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Rebecca Charbonneau

PhD candidate

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; Theories of Intelligence; History of Technology


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)


Dissertation Fellow, Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Histories of AI: A Genealogy of Power (2020)

Scholar, Gates Cambridge Scholarship (2018)

Teaching and Supervisions

HPS Part II Paper 6: “Science and Communism”
University of Cambridge (Michaelmas Term 2020)

  • Supervising this paper for undergraduate students as part of the module on “Ethics and Politics in Science, Medicine, and Technology”.

ASTRON 9 004: “Introduction to Astrobiology”
University of California, Berkeley (Summer Semester 2020)

  • Guest-taught a class on the history of astrobiology and SETI.

HPS Part II Paper 3: "Science and Medicine Since World War I"
University of Cambridge (Lent and Easter Term 2020)

  • Supervised this paper on 20th-century science and global health for undergraduate students.

ASTR 1220: "Introduction to Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe"
University of Virginia (Spring Semester 2018)

  • Co-taught and designed bi-weekly "Science and Society" classes with Dr. Jackie Villadsen for this introduction to astronomy class for undergraduate students.

Committees and Working Groups 

American Institute of Physics (AIP) Early Career Conference
Program Committee (invited Dec 2019 - Present)

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

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


Rebecca A. Charbonneau "Historical Perspectives: Why SETI Developed During the Cold War" in The Field of Technosignatures: A Research Companion, eds Berea, Anamaria, Wiley-Scrivener (forthcoming Oct 2020).

Rebecca A. Charbonneau "Capturing the Human Side of Cold War Science", Review of From Pugwash to Putin: A Critical History of US-Soviet Scientific Cooperation by Gerson Sher. Physics Today, May 2020. 

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)

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

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

Public Outreach and Community Service  

Interviewed for National Geographic article on Project Ozma

Participated in "Skype a Scientist" during coronavirus pandemic

Guest speaker on V2 rockets and Wernher von Braun for BBC 5's "The Naked Scientist" show

Interviewed for article in The DCist 

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 

Invited Talks

Dept. Seminar, Centre for Astrophysics Research, University of Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire, England (February 2020)
Title: “The Surveillers: Navigating the Intersection between Astronomy and the Military”

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

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

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

AstroBio2019: Moonshots and Earthshots in the Search for Life Beyond Earth
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
Charlottesville, VA (July 2019)
Title: We Need to Change How We Talk About Space Exploration and Colonialism
Joint Talk with Nadia Drake (National Geographic)

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

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

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

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

Conference Papers and Other Speaking Engagements 

American Astronomical Society (AAS)
Honolulu, Hawaii (January 2020)
Title: "The First US-USSR VLBI Experiment" 

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

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

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”

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