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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.

(*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.

I start with a remarkable quote:

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

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.

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

You read it everywhere, you watch it on TV and in sci-fi movies: Science is dangerous, it can create terrible weapons, it can control our lives, it can create new diseases, machines that will take over the world, that will wipe out the human race and redefine life as we know it.

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.

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.

Earlier this week, I visited a fourth-grade class at the public school where I live. I try to go every year to different classes, from grade school to high school, to tell students about the universe.

The class had been studying the solar system, in particular the planets and their properties. The teacher gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted. I felt that contextualizing planets would be a good idea, telling their story from birth to death, their relation to their parent star, in our case, to the sun.

For the past two weeks we've been exploring some of the questions related to life's origin on Earth and possibly elsewhere.

Being in Kaikoura, New Zealand, for what is allegedly the first astrobiology workshop here, it's a good time to go back to the basics and reflect on what we know of the complicated question of the origin of life on Earth — and the possibility of life elsewhere.

I will do this, here at 13.7, in installments during the next few weeks.

The singer David Bowie, one of the most creative performers in rock 'n' roll history, died of cancer at age 69 on Sunday — two days after releasing a new album.

The battle goes on. In a galaxy far, far away, forces of good clash with forces of evil.

Who doesn't want to play God — to have the feeling of creating new worlds with the push of a button? (Although gods presumably don't need buttons to create worlds.)

I spent last week at CERN, the high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, where the Higgs boson particle was discovered in July 2012.

For those who are not yet familiar, CERN houses a giant particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a machine designed to find the smallest constituents of matter.

One of the indisputable advantages of the Internet is accessibility of information, in particular for educational purposes, inside and outside schools.

Vast collections of what we photograph, study and catalogue are available by typing a few words and clicking on a few tabs. For someone who grew up scavenging local libraries to retrieve what little information was available, this accessibility is nothing short of a revolution — and an amazing one.

The origin of the universe is one of the most difficult realities we ponder.

It bends our logic, straining the words we have to describe it. If one is to say the universe started at the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago, the immediate reaction is: "But what came before that? What caused the Big Bang?"

This is the issue of the "first cause" — the cause at the beginning of the causal chain that caused all else but was itself not caused — that has plagued and inspired philosophers for millennia.

We learned Tuesday that Takaaki Kajita, from the Super-Kamiokande Collaboration in Japan, and Arthur McDonald, from the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Collaboration in Canada (SNO), won the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for helping to solve a long-standing mystery in physics: the disappearing neutrinos.

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.

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."

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.

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.

"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.

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.

Over the years, I've been collecting thought fragments and sentences that come to me during the day or in the course of my writing books and essays.

Since this is a time of introspection and self-analysis, I wanted to share some of them with the 13.7 readers — along with my wishes for a creative and healthy 2015. I hope these may be useful to you in one way or another. Here it goes:

Limits are not obstacles but triggers that expand your boundaries.

Boundaries can be jails or invitations — it all depends on how you see them.

Last week, I came across George Johnson's piece for The New York Times, "Beyond Energy, Matter, Time and Space," where he writes, in his usually engaging style, about two recent books with opposite viewpoints concerning what we can and cannot know of the world.

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