2020 Speakers



Listed alphabetically and updated as new speakers are confirmed and as biographies are submitted

Greg Barr

Greg Barr has evolved from proto-hominid (presumably) into a disc jockey, and then to a creative director, through different flavors of C-level, and is now serving as an applications tribe manager for IT enterprise operations at the second largest institute within NIH. He is the co-editor, with Martyn Fogg, of The Epona Project, former volunteer CEO of Contact: Cultures of the Imagination, and last administrator of the L5 Society: Promoting Space Development. He is currently working with Frank White, author of The Overview Effect, on The Human Space Program.

Nora Bateson

Nora Bateson, president, International Bateson Institute, is an Author, lecturer, and filmmaker. Nora is a thought leader on complex systems and daughter of Gregory Bateson, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20thCentury. She grew up living and breathing a systemic perspective, it is embodied within her. She brings art and science together and a true felt sense for a systems approach. Author of Small Arcs of Larger Circles, (2016) a core text of the Harvard Innovation Lab. Director of award winning film An Ecology of Mind.

Penelope J. Boston

Dr. Penelope Boston is Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NASA Ames Research Center, CA). From 2002-2016, she served as Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (Carlsbad, NM) and Professor and Chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Dept. at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Socorro, NM). Research areas include geomicrobiology and astrobiology in extreme environments (especially caves and mines, hot and cold deserts, high latitudes and altitudes); geological processes creating caves on other planets and moons; human life support issues in space and planetary environments; and use of robotics and other technologies to assist exploration and advance science in extreme Earth and extraterrestrial environments. She holds a PhD from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Boston received the 2010 Science Award from the National Speleological Society, and the Caving Legend Award from the Ft. Stanton Cave Study Project/Bureau of Land Management.

William Clancey

William J. Clancey is a cognitive scientist whose research relates computational models and social science in the study of people's activities and the design of technology. He received a PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University and Mathematical Sciences BA at Rice University. He has developed artificial intelligence applications for medicine, education, robotics, and spaceflight systems. At the Institute for Research on Learning (1987-1997), he co-developed ethnographic methods for studying and modeling work systems. At NASA Ames Research Center, as Chief Scientist of Human-Centered Computing, Intelligent Systems Division (1998-2013), he led projects with Johnson Space Center, notably automating file management between Mission Control and the International Space Station, which received the JSC Exceptional Software Award. His studies of field science range from the Mars analog research in the Canadian High Arctic to robotic oceanography in Polynesia. He is a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, Association for Psychological Science, Association for Advancement of AI, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers received the AIAA 2014 Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award.

Jay Cole

Jay Cole serves as Senior Advisor to the President of West Virginia University (WVU). His scholarly interests include science policy, the history of science, and the impact of science fiction literature on public opinion. Under this broad umbrella, he is particularly interested in the history - and future - of the Green Bank Observatory, a radio astronomy facility located in his home state of West Virginia. In a National Parks Traveler op-ed, he proposed the creation of a new radio astronomy national historic park that would include Green Bank, Arecibo, and the Jansky Very Large Array. Cole earned a PhD in Public Policy in Higher Education at the University of Michigan, a MA in Educational Policy and Leadership from The Ohio State University, and a BA in Political Science and History from WVU. He has been a Harry S. Truman Scholar, a Mirzayan Fellow at the National Academies, and a European Union Young Leader Delegate.

Bruce Damer

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: www.damer.com.


Keith Doyle


Chris Ford

Chris Ford is a leading authority in computer graphics software, photorealistic imaging and the entertainment industry. Recently Business Director at Pixar Animation Studios, Chris previously held key positions at Autodesk as Director of Product Management for all Media and Entertainment software applications, and at Alias|Wavefront (SGI) as Senior Product Manager for Maya, the worlds leading professional CG digital content creation software. During his terms of leadership, digital media production applications managed by Chris have been awarded three Academy Awards for technological innovation and he is credited in twelve feature films. Chris is also an active amateur astronomer and astrophotographer with a specific interest in explaining the universe through immersive visualization. In 2011, Chris joined the Board of Directors of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), one of the nation's largest 501c3 organizations dedicated to STEM education through the medium of astronomy, and was elected President of the Society in 2016.

