Shelley Wright to Receive SETI Institute’s 2022 Drake Award

Shelley Wright to Receive SETI Institute’s 2022 Drake Award

Shelley Wright
Shelley Wright. Photo credit: Laurie Hatch Photography.

The SETI Institute recognizes Shelley Wright's extraordinary contributions for her innovative development and use of new instruments for optical SETI.

March 28, 2022, Mountain View, CA – On May 12, 2022, Dr. Shelley Wright will receive the SETI Institute’s 2022 Drake Award. Wright has been a pioneer optical and near-infrared SETI instrument development and research throughout her career. Some of Wright's contributions include leading and collaborating on the design, construction, and implementation of pulsed laser SETI instruments. Wright was a critical team member that developed one of the most advanced optical SETI experiments and was the Principal Investigator of the first near-infrared SETI instrument (NIROSETI) and survey. Wright is currently the Principal Investigator of an all-sky, all-the-time panoramic SETI observatory called ‘PANOSETI.’

The Drake Award is named for Dr. Frank Drake, the first president of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees and creator of the so-called ‘Drake Equation.’ Drake is considered the father of scientific SETI research, having conducted the first SETI experiment, Project Ozma, at the Green Bank Radio Observatory in 1960 and his Drake Equation is recognized as a roadmap for the field of Astrobiology. Drake Award honorees are nominated by the SETI Institute’s Science Advisory Board and approved by its Board of Trustees.

Lick Observatory - Laurie Hatch Photography
Photo credit: Laurie Hatch Photography.

“I’m honored to receive the Drake Award,” said Wright, Associate Professor at the University of California San Diego. “It is Frank Drake's lifelong investment in SETI research, and his committed mentorship that paved my path here today. For me, the Drake Award extends beyond Frank's excellence in research and touches on his training of the next generation of SETI scholars. I’m lucky to have been part of the SETI community for my entire professional career and look forward to inspiring the next generation of SETI researchers as we follow in Frank's footsteps. The SETI searches that we are embarking on in the next decade are incredibly exciting and ambitious and built off the decades of work by others in the SETI field like Frank Drake and Jill Tarter.”

“It’s such a pleasure to be able to recognize Dr Wright’s impressive research accomplishments with the Drake Award,” said Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, Chair of the SETI Institute’s Science Advisory Board. “Dr. Wright has spent her career driving forward instrumental innovations in optical and IR SETI, wavelengths that are often unsung for their potential to make SETI discoveries. She has worked tirelessly and creatively, and I look forward to celebrating her continued successes!”

Established in 2001, past recipients of the Drake Award include:

  • Frank Drake, for innovation in SETI and life in the Universe research
  • Charles Townes, for visionary advocacy for optical SETI
  • William Borucki, for revolutionary contributions to exoplanet research as PI for the Kepler Space Telescope
  • Victoria Meadows, for seminal contributions to astrobiology and exoplanet research
  • Jason Wright, for groundbreaking achievements in exoplanet and SETI research
  • Paul Horowitz, for pioneering work in SETI Instrumentation for both radio and optical SETI searches
  • Dan Werthimer, for developing novel radio spectrometers as well as optical SETI detection systems

“Shelley is a wonderfully deserving recipient of this year’s Drake Award,” said Bill Diamond, President & CEO of the SETI Institute. “Our current knowledge of the ubiquity of planets and the vast number of habitable worlds in our own galaxy make SETI research more compelling than ever and Shelly has expanded the field beyond radio astronomy to new and innovative search modalities. We are thus delighted to honor her work and dedication to the field of SETI research through this recognition.”

The 2022 Drake Awards presentation will take place on May 12, 2022, at a public event held at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. The award presentation will also be livestreamed via Zoom for those unable to attend in person. Science Advisory Board member Timiebi Aganaba will host the 2022 Drake Award event. Additional honorees will include recipients of the SETI Forward Award, which encourages future scientists to pursue careers in the search for life in the universe and the Carl Sagan Center Director’s Award, which honors outstanding achievement in astrobiology, technology and exploration of life in the universe.

Additional information about the 2022 Drake Awards event and tickets for both the in-person and virtual events are here.

Shelley Wright at Lick Observatory
Photo credit: Laurie Hatch Photography.

About Shelley Wright:
Shelley Wright is an Associate Professor at the University of California San Diego, in the Department of Physics and the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. Wright has extensive experience working with optical and infrared instrumentation, with a particular focus on imaging cameras and spectrographs that operate behind large telescopes and SETI instrumentation. Her observational research focuses on galaxy and supermassive black hole formation and evolution across cosmic time. Wright currently serves as Principal Investigator for the next-generation AO instrument Liger for the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Project Scientist for the first light instrument (IRIS) for the future Thirty Meter Telescope.

Throughout her career, Wright has been a pioneer in optical and near-infrared SETI instrument development and research. Wright has been involved with the design, construction, and implementation of pulsed laser SETI instruments. Wright was a critical team member that developed one of the most advanced optical SETI experiments and was the Principal Investigator of the first near-infrared SETI instrument (NIROSETI) and survey. Wright is currently the Principal Investigator of an all-sky, all-time SETI observatory called PANOSETI.

Wright received her B.S. in Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2001. She served as support astronomer at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes on La Palma, then continued her graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Physics & Astronomy Department. Wright conducted her graduate research on W.M. Keck Observatory instrumentation and observations while working in the Infrared Astrophysical Laboratory at UCLA, receiving her Ph.D. in 2008. Wright then served as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine in 2008-2009 working on instrumentation development and scientific studies for the Thirty Meter Telescope. In 2009, she received a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship and the University of California President's Fellowship at University of California, Berkeley for her observational research program on distant galaxies. Prior to her arrival at UC San Diego, Wright was Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics from 2012-2014. Wright currently serves as the Vice-Chair of Astronomy in the UC San Diego Physics Department. As of 2020, Wright is serving as the chair of the University of California Observatories Advisory Committee (UCOAC).

About the SETI Institute
Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity's quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the universe and share that knowledge with the world. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages data analytics, machine learning, and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia, and government agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Contact information
Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
SETI Institute
mcdonald@seti.org

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