In a bold 2004 paper, Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen claimed that whereas the 20th Century had been the Century of Physics (Special and General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Big Bang Cosmology, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, the Standard Model of Particle Physics…) the 21st Century would be the century of biology. They outlined the fantastic potential of genomic research to define the current century. Wondrous as these predictions were, and as rapidly as they have played out and over-delivered during this past decade, these predictions were too parochial. This century will permit us the first opportunities to study biology beyond Earth; biology as we don’t yet know it, and biology that we have exported off the surface of our planet.
The technologies needed for discovering biology beyond Earth are different depending on whether you are searching for microbes or mathematicians, and depending on whether you are searching in-situ or remotely. In many cases the necessary technologies do not yet exist, but like genomics, they will probably develop more rapidly, and in more ways, than anyone of us can now imagine. It is going to be an awesome century and God has nothing to do with it!
Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. 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 is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She was the 2014 Jansky Lecturer. In 2015 she became President of the California Academy of Sciences. Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.
We will also be collecting new Plush Toys for the children in Pediatrics at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.