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Dr. Douglas Vakoch

Dr. Douglas Vakoch

Founder of METI, the disruptive scientific organization Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Author, Keynote speaker
Keynote speaker, Moderator/ Presenter, Voice over
1. Embracing Disruption: Science, Psychology, and Innovation, 2. Calling the Cosmos: Telling Extraterrestrials We’re Here, 3. From the Big Bang to Us: Seven Steps to a Sustainable Civilization, 4. Stressed out of This World: Lessons from Astronauts in Coping with Major Catastrophes and Daily Hassles, 5. Green Tranquility: Staying Sane through Moments in Nature
Languages spoken
Travels from


Disruption requires the courage to take risks. Drawing on his expertise as a leader, scientist, and psychologist, Dr. Douglas Vakoch shows how we can foster the mindset that leads to technological innovation. After sixteen years as part of Silicon Valley’s SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), he broke away to create METI, the disruptive scientific organization whose namesake activity is Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the controversial project that sends powerful, intentional radio signals to nearby stars, in the hope of provoking a response. To sustain such multigenerational messaging projects, Dr. Vakoch also works to ensure the long-term survival of civilizations.


Keynote speaker
Moderator/ Presenter
Voice over



If I were to distill my impression of Dr. Vakoch as a public speaker, I would contend that he is a compelling storyteller, capable of catalyzing the imagination of an audience, while conveying scientific depth through critical thinking utterly without the ponderous authority so often encountered in experts. To be more specific, he is a genuine public intellectual—a scientist-philosopher of the first order. And in a single word, he is enchanting.
Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities, University of Wyoming

I write to provide enthusiastic testimony of Doug Vakoch’s public speaking. I engaged Doug to offer a lecture as part of our programming for Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography, one of our most popular exhibitions ever. Doug gave a lecture titled “Aesthetics for Aliens: Art, Music, and Extraterrestrials.” It touched on—at a minimum—history, mathematics, biology, astronomy, anthropology, art history, philosophy, and music, and engaged our audience in some of the most interesting and difficult questions facing humankind. After the talk and a lively Q&A session, the audience left having had their imaginations ignited.

Doug Vakoch is an articulate, charming, and funny speaker with a knowledge of SETI and related endeavors that runs both wide and deep. I heartily commend him to you without hesitation.
Anthony Shostak, Education Curator, Museum of Art, Bates College

Dr. Vakoch indeed showed that he is the leading researcher and scholar of interstellar communication, about its history and its practical and theoretical challenges. His talk was very engaging and informative, and presented new perspectives that amazed the audience. I was personally pleased as organizer of the event, because a number of the attendees told me about their good impressions of Dr. Vakoch’s talk and congratulated me to have succeeded in inviting such an outstanding and engaging speaker.
Professor David Dunér, Professor of History of Science and Ideas Lund University, Sweden

Doug’s contributions are always superb and captivating. His subject is compelling, yes. But along with that he brings his deep philosophical thinking about the implications that an encounter with intelligence from elsewhere might encompass. This is paired with scientific acumen and masterful storytelling ability.

Doug can take an audience “where they’ve never gone before” and if that reference seems lighthearted it is sincere because your audience will find that these ideas are not the stuff of fiction. Indeed, a few hours in conversation with Doug will change the way you think about life, the complexities of otherness, aggression, and the evolution of societies. Thinking about aliens with Dr. Doug Vakoch brings you right back to our human condition. My audiences always stay for every word. I highly recommend the experience for you and your audiences.
Melissa Alexander, Director of Public Programs, The Exploratorium



1. Embracing Disruption: Science, Psychology, and Innovation

The history of scientific progress provides a blueprint for developing disruptive technologies. While much of the day-to-day work of scientists focuses on well-defined puzzles already identified by the broader scientific community, sometimes the standard assumptions that guide a field become obstacles to innovation. Progress requires jettisoning the old framework and tackling obstinate mysteries of the universe from a new angle. Even in the face of startling new revelations about previously unsolved problems, the majority of scientists may be unconvinced or even hostile to new paradigms, perhaps even unable to comprehend alternatives that challenge the ways their traditional methods and conclusions.

