Breakthrough Discuss 2023

Welcome to the Neighborhood: New Opportunities for Using and Exploring Our Cosmic Backyard

UC Santa Cruz
June 28-29

Location: University Center, College Nine Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95064

The University Center is located on the second floor of the College Nine/John R. Lewis Dining Hall, which is located off of McLaughlin Drive, across from the Student Health Center.

Google link:
Location details:

Presenters, Bios, Abstracts

Click here for speaker bios and abstracts (updated regularly).

Breakthrough Discuss Conference Day One (Wednesday, June 28)

All times Pacific Time (PDT)

PDT Event Institution Title
07:45 Buses from the Hotel Paradox to Conference Venue
08:00 Check in & Breakfast
09:00 Welcome – Hosts

Session One: The Search for Techno-Signatures from Space

Chairs: Mike Garrett (University of Manchester) & Sofia Sheikh (SETI Institute)

09:40 Hector Socas-Navarro NCAR Space Missions to Search for Alien Technology
10:00 Tzu-Ching Chang JPL Cosmology from the Far Side of the Moon
10:20 Alanna Krolikowski Missouri University of Science and Technology Protect Scientific Opportunity on the Moon Now
11:00 Mary Knapp MIT The Unexplored Sky: Radio Astronomy from Space
11:20 Joe Lazio JPL Technosignatures in the Solar System
11:40 Darryl Seligman Cornell University Interstellar Interlopers and Dark Comets
12:15 Session One: Panel Discussion, Q&A

Session Two: Mapping our Local Stellar Neighborhood

Chairs: Anne-Marie Lagrange (Centre National de la Rechercher Scientifique) & Ewan Douglas (University of Arizona)

14:10 Nikku Madhusudhan University of Cambridge The Search for Biosignatures in Nearby Exoplanetary Systems
14:30 Becky Jensen-Clem UC Santa Cruz The Next Generation of Extreme Adaptive Optics Systems
14:50 Clarissa Luk University of Sydney Earth Analogue Planets with the TOLIMAN Telescope
15:30 Sascha Quanz ETHZ (Switzerland) Finding Our Nearest Neighbors with LIFE
15:50 Giovanna Tinneti University College London Planetary Science Across Light-Years
16:10 Shawn Domagal-Goldman (remote) NASA Glenn How Lonely (or not) is the Universe?
16:40 Session Two: Panel Discussion, Q&A
17:30 Adjourn, buses to Hotel Paradox

Breakthrough Discuss Conference Day Two (Thursday, June 29)

All times Pacific Time (PDT)

PDT Event Institution Title
08:30 Buses from the Hotel Paradox to Conference Venue
09:00 Breakfast
09:30 Welcome – Hosts
09:45 Keynote: Harry Atwater Caltech Starshot: From Science to Spacecraft and Missions

Session 3: The Pursuit of Interstellar Missions & Science

Chairs: Mae Jemison (100 YSS) & Karl Aspelund (University of Rhode Island)

11:20 Peter Swan International Space Elevator Consortium Unmatched Velocity for Huge Spacecraft – Going Interstellar
11:40 Ronke Olabisi (remote) UC Irvine Designing for Interstellar: Considering a Crewed Journey
12:00 Sonya Smith Howard University Interstellar Mission Energy Management – The Whole Picture
13:20 Phil Lubin UC Santa Barbara Directed Energy & Power Projection for Rapid Deep Space and Interstellar
13:40 Tony Faddoul TonySky Designs Group Interstellar Demands New Disciplines
14:00 Karl Aspelund University of Rhode Island Human in the Loop: The Key to Interstellar
14:35 Session Three: Panel Discussion, Q&A
15:20 Concluding Remarks – Hosts
15:30 Adjourn, end of live stream

Reception (Thursday evening, June 29)

All times Pacific Time (PDT)

15:30 Buses from conference venue to Hotel Paradox and Seymour Center
16:00 Reception opens
19:00 Fireside chat:
Our Expanding Sense of Place – What We Know and Don’t Know About Our Cosmic Neighborhood
Natalie Batalha
Kevin Stevenson
David Kipping
Gibor Basri
UC Santa Cruz
Columbia University
UC Berkeley
19:45 Reception continues, buses begin again
22:00 Adjourn, last buses

Virtual Attendance

Registered attendance will be divided between an in-person and a virtual (Zoom) experience.

Virtual Attendee Zoom attendance is available to anyone who received an invitation and has registered. This will enable participation in the Q/A sections of the schedule. Registered attendees, please use the ‘Attendee Zoom Link’ you received via email.

Zoom attendance link:

Zoom Webinar ID: 84589735205

Reception June 29, 2023

There will be a reception held at the Seymour Center directly after day 2 of the conference on Thursday, June 29, from 4:00pm until 10pm. Buses will take guests to the reception when the conference ends.

