Several Penn State alumni pledged $3.5 million to support a research center aimed at answering an age-old question: Is there intelligent life beyond Earth?
The Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center, or PSETI, plans to create a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence research program, train the next generation of researchers, initiate a competitive grant program and “establish a permanent, worldwide SETI congress,” the university said Friday.
Science Magazine said the center could be the first to offer undergraduate and graduate courses.
“There really isn’t an academic ecosystem for the field as a whole,” Penn State astronomy and astrophysics professor Jason Wright told the magazine. “You can’t work on it if you can’t hire students and postdocs.”
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Exponential advances in computing technology and telescope design could lead to more powerful and effective experiments than were possible in the past, according to PSETI. The previous issue was funding, according to former SETI Institute Chairman John Gertz.
“We don’t know whether we will make a detection of ET in the next 10 years, but what we do know is that we’re going to require generations of scientists dedicated to the proposition that they can devote an entire career to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence,” Gertz said in a video posted on PSETI’s website.
That’s where Penn State alumnus John Patton, his wife Natalie and an anonymous alumni couple come in.
John Patton — who received his zoology degree from Penn State in 1967 and founded Dance Biopharm — and his wife, Natalie, pledged $2.5 million to support PSETI, the university said. An alumni couple remaining anonymous committed $1 million to create a new professor position in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics in support of PSETI.
The endowment is part of the $110 million the PSETI campaign hopes to raise, according to Science Magazine. Funding had been scarce since Congress banned NASA from funding SETI research in 1993.
More details are expected in the coming days.