NASA’s search for life in the cosmos is focus of April 17 lecture and discussion

‘Whispers from Other Worlds,’ a public lecture and discussion at the Rio Theater, features NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen and science journalist Nadia Drake

Thomas Zurbuchen
Nadia Drake

Thomas Zurbuchen, retired director of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, and science journalist Nadia Drake will talk about the search for life beyond Earth in a free public lecture and discussion, ‘Whispers from Other Worlds,’ on Monday, April 17, at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz. The event will start at 7 p.m. and advance registration is encouraged.

Sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Astrobiology and Science Communication programs, the lecture will first frame the discussion of looking for extraterrestrial life in the context of the famed 1961 Drake equation, a framework that connects physical, chemical, and biological processes with the development of detectable civilizations within our own galaxy. The speakers will then cover three ways in which NASA’s science program focuses on identifying signatures of life elsewhere in the universe.

The lecture will be followed by a moderated discussion with time for questions.

Thomas H. Zurbuchen, known in the space community as “Dr. Z,” is the longest continually serving head of science at NASA, a post he held from October 2016 through the end of 2022. As NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, he was responsible for all aspects of NASA leadership in space science. During his tenure, NASA launched 37 science missions and started 54, including the James Webb Space Telescope, two Mars landings, the Ingenuity helicopter, the Parker Solar Probe, and the DART mission. Zurbuchen also conceived and led the Earth System Observatory, an advanced multi-platform observatory that creates a 3D holistic view of the Earth, from bedrock to atmosphere. He is a member of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences, recipient of the NASA Outstanding Service Medal, associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, Distinguished Level.

Nadia Drake is the senior physics editor at Quanta magazine and a graduate of the UCSC Science Communication Program. Her father, SETI pioneer Frank Drake, developed the Drake equation and was a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and dean of natural sciences at UCSC. Nadia Drake specializes in covering astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science, as well as anything involving jungles and spiders. Her byline has also appeared in National Geographic, Atlantic, Nature, New York Times, Science News, Wired, and Scientific American, for which she recently led coverage of NASA’s Artemis I moon mission. From an early age, she has been a keen observer of the search for life beyond Earth—a field that is grounded in the early work of her father. Now, somewhat serendipitously, much of her journalistic work focuses on astrobiology, the search for life’s origins on Earth and beyond. She is also a member of NASA’s panel that is investigating Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP). She has won many awards for her work, including recognition from the American Astronomical Society’s divisions of planetary science and high-energy astrophysics.