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A Hillsdale physics student pub­lished his research on radio tech­nology that has the capa­bility of dis­cov­ering extrater­res­trial tech­nology. The paper was pub­lished in Nature Astronomy journal.

Senior Shane Smith is studying physics with a par­ticular focus in radio astronomy. In the summer of 2020, he worked as an intern at the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Berkeley Search for Extrater­res­trial Intel­li­gence Center to conduct research for Break­through Ini­tia­tives, a pri­vately funded physics research program. 

“This is the first time a Hillsdale physics student has pub­lished in a nature journal. It’s very rare for an under­graduate any­where to publish in Nature Astronomy,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Physics Timothy Dolch said. “In general, it’s unusual for under­grad­uates to be authors on pub­lished papers in any journal.”

Smith said he never expected to be pub­lished in such a big journal as Nature Astronomy. 

“The entire pub­lishing process took about six months to get it to the journal and another three after that until pub­li­cation,” Smith said. 

“I received a lot of help from all the col­lab­o­rating researchers who all have Ph.D.s and publish tons of papers. That was really helpful.”

At UC Berkeley, Smith sifted through data col­lected by radio tele­scopes to look for signs of intel­ligent tech­nology in space.

“The research lab that I worked with is looking for things called tech­nosig­na­tures, or signs of tech­nology in the uni­verse that’s not our own,” Smith said. “One of the main problems they deal with in trying to find intel­ligent tech­nology is fil­tering it out from inter­ference in our own technology.”

Smith said he observed radio fre­quencies taken in by tele­scopes aimed at Proxima Cen­tauri, earth’s closest neigh­boring star. The result of his research was the iso­lation of a signal that fit the cri­teria SETI researchers believe signals from Proxima Cen­tauri would resemble.

Ulti­mately, Smith and other researchers con­cluded the signal he observed was “an unusual but locally gen­erated form of inter­ference,” according to Smith’s pub­li­cation in Nature Astronomy.

Despite this con­clusion, Smith said his findings were promising because they display the capa­bil­ities of the current tech­nology to con­tinue con­ducting high level research in this area.

Dolch said Smith’s findings, though not defin­itive evi­dence of extrater­res­trial life, are an enormous precedent for further discovery.

“Searching for tech­nosig­na­tures is the most dif­ficult and the most important sci­en­tific endeavor ever attempted,” Dolch said. “Many non-detection papers have been pub­lished over the years, but this one is a Dunkirk moment.”

Smith’s article is available to read on Nature Astronomy’s website.