The question of whether or not life exists on other planets has intrigued people for centuries. Physicist George Edward Alcorn Jr. figured out how to find out. In 1984 Alcorn and his colleagues patented a device to detect extraterrestrial life: the imaging X-ray spectrometer. This device is one of dozens that Alcorn has invented over the years, and the one with the most popular appeal. That’s not to say Alcorn’s other work isn’t interesting. It is. But George Edward Alcorn is an atomic and molecular physicist, and his work is very complex. In addition to Alcorn’s work detecting planetary life, he has also studied missile trajectory and orbits, invented components for semiconductors, designed instruments used in space, and created devices to detect atmospheric contaminants, among other things. For his work Alcorn has won the esteem of his colleagues and his industry’s top awards, including NASA’s Inventor of the Year Award in 1984.