Dr. D. Kent Cullers

December 20, 2006

Kent Cullers was born in El Reno, Oklahoma. He was premature and, consequently, immersed in pure oxygen. This saved his life but left him totally blind. Despite this "handicap" he was physically active as a child and encouraged by his parents to be a part of the educational mainstream. He was a straight-A student, a national merit scholar and class valedictorian at Temple City High School in California. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980 (the first totally blind physicist in the world).

Kent worked for NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program upon graduating from Berkeley. From 1985 to 1990 he was the Targeted Search Signal Detection Team Leader with the SETI Institute. He developed, evaluated, and implemented optimized detection algorithms for continuous and pulsed signals originating from distant Earth-like planets. He created algorithms for both advanced special purpose and general-purpose computers.

From 1990 to March 1994 he was the Signal Detection Subsystem Manager for the High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS) Project at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. He supervised the development of hardware and software for signal detection for HRMS.

From 1993 to March 1994 Kent led the SETI Research & Technology effort and managed the upgrading and replication of all the digital data processing equipment for HRMS. NASAs HRMS Project was cancelled by Congress in October 1993, but Kent is still participating in Project Phoenix, the SETI Institutes continuation of the Targeted Search portion of HRMS. He resigned from NASA in October 1995, and rejoined the SETI Institute as a Senior Scientist and Project Manager for Project Phoenix. Since 2000 he has served as Director for SETI R&D.

Kent has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including NASAs Exceptional Engineering Achievement medal in 1993 and Federal Employee of the Year in 1994. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, and a board member for the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Sensory Access Foundation, and the Peninsula Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired.

Kent travels extensively to give talks and present papers at international science meetings. Kent has had a ham radio license since 1961, is an avid chess player, and plays both piano and guitar. He is married and has two children.

Complex signal processing algorithms are the expertise of physicist Kent Cullers, Director of SETI Research and Development at the SETI Institute. “My sensory connection to the wider universe is not vision but radio waves,” says Cullers, who has been blind since birth. “Surely, among the billions of hospitable stars in our galaxy, technologies like ours exist. Because Braille can now represent mathematics and diagrams,” he observes, “not only the world but also the universe is open to blind people.”


Cullers’ algorithms search for artificial signals that stand out from the cosmic static unlike any natural sources, providing a “fingerprint of technology in the radio spectrum,” as he explains in a BBC radio program <www.seti.org/bbc>. As one of the editors of SETI 2020: A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Cullers helps guide the direction of future research at the SETI Institute.


Cullers’ innovative approach to signal processing is already evident in the design of the Allen Telescope Array.  He also leads the Institute’s early research on an alternative strategy to look at the entire sky all the time, rather than searching star by star. As technology improves in the coming decade, the intensive computing demands of this alternate omnidirectional search will become increasingly economical. Cullers’ pilot work on the omnidirectional strategy will ensure that the SETI Institute is prepared to make use of advanced computing capabilities as they become available.


Curriculum Vitae


Are We Alone? Radio Show Appearances

Media Appearances