Confirmed CONTACT 2016 Program Participants

Topics and abstract links will be added as they become available.

Penelope J. Boston

Topic: "Can Exoplanet Studies Inform Astrobiology and SETI?"
Penelope Boston is professor of Cave and Karst Studies at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. She is an original member of the Case for Mars project, and a veteran of CONTACT with an abiding interest in extremophiles (human and microbial). On 31 May, she will become the new Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Her research areas include geomicrobiology and astrobiology in extreme environments, human life support issues offworld, and use of robotics to assist exploration and science. An eventual permanent human presence on Mars is one of the driving passions of her life.

William J. Clancey

Topic: "Designing for the Methanians on Arcturus IV: The Creative Engineering Approach of John E. Arnold"
William J. Clancey is a Senior Research Scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. He was previously on assignment to NASA Ames Research Center as Chief Scientist for Human-Centered Computing, Intelligent Systems Division (1998-2013). He has extensive experience in Artificial Intelligence applications to medicine, education, and robotics, combining models of reasoning, agent assistants, and ethnographic studies of work practices. His scientific interest is to relate the nature of conceptualization to the cultural evolution of cognition and the varieties of animal consciousness. Clancey holds a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University and was a founding member of the Institute for Research on Learning (1987-1997). He is a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, the AAAI, and the Association for Psychological Science. His most recent book, Working on Mars (August 2012), examines how the Mars Exploration Rovers have changed the nature of planetary field science.

Bruce Damer

Topic: "The SHEPHERD concept for sustainable spaceflight & Mars exploration"
Bruce Damer is a research scientist at UC Santa Cruz, designer of user interfaces and computing technologies since the 1980s, team lead for a decade of spacecraft and mission simulation projects for NASA, curator of the DigiBarn Computer Museum, and frequent speaker on science, space, and general interest topics. He earned his PhD in 2011 at University College Dublin, in Ireland for work on the EvoGrid: An Approach to Computational Origin of Life Endeavours. For more, see his personal site and podcast at:

Chris Ford

Topic: "The Photorealistic Revolution Continues"
Chris Ford is RenderMan Business Director at Pixar Animation Studios (Walt Disney Co) with over 25 years experience in computer graphics (CG) software development in contemporary feature film visual effects, animation, game development, and scientific visualization. Prior to joining Pixar in 2005, Chris held key positions at Autodesk where he was Director of Product Management for 3D Media & Entertainment software tools between 2002 to 2005, and at Alias|Wavefront (SGI) as Senior Product Manager between 1997 and 2002, introducing to market Maya, the worlds leading professional digital content creation software. Film industry applications managed by Chris have been awarded two Academy Awards for technological innovation and he is credited in eleven feature films. Chris is also an enthusiastic amateur astronomer and astro-photographer with a specific interest in the cause of public science education through advanced visualization techniques, and current serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Gus Frederick

Topic: "The Golden Age of Free Thought"
Gus Frederick is an Instructional Technologist for the Fire and Life Safety Education Branch of the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal. A third-generation Freethinker, he is active in his community of Silverton in a number of areas including serving on the Planning Commission, Historical Society Board and most recently with the creation of the Liberal University Press, publisher of local historical tomes, in honor of the Liberal University of Oregon, the first Free Thought center of higher learning West of the Mississippi, founded in Silverton in 1897.

Jim Funaro

Topic: "The Evolution of Star Trek as an American Mythos"
Jim Funaro, founder of CONTACT, is professor emeritus in Anthropology at Cabrillo College in California, which has honored him with its highest award for teaching excellence. He has presented more than fifty papers in various professional venues. Publications demonstrating his broad research interests are "Anthropologists as Culture Designers for Offworld Colonies" and "On the Cultural Impact of Extraterrestrial Contact." Jim's personal and professional approach to life combines the sciences and the arts. Besides his graduate degrees in Anthropology (OSU, UC Davis), he holds a BA cum laude in Literature (Denison U) and is a published poet; he won the American Anthropological Association's 1997 prize for poetry with "The Dancing Stones of Callanish."

