|Many great scientist have been interested
in the subject of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence. The first two people to make a detailed
examination of radio SETI were Giuseppe
Cocconi and Phil
Morrison. Morrison was a good nuclear theorist with
a career going back to Los Alamos during World War II. I
talked to him shortly before his death about his
recollections of Fermi's views on UFOs. Cocconi was an
outstanding elementary particle physicist. I remember with
fondess his visit to Fermilab duing the early
construction. At one point he got down on his knees to
rescue a frog from a puddle in a Meson Laboratory gallery
under construction. Charles
Townes, the father of optical SETI, is a Nobel Prize
winner as was Enrico
Fermi of "Fermi paradox" fame. Our laboratory
is named after Fermi. The discoverer of the famous
astrophysical triple alpha reaction, Fred Hoyle, was
deeply interested in astrobiology and SETI. Frank
Drake and Jill
Tarter are outstanding scientists who have made much
of their reputations through SETI. Bernard
Oliver, former head of R&D at Hewlett-Packard,
was a major innovator in radio SETI. Freeman Dyson, the
namesake of Dyson spheres, is an outstanding theoretical
physicist with a broad range of interests. Jocelyn Bell
Burnell, the discoverer of pulsars, initially wondered if
she had found a SETI signal. Carl
Sagan is a special case. Sagan was sometimes put
down by other
scientists (see the end of the
article about Ralph Cicerone). Carl Sagan's
views on planetary evolution have had a towering impact on
planetary exploration. Sagan might have been a better
scientist than he was a communicator.
Parenthetically, it is interesting how many of these people had a connection to Cornell.
Some of these SETI people who have won Nobel Prizes or were near winners are listed to the right.
"demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive
elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his
related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by
slow neutrons." Fermi may have asked the famous question
about space aliens "where are they?"
C. Townes (1964) Townes received the Nobel Prize for "work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle." When Townes received the Prize he had already published on the possibility of optical SETI.
F. Dyson (near winner - 1965) Some feel Dyson's contributions to quantum electrodynamics were on a par with the 1965 prize winners. One of the winners, Tomonoga, cites Dyson noting "Dyson showed that all infinities appearing in quantum electrodynamics could be treated by the renormalization procedure..." When Dyson followed Feynman at Cornell, Bethe said Dyson was "the only man in the world who could replace Feynman." Dyson published his idea on what has become known as a Dyson sphere in 1960.
J. Bell Burnell (near winner - 1974) Bell Burnell actually discovered the neutron star that is the subjects of the 1974 Prize. One of the winners, Martin Ryle, has been a constructive critic of SETI.
F. Hoyle (near winner - 1983) Hoyle was an important contributor to stellar astrophysics, the subject of the Prize.