In the upcoming winter term, students of the Technische Universität Ilmenau will be developing concepts for international public relations for the SETI Institute in California. As part of the graduate communication program Media and Communication Science, students develop ideas for a world-wide communication campaign. The seminar’s focus is to create attention for the ‘search for life in the universe’ as a serious scientific discipline and to increase interest in astrobiology for young girls.
The seminar will start at the beginning of the winter term 2020/2021, with the SETI Institute’s first briefing on October 26th. Around 30 international students will be participating in the seminar. Students will be divided into six competing “junior PR agencies,” and will then develop professional communication concepts until the end of the semester. The aim is to increase the fascination of young girls for sciences, such as astrobiology, in different countries, so that they pursue a scientific career in this field in the future. The campaigns should also help mitigate misconceptions about SETI sciences – the search for technologically advanced life beyond Earth with scientific methods – often referenced in films and TV shows and draw attention to the SETI Institute’s serious work. The search for extraterrestrial life was only given a boost in September when scientists from MIT and Cardiff University discovered traces of phosphine gases in the atmosphere of Venus. These gases could prove to be signs of life, since they are produced by bacteria, among other things.
Dr. Andreas Schwarz, head of the Research Group of Public Relations and Communication of Technology, will conduct the seminar. Rebecca McDonald, Director of Communications, and Dr. Simon Steel, Director of Education and STEM Programs at the SETI Institute, are the students’ clients. McDonald and Steel will give briefings and decide as part of the jury whether and to what extent the winning concept will be implemented in practice.

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

Contact information

Rebecca McDonald,
Director of Communications SETI Institute
189 Bernardo Ave.,
Suite 200
Mountain View, CA 94043

Dr. Andreas Schwarz,
Leiter Fachgebiet Public Relations und Technikkommunikation 
+49 3677 69-4703–

Marco Frezzella
Leiter Medien- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit 
+49 3677 69-5003

“The mission of the SETI Institute is to search for life in the universe,” said Steel.  “During these troubled times on planet Earth, its quest has the power to unite us and transform the way we think about the universe. This exciting partnership with TU Ilmenau gives us the opportunity to work with students from Germany and around the world in creating ways to engage and inspire a new global audience.”
Course leader Schwarz said, “The seminar is the best preparation for the students for future jobs in the increasingly internationalized communications industry. By co-operating with the SETI Institute, students will also contribute to a valuable cause based on the latest scientific findings. Strengthening the role of women in science and supporting the search for life in the universe, is one of the most amazing tasks I ever worked on with my communication students. And of course, we are hoping for continuation of this partnership with SETI Institute.”