Seymour Center
100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Google maps link:

Conference Theme

Welcome to the Neighborhood – New Opportunities for Using and Exploring Our Cosmic Backyard


Low-cost access to space, a growing exploratory focus on cislunar space and the Moon, and new technologies are enabling significant – often privately funded – space missions within the next decade. The conference will discuss options in the next 15 years for significant, paradigm altering space projects. Topics will include: 1) The search for techno-signatures from space, 2) Mapping potentially life-supporting planets in our stellar neighborhood, 3) Preparing for our first missions to interstellar space.

Session 1: The Search for Techno-Signatures from Space

Chairs: Sofia Sheikh & Michael Garrett

The terrestrial radio – and even optical – environment is increasingly polluted by human-generated interference; it is already impossible to detect faint signals in the low- and very-low radio wavelengths. The proliferation of low-Earth-orbit communications networks is a serious challenge to detecting alien techno-signatures. However, increasing development in cislunar space and at the Moon is opening opportunities to place interference-free systems in deep space. Of particular interest is the Lunar far side, where the mass of the moon blocks most human-generated interference. This session will review concepts and mission development for space- and lunar far-side observatories. International efforts to preserve key locations in cislunar space and the lunar far-side will also be covered.

Session 2: Mapping our Stellar Neighborhood

Chairs: Anne-Marie Lagrange & Ewan Douglas

There are at least five star systems within five parsecs of Earth with Solar-type stars and the potential for hosting a life-bearing planet. New 30-meter-class ground-based telescopes may detect and obtain planetary atmospheric spectra which could give some indication of a life process. The next generation of even larger telescopes is also currently being discussed using novel technologies to reduce mass and cost drastically. One of the most exciting possibilities would be the development of large, low-cost space-based systems enabled by the next generation of heavy lift launch vehicles. This session will review plans and programs that could detect life-bearing planets orbiting nearby Solar-type stars.

Session 3: The Pursuit of Interstellar Missions & Science

Chairs: Mae Jemison & Karl Aspelund

The Pursuit of Interstellar Missions & Science will examine how the pursuit of physical interstellar missions changes science, engineering, investment, exploration objectives, and our overall worldview. We will conceptualize, define, and address the spectrum of challenges, benefits, and risks involved in the efforts to achieve physical interstellar missions, both in the near term (10-50 years) as well as further into the future. Drawing from the extensive work and connections of 100 Year Starship and fellow initiatives working toward the interstellar journey, this session will provide topical overviews, supported with specific examples, as we consider both robotic and crewed missions.


Breakthrough Discuss 2023 is hosted by:

  • African Astronomical Society
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • NASA’s Ames Research Center
  • SETI Institute
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California, Santa Cruz
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Oxford Department of Physics


Please consider these nearby hotels and contact directly for booking:

A comprehensive list of hotels can be found here:


Please see the conference schedule for departure times from the Hotel Paradox. Dedicated conference shuttle buses will run to/from the Hotel Paradox and the Breakthrough Discuss conference venue. There will be shuttle buses from the conference venue directly to the reception at the Hay Barn on Thursday afternoon and back again afterwards.


Parking will be available at the UC Santa Cruz Core West Parking Structure.

Google Maps Location:

You can pick up a free parking pass (mention Breakthrough Discuss) before 9:30am directly at the Core West Parking Structure.

To get to the Core West Parking Structure you will exit campus and make a right onto High Street and follow it up the hill to the West entrance of campus and make a right turn at the next stop light onto Heller Drive. Follow Heller Drive up the hill to the Core West Parking Structure.

Detailed directions to Core West can be found here:

Walking directions (~10 mins):

After 9:30am paid parking passes will be available at the information kiosk at the main entrance to campus (about 100 yards from the intersection of High Street and Bay Street).

Information Kiosk address: 936 Coolidge Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95064

Google Maps location of kiosk:

Handicapped Parking

There are several handicapped spaces at the venue. There are also a number of VIP parking spots reserved for handicapped parking. Please email if you require one of these spots. Or call +415 604 8875 upon your arrival.

Past Content

Content and videos from previous years are available here:

Code of Conduct

The Breakthrough Discuss conference is dedicated to fostering a safe environment where ideas flow freely, which means ensuring a harassment-free conference experience for all in attendance. No harassment of any kind towards any conference participants (including venue staff, etc.) will be tolerated during conference programming, breaks, or at any other conference-related event(s). Harassing behaviors include, but are not limited to, offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, disability, physical appearance, national origin, etc., as well as deliberate intimidation; harassing photography, recording, or postings; sustained disruption of talks or other events; inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention. If a participant engages in any harassing behavior, event organizers retain the right to take any actions to maintain a welcoming, safe environment for all participants. These actions include, but are not limited to, warning the alleged offender or expulsion from the conference and any associated event. If anyone experiences or witnesses any form of harassment at any point during any of the conference events, please contact:



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.

Breakthrough Discuss

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