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NOVA brings you stories from the frontlines of science and engineering, answering the big questions of today and tomorrow, from how our ancestors lived, to whether parallel universes exist, to how technology will transform our lives.
Discover what happens in the mind of a terrorist and how we may intercede to stop the next attack.
In a new age of information, rapid innovation and globalization, how can we prepare our children to compete? Discover how the new science of learning can help us reimagine the future of education for all children.
Our ancient human ancestors once lived only in Africa in tiny bands of a few thousand hunter-gatherers. Then we moved out of our African cradle, spreading rapidly to every corner of the planet. How did we acquire the skills, technology, and talent to thrive in every environment on earth? How did our prehistoric forebears cross the Sahara, survive frigid ice ages, and sail to remote Pacific islands? "Great Human Odyssey" is a spectacular global journey following their footsteps out of Africa along a trail of fresh scientific clues. With unique glimpses of today's Kalahari hunters, Siberian reindeer herders, and Polynesian navigators, we discover amazing skills that hint at how our ancestors survived and prospered long ago. Walk in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors as Canadian anthropologist Niobe Thompson and other scientists trace the paths that led us out of Africa and around the world. From snowy Siberia to remote Pacific islands, discover how humans survived and thrived in every corner of the planet.
Underneath the streets of London, a team of more than ten thousand construction workers race to build a brand new metro line—Crossrail. Costing almost $23 billion, it's the biggest engineering project in Europe and must link into the existing metro system. As they burrow the 26 miles of tunnels, engineers battle to make sure historic buildings don't crack, London Underground trains keep running, and an ambitious station roof made up of 2500 pieces comes together on time. Crucially, they must drive one of their gigantic 1000-ton tunnel boring machines through the earth, passing within inches of escalators and an active subway tunnel, without the passengers on the tube platforms below ever knowing they are there. Join NOVA to plunge into the tunnels of the London Underground and follow this high stakes, action packed engineering endeavor, and discover just how engineers are performing this delicate surgery through the heart of the historic city.
Explore how precious gems, metals and energy resources are forged under extraordinary circumstances deep within the Earth, and discover how their unique properties have helped lift humanity from the Stone Age to the stars.
Explore how precious gems, metals and energy resources are forged under extraordinary circumstances deep within the Earth, and discover how their unique properties have helped lift humanity from the Stone Age to the stars.
Explore how precious gems, metals and energy resources are forged under extraordinary circumstances deep within the Earth, and discover how their unique properties have helped lift humanity from the Stone Age to the stars. Drill down to discover the treasures beneath our feet that power our world. Fossil fuels–coal, oil, and natural gas–powered the industrial revolution and allowed us to build a way of life that many cherish today. Personal cars, planes, lights, hot showers–all of these are gifts from our fossil fuels… but they have a dirty dark side in that they are polluting the planet. What is it about these natural resources that has allowed them to fuel our civilization? What secrets are locked in their molecules? Where did that energy come from, and can we find alternative energy resources that come in a cleaner form? The hunt is on for new treasures that might allow us to power our modern way of life without damaging the environment. Join NOVA as we explore the resources that both power and pollute, from modern-day oil prospecting in California, to a mega-city utility company struggling to keep the lights on during hot summer days, to China where an engineer strives to solve one of the greatest obstacles to the success of solar power. Travel the globe to see how our energy treasures are changing—and if they can keep the lights on.
The towering Himalayas were among the last places on Earth that humanity settled. Scaling sheer cliff sides, a team of daring scientists hunts for clues to how ancient people found their way into this forbidding landscape and adapted to survive the high altitude. They discover rock-cut tombs filled with human bones and enigmatic artifacts, including gold masks and Chinese silk dating back thousands of years, and piece together evidence of strange rituals and beliefs designed to ward off the restless spirits of the dead.
Five years after the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the unprecedented trio of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, scientists and engineers are struggling to control an ongoing crisis. What's next for Fukushima? What's next for Japan? And what's next for a world that seems determined to jettison one of our most important carbon-free sources of energy? Despite the catastrophe—and the ongoing risks associated with nuclear—a new generation of nuclear power seems poised to emerge the ashes of Fukushima. NOVA investigates how the realities of climate change, the inherent limitations of renewable energy sources, and the optimism and enthusiasm of a new generation of nuclear engineers is looking for ways to reinvent nuclear technology, all while the most recent disaster is still being managed. What are the lessons learned from Fukushima? And with all of nuclear's inherent dangers, how might it be possible to build a safe nuclear future?