Andrew Fraknoi

Andrew Fraknoi retired in 2017 as the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College, and now teaches short courses for retired people at the Fromm Institute at USF and the OLLI Program at SF State. He served as the Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for 14 years and still assists the Society training young astronomers on how to be better explainers. With Sidney Wolff, he was a founding editor of the journal Astronomy Education Review. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and is Vice Chair of the Board of the Friends of Lick Observatory. Fraknoi appears regularly on local and national radio, explaining astronomical developments in everyday language, and was the California Professor of the Year in 2007. He is the lead author of a free college astronomy textbook published by the non-profit OpenStax project at Rice University (which has been used by over 300,000 students so far), and has written two children's books on astronomical topics. He also writes science fiction stories, and has had two of them published in anthologies during the last two years. The International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi to honor his contributions to the public understanding of science.

Gus Frederick

CONTACT Board Member Gus Frederick is a native Oregonian, born in 1954, 100 years after his hometown of Silverton was founded. He is a multimedia artist, currently working for the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal's Fire and Life Safety Education Division. A long-time home-brewer as well as local history enthusiast, he is fascinated with many of the stories from the Silverton Country, an area along the Northeastern edge of the Willamette Valley in Western Oregon. He has been brewing for over 40 years, and currently serves as "Propaganda Minister" for the Silverton Foothill Spargers Home Brew Club.

Jim Funaro

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

Joel Hagen is a MER collaborator, who worked with NASA and the Athena science team processing images from the Opportunity Mars rover. He worked in the same capacity with science teams on the Pathfinder and Phoenix missions. Joel also designs extra-terrestrial life forms and biomes. 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. Joel is a retired professor and writer in the field of computer graphics.

Jeroen Lapré

An alumnus of Industrial Light & Magic, Jeroen has many years of feature film visual effects experience. Mr. Lapré is celebrating his 11th year as Senior Technical Director in the Visualization Studio, at the California Academy of Sciences. A small but multi-skilled team in the studio produces award-winning planetarium shows, which are distributed worldwide. Jeroen's passion for science-based storytelling is evident both in his work at the Academy and his personal projects.

Steve McDaniel

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. (www.technologylitigators.com.), 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

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 1982. His 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 P. Miller

Dr. David P. Miller has been the Wilkonson Chair and Professor of Intelligent Systems based in the School of AME at the University of Oklahoma since 1999. Dr. Miller has a Bachelors in Astronomy from Wesleyan University and a PhD in Computer Science/AI from Yale. His primary research areas are in robot mobility, the tradeoff between algorithm and mechanism, assistive technology and STEM education. Miller worked at NASA's Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for his work at JPL on small rovers, leading to the Mars Pathfinder Rover Mission. He is a founder of KISS Institute for Practical Robotics and its Botball Program. Miller has been the faculty advisor of the OU student chapters of the ASME, the AIAA, and the advisor of the Boomer Rocket Team and the Sooner Rover Team (SoRo). He teaches courses in programming, space science and astrodynamics, as well as a variety of courses (both lecture and laboratory) in robotics. He is currently on a rotation at the US National Science Foundation (NSF) on loan from the University of Oklahoma.

David Morrison

David Morrison is a space scientist and educator recently retired from NASA Ames Research Center. Morrison is well known as a planetary astronomer, spacecraft experimenter (Voyager, Galileo, Kepler), and space science manager (NASA Ames Science Director, SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center Director, NASA Lunar Science Institute Director). He has published widely with approximately 200 technical papers and more than a dozen books, including the major college text Astronomy, with Andrew Fraknoi and Sidney Wolff, available free online. Morrison is one of the founders of the disciplines of astrobiology (life in the universe) and planetary defense (protection of the Earth against asteroid collisions). Asteroid 2410 Morrison is named for him.

Gerald Nordley

Gerald David Nordley is an author of fiction (as G. David Nordley) and nonfiction and a consulting astronautical engineer. He lives in Sunnyvale, California. 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 far future interstellar stories, Around Alien Stars. See more at his website www.gdnordley.com.

Doug Raybeck

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, the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence, and future studies. He is currently working on a second edition of his most successful work, Mad Dogs, Englishmen and the Errant Anthropologist: Fieldwork in Malaysia. He is widely regarded as a wonderful person.

