Wednesday, August 30, 2023

What's the Universe Made Of?

Dark matter and dark energy: where cutting-edge physics and astronomy meet. In high school physics, we focus on 16th- through 19th-century physics. For some, the majority of the year is devoted to the study of motion, forces, mechanical energy, and momentum. Some make their way into electricity, magnetism, waves, and light. A few dabble lightly into 20th-century physics: atomic and nuclear physics, and relativity.

For those interested in peeking into 21st-century physics, dark matter and dark energy are appropriate topics. The science is still being sorted on these topics. I wrote question sets for episodes of Physics for the 21st Century devoted to dark matter and dark energy. NOVA Wonders produced a more recent episode devoted to both dark matter and dark energy. Much more slickly produced than the earlier Annenberg series, for what it's worth. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Great Electric Airplane Race

Miles O'Brien was our host for the popular NOVA episode, Chasing Carbon Zero. A few years ago, he put this episode together. O'Brien is a pilot who owns a plane he enjoys flying. Aviation presents an especially acute problem in our efforts to decarbonize transportation. This is the story of those who thrive on this acute engineering problem. Impressive innovations are being made. But progress is hard-earned, and there seems to be a long runway ahead of us before this technology can truly take flight. [You know I wouldn't be able to resist.]

Great Electric Airplane Race at TPT
Can new emission-free electric planes replace our polluting airliners and revolutionize personal transportation in our cities?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ending HIV in America

This is the story of the AIDS epidemic, from the early 1980s to the early 2020s. From when it was referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) to clinical studies of the most effective contemporary medicines.

It's the story of tireless caregivers and relentless researchers who have persevered across four decades: where we've been, where we are, and what we dare to hope for in the future. 

Almost 40 years after the discovery of HIV, could we be on the verge of ending the AIDS epidemic in America? As of 2019, in the US, there were only 34,000 new cases of the disease—a feat that once seemed near-impossible to achieve. How did scientists and the public health community tackle one of the most elusive deadly viruses to ever infect humans?

Monday, August 21, 2023

Petra: Lost City of Stone

You might remember Petra from its scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Over the years I've seen pictures from time to time, but I never really knew the story. This episode of NOVA cured that. And it elevated my awareness of the non-gold gifts said to have been presented to Jesus upon the occasion of his birth. The once-nomadic Nabataeans became "the richest race on Earth" by trafficking in frankincense and myrrh while building this oasis deep in the desert of what is now Jordan. How they managed such enormous carvings and bringing water to the city of stone are the subjects of this episode.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul's Ancient Mystery

Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine church that has survived a few tests of time across its 1500 years. It was a marvel of architecture when it opened in 537 CE in Constantinople, it now stands as a monument of resilience in Istanbul in a region subject to cultural change and seismic activity. Built in six years with no apparent budget restrictions, its novel innovations appear to make it a likely survivor of future earthquakes. Originally a Byzantine Christian church, it was repurposed as a Catholic church, then an Islamic mosque, and then a secular museum. Since this episode of NOVA was produced, it was once again repurposed as an Islamic mosque.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Can Psychedelics Cure?

I was half expecting a Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind psychonaut or microdosing storyline here. That's not what this is. This episode delves into research into the careful use of psychedelics to treat alcoholism, depression, and PTSD.

These are not happy topics, and this episode of PBS's NOVA gets a content warning. It has a few rough moments, but it's working with treatments for difficult diagnoses. 

As an educator, I was part of a culture that cast anything that could be considered a recreational drug as public enemy number one. Just as Richard Nixon labeled them when he was president. The closest I've come to illicit drug use has been breathing the air at rock concerts, where the air can grow thick with marijuana smoke.

In any case, Can Psychedelics Cure? presents anecdotes and data suggesting that psychedelics have curative properties when administered appropriately. The FDA will have the final say. Here's where the FDA stood as of June, 2023.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Hidden Volcano Abyss appropriate description of a submarine volcano. This episode of NOVA tells the story of the massive Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption that shocked the world in 2022. Earth science current events. 

We get accounts, video, and photographs from residents of Tonga who survived the tsunami and rain of debris and ash. It's a testament to their preparedness that only three people died. Still though, the human story is not without emotion.

We also get the forensic geology of the science team that determined why the eruption was 70 time more powerful than anything the volcano had previously produced, and how it produced a rare volcanic tsunami. Detective work and deduction. 

And research into the likelihood of another eruption in the near future. Right now on NOVA.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Story of Maths

There are some apparent contradictions with this one. It's British. It's the history of mathematics. And it's a little bit... spicy.

Adults are shown enjoying adult beverages. The use of mathematics to schedule conjugal visits between a Chinese emperor and the 121 women in his hareem is illustrated. A prolific author of math texts who never actually existed. A mathematician who upended the field before losing a duel before his 21st birthday. The story of a nightclub dancer protecting a prestigious mathematician from Nazi thugs is told. And more.

Amid these spices is the history of math from before the invention of the number zero to recent attempts to prove the Riemann hypothesis. Host Marcus du Sautoy travels the world to visit key historical locations and talk to notable contemporary mathematical giants.

This is the human story of math.

We do math. We love math. And math coursework is devoted to the ideas and mechanics of math. Rightfully so. Here are four hours that humanize math. It might be a worthy diversion to contextualize high school or college mathematics.