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.

This week, you can't reach me by email, or text, or Tweet.

This week, I'm not taking anyone's calls, either.

That's because I'm walking the Appalachian Trail — alone. And while I am, without doubt, scared of being eaten by a bear, I'll be out there looking for that most precious of possibilities: solitude.

Human civilization began about 10,000 years ago with dawn of agriculture (give or take a millennia or so). This seems like such a long time that it can be hard to reconcile with the short span of our lives.

But there is another way to look at it that puts not just civilization, but the whole of your ancestry, in a different light.

The growth of income disparity across the world has now become so well-documented that even some rich people see it as a danger to society.

But the scale of the problem makes it seem like there's not much ordinary, not-so-rich folks can do about it in their ordinary, not-so-rich lives.

Now that we're well past the start of spring, you're probably inured already to all the green.

I mean, after those long months of winter, everyone's pumped about the first buds and shoots — so bright green and promising. But then, it's all ho-hum, leaves everywhere — whatever.

Well, not me, pal.

See, this spring I've been digging in on photosynthesis for some research I'm doing and, I gotta tell you, it's blowing my mind.

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We usually turn to NPR blogger Adam Frank to explore ideas about outer space. Today, he has this commentary on the messy business of politics and how it's affecting the climate.

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Time now for short answers to big questions. A while back, we asked you to challenge astrophysicist and NPR blogger Adam Frank with your questions about physics, astronomy or science in general. You did. And Adam Frank is here with some answers. Hi, there.

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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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")

Revolutionary discoveries don't always breakthrough the hustle of daily life.

After all, when the Wright Brothers lifted their rickety plane off the sands of Kitty Hawk, the rest of the world was just out buying their eggs, milk and toilet paper. On that day who knew — or could imagine — that decades into the future millions of people would be sitting in giant jet-planes watching Direct TV and soaring five miles above the planet's surface.

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You are trapped in space. Seriously. You're captured, cornered, mired. You're totally stuck and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

You're trapped in space and what that really means is you're trapped in three dimensions.

To get a gist of what I'm talking about, imagine for a moment you're walking through the woods and a bear magically appears in front of you.

To escape this angry bear, which direction would you run?

Does the size of space — those zillions of stars and zillions of miles of nothing between them — freak you out?

Well, if it does, guess what?

You're not alone.

I give a lot of public talks about the universe. Really. It's in my job description:

  • Astronomer. Check.
  • Study stuff in space. Check.
  • Give talks about universe. Check.

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.

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Climate change is a big issue for scientists and politicians and everyone else. Astrophysicist and NPR blogger Adam Frank says we're thinking about this whole thing wrong. He suggests a different approach.

The combustion engine is dominant. In the United States, according to the latest estimates from the Census, more than 76 percent of us get to work alone in a car. The numbers are not quite as lopsided in some big cities, where public transit and other options are more widely available.

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.

The New York Times recently carried a fascinating report on how a walk in nature can actually change the wiring in your brain. According to the story, not only did a brief walk in the woods make people report they felt happier but, using brain scans, researchers found time nature changed neurological functioning as well.

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So how will New Horizons impact your life? Well, the next time the kids ask, are we there yet, you can tell them about the distance New Horizons traveled to get to the far reaches of outer space. Astrophysicist Adam Frank helps us wrap our brains around it.

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It was 25 years ago tomorrow that NASA launched the Hubble Telescope. It gave us a new view of the universe, and NPR's Cosmos and Culture blogger Adam Frank tells us its remarkable work will endure for centuries.

Imagine, for a moment, that every Web search gave only accurate, verified information. Imagine that questions concerning real facts about the real world returned lists of websites ordered by how well those site's facts matched the real world.

Search for "Barack Obama's nationality," and websites claiming "Kenya" would be banished to the 32nd page of the list. Search for "measles and autism" and you'd have to scroll down for 10 minutes before you found a page claiming they were linked.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

There are many things you can be thankful for this year. You have your health, your beloved, your children, your family, your friends, your work, your home and your pets. But, of course, it may be that this year difficulties appeared in any one of these domains. There is a portion of suffering visited upon each of us — and its burden can, at times, be crushing.

"I want you to hold off on your intellectual gag response," the speaker told us. "I want you to stay with me through this 'til we get to the end."

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.

I was being pushed back into the chair. The bass notes were so deep and came so fast it was like someone pounding on my chest. Visions of atoms, galaxies and pure data exploded on the stage as words and symbols, pulses across banks of HD screens.

I often tell my students that one reason to study science is that it puts our lives into perspective.

Yes, the world is a mess and, yes, people can be completely horrible to each other but, hey, check out the veins on this leaf or the spots on that caterpillar. How did they get that way? Isn't that freaking awesome AND beautiful?

"Spiritual But Not Religious" is a phrase you hear more and more these days — and with good reason. In 2012, a Pew Foundation survey on religion found that almost 20 percent of Americans placed themselves in the category of "unaffiliated."

That 20 percent unaffiliated translates into a whole lot of people. It's a big enough number that, most likely, your next airport van ride will include someone without traditional religious attachments onboard.

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