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:
- What Are Animals Saying?
- What’s Living in You?
- Are We Alone?
- Can We Build a Brain?
- Can We Make Life?
- What’s the Universe Made Of?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.