Colin Nicholls

Professor of Physics, Astronomy & Math, UNM Taos

Arrival— The Drake equation and alien life

Humans have always thought they were special. 500 years ago we 'knew' we were the center of the universe. Now we know we are not even the center of our solar system, which in turn is nowhere near the center of our galaxy. But humans are still special because we're the only (sometimes) intelligent species in existence. Or are we?

In 1961 Dr. Frank Drake formulated an equation which can be used to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations with whom we might communicate. Over the past 60 years scientific research (including some recent results from the James Webb Telescope) has moved several of the factors in that equation from the category of completely unknown quantities whose values could only be speculated upon, to quantities whose value we can measure or make a plausible estimate. Nicholls’s presentation will examine the factors in the Drake equation and try to estimate how many technological civilizations might plausibly be able to communicate with us. Don't worry—it involves nothing more complicated than multiplying!

Presented as part of the 2023 National Evening of Science on Screen.

Taos Center for the Arts Taos, NM

Film Synopsis

After twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, a linguist recruited by the military races to decipher the aliens' language and intentions before fear leads to war.

When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team—lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams)—are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers—and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) cemented his auteur status with this superb and cerebral sci-fi masterpiece, featuring a stellar lead performance by Adams.

Banner image courtesy of PHOTOFEST

About the Speaker

Colin Nicholls was born and raised in Birmingham, England. He holds degrees in Physics from Oxford University. He spent over 20 years in various High-Tech organizations in the US and the UK where he used different physical techniques for industrial process control. 20 years ago he moved to Taos and spent 10 years teaching science and math at Taos High school where he served as head of the math department. In 2012 he took a full time position at UNM-Taos where he teaches Physics, Astronomy & Math & currently serves as Science Department chair.