Astrobiology (general)

USC and SETI Institute Team Up

By Keith Cowing
January 27, 2011

An affiliation between the University of Southern California and the SETI Institute will create formal ties between one of America’s premier research universities and one of the most innovative and highly regarded scientific research institutions.

Announced today by USC and the SETI Institute, the affiliation joins a leading private university and a unique research institute pursuing the study of the living universe. This affiliation significantly heightens USC’s profile in astronomy and astrobiology and establishes a strong research and education presence in Silicon Valley for the university. The affiliation is effective immediately.

USC researchers and students will gain access to the Institute under the affiliation, which will enable joint research projects by USC and SETI Institute scientists, as well as research opportunities and internships for USC students. A non-profit 501(c)(3), the Institute maintains a large program in astrobiology that ranges from an ongoing search for signs of intelligent life in space, to the study of how life evolves in strange and harsh environments on Earth. The SETI Institute is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., though its research is conducted across the globe.

“This exciting affiliation is a natural fit for USC. SETI Institute has a unique interdisciplinary approach that aligns with USC’s mission, bringing together life science, astronomy and engineering in particular,” said USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett.

By making USC one of its prime academic affiliates, the SETI Institute will gain access to leading programs in geobiology and signal processing — two areas especially relevant to the Institute’s mission. With top-ranked research groups in electrical engineering and information sciences, USC could help devise new methods for sifting the vast amounts of interstellar noise that SETI Institute captures every day. The SETI Institute also investigates life in extreme environments on Earth, a field that complements USC’s renowned geobiology program in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

In addition, USC’s solar astronomy group, which operates a renowned telescope on Mt. Wilson, may be able to use some of SETI Institute’s radio telescope time for solar observation. “SETI Institute’s work could help attract USC undergraduates to astronomy and related fields,” said Randolph Hall, vice president of research at USC. “It’s a topic we think will captivate our students and get them interested in the science.”

SETI Institute scientists will be granted access to faculty, students and facilities of several of USC’s schools to develop compelling and innovative media through the university’s advanced computer graphics and imaging programs. The Institute’s education and outreach will additionally benefit from USC’s expertise in visual storytelling and computer graphics throughout the university, including in the School of Cinematic Arts, the Viterbi School of Engineering, and the Institute for Creative Technologies.

“We are delighted to help the University of Southern California establish a footprint in Silicon Valley. Even more importantly, the scientific and educational synergy between our two institutions will lead to exciting new projects that will enhance the world’s understanding of the origin and nature of life here on Earth and its possible existence elsewhere,” said SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson.

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About SETI Institute

The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. Founded in November 1984, the SETI Institute began operations on February 1, 1985. Today it employs nearly 150 scientists, educators and support staff.

Research at the Institute is anchored by three centers: the Center for SETI Research (, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe (, and the Center for Education and Public Outreach ( Dr. Jill Tarter ( leads the Center for SETI Research as Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI. Dr. David Morrison ( is the Director for the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. Edna DeVore ( leads the Center for Education and Public Outreach.

About USC

The University of Southern California is one of a small number of premier research institutions on which the nation depends for a steady stream of new knowledge, art and technology. USC has more than $600 million in annual research expenditures, and has ranked among the top 10 private universities in federal supported research activity.

Located in Los Angeles, a global center for arts, technology and international trade, the University of Southern California is one of the world’s leading private research universities. USC enrolls more international students than any other U.S. university and offers extensive opportunities for internships and study abroad. With a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education, USC fosters a vibrant culture of public service and encourages students to cross academic as well as geographic boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge.

Media Contacts:
Carl Marziali
University of Southern California
+1 213-740-4751
[email protected]

Karen Randall
SETI Institute
+1 650-960-4537
[email protected]

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