The Drake Equation

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Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from our Extending Ideas in Mathematics video, where renowned astronomer and former longtime SETI director of research Jill Tarter discusses the famous equation that Frank Drake developed in the 1960s to help us best assess the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. 

This intriguing topic naturally straddles a vast number of different fields, encompassing mathematics (through its pioneering use of statistical arguments), physics (through associated measurement and observational techniques), biology (definitions of life and intelligence), philosophy (the epistemic validity of such statistical techniques) and social and cultural anthropology (the validity of extrapolating the notions of intelligence and civilisation based upon our own experiences). 

While this wide variety of possible angles of attack might well raise suspicions about the likelihood of developing a suitably refined research question, more direct and focussed possibilities associated with this general topic include:

  1. An analysis of the current state of our knowledge of the specific parameters of the Drake equation
  2. An examination of its degree of recognition throughout the scientific community
  3. To what extent the biological category of “extremophiles” have changed the basic definition of life, together with specific examinations of extremophiles
  4. The rapidly evolving state of our understanding of exoplanets and related astronomical techniques for detecting them
  5. An assessment of how the prospect of extraterrestrial life influences the way we look at our own

Related resources that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal include the clips A Cosmic Perspective, Frank Drake’s Agenda, Fermi’s Paradox, Hunting Exoplanets, Technology as a Proxy, and the hour-long video SETI: Astronomy as a Contact Sport plus the accompanying eBook with lots of additional reference materials.

  Register now for a free on-demand webinar (here) or watch our info videos below to discover how Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal directly supports both DP teachers and students.  We have created specific webinars for DP coordinators, DP librarians, EE coordinators, TOK teachers, and DP Subject teachers in Group 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6.


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