Awards, People

SETI pioneer Dan Werthimer to receive Drake Award

Werthimer was behind the SETI@home screen saver and has pioneered sensitive radio and optical sensors for SETI

portrait of Dan Werthimer
Dan Werthimer was honored by the SETI Institute for his contributions to the search for and understanding of life beyond Earth. (Dan Werthimer photo)

Dan Werthimer, a co-founder of the popular screen saver SETI@home and a UC Berkeley astronomer who developed ever-more-sensitive radio receivers to aid the search for extraterrestrial intelligence on other planets, will share the 2021 Drake Award, named after the father of SETI, astronomer Frank Drake.

Werthimer, who is chief scientist at the Berkeley SETI Research Center, will share the award with Paul Horowitz, emeritus professor of physics and electrical engineering at Harvard University.

“Paul and Dan’s contributions to SETI research and associated technology developments have transformed the field,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which presents the award annually. “Indeed, it was Frank Drake himself who nominated Paul and Dan, in recognition of their innumerable achievements. We are delighted to be honoring them together.”

Drake, an emeritus professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and former chair of the SETI Institute’s board of trustees, conducted the first modern experiment to seek extraterrestrial intelligence. The award honors scientists and engineers who have made substantial contributions to the search for and understanding of life beyond Earth.

“It’s a tremendous honor to receive this award in Frank’s name,” said Werthimer. “He was a huge and inspiring influence on my life and was the one who enticed me into SETI work.”

Werthimer co-founded and served as principal investigator for the enormously popular screen saver SETI@home, which more than 8 million members of the public have used to process data collected by radio telescopes searching for emissions from other intelligence. SETI@home brought SETI literally into people’s homes and helped establish it as a mainstream science in the public’s mind. Werthimer has also been instrumental in developing low-cost and innovative multichannel radio receivers for SETI, as well as devices to look for short laser flashes from other star systems, an endeavor known as optical SETI.

The award will be presented to Werthimer and Horowitz on May 6 during a virtual public event, with special guests including science communicator Bill Nye, TV host Adam Savage and astronomer Jill Tarter.

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a nonprofit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization focused on exploring, understanding and explaining the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence.

SETI Institute announcement