David Black Selected as President and CEO of SETI Institute

April 16, 2014
Source: SETI Institute

David Black

The SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, has announced the selection of Dr. David Black as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. Black, who is President and CEO Emeritus of the Universities Space Research Association, as well as a Visiting Scientist at and former Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, is a widely recognized researcher in the fields of star and planet formation and the search for exoplanets. Black also served as the Chief Scientist for the Space Station and Deputy Chief for the Space Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center. He has chaired numerous advisory committees for NASA and the National Science Foundation.

“The work done at the Institute will inform humanity’s understanding of its past, and help point the way to its future,” says Black. The SETI Institute provides a focus for studies of some of the more profound questions that humans can ask. For example, how did life come into existence, and is there life on planets orbiting distant stars? “Learning how life originates, or discovering it elsewhere will raise important societal questions,” says Black.

While widely known for its expertise in the use of specialized radio antennas to search for signals that would indicate extraterrestrial intelligence, the SETI Institute has a much broader research agenda. More than 75 research scientists lead studies that bear on the search for life, past or present, on Mars or on moons of the outer solar system, as well as the location, composition, and history of asteroids, meteors, and interstellar dust. Institute scientists also investigate the mechanisms of terrestrial life’s origins and development. The Institute hosts the Rings Node of the Planetary Data System, which serves scientists worldwide.

Black notes, “With the discovery of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of planets orbiting distant stars, the mission of the SETI Institute is more relevant now than when it began.” The Institute is closely involved with data analysis for NASA’s Kepler Mission, an exciting effort that has discovered nearly a thousand exoplanets, and yielded our first real understanding of the occurrence and arrangement of planetary systems in other star systems.

Black is assuming leadership of an Institute committed to educational activities to improve the teaching of science, and to increase science literacy among the public. These efforts include outreach programs for the SOFIA and Kepler telescope missions, as well as teacher training, a weekly one-hour science radio program, and the video streaming of colloquia held at the Institute’s Mountain View headquarters. The Institute’s social media maintains a conversation with a worldwide audience.

The Institute’s research agenda emphasizes the nature and distribution of life beyond Earth. It was founded in 1984 by Thomas Pierson, and started with a handful of scientists and a single project. Pierson managed the growing Institute until 2012, at which point he was succeeded by Edna DeVore. Black steps into an organization that has increased significantly in size and scope, and now boasts over 120 employees.

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Last updated April 16, 2014