Are We Alone in the Universe?

by Amy Connolly

“There are 400 billion stars out there, just in our galaxy alone. If just one out of a million of those had planets, and just one in a million of those had life, and just one out of a million of those had intelligent life, there would be literally millions of civilizations out there.”  That is how Ellie Arroway, Jodie Foster’s character in the movie “Contact” makes the case that we may not be alone.  The movie is based on an excellent novel of the same name by the late Carl Sagan.  I read Sagan’s book when I was in college after my brother suggested it to me.  I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out when I was in graduate school and it did not disappoint.  The movie is one of the rare occasions when Hollywood portrays a female scientist fairly, and scientific life accurately.

It is difficult to imagine a discovery that would more profoundly impact how we humans view ourselves, than to find out that us hominids sitting on our little blue planet are not the only ones out there who can communicate, build and wonder.

Ellie Arroway is based on a real life scientist named Jill Tarter, who has led the real life scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) for decades.  SETI uses radio telescopes to look for signals that may have been broadcast by intelligent life beyond our solar system.  (You can even help out with the search for E.T.’s yourself by setting up SETI@Home on your computer:

Next Wednesday evening, Jill Tarter will be giving a public lecture at The Ohio State University, the 6th Annual R. Jack and Forest Lynn Biard Cosmology and Astrophysics Lecture entitled “SETI at 50+; Five Decades of Progress in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”

I am extremely excited about this event, and not just because of her portrayal in a movie.  I think that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is probably the best way to illustrate how carrying out curiosity-driven, fundamental research benefits humanity as a whole.   All are welcome to this free event.  Bring a friend, bring your mom, bring your daughter for a night to wonder about our place in the universe.

The lecture will be Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 8:00 pm in McPherson Lab Room 1000, 140 W 18th Ave, Columbus, Ohio (map).  It is free and open to all, the poster is included below.


About Amy Connolly

Prof. Amy Connolly grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she always knew she loved math but didn’t yet know that she would one day be a scientist.  She went to Purdue University and decided to major in physics when she saw how beautifully mathematics describes the physical world.  She went to University of California, Berkeley, for graduate school, and completed her PhD dissertation in 2003 on a search for Higgs Bosons in data from Fermilab near Chicago.  After graduate school she switched fields from collider physics to particle astrophysics as a postdoc at University of California, Los Angeles.  She continued this work in England for four years as a Fellow at the University College London, and has been an assistant professor in physics at Ohio State University since 2010.  She works on experiments searching for interactions of extremely energetic neutrinos in Antarctic ice using radio techniques.  She enjoys spending time with her family and keeps a winter vegetable garden.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s