Edutainment

Classic TV, Science Division

Two of the most Popular Science-themed TV shows, Cosmos and NOVA, air this fall, bringing big ideas-life, the universe and everything-back to the small screen.

Cosmos

September 27, the Science Channel

"Billions and billions of stars."
So goes the old Johnny Carson impression of Cosmos creator and narrator Carl Sagan. And since the show´s debut on PBS 25 years ago, a billion TV viewers have experienced Cosmos´s jaunt through the history of our universe. The program transformed Sagan from obscure astronomer into pop-
culture icon and provided hours of mind-bending wonder to couch-bound science enthusiasts everywhere. In honor of its first quarter century, the original 13 episodes of the series, digitally remastered and furnished with new CGI animations, will re-air on the Science Channel.

In Cosmos, Sagan explores heady topics such as the origin of life on Earth and (possibly) elsewhere, the nature of consciousness, and the life cycle of stars. The show has aged surprisingly well, considering the deluge of discoveries since its debut. The new animations are informative, and the oddly cadenced Sagan proves to be as interesting and compelling a narrator now as he did when some PopSci editors were still in grade school. See science.discovery.com.

NOVA: Einstein´s Big Idea

October 11, PBS

This month, the PBS program NOVA will air an episode based on David Bodanis´s book E=MC2: A Biography of the World´s Most Famous Equation. The documentary traces the scientific history of each term in the equation and features commentary by Bodanis and noted scientists such as Michio Kaku and Patricia Flora. It also offers detailed reenactments of key scientific experiments that led to Einstein´s insight, making it feel like period costume drama for nerds (. . . in a good way). Michael Faraday´s work on electromagnetism, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his experiments into the conservation of mass, and James Clerk Maxwell´s proof that light is electromagnetic in nature all make an appearance, in addition to the stories of Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn and, naturally, Einstein himself.

Though a fascinating treatment of the subject, the special can be intellectually exhausting for those unprepared for 90-plus minutes of historical Sturm und Drang, including Lavoisier´s fate at the guillotine (thanks, Marat) and Meitner´s persecution by the Nazis. Our advice: Watch it, but make sure
to keep the pause button on your TiVo remote handy. You´ll need an excuse
to take an occasional break from the show, if only to reboot your brain.
See pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein.