Research: Astrobiology and SETI

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Astrobiology research at the SETI Institute
LEFT PHOTO (above): An antenna of the Allen Telescope Array, a 42-antenna telescope designed to search for signal from intelligent extraterrestrial signals, as part of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. The director of this program, Dr. Jill Tarter, was the model for the character of Ellie played by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact, based on the book by Carl Sagan.

RIGHT PHOTO (above): Hydrothermal vents like those shown above are places where geothermally heated water emerges from a crack in the earth's crust on the ocean bottom. The areas around these submarine hydrothermal vents often host complex communities fueled by the warmth and chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp. These environments may mimic the early earth and by studying them scientists hope to gain clues about the origins of life on earth.
Study extreme forms of life on earth that may give clues about life's origins, participate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, or help build a radio telescope to search for signals from alien civilizations. All of these are part of the field of Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

CAMPARE students who are selected to work at the SETI Institute will participate in the SETI REU program on projects such as:
  • Biochemistry and the Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth
    • ORganics Exposure in Orbit (OREOcube) Experiment on the International Space Station
    • Infrared Spectroscopy of Solar System Ices
  • Planetary Science and the Search for Life in the Solar System
  • Ashley adds liquid nitrogen

    In the SETI lab, Ashley Curry adds liquid nitrogen to cool the apparatus used to prepare samples of ethane or ethane/water mixes for infrared spectral analysis. Matching these laboratory spectra with astronomical spectra of objects in our outer Solar System will help determine if these objects contain ethane. Liquid nitrogen is very cold, only 77 degress above absolute zero or 321 degrees below zero Farenheit (77 K = -196 C = -321 F).

    • Morphology and Classification of Martian Dunes
    • Image Analysis of Outer Solar System Moons
  • Astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
    • Meteor showers and their parent comets
    • SETI and radio astronomy
Program Details

What is it?
Students will work for 10 weeks in the summer with scientists at the SETI Institute on projects spanning the field of astrobiology.

Who should apply?
Applicants must be United States Citizens or Permanent Residents. Students may not have graduated before the beginning of the summer internship.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a radio telescope designed to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations as well as to conduct observations of natural astrophysical phenomena. Science and engineering students work to design, build, and test elements of this array telescope as part of the SETI Institute REU program.

To be eligible for the program, students must be have completed a full year of college level physics by Summer 2013. Preference will be given to students with additional coursework relevant to their preferred projects.

When and How to Apply
Applications are due Friday, February 1, 2013; to apply to the program, fill out the on-line Application Form; in addition, have two (2) faculty members (or others familiar with your academic or work background) submit letters of reference on your behalf by e-mail only, preferably as a signed PDF attachment, to  Indicate their names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses in your on-line application where appropriate.  It is your responsibility to confirm that these letters have been sent and failure to obtain these two letters will render your application incomplete and lead to its rejection without review.

Successful students will be notified in March. The research program runs Monday, June 10th to Friday, August 16th 2013 (10 weeks). The dates of the education/public outreach program at the University of Arizona will determined by the dates of Astronomy Camp and in consultation with the Director, Dr. Don McCarthy.

Financial support
$5000 for the full 10 weeks - in addition, participants will be provided with dorm housing. Travel reimbursement is up to $600 for travel from home or campus to the San Francisco Bay Area.

» Express Interest

If you have any questions about the program, please contact the CAMPARE Director, Professor Rudolph.

Fun Video

See your Cal Poly Pomona colleagues in a fun SETI YouTube video here:


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. AST-0847170.

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