Jack Welch Holds First Academic Post for SETI
Posted February 10, 1999
The Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence was created last year thanks to a generous gift by the two alumni, who have had a long-standing interest in the field.
"It's a real honor," said the first holder of the chair, William "Jack" Welch, former director of campus's Radio Astronomy Laboratory and current vice president of the Mountain View-based SETI Institute. "The search for extraterrestrial intelligence embraces many fields of science -- physics, astronomy, computer engineering -- and this position supports them all. "
"Searching for other civilizations is very important, and the discovery of an intelligent signal from space would have all sorts of repercussions," said Watson Alberts, a physiologist and now retired science administrator from the National Institutes of Health. "But that discovery may be a long time from now. A chair at Cal is a way to guarantee that research in this area will continue."
The chair will provide support in perpetuity for SETI research at Berkeley, and "will serve to enhance its status as an area of serious scientific inquiry," according to the proposal approved by the UC Regents in June of last year.
The new endowed chair will support the research of an astronomer. Should intelligent life be discovered in the universe, the chair could be opened up to researchers in other departments, such as linguistics, who are "conducting relevant research to further the study of extraterrestrial intelligence."
Welch is set to embark on one of the most ambitious SETI projects to date -- construction of an array of 500-1,000 radio telescopes dedicated in part to searching for intelligent signals from space. He currently has a joint appointment in the astronomy and electrical engineering departments and is vice president of the SETI Institute.