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 grew up with the fantasy and the nightmare.

The crew of the Enterprise talks directly to their ship's intelligent computer. Hal 2000 of 2001 A Space Odyssey runs a deep space exploration vessel while simultaneously trying to kill its astronaut crew. The machines in The Matrix enslave humans. The robots in Star Wars are our friends.

I love going to the radiologist. It's a physicist's favorite doctor gig. After all, where else do you get to see the inside of your body? And if you're doing an ultrasound, like I was last week for some pain in my ankle (just in time for hiking season), then you even get to see the squishy, sticky, bony interior of YOU in real time.

"Is this for real?"

That was the only line in an email my graduate student send me about a month ago. Along with her terse question was a link to a new paper on the astrophysics preprint archive (a website where newly completed research get posted). The paper's title was enough to set me back: "A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight" by Philip Lubin. "Wow," I thought to myself. "Is this for real?" I downloaded the paper and started reading.

This morning I woke to the sound of rain on the roof. Is there any music more beautiful? It's the perfect reminder of nature's grounding cycles from which we also emerge and disappear.

But being an astrophysicist, I was suddenly struck by the realization that Earth is not the only world that knows rain. There is rain falling in many other places in the cosmos. Lying there, listening to the drops falling on the roof, that fact suddenly seemed to carry a lot of weight.

Back in the day, astronomers studied galaxies one at a time.

Data about each metropolis of stars had to be pieced together slowly. These individual studies were then combined so that a broader understanding of galaxies and their histories as a whole could slowly emerge.

Do Animals Have Culture?

Apr 19, 2016

Last week, I watched in awe as a river of crows made their way across the evening sky toward their roosts south of my house.

Listening to the cacophony of their cries, I found myself with a simple question — is what I'm seeing just instinct or do these crows have their own culture? In fact, do any animals have culture in the same sense we do?

You don't need me to tell you how unusual this primary season has been. Every day, more news sites offer more commentary seeking to explain how American politics reached its current, seemly surreal state.

But here at 13.7, our goal is to offer commentary on places where science and culture intersect. From that perspective, one key aspect of this season's political upheaval can be traced back a decade or more. That aspect is "reality," or at least the part we're all supposed to agree on.

There are more than 7 billion of us on the planet now. We comprise a wildly diverse set of ages, nationalities, religious groups, incomes and technological capacities. Given the magnitude of our numbers, it can be hard to really grasp how that diversity plays out. How many of us have cell phones? How many are homeless? How many are in their early 20s? How many have been to college?

On July 8, 2011, the space shuttle Atlantis rumbled off its launch platform and rose skyward, marking the last time we sent Americans into space using our own rockets launched from our own soil.

Atmospheres, like love, often don't last forever. That's the lesson we astronomers are learning (well, at least, the atmosphere part), as we push outward with our telescopes into a galaxy rich with planets.

It's not an insignificant point, since the fate of atmospheres holds the key to science's most enduring question: Are we alone in the universe?