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Adam Frank

23 Podcast Episodes

Latest 18 Sep 2021 | Updated Daily

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A Little Talk about Aliens with Dr. Adam Frank

Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures

Dr. Adam Frank (U of Rochester) first discusses the history of our search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), including the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox, and the searches for radio messages from other civilizations that have taken place since 1960.  He then explains how new research and funding is expanding our thinking about the ways we might find evidence of intelligent life among the stars.  He focuses on "techno-signatures" -- ways in which we might identify signs of alien technology.  Dr. Frank summarizes the work in papers he has published and the research and ideas of scientists around the world.  (Recorded May 26, 2021.)

1hr 19mins

23 Aug 2021

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Understanding Identity Through Martial Arts, Prof. Adam Frank

Martial Arts Studies

Understanding Identity Through Martial Arts, by Prof. Adam Frank. Also available as a video on the Martial Arts Studies YouTube Channel. Theme music, 'Eejeb', by Ronin E-Ville (http://ronineville.com) used with permission.

1hr 6mins

2 Aug 2021

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#238: The Truth is Out There...Somewhere (Adam Frank)

Politics and Polls

Is there life on other planets? Are UFOs evidence of such life? Astrophysicist Adam Frank joins Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang to discuss his research of technosignatures — signs of past or present use of technology on other planets — and the search for evidence of life outside Earth. Adam Frank is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered, and he occasionally writes for The New York Times. Last year, he and several of his colleagues were awarded a grant from NASA to fund the study of technosignatures.


1 Jul 2021

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Ep. 13 — The Exoplanet Revolution, Technosignatures, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence / Adam Frank, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Rochester.

