points of view, evidenced by the nightly debates at the dinner table on topics selected by him (at which he always won), and for his integrity, resiliency, generosity and love of life. He will be greatly missed. There will be a private, family memorial service in Cape Cod, where Milo and Barbara began their union with many vacations while at MIT, and to which they later introduced their extended family for lovely gatherings and celebrations.[1]

References

  1. Milo Morlan Backus III. Dallas Morning News. June 10, 2018. Retrieved from http://obits.dallasnews.com/obituaries/dallasmorningnews/obituary.aspx?n=milo-morlan-backus&pid=189254456

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