The SETI Institute, a leading non-profit in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has received a transformative $200 million gift from the estate of Franklin Antonio, a long-time supporter who passed away last year.
The recent $200 million gift from Franklin Antonio’s estate, announced last week, will likely serve as a game-changer for the SETI Institute. Antonio was a big supporter of the Institute’s work for more than 12 years, and his donation is expected to further enable ongoing scientific efforts—while allowing for entirely new ones—in the search for intelligent life beyond our world.
Franklin Antonio was a co-founder and chief scientist of Qualcomm, a leading company in wireless telecommunications research and development. Antonio, a prolific inventor holding hundreds of patents, died on May 13, 2022, at the age of 67.
SETI Institute President and CEO Bill Diamond emphasized the significance of this donation, stating, “Guided by our core mission and Franklin Antonio’s vision, we now have the opportunity to elevate and expedite our research and make new discoveries to benefit all humanity for generations to come,” as he explained in a press release.
The SETI Institute employs a multi-faceted approach to this grand endeavor. Utilizing the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), it listens for signals from alien life across the cosmos. Additionally, SETI studies exoplanets to identify those that might support life. Its work in astrobiology, exploring life in extreme Earth environments, informs the search for life on other planets. Needless to say, this, along with other initiatives, costs money, so the recent donation will be of great assistance.
Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair of SETI Research at the SETI Institute and director of SETI research at the University of Oxford, highlighted Antonio’s essential role, not only as the primary benefactor of SETI research at the ATA but also as a key member of the technical team. His knowledge of communications technology was crucial in upgrading the ATA to its current status as a world-class radio telescope instrument, he said in the press release.
Excitingly, this substantial gift will allow the SETI Institute to expand its research scope, including launching more space missions and developing new educational programs, especially for underserved communities. It will also support the creation of scholarships for young scientists, foster global research partnerships, and aid in the development of innovative observational technologies and analytical instruments.
According to the Institute, SETI projects have traditionally relied on limited government grants and private donations for funding; Antonio’s contribution ensures the long-term sustainability of key SETI programs and helps in establishing new international collaborations.
Nathalie Cabrol, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research at the SETI Institute, underscored the impact of this donation across all research domains of the Institute. “It will provide our teams the freedom to pursue their own science priorities, and to examine the technological, philosophical, and societal impact of their research on our daily lives here on Earth,” she said.
It’s an epic donation for an epic cause, as humanity ponders the ultimate question: Are we alone in the universe?