Techtopia with Chitra Ragavan

After decades of secrecy, the US Government last week shared a new report about unidentified flying objects or UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence. The bottom line: more studies are needed, the report said, raising more questions than it answered. Renowned astrophysicist Adam Frank says there’s little evidence to show a correlation between UFO sightings and extraterrestrial intelligence. In May, Frank wrote a guest essay in the New York Times titled, “I’m a Physicist Who Searches for Aliens. UFOs Don’t Impress Me.” But he argues that the groundbreaking work done over the past thirty years in identifying exoplanets, combined with clues from astrobiology and technosignatures, could help us find signs of life if they exist outside our solar system. A professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun, Frank won a NASA Grant a year ago to fund his study of so-called “technosignatures.” Technosignatures are clues of past or present technology used on other planets. This is the first NASA non-radio technosignature grant ever awarded and represents an exciting new phase in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank is a frequent commentator on NPR. He also is the co-founder of NPR’s blog 13.8 Cosmos and Culture.  His most recent book is called, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and The Fate of the Earth. Read the Transcript Download the PDF Chitra Ragavan: After decades of secrecy, the US government has shared a new report revealing what it knows and doesn’t know about unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. But renowned astrophysicist, Adam Frank, says, “There’s little evidence to show a relation between UFO sightings and extraterrestrial life and intelligence.” In May, Frank wrote a guest essay in the New York Times titled, I’m A Physicist Who Searches For Aliens. UFOs Don’t Impress Me. Hello, everyone. I’m Chitra Ragavan, and this is Techtopia. Joining me now to talk about his search for life on other planets is Adam Frank. He’s a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. Chitra Ragavan: Last June, Frank won a NASA grant to fund his study of so-called technosignatures. Technosignatures are clues of past or present technology used on other planets. This is the first NASA non-radio technosignatures grant ever awarded and represents an exciting new phase in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. A self-described evangelist of science, Frank is a frequent commentator on NPR. He also is the co-founder of NPR’s blog, 13.8: Cosmos and Culture, and his most recent book is called Light Of The Stars: Alien Worlds And The Fate Of The Earth. Adam, welcome to Techtopia. Adam Frank: Thank you so much for having me. Chitra Ragavan: In your recent New York Times guest essay you write, “There are excellent reasons to search for extraterrestrial life, but there are equally excellent reasons not to conclude that we have found evidence of it with UFO sightings.” What’s wrong with our current thinking in linking UFOs with extraterrestrial life? Adam Frank: Well, the biggest problem is that with a UFO by definition is something that’s unidentified. Then the question is how do you go from something you don’t know, you don’t know what it is, you don’t understand what it is, to then making conclusions about what it is. The point I was making in that article was as interesting as these things are, and they are interesting, there’s just nothing close to the kind of data a scientist would need to be able to reliably and verifiably conclude that these were … this extraordinary conclusion these were actually alien spacecraft that had ventured across the vast distances between the stars and were showing up here to investigate us, and they want to be secret, but they’re not really very competent in remaining secret. Right? There’s just that link is just completely unwarranted. Chitra Ragavan: Yes. And of course you’ve got all of the science fiction where all of these aliens are wearing human clothes, and they speak in English, and they seem to like Detroit a lot for some reason, so I guess … Adam Frank: Right. Well, as I always like to say, if it sounds like a science fiction story, it probably is. The problem with the way people link these sightings with the conclusion that it’s something from another world, which to even find microbial life on another plant would be the most extraordinary discovery in the entire history of science. So, you’re going to need pretty strong evidence for that. But to make this even larger leap that we’re being visited by advanced creatures, it almost always ends up sounding like a science fiction story, because really if they’re visiting, why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and be like, “Yo. We’re here. What’s up”? Chitra Ragavan: The US government recently released videos taken by Navy and Air Force pilots, and you’ve seen them as well, of these so-called unidentified aerial phenomena, the new term for UFOs. These pilots, and we actually had one of the pilots, Alex Dietrich, on our podcast, they’ve given highly credible accounts of what they have repeatedly seen. What do you make of their accounts and observations and your reasoning as to why they don’t automatically assume that these are alien species checking up out is correct? Adam Frank: The problem with, first of all, always with personal testimony is that there’s not a whole lot you can do with it as a scientist, especially to try and ascertain whetter or not what they’re seeing has anything to do with aliens. Right? What do I really need if I want to say I’ve detected something that must be aliens? I would need detailed data from lots of different angles at lots of different wavelengths with lots of different sensors to tell me that it was behaving in ways that absolutely was impossible, that violated the laws of physics. For example, that it was accelerating at rates so high that no known metal could handle it. The metal would just deform. Somebody telling a story that they saw something that moved really fast, that’s just … They can’t tell me how close it was, how far away it is. They can’t really tell me what the speed was. Right? All they can do is just sort of say, “It was really fast.” Adam Frank: And so there’s just nothing there to really sort of grab hold of to make the kind of conclusion that you want. If your friend tells you, your friend you really trust says, “I saw a ghost,” and you don’t believe in ghosts, you believe your friend saw something, but what can you do with that story? I think these pilots are definitely seeing something. That’s why I’m saying there is something interesting here. It should be studied. It’s the link to extraterrestrials that is really too much. Right? There’s more plausible explanations, like it’s a peer state adversary deploying maybe even simple technologies against us to soak up electronic signals to see what we’re capable of, than aliens. That’s a big leap. Chitra Ragavan: In this report, what kinds of things would actually interest you as a scientist, and as an astrophysicist, and someone who’s searching for life on other planets? Adam Frank: Again, the report would have to have … This is what it would really have to have, because this is the same … What I’m going to describe for you are the same kinds of procedures that we would go through using telescopes to find evidence of alien civilizations or alien life at all. We’d need electronic signals or detectors, radar, infrared, ultraviolet, and we’d have to have detailed data from those devices. We’d have to know how those devices worked. We’d have to be able to characterize those devices, so we could tell whether or not the signal that we were getting was somehow a shadow, an image, an imperfection. When we build telescopes, there’s a huge amount of work that goes into just characterizing how the telescope responds to light. Unless there is multiple different kinds of detectors and characterizations of those detectors, there is just not going to be enough for an astronomer to make this incredible conclusion that you’re actually seeing something that came from a distant world. Chitra Ragavan: And you’ve also argued for a long time that it’s unrealistic to think that Earth is the only planet to host life, intelligent species. Based on all of your years