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.

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman, the president and the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), respectively, explain why the organization decided to divest its holdings on fossil fuel companies.

Although the divesting decision is broad-ranging, they single out ExxonMobil for its "morally reprehensible conduct."

Spoiler alert: This post refers to key elements of the movie.

The audience around me was stunned silent at the end of Arrival, the new movie about a visit from advanced extraterrestrial beings based on Ted Chiang's short story.

Growing up in a reasonably affluent family in Brazil, I have no doubt that my life changed forever when, as a 10-year-old, I watched the moon landing on live TV.

(*Spoiler alert: This post refers to key elements of the movie.)

"It is not about you," says the Ancient One, marvelously played by Tilda Swinton in the movie Doctor Strange — based on the Marvel comic — released in theaters last Friday.

She is talking to Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is at a crossroads: either return to his previous life as a superstar-conceited neurosurgeon, or use his newly acquired mystic powers to save the world.

As Americans are getting ready to cast their votes for the next occupant of the White House, let's step back from the heated political debate to focus on an issue that should — even if it doesn't — bring people together: the state of our planet.

I was in Rio de Janeiro last week, site of this year's Olympics. I grew up there, and was immensely proud of the spectacular success of the games. Despite the extreme negativity of media reports, the city came through and offered quite a show for the world to enjoy.

The ancient Greek and Indian philosophers who first conjectured that matter was made of tiny little bits of stuff would not believe that now, more than 25 centuries later, we can actually see them.

Granted, modern atoms are quite different from their old counterparts, given that they are actually not indivisible but, instead, made of electrons orbiting a positively-charged nucleus. Still, visualizing such tiny structures has remained a challenge since the idea took hold in modern times, during the turn of the 20th century.

Imagine this: You enter a car with no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedals. Under a voice-activated command, you say an address.

"The fastest route will take us 15.3 minutes. Should I take it?"

You say "yes" and are on your way. The car responds and starts moving all by itself. All you have to do is kick back and relax, presumably watching the news on a screen mounted in front of you, or surfing the Internet.

There's no question that running changes your heart.

The issue is whether these changes are good or bad. I don't mean the occasional 3 miles once or twice a week, although even this minimal amount of exercise seems to have positive health benefits.

On Aug. 15, the news broke that a Russian radio telescope detected strong signals from outer space.

Opinions may diverge initially — but once we start to think about it, no question is harder than figuring out the origin of everything.

The more popular phrasings go something like, "Where did the world come from?" or "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is the question of creation, of how the universe and everything in it came to be. And, although we've made great progress towards understanding the universe and its history, we are still far from understanding its origin.

Sounds like the usual narrative of sports events: the long hours of training and complete devotion, the expectation of results that may define new records or new ways of looking ahead, the excitement preceding the meet. Then, when the time comes, it can be total frustration or glory. Equipment failure, miscalculations, human error; or triumph, new heights achieved, new horizons revealed, old records broken.

There is a herolike narrative in science that, perhaps surprisingly, is not that far from a sports narrative.

Sometimes things seem to happen for a reason. Some people call these events happy coincidences, others call them the work of God, or of many gods, while yet others see them as manifestations of one's karma.

This is the fourth in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

This is the third in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

This is the second in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Right when Steve Spielberg's rendition of Roald Dahl's classic The BFG hit the screens here on Earth without the expected impact, NASA's probe Juno, in a spectacular performance, entered orbit around monstrous, stormy Jupiter — our solar system's "unfriendly" gi

As Edgar Allan Poe wrote, quoting Lord Bacon in Ligeia: "There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions."

Late last year, when most people were getting ready for the holidays, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) machine at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, made a startling announcement: Their two massive detectors had identified a small bump in the data with an energy level of about 750 GeV.

Why We Love Aliens

May 25, 2016

There is an interesting convergence going on these days, whereby aliens are back as the focus of attention.

Fear Of Not Knowing

May 18, 2016

Today, I want to riff on Sean Carroll's stimulating contribution to 13.7 this past weekend by bringing up a few open scientific questions that are particularly baffling.

Life, for all its remarkable diversity, displays also a remarkable unity.

There is, of course, the way by which animals reproduce, as genetic information encoded in DNA is passed on to new generations in nearly all animals. The two strands of the huge molecule coil as if forming a spiral staircase, with each rung consisting of pairs of chemical groups (bases) which combine in very specific ways: adenine to thymine and guanine to cytosine. In the many ways by which life attempted to emerge on Earth billions of years ago, this was the system that worked best.

In 2006, six years after his presidential bid, Al Gore launched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The movie made headlines around the world, raising awareness of global warming and its predicted dire consequences for the planet and society.

Anyone who has run more than a few miles with some regularity has experienced what is usually called a "runner's high," an overwhelming feeling of euphoria and well-being that makes the running experience something far more rewarding than just moving forward toward an end point.

As a dedicated endurance trail runner, I can attest to this feeling and the craving for more. Although this is not the only reason why people run, we come back, again and again, hoping for these almost magical moments, that come and go as we move along the road or the trail.

Many of my non-believer colleagues would think it foolish to step onto a stage with a high-ranking Vatican cardinal to discuss science and religion.

I looked at the sun with longing this morning, wondering when its rays would warm up the air. Monday, we had a snowstorm around Hanover, NH, of the kind that must have inspired T. S. Elliot's famous opening words from The Waste Land, "April is the cruelest month..."

Why Math Rocks

Mar 30, 2016

Everyone who has kids, or who remembers his/her childhood, will also remember the struggle to understand why math matters.

"Who cares about multiplication tables and fractions, triangles and algebra? Why do I need to know these things?"

Theoretically speaking, there is widespread confusion about the word "theory." Right?

Many people interpret the word as iffy knowledge, based mostly on speculative thinking. It is used indiscriminately to indicate things we know — that is, based on solid empirical evidence — and things we aren't sure about. Not a good mix at all, especially when certain theories speak directly to people's religious and value-based sensitivities, such as the "theory of evolution" or "Big Bang theory." There is also the danger of falling for meaning traps set by groups with specific agendas.

It's in the news everywhere, with near-apocalyptic hubris: Google's DeepMind machine beat the world champion of the game Go with a score of 4-1.

We may believe that we know what's going on around us. After all, we can see, hear, touch, smell and taste what's around.

Our senses are like antennas, grabbing information about our surroundings and bringing this information into our brains. The brain is this amazing organ capable of synthesizing this information and giving us a sense of the real.

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