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Frank Drake in His Own Words about the Origin of the Drake Equation

Type of Homework:

  • Case Study
  • Student Guide
  • Writing Assignment
  • Other (Reading Supplement)

Brief description of the homework and its strengths:

In this brief, personal article, Frank Drake recounts the real story of how he came up with the Drake Equation.



Type and level of course in which you would use this homework:

I use this in undergraduate introductory courses with nonscience majors, but it could be used as well in history of astronomy courses or intro courses for majors as an example of how new concepts can arise from unexpected circumstances.

Skills and concepts that students should have mastered before beginning the homework:

Intro to the Drake Equation and SETI

How the homework is situated in its course

Can be part of the regular reading or for extra credit.  Or it could be the beginning of an activity or lab considering the Drake Equation and SETI.


Many of us teach about the Drake Equation in courses on planets and SETI, and even ask students to make their own estimates of the probability of technologically capable extra-terrestrial life using the equation. When I was editing the "Astronomy Beat" column for the ASP, I asked Frank Drake to recount the story of how he had come up with the equation.  He had told the story earlier in the book he wrote with Dave Sobel, but for this edition he updated and corrected that earlier version.  This is a wonderfully personal and authoritative record, written at the right level for our students, of how one of the key teaching and thinking tools in our field came to be.



Digital Object Identifier

Submitted By:

First Name:Andrew
Last Name:Fraknoi
Institution:Foothill College