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Is there anybody out there?

Panel of physicists, astrobiologists to discuss life in the cosmos

27 July 2010

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- In 1960, a single radio channel was used in the first search for signals from intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. Today, scientists are overcoming the enormous computing challenges of telescopes sweeping the skies with the potential of monitoring hundreds of millions of radio channels simultaneously.

Richard Hoover searches for life from planets other than our own. The Astrobiology Group Lead at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center has led scientific expeditions to search for microbial extremophiles, or more simply put, organisms that can live in extreme conditions. He was Science Team Lead of the Antarctica 2000 Expedition with Astronaut James A. Lovell to search for meteorites in the South Pole of Antarctica. These expeditions resulted in the discovery and valid publication of two new genera and nine new species of bacteria and archaea. For these contributions, he was elected Fellow of the National Explorers Club in 2001 and made Life Member of the Planetary Studies Foundation in recognition of his research on microfossils in meteorites.

Hoover's work shows that there really could be something out there.

Hoover will convene a panel of well-known speakers on Tuesday 3 August, from 8 to 10 p.m. at the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). His popular "Life in the Cosmos" panel discussion is held in conjunction with SPIE Optics and Photonics, an international technical conference focusing on the latest research in solar, nanotechnology, optical, and photonics technologies and applications. SPIE Optics and Photonics will run 1-5 August in the San Diego Convention Center.

This year's "Life in the Cosmos" panel features pioneers in the fielsd of microwave astronomy and SETI. Astrobiologists, biochemists, microbiologists, and paleontologists continue to explore the origin of pre-biotic and chiral biomolecules and the spatial, temporal, and environmental limitations of life on Earth.

Panel moderator will be Charles Townes of the University of California, Berkeley. Townes' invention of the concepts of the maser in 1951 -- for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize together with Nikolai Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov -- and subsequently of the laser with Arthur Schawlow resulted from over a decade of research in microwave physics and spectroscopy at Bell Labs and Columbia University. With James Gordon and Herbert Zeiger, he demonstrated the first maser in 1954, showing the generation and amplification of electromagnetic waves by stimulated emission. Since then the laser has developed into a near-trillion-dollar industry that now affects a multitude of technologies and many aspects of modern life.

Scheduled panelists include:

  • Jill Cornell Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI and Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.
  • Gilbert V. Levin, Adjunct Professor, Beyond Center, Arizona State University. He headed a NASA-appointed committee to recommend experiments for the BioSatellite Mission, and served on the American Institute for Biological Science's Planetary Quarantine Advisory Panel sponsored by NASA.
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, Professor of Astrobiology and Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology at Cardiff University. His research main interests are comets, interstellar dust and astrobiology. He has made many contributions in these fields, publishing 28 books, over 350 papers in major scientific journals, over 75 in the journal Nature.
  • Stanley Awramik, Professor of Biogeology in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests focus on the early history of life on Earth, in particular fossil microbes, sedimentary constructions by microbes (stromatolites), and the nature of the Earth's surface billions of years ago.
  • Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution and The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology. He co-haired with John Baross the National Research Committee's 2007 panel on the "Limits to Organic Life in the Solar System," advised the design of missions to Mars, and invented technology that improves the medical care of some 400,000 patients each year suffering from infectious diseases and cancers.
  • George Fox, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Biology, Biochemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Houston. He was co-discover of the Archaea, a breakthrough that was proclaimed by the Science Channel to be the greatest discovery in biology in the 20th century. The Archaea have revolutionized the way scientists think about the history of life on the Earth.
  • Michael Engel, Clyde Becker Chair in Geochemistry in the School of Geology and Geophysics at The University of Oklahoma. He was one of the first geoscientists to receive an NSF Presidential Investigator Award for his work on carbonaceous meteorites. One of his primary research interests continues to be the origin, distribution and stereochemistry of amino acids in carbonaceous meteorites.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world.

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