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.

We all live in our heads.

Well, maybe it's better to say we all live from our heads — and our bodies.

From the day of our births to the moment of our deaths, we experience the world from a very particular — and very unique — perspective: our own.

This Saturday, April 22, people from around the country will gather in Washington, D.C., to join the March for Science (there will also be satellite marches in many cities).

The Moon You Never See

Apr 11, 2017

How many times have you seen the moon? Seriously. How many times have you looked up and been like: "Oh yeah, the moon. Cool."?

If you are old enough to be reading this, the answer should be "a lot" (probably in the thousands).

But here is the real question: Have you really seen the moon?

Why Expertise Matters

Apr 7, 2017

I am an expert — a card-carrying, credential-bearing expert.

The great jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis once told an interviewer: "There's only freedom in structure, my man. There's no freedom in freedom."

Science and philosophy have a long, complicated history.

Both are human endeavors aimed at articulating the nature of the world. But where the line between them lies depends a lot on perspective and history. Questions that once lay firmly in philosophy's domain have now fully entered the realm of science. Other issues which might seem fully covered by science retain open philosophical questions that either haunt or inform ongoing research (depending on one's viewpoint).

When it comes to facing the reality of climate change, the Republican Party, now led by the Trump Administration, has been slipping ever farther from its roots as a champion of American science.

Last week brought further evidence of this disconnect — but it also held out a glimmer of hope that the party's turn away from the U.S. effort in science is not universal.

Seen from space, our planet has often been called a "blue marble."

It's not, however, just the swirly white clouds that give Earth its marbled appearance. The continents: They are what complete the metaphor. All that land, sticking up above sea level, gives our world its distinctive look.

You're sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the result of a test. The test will tell you whether you have a disease you really don't want to have.

As you wait, it seems as if the whole world is poised like a pencil balancing on its tip. In a moment, the doctor will come through that door and, based on the test, your world will fall one way or another.

Or will it?

On my way back from the woods in New Hampshire, I stopped at a strip mall marking my crossing into more densely inhabited landscapes.

The contrast wasn't pretty.

The sky above the strip mall hung low and grey, which didn't help the look of things. With the snow melting, the parking lot was filled with dirty cars and wet trash. People spilled into and out of the stores: a Subway; a Starbucks; a supermarket whose name I forget.

I know, I know. Some of you are sick of it.

As another winter storm finishes crashing through the northern parts of the nation — and a few more are supposed to be headed our way — many of you may feel you're done with snow.

Why I'd Rather Not March

Feb 12, 2017

"The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer."

This motto of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers during World War II neatly sums up a particularly American way of looking at hard work.

No matter what the challenge, Americans have always had a penchant for just rolling up the sleeves and digging in. The idea goes something like this: "It's my job, no one else's. Now, let me get on with it."

So last year was pretty strange, right?

I know you know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about — aliens. I'm talking about other civilizations on other worlds.

What I'm really referring to are some of the remarkable goings-on in SETI, humanity's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The last 18 months have made for a bumpy and exciting ride for those who are serious about the science of SETI.

To help us understand what's going, I spoke with two experts.

The world is a mess.

I'm not referring to politics or the state of the society, here. When I tell you the world is a mess, I mean the physical world we apprehend with our senses.

Last week, physicists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology reported they'd cooled an object to a million times colder than room temperature. It was a record for the super-difficult science of super-cooling.

In this field, researchers inch ever closer to — but never reach — the state of absolute zero temperature. It's a science that has some very cool (pun very much intended) applications including ultra-sensitive gravity wave detectors for "hearing" distant black hole mergers.

In 1889, Bethlehem Steel brought engineer Frederick Taylor on board in an attempt to streamline its vast operation.

Taylor had recently invented a theory of "time management" in which the same principles used to optimize machines was applied to people. Taylor stalked the floors of the Bethlehem plant armed with a stopwatch and a clipboard noting the time it took for workers to complete tasks, like loading iron bars onto waiting railcars. Taylor's eventual recommendation to the company's executives were simple: The workers should be made to do more in less time.

As I move through the stages of my life in science, I'm becoming all too aware of the weight of responsibility.

It's that time of year again: Over the next week, or so, most of us will celebrate events that occurred many, many years before we were born.

For Christians, it's the birth of Jesus (2016 years ago). For Jews, it's Hanukkah's story of the Second Temple's rededication 100-plus years earlier. These events mean a lot of things to different people.

Everyone will tell you: "Be here now."

That certainly sounds like a good idea — but what does it really mean?

I am not asking this question in a "mindfulness mediation" kind of way. Yes, mindfulness is great for slowing down your monkey mind and paying a more intimate attention to what's happening around you. No one can argue with that.

What I'm interested in today, however, is the relationship between the first two words in that New-Agey triplet: Be here now. How do "be-ing" and, well, "here-ing" go together? Might they be same thing?

An NPR listener (with what may be the best Twitter handle ever — Booky McReaderpants) inquired whether a home can be powered by bicycle-powered generator.

It's an interesting issue about energy and the modern world. And the short answer comes from just running the numbers.

So, it's that time again. For the next month, we're all in for a whole mess of holiday-themed music and movies.

This wouldn't be a bad thing if it weren't so deeply joined with the endless commercialism that now defines the season.

I always hated statistics. I mean really, really, really hated it.

Recently though, I've had a change of heart about the subject. In response, I find statistics changing my mind, or at least changing my perspective.

Let me explain.

Human life is inherently uncertain. We are vulnerable and we know it.

Throughout our long history, we humans have always looked for some means of control to master our uncertainty, especially as the possibilities of storm and darkness descend.

So, it's Election Day here in the United States.

Every presidential election seems important, but I am sure that I am not alone in thinking this one is different, maybe more important than most.

So, please, go vote.

When you're done, I give you (once again) Carl Sagan's beautiful "Pale Blue Dot" speech to put it all in perspective.

It's been about a month since Elon Musk announced he was going to build a city on Mars.

To be more specific, the PayPal billionaire and founder of SpaceX, laid out a rough vision of sending, landing and keeping enough folks on the Red Planet to establish some kind of self-sustaining settlement.

In 1950, less than 50 percent of the world's population lived in cities.

As of 2014, more than half of people on Earth occupied space in urban areas. By 2050, it is expected that the city dwellers will grow to 66 percent.

The tipping point has been crossed. More important, our rapid urbanizing comes at exactly the same moment the planet begins its transition to a new (and unknown) climate state.

Imagine standing on a corner in New York City. Suddenly, someone puts his hand over your eyes like when you were a little kid. Then a strangely familiar voice says: "Guess who?"

The stranger pulls his arms back and you turn around to see Bill Murray smiling at you.

He whispers in your ear: "No one will ever believe you." Then he disappears into the passing river of pedestrians.

When I was a kid, I looked to the stars for solace.

No matter what was hard or painful or seemed inescapable in my life, I only needed to go out in my backyard at night and tilt my head back.

Science seems to give us a clean path from its claims to their vindication.

Fire a rocket in just the right way, says science, and in a year it will get to Mars. Mix a cocktail of just these chemicals, it tells us, and you can cure a pernicious disease. In a world of iPhones and MRIs, it's hard to miss the power of these scientific truths.

You can't solve a problem until you understand it. When it comes to climate change, on a fundamental level we don't really understand the problem.

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