Drawing on his own experiences leading the disruptive science of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), Dr. Vakoch highlights the categories of opposition we can expect both from peers and from the broader public whenever we reformulate old problems and offer new solutions. Disrupton elicits fear, and unless we address that fear directly, it can derail the most promising innovations. By embracing the emotional primacy of fear and identifying alternatives that provide engagement and security for individuals and organizations, we can find paths to overcome resistance and to foster transformation.

2. Calling the Cosmos: Telling Extraterrestrials We’re Here

For over fifty years, astronomers have used radio telescopes to listen for signals from advanced civilizations. So far, they have found nothing. But what if extraterrestrials are doing the same as us, simply listening and not transmitting? It would be a chillingly silent universe!

In this talk, Dr. Vakoch explains why humanity should take the initiative to make contact by launching an ambitious, ongoing project to transmit powerful, intentional signals to nearby stars, in hope of a reply. Countering concerns that it’s dangerous to reveal ourselves to malevolent aliens, he argues for facing our fears of the unknown and acting without the guarantee of success. In the process, we will learn critical lessons in audacity and disruption that will transform our personal and professional lives. By focusing on what we can offer to extraterrestrials and to future generations of humans, we will demonstrate that we are ready to move beyond our technological adolescence and begin growing up in the universe as a civilization and a species.

3. From the Big Bang to Us: Seven Steps to a Sustainable Civilization

Over thirteen billion years ago, the universe exploded into existence, eventually yielding a species capable of reflecting on its own origins and destiny. In this whirlwind tour of the history of the cosmos, Dr. Vakoch unpacks the seven milestones needed for our modern-day human civilization to arise. From the birth of stars to the advent of writing, humankind evolved into the only species on Earth capable of communicating with our counterparts on distant exoplanets. Drawing parallels between the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the age-old quest to understand our place in the universe, Dr. Vakoch explores the seven variables of the Drake Equation, used to estimate how many technological civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy. From the violent history of the first seconds following the Big Bang, to the contemporary conflicts between warring nations here on Earth, Dr. Vakoch shows how the survival of the fittest has given rise to our remarkable intelligence, while also threatening our very future as a species. To succeed, we’ll need to reinvent who are, finally deserving of the name Homo sapiens—the wise human.

4. Stressed out of This World: Lessons from Astronauts in Coping with Major Catastrophes and Daily Hassles

Stress and conflict are part of our everyday lives. But imagine you had to deal with the pressures of overwhelming work demands and tense relationships in the hazardous environment of outer space. In this talk, Dr. Vakoch draws on the lessons learned from astronauts to provide insights into how we can all lead more contented and successful lives back here on Earth.

Dr. Vakoch uncovers secrets used by astronauts to cope with living in cramped spaces, far from friends and family back on Earth, and he explores preparations to help astronauts deal with future missions to the Moon and Mars that will be even more challenging. The practical wisdom and guidance we gain from these intrepid spacefarers helps us all deal more effectively with stresses ranging from daily hassles to major catastrophes that inevitably happen to all of us over the course of our lives.

5. Green Tranquility: Staying Sane through Moments in Nature

As we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of work, constantly slaves to the digital technologies that are supposed to make our lives better, we need a break. We feel exhausted, overburdened, with no way to escape. We might occasionally get a brief respite as we spend a weekend hiking in the mountains, but how can we bring that sense of renewal back into our daily lives?

In this talk, Dr. Vakoch will provide practical guidelines for reclaiming nature in urban environments, starting with a one-minute experiential exercise that audience members can try during the talk itself. Drawing on ecotherapy and mindfulness meditation practices, he shows how connecting with elements of nature that already surround us can increase our sense of peace and serenity, wherever we live.