Trained as a quantum mechanic, Gerry was lured to the SETI Institute by the intriguing possibilities of using the multiple antennas of the Allen Telescope Array to generate images of the sky with thousands of beams smaller than any single antenna could produce. Since his arrival in 2000, he has undertaken many studies on beam formation including the Array’s ability to produce “negative” beams – useful for cancelling out, or “rejecting”, signals from such man-made noise makers as telecommunications satellites. Working with the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) team, this capability is now built-in to the Institute's search system.
For Gerry, trying out new ideas on how signals might be encoded is another exciting angle. While most ETI searches, including those at the Institute, look for the simplest kind of radio signals, he and other scientists are working on techniques to capture more general classes of signals: signals that contain a message from our stellar neighbors. While not abandoning the conventional SETI search, Gerry plans to perform additional kinds of searches in parallel for these message-bearing signals using the unique properties of the ATA which allows multiple simultaneous searches.
And while a SETI detection is a dramatic prospect, Gerry points out that the ATA will really push the envelope for radio astronomy too. It’s not just a new instrument for cosmic research; it’s revolutionary. Lately, he has turned to the problem of making images with radio data, and he's very interested in "imaging SETI," which can extract thousands of times as much information from our radio telescope than more conventional SETI processing. This will speed up the SETI search by a similar factor.
Before venturing into astrophysics more than a decade ago, Gerry started his physics career in surface physics and thin film magnetism. He has expertise in semiconductors, magnetic materials, and low dimensional systems. In this part of his career, Gerry learned a great deal about quantum mechanics, diffraction and holography, and his thesis topic was on the development of a new kind of electron holography to obtain 3D pictures of atoms. Now Gerry uses these same methods performing holography and interferometry with the ATA.