A new director has stepped up to lead the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, taking the reins from previous longtime director and SETI pioneer Frank Drake.

The new chief, David Morrison, was appropriately the first doctoral student of famed astronomer Carl Sagan. In addition to his new directorial position at the SETI Institute, Morrison retains on a part-time basis his position at NASA Ames Research Center, located in Mountain View, Calif., where he is director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute and senior scientist for astrobiology.

Morrison has long been a supporter of the SETI Institute, and his history with the nonprofit scientific organization that is dedicated to research, exploration and education in the field of astrobiology dates back to 1988.

“The SETI Institute has partnered with scientists at NASA Ames in a teaming arrangement that has greatly benefited both organizations,” Morrison said in a statement. “The Institute played an especially important role in the development of the new multidisciplinary field of astrobiology. I always hoped that I would eventually find a way to work more directly with them.”

At the Carl Sagan Center, researchers focus on tasks that range from observing and modeling the precursors of life in the far reaches of outer space to studies of Earth in an attempt to understand more about how life began and how its many diverse forms have survived and evolved.