of research and staring into the night skies, you’re saying there is life on exoplanets. What are these exoplanets, and why do you think that’s a given that there is life beyond that on Earth? Adam Frank: I wouldn’t say it’s a given. I have arguments for why there could be probability on our side for it, but this is the lovely thing about science. Until you look, you don’t know. Also, I can also give you arguments for why, in spite of the vast number of planets, that maybe there’s nobody around now. Right? It could have been that life and intelligence was popping up all the time, but maybe in this era of the galaxy’s history that we’re alone. I want to be careful about that. I think it’s important to say that, because some much with science is not about belief. It’s about evidence. Adam Frank: What is the evidence I would say? As of right now, we don’t have any direct evidence. What we have is a revolution that we went through about 30 years ago. It’s what’s called the Exoplanet Revolution. We believe life requires planets on which to form. For 2,500 years we have not known whether there were any other planets anywhere else in the universe, other than the ones orbiting the sun. You can see Aristotle and Democrates beating each other up in their writings about this 2,500 years ago. Until recently, until as recently as the 1950s, there was convincing arguments that planets would be very, very, very rare, which would have meant life was even more rare. Then in 1995, we discovered our first exoplanet, a planet orbiting another star. Adam Frank: Since then, we now know … We’ve done this incredible working using these new detectors and technologies. We now know that every star in the sky hosts a family of worlds. And that, more than anything, is the game changer. We now know that the universe is awash in planets. Many of these planets, in fact one out of every five planets is going to be in the right place for life to form, meaning that there could be liquid water on the surface. And what that means is that nature … We wrote a paper on this. Nature basically has run 10 billion trillion experiments in planets and life over the course of the universe. Right? So in order for us to be the only time it’s ever happened ever, the odds of it occurring on some random world have to be less than one in 10 billion trillion, which is so small that you begin to think, okay, even if it’s not nextdoor, even if maybe our galaxy even is sterile, somewhere else in the history of the universe there have been other forms of life and other civilizations. Chitra Ragavan: It’s amazing. I mean, in your book, you say, “It’s time to take the existence of aliens seriously.” That kind of gives you goosebumps, right, when you think about that, just that one sentence, like okay, what does he mean by that? Adam Frank: The most interesting thing for me is it means … Of course, we want to go out and we want to find, we want to find the evidence, but even as an idea, it’s a game changer, because you just recognize that what happened here, the long history of life on the Earth and the miracles of evolution, the insanity of what evolution has produced, that likely has happened elsewhere. Who knows what paths it’s taken? Chitra Ragavan: Yeah. I guess all of the what you call the giggle factor around UFOs, the bad Sci-Fi, the UFO conspiracy theorists, all of that, how much of that has gotten in the way of us asking the right questions of you think? Adam Frank: Oh. It’s huge. It’s huge. The field of SETI, search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which was pioneered first, the first experiment that was done with that was in 1959 by Frank Drake. During my entire life, that was always kind of like people are like, “Eh.” It was always looked a little askance, even though you had some serious scientists doing it. There was never really any funding for it. In fact, actually, a couple times NASA really tried to put funding behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and then Congress in the 1980s and the 1990s just smacked it down. It became a political football, like, “We’re not going to waste money looking for little, green men.” Adam Frank: That giggle factor actually has really impeded the real scientific search, which again, you’re going to do with telescopes, not with jet fighters. That has really impeded it. It’s really only been recently, because of things like the Exoplanet Revolution, that finally this field is able to come out of the closet, and scientists will start taking it seriously. We can talk a little bit more about how that developed, but it is really just in the last couple of years. That grant that we got is an indication of the fact that finally people are willing to use the methods of astronomy to start looking for intelligent life. Chitra Ragavan: How did that develop? Tell us a little bit about the background of how that change happened in attitude and that resulted in, of course, in funding. Adam Frank: The 1990s were important for two reasons. First of all, within the solar system you had this Mars rock that was found in Antarctica. It was a meteorite. It was a chunk of Mars that had been blown off of Mars and had landed in Antarctica. We knew this kind of thing would happen. A team found an example of this rock, and they brought it back. It looked like this was a phenomenal … It caused a lot of great stir. It looked like there might have been evidence that this rock … that there were fossils in it, there were microscopic fossils of life in it, as well as chemical tracers. Now, it turned out that people now look at that and say, “No. That wasn’t conclusive evidence,” but it renewed the search for life within the solar system, the idea that there might have even been simple life on Mars. That’s what led to Clinton sort of they amped up the study of Mars. They started to send all the rovers, the robots that we now … Mars is the only planet fully inhabited by robots, because we’ve sent a whole bunch there. That’s where that started. Adam Frank: Then alongside, the same thing, the same kind of spur was the Exoplanet Revolution I just described. That began the search for life outside of the solar system. In the mid-90s, we first discovered planets. By the mid-2000s, the first decade of this millennia, we had found so many planets that we could start doing statistics. We could start doing a census of them. That led to a much deeper understanding of what might be possible for life. That began the efforts in what we would call astrobiology, which is this new field that tries to look at life from a kind of planetary perspective or an astronomical perspective. Adam Frank: People started thinking very seriously about what we would call biosignatures. If you have a planet that’s 10 light years away and it’s got a biosphere, it’s got a rich, very thick network of life, on Earth it’s microbes, and its forests, and its plankton in the ocean, that actually changes the atmosphere. That will leave a profound marker in the atmosphere. Those markers can be seen from a distance. When we look at the light that is reflecting off or passing through the atmosphere of a distant planet, we can actually see the fingerprint of that biosphere in the planet’s atmosphere. We call that a biosignature. Adam Frank: For example, oxygen. What’s amazing, people don’t really realize this, but that if it wasn’t for life, there would be no oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. About 2.5 billion years ago, microbes, blue-green algae or blue-green bacteria basically, pardon my language, it farted oxygen into the atmosphere, due to this innovation in photosynthesis that it had evolved. Without life, if life disappeared tomorrow, all of the oxygen in the atmosphere would pretty much react away, and it would be gone. We’d go back to mostly nitrogen and some CO2. If you could see oxygen in the atmosphere of a distant planet, you would have strong evidence that there was biology there. These biosignatures, NASA pumped a huge amount of money into the study of these biosignatures. We’ve already characterized the atmospheres of some big, sort of Jupiter sized planets that are surrounding other stars. We’re already learning how to do this atmospheric characterization. Adam Frank: Then what happened was, look, if you’re going to be searching for, I don’t mean to be derisive, but dumb