“A Fresh Look at the Drake Equation”

Adjunct Professor, University of Memphis

Gerrit Verschuur is a pioneer in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  He conducted the first radio search for alien signals that was capable of detecting a twin civilization, the results of which were published in 1973 in the journal Icarus, at the time edited by the late Carl Sagan. Since then Verschuur has explored the implications of the Drake Equation in depth.  The Drake Equation attempts to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact.  Verschuur will consider what factors have played a role over the last many years to set the scene for our species to emerge as a technological society capable of interstellar communication. Close examination of several factors that we take totally for granted provide the context for a clearer understanding of why we have not readily detected other civilizations.  Taking these factors into account casts a sobering perspective on our place in space and the future of human life in the universe.

Verschuur is the author of 8 books for lay readers, editor of three texts in astronomy, has published extensively in the scientific literature, and holds several patents.  He continues to do research into the nature of interstellar neutral hydrogen.


“Earth, Super Earths and the Fermi Paradox”

Professor, Harvard University and Director, Harvard Origins of Life Initiative

Dimitar Sasselov has been a professor at Harvard since 1998. His research explores the many modes of interaction between radiation and matter: from the evolution of hydrogen and helium in the early universe to the study of the structure of stars. He is very fond of unstable stars — ones that pulsate regularly and allow astronomers to determine distances to other galaxies. Most recently his research has led him to explore the nature of planets orbiting other stars. He has discovered a few such planets with novel techniques that he hopes to use to find planets like Earth.

Sasselov is the director of the new Harvard Origins of Life Initiative — a multidisciplinary center bridging scientists in the physical and life sciences, intent to study the transition from chemistry to life and its place in the context of the Universe.


“COLOSSUS the Forbin Project”

Director of Science Information, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

David Aguilar is a naturalist, astronomer, and artist with work that reflects his passion for bringing the wonders of space to wider audiences.  He is the author and illustrator of National Geographic’s “PLANETS, STARS, AND GALAXIES: A Visual Encyclopedia of Our Universe”, a vividly illustrated book that celebrates the wonders of space, and winner of the 2008 VOYA (Voice of Youth) Award, followed by “11 PLANETS – the New View of Our Solar System”. His next National Geographic book, “Super Stars!” is set for publication in Spring 2010.


“How to Find a Habitable Planet”

Associate Professor, Harvard University

David Charbonneau joined the faculty in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University in August 2004. His research focuses on the development of novel techniques for the detection and characterization of planets orbiting nearby, Sun-like stars.

In 2009, the National Science Foundation named Charbonneau the 2009 recipient of the Alan T. Waterman award. The award, which includes a medal and a $500,000 grant, recognizes an outstanding young researcher in science or engineering. In 2007, he was named Scientist of the Year by Discover magazine. He also was recently named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (2006-2011), and awarded a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering (2006-2008), and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (2006).


“What Is Life?”

Professor, Harvard University

Andrew H. Knoll is the Fisher Professor of Natural History and a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. He is best known for his work on Precambrian microfossils, but has longstanding interests in geobiology, paleobotany and the planetary evolution of Mars. He is the author of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. In 2007, Knoll was awarded the Wollaston Medal, the highest award granted by the Geological Society of London; previous recipients include Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz.


“Reflections on Life in the Universe”

Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study

Freeman Dyson is a theoretical physicist and mathematician famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. His seminal contribution to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. In the field of astronomy, he is perhaps best known for creating the idea of a Dyson sphere—a shell that completely surrounds a star so that an intelligent civilization can make use of all the star’s energy output. Dyson is now retired, having been for most of his life a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

He has written a number of books about science for the general public. For example, Disturbing the Universe (1974) is a portrait-gallery of people he has known during his career as a scientist. Weapons of Hope (1984) is a study of ethical problems of war and peace. Infinite in all Directions (1988) is a philosophical meditation based on Dyson’s Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology given at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Origins of Life (1986, second edition 1999) is a study of one of the major unsolved problems of science. The Sun, the Genome and the Internet (1999) discusses the question of whether modern technology could be used to narrow the gap between rich and poor rather than widen it.


“New Shapes of Things To Come"

Chairman and CEO, Biotechonomy

Juan Enriquez—bestselling author, businessman, and academic—is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences. He is author of the global bestseller As the Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth. His latest book, The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future, which explores why some countries are successful while others disappear, was published in November of 2005.

The Harvard Business Review showcased his ideas as one of the breakthrough concepts in its first HBR List. Fortune profiled him as Mr. Gene. Time asked him to co-organize the life sciences summit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of DNA. Seed picked his ideas as one of fifty that “shaped our identity, our culture, and the world as we know it.”

Enriquez was also part of a world discovery voyage led by J. Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome. The multi-stage sailing voyage sampled microbial genomes throughout the world’s oceans. This expedition involved a number of institutions and top scholars including The Institute for Genomic Research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, The Explorers Club, and Prof. E.O. Wilson. It led to the discovery of an unprecedented number of new species.


“ The Rise of Artificial Life”

Founder, Chairman, and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute

J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his numerous invaluable contributions to genomic research. He is Founder and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit, research and support organization with more than 400 scientists and staff dedicated to human, microbial, plant and environmental genomic research, the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics, and seeking alternative energy solutions through genomics.

In 2008, scientists at JCVI created a fully synthetic bacterium by painstakingly assembling 582,970 DNA base pairs into a functioning genome. The genome is not alive, but the researchers’ next step is to transplant it into a cell, thereby creating true artificial life. Similar work in the future could yield microorganisms custom-designed to produce biofuels, for example.


“Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” & “The Medea Hypothesis”

Professor, University of Washington

Peter Douglas Ward is a paleontologist and professor of Biology and of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, as well as an author of popular science works for a general audience. He also serves as an adjunct professor of zoology and astronomy.

Ward specializes in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event and mass extinctions generally. He has published books on biodiversity and the fossil record. His 1992 book On Methuselah’s Trail received a “Golden Trilobite Award” from the Paleontological Society as the best popular science book of the year.

Ward is co-author, along with astronomer Donald Brownlee, of the best-selling Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, published in 2000. In that work, the authors suggest that the universe is fundamentally hostile to advanced life, and that, while simple life might be abundant, the likelihood of widespread life forms as advanced as those on Earth is marginal.


“Humans on Mars”

Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Maria T. Zuber is the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also leads the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Zuber has been involved in more than a half-dozen NASA planetary missions aimed at mapping the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and several asteroids.

She received her B.A. in astrophysics from the University of Pennsylvania and M.S. and Ph.D. in geophysics from Brown University. She was on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University and served as a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. She received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Brown University in 2008.