Wolf Read

Wolf Read holds a PhD from the University of British Columbia and teaches courses in physical geography and forest science at colleges and universities in British Columbia. He is also an author and illustrator of science and science fiction. As an instructor, he combines his science and artistic skills, along with leaning management tools, to create interactive lectures that are visually stimulating while also being highly informative about the subject being taught. For the Epona project, Wolf created numerous illustrations and write-ups describing the world, that included the design of alien life forms and descriptions of different ecosystems.

Don Scott

Donald Scott is an educator, author, and emeritus board member of CONTACT.

Carlo Séquin

Carlo H. Séquin, originally a physicist, has been a professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley since 1977. For the last 30 years, he has been active in computer graphics, geometric modeling, and computer-aided design tools for circuit designers, architects, and for mechanical engineers. Since the mid 1990s, he has also collaborated with some artists, and has created several designs for geometric sculptures. For these activities, he has coined the terms: "Aesthetic Engineering" and "Artistic Geometry." Since his formal retirement in July 2013, he now devotes even more time to these pursuits, and he shares these activities with undergraduate researchers.

Michael Sims

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.

Seth Shostak

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)


Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith is a philosopher of science who is also trained as an evolutionary biologist. He holds appointments in both Philosophy and Biological Sciences, as well as serving as Lemon Fellow of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University. He also oversees the Ethics and Professionalism curriculum as a faculty member of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Kelly believes deeply in the renaissance idea that humanities and science have valuable insights to offer each other and his research is thus highly interdisciplinary, encompassing ethical issues surrounding the search for life on other planets, the scientific conception of “life,” the relation between science and religion, theoretical issues in biology and complexity, as well as bioethics.

Melanie Swan

Melanie Swan is a Technology Theorist in the Philosophy Department at Purdue University. She is an expert in emerging technologies including AI machine learning, blockchain, quantum computing, and brain computer interfaces (BCIs). She is a Research Associate at the UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies and a Singularity University faculty member. She is the founder of several startups including the Institute for Blockchain Studies, DIYgenomics, GroupPurchase, and the MS Futures Group. Melanie's educational background includes an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research in New York NY, and a BA in French and Economics from Georgetown University. She is the author of the best-selling book Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy. Other notable published work is on the topics of Human Brain/Cloud Interface, BCI cloudminds, the Brain as a DAC (Decentralized Autonomous Corporation), neural payment channels, biocryptoeconomics, and blocktime (the native time domain of blockchains).

Michael Waltemathe

Michael Waltemathe is senior lecturer in the Department of Protestant Theology at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. He works in the field of Practical Theology and Religious Education. Michael is the Co-Principal Investigator for Interstellar Exploration and Society at the Interdisciplinary Center for Interstellar Exploration at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He also serves as an officer of the Astrosociology Research Institute and is a founding member of IASGAR, the International Academy for the Study of Gaming and Religion. After he finished his studies in Chemistry and Theology he received his doctorate in Theology with a dissertation on the use of Computer-Games in Religious Education. During the last years Michael has developed a research interest in the connections between Religion and Space-Exploration. He works on researching these connections in the history of spaceflight as well as in historic and contemporary theological, philosophical and ethical thought. Besides the anthology "Touching the face of the Comos. On the Intersection of Spaceflight and Religion," which he co-edited with Paul Levinson, his publications include a monograph on computer-games and religion andarticles on Space-Exploration, Science, Technology, Media and Religion.

Zack Zimmer

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


Robert Zubrin

Robert Zubrin is an American aerospace engineer and author, best known for his advocacy of human exploration of Mars. He and his colleague at Martin Marietta, David Baker, were the driving force behind Mars Direct, a proposal in a 1990 research paper intended to produce significant reductions in the cost and complexity of such a mission. The key idea was to use the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen, water, and rocket propellant for the surface stay and return journey. A modified version of the plan was subsequently adopted by NASA as their "design reference mission." He questions the delay and cost-to-benefit ratio of first establishing a base or outpost on an asteroid or another Apollo program-like return to the Moon, as neither would be able to provide all of its own oxygen, water, or energy; these resources are producible on Mars, and he expects people would be in place thereafter. After his book The Case for Mars (1996), as well as leadership experience at the National Space Society, Zubrin established the Mars Society in 1998. This is an international organization advocating a human mission to Mars as a goal, by private funding if possible.