Icko Iben Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series in Astronomy

THE 2018 IBEN LECTURE - "Exoplanets & the Search for Habitable Worlds"

2018 Iben Lecture

For thousands of years people have wondered, “Are there planets like Earth?” “Are such planets common?” “Do any have signs of life?” Today astronomers are poised to answer these ancient questions, having recently found thousands of planets that orbit nearby Sun-like stars, called “exoplanets”. Professor Sara Seager, one of the world’s leading experts on this search for Earth-like planets, will share the latest advances in this revolutionary field.

Sara Seager, Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Professor Sara Seager is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been a pioneer in the vast and unknown world of exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the sun. Her ground-breaking research ranges from the detection of exoplanet atmospheres to innovative theories about life on other worlds to development of novel space mission concepts. She is known for inventing the main method used to study exoplanet atmospheres today. Now, dubbed an "astronomical Indiana Jones", she on a quest after the field's holy grail, the discovery of a true Earth twin. Dr. Seager was born and educated in Toronto, Canada, earned her PhD from Harvard University, and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Professor Seager is a MacArthur “genius” Fellow and has numerous accolades including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015, the 2012 Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences, was named in Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential in Space in 2012, and has Asteroid 9729 Seager named in her honor.


Founded in 1997 and named in honor of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Icko Iben Jr., the Icko Iben Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series brings a noted astronomer to campus to highlight some of the latest developments in astronomy in a forum geared for the general public.


  • Spring 2015:  "What Scientists Know About The Big Bang,"  Dr. John E. Carlstrom, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar Professor of Astronomy, Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and deputy director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics.
  • Fall 2012: "The Galactic Center: Unveiling the Heart of our Galaxy," Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Fall 2010: "Exploring the Dark Side of the Universe," Tony Tyson, University of California, Davis
  • Spring 2009: "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe", Alex Filippenko, University of California, Berkeley
  • Fall 2008: "The World According to the Hubble Space Telescope", Mario Livio, STScI
  • Spring 2006: "The Mars Exploration Rover Mission", Steven W. Squyres, Cornell University
  • Fall 2004: "Massive Black Holes, or Gravity Strikes Back", Reinhard Genzel, Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics & University of California, Berkeley
  • Fall 2003: "Cosmic Collisions: How Astronomers are Saving the World", David Morrison, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Fall 2002: "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence", William J. Welch, University of California, Berkeley
  • Spring 2002: "Large Optical Telescopes: The Next Generation", W.L.W. Sargent, California Institute of Technology
  • Fall 2000: "Are We Alone?", Steven Beckwith, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Fall 1999: "The Universe: Big, Old, Accelerating?", Robert P. Kirshner, Harvard University
  • fall 1997: "Binary Pulsars and Einstein's Gravity", Joseph H. Taylor, Princeton University