Breakthrough Discuss Conference 2018

April 12-13, 2018 (Thursday, Friday)

Stanford University

Attendance at this conference is by invite only.


Breakthrough Discuss is an academic conference focused on the search for life in the Universe and novel ideas for space exploration.


Detailed schedule with Presenters/Panelists listed and shuttle bus departures (updated regularly):

Conference Theme

‘Alien Life’: Diversity in the Universe


Keynote One: Carolyn Porco

Keynote Two: Martin Rees

Session One

Search for Life in our Solar System

Chairs: Penelope Boston, Chris McKay

Interest in the search for life in our own solar system has of recent focused on “Ocean Worlds” in the outer solar system, particularly Europa and Enceladus. Attention centers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus – where organic-rich water plumes jet into space. Such ocean material is potentially accessible to space probes. Jupiter’s moon Europa and other possible locations may also exhibit water ejections and may have evidence of life on their surface. Exotic chemistry may also enable life in other locations, such as Saturn’s moon Titan with its hydrocarbon lakes. What would a mission to these targets look like? What sensors would be carried on such a probe?

Session Two

Possibilities for Non-Terran Life in the Universe

Chairs: Svetlana Berdyugina, Lisa Kaltenegger

The possibility of earthlike life processes in exotic environments such as the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan raise the question of life based on alternate chemistry. The discovery of numerous Earth-size planets orbiting in the “habitable zones” of red dwarf stars such as Proxima Centauri and Trappist One could mean life there relies on alternate chemistries as the light spectrum and radiation environments are much different than on earth. Even further afield, some suggest “machine-based” intelligences could exist far from stars - could we detect such alien life? How can one search for alternate life’s presence – indeed, how does one define life itself?

Session Three

Progress in Novel Space Propulsion

Chairs: Sigrid Close, Zachary Manchester

To extend humanity’s reach beyond our solar system, novel means of propulsion are needed. Light-sails, directed-energy, and antimatter have all been proposed as ways of meeting the extreme challenges of interstellar travel. What is the ‘state of the art’ in space propulsion? How close are we to achieving the dream of traveling to our nearest neighboring stars within a human’s lifetime? Can these innovative propulsion technologies enable new means for the search for life in our solar system, or for non-Terran life in the Universe?

Yuri’s Night

An evening ‘Yuri’s Night’ event (Thursday, April 12) will be hosted by S. Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. Location and details will be updated closer to event.


Breakthrough Discuss 2018 is hosted by Stanford University's Department of Physics, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Astrobiology Institute and sponsored by the Breakthrough Initiatives.


  • Charles Alcock, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
  • Penelope Boston, NASA Astrobiology Institute - NASA Ames Research Center
  • Jamie Drew, Breakthrough Initiatives
  • Peter Michelson, Stanford University
  • S. Pete Worden, Breakthrough Initiatives


The GSB Common
660 Serra Street
Stanford, CA 94305-7298, USA

GSB Common is located across the street from the Graduate School of Business / Knight Management Center.

GSB Commons drop pin google maps:


The conference will be live streamed. Virtual participation via a chat feature will be monitored by a facilitator who will feed virtual participant questions into the panel discussion sessions.


Please contact these nearby hotels directly for your accommodations (quote Breakthrough Discuss).


Please see conference schedule for departure times:

Dedicated conference shuttle busses run to/from the Crowne Plaza Palo Alto, the Hilton Garden Inn Palo Alto and the Breakthrough Discuss conference venue. There will be shuttle buses from aforementioned hotels and the Yuri’s Night venue.


Galvez Lot (L-96), Stanford, CA 94305

Dropped pin:

Designated conference parking at Stanford ‘Galvez Lot’. It is a 14 minute walk from parking lot to conference venue (GSB Common). Walking directions:


Select ‘Stanford Visitor’ wireless network. Open browser and load any URL; you will be redirected to an access page (on a mobile phone, the access page should open automatically). Accept terms of use followed by confirmation page.


Logistics Lead: John Eppolito:

Conference Director: Jamie Drew:

Invitation Only

Attendance at this conference is by invite only.

The Breakthrough Initiatives

The Breakthrough Initiatives were founded in 2015 to explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth, and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective.

NOTE: This page will be updated periodically, as more details are confirmed.