life, if you’re searching for microbes, and I’m not dissing microbes here, but, you know- Chitra Ragavan: You’re going to get a lot of people who are very upset about that. Adam Frank: No. No. Listen. I’m a big fan. Microbes are smart. I’m just … You know. What people realize it, look, if you have this maturing field of biosignature studies, how can you just sort of say that, “Okay. But we’re never, ever, ever going to talk about intelligent life.” Right? “Here’s $50 million to study biosignatures, but don’t ever, ever bring up the idea of the possibility of technosignatures.” By somehow around 2018 it became clear that that doesn’t make any sense. Then NASA hosted its first conference, a workshop on technosignatures that I was lucky enough to attend, where they kind of asked the astronomers who … Most of these astronomers have been kind of living on the edge, having this be part of their funded work. Suddenly, they gathered us all together and said, “What would you guys need to do if we gave you money?” Everyone’s like, “Really?” Chitra Ragavan: So, what are these technosignatures? Adam Frank: Yeah. That’s what we’re working on now. We’re trying to figure out what constitute the best signatures of a technological civilization. There’s all kinds of challenges in sort of figuring out … You want to try to avoid human biases, but on the other hand, you don’t want to ignore the … The one example you have is us, so you want to at least build on that. Let me give you a few examples of what we think might be good things to look at. The easiest one to look at would be pollution. By pollution, I just mean if there’s any kind of industry that is pumping out, either purposely or inadvertently, chemicals into the atmosphere that could not be produced by nature, then the question is could you see those? Adam Frank: One of the things that came out of our collaboration, the grant, is we just submitted a paper that showed that chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, which are the chemicals that actually mess with the ozone, that if another civilization 10 light years away was using CFCs and dumping them into their atmosphere at the same rate we are, we would be able to see that with the telescope that’s going to be launched next year. Now, you can say, “Well, would they use CFCs?” I don’t know, but this was an important first step in showing that an industrial chemical, a chemical that wouldn’t show up any way other than technology, would in fact be detectable at Earth levels on a distant planet. So, that was pretty cool. Chitra Ragavan: Wow. You mentioned solar panels as another example. That kind of blew my mind. I’m like, wait, there’s aliens installing solar panels? Adam Frank: On their roof. Chitra Ragavan: I couldn’t quite get my arms around that one. Adam Frank: From Elon Musk. Yeah. He’s way ahead. Well, no. Here’s the interesting thing. One of the difficulties when you think about technosignatures is you’re like, okay, what are the possible routes of evolution for a civilization? How do I constrain that? How do I even begin to think about that in a general, but yet systematic, way. Well, here’s the thing. What is a civilization? On some level it’s just a mechanism for harvesting energy and using it to do work. Right? Any civilization, that’s what it would do. It has to take energy and use it to do something. How do you harvest energy? Aliens aren’t going to be magic. They’re going to have the same sources we do, even if they’re more efficient or have a larger scale of collecting it. Adam Frank: The most obvious kind of energy is solar energy. The sun produces a titanic, an apocalyptic amount of energy every second. There’s only a few kinds of ways you can build solar panels, so we have some idea about the components of that. Certainly, this is something you can imagine us doing in the future. We might cover half the moon with solar panels and then beam that energy back down to Earth. If you did that, the light that would reflect off of the solar panels actually would carry a signature, an imprint of the fact of the minerals that were being used or the materials that were being used, and you could see that at a great distance. That’s a lovely technosignature. Adam Frank: Likewise, city lights are heat islands. At some point in the next maybe 20 or 30 years, we’re going to have the capacity to resolve or begin to resolve planets. We might be able to actually see on the night side lights, or in the infrared we could see the fact that there’s industry going on there, because there’s going to be heat islands. Those are three. The list is growing, and we have to evaluate each one of these, but those are three examples that we’ve really talked about and some of which we’ve already begun to study in some detail that we’d be able to see from a distance. Chitra Ragavan: Through this NASA grant and all of your observations and computations, you’re actually creating a technosignature library. What is that going to look like? That’s amazing. Adam Frank: Well, the idea is people are going to go out … Astronomers are going to go out and take observations, like with biosignatures. They’re going to take the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched next year, and they’re going to point it at a specific exoplanet. That’s the beauty of the Exoplanet Revolution. Rather than just randomly looking in space for evidence of life, we now know exactly where to look. We’re going to look on those planets that are in the right place for life to form around their star, what we call the habitable zone. Astronomers are going to be staring at those planets for hours, and hours, and hours collecting data, and then they’re going to take that light and they’re going to break it up using a spectra, or a spectrograph. Then they’re going to look for signatures of things like oxygen or methane. Adam Frank: By creating this technosignature library we’re going to also say, “Hey. Look over in this wavelength band. Look between this wavelength and that wavelength, because that’s where the chlorofluorocarbon signature is going to be. This is how strong it should be.” We’re going to give observers kind of the library that they’ll use that when they take data, they’re going to look and see, oh, did we see chlorofluorocarbons? Did we see reflected light from solar panels? Hopefully, we’ll build up a large enough library that every exoplanet observation that’s looking for biosignatures can also look for technosignatures. Chitra Ragavan: That’s fascinating. What do you think these exocivilizations on these exoplanets might look like. Do we have any theories at all or any sort of thoughts on this? Adam Frank: Yeah. This is part of what has to happen now. That question is … One has to ask, if I want to answer that question, what guardrails do I have in thinking about that? Because I always like to say that science is constrained imagination. Right? If I’m writing a science fiction story, I can just tell you anything about the aliens, but with science I have these patterns, these rules that I’ve learned about that I know operate everywhere in the universe. Now, I know that physics is always the same. Chemistry is always the same. I’m going to believe that Darwinian evolution is probably, because that just makes so much sense, that that’s probably the same. Now, when it comes to things like sociology, eh. I don’t really know that I can use sociology. Are aliens going to be Marxists or capitalist? There’s no way to tell. I don’t think that there’s anything that could constrain those. But what we can do is we can try, as the field matures, is try and systematically think about the ways that civilizations might evolve, how they might rise in their capacities, their technological capacities. Adam Frank: For example, what we’ve gone through, what we’re going through with the Anthropocene and climate change, tells you that if you harvest too much energy and you’re not careful about your impact, your planet is going to be like, “Sorry.” The planet’s going to push back. There’s going to be back reactions. One thing you might imagine, that if the civilization is really long-lived, not a couple of hundred years, like our technological civilization’s been around, but maybe a million years, it’s going to have to learn to come into some kind of balance with its biosphere. There’s an idea that may