David G Messerschmitt


Roger A. Strauch Professor Emeritus

Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

University of California at Berkeley


Contact information and supporting staff

Interstellar communication

Drawing upon my background in earthbound digital communications, I am studying the design of end-to-end communications between stellar systems separated by hundreds or thousands of light years, and communication between Earth and interstellar starships.  I have several collaborators on this research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View and the Australian Center for Astrobiology in Sydney and Microwave Sciences. This research has identified a new class of interstellar communication signals that are designed with the goal of minimizing the energy per bit of information that must be delivered to the receiver for reliable extraction of the contents of a message. I have determined the fundamental Shannon limit on this energy for the interstellar channel, taking account of all known impairments due to radio propagation through the interstellar medium and due to relative motion of the transmitter and receiver. I have shown that a simple class of location codes (a subclass of orthogonal codes) can asymptotically approach this limit. The resulting signals are quite different in structure (the energy is distributed sparsely in both time and frequency) from those sought in current and past SETI observation programs at radio wavelengths (which are narrowband and continous in time), because those signal designs put a higher priority on achieving a small bandwidth than on minimizing energy. I argue that for interstellar communication energy should take precedence over bandwidth. Signals based on location codes can also be discovered more reliably for a given average power, because they consist of energetic pulses.

Recent papers and reports on this topic:

Messerschmitt, David G. (2012). Interstellar communication: The case for spread spectrum. Acta Astronautica, 81(1).  [link]

Messerschmitt, David G; & Morrison, Ian S. (2011). Design of Interstellar Digital Communication Links: Some Insights from Communication Engineering. Acta Astronautica, 78(1), 80 - 89.  [link]

Messerschmitt, David G. (2014). Design for minimum energy in starship and interstellar communication. Accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. [link]

Messerschmitt, David G. (2013). End-to-end interstellar communication system design for power efficiency. Draft technical report available on arXiv.org.  [link]

Other current activities

I have been active in the Master of Engineering program at Berkeley, in particular as a member of the EECS Masters Degrees Commitee.

I am the Chair of the IEEE James Clerk Maxwell Award committee and the Chair of the IEEE Medals Council and a member of the IEEE Awards Board, which oversees all IEEE awards activity.

I recently obtained an FCC Amateur Radio License. My call sign is KK6KFQ.



Software Ecosystem: Understanding an Indispensable Technology and Industry

(with Clemens Szyperski)


MIT Press, 2003


[publisher homepage]

[author homepage]




Understanding Networked Applications: A First Course



Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1999


[publisher homepage]

[author homepage]



Networked Applications: A Guide to the New Computing Infrastructure


Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1999


[publisher homepage]




Third edition!

Digital Communication

(with John Barry and Edward Lee)



Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003


[publisher homepage]




Adaptive Filters: Structures, Algorithms, and Applications

(with Michael Honig)



Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1984


[publisher homepage]


Full publication list

Recent publications

David G. Messerschmitt, "Interstellar communication: The case for spread spectrum", Acta Astronautica, Dec. 2012. [HTML]

David G. Messerschmitt, Ian S. Morrison, Design of interstellar digital communication links: Some insights from communication engineering, Acta Astronautica, Sept-Oct 2012. [HTML]

S. K. Blair, D. G. Messerschmitt, J. Tarter, and G. R. Harp, "The Effects of the Ionized Interstellar Medium on Broadband Signals of Extraterrestrial Origin". D. Vakoch, editor, Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence, State University of New York Press, 2011.

Recent talks

D.G. Messerschmitt, ''Exchanging Information with the Stars'', invited lecture at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA, March 11, 2011. [PDF]

D.G. Messerschmitt, ''Exchanging Information with the Stars'', invited lecture at the University of Minnesota, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Minneapolis, MN, April 14, 2011. [PDF]

D.G. Messerschmitt, "Search for intelligent life in the Milky Way: A challenge for science and engineering", Cal Day program, University of California, Berkeley, CA, April 7, 2010 [PDF]

D.G. Messerschmitt, "Communications Enginering and SETI", International Society of Astronautics Messaging Workshop, Houson, TX, April 30, 2010 [PDF]

I.S. Morrison and D.G. Messerschmitt, "Interstellar communication objectives and limitations: A roadmap to signal and receiver design", Symposium on Searching for Life Signatures, International Society of Astronautics, London, UK, Oct 6-8 2010.

Brief résumé

Brief biography from Wikipedia