Press Release

SETI Institute Garners NASA Awards

By SpaceRef Editor
November 18, 2014
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SETI Institute Garners NASA Awards

Today, NASA bestowed honors on SETI Institute scientists and educators, both as individuals and as members of research teams, citing their outstanding efforts on behalf of science, outreach and education.

Daniel Huber, an astrophysicist at the Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and winner of an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, was cited for significantly increasing the accuracy with which the diameters of exoplanets found by the Kepler spacecraft can be determined. Kepler senses planets by measuring the very slight dip in brightness they cause as they pass in front of their home stars. But knowing the size of the planets requires accurate knowledge of the size of the stars. Until Huber’s work, the precision of the latter was only 40 to 50 percent. His careful application of a technique known as asteroseismology has reduced this uncertainty to less than 5%. Huber was one of only 13 people nationwide to receive this medal.

Tom Pierson (deceased) earned a Distinguished Public Service Medal for founding the SETI Institute, and spearheading its leadership as CEO for nearly three decades. With approximately 130 employees, the Institute has long been in the forefront of astrobiology research, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and in outreach and education activities related to science. It has an especially large presence in the data processing activities for Kepler.

The Planetary Lake Lander Team (PLL), comprising 17 researchers, was cited for its work in developing instrumentation that can be used in the future exploration of Saturn’s moon, Titan. The team is the winner of a Group Achievement Award. Titan is the only place in the solar system other than Earth to have liquid bodies on its surface — lakes of ethane and methane. To investigate these reservoirs is difficult, as temperatures on Titan are exceedingly low and communication with Earth would be slow. The PLL Team developed robotic devices able to measure the depth of lakes, the occurrence of storms, and other situations that would obtain on this intriguing Saturnian moon. The team includes SETI Institute scientists Nathalie Cabrol as principal investigator, Eric Fleming and Edmond Grin as co-investigators, and educator Pamela Harman as education and outreach lead. The PLL Team includes collaborators at NASA Ames Research Center, Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, University of Tennessee, Centro De Astrobiologia in Spain, and Carnegie Mellon University.

The 13-member SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) Outreach Team was also presented with a Group Achievement Award. Bringing the science of this world-class flying telescope to the public via publications, articles and media appearances is one half of the team’s two-pronged efforts. The second is to engage teachers and students, which includes training teachers to join SOFIA research flights, and 56 educators so far have done so. Their experiences are taken back to classrooms and communities nationwide, and have long-lasting impacts on the next generation of scientists. The team includes SETI Institute members Dana Backman, Pamela Harman, Jeonghee Rho and Jennifer Savage plus collaborators at NASA, Astronomical Society of the Pacific and DLR, the German Aerospace Center.

“The broad diversity and high quality of the programs and effort that have resulted in these awards is a gratifying tribute to our organization,” says Institute CEO David Black. “We couldn’t be more pleased by this achievement.”

Complete member list for winning teams: Planetary Lake Lander: Nathalie A. Cabrol, Trey Smith, Leslie Bebout, Guillermo Chong, Cecilia Demergasso, Angela Detweiler, Eric Fleming, Terrence Fong, Edmond A. Grin, Pamela Harman, Susan Lee, Jeffrey Moersch, Victor Parro, Liam Pedersen, Eric Smith, Cristian Tambley, and David Wettergreen.

SOFIA Outreach Team: Dana Backman, Kassandra Bell, Coral Clark, Elizabeth Hagenauer, Pamela Harman, James Harrington, John Johnson, Norbert Junkes, Dorte Mehlert, Elizabeth Mittelbach, Leslie Proudfit, Jeonghee Rho, Jennifer Savage, Nicholas Veronico and Darlene Weidemann

Seth Shostak
+1 650 960-4530

Daniel Huber

Nathalie Cabrol
+1 650-604-0312

Dana Backman
+1 650-604-2128

The SETI Institute ( is a multi-disciplinary, highly collaborative, research organization designed to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe utilizing expertise in fields ranging from astrophysics and planetary science to biology and social science, as well as computer science and signal detection. We have a passion not only for discovery, but also for sharing knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government. The SETI Institute is a distinguished partner for government agencies, academic institutions, and corporations around the world.

SpaceRef staff editor.