News and notes on my resources at Teachers Pay Teachers, Pearson Education, Arbor Scientific, and PhET
Friday, June 10, 2022
Secrets of Size: Atoms to Supergalaxies
What would the universe look like if you were a billion times smaller or a billion times bigger? In this mind-bending series, Jim Al-Khalili will look at the universe across its vast range of size, ranging from the tiniest objects measuring just a few atoms, to vast structures consisting of hundreds of thousands of interconnected galaxies. Investigating these astonishing objects will reveal fundamental truths about our universe. At the end of each film, the audience will see the largest structures ever discovered in the universe and the smallest objects whose images scientists have managed to capture to date.
This series premiered on BBC Four in May, 2022. These question sets only have value if you can find and show the episodes. Until this miniseries makes it to, say, Amazon Prime via Spark or some such, you may need to be resourceful to access it. If you intend to assign it outside of class, make sure students will be able to access it.
1. Going Small
In the first episode, Jim will enter the Alice in Wonderland world of objects that are too tiny to glimpse with the naked eye. Starting with the smallest insects, he moves on to encounter living cells with amazing superpowers and confronts some of humanity's deadliest enemies in the form of viruses. Going smaller still, he encounters wondrous new nanomaterials such as graphene, discovered by physicist Andre Geim. These are revolutionizing engineering, medicine, computing, electronics and environmental science.
Finally, Jim comes face to face with the fundamental building blocks of the world around us – atoms – and reveals why understanding the science of the 'small' is crucial to the future of humanity.
2. Going Big
In the concluding episode of the series, Jim encounters ever larger cosmic structures to reveal the latest breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. For example, there’s the heliosphere, a vast cloud of solar plasma that surrounds and protects the solar system. Its unique physics help us understand why life is possible. Larger still, Jim comes face to face with our galactic home the Milky Way, a monstrous structure sculpted by the gravitational forces of dark matter. Jim finds out from pioneering researcher Adrian Fabian about the black hole at its centre, whose strange behaviour includes emitting the lowest note that can be heard in the cosmos.
At an even greater scale, Jim encounters huge structures such as the Laniakea Supercluster, of which the Milky Way is only a tiny part. Then there’s 'the giant arc', a collection of galaxies that account for more than three per cent of the observable universe. Jim learns from its discoverer, British PhD student Alexia Lopez, that this gargantuan structure is forcing scientists to reassess their theory of how the universe evolves and may overturn some of the most fundamental principles in physics.
[As I prepared these question sets in June 2022, I worked with YouTube uploads that had a few quirks such as brief audio dropouts or minute-long replays with enhanced music at about the 53-minute mark in both episodes. Annoying but not unusable.]