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Airdate: Dec 01, 2008
Scientist: Doug Vakoch

KSC SETI - Math Speak

KSC SETI - Math Speak
Aliens might not speak English or Chinese, but they may very well be fluent in math.

Transcript:

music; ambience

“If we send a message, what should we say, and how do we say it? I mean, they’re not going to understand English or Chinese or Swahili.”

Well, how do you send a message to someone or some thing that doesn’t speak any language known to man? In fact, they may not even communicate with speech at all. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Doug Vakoch is Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

“Our challenge in communicating with extraterrestrials is we don’t have a common language, so we have to try to make one. The usual starting point in our messages is math. I mean, one thing we’ll know if we get a message from E.T. is that they can build radio transmitters, and it seems like engineers on other worlds are gonna have to know one plus one equals two as well as we do. And once you can communicate some basic math, you can communicate more complicated math and, ultimately, a lot about chemistry and physics. There’s an underlying mathematical nature to the world around us. Think of a nautilus shell, this beautiful spiral. It’s not coincidental that it can be described mathematically. It’s the way the nautilus grows. Mathematics is imbued in nature. It’s found in the structure of spiral galaxies. And so, if we can tap into that sense of aesthetics, maybe E.T. can as well.”

We’ll hear more about SETI in future programs. If you know of a third to sixth grader who wants to know more about the search for life in outer space, then have them check out kidsciencechallenge.com. It’s a nationwide competition where kids come up with their own ideas for scientists like Doug Vakoch. And if their idea is chosen, they get to see it turned into reality. That’s kidsciencechallenge.com

Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.