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Rebecca Charbonneau

PhD student

College: Christ's
Supervisor: Richard Staley
Advisor: Simon Schaffer
Thesis topic: 'A Friendly Civilization': Intelligence and Communication in Cold War Radio Astronomy

Research interests: History of Aerospace and Astronomy; History and Philosophy of Physics; Radio Astronomy; Soviet Science; Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI); Cold War History; Gender Studies


Prior Education 

M.Sc, University of Oxford (2018)
BA, Rollins College (2016) 

Relevant Professional Experience

National Radio Astronomy Observatory 
Summer Research Assistant (May 2019 - Aug 2019) 

National Radio Astronomy Observatory 
Graduate Intern and Summer Research Assistant (Jan 2018 - Aug 2018)

NASA Headquarters  
Graduate Intern in History Office (Sept 2017 - Jan 2018)

Committees and Working Groups 

International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group on Historical Radio Astronomy
Associate (May 2019 - Present)

American Astronomical Society (AAS) Historical Astronomy Division (HAD)
Executive Committee Member (Jan 2019 - Present)


Rebecca A. Charbonneau “The Mysterious Wow! Signal”, American Astronomical Society Newsletter (August 2018).

Rebecca A. Charbonneau “How Shall We Remember Caroline Herschel?,” American Astronomical Society Newsletter (March 2018). (Extended version published at

Rebecca A. Charbonneau, “Different Worlds: The Challenges of US and Soviet SETI Collaboration During the Space Age,” NASA History Quarterly (December 2017), vol. 34, no. 4: 18-21.

Relevant Awards and Grants

AAS Historical Astronomy Division Student Travel Award (2019)

American Institute of Physics Oral History Grant-in-Aid (2019)

Cambridge Research Photography Exhibition, Third Place (2019)

Gates Cambridge Scholarship (2018)

ESA Space History Conference 'Best Paper for Ongoing Project' (2017)

University of Oxford History and Philosophy of Physics Prize (2017)

Public Outreach  

Guest speaker on Apollo 11 for BBC 5's "The Naked Scientist" show

Guest speaker on space exploration history for BBC 5's "The Naked Scientist" show

NASA Solar System Ambassador 

Selected Talks

'Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Place and Space' Symposium (invited)
Cambridge, England (October 2019)
Title: "The SKA and the Very Large Array in New Mexico: Comparative Perspectives"

International Academy of Astronautics SETI Collaborative Meeting (invited)
Digitally Broadcast (October 2019)
Title: "A Transnational History of SETI" 

Berkeley SETI Research Center Colloquia (invited)
Berkeley, CA (September 2019)
Title: "A Friendly Civilization: The Soviet Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence"

NRAO Summer Research Talk
Charlottesville, VA (August 2019)
Title: “The Journey to RadioAstron”

AstroBio2019: Moonshots and Earthshots in the Search for Life Beyond Earth (invited)
Green Bank, WV (July 2019)
Panel Title: SETI: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (other panelists: Frank Drake, Jill Tarter, Andrew Siemion, Anamaria Berea, Jason Wright)

National Radio Astronomy Observatory "TUNA" Talk (invited)
Charlottesville, VA (July 2019)
Title: We Need to Change How We Talk About Space Exploration
Joint Talk with Nadia Drake (National Geographic)

Green Bank Observatory “Radio Boot Camp” Lecture (invited) 
Green Bank, WV (June 2019)
Title: “Green Bank in the 1960s (Or, How NRAO Made First Contact)”

British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference
Cambridge, England (forthcoming April 2019)
Title: "Reaching a Resolution: The role of VLBI in establishing an international radio astronomy network during the Cold War"

Gates Cambridge Scholar Talks (invited)
Cambridge, England (January 2019)
Title: "Where the Wired Things Are: Life Amongst the Telescopes in the Mountains"

American Astronomical Society (AAS)
Seattle, WA (January 2019)
Title: “Historians, Meet the Square Kilometre Array: Navigating the Methodological Challenges of (Very) Contemporary History”

NRAO Summer Research Talk
Charlottesville, VA (August 2018)
Title: “International Collaboration and the Square Kilometer Array”

Green Bank Observatory “Radio Boot Camp” Lecture (invited) 
Green Bank, WV (June 2018)
Title:“SETI at Green Bank: 1960 - Present”

National Radio Astronomy Observatory "TUNA" Talk (invited)
Charlottesville, VA (May 2018)
Title: SETI: A Brief History

University of Virginia Physics Honors Society
Charlottesville, VA (April 2018)
Title: “‘Martian Hunting at the Taxpayer’s Expense’: NASA’s Two Decades of SETI ”

Bob Rood Symposium
Charlottesville, VA (March 2018)
Title: “‘Radio to Stars’: Interstellar Communication and the Creation of the Edwardian Genius”

American Astronomical Society (AAS)
Washington, D.C. (January 2018)
Title: “Mid-Twentieth Century Radio Astronomy and the Origin of the International SETI Network”

European Space Agency (ESA) Space History Conference
Padua, Italy (November 2017)
Title: “Radio Pioneers and the Origins of SETI in Europe” (Prize: Best Paper for Ongoing Project, selected for publication in proceedings)

University of Oxford HSMT Postgraduate Conference
Oxford, UK (June 2017)
Title: “Intelligent Life in the Universe: The Influence of Cosmism in Mid-Twentieth Century Astrophysics

Rebecca Charbonneau