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December 23, 2016
Dear friends,

I am thrilled to announce that we will be able to observe with the Green Bank Telescope again during the next offering of the UCLA SETI course in Spring 2017.  The observing experience is an essential course component that has been highly rated by students in course evaluations.  Not only do students learn important skills in planning and conducting the observations, but they also derive motivation and satisfaction from analyzing their very own data.  

The purchase of two hours of telescope time (at the current educational rate of $1750/h) was made possible by two gifts received this month.  First, Michael Thacher made a generous gift to the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences to support a variety of objectives.  His gift includes a $2000 allocation to support the SETI course.  Michael attended the student presentations in June 2016 and took my Astrobiology course in Fall 2016.  Michael also leads excellent guided tours of Mount Wilson Observatory on weekends.  Second, Arnie Boyarsky made a donation to support the purchase of one hour of telescope time.  Arnie learned about the SETI course at UCLA's Exploring Your Universe event a free annual science festival on the UCLA campus  in November 2016.  Arnie heads a successful IT company (Info 2 Extreme, Inc.) and he generously offered the use of his data center for SETI data analysis.  I am extremely grateful to both Michael and Arnie for their support, and I am excited about our next set of observations.  With two hours of telescope time, we will amass about seven terabytes of data, which is more than enough to present students with a memorable big data challenge. 
A 5-minute YouTube video describes the Green Bank Telescope and the National Radio Quiet Zone.  Green Bank scientist Ryan Lynch, who assisted with our Spring 2016 observations, is featured in this video.
In other news, SETI advocate and donor Larry Lesyna will be presenting a poster at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2017 in Grapevine, TX.  Larry's poster describes the advantages of incorporating SETI in the university curriculum and some lessons learned from the UCLA experience.  Larry graciously added the Spring 2016 SETI course students as co-authors.

In September 2016, I attended the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.  There were two SETI sessions at the conference: (1) SETI Science and Technology and (2) SETI and Society.  I presented the UCLA Spring 2016 results in the first session on behalf of my students, and the talk was well received.  The meeting provided a great opportunity to interact with other SETI researchers, including Claudio Maccone, the current chair of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Committee.  One of the presenters in the SETI and Society session was attorney Leslie Tennen, who described the importance of updating the SETI post-detection protocol in the era of social media.  There were also two pleasant dinners sponsored by the Breakthrough Listen Initiative during which we discussed possibilities for further engaging UCLA students.      

Srinivas, a SETI course alumnus, attended the Breakthrough Listen North American Community Workshop at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia on October 5-6, 2016.  Breakthrough Initiatives sponsored Srinivas's airfare, and the Scientific Organizing Committee of the Workshop sponsored a $300 travel fellowship.  Srinivas, who is pursuing a PhD in Electrical Engineering at UCLA, enjoyed seeing the telescope up close and meeting several SETI scientists.

It has been a pleasure to refine our data processing pipeline with some of the SETI course alumni who have remained engaged in SETI research.  Akshay (who accepted a position at Amazon.com) and Yashaswi (who accepted a position at Facebook) have implemented new procedures that speed up the classification of candidate signals by a factor of 10.  Szilard (who works on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission at UCLA) has been improving the calibration algorithms for the frequency response of the data-taking instrument.  I am eager to fully test the new code over winter break.  I look forward to sending you SETI updates in the new year. 

Wishing you a pleasant holiday season,

Jean-Luc Margot
Copyright © 2016 UCLA SETI Group. All rights reserved.


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