Adam Frank

Adam Frank is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.

Frank is the author of two books: The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate (University of California Press, 2010), which was one of SEED magazine's "Best Picks of The Year," and About Time, Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang (Free Press, 2011). He has contributed to The New York Times and magazines such as Discover, Scientific American and Tricycle.

Frank's work has also appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009. In 1999 he was awarded an American Astronomical Society prize for his science writing.

So, yeah, I get it. It's just about the end of summer. For most folks, this means the last chance to get away to the beach or the lake or the woods. Just about any kind of "away" will do.

And with escape on our minds, it may be hard to get pumped up to think about deep issues like the politics of consumption on a finite planet, or the nature of math as invention vs. discovery, or how quantum mechanics accepts a causality as axiom.

Seriously, I get it.

As I write this, California remains deep in its fourth year of drought.

One hundred percent of the state of Nevada is in drought — with 40 percent in the extreme drought category. Over to the southeast, 93 percent of Arizona's territory is in some form of drought. Even Washington state, far to the north, finds all of its territory in drought and 32 percent of its land in extreme doubt.

Science does a lot of things for us. It creates astonishing technologies transforming our lives for the better. It reveals unseen dimensions of wonder, from the grandeur of spinning galaxies to the marvels of microscopic cells.

But for all that wonder and all those game-changing technologies, sometimes science just turns out to be the best way to call "BS."

Here at 13.7, we have have spent considerable time thinking about art and science. In particular, we've often tried to unpack the meaning of their similarities.

The New York Times recently carried a fascinating report on how a walk in nature can actually change the wiring in your brain. According to the story, not only did a brief walk in the woods make people report they felt happier but, using brain scans, researchers found time nature changed neurological functioning as well.

We are in the middle of a mindfulness revolution.

According to Time, The Huffington Post and a host of other media outlets, mindfulness and meditation are having their moment in the spotlight. From hospitals to corporate wellness programs, mindfulness is — supposedly — a new path to relieving stress, lifting depression and increasing happiness.

We don't make very good judges of distance, not on cosmic scales at least. Using our own wanderings on Earth as the judge of all things, evolution has left us poorly prepared for the epic scales of all things astronomical.

This week, as a box of electronics called New Horizons prepares to complete a nearly 10-year journey to Pluto, it's a good moment to reflect on just how far away even the objects in our astronomical backyard are from us.

Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt. For billions of years, it has been out there, biding its time, orbiting 250 million miles from the sun.

Now, for the first time, a robot emissary from Earth has made the long dark journey to Ceres, revealing it to be a spherical, cratered world awash in the color of gray mud. Except, however, for the bright spots. The weird, mysterious bright spots.

Things are about to get really interesting in the long-stalled public discussion on climate change.

The bright sun overhead was leaning down hard. The heat on my skin felt like I was standing too close to a fire. Each step took patience, as I tried to find footholds on the softening snow.

We'd been at it for hours, trying to cross a broad alpine valley between two sharp ridges. I looked up for a moment to fill my lungs and adjust the heavy pack. The snowfield stretched into the distance, broken only by bare fields of scree. For a moment, I felt like I was walking in some alien world.

Then, I realized I was.

When Robots Run

Jun 2, 2015

They are coming. It's just a matter of time — and the time is likely shorter than most of us imagine.

I'm talking about robots.

The story begins like this: In 1950, a group of high-powered physicists were lunching together near the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A Festival Of Science

May 24, 2015

Here at 13.7: Cosmos & Culture, we strive to bring you only the finest, most complete "big answers" to life's enduring "big questions."

And when there is more than one point of view to be explored, we lock our jaws onto the issue like a metaphysical pit bull and stay that way until someone calls animal control on us. It is that relentless commitment to the truth that brings us back today to the eternal question of why, exactly, your butt doesn't fall through your chair.

Quick: List the first four words that pop into your mind when you hear NASA.

If you are like most folks, you hit some mix of astronauts, moon landings, space telescopes and Mars probes. Those are pretty positive images representing accomplishments we can all feel proud about.

Where did time come from? How did it start?

I don't mean cosmic time in a "Big Bang" kind of way. No, I mean something far more intimate.

Why Video Games Matter

Apr 28, 2015

Human beings are storytellers. This basic, constant instinct is evident throughout history — from creation narratives told around the night's fire to Greek playwrights to the first novels to the flickering images of early motion pictures.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It was 25 years ago tomorrow that NASA launched the Hubble Telescope. It gave us a new view of the universe, and NPR's Cosmos and Culture blogger Adam Frank tells us its remarkable work will endure for centuries.

When I was a young astrophysics grad student, I'd return home a couple of times a year. Eating dinner with some of my extended family, one of my great aunts would invariably ask why, at age 28, I was still in school.

I'd tell her about my work studying the evolution of stars — how they're born, how they die. But no matter how poetic or uplifting I tried to make my explanations, she'd always bring the conversation to an abrupt halt with the same question: "So what's it good for?"

Then they launched the Hubble Space Telescope.

Right now, at this very moment, you are submerged in an invisible sea of information. Thoughts, ideas, ambitions and instructions — they are whispering past and through you on waves of modulated electromagnetic energy. From wireless Internet to satellite TV, you are bathed in an endless stream of purposeful, intentional signal.

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