The Drake Awards celebrate exemplary contributions to astrobiology through scientific research and space exploration. The award honors Frank Drake, whose Drake Equation first identified the specific factors necessary for the emergence of life in the Universe and the evolution of technological civilizations. This honor is given at the discretion of the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute, based on nominations from its Science Advisory Board. The honoree is presented a cash award and trophy, and is invited to describe their research at a public ceremony.
The SETI Institute has named Jason Wright the recipient of the 2019 Drake Award. Wright is an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a member of its Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. Drake Award recipients are nominated by the SETI Institute’s Science Advisory Board and confirmed by the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees.
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“Professor Wright has demonstrated and discussed the important science that is at the root of the Drake Equation, approaching the scientific opportunities involved in a rational and productive manner,” said John Rummel of the SETI Institute’s Science Advisory Board. “He is the scientific leader of a truly outstanding team who, themselves, make significant contributions to science and public communications.”
Wright is particularly passionate about training the next generation of SETI researchers. At present, SETI research is not significantly funded by the government so very few people are being trained in the field. In 2018, Jason launched Penn State’s first graduate-level course in SETI, one of only two in the United States.
“There are many potential technosignatures to search for, and this makes SETI is a broad field that makes use of most of astronomy,” said Wright. “At Penn State we see SETI as an academic discipline—a part of astrobiology—and our students can learn about all of the past work in the field and train in its methods.”
The SETI Institute’s Drake Award is named for Dr. Frank Drake, founder of modern SETI research, creator of the Drake Equation, which guides much technosignature research, and the first president of the SETI Institute’s board of Trustees. Previous recipients of the Drake Award include Frank Drake, Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes and William Barucki, Principal Investigator for NASA’s Kepler mission. Last year’s recipient was astrobiologist Victoria S. Meadows, whose work focuses on the scientific estimation of environments on extrasolar planets, and in the search for signs of habitability and life.
“The discovery of exoplanets, and the Kepler mission’s revelation that planets are ubiquitous in our Galaxy have forever changed our perspective on our place in the Universe,” said Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “Advances in astrobiology and extremophiles research are teaching us that life can exist in extreme conditions that mere decades ago were thought to be impossible. We are on the cusp of the most exciting period in human history for space exploration, and the search for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth has never been more compelling. We are delighted to honor Jason as one of the young pioneers and leaders in SETI research and further recognize how he leverages his exciting research for educational purposes.”
In addition to his SETI work, Wright studies stars, their atmospheres, their magnetic activity and their planets. He is a project scientist for NEID, a NASA project to provide the US community with a premier planet-finding instrument at Kitt Peak National Observatory; a principal investigator of NExSS (NASA’s Nexus for Expoplanet System Science; and a member of The Habitable Zone Planet Finder team at Penn State, which searches the very nearest stars for planets that could host liquid water.
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