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.

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.

When discussing the relationship between science and religion, people often take a polarized position: It's either "I believe" or "I don't believe."

Much grief comes from the insistence from either side that the opposite is wrong or meaningless. (Here is an example, as secularist Sam Harris criticizes National Institutes of Health director and believer Francis Collins.)

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 notion that mechanization and technology will bring us free time, so we can "enjoy" life, is as old as technology itself.

The use of farming animals to cut through fields spared humans much hard work. Romans used watermills to grind grain and lift water for irrigation. As we advance through history, the list goes on and on. The expectation has always been that as technology and the mechanization of labor grew in sophistication, humans would have more free time and, thus, more opportunities for leisure.

On Sunday, a seven-part documentary series titled Belief begins airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). For a week, viewers will travel around the world as the series explores the many facets of belief across cultures, from the orthodox to the secular, from the material to the spiritual.

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.

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.

Scanning YouTube for popular science videos, I found a jewel — clocking over 10 million views — titled "Five Experiments That Could Have Destroyed The World."

The fact that we are here means these experiments did not succeed on this front. The message, however, is quite clear: We toy dangerously with things we barely understand — and the consequences could be cataclysmic. It's the fear that humans are not prepared for certain kinds of knowledge as they explore forces beyond their control.

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.

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.

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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