TYCOON PHYSICS


In recent years we have seen physics advance on two new fronts: Festival Physics and Tycoon Physics.

Regarding the latter, Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner have been in the news recently. They want to put their combined might behind the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project. Hawking is providing the impetus and Yuri Borisovich is providing $100 million.

I found the following letter to the editor in today’s San Francisco Chronicle interesting:

Alien life

Regarding “Russian’s huge gift for alien research” (July 20): The Russian tycoon’s $100 million grant to search for alien signals is a perfect example of how glamorized “pop” science is vulgarizing the world of research. If we have learned anything from 55 years of searches for alien signals (a total failure to date), it’s that the likelihood aliens anywhere in our galaxy are expending the incredible amounts of energy needed to communicate across interstellar distances using electromagnetism-based signals (radio, laser beams, etc.) is vanishingly small. Assuming they exist at all and are willing to expend such energies, they have almost certainly switched to a far more futuristic, energy-efficient technique totally unknown to terrestrial physicists.

At a time when there are so many far more intriguing astrophysical mysteries to investigate, the fact that the distinguished Parkes Observatory is willing to devote “at least 25 percent” of its time to this silly project reminds me of Victorian scientists who attended seances in hopes of detecting ghosts.

John Davidson, San Francisco

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