Subscribe to receive SETI Institute news weekly in your inbox.

Honors and Surprises Unveiled at SETI Institute’s 2023 Drake Awards Gala

Honors and Surprises Unveiled at SETI Institute’s 2023 Drake Awards Gala

Drake Awards 2023 stage group photo
Drake Awards recipients and presenters group photo. Image Credit: SETI Institute. View full image here.

September 21, 2023, Mountain View, CA – Last week, the SETI Institute celebrated the prestigious 2023 Drake Awards, an event that not only recognized Dr. John Rummel for his outstanding programmatic contributions and unwavering advocacy for SETI, Astrobiology, and Planetary Protection, but also unveiled several other notable awards and delightful surprises. The evening included presentation of the Carl Sagan Center Director's Award, the SETI Institute Trustee Service Award, and a surprise presentation honoring the newest Fellow of the SETI Institute. Undergraduate interns representing the next generation of scientists, were recognized through the REU Award of Excellence and SETI Forward Awards.

  • Fellow of the SETI Institute: Dr. Nathalie Cabrol
  • Carl Sagan Center Director’s Award: Dr. Uma Gorti
  • Board of Trustees Service Award: Presented posthumously to Shahzada Dawood
  • 2022 REU Award of Excellence: Akza Sam and Kendra Nguyen
  • 2023 Drake Award: Dr. John Rummel (previously announced here)
  • SETI Forward Award: Benjamin Fields, Ze-Wen Koh and Lana Tilke (previously announced here)

Dr. Moiya McTier hosted the gala event, and closing remarks were delivered by Frank Drake's daughters, Nadia and Leila Drake.

“Our special guest, former NASA Associate Administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen said it best when he noted that science is about curiosity, hope and the thrill of exploring the unknown,” said SETI Institute CEO, Bill Diamond.  “The Drake Awards is a celebration of science and an opportunity to honor those young, and not-so-young, who engage and excel in its noble pursuits.”

Bill Diamond presenting Nathalie Cabrol her portrait. Image Credit: SETI Institute.
Bill Diamond presenting Nathalie Cabrol her
portrait. Image Credit: SETI Institute. 
View full image here.

SETI Institute Fellow Dr. Nathalie Cabrol
In a surprise presentation, the SETI Institute recognized Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, as its newest Fellow of the SETI Institute, a rare honor in the SETI Institute's history. Her remarkable work in astrobiology has significantly advanced the understanding of life and its interactions with the environment. Cabrol is the author of hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and two best-selling books published in France, Voyage aux frontières de la vie and À l'aube de nouveaux horizons, which will be published in English next year. Cabrol is the recipient of NASA and other research awards. The SETI Institute is proud to count Cabrol as a SETI Institute Fellow.

Nathalie Cabrol, Uma Gorti, and Bill Diamond. Image Credit: SETI Institute.
Nathalie Cabrol, Uma Gorti, and Bill Diamond.
Image Credit: SETI Institute. 
View full image here.

Carl Sagan Center Director’s Award Dr. Uma Gorti
Dr. Uma Gorti received the Carl Sagan Center's Director's Award for her groundbreaking research on star and planetary system formation. Her dedication to unraveling the mysteries of celestial bodies, from interstellar clouds to fully formed solar systems, has contributed significantly to our understanding of the cosmos. The award pays homage to the legacy of Carl Sagan, a former SETI Institute Trustee, whose pioneering work in space science continues to inspire scientists and the public.

SETI Institute Board of Trustees Service Award: Shahzada Dawood
The SETI Institute also paid tribute to the late Shahzada Dawood, a devoted trustee whose passion for science and education left an indelible mark on the SETI Institute. In appreciation of his service and support, the SETI Institute presented the Board of Trustees Service Award to his wife, Christine Dawood.

REU Award of Excellence: Akza Sam and Kendra Nguyen
Each year, the SETI Institute hosts the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program providing undergraduate students with an internship opportunity to conduct an individual research project in one-on-one collaboration with a SETI Institute scientist. While all the students do outstanding work, including conference presentations and contributions to peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, the REU Award of Excellence honors exceptional achievement. The 2022 award recognizes two such individuals, Akza Sam and Kendra Nguyen.

Image Credit: Akza Sam.
Image Credit: Akza Sam. 
View full image here.

Akza Sam recently graduated from the State University of New York at New Paltz with a double major in Physics and Astronomy. She is currently a first-year PhD student in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester.
During her internship, she was introduced to the field of asteroid radar modeling and tasked with modeling the near-Earth asteroid 2008 EV5 and performing clustering analysis on a sample of potential boulders on its surface. Working with Dr. Michael Busch, she utilized the SHAPE software and delay-Doppler radar images from the Arecibo and Goldstone planetary radars to estimate the shape, spin state, and other physical properties of the asteroid.

Image Credit: Kendra Nguyen.
Image Credit: Kendra Nguyen. 
View full image here.

Kendra Nguyen is a senior at Pomona College majoring in Astrophysics and minoring in Politics. Kendra is passionate about studying exoplanets and will be graduating in May 2024 with the hope of continuing to graduate school to pursue research on exoplanet compositions. 

Kendra worked with Dr. Douglas Caldwell to identify TESS planet candidates with data from the TESS Science Processing Operations Center (SPOC) pipeline. The project focused on studying TCEs found in TESS Sectors 48 to 50, observations of the Northern Hemisphere. They could identify if TCE signals had a high likelihood of belonging to an exoplanet with the help of the Python pipeline TESS-ExoClass modified for FFI targets and additional manual inspection through Python coding. They submitted 20 potential candidates to the Exoplanet Follow-up Observing Program (ExoFOP) as Community Targets of Interest (CTOIs). 

To learn more about the SETI Institute’s Drake Award, please visit our website

About the SETI Institute
Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the universe and share that knowledge with the world. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages data analytics, machine learning, and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia, and government agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
SETI Institute





Recent Articles