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April 9, 2017
Dear friends,

Spring quarter at UCLA has started, and so has the Spring 2017 edition of the SETI course.  I am very excited about our second offering and quite pleased with the demographics of the class.  There are currently over 20 students enrolled, with good representation from physics, astrophysics, geophysics, engineering, and computer science.  The gender balance this year is better than last year, with eight women enrolled in the class.  I am also delighted to have donor Michael Thacher enrolled as a Senior Scholar.

Graduate student Adam Greenberg has volunteered to continue his role as the unofficial teaching assistant for the class, which is wonderful because it will considerably improve the students' experience and the quality of the source code that we will be developing.  Adam is currently writing a first-author article that will also serve as the last chapter of his PhD thesis on radar observations, orbit determination, and shape modeling of asteroids.  He has done extremely well and is expected to graduate this summer.
Adam Greenberg configures equipment in the control room at the Arecibo Observatory for his radar observations of asteroid 1566 Icarus.
Last year, I had submitted a proposal to Google in the hopes of hiring Adam or someone like Adam to implement advanced algorithms in our SETI data processing pipeline, but the proposal was unfortunately not selected.  I will continue to explore non-traditional sources of funding to recruit and retain SETI researchers.  One possibility is to seek an endowed fellowship and to take advantage of a one-to-one matching fund program offered by UCLA until June 2018.  NASA and NSF do not fund SETI research, and funding from these agencies may very well deteriorate in the next few years.

Our first two classes followed last year's formula: a description of radio astronomy fundamentals so that students can help design an observing sequence starting next week, and a description of celestial coordinate systems so that students can figure out exactly when sources are observable at specific observing sites.  The first problem set encourages students to become acquainted with telescope parameters (receivers, antenna gain, beamwidth, data rate, etc.).  

As we did last year, we will be using Python to write most of our source code.  Many students are already familiar with Python, whose syntax is elegant and easy to learn.  This year, we are also using the Jupyter computing environment, which provides several pedagogical advantages.  First, Jupyter can be run in any web browser, which simplifies connections to our storage server.  Previously, students invoked terminal windows or remote displays to run their code.  Now, they can simply open a browser on the lab computers or their personal computer at home to run their code.  Jupyter is based on the concepts of notebooks, which facilitate the integration of source code, text, and graphics.  It also has useful help features for Python functions and arguments.  You can try Jupyter for yourself at
An example of a Jupyter notebook that includes Python code and graphics.
On Wednesday, April 5, the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences (EPSS) hosted a public talk by Dr. William Borucki, Principal Investigator of the Kepler mission.  Over 200 people attended this event.  Many attendees praised Dr. Borucki for giving a superb talk.  He emphasized that the Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of planets, many of which are similar in size to Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their respective host stars.  He touched upon the implications for life elsewhere and answered audience questions about the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations.  The Daily Bruin, UCLA's student newspaper, published a story about it.  If you wish to receive information about EPSS public talks and events, you can subscribe to the Friends of EPSS mailing list.

Warm regards,

Jean-Luc Margot

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