Marcelo Gleiser

Marcelo Gleiser is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. He is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

Gleiser is the author of the books The Prophet and the Astronomer (Norton & Company, 2003); The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang (Dartmouth, 2005); A Tear at the Edge of Creation (Free Press, 2010); and The Island of Knowledge (Basic Books, 2014). He is a frequent presence in TV documentaries and writes often for magazines, blogs and newspapers on various aspects of science and culture.

He has authored over 100 refereed articles, is a Fellow and General Councilor of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and the National Science Foundation.


13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:32 am
Wed July 1, 2015

Designing Superhumans


The age of genetic design is here.

It is now possible to edit genes of diverse organisms — almost like we edit a string of text — by cutting and pasting (splicing) genes at desired locations. A recent technology known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) allows for the targeted control over cellular organization, regulation and behavior. CRISPR has its origins in the immune systems of bacteria, using short RNA sequences to disrupt the genetic structure of foreign attackers.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:27 am
Wed June 24, 2015

The Never-Learned Lesson In 'Jurassic World'

Anna Faris and Chris Pratt arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of Jurassic World on June 9.
Jordan Strauss AP

Originally published on Wed June 24, 2015 6:05 pm

It's hard to have missed the explosive launching of Jurassic World, the new dinosaurs vs. humans bout in Steven Spielberg's venerable series. (This time he is executive producer, while Colin Trevorrow directs.) The movie made history already by being the highest grossing film ever in its first weekend, taking in more than $500 million worldwide.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
8:43 am
Wed June 17, 2015

After Long Slumber, Philae Says Hi To The World

An artist impression shows Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
ESA/ATG medialab AP

Originally published on Wed June 17, 2015 9:17 am

In a technological feat that moved the world, last November the European Space Agency landed the small probe Philae on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is cruising at some 100,000 miles per hour toward the sun. Excitement turned to high drama when the landing put the probe away from the sun's rays and, thus, from its energy source.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:50 am
Wed June 10, 2015

If You Don't Know You Are Held Captive, Does It Matter?


Last week, I held a class discussion on the issue of freedom. This was the closing lecture of my Dartmouth course "Question Reality!," an examination of the nature of physical reality and the limits of knowledge.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
8:53 am
Wed June 3, 2015

The High Price Of What We Eat


Originally published on Wed June 3, 2015 12:26 pm

On World Water Day, March 22, I wrote here at 13.7 that water — particularly its scarcity — should be one of our top worries for the coming decades. We listed a website with many disturbing facts about water or lack thereof, across the globe.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:03 am
Wed May 20, 2015

Viewing A Universe In Flux

The cluster and star-forming region Westerlund 2.

Originally published on Wed May 20, 2015 4:36 pm

The phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope turned 25 last month.

To celebrate the occasion, the Hubble team released a spectacular photo of a "stellar nursery," a region of space where huge amounts of gas and dust churn dramatically under gravity's never-resting arms to create new stars and, with them, new planets. Known as Westerlund 2 in the constellation Carina, it houses some 3,000 stars, some of them the hottest and brightest in our galaxy.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:43 pm
Wed May 13, 2015

Merging Global Values In A More Secular America

The percentage of Americans affiliated with a religion is declining, according to a new study.

Originally published on Wed May 13, 2015 4:54 pm

We have an African-American president and may soon have a female president. But would Americans ever elect an atheist or agnostic president?

Perhaps in a decade or so.

A new Pew Research Center survey, dramatically titled "America's Changing Religious Landscape," has painted a somewhat surprising picture of the decline of Christians as a share of the population since 2007, contrasted with the rise of those claiming to be unaffiliated to any particular religion.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
8:49 am
Wed May 6, 2015

Are We To Become Gods, The Destroyers Of Our World?


Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 10:53 am

In the stylish new sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, Frankenstein's old theme re-emerges in a beautifully designed setting: Instead of the Gothic castle we have a spectacular estate in a vast mountainous wilderness, home of the recluse genius who wants to create the first true artificial intelligence.

