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Dear friends,

In this first newsletter, I would like to tell you how our SETI initiative originated and provide you with an update on course preparations.

I will devote a future newsletter to my early influences: working with my thesis advisor Donald Campbell, attending Carl Sagan's 60th birthday celebration at Cornell University, and learning about the work of SETI pioneers such as Frank Drake, Jill Tarter, and Paul Horowitz. This newsletter concentrates on recent history.

In the summer of 2014, I organized a SETI reading group. Every week, a small group of UCLA students and I met to discuss assigned readings that included many of the SETI classics. Then, in Spring 2015, I included a SETI module as part of my graduate-level course on radio and radar astronomy. The students' responses in both instances was so enthusiastic that I decided to create an entire course devoted to SETI.

The SETI course, "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Theory and Applications," is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Although I very much want to keep the course accessible, I chose to specify two course prerequisites: a fundamental physics course and a fundamental calculus course. I can build on that knowledge to describe SETI concepts such as wave propagation and spectral analysis.

The SETI course moved from concept to reality relatively quickly. It was approved by our Curriculum Committee on May 20, 2015, by the Dean of Physical Sciences on May 27, by the Faculty Executive Committee on May 28, and by the Graduate Division on June 1, 2015. The UCLA registrar's office processed the application on June 29, 2015, at which point the course was officially listed in the catalog.

At about the same time, and unbeknownst to us, a transformative gift for SETI was in the making. The Breakthrough Listen Initiative was announced on July 20, 2015. I am overjoyed by the vision and commitment of Yuri Milner and his team. I will write more about that amazing initiative in a future newsletter.
The 100 m diameter Green Bank Telescope.
The 305 m diameter Arecibo telescope.
 Just a few weeks ago, I found out that Janet Marott, a UCLA alumna who advises our Dean of Physical Sciences, had decided to make a generous gift towards our SETI initiative. I was elated because Janet's gift allowed me to proceed with the purchase of telescope time on two of the largest telescopes on Earth: the 100 m Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia and the 305 m telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico (see photos). Our current plans are to use two hours of GBT time and one hour of Arecibo time in mid-April.

The timing of the observing runs was chosen to balance two constraints during the short (10-week) academic quarter that starts on March 28. On the one hand, I would like the students to have absorbed sufficient radio astronomy fundamentals so that they can meaningfully contribute to the observing sequence. On the other hand, I would like to allocate plenty of time for data analysis. An important component of the course is for students to write computer programs to process the data that they will acquire at the telescope. By the end of the course, students will have grasped fundamental concepts in telecommunications, computer science, signal processing, and statistical analysis.

In a future newsletter, I will describe how I envision the course sequence with a mix of lectures and computer exercises.

Warm regards,

Jean-Luc Margot

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