Candidate for General Councillor
Marcelo Gleiser is a professor of physics and astronomy and the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy at Dartmouth College. He graduated in Physics in 1981 from the Pontific Catholic University of Rio and completed his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics at King’s College, University of London in 1986. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Fermilab from 86-88, and at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, UC Santa Barbara, from 88-91, before joining Dartmouth in 1991, where he started an active research group in cosmology and field theory.
His research in theoretical physics spans cosmology, classical and quantum field theory, general relativity and astrophysics, nonequilibrium statistical physics and, more recently, the emergence of complex structures in Nature, including life. He was one of the first to study the cosmological consequences of theories with more than three spatial dimensions. He has developed many techniques used in the study of nonequilibrium fields, in particular in the context of cosmological phase transitions, often building bridges between high-energy and condensed matter physics. He is the co-discoverer of oscillons, long-lived soliton-like structures that emerge in many areas of physics, and has authored many papers exploring their properties in various models of interest in high-energy physics and cosmology. His work on the origin of life has focused on the origin of biohomochirality, or why life on Earth developed with homochiral amino acids and sugars of opposite chirality.
Among his honors, he received the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and NSF for his research and dedication to teaching, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He has served on many committees and advisory panels for the NSF and NASA, as well as editorial boards.
Marcelo is also very active in science popularization, having authored three books on physics and cosmology for the general public. Two of them received the best nonfiction book award in Brazil, while the latest has been translated into 12 languages. He often participates in TV documentaries and radio shows, and has authored dozens of essays for newspapers and magazines across the world. Two years ago, he co-founded the science and culture blog 13.7, hosted by National Public Radio. Currently, 13.7 receives well over half a million page-visits per month, being one of the most popular science blogs in the US.
The study and practice of physics goes well beyond academia and the industrial laboratory. As scientists, we must share our findings and their social and cultural repercussions with the general public. At the forefront of research, we often face questions that challenge public opinion and have the power to redefine political alignments and moral values. A famous example comes from J. Robert Oppenheimer. After witnessing the devastating power of atomic weapons during WW2, he famously declared: “physicists have known sin.” Indeed, our collective history has never been the same since.
The general public—and that includes politicians, judges, members of educational boards, and others with the power to impact long-lasting decisions that affect society and the future funding of our work—sees science, and physics in particular, with an uneasy mix of awe, suspicion, and fear. In recent years, we have witnessed an escalation of the politicizing of scientific issues, such as the climate change debate and the ever-present threat of creationist infiltration in public education. As the nuclear and bio-terrorism threats from radical extremists escalate across the world, and energy resources and food supplies are being depleted at ever-growing rates, physicists are called for to offer answers and guidance.
The APS needs to keep engaging with current national and global challenges, and offer guidance in science-policy discussions and in the public understanding of science. We need to keep inspiring the young to follow careers in the physical sciences, and to stress our openness to women and minorities. We need to foment creativity and dialogue, inspiring our members, young and old, to participate in leadership roles both in the country at large and in their local communities.
Physics is a universal endeavor, dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through a democratic exchange of ideas. It can serve as a beacon of intellectual freedom and social acceptance. Over the past years, the APS has done much to engage with its members and with the general public, in particular by facilitating the inclusion of undergraduates and by promoting public lectures and discussion forums. As times change and challenges mount, we must ensure that we remain active inwards—serving our members—and outwards—serving society and the government, so as to remain a source of inspiration and knowledge for generations to come.