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Jill Cornell Tarter

-Pathfinder for Cornell Women in Engineering-

•  Pioneer In the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -


Stephen Itoga, PhD

Click on Stephen's name to get Up Close and Personal with him.

Update: After first posting this article, Jill Tarter was one of three people to receive the coveted TED Prize in 2009:

Jill Tarter Portrait

Jill (Cornell) Tarter was one of two women who enrolled in the engineering program back in the fall of 1961. She was one of the last to ever graduate with the five-year "professional" Bachelors of Engineering Physics degree, where most of us took the new option of a four-year Bachelors of Science degree (with majors in various engineering areas). Since then she has continued her trend setting and role setting experiences as Director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View , California. Here she holds the Bernard M. Oliver endowed chair. The SETI Institute is also home to the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, named after Cornell’s very famous astronomy professor.

Jill Tarter

Jill Tarter

Jill has received many awards from the scientific community including Public Service Medals from NASA, the Tesla Award of Technology at the Telluride Tech Festival, the Lifetime Achievement Award from women in Aerospace, and the Chabot Observatory’s Person of the Year award. She is a Fellow of AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science) and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. Just as important, Jill has been very active in promoting the role of women in science and engineering education. Her projects, which include the Life in the Universe series for elementary school grades 3-9 and Voyages Through Time modules for 9 th grade, are now widely used curriculum material for middle schools.

SETI Institute


Of course many people are familiar with her work as it was portrayed by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie "Contact". Imagine being portrayed by a two time Academy Award winning Yalie who was not even born when we enrolled at Cornell. In keeping with the family tradition, Jill’s a distant descendent of Ezra Cornell, her daughter Shana graduated from Cornell in 1988. Shana and her husband, Steve Platz (Cornell 1990) are on their way to China with their adopted daughter Li Yao. For one year they will be living in the beautiful remote southern village of Li Jiang , while Li Yao learns Chinese in kindergarten and her parents teach English to students in the College of Culture and Tourism of Yunnan University.



Jill is married to Jack Welch who holds the Marilyn and Watson Alberts Chair at UC Berkeley. His is the only endowed university chair for SETI research in the world. Having her own endowed chair allowed Jill to give a talk at Jack’s retirement symposium entitled "Life With Two Chairs And No Table". This referred to their endowed appointments and the fact that Jack has taken over their dining room table for his research work. Currently they are working to build the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system destined to spread over 10 times the real estate occupied by Cornell’s Arecibo facility, but constructed from 350 small 20-foot diameter antennas to make it a superb instrument for rapid surveys for technological ET signals as well as astrophysical sources.