NOVA Wonders Collection


Have you ever wondered about life beyond Earth, or what distinguishes “good” from “bad” bacteria in our bodies? Have you sought meaning in the sounds your pet makes, or weighed the pros and cons of genetic engineering? NOVA Wonders, a six-part series, examines some of the biggest questions about life and the cosmos:

This collection of media resources from the series can help educators show their students how far we’ve come in our search for answers, how we managed to get here, and how scientists hope to push our understanding of the universe even further. Enhanced by cutting-edge animations, these resources offer a tour of the ecosystem inside our bodies, a gateway to the far reaches of space, and much more.

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    Whale Songs | NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying?

    Learn how humpback whales use songs to attract mates, and how the songs change over time, in this video from NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying? Humpback whales can make a variety of different sounds and sing complex songs. Biologist Ellen Garland studied the songs sung by multiple populations of whales across the South Pacific over many years and found that new songs are passed along to different groups similar to the way trends are passed among humans. This research indicates that humpback whales have cultural transmission and that new songs may help male whales attract mates. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 6-8
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    FOXP2 Gene Linked to Language | NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying?

    Learn about the FOXP2 gene, which is related to speech and language, in this video from NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying? Genetic analysis on a family with multiple generations of members who had trouble speaking led to the discovery of the FOXP2 gene. Neuroscientist Erich Jarvis describes how songbirds that have been genetically modified with a FOXP2 mutation cannot imitate sounds properly. Similarly, a male mouse with the FOXP2 mutation produces simpler songs compared to a normal mouse; this indicates that the gene appears to affect the ability to make complex sounds even in animals that are not vocal learners like songbirds and humans. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Your Body Is an Ecosystem | NOVA Wonders: What’s Living in You?

    Examine some of the science underlying a new paradigm for understanding how the body works, in these videos from NOVA Wonders: What’s Living in You? The human body is like an ecosystem, with trillions of microbes living in us and on us. First, meet Dr. Piotr Naskrecki, who volunteered his body to host bot fly larvae. Then, through computer visualizations, learn about the roles that the viruses, fungi, and bacteria that inhabit the human microbiome play, not only in making you sick, but in keeping you healthy. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 6-8
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    Using Light Signatures in the Search for Alien Life | NOVA Wonders: Are We Alone?

    Learn about the tools and techniques that scientists use in their search for signs of life on distant planets, in this video from NOVA Wonders: Are We Alone? Astronomers like MIT’s Sara Seager think that the presence of certain gases in a planet’s atmosphere—including carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane—would provide the first such sign. Scientists can detect gases from afar by studying the starlight shining through a planet’s atmosphere using a device called a spectrometer. Because different gases interact with light in different ways, each gas produces a unique light signature. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is designed to provide astronomers with the most powerful tool yet to detect “biosignatures,” or gases that provide evidence of past or present life. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
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    Extreme Habitats and the Search for Alien Life | NOVA Wonders: Are We Alone?

    Learn how studies of life in harsh environments here on Earth are guiding scientists searching for life elsewhere in the solar system, in this video from NOVA Wonders: Are We Alone? Microbes can endure certain conditions on Earth that are deadly to most other forms of life. While many microbes use the Sun’s energy to produce the fuel they need to survive, others can do this using chemicals dissolved in water instead of sunlight. This suggests that life forms could inhabit deep, dark liquid-water oceans on other worlds. Scientists think that one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, and one of Saturn’s, Enceladus, harbor oceans under their icy surfaces and that these bodies of water might contain all the ingredients needed for life. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 6-8
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    Driverless Vehicles Yield to Complex Issues | NOVA Wonders: Can We Build a Brain?

    Examine the benefits, risks, and unintended consequences of driverless vehicles, which promise to solve some growing problems in society but may create new ones in their place, in this video from NOVA Wonders: Can We Build a Brain? To many people, including daily commuters and those faced with congested roadways, a vehicle that can operate autonomously using artificial intelligence may sound like a great idea. But while it may be just a matter of time before self-driving cars and trucks dominate city streets and highways, this innovation raises complex issues related to jobs, safety, ethics, and more. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Teaching Machines to See | NOVA Wonders: Can We Build a Brain?

    Learn about the challenges of training computers to identify objects and how deep learning, an approach to artificial intelligence that is based on the way human brains work, is being employed to help computers recognize complex visual images, in these videos from NOVA Wonders: Can We Build a Brain? Vision, the main tool that most of us use to understand the world, may be key to building machines capable of human thought. But the problem is that programming computers to recognize objects is extremely difficult. As they advance in their attempts to build truly intelligent machines, some computer scientists are mimicking the way that the human brain links information it receives to recognize objects in our world. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 6-8
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    Building and Modifying DNA | NOVA Wonders: Can We Make Life?

    Learn about technologies to make synthetic DNA and manipulate genes, in this pair of videos from NOVA Wonders: Can We Make Life? Biotechnology uses biological processes or the genetic modification of organisms to make practical products. The first video describes how laboratories can make synthetic genetic sequences from chemical building blocks. The second video illustrates the revolutionary technology of CRISPR-Cas9, which allows scientists to edit the genome of any organism. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Genetic Engineering to Prevent Extinctions | NOVA Wonders: Can We Make Life?

    Learn how genetic engineering could be used to prevent extinctions, in this video from NOVA Wonders: Can We Make Life? The Asian elephant is endangered and on the brink of extinction; however, genetic engineering could help conserve the species. George Church is an innovator of genetic technologies and is investigating how to combine the DNA of the extinct woolly mammoth with the DNA of the Asian elephant to make a “winterized” Asian elephant that could survive in the Arctic tundra. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Birth of the Universe | NOVA Wonders: What's the Universe Made Of?

    Visualize how the universe formed after the Big Bang, with this video from NOVA Wonders: What’s the Universe Made Of? Approximately 13.8 billion years ago, all the matter of the universe was compacted in a very small region of high density. In the first fraction of a second, there was an intense period of expansion known as cosmic inflation. The universe continued to expand and cool; after about 380,000 years, atoms formed and light was able to travel across space. Matter clumped together to form the structures of the universe and, as stars evolved and died, the chemical building blocks for planets and life were created. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    The Fate of the Expanding Universe | NOVA Wonders: What's the Universe Made Of?

    Learn about the fate of the universe, with this pair of videos from NOVA Wonders: What’s the Universe Made Of? The universe is expanding; however, the gravitational effects of dark matter could potentially slow its expansion until the universe collapses back on itself in a “big crunch.” In the 1990s, astronomers studied the redshift of light from supernovae to measure the rate of expansion of the universe. To their surprise, their observations indicated that the universe has actually been accelerating in its rate of expansion. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12
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    Rapid Evolution: Change in Real Time | NOVA Wonders: What’s Living in You?

    Discover how quickly and effectively some strains of bacteria can evolve resistance to drugs prescribed by doctors to kill the bacteria and the implications of antibiotic resistance to human health, in this video from NOVA Wonders: What’s Living in You? While evolution by natural selection may take place over millions of years in the animal kingdom, natural selection in the world of microbes happens quickly—producing strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in several hours or even minutes. Using a growth plate to demonstrate this idea, one scientist explains that even progressively stronger drug doses do little more than delay the appearance and growth of new antibiotic-resistant strains. As antibiotics are being used to target Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and other harmful bacteria in humans, they may be doing more harm than good by killing off good bacteria in our bodies. This resource is part of the NOVA Wonders Collection.

    Grades: 9-12

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