be general enough that that may be used. We can use that as a guiding principle. There are- Chitra Ragavan: Yes. That was really interesting, because that was the first time I thought of it in those terms, of how we have to … I mean, I’ve thought of it in other ways, but this idea that a lot of the crises on Earth, as you’ve mentioned, come because we are off balance with the universe, with our Earth, and so going back to your reference to Anthropocene. You devide the evolution of our world into two phases, the Holocene and the Anthropocene. Could you describe what each is and why this so relevant perticularly for clime change what it means for the balance of the universe, and ultimately the future of humanity? Adam Frank: Right. The interesting thing about the Earth, once you wake up to geology or biogeophysics, as I did when I started working on this 10 years ago, was you start seeing everywhere around you how this incredible 4 billion year history of life and the planet are just completely intermingled. The Earth and its life have been co-evolving since life began. The example of the oxygen I gave is a beautiful example. Once life pumped oxygen into the atmosphere, it changed everything about how the planet worked, as well as changing everything about how life would evolve. There’s all these different phases. The Earth has gone through many, many different phases where different animals, like dinosaurs, were dominant. Adam Frank: The last million years or so have been a period of ice ages. The ice has come on. You’ve had glaciers going all the way down to mid-latitudes and they’ve retreated. What the last 10,000 years of Earth history has been has been what we call an interglacial. It’s been a relatively … It’s been a period where the glaciers retreated and the climate has been relatively warm and relatively moist, moist because all that water’s not locked up in glaciers. It just so happens that all of human history is fit into the Holocene. We didn’t start doing agriculture until just after the glaciers retreated. Humanity or civilization … By civilization I mean everything that happened after the Agrarian Revolution. All of civilization is a story written in the Holocene, during this one particular climate state that the Earth has been in, and it’s been in many. Adam Frank: Then what happened is we were so successful at energy harvesting, which is what we’ve been doing since the Agrarian Revolution. First, we used animal dung. We used wood. Then we tripped over fossil fuels at some point. We were so successful at harvesting that energy and building our civilization that we now have pushed the Earth out of the Holocene. We’re pushing it into a new stage that’s called the Anthropocene, where the climate is going to be very different. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, because it’s changing, but the danger is it’s not going to look anything like what a complex civilization like ours needs or can thrive in. Adam Frank: This transition that we’re making into the Anthro, we’re literally causing the Anthropocene, it’s unbelievably fascinating from an Earth science point of view, because now you have a technological civilization and it has pushed back on the world. Now, the world is pushing back on the civilization. So it’s important for understanding what’s happening to us and our own fate, but of course it’s important for thinking about the fate of all civilizations, because what I believe is and I think there’s good arguments for pretty much any civilization is going to hit this boundary, some kind of … Every technological civilization will hit, or at least many, will encounter, will cause their own version of an Anthropocene. Chitra Ragavan: Yeah. As you’ve mentioned and we’ve sort of explored in a couple of other episodes we’ve done on UFOs, there’s this inextricable link in people talking about UFOs and other life to climate change. Right? We’ve been talking in the US about climate change going back 50 years, when, as you pointed out, Lyndon Johnson did a joint address before Congress, and yet we just really have not done enough to curtail ourselves. You kind of compare us to cosmic teenagers. I love that idea. Where did that come from, and what do you mean by that? Adam Frank: I think the term was originally used by Carl Sagan in one of his TV shows, Cosmos, from the 1970s, but it’s such a beautiful idea, because it’s … One of the things I think that’s difficult when we talk about climate change is because it’s become so politically polarized, that people either deny it’s happening or they take it to say that human beings are a plague. We’re a virus on the planet. Earth can’t wait to get rid of us. I think that is such a … First of all, it’s wrong. It’s just the wrong perspective on how life and the Earth have evolved, but also, you’re not going to get anywhere with that. That’s not a narrative that’s going to be helpful in trying to marshal our collective actions. Adam Frank: But the teenager idea is really important, because you know, anybody who’s had a teenager, that moment they have to give the kid the keys to car, whether you’re religious or not, you suddenly learn how to pray, because adolescence, we know … every child, every human child is going to go through adolescence. It’s a natural phase of human development. It’s a dangerous transition. Not everybody makes it through. I think that’s the right way to think about technological civilizations. They are powerful enough to harvest energy in ways that life by itself wouldn’t be able to do, non-technological life wouldn’t be able to do. In doing so they cause feedbacks on their planet. Then the smart ones, the adolescents, the teenagers who learn how to manage this power they have over themselves, like in driving, are the ones that go on. The ones who can’t, they don’t make it through the transitions. We should really think of the Anthropocene as a dangerous, but expected, transition. I believe that might help us understand this profound moment that we’re going through. Chitra Ragavan: And this idea, the greenhouse effect, the runaway greenhouse effect, and how it could potentially destroy our life and humanity, there are some interesting comparisons you have to what is happening at Venus’s core. I thought that was really amazing. Adam Frank: Yeah. We actually have two examples of climate change in our solar system. That was what I was talking about in the book was showing how … I’ve had to deal with so much climate denial in my life. I wanted to point out to people that, look, we don’t know … our knowledge of climate change doesn’t just come out of studying the Earth. It’s this long, long history of studying all the worlds in the solar system. The first place we actually really came to understand how climate change can run amuck was by Venus. It was one of the first planetary explorations we ever did. Venus is a world that really should look a lot like the Earth. It’s the same size, same mass. It’s a little bit closer to the sun, but that in itself won’t make it that different. Adam Frank: Instead, the temperature there is 700 degrees Fahrenheit. You can melt lead on the surface of Venus. That’s all because the greenhouse effect got into this very dangerous runaway essentially that caused it to just … basically it boiled off all the water that was on the planet. But Mars also. We think that Mars used to be a blue world. Mars had a period where there was absolutely water, maybe deep water, oceans perhaps, on Mars, but the climate change had lost its atmosphere, and now it’s a frozen hell hole. Both of those planets … On Earth climate change would never get that bad, but it could get bad enough that it makes civilization either impossible or very, very difficult. Adam Frank: These two planets, these examples, show us about how … What it shows us it that planets have rules. Planets have rules for how they behave. Our civilization grew up not knowing those rules, and now we know them, and that means we have to rebuild our civilization to work within the biosphere or the planet’s rules. If we don’t, then it’s not the planet that’s going to lose. It’s us that’s going to lose. Chitra Ragavan: Yeah. When I read the book, I had a renewed appreciation for our atmosphere and all of the gases that protect and keep our oxygen in, because I was looking at the alternative and it wasn’t a very