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

The popular conception of communications technology is derived in considerable measure from the highly visible “wireless” applications of broadcast radio and television. Even in their present-day realizations these systems are based on conceptual developments from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Driven by cost constraints on consumer receivers and avoiding the obsolescence of consumer-owned equipment, these systems have fallen seriously behind the state of the art.

In other wireless applications there has been tremendous progress over the past seven decades, resulting in orders of magnitude improvement in energy and spectral efficiency in the communication of information, as evident for example in the growing capability and capacity of modern wireless systems like cellular and WiFi. However, the details of these advances are “hidden under the hood”, largely invisible to those who do not directly participate in their design. It is tempting to ascribe these advances to advancing technology, and indeed technology has been an enabler. Even more significant is conceptual advances and theories that began in the 1940’s and have come to their fruition in the past two decades. These conceptual advances are similar in flavor and their impact on communications as the impact of quantum mechanics or relativity on physics. At a theoretical level, their character is closer to thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, due to the stochastic nature of information and noise and other impairments.

The bottom line is that modern communications systems have a very different character than the popular perception of AM or FM modulation of analog signals such as broadcast radio or television. They employ exclusively digital signals, and employ sophisticated coding algorithms mapping information bits into modulation codes. Combined with similar approaches to the compression of sources, orders-of-magnitude improvements in power- and/or bandwidth-efficiency have been obtained.

I have been applying modern communications theory and technology to the challenge of  digital communication at interstellar distances. There are three primary applications of this that I have been addressing:

Recent papers and reports:

Messerschmitt, D.G. Relativistic timekeeping, motion, and gravity in distributed systems. IEEE Proceedings. Submitted and currently in its second round of review.

Messerschmitt, D.G. Design for minimum energy in interstellar communication. Acta Astronautica, 2015.

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

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.

Brief biography:

David G. Messerschmitt is the Roger A. Strauch Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) at the University of California at Berkeley. The first ten years of his career was spent at Bell Laboratories, where he participated in the exploratory development of digital communications. At Berkeley he has done research in digital communications and audio and video encoding, and has served as the Chair of EECS and the Interim Dean of the School of Information. He is the co- author of five books, including Digital Communication (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Third Edition, 2004). His doctorate in Computer, Information, and Control Engineering is from the University of Michigan, and he is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a recipient of the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal recognizing "exceptional contributions to the advancement of communication sciences and engineering".

Other current activities

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

I possess an FCC Amateur Radio License. My call sign is KK6KFQ. I find this excellent exposure to the practical side of radio communications, and some cutting-edge experimentation within this community turn out to be directly applicable to interstellar communications as well.



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 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