Joel Hagen

Topic: "3-D Printing: A Personal Journey through Art, Science and Education"
Joel Hagen is cofounder of CONTACT and an original member of the Board of Directors. He is a MER Collaborator and a full time computer graphics instructor at Modesto Junior College. For many years he has worked with NASA Ames processing images for their science teams on the Pathfinder, MER and Phoenix Mars missions. Joel also designs extra-terrestrial life forms and biomes for television. His work has appeared on PBS, BBC, NHK in Japan, Discovery and National Geographic channels. Joel is an award-winning artist and animator and one of the founding members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists. His paintings have hung in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum and the Gagarin Center in Moscow.

Jeroen Lapré

Topic: "Maelstrom Revisited"
With over 13 years of feature film visual effects experience while at Industrial Light & Magic, Jeroen is celebrating his 7th year as Senior Technical Director in the Visualization Studio, at the California Academy of Sciences. The Visualization Studio team works on internally produced dome productions for the visiting public.

Steve McDaniel

"Self-Sterilizing Coatings and Planetary Protection"
Steve McDaniel received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Texas in 1974, a Master of Science in Genetics from Texas A & M University in 1976, his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Texas A & M University in 1985, after which he finalized his technical training as a post-doctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine. He has published numerous scientific works in his areas of expertise. In 1991, he obtained his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Houston. He is the managing partner of McDaniel & Associates, P.C. (, a law firm he established in 1999, whose attorneys specialize in technology litigation and intellectual property protection.

Steve founded Reactive Surfaces in 2002 and currently serves as that company's Managing Member and Chief Innovation Officer. Reactive Surfaces builds bio-based functionalized coatings and additives. His company was awarded the 2008 American Coatings Award for its innovative technology. He holds numerous patents in the US and elsewhere related to his work on bio-based functional coatings. \

Steve is a life-long, avid space enthusiast and amateur astrobiologist. He co-founded Explore Mars, served and commanded missions at simulated Martian desert and arctic habitats for the Mars Society, and served as biologist for the Swedish Polar Expedition team investigating gully formation and microbiology in the Norwegian polar regions. He is a frequent speaker on space-related technology, including presentations at conferences on Mars exploration, SETI and published debates on exo-life detection.

Chris McKay

Topic: "Mars! Science and Science Fiction on the Red Planet"
Chris McKay is Chief Scientist at the Planetary Systems Branch (Code SST) of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, in Mountain View, California.

He majored in physics at Florida Atlantic University, where he also studied mechanical engineering, graduating in 1975, and received his PhD in astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado in 198His research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He's also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human exploration. He's been involved with polar and desert research, traveling to the Antarctic Dry Valleys, the Atacama Desert, the Arctic, and the Namib Desert to conduct research in these Mars-like environments.

Chris has done research on extraterrestrial planetary atmospheres, particularly the atmospheres of Titan and Mars, and on the origin and evolution of life. He is a co-investigator on the Huygens probe, the Mars Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory. He also performed field research on extremophiles, in such locations as Death Valley, the Atacama Desert, Axel Heiberg Island, and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica.

He is a member of the board of directors of the Planetary Society, a past member of the board of Directors of CONTACT: Cultures of the Imagination, works with the Mars Society, and has written and spoken on space exploration and terraforming. He is also an adviser for the Microbes Mind Forum.

David Miller

Topic: "Some Non-threatening Forms of Human-Robot Interaction: Assistive Robotics"
David P. Miller is the Wilkonson Chair and Professor at the University of Oklahoma. He has appointments in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Biomedical Engineering programs. He is also serves as the President of KISS Institute for Practical Robotics a Not-For-Profit corporation specializing in STEM activities and coding education. His teaching focuses on coding, robotics and space science.

His research activities center around the application of robot systems and control to improve education, mobility and/or the human experience of controlling mobile devices. In particular: 1. Smart mobility assistance: Intelligent scooters and wheelchairs. Wheelchairs and similar devices that are situationally aware and can assist the user not only in basic mobility, but also in the control of mobility to help achieve common tasks involving positioning, obstacle avoidance, navigation and control of peripheral devices. 2. Mobility training and amplification: Assistive devices to assist in the user development and acquisition of mobility skills and the cognitive skills related to mobility. 3. Interacting with mobile devices through visual, tactile and haptic interfaces such that control feels natural and has improved performance over more traditional vehicle control interfaces. 4. The use of robotics to engage students in the study of autonomy, automation and the creation of software. Dave Miller lives in Norman Oklahoma with his wife, Cathryne Stein, several saltwater reef tanks, and an uncountable number of computers and Legos.

