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January 14th, 2011

PBS, NSF to launch four-part materials science extravaganza Jan. 19

Published on January 14th, 2011 | By: pwray@ceramics.org
Credit: WGBH/NOVA

Credit: WGBH/NOVA

Like materials science? I am assuming you do if you read this blog. So, believe me when I say you should plan on tuning into your local PBS station and relaxing in front of the TV for the next four Wednesday evenings — or set you DVR to record — to watch each of the premiering “Making Stuff” episodes. Or, since you probably know a lot of what’s in these shows, get your friends and family to watch so they know what the heck you do. (Go to the end of this post if you want to know how to watch the first episode before the rest of the masses.)

Making Stuff is a new video project that aims to survey the world — or at least a big part of it — of materials science, with an eye toward explaining science and engineering concepts to the public. It looks great, which isn’t surprising since it is produced by the NOVA production team, with major funding from various arms of the National Science Foundation. The Materials Research Society also pitched in on the series.

Here’s the official description of the series:

“How do far-out creations, such as airplanes that change shape in flight, invisibility cloaks or military vehicles that heal themselves, become realities? Via scientific discoveries and generation of new materials, of course.

New and often revolutionary uses for materials are endless, and materials innovations drive civilization and inspire scientific breakthroughs.

It’s that notion that motivated the popular science television series NOVA to take viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the world of materials.

In a new, four-part NOVA series, Making Stuff: Stronger, Smaller, Cleaner, Smarter, New York Times technology reporter David Pogue travels the globe to examine the latest advancements in materials research and to find out what the future might hold in this field.”

The schedule on consecutive Wednesdays is as follows:

Making Stuff: Stronger (premieres Jan. 19, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) — Investigate the world’s strongest materials. The episode examines what these materials are and how “strength” is defined. Pogue tests materials ranging from the large colorful beaks of toucan birds to steel cables, as he seeks to find the strongest materials in the world and discover how scientists are re-engineering natural materials to make them even stronger in the future.

Making Stuff: Smaller (premieres Jan. 26, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) — Explore some of the world’s smallest materials and how recent developments in high-powered nano-circuits and micro-robots impact our daily lives. What are the vast technological implications of these “small” technologies? Pogue examines this question as he takes the audience on an investigative tour of the smallest materials at the atomic level.

Making Stuff: Cleaner (premieres Feb. 2, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) — Pogue investigates clean energy and the use of materials to create a cleaner environment. What materials can we develop to help clean the environment? How can bio-based fuels be used as efficient energy sources? Innovations such as tires made from orange peels, batteries grown from viruses and plastics made of sugar are just the tip of the iceberg of future energy sources.

Making Stuff: Smarter (premieres Feb. 9, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) — Can we use materials around us to pioneer new technologies that react to their environment? What if an Army tanker truck could heal itself following bullet damage? How can sharkskin be used to create an antibacterial spray? Researchers find inspiration from nature and beyond as they explore new ways to develop and utilize various materials.

PBS/NOVA have created a Making Stuff blog, which is probably a good idea since some of this information goes out of date pretty quickly (e.g., world’s strongest material).

The producers have also developed a YouTube channel, and one of the videos (posted Jan. 11)  has a contest to see who can identify 10 “mystery” materials from a set of clues, with some nice prizes for the winners. That video also steers you to the new Making Stuff Facebook page that has lots of nice additional info and links (and keys to the contest!).

So, at the top, I promised to reveal a way to watch an episode of Making Stuff before it actually airs on PBS TV. PBS has an updated iPad app and my Twitter feed said earlier today: “Be the first to watch #MakingStuff! Catch the 1st episode one week early exclusively on the PBS iPad app http://to.pbs.org/pbsipad.”

 


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