Charles Townes Receives SETI Institute's 2002 Drake
Mountain View, CA — The SETI Institute has awarded the
2002 Frank Drake Award for Innovation in SETI and Life in the Universe
Research to Charles H. Townes, Nobel Laureate and Emeritus Professor of
Physics at the University of California Berkeley. Townes received the
award for his visionary championing of optical SETI, efforts that
culminated in the formal adoption of optical SETI as a search strategy
endorsed by leading SETI scientists.
The prize consists of a cash stipend and a special
award, and will be presented at a ceremony in the spring of 2003. Townes
is the second recipient of the Drake Award, which was launched in 2001
with a presentation ceremony honoring its namesake, Dr. Frank Drake.
Townes is the first honoree selected from a pool of candidates whose
submissions were solicited by the Institute.
Said Townes, “I am very happy to see multiple optical
SETI projects undertaken with the same rigor SETI scientists have applied
to radio searches. It was gratifying to participate in planning sessions
that led to today’s large-scale optical SETI searches, and I am pleased by
this recognition from the world’s leading SETI research organization.”
The recipient of numerous awards and 25 honorary
doctorate degrees throughout his career, Townes' principal scientific work
is in microwave spectroscopy, nuclear and molecular structure, quantum
electronics, radio astronomy and infrared astronomy. He holds both the
original patent for the maser, and (with Arthur Schawlow) the original
laser patent. In 1964, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work
in quantum electronics, which led to the construction of maser and laser
oscillators and amplifiers.
Townes envisioned using the infrared and optical
spectrum for SETI in 1959 after reading a seminal paper in the journal
Nature in which Phillip Morrison and Giuseppi Cocconi theorized the
possibility of using radio waves to communicate across interstellar space.
Townes first proposed searching the optical spectrum for extraterrestrial
signals in 1961, one year after Drake’s Project Ozma, the world’s first
scientific SETI search of the radio spectrum.
Acknowledging that radio technology matured more
quickly than optical, Townes consistently maintained that other
technologically advanced civilizations could exploit the optical and
infrared spectrum for communications just as readily as the microwave
spectrum. In two later papers, one published in 1982 and another in 1993,
Townes compared the relative strengths and liabilities of optical and
radio SETI, concluding that both research methods should be conducted.
By the late 1990s, laser technology had matured to the
point where sensitive and accurate searches in the optical spectrum became
practical. During a landmark 1997 panel convened by the SETI Institute to
chart the course of SETI research for the first two decades of the 21st
Century, Townes’ participation catalyzed the thinking of the working
group’s optical panel. Even as the working group continued deliberations,
SETI researchers Paul Horowitz of Harvard and Dan Werthimer of the
University of California each initiated early optical SETI searches at
Today, following recommendations embedded in the report
of the working group (published by SETI Press under the title of SETI
2020: A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) numerous
scientific teams are mining optical data for SETI beacons. One of these
projects is funded by the SETI Institute, whose own Frank Drake works
closely with the project team that comprises scientists from UC Santa
Cruz, UC Berkeley, and Lick Observatory. The SETI Institute also funded a
study by UC Berkeley graduate student Amy Raines to scrutinize data
obtained by noted planet hunter, Geoff Marcy.
Created in 2001, the Frank Drake Award for Innovation
in SETI and Life in the Universe Research honors distinguished
contributors to the scientific search for life beyond Earth. Awardees are
chosen by a panel of scientists appointed by the SETI Institute Board of
Trustees, and selection criteria considers both past contributions and
potential for future contributions of new knowledge to the body of related
scientific work. The Drake Award is supported by generous contributions to
the SETI Institute.
The SETI Institute is a 501c (3) non-profit California
corporation, incorporated in 1984. The mission of the SETI Institute is to
explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of
life in the universe. The Center for SETI Research and the Center for the
Study of Life in the Universe comprise the two key research foci of the
Institute. Innovative education programs and public outreach based upon
the work of these two centers advance the education component of the
December 10, 2002