Watch Searching for Exolife: In Real Life and In Stories

Written by: The Exchange

Is there life beyond the Earth? This question has tantalized humanity for ages … and has been a focus for both scientists (what is really out there?) and storytellers (what would it mean to us if it is?). Join us as we explore the ways in which exobiology – the branch of science that studies the possibility and likely nature of life on other planets – has been portrayed in media in the past, the current state of science/technology related to the search for life, and potential ways these themes can be explored in entertainment media in the future.


George Bohrer is a retired Communication Media professor who taught at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts for over 30 years. His research included study of cinematic form and the relationship between entertainment media and the culture within which they are made.

Tracy Drain is the Lead Flight Systems Engineer for the Europa Clipper mission. In her 20+ year career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she has helped to develop, test and operate a variety of robotic spacecraft to explore our Solar System. A life-long learner, she loves encouraging people of all ages to nurture their curiosity and explore the wonders that are all around us every day.

Rob Lock has worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 32 years on concepts, development and flight operations for missions to Venus, Mars, asteroids, Jupiter, Europa and Enceladus. An avid science fiction reader/watcher, he is interested in how planetary science can help humanity in science and entertainment.

Jill Tarter served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey, and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She currently serves on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.

Dan Wilner is an LA-based writer-director working across film, television, theatre, and fiction. His work explores the intersections between queerness, spirituality, and the mystical. He is a practicing Zen Buddhist and devoted dog dad.


Grace Fanson is pursuing a degree in Physics (with a focus on Astrophysics) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She got to see the Kepler mission launch in 2009, which helped spark her interest in science and engineering. She stumbled on a Science & Entertainment Exchange event recently and fell in love with the mission of the program – and now is excited to explore the intersection between science and storytelling.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.