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Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek sees beauty as a compass for truth, discovery, and meaning. His book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design is a long meditation on the question: “Does the world embody beautiful ideas?” He’s the unusual scientist willing to analogize his discoveries about the deep structure of reality with deep meaning in the human everyday.

“We don’t understand the world as made by stones — by things. We understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses: happenings.” Carlo Rovelli offers vast, complex ideas beyond most of our imagining — “quanta,” “grains of space,” “time and the heat of black holes” — and condenses them into spare, beautiful words that render them newly explicable and moving. He is the scientist behind the global bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and for him, all of reality is interaction — an everyday truth as scientific as it is philosophical and political. His physicist’s way of seeing the world helps make sense of what he calls “the huge wave of happenings” that is the human self.

“When it comes to the world around us,” Lisa Randall has written, “is there any choice but to explore?” As one of the most influential theoretical physicists working today, she’s interested in the interconnectedness between fields that have previously operated more autonomously: astronomy, biology, and paleontology. She’s pursuing a theory that “dark matter” might have created the cosmic event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs — and hence humanity’s rise as a species. We learn what she’s discovering, as well as the human questions and takeaways her work throws into relief.

A philosopher’s questioning and a scientist’s eye shape Enrique Martínez Celaya’s original approach to art and to life. A world-renowned painter who trained as a physicist, he’s fascinated by the deeper order that “whispers” beneath the surface of things. Works of art that endure, he says, possess their own form of consciousness. And a quiet life of purpose is a particular form of prophecy.

Fundamental forces of physics somehow determine everything that happens, “from the birth of a child to the birth of a galaxy.” Yet physicist Leonard Mlodinow has an intriguing perspective on the gap between theory and reality — and the fascinating interplay between a life in science and life in the world. As the child of two Holocaust survivors, he asks questions about our capacity to create our lives, while reflecting on extreme human cruelty — and courage.

More than 30 objects on the moon are named after the Jesuits who mapped it. A Jesuit was one of the founders of modern astrophysics. And four Jesuits in history, including Ignatius of Loyola, have had asteroids named after them – Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father George Coyne being the two living men with this distinction. In a conversation filled with friendship and laughter, and in honor of the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S., we experience the spacious way they think about science, the universe, and the love of God.

The Hubble Space Telescope, which turns 25 this year, has brought the beauty of the cosmos into our lives. Mario Livio works with discoveries it makes possible, studying things like dark energy, extrasolar planets, and white dwarf stars. He’s fascinated with the enduring mystery of mathematics, the language of science. He describes the cosmic puzzles that accompany our greatest scientific advances.

An astrophysicist who studies the shape of the universe, Janna Levin has also explored her science by writing a novel about two pivotal 20th-century mathematicians, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. Both men pushed at boundaries where mathematics presses on grand questions of meaning and purpose. Such questions, she says, help create the technologies that are now changing our sense of what it means to be human.

A mission scientist with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, Natalie Batalha hunts for exoplanets — Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system that might harbor life. She speaks about unexpected connections between things like love and dark energy, science and gratitude, and how “exploring the heavens” brings the beauty of the cosmos and the exuberance of scientific discovery closer to us all.

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