pretty sight. I want to pull back a little bit. You have this incredible mission, looking for extraterrestrial life and intelligence in a galaxy far, far, away. What is that process like day after day? How close do you think you are to actually finding the kind of data that is going to revolutionize our understanding of extraterrestrial intelligence? Adam Frank: It’s interesting that you ask about the day to day, because as I like to always say, science is very exciting and it’s unbelievably boring, because to know something incredible, to know about the structure of matter, to know about the code that allows life to work, to find evidence of extraterrestrial life of any kind, smart or dumb, requires this long, painstaking process of building up your theoretical understanding, of doing the experiments that build up your ability to make observations. This process is essentially why we have cell phones that work. It’s how I can talk to you over a computer. It takes a long time and it requires a kind of obsessive personality that makes sure that you get the answers right, because if the people who were designing the science of your cell phone got it wrong, your cell phone would be a brick. Right? Adam Frank: For technosignatures we’re really … that’s what I want people to understand is we are just setting sail now. We did not have these capacities 30 years ago. We didn’t know that there were exoplanets 30 years ago. It’s only because of the work that’s been done over the last 20, 30 years that we now are poised to actually be able to do this search. What does it mean? On one hand, on the theoretical side, we’ve got to think about what it is we’re looking for. We have to be very clear and make models of how gases, different industrial gases, would get into an atmosphere, how long they would be there, what kind of imprint they would leave on light. Then the people who design telescopes have to think about instruments. I have to design an instrument that can collect light from a distant star and be very well characterized in terms of how internal reflectance happens, how much light gets absorbed and lost, all these kinds of things. Adam Frank: But we have telescopes that are going to be launched soon. We have telescopes that are on the drawing boards now. And we have even the next generation of telescopes in place, such that in the next 10, 20, 30 years we’re going to actually have data that’s going to be relevant to this question. I can’t tell you what the data’s going to say, but we’ve been arguing about life in the universe since we’ve been humans. We are now, for the first time, rather than yelling at each other about our opinions, we’re going to actually have data. It’s hard to imagine how profound that opportunity is. We’re just starting. People have to be patient. Nothing good comes easily. But I expect that in my lifetime I will see data that’s going to be relevant to this question. Chitra Ragavan: That’s absolutely amazing. Speaking of people yelling at each other, there’s so much science denial going on these days. You have that on the one hand, and then you have the kind of groundbreaking work that you’re doing. How do you sort of reconcile the two? And this incredible science denial that’s going on, what do you make of that? Adam Frank: Yeah. It’s funny. During my time writing the NPR blog, when there were still comments, there was still a comments section, I really watched this. I watched how if I would post something about climate, when I started the blog, in the mid-2000s or late 2000s, you’d see a few people, deniers, “Well, you don’t really know that’s true. You’re just a …” pushing back. Then after a few years, I’d notice id put up a story and there would be an avalanche, almost as if there was a network waiting to be activated that would then … People told me … I got death threats. People told me I’m going to have to spend time in a three by five cell, which I said, “Well, that would be great if I get my journal articles. I’d finally be able to read them.” Adam Frank: What I make of it is that I really believe to a large degree it was orchestrated. Right? When it comes to climate, there are obviously actors who stand to lose. We know this now. It’s been well documented. The oil companies and other organizations associated with them funded … they knew exactly what the science said, but they funded very sophisticated disinformation. What they did is they kind of hijacked the other cultural phenomena that were occurring, the things that led to the kind of polarization we see. Adam Frank: This science got attached to that polarization, which was so cynical, because I wrote about this, once you start going down that slippery slope, once you start telling people that scientists are … it’s a hoax, they’re propagating it just for their own money, you’re not going to be able to pull out. There’s no separating that argument about climate change from something like, oh, a pandemic. You know? Once you’ve taught people that scientists are just in it for the money and you can’t really trust them, then, yeah, when you get to things really going bad and you really need people to pay attention to the science, it’s going to be too late. Yeah. It’s a huge problem that cannot be underestimated. Adam Frank: It affects all parts of American society, because other cultures are not going through this. I mean, there’s science denial everywhere, but the degree to which it is dominant in the United States, or not dominant, but the strength of it in the United States does not bode well for our economic competitiveness, does not bode well for our ability to maintain our scientific supremacy, which we are. We definitely have the best scientific enterprise in the world. That is absolutely threatened. I already can see ways in which we’re going to start sliding, because people aren’t going to want to come here. The best and the brightest in the world aren’t going to come here. Yeah. It’s a real issue. I even think that the UFOs could be helpful, because I advocate full transparent exploration of this. It’s a great opportunity to show people how science works. You know? Chitra Ragavan: That’s great. Your closing thoughts on how people should react to this government report, and what they should look for, and how they should process the information. Adam Frank: Yeah. That’s a great kind of way of phrasing it. I think what people should do is always read it critically. Read it critically. Remember … Look at your cell phone and imagine all of the work it took to make that thing actually operate, the scientific miracle that thing is. Ask yourself, is the same kind of standards of evidence or same kinds of scientific logic being used when people try and connect what is unidentified with the idea of aliens? Everybody should look at it with interest, but if you’re really interested in finding life on other planets, pay attention to what’s happening in astronomy right now and the field of astrobiology, because that’s really where you’re going to get your answers. Chitra Ragavan: That’s wonderful. Adam, thank you so much for joining me on Techtopia and for this fascinating conversation. Adam Frank: Oh. It was so much fun. Thank you. Chitra Ragavan: Adam Frank is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. His computational research group at the University of Rochester has developed advanced supercomputer tools for studying how stars form and how they die. A self-described evangelist of science, Frank is also committed to showing others the beauty and power of science and exploring the proper context of science in culture. Among other things, he’s a frequent commentator on NPR, and he’s also the co-founder of NPR’s blog, 13.8: Cosmos And Culture. Last June, Frank won a NASA grant to fund his study of so-called technosignatures, detectable signs of past or present technology used on other planets. This is the first NASA non-radio technosignatures grant ever awarded and represents a very exciting new direction for the search of extraterrestrial intelligence. Don’t miss Adam’s guest essay in May in the New York Times titled, I’m A Physicist Who Searches For Aliens. UFOs Don’t Impress me. He’s also the author of the book, Light Of The Stars: Alien Worlds And The Fate Of The Earth. It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it. This is Techtopia. I’m Chitra Ragavan.