As in Mary Shelley's classic, cutting-edge science serves as inspiration to a moral tale, one that explores the boundary between humans and gods.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:27 am
Wed April 29, 2015

Pope's Coming Statement On Global Warming Will Be Significant

Alessandra Tarantino AP

It is fitting that Pope Francis I, who chose his name from St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, is preparing to publish an encyclical this summer on the effects of climate change on the poor, and the need to protect Earth and its environment.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:10 am
Wed April 22, 2015

'Planetary' Calls For A Global Vision Shift For Earthlings

A view of a phytoplankton bloom near Alaska's Pribilof Islands. The milky green and light blue shading of the water indicates the presence of vast populations of microscopic phytoplankton.

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 4:31 pm

As today is Earth Day, it may be that nothing is more appropriate than watching, here, at 13.7, a preview of the documentary Planetary.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:58 am
Wed April 15, 2015

Einstein's Universe Turns 100


Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 8:50 am

One hundred years ago, a 36-year-old Albert Einstein presented the complete formulation of the General Theory of Relativity to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Across the world, events and conferences will be celebrating what is considered, without hyperbole, the most beautiful of physical theories, marrying mathematics with physical concepts in deeply meaningful and elegant ways. Some consider it the highest intellectual achievement in history.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:14 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

What The 'God Of The Gaps' Teaches Us About Science

Scientist Isaac Newton on an engraving from the 1800s.

"God of the Gaps": When God is invoked to fill in the blanks in scientific knowledge. An old-fashioned and doomed theological approach, but one that is nevertheless very much alive in the minds of many.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:30 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Van Gogh's Turbulent Mind Captured Turbulence

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:16 pm

This week marked Vincent van Gogh's 162nd birthday. The always-illuminating Maria Popova celebrated in her Brainpickings newsletter by bringing back studies linking van Gogh's celebrated 1889 painting The Starry Night -- where light and clouds flow in turbulent swirls on the night sky — with studies of turbulence in fluid flows.

How this works is one of the hardest questions in modern physics.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:53 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Should You Trust That New Medical Study?

Alexander Raths iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu March 26, 2015 7:36 pm

News of medical studies fill the headlines and airwaves — often in blatant contradiction. We've all seen it: One week, coffee helps cure cancer; the next, it causes it.

From a consumer's perspective, the situation can be very confusing and potentially damaging — for example, in a case where someone with a serious illness believes and follows the wrong lead.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:54 pm
Sun March 22, 2015

Take A Shorter Shower — It's World Water Day


Even though water scarcity is probably among the top of our list of 21st century worries, few people stress about it unless directly lacking a safe source of ample water.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:08 am
Wed March 18, 2015

Much Rests On The Enhanced Large Hadron Collider

Part of the Large Hadron Collider.

Originally published on Wed March 18, 2015 1:11 pm

Get ready to look at the universe through a new window.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:17 am
Wed March 4, 2015

Do Fairies Live In The Multiverse?

Stephane Bidouze iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 3:43 pm

When I became a physicist, my dream was simple, even if ambitious: I wanted to understand nature, to build theories that would make predictions that would eventually be verified by experiments. I would then be like those heroes of physical science — Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Antoine Lavoisier, Niels Henrik, David Bohr — people who built narratives that pried open some of nature's secrets; people who were able to see the essence of physical reality beyond most of us.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:19 am
Wed February 25, 2015

The Man Who Turned Life Into Magic

Oliver Sacks in 2007.

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 3:18 pm

I was shocked and saddened to read Oliver Sacks' New York Times op-ed last Thursday where he told of his terminal liver cancer from a previous, rare ocular melanoma. As of Wednesday evening, there were 808 comments from readers, all deeply touched by Oliver's humanity. He deserves no less.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
6:30 am
Wed February 18, 2015

Clinging To Timelessness In A Changing Cosmos

Steve Cole iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed February 18, 2015 10:43 am

We humans long for permanence, for some kind of lasting presence. Witness the closing lines of Shakespeare's famous "Sonnet 18":

"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:05 am
Wed February 11, 2015

Should We Be Afraid Of Aliens?

Might nightmarish alien beings, like these imagined ones, invade Earth?

Originally published on Wed February 11, 2015 11:32 am

In the long list of modern fears, bloodthirsty aliens may not rank near the top. We have more immediate worries, from terrorism and bioengineered (or not) global epidemics to nuclear holocaust and natural disasters.

However, the notion that other intelligences exist out there in the universe is pervasive in popular culture. Mirrors to our own history, in particular colonial exploitations, aliens are often portrayed as evil invaders bent on coming here to wreak havoc.

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