USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. 

Dan Werthimer_rs2Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr. Dan Werthimer

The great debate continues: Are we the only intelligent life in the universe? We know that popular science fiction often portrays our Milky Way Galaxy as teeming with advanced civilizations engaged in interstellar communication, commerce, and occasionally star wars.¨But extraterrestrial life has proved elusive. None has yet been found.

However as arguments for and against technological life in the Galaxy sharpen, noted astronomer Dan Werthimer and his colleagues at the world-renowned SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley (SETI is short of “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”), are becoming increasingly optimistic of the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Dan is principal investigator of SETI@home and several radio and optical SETI programs at the University of California, Berkeley. Testifying in May 2014 before Congress with fellow SETI scientist Seth Shostak on the need for continued federal funding for SETI and related institutions nationally, Dan said that research at the SETI is suggesting positive signs toward other life in the universe, and that he thinks the possibility of microbial life on other planets is close to 100 percent.

Dan added that he is not advocating reaching out to alien life forms, but instead, he said that we should just “receive signals and see what’s out there,”adding,”My feeling is that we should just be listening.”

In SETI’s mission to detect intelligent life outside Earth, Dan plays a key role by using technology known as radio SETI, which employs radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

At SETI, Dan also directs the Center for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research (CASPER), and is associate director of the Berkeley Wireless Research Center (BWRC).

Before coming to SETI, he was associate professor in the Engineering and Physics
Departments of San Francisco State University and a visiting professor at Beijing Normal University, the University of St. Charles in Marseille, and Eotvos University in Budapest.

Dan has taught at universities in Peru, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya. He is co-author of “SETI 2020″, editor of “BioAstronomy: Molecules, Microbes and Extraterrestrial Life” and of “Astronomical and Biochemical Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe”.

 

 

Comments

  1. #1 Wesley Dodson
    August 21, 2014

    Only occasionally star wars?

  2. #2 G
    August 22, 2014

    “Close to 100%.” Nice. Fast-forward another century or so and we might have sufficient data to make reasonable inferences about the percentage of worlds that have increasingly complex degrees of life, from single-celled to multi-cellular to macroscopic. Between now and then it’s not unreasonable to infer that, given what we know of the evolution of life on Earth, we should expect something comparable on any planet with suitable conditions.

    Or we might get lucky and pick up a signal. Though I’m inclined to believe that “they” have more efficient means than radio, such as laser communication. Given the potential beam spread across large distances, we could pick up evidence of that if we built the hardware to detect it. Something else to put on SETI’s plate, and another reason to expand its funding.