30 Jun 2021

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Adam Frank: Koans as Questions, Koans as Test: One Scientist’s Personal Perspective

Upaya Zen Center's Dharma Podcast

In this dharma talk, astrophysicist Adam Frank speaks to us about his life-braiding zen and science. In particular, how ‘Koans aren’t magic, but when they are, they’re SUCH magic!’


1 Mar 2021

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Science & Pop Culture with Adam Frank

Heavy Metal Presents: Putting The Science In Science Fiction

This bi-monthly podcast features Heavy Metal CEO, Matthew Medney, Aerospace Engineer John Connelly & President of The Columbia Space Center, Benjamin Dickow.On this episode, the gang sits down with Adam Frank, Adam Frank is an American physicist, astronomer, and writer. He is the leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun, and his computational research group at the University of Rochester has developed advanced supercomputer tools for studying how stars form and how they die. A self-described “evangelist of science,” he is also committed to showing others the beauty and power of science, and exploring the proper context of science in culture. His scientific research has focused on computational astrophysics with an emphasis on star formation and late stages of stellar evolution. Currently, his work includes studies of exoplanet atmospheres and astrobiology. You can also find Adam on Netflix’s “Alien Worlds” Episode 4. Learn more about Adam’s work @ https://www.adamfrankscience.com/Sit back, put on your thinking cap and enjoy, Putting The Science In Science Fiction, Where Fiction & Science Collide. Matthew Medney & John Connelly’s hard science fiction novel “Beyond Kuiper: The Galactic Star Alliance is an Amazon #1 Best Seller in the “Hard Science Fiction Novels” Grab your copy today! https://linktr.ee/beyondkuiperThis episode is brought to you by Warner Archive: http://warnerarchive.com <http://warnerarchive.com/> What is the Warner Archive? Warner Archive is the part of WarnerMedia that brings you rare and hard-to-find movies, TV shows, animation and classic cinema to Blu-ray Disc and DVD. With over 3500 different releases currently in print, these discs are for collectors, physical media fans or anyone looking to explore the depths of the world's largest entertainment media library.This episode is also brought to you by Aethon Books: http://AethonBooks.comAethon Books is committed to publishing the next generation of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Aethon exists to not only deliver standalone genre fiction, but complete series, promising never to leave you waiting for a conclusion like some of those other guys. Having teamed up with talent like Lou Diamond Phillips, Nathan Fillion, and numerous bestselling authors, Aethon guarantees there’s something for everyone. Hosts: Matthew Medney, CEO of Heavy Metal Magazine, John Connelly, Aerospace Engineer, Benjamin Dickow, President Of The Columbia Space Center.Executive Producers: Matthew Medney, John Connelly, Benjamin Dickow, David Erwin, Tommy Coriale, Patrick SmithTechnical ProducerMike SgalambroPutting The Science In Science Fiction is a Heavy Metal Entertainment & DIGA Studios Production.Learn more about your ad choices. Visit http://megaphone.fm/adchoices Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices


4 Feb 2021

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Astrophysicist Adam Frank: Alien Words, the Fate Of The Earth & More

Talking with Mark Strigl Podcast

Mark talks with Astrophysicist Adam Frank about his great book Light Of The Stars.   Other topics include Marvel's Doctor Strange, Frank Drake, life on other planets, climate change, COVID-19, Carl Sagan, NJ, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen & much more. Follow Adam Frank on Twitter: @AdamFrank4 Coming soon: MarkStrigl.net Follow Mark Strigl on Twitter at these accounts: @talkingmetal & @strigl Follow Mark Strigl on Instagram. Support this show by making a PayPal donation. Get bonus content and support Mark on Patreon: www.patreon.com/talkingmetal. Please link through us to make a purchase on Amazon. Support Talking Metal Through Amazon US Support Talking Metal Through Amazon Canada Support Talking Rock Through Amazon UK Support the show: https://talkingrock.net/support-page/See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.


17 Nov 2020

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Adam Frank, University of Central Arkansas – Empowering At-Risk Youth through Theatre