Jim Moore

Topic: "We Are Not Alone, But There's Probably Nobody To Talk With"
Jim Moore is a biological anthropologist who studies chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates (see for more on that). After several decades at UC San Diego, he now lives near Arcata where he takes care of chickens, drives his teenagers, and hopes to live to see this CONTACT paper proven wrong.

David D. Morrison

Topic: "Life in our Neighborhood?"
David Morrison is a senior scientist at the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Morrison is the former director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. He is the past Director of Space at NASA Ames. Morrison is credited as the founder of the multi-disciplinary field of astrobiology. Morrison is best known for his work in risk assessment of near Earth objects such as asteroids and comets. Asteroid 2410 Morrison was named in his honor for his work on the subject since 1991. Morrison also known for his "Ask an Astrobiologist" series on NASA's website where he provides answers to questions submitted by the public about a variety of topics from 2012 doomsday hoaxes to planetary habitability to discovery of planets outside our solar system. He has published 12 books and over 150 papers primarily on Planetary Science, Astrobiology and Near Earth Object subjects.

Larry Niven

Topic: "The Legacy Of Heorot"
Larry Niven is a veteran of first CONTACT (and many others). Larry is one of America's premier science fiction writers. Perhaps his best-known work is Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar and Nebula awards. In addition to these awards, Niven won the Hugo for Best Short story for "Neutron Star" in 1967. Other short stories he wrote won the same award in 1972 and 1975. In 1976, he won the Hugo for Best Novelette for "The Borderland of Sol". His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. He was CONTACT's keynote speaker in 1995.

Gerald D. Nordley

Topic: "Anticipation and the Limits of Nature"
Gerald David Nordley is an author of fiction (as G. David Nordley) and nonfiction and a consulting astronautical engineer. He lives in Sunnyvale, CA. A retired Air Force officer, he has been involved in spacecraft orbital operations, engineering, and testing as well as research in advanced spacecraft propulsion. As a writer, his main interest is the future of human exploration and settlement of space, and his stories typically focuses on the dramatic aspects of individual lives within the broad sweep of a plausible human future. Gerald is a past Hugo and nebula award nominee as well as a four-time winner of the Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact annual "AnLab" reader's poll. His latest novel is To Climb a Flat Mountain, and the latest book is a collection of some of his Solar System based stories, Prelude to Stars.

Jim Pass

Topic: "The Human Dimension of Space Exploration"
Jim Pass received a doctorate in sociology from the University of Southern California in 1991. In 2003, he founded the field of astrosociology. The development of astrosociology as a social-scientific academic field continues to move forward on several fronts. In March of 2011, the 3rd Symposium on Astrosociology took place at the University of Maryland as part of the Space Propulsion, Energy International Forum (SPESIF), though SPESIF has disbanded. From 2003 through 2011, progress occurred mostly in the form of presentations at space and social science conferences. In addition, the introduction of astrosociology took place at the AIAA's Space 2005 conference. From that experience, a core group of individuals led by Dr. Pass developed the Astrosociology Working Group, which later became the Astrosociology Subcommittee.

By May 2008, enough progress existed to justify the creation of the Astrosociology Research Institute (ARI), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with a mission to develop astrosociology as an academic field and assist others -- especially students -- to participate through education and research. One of the major goals is to move astrosociology into the classroom. As a first step to that end, Dr. Pass taught the first master's level course in astrosociology for the internet-based Kepler Space University in 2010. Another significant achievement occurred in 2011, when the respected journal Astropolitics published a special issue devoted exclusively to astrosociology (January-April, Volume 9, Number 1). Current efforts underway in 2013-2014 include the Astrosociology in the Classroom program, The Journal of Astrosociology, and the Launching Astrosociology textbook.

Douglass Raybeck

Topic: "Literacy Lost Redux"
Douglas Raybeck is professor emeritus of anthropology at Hamilton College. He received his PhD in anthropology from Cornell University in 1975. He has published more than 60 papers and six books, four of which were coauthored. Topics have ranged from fieldwork in Kelantan, Malaysia, to psycholinguistics, to study skills, to the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence, and future studies. His most recent book is Looking Down the Road: A Systems Approach to Future Studies. He is widely regarded as a wonderful person.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Topic: "Science and Science Fiction, an Eccentric Orbit"
Kim Stanley Robinson is an American writer of speculative science fiction. He has published nineteen novels and numerous short stories but is best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy. Many of his novels and stories have ecological, cultural and political themes running through them and often feature scientists as heroes. Robinson has won numerous awards including the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award.

