Adam Frank | WYPR

Adam Frank

On a Fall day more than 8 years ago, physicist Marcelo Gleiser and I sat in a coffee shop in Dartmouth and dreamed a little dream.

What if there were a place in the popular media where scientists could talk about science and culture in the broadest terms?

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education.

Over the past few months, the Amazon drama-comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been the show everyone loves to talk about.

There are some authors you go to for good stories — and others you go to for good ideas.

Then there are those who do both, giving readers complex characters, richly imagined stories and, finally, ideas that reach beyond the narrative to change how you see the world.

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.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Marvel's latest superhero movie, "Doctor Strange," worked its magic on audiences over the weekend and led the box office.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE")

The auditorium lights were low as the high school students filed in — and I was on the stage with the teachers who led the school's honor society.

My job was to give a short speech to the new inductees whose grades and activities earned them their place in the auditorium. There were notes for the speech in my pocket but when the teacher lit a candle on the table with the student's certificates, I felt something shift.

So, yeah, I get it. It's just about the end of summer. For most folks, this means the last chance to get away to the beach or the lake or the woods. Just about any kind of "away" will do.

And with escape on our minds, it may be hard to get pumped up to think about deep issues like the politics of consumption on a finite planet, or the nature of math as invention vs. discovery, or how quantum mechanics accepts a causality as axiom.

Seriously, I get it.

As I write this, California remains deep in its fourth year of drought.

One hundred percent of the state of Nevada is in drought — with 40 percent in the extreme drought category. Over to the southeast, 93 percent of Arizona's territory is in some form of drought. Even Washington state, far to the north, finds all of its territory in drought and 32 percent of its land in extreme doubt.

We don't make very good judges of distance, not on cosmic scales at least. Using our own wanderings on Earth as the judge of all things, evolution has left us poorly prepared for the epic scales of all things astronomical.

This week, as a box of electronics called New Horizons prepares to complete a nearly 10-year journey to Pluto, it's a good moment to reflect on just how far away even the objects in our astronomical backyard are from us.

When Robots Run

Jun 2, 2015

They are coming. It's just a matter of time — and the time is likely shorter than most of us imagine.

I'm talking about robots.

The story begins like this: In 1950, a group of high-powered physicists were lunching together near the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Where did time come from? How did it start?

I don't mean cosmic time in a "Big Bang" kind of way. No, I mean something far more intimate.

Right now, at this very moment, you are submerged in an invisible sea of information. Thoughts, ideas, ambitions and instructions — they are whispering past and through you on waves of modulated electromagnetic energy. From wireless Internet to satellite TV, you are bathed in an endless stream of purposeful, intentional signal.

The night sky carries the weight of many meanings for humanity. It's the home of the gods (or God). It's the essence of distance. It's the embodiment of infinities.

Shock, Awe And Science

Feb 17, 2015

Imagine you walked outside one morning and there was a 30,000-pound cat sitting in your front yard. Imagine that, on the way to work, you walked past a mushroom the size of a house. Imagine that, in the midst of all the mundane, day-to-day things you take for granted, something utterly new — and utterly unexpected — plopped itself into your reality.

There's a battle going on at the edge of the universe, but it's getting fought right here on Earth. With roots stretching back as far as the ancient Greeks, in the eyes of champions on either side, this fight is a contest over nothing less than the future of science. It's a conflict over the biggest cosmic questions humans can ask and the methods we use — or can use — to get answers for those questions.

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If I asked you to picture the universe in your head, you'd probably conjure up images of fiery stars and swirling galaxies.

We human beings are curious by nature. Since the time we first began gathering around campfires to ward off the terrors of the night, some questions have haunted us like stubborn ghosts.

Many of these great unknowns have fallen under the weight of passing millennia and the advance of technology. We moderns now know why the ground shakes in an earthquake and why the sky rumbles in a thunderstorm.

Are You Important?

Nov 11, 2014

What if there were a science that could help you understand why high school was (for so many of us) so horrible? What if there were a science that laid bare the dynamics of cliques, "in" crowds and outsiders with the mathematical precision of a moon shot?

Well, there pretty much is such a science — and, as the age of "big data" rises, this new field called network science is opening vistas on everything from high school social webs to the spread of deadly diseases.