November 19, 2004
Colloquium Speaker: Jill Tarter
Dr. Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and is Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master's and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She served as Project Scientist for NASA's SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey, and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She has published scores of technical articles, has been elected to many professional societies, and has served on a number of scientific advisory committees. Tarter's work has brought her wide recognition in the scientific community, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, two Public Service Medals from NASA, Chabot Observatory's Person of the Year award (1997), Women of Achievement Award in the Science and Technology category by the Women's Fund and the San Jose Mercury News (1998), and the Tesla Award of Technology at the Telluride Tech Festival (2001). She was elected an AAAS Fellow (2002) and a California Academy of Sciences Fellow (2003). Tarter is deeply involved in the education of future citizens and scientists. In addition to her scientific leadership at NASA and SETI Institute, Tarter is the Principal Investigator for two curriculum development projects funded by NSF, NASA, and others. The first, the Life in the Universe series, created 6 science teaching guides for grades 3-9 (published 1994-96). Her second project, Voyages Through Time, is an integrated high school science curriculum on the fundamental theme of evolution in six modules: Cosmic Evolution, Planetary Evolution, Origin of Life, Evolution of Life, Hominid Evolution and Evolution of Technology. National field tests were conducted in 28 US States during academic year, 2001-2002 (published 2003). Tarter is a frequent speaker for science teacher meetings and at museums and science centers, bringing her commitment to science and education to both teachers and the public. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.
A recent series of workshops has laid out a roadmap for SETI research for the next few decades. Three different approaches were identified. 1) Continue the radio search; build an affordable array from consumer market components, expand the search in frequency, and increase the target list to 100,000 stars. This array will also serve as a technology demonstration and perhaps enable the international radio astronomy community to realize an array that is a hundred times larger and capable (among other things) of searching a million stars. 2) Begin searches for very fast optical and infrared pulses from a million stars. 3) As Moore's Law delivers increased computational capacity, build an omni-directional sky survey array capable of detecting strong, transient, radio signals from billions of stars. SETI could succeed tomorrow, or it may be an endeavor for multiple generations. We are, after all, a very young technology in a very old galaxy. While our own leakage radiation continues to outshine the Sun at many frequencies, we remain detectable to others. When our use of the spectrum becomes more efficient, it will be time to consider deliberate transmissions and the really tough questions: Who will speak for Earth? What will they say? Maybe by then we will be old and wise enough to find some answers.