We live in an age when technological innovation seems to be limitlessly soaring. But for all the satisfying speed with which our gadgets have improved, many of them share a frustrating weakness: the batteries. Though they have improved in last century, batteries remain finicky, bulky, expensive, toxic, and maddeningly short-lived. The quest is on for a "super battery," and the stakes in this hunt are much higher than the phone in your pocket. With climate change looming, electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could hold keys to a greener future...if we can engineer the perfect battery. Join host David Pogue as he explores the hidden world of energy storage, from the power—and danger—of the lithium-ion batteries we use today, to the bold innovations that could one day charge our world.
Weighing 54,000 gross tons and stretching over two football fields, the Seven Seas Explorer is no ordinary boat. Join pioneering shipbuilders in Italy as they endeavor to build the ultimate and most luxurious cruise ship. It will be decked with the finest gold, marble, and crystal and designed to offer guests the roomiest accommodations of any commercial cruise ship. However, engineering opulence is no easy feat. NOVA follows a pioneering team of shipbuilders as they embark on what is advertised to be a milestone in maritime engineering.
The centuries-old tradition of folding two-dimensional paper into three-dimensional shapes is inspiring a scientific revolution. The rules of folding are at the heart of many natural phenomena, from how leaves blossom to how beetles fly. But now, engineers and designers are applying its principles to reshape the world around us—and even within us, designing new drugs, micro-robots, and future space missions. With this burgeoning field of origami-inspired-design, the question is: can the mathematics of origami be boiled down to one elegant algorithm—a fail-proof guidebook to make any object out of a flat surface, just by folding? And if so, what would that mean for the future of design? Explore the high-tech future of this age-old art as NOVA unfolds "The Origami Revolution."
From derailments to head-on collisions to drivers killed at road crossings, deadly train accidents claim dozens of lives each year. But just how unsafe are the railroads? NOVA investigates recent rail tragedies and advances in train tech that could help prevent them, taking a special look at Japan's superefficient bullet trains, which have a perfect safety record. What would it take to usher in a new golden age of safer, faster, more modern and reliable train travel?
For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title "Jerusalem of the North" until World War II, when the Nazis murdered about 95% of its Jewish population and reduced its synagogues and cultural institutions to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna's famous Great Synagogue so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists is trying to rediscover this forgotten world, excavating the remains of its Great Synagogue and searching for proof of one of Vilna's greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site. Archaeologists discover the tunnel near Vilnius, Lithuania, which served as an escape route for Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II.
In 1986, in the heart of Ukraine, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, releasing 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima Bomb. It was the world's worst nuclear disaster. Thirty workers died, 50,000 people fled the nearest city, and radioactive fallout made an area larger than Long Island a no-go zone. Hastily, a so-called "sarcophagus" was built to contain the radioactive materials that lingered at the site after the explosion. But 30 years later, the sarcophagus is crumbling, and another disaster at Chernobyl looms. Now, an international team of engineers is racing the clock to assemble one of the most ambitious superstructures ever built—an extraordinary 40,000 ton, $1.5 billion dome to encase the crumbling remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Battling arctic winter weather—and lethal radiation—this is the inside story of the epic race to build Chernobyl's MegaTomb.
For over a thousand years, chariots thundered across China's battlefields, dominating warfare far longer than anywhere else on Earth. Now a series of amazing archaeological discoveries, including whole chariots buried with their horses, enable a team of experts to probe the genius of China's first super-weapon. By recreating a battle chariot, they investigate the design secrets which made them such a long-lived war machine, all while discovering how they were used, what set them apart from the rest of the world, and their role in the unification of China.
Water. Turn on the faucet and it's always there. Without it we perish. But how safe is our tap water? In this special report narrated by Joe Morton, NOVA investigates what happened in Flint, Michigan, when local officials changed the city's water source to save money, but overlooked a critical treatment process. As the water pipes corroded, lead leached into the system, exposing the community—including thousands of children—to dangerous levels of poison. NOVA uncovers the science behind this manmade disaster— from the intricacies of water chemistry to the biology of lead poisoning to the misuse of science itself. NOVA follows ordinary citizens and independent scientists who exposed the danger lurking in Flint's water and confronted those who turned a blind eye. And discover the disturbing truth that reaches far beyond Flint—water systems across the country are similarly vulnerable. How can we protect ourselves from poisoned water?
On August 21, 2017, millions of Americans witnessed the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in 99 years. As in all total solar eclipses, the moon blocked the sun and revealed its ethereal outer atmosphere—its corona—in a wondrous celestial spectacle. While hordes of citizens flocked to the eclipse's path of totality, scientists, too, staked out spots for a very different reason: to investigate the secrets of the sun's elusive atmosphere. During the eclipse's precious seconds of darkness, they gathered new clues on how our sun works, how it can produce deadly solar storms, and why its atmosphere is so hot. NOVA investigates the storied history of solar eclipse science and joins both seasoned and citizen-scientists alike as they don their eclipse glasses, tune their telescopes, and revel in the eclipse that spanned the continent.
