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Aliens, Big Data and a Bangladeshi “search addict”

Zafar Anjum | Oct. 3, 2012
What do the three have in common?

Russel John

Russell John of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Aliens, Big Data and a Bangladeshi "search addict". What can be a common factor between the three?

The storage and analytics solutions provider EMC, at a Big Data event in Singapore on Tuesday (2 October), revealed a very interesting story to show how the Big Data revolution is connecting people all over the planet based on their interest. This is what they had to say on this:

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is one of the biggest and oldest of all Big Data projects. It began in earnest with a seminal 1971 NASA report that detailed how Earth-based radio telescopes could be used to hunt for signs of intelligent life as much as a thousand light years away.

Jill Tarter was among a small group of NASA scientists inspired to establish the SETI Institute in reaction to that report. "I was absolutely astonished by the fact that I lived in the first generation of humans that could actually try to do an experiment to answer this really old question," she told

During her 35 years of research, Tarter, now retired, inspired the character played by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact and became a role model for two generations of young women in science as well as everyday computer users around the world.

In 1999, the SETI Institute, in collaboration with UC Berkeley, developed SETI@home. They invited anyone interested to help process raw radio telescope data in search of anomalous signals-using their computers' downtime. Over two million years of aggregated computing time have been provided by nearly 10 million people since.

One of those participants is Russell John of Dhaka, Bangladesh. A self-confessed "search addict," he began donating his time to SETI@home at age 16 with a high school friend. "The main motivation," he explains, "was that if the SETI@home project found some ET signals from our data, the data we crunched, then we would get some sort of credit for mapping ET life." He has continued to run searches on every computer he's owned for the last 20 years.

SETI@home's Bangladesh team has been participating in the project since 1 March 1999, and has conducted 565,918 "cobblestones" of work (488.95 quadrillion floating-point operations). John has contributed about 20,000 of them.

For Tarter, who is now fundraising full-time for the SETI Institute, these are still exciting times for the search. With powerful new telescopes having discovered more than 2,300 new planets around the solar system, "Earth 2.0 [is] right around the corner," she told "We can almost taste it."



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