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Exploradio Origins sparks ideas and conversation with its unique and engaging 90 second nutshell approach. Each episode highlights the work of one of the more than 200 fellows at the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University.

Exploradio Origins: A New Way to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

a photo of the Andromeda galaxy
NASA photo of the Milky Way's largest neighbour, Andromeda.

Some of you may have heard of SETI: the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The idea is that if there's an advanced alien civilization, they’d try to contact us using radio. So we should look for radio signals from space that look like messages.

"In the 21st century, if you ask how do we communicate the most efficient amount of information over the longest distances, the answer is not radio, it’s fiber optics and optical and infrared signals that are going through cables," said Corbin Covault, professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University. "And indeed if you could have a pulsed laser, you could actually send information much more efficiently in the optical and infrared than you can in the radio."

While he's a gamma-ray astronomer who looks for flashes of light to study stellar phenomena, he's realized the techniques his group uses could be applied to the next-generation SETI if alien civilizations are communicating with us by flashes of optical laser light.

"To look for those signals you basically build a telescope that looks for a flash of light that lasts for a few nanoseconds coming from some distance. We are looking at ideas for building our own small telescopes to look for these flashes of light. And again, do I think they're really there? Probably not. But you really, it would be a shame to not look and see if they were there."

Kellen McGee is currently pursuing a PhD in nuclear and accelerator physics at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2014. She’s held a number of research positions, ultimately becoming a research assistant in a biophysics and structural biology lab at Case Western Reserve University. There, the Institute for the Science of Origins instantly became her intellectual home. Central to the ISO’s mission is science communication.