Pupil hooks school up to search for aliens

Bayfield High School pupil Indy Griffiths shows the software he is installing into 90 of his...
Bayfield High School pupil Indy Griffiths shows the software he is installing into 90 of his school's computers to join in the SETI search for intelligent life in outer space.
Joining a worldwide mission to understand the nature of the universe, a Dunedin teenager has won the backing of his school in his search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

For four years, Bayfield High School year 9 pupil Indy Griffiths (14) has been receiving parcels of radio signals from the non-profit SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) organisation to analyse on his home computer.

Now, with the blessing and admiration of school IT manager Rob Wood, he has hooked up all 24 computers in one of his school's computer laboratories to join in the worldwide project, which uses cloud computing to analyse background radio signals from space.

Cloud computing, or distributed computing, is a way of splitting large volumes of work between small computers rather than using one super computer. In the SETI project, ‘‘work units'' of radio signals from outer space are sent out to millions of individuals' computers throughout the world, which use special software to identify ‘‘spikes'', or any signal that is not interference, background noise, static or Earth signals.

The automated programme alerts the user to any spikes, which are sent back to SETI for further analysis. Indy said he was optimistic evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life would be found and hopeful it could happen on one of his computers.

‘‘Then we'll know there's something out there.''

But with only two per cent of the sky's radio signals so far analysed by SETI and no evidence of ET found yet, he said ‘‘it won't be any time soon. Maybe in 20 years.''

In the next month Indy will hook up his school's other three computer labs to SETI, making a total of 90 computers joining the search.

Bayfield High School IT manager Rob Wood said Indy's project was being done through the school's gifted and talented programme and it was ‘‘refreshing to have someone who's got an interesting goal, and passion. Indy's awesome. It's great fun.''

- Pam Jones.


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