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The Father of SETI

Frank Drake with a young observer at the Lick Observatory
Frank Drake with a young observer at the Lick Observatory.
(Image: © SETI Institute)

Frank Drake, who conducted the first modern SETI experiment in 1960, continues his life-long interest in the detection of extraterrestrial sentient life. He participates in an ongoing search for optical signals of intelligent origin, carried out with colleagues from Lick Observatory and the University of California at Berkeley, using the 40-inch Nickel telescope at Lick. Dr. Drake also continues to investigate radio telescope designs that optimize the chances of success for SETI (he proposed the plan used in the design of the Allen Telescope Array, based on some of his work of more than forty years ago.)

Additionally, Dr. Drake is interested in the possibility that the very numerous red dwarf stars, stars that are much less bright than the Sun, might host habitable planets. In this regard, he has noted that the behavior of various objects in our own solar system – in particular the resonance between their rotation and orbital periods – when applied to some of the newly discovered extrasolar planets, strongly suggests that most planets orbiting red dwarfs will not keep one face towards their star, and thus are more likely to be habitable. If this is proven correct, it will increase by almost ten times the probable number of habitable planets in the Milky Way. He also works on the theory of optimum strategies for the detection of rare objects and transient events in the cosmos. Recently, he has been exploring the possible observational effects in natural and technologically produced radiation caused by gravitational lensing by stars and other discrete objects. These have suggested that such gravitational lenses might be used in some circumstances to great benefit in detecting other planetary systems or intelligent radio transmissions.

Drake designed the Pioneer Plaque with Carl Sagan in 1972, the first physical message sent into space. The plaque was designed to be understandable by an extraterrestrial should they encounter it. He later supervised the creation of the image gallery on the Voyager Golden Record
In 1974 he sent the first interstellar radio message from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

Spend One-on-One Time with Frank Drake

It's not often you get the opportunity to hang out with a legend! Spend some quality time with Frank Drake, the founder of modern SETI, and author of the Drake Equation.

At a donor level of $50,000 – 100,000, you can spend one to two days with Frank, as he takes you behind the scenes to the optical SETI experiment at Lick Observatory, and explains both the science and the technology. A personalized tour of this observatory would be special in itself. Doing so in the company of Frank Drake is not just a rare opportunity: it's unique.

SETI Institute's Adopt a Scientist Program

Anyone can adopt a SETI Institute scientist and become part of the adventure!

Each of our scientists offers a compelling journey of discovery. When you adopt a scientist, you help lead the way towards answering profound questions regarding our place in the universe. You can form a one-on-one relationship and participate in the process of ground-breaking science with any number of our Institute's scientists. In an effort to ensure that this vital research continues to prosper, our Adopt a Scientist Program invites you to make a direct contribution to the field.


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