Astrobiology and SETI


Astrobiology research at the SETI Institute

LEFT PHOTO (above): An antenna of the Allen Telescope Array, a 42-antenna telescope designed to search for signal from intelligent extraterrestrial signals, as part of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. The director of this program, Dr. Jill Tarter, was the model for the character of Ellie played by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact, based on the book by Carl Sagan.

RIGHT PHOTO (above): Hydrothermal vents like those shown above are places where geothermally heated water emerges from a crack in the earth's crust on the ocean bottom. The areas around these submarine hydrothermal vents often host complex communities fueled by the warmth and chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp. These environments may mimic the early earth and by studying them scientists hope to gain clues about the origins of life on earth.

Study extreme forms of life on earth that may give clues about life's origins, participate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, or help build a radio telescope to search for signals from alien civilizations. All of these are part of the field of Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

CAMPARE students who are selected to work at the SETI Institute will participate in the SETI REU program on projects such as:

  • Biochemistry and the Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth ORganics Exposure in Orbit (OREOcube) Experiment on the International Space Station
  • Infrared Spectroscopy of Solar System Ices Planetary Science and the Search for Life in the Solar System
  • Morphology and Classification of Martian Dunes Image Analysis of Outer Solar System Moons
  • Astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Meteor showers and their parent comets SETI and radio astronomy


Program Details

Ashley Nitrogen

In the SETI lab, Ashley Curry adds liquid nitrogen to cool the apparatus used to prepare samples of ethane or ethane/water mixes for infrared spectral analysis. Matching these laboratory spectra with astronomical spectra of objects in our outer Solar System will help determine if these objects contain ethane. Liquid nitrogen is very cold, only 77 degress above absolute zero or 321 degrees below zero Farenheit (77 K = -196 C = -321 F).

What is it?
Students will work for 10 weeks in the summer with scientists at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory, the SETI Institute, or JPL/Caltech on projects spanning the fields of astronomy, planetary and space science, astrobiology, and astronomy education and public outreach.

Who should apply?

Applicants must be United States Citizens or Permanent Residents and at least 18 years of age by the beginning of the program.  Applicants must be enrolled in one of the CAMPARE participating institutions at the time of their application.  Participants may not have graduated from their 4-year institution before the beginning of the summer internship, but community college students may be in the process of transferring to a 4-year institution.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must be have completed a full year of college-level physics by Summer 2014. Preference will be given to students with additional physics coursework.

When and How to Apply


Applications are due Friday, February 14, 2014; to apply to the program, fill out the on-line Application Form; in addition, have two (2) faculty members (or others familiar with your academic or work background) submit letters of reference on your behalf by e-mail only, preferably as a signed PDF attachment, to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Seti Dishes

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a radio telescope designed to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations as well as to conduct observations of natural astrophysical phenomena. Science and engineering students work to design, build, and test elements of this array telescope as part of the SETI Institute REU program.

Indicate their names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses in your on-line application where appropriate. It is your responsibility to confirm that these letters have been sent and failure to obtain these two letters will render your application incomplete and lead to its rejection without review.

Successful students will be notified in March. The research program runs Monday, June 16th to Friday, August 22nd 2014 (10 weeks). The dates of the education/public outreach program at the University of Arizona will determined by the dates of Astronomy Camp and in consultation with the Director, Dr. Don McCarthy.

Financial support
$5000 for the full 10 weeks - in addition, participants will be provided with housing. Travel reimbursement is up to $500 for travel from home or campus to the San Francisco Bay Area.

» Express Interest

If you have any questions about the program, please contact the CAMPARE Director, Professor Rudolph.

Fun Video

See your Cal Poly Pomona colleagues in a fun SETI YouTube video here:


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. AST-1322432.

Cal Poly Pomona   Seti Institute     NSF