In memoriam: Professor David Carter 1953-2021

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Dave Carter at the LT construction site around 2001
Dave at the Liverpool Telescope construction site around 2001

The University of Liverpool is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor David Carter at the age of 67 at his home in Parkgate, the Wirral, after a brave fight against a rare form of blood cancer.

The words below have been written by Mike Bode, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, Liverpool JMU, compiled with contributions from Dave’s family, friends and colleagues.

Universally known as Dave, he was born and grew up in Hertfordshire. He went to Hatfield School, an establishment that later formed part of the campus of what is now the University of Hertfordshire. Dave excelled in science at school and gained a place to study physics at Hertford College, Oxford, at the age of 17, graduating from there in 1973. He then moved to Cambridge to undertake a PhD under the supervision of Craig Mackay, and was awarded his PhD in 1977 for a thesis entitled “The Structure of Elliptical Galaxies”.

Observational studies of galaxies remained the main focus of his research for the rest of his career. After a stint as a Departmental Demonstrator at Oxford, he moved to the (then) Anglo Australian Observatory in Sydney (1979-1982). Here he met his future wife, Trish, before moving to the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories, ANU in Canberra (1982-1987) where two of his three sons, Steve and then Nick, were born.

It was while he was in Australia that, together with David Malin, he discovered “Shell Galaxies”, or “Malin-Carter Ellipticals”, spending many hours in the Prime Focus cage of the Anglo Australian Telescope in so-doing. On the instrumentation side of things, he initiated work on multi-object fibre optics spectroscopy in Australia with a 1981 AAO internal memo simply entitled “Fibre Optics”. He could never have guessed what it would lead to, with instruments like 2dF, OzPos, Echidna and most recently, the 2436-fibre AESOP positioner for 4MOST at Paranal. Truly a revolution in astronomical data collection.

In the rest of his research career, he made major contributions to a diverse range of topics on galactic structure and content, with his last major programme being to lead an international consortium using the HST to survey galaxies in the Coma Cluster.

From Australia, he moved to the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes on La Palma where he continued both his research and his instrument development and observer support roles. It seems that much of the documentation in the control rooms of the INT and WHT still has Dave Carter’s name on it. It was also on La Palma that Dave and Trish’s youngest son, Pete, was born. In 1991, he moved back to the RGO in the UK, ultimately becoming Head of La Palma Support.

Dave’s expertise and experience made him an ideal candidate for the post of Project Scientist of the pioneering, fully robotic, Liverpool Telescope and he moved with his family to take up the position at Liverpool John Moores University in 1996. Dave rapidly became an indispensable member of the LT team and indeed was a driving force behind several aspects of the development of what ultimately became the Astrophysics Research Institute at LJMU. As well as his research and instrumentation work, he was a highly valued teacher on the Joint Degree in Astrophysics between LJMU and the University of Liverpool, being an Accredited Lecturer of the University.

Ultimately, Dave became ARI’s Head of Research and then Professor of Observational Astronomy at LJMU in 2008. He became Professor Emeritus in 2012 when he took early retirement, to concentrate on his research, his family and his wide range of outside interests.

Dave was a passionate cricketer, both as a player and someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. A love he passed on to his sons. He was a great servant of his local community, using his talents and energies as a dedicated local councillor and, together with Trish, the driving force behind a church-led drop-in centre in his local town. He also loved cooking and was notably adventurous in this and his choice of meals, particularly when travelling abroad.

In summary, Dave was a cheerful, enthusiastic and very gifted man who went out of his way to help others. He was also extremely loyal and devoted to his family, to the institutions in which he worked, to the friends he made and the colleagues he met along the way. He will be sorely missed by all of those who had the privilege to know him.