The Academic Minute

On University of Central Arkansas Week:  Shakespeare and comedy might give at-risk youth a better path. Adam Frank, professor of anthropology and performance studies, describes this research. I am Professor of Anthropology and Performance Studies in the Schedler Honors College, University of Central Arkansas. My research has focused on Chinese martial arts and identity, phenomenological anthropology, and community-based theatre. As a theatre artist, I have been a company member of Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre for six years, a company member of Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles, and am the founding Artistic Directory of Ozark Living Newspaper Theatre Company, based in Conway, Arkansas. Empowering At-Risk Youth through Theatre https://academicminute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/08-20-20-Central-Arkansas-Empowering-At-Risk-Youth-through-Theatre.mp3 Does exposure to theatre contribute to improved self-image, better coping skills, and reduced likelihood of recidivism for youth on probation in the Arkansas juvenile justice system? Over the last three years, approximately 50 juvenile probationers in Faulkner County have been mandated by the county juvenile court to participate in one of two theatre workshop series in a collaboration between the court, the university, and a local theatre company. The first eight-part workshop series has focused on using comedy improvisation and the “Theatre of the Oppressed” techniques of Brazilian theatre artist Augusto Boal to provide a space for teen participants to create short plays about community or social problems they wish to address. The second workshop series also starts with comedy improv but focuses on using poetry and Shakespeare to tap into the expressive imagination. Currently under review by the university’s Institutional Review Board, the research project is a qualitative study following up with past participants and court personnel to identify short and long-term outcomes of the workshops. Through questionnaires and in-depth interviews, probation officers and past workshop participants will have an opportunity to express their views on the effectiveness of the workshops. Measures of effectiveness will include actual rates of recidivism among participants as well as subjective measures of satisfaction. The qualitative results will be compared to court-generated data gathered through SAVRY, the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth.


20 Aug 2020

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What to Look Out for When Developing Retail Commercial Real Estate - Adam Frank - River Oaks Properties

The CRE Project

Today we discuss all aspects of retail real estate with El Paso's largest and most successful retail developer and Landlord. River Oaks Properties is solely based and focused on the El Paso market and currently owns over 350 retail assets equating to over 6,000,000 square feet. They are also responsible for managing over 1,000 tenants in their portfolio. Adam Frank is the President of River Oaks Properties and is responsible for the daily operations of the business, including the development and management of the portfolio. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Mr. Frank serves as Chairman of the Board of WestStar Title Company. Previously, he served as president of the El Paso Jewish Academy and was a member of the Sun Bowl Football Selection Committee. Show Notes:  River Oaks Website Link: https://ropelpaso.com/ West Towne Marketplace Website: https://www.westtownemarketplace.com/ 


9 Aug 2020

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78: Theoretical Astrophysicist and Author Adam Frank

Casual Space

Adam is an evangelist of science. From everything sci-fi to just thinking, looking and observing the world, science has always provided a sense of oneness with the universe for Adam. Adam is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and he heads a research group that is developing new tools for simulating the cosmos. SO many great things discussed on this episode!  *Beth asks Adam: Which is harder? Trying to communicate the need for a long-term investment in space exploration, or trying to change the mind of a climate denialist?  *What are techno signatures, and why should we be looking for them?  And why would science fiction writers help us in the search?  *AI, propulsion systems to get us to Mars, exploring the universe in the next 200 years, understanding consciousness and more….  Quotes from the show:  “Science is a mechanism for being exposed to the wonder.” – Adam Frank on Casual Space  “The universe is more creative and more imaginative than we are.” – Adam “Machines can be intelligent, but can they be self-aware? My intuition is that we miss understand consciousness so profoundly. The philosophical tradition in which this question is asked (the western tradition) never had an empirical way of asking questions about the nature of consciousness. It took reason as the only way to explore questions about consciousness. Whereas in the classical Indian and Asian school of philosophy, (who also thought about consciousness for thousands of years and had contemplative practice), had a VERY different way of looking of things. I think that the west has sort of fooled itself, it thinks it can reduce consciousness to neural activity. The view that everything is made of atoms, and you can build your way up into something like consciousness….in fact, at least from my experiences, consciousness is where you start. Then you do this weird thing called science where you tell stories about the world, and then with experiments you can extend your reach of awareness. We can become sort of trapped thinking you can reduce consciousness to a bunch of wires.”  Where to find Adam and his work: https://www.adamfrankscience.com/about Twitter: @AdamFrank4 Adam recommends! Books:  Kim Stanley Robinson (sci-fi writer)  The Mandalorian  Passengers  Writers:  Alastair Reynolds William Gibson  TV Shows:  Alter Carbon on Nextflix,  Westworld  The Expanse  About Adam Frank: Adam Frank fell in love with astronomy when he was 5 years old and the affair has never cooled. Late one night in the family library, Adam found the keys to the universe sketched out on the covers of his dad's pulp-science-fiction magazines—astronauts bounding across the jagged frontiers of alien worlds, starships rising to discovery on pillars of fire. The boundless world of possibilities on those covers became the one he was determined to inhabit. Later, the love for astronomy transformed into a passion for the practice of science itself when his father's simple explanation of electric currents and sound waves turned the terror of a booming thunderstorm into an opportunity to marvel at the world's beauty. Now a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, he studies the processes that shape the formation and death of stars and has become a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. Adam is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and he heads a research group that is developing new tools for simulating the cosmos. Adam also describes himself as an "evangelist of science." His commitment to showing others the beauty and power of science has led him to a second career as a popular writer and speaker on the subject. He is the co-founder of National Public Radio’s 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog as well as a regular on-air commentator for All Things Considered. He also contributes occasionally to The New York Times. Adam is the author of three books. The most recent, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, explores a new vision for climate change and the human future by placing them both in their proper “astrobiological” context. Climate change may likely be an expected consequence of any civilization on any planet developing an advanced industrial civilization. Adam’s first book, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Religion and Science Debate, focuses on perspectives on science and human spirituality that went beyond the usual creationism vs. Richard Dawkins debate. About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang explores the links between changing conceptions of cosmology and the human experience of time. He is also the author of a textbook Astronomy: At Play in the Cosmos. You can also sign up for his free Coursera course "Confronting The Big Questions: Highlights of Modern Astronomy".


19 Jun 2020