Don Scott

Topic: "Halcyon: On a Lost California Enlightenment, and Mars"
Donald Scott is an educator, author, and emeritus board member of CONTACT.

Seth Shostak

Topic: "SETI Searches For Intelligence That's Not Alive"
Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, in Mountain View, California. He has an undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University and a doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. For much of his career, Seth conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published approximately sixty papers in professional journals.

He has also written more than four hundred popular magazine, newspaper and Web articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film and television. He lectures on astronomy and other subjects at Stanford and other venues in the Bay Area, and for six years was a Distinguished Speaker for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is also Chair of the International Academy of Astronautics' SETI Permanent Committee. Every week he hosts the SETI Institute's science radio show, "Big Picture Science."

Seth has written, edited and contributed to a half dozen books. His most recent tome is Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (National Geographic).

Ben Sibelman

Topic: "Biospheric Communionism: A Utopian Vision of Contact"
Ben Sibelman is a software engineer, environmental activist, space enthusiast, and amateur science fiction writer. He is one of the four contributing members of SolSeed, a quasi-religious group that seeks to help Mother Earth give birth to a family of living worlds. He lives in Redmond, Washington.

Michael Sims

Topic: "The Great Earth Uplifting Event"
Michael Sims has a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Mathematics and led groups at NASA in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Sims is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Mars Institute and is active in the Mars Exploration Rover mission. He is a long time CONTACT veteran and emeritus member of the CONTACT Board of Directors.

Rick Sternbach

Topic: "Alien Civilizations - What Lies Beyond Our Imaginations?"
Rick Sternbach's keynote talk will cover some aspects of the Star Trek franchise and his 15 years in it, along with a mix of other fictional space travel and encounters with other intelligent beings. For more information about Rick, please see the Keynote page:

Melanie Swan

Topic: "The Future of Brain-Machine Interfaces: How to Feel Comfortable Joining a Cloudmind Collaboration"
Melanie Swan is a Philosopher and Economic Theorist at the New School for Social Research in New York NY. She is the founder of several startups including the Institute for Blockchain Studies, DIYgenomics, GroupPurchase, and the MS Futures Group. Her educational background includes an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Philosophy from Kingston University London and University of Paris VIII, and a BA from Georgetown University. She is a faculty member at Singularity University, an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and a contributor to the Edge's Annual Essay Question.

Allen G. Taylor

Topic: "Mixed Reality: A New Way to Make Contact"
Allen G. Taylor is a retired college professor, electronics engineer, computer programmer, database expert, best-selling tech book author, and lifelong science fiction fan. His current book project is on the forthcoming Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality device, which has been making major waves in the tech media since it was announced in January 2015.

Andy Weir

Topic: "What Will Commercial Spaceflight Cost in the Future?"
Author and Programmer Andrew Weir was born and raised in California. He grew up reading classic science fiction such as the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. At the age of 15, he began working as a computer programmer for Sandia National Laboratories. He studied computer science at UC San Diego, although he did not graduate. He worked as a programmer for several software companies, including AOL, Palm, MobileIron and Blizzard, where he worked on Warcraft 2. Weir began writing science fiction in his 20s and published work on his website for years. His first work to gain significant attention was "The Egg," a short story that has been adapted into a number of YouTube videos and a one-act play. Weir is best known for his first published novel, The Martian. He wrote the book to be as scientifically accurate as possible and his writing included extensive research into orbital mechanics, conditions on Mars, the history of manned spaceflight, and botany.

Zac Zimmer

Topic: "First Contact: Rewriting The Conquest Of The Americas"
Zac Zimmer is an assistant professor of Spanish at Virginia Tech, and faculty affiliate with the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) and Science and Technology in Society (STS). He received his PhD from the Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University. His research explores questions of literature, aesthetics, politics, and technology in Latin America. His current project, tentatively titled First Contact, is a comparative study of Latin American science fiction and narratives of the sixteenth century conquest of the Americas. Previous publications on contemporary Argentine literature, utopia, post-apocalyptic fiction, and the commons have appeared in The Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Latin American Research Review, Chasqui, Modern Language Notes, and Revista Otra Parte. 4