John Dreher 1947 – 2018

John Dreher 1947 – 2018

John Dreher, one of the most powerful motive forces behind the NASA SETI program, has passed away on November 12, 2018 at the age of 71.

Portrait of John Dreher

John Dreher, one of the most powerful motive forces behind the NASA SETI program as well as the follow-on efforts conducted by the SETI Institute, passed away on November 12, 2018 at the age of 71.

As the System Scientist behind Project Phoenix, the SETI Institute’s first observing program following the cancellation of the NASA SETI project, John was a major architect of the scheme used to survey about a thousand nearby star systems. At the time, Phoenix was the most ambitious SETI search ever undertaken, and John developed most of the necessary software and associated mathematics, tools that are still used today.

John went on to be both Project Manager and Project Scientist for the building of the Allen Telescope Array, the instrument now used by the Institute for its SETI programs.

This very short listing of some of the titles held and positions filled by John only hints at the influence he had on SETI. He was certainly one of the cleverest persons to ever work at the Institute, and could quickly appreciate ideas as well as see how they might be exploited. According to his widow, Kay, even as a child he felt he knew more than his teachers, and by age 5 had decided to become a physicist. He followed through on this childhood wish and eventually graduated cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in physics. He stayed at Berkeley to get a Ph.D. in astronomy.

John was perhaps the most interesting dinner companion one could hope to have. Whatever the subject, he could provide insightful and knowledgeable commentary, usually leavened with a bit of dry wit. And while he didn’t hesitate to offer his opinions, John was completely free of the arrogance that sometimes characterizes those who are gifted with exceptional intellect.

It’s a fact that no research or exploration effort can move faster than its most nimble mind. The SETI Institute was privileged to have John Dreher as one of its premier scientists. We will miss him.

John is survived by his wife, Kay.