Happy birthday, Jill!
In 1984, Dr. Jill Tarter co-founded the SETI Institute alongside Tom Pierson and led the first grant-funded proposal for SETI research here. Since then, she has served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at USC, Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. She is the Jansky Lecturer in 2014.
Dr. Tarter began her career with a degree in engineering from Cornell University and subsequent master’s and doctoral degrees in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She coined the term “brown dwarf” for certain small-mass objects that cannot fuse hydrogen. And when she turned her attention to the search for life beyond Earth, she changed the landscape of SETI going forward.
Around the SETI Institute, however, she is Jill. Her warm smiles and gentle voice have welcomed interns and scientists alike. For many years, she has joined the internship cohorts up at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, teaching them about SETI research and the Allen Telescope Array. And of course, she is known as the inspiration for the character of Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s novel and movie, “Contact”. During those summer trips, she has watched the movie with the students and given them background information about the story and the filming. (She also has generously participated in the internship shenanigans with some of their parody videos over the years.)
Happy birthday, Dr. Tarter! Here’s to many more to come.