Skip to content

Jill Tarter

Chair Emeritus for SETI Research, SETI Institute

Jill Tarter is the former Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute. She earned her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and a MS and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Tarter served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey, and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science. Currently, she serves on the Breakthrough Listen Advisory Committee, as a Member of the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute, and on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array, a radio telescope built to conduct SETI observations as well as traditional radio astronomy research. Eventually this innovative array will consist of 350 6-m antennas; today it has 42 antennas at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory where it is operated by SRI International and conducts SETI observations at least 12 hours per day.

Tarter’s work has brought her wide recognition in the scientific community, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, two Public Service Medals from NASA, Chabot Observatory’s Person of the Year award (1997), Women of Achievement Award in the Science and Technology category by the Women’s Fund and the San Jose Mercury News (1998), and the Tesla Award of Technology at the Telluride Tech Festival (2001). She was elected an AAAS Fellow in 2002 and a California Academy of Sciences Fellow in 2003 (and CAS Scientific Trustee in 2007). She served as CAS President 2015-16. In 2004 TimeMagazine named her one of the Time 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2012 one of the Time 25 in Space. In 2005, Tarter was awarded the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization at Wonderfest, the biannual San Francisco Bay Area Festival of Science. In 2006 Tarter became a National Advisory Board member for the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy in Washington, DC. She is also a Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) Fellow. In 2009 she won a TED Prize, and was named the 2014 Jansky Lecturer. Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) named in her honor.

A biography by Sarah Scoles, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, was published by Pegasus Press in 2017.

Topic Series