Almost everything we know today about the beautiful giant ringed planet comes from Cassini, the NASA mission that launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Since then, the spacecraft has been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders about the planet, its rings, and 62 moons—including some that could harbor life. As the mission approaches its final days in 2017, it attempts one last set of daring maneuvers—diving between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn's atmosphere. Aiming to skim less than 2,000 miles above the cloud tops, no spacecraft has ever gone so close to Saturn and hopes are high for incredible observations that could solve major mysteries about the planet's core. But such a daring maneuver comes with many risks. Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their gambit has paid off, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years. Watch Cassini's final hours as it dives into Saturn's atmosphere ending its mission.
A knight in shining armor may sound like a character out of a storybook, but once upon a time, knighthood was serious business, and for countless medieval fighters, their armor was what stood between life and death. But what was it really like to live beneath the metal? How was that shining armor crafted and how strong was it? Could it withstand impacts from the most lethal weapons of the day, including crossbows, muskets, and primitive hand guns? NOVA challenged blacksmith Ric Furrer and master armorer Jeff Wasson to recreate parts of an elite Greenwich armor originally manufactured in the Royal Workshop founded by King Henry VIII. We trace their successes and setbacks from start to finish as they rediscover centuries-old metalworking secrets, then put their new armor to the ultimate test against a period musket!
Stonehenge is the grandest and most enigmatic of Europe's prehistoric monuments, and it has inspired countless theories to explain who built it and why. Was it an ancient cathedral or burial place or even a Stone Age observatory or computer? Over the last decade, fresh answers have come from an ambitious program of research, including the first scientific study of human remains—thousands of fragments of cremated men, women, and children—buried at the site 5,000 years ago. In this Stone Age detective story, archaeologists analyze the bones and piece together tantalizing details of the elite families who presided over Stonehenge. Remnants of huge feasts that fed the laborers at the site have come to light, including evidence that they traveled from the far corners of the British Isles to raise the stones and celebrate the winter solstice. Yet Stonehenge's place as a centerpiece of ancient culture was not to last. Join NOVA as we reveal intimate details of the Stonehenge people and why their power began to fade soon after they raised the mighty stones.
Discover the ingenious engineering of Beijing's Forbidden City, the power center of imperial China for nearly 500 years. Discover how the architectural design of this vast complex of palaces and temples enabled it to survive centuries of earthquake shocks. The Forbidden City is the world's biggest and most extravagant palace complex ever built. For five centuries, it was the power center of imperial China and survived wars, revolution, fires, and earthquakes. How did the Ming Emperor's workforce construct its sprawling array of nearly 1,000 buildings and dozens of temples in a little over a decade? How were stupendous 250-ton marble blocks moved across many miles to reach the site? And how did fantastically intricate woodwork, all fastened without nails or glue, enable the palaces to survive hundreds of earthquakes, including recent ones that obliterated nearby modern structures? To find answers, NOVA joins a team of master craftsmen who build a scale model of a typical palace in a seismic lab, then subject it to simulated earthquakes to shake out the secrets of how the Forbidden City has withstood centuries of violent tremors. The Forbidden City is the world's biggest and most extravagant palace complex ever built. For five centuries, it was the power center of imperial China and survived wars, revolution, fires, and earthquakes. How did the Ming Emperor's workforce construct its sprawling array of nearly 1,000 buildings and dozens of temples in a little over a decade? How were stupendous 250-ton marble blocks moved across many miles to reach the site? And how did fantastically intricate woodwork, all fastened without nails or glue, enable the palaces to survive hundreds of earthquakes, including recent ones that obliterated nearby modern structures? To find answers, NOVA joins a team of master craftsmen who build a scale model of a typical palace in a seismic lab, then subject it to simulated earthquakes to shake out the secrets of how the Forbidden City has withstood centuries of violent tremors.
Follow a team of volcano sleuths as they embark on a worldwide hunt for an elusive volcanic mega-eruption that plunged medieval Earth into a deep freeze. The mystery begins when archaeologists find a hastily dug mass grave of 4,000 men, women, and children in London. At first, they assume it's a plague pit from the Black Death, but when they date the bones, they turn out to be too old by a century. So what killed off these families? The chronicles of that time describe a run of wild weather that devastated crops and spread famine across Europe. NOVA's expert team looks for the signature of a volcanic eruption big enough to have blasted a huge cloud of ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, which chilled the entire planet. From Greenland to Antarctica, the team finds telltale "fingerprints" in ice and soil layers until, finally, they narrow down the culprit to a smoldering crater on a remote Indonesian island. Nearly 750 years ago, this volcano's colossal explosion shot a million tons of rock and ash every second into the atmosphere. Across the globe, it turned summer into winter. What would happen if another such cataclysm struck again today?
