Episodes

Jan 03, 2010
How to beat the clock.

ENCORE Ever since Einstein, we've known that time doesn't barrel willy-nilly into the future. Moving clocks tick at a different rates, and by riding a fast rocket, we can slow time to a crawl. Such tricks may give you a way to see the distant future, but can you go back in time?

Discover one man's quest to build a time machine. Also learn how to put the brakes on aging by getting near a black hole.

Plus, does your entire life really pass before your eyes if you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge? Our perception of time.


Dec 27, 2009
Keeping track of tick-tock.

ENCORE Time's a mystery, yet we've invented clever ways to capture it. From sundials to atomic clocks, trace the history of time-keeping. Also, discover the surprising accuracy of nature's dating schemes - from the decay of carbon to laying down tree rings.

Plus, why the "New York minute" stretches to hours in Rio de Janeiro: cultural differences in the perception of time.


Dec 20, 2009
A special broadcast.

A massive black hole lies at the center of our galaxy, a monster hunkered down in the Milky Way’s innermost sanctum. Here, the bizarre laws of General Relativity take over, as the physics we know break down. And our spaceship is headed straight for it.

Join us on a special dramatized 26,000 light-year adventure to the Galaxy’s hulking heart of darkness. We explore a cosmos held together by gravity – discover why it’s not really a force – and try to avoid getting too close to a black hole, the ultimate expression of gravity.


Dec 13, 2009
The International Year of Astronomy: A Man, A Planet…

While the Kepler spacecraft hunts for habitable planets beyond the solar system, we’ve let one of our own planets slip away! Find out why Pluto’s demotion to dwarf status created a public uproar as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reads us his hate mail. From third-graders!

Also, how we might find Earth-like planets… the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon Titan… and TED Prize winner Jill Tarter’s vision for finding E.T.

And, the man who made it all possible: 400 years of Galileo and the telescope. Part of our series for the International Year of Astronomy.


Dec 06, 2009
The emergence of intelligence.

Can animals think? Merely asking the question was once thought ridiculous. But studies that range from chimps to birds to sea creatