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David L. Band (1957–2009)

Published onDec 01, 2011
David L. Band (1957–2009)

David L. Band, of Potomac Maryland, died on March 16, 2009 succumbing to a long battle with spinal cord cancer. His death at the age of 52 came as a shock to his many friends and colleagues in the physics and astronomy community.

Band showed an early interest and exceptional aptitude for physics, leading to his acceptance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate student in 1975. After graduating from MIT with an undergraduate degree in Physics, Band continued as a graduate student in Physics at Harvard University. His emerging interest in Astrophysics led him to the Astronomy Department at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), where he did his dissertation work with Jonathan Grindlay. His dissertation (1985) entitled “Non-thermal Radiation Mechanisms and Processes in SS433 and Active Galactic Nuclei” was “pioneering work on the physics of jets arising from black holes and models for their emission, including self-absorption, which previewed much to come, and even David’s own later work on Gamma-ray Bursts,” according to Grindlay who remained a personal friend and colleague of Band’s. Following graduate school, Band held postdoctoral positions at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, the University of California at Berkeley and the Center for Astronomy and Space Sciences at the University of California San Diego where he worked on the BATSE experiment that was part of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO), launched in 1991. BATSE had as its main objective the study of cosmic gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and made significant advances in this area of research. Band became a world-renowned figure in the emerging field of GRB studies. He is best known for his widely-used analytic form of gamma-ray burst spectra known as the “Band Function.”

After the CGRO mission ended, Band moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory where he worked mainly on classified research but continued to work on GRB energetics and spectra. When NASA planned two new follow-up missions to CGRO, the Swift and Fermi observatories, Band seized an opportunity in 2001 to join the staff of the Fermi Science Support Center at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland. He was hired as the lead scientist for user support functions and to help to define and implement planning for the 2008 launch of the Fermi spacecraft. He brought a high level of energy and enthusiasm to the job, becoming in many ways the heart and soul of that organization. Neil Gehrels, the Goddard Astroparticle Physics Division Director and a Fermi deputy project scientist notes that "David was the perfect person for community support, with this outgoing personality and deep knowledge of astrophysics." Band also became an important member of the Fermi science team; despite his failing health, he actively contributed to the first Fermi gamma-ray burst publication as well as making important contributions to the burst detection and data analysis techniques. Additionally, Band was known as a great communicator and mentor. He supervised a PhD student at UCSD who has subsequently been appointed to a faculty position. At Goddard, Band was an integral part of the weekly scientific discussion groups within the gamma-ray astronomy group and he would always find the time to share his knowledge and expertise with new postdoctoral fellows and senior scientists alike. He was also involved with planning the EXIST mission, a candidate for a future NASA mission. He will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues within the Fermi mission and the high-energy astrophysics community.

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