The Great Hurricane of 1780 took nine days to blast its way across the Caribbean, killing at least 20,000--the highest known death toll of any single weather event in history. What made this superstorm so deadly? To reconstruct its epic scale and investigate what made it so devastating, NOVA joins historians and storm sleuths as they track down clues in eyewitness chronicles, old ruins, and computer simulations. Their evidence points to a truly terrifying, 300-mile-wide storm--with wind speeds probably exceeding 230 miles an hour and 25-feet storm surges that demolished everything in their path. But just how unusual was the Great Hurricane? Diving into sinkholes off Barbados and squirming into caves in the Yucatan, NOVA's experts recover traces of tempests stretching back over more than 1,000 years. The picture they paint is disturbing: mega-hurricanes were not only more frequent in the past but are likely to strike again in our near future, as climate change warms the oceans and fuels more intense hurricanes. Were the deaths and damage inflicted by storms like Hurricane Sandy a prelude to far more devastating disasters?
All over the world, scientists are discovering traces of ancient floods on a scale that dwarfs even the most severe flood disasters of recent times. What triggered these cataclysmic floods, and could they strike again? Over a vast expanse of Washington State called the Channeled Scablands, the level prairie gives way to bizarre, gargantuan rock formations: house-sized boulders seemingly dropped from the sky; a cliff carved by a waterfall twice the height of Niagara; and potholes resembling ones scoured out by rivers today, but ten times bigger. Like forensic detectives at a crime scene, geologists study these strange features and reconstruct catastrophic Ice Age floods more powerful than all the world's top ten rivers combined. NOVA follows their efforts to uncover the geologic fingerprints of other colossal megafloods in Iceland and—improbably—on the seabed of the English Channel, where hundreds of thousands of years ago, another deluge smashed through a land bridge connecting Britain and France and turned Britain into an island for the first time. These great disasters ripped through terrain and transformed continents in a matter of hours—and similar forces reawakened by climate change are posing an active threat to mountain communities throughout the world today.
From lobster claws and dog teeth to bee stings and snake fangs, every creature depends on a weapon. But some are armed to extremes that make no practical sense—whether it's bull elks with giant 40-pound antler racks or tiny rhinoceros beetles with horns bigger than their body. What explains giant tusks, horns, and claws that can slow an animal down and even impair health and nutrition? NOVA investigates the riddle of outsize weaponry and uncovers a bold new theory about what triggers an animal arms race. In creatures as varied as dung beetles and saber-toothed tigers or shrimp and elephants, the same hidden factors trigger the race and, once started, these arms races unfold in exactly the same pattern. Join scientists as they crack the secret biological code that underlies nature's battleground.
Join NOVA to witness the brainpower of birds. Long mocked as empty-headed, our feathered friends hide surprisingly acute intelligence. But how smart are they? Watch as scientists test avian aptitude and challenge our basic notions of intelligence.
Call somebody a "bird brain," and you're not delivering them a compliment. But as NOVA shows, birds turn out to have advanced problem-solving skills that we usually assume are unique to humans. Watch astonishing tests of avian aptitude: parrots that can plan for the future, jackdaws that can "read" human faces, and crows that can solve multi-step puzzles with tools like pebbles, sticks, and hooks. Could these just be clever tricks based on instinct or triggered by subtle cues from their human handlers? To rule out any doubts, NOVA puts feathered Einsteins through their paces and reveals skills that even three- or four-year-old children have a hard time mastering—such as putting off one reward now to get a bigger one later. From this revolution in thinking about our feathered friends, the conclusion seems irresistible that bird brains see the world in ways that aren't so different from our own.
A seven-mile-wide asteroid collided with Earth 66 million years ago, triggering a chain of events that coincide with the end of the dinosaurs. But experts have long debated exactly what happened when the asteroid struck and how the giant beasts met their end. Now, scientists have uncovered compelling new clues about the catastrophe—from New Jersey to the wilds of Patagonia—and an international expedition of scientists has drilled into the impact crater off the coast of Mexico, recovering crucial direct evidence of the searing energy and giant tsunami unleashed by the asteroid. Join NOVA as scientists piece together a chillingly precise unfolding of the Earth's biggest cataclysm, moment by moment, and discover how our early mammalian ancestors managed to survive and repopulate the Earth.
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