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.

This is Mars week.

First, we had the mindboggling announcement that there is strong evidence of liquid water flowing on the Martian surface. And, also this week, on Oct. 2, the much-awaited Riddley Scott movie, The Martian -- based on Andy Weir's novel and starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars — opens nationwide. It seems that the red planet won't play second fiddle to the moon, especially a blood red one.

On Thursday, the Boston Museum of Science will premiere The Hidden Code at the Charles Hayden Planetarium, a multimedia piece by Paul Miller (aka D J Spooky). The piece combines music, stunning visual effects and live readings to bring science to the general public in ways that only a few years ago would be unthinkable.

Last Saturday, two-time Pulitzer prize winner Amy Harmon published a fascinating article in The New York Times about a young dying woman who chose to have her brain preserved in case neuroscience could one day restore her mind back to life.

Few questions of our time are more perplexing than the transition from non-living to living matter.

How did a sample of inorganic chemicals self-organize to become a living creature, capable of absorbing energy from the environment and reproducing? Although the question remains open, there are a few things that we can say based on present-day knowledge.

Last week, New York Times science writer George Johnson wrote a very disturbing piece concerning the apparent loss of credibility science is now facing with the public at large.

Growing up in Brazil, I always looked up to America and Europe as standards for how to keep cities clean.

Walking along in New York or Paris, I was struck by how the streets and walkways were garbage-free — at least compared to the streets of Rio and São Paulo. I wondered what it took to do this, to convince the population that the streets and parks of a city are a space we share with others and that it is in our own self-interest — and sense of civic pride — to keep them clean.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a 13.7 post about the documentary Unity, written and directed by Shaun Monson, which opened Wednesday for a one-day screening in more than 1,000 theaters around the world.

Nature is the ultimate puzzle player, as scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) found out last week.

It finally happened. On Tuesday, the space probe New Horizons passed by a mere 7,800 miles from Pluto, the closest encounter ever with a world that is, on average, 3.7 billion miles from Earth.

It took nine years for the very fast probe to get there, something that our 13.7 blogger Adam Frank estimated would take some 6,923 years by car "give or take a few decades."

It is a remarkable fact that the brain, made of neurons and their connections to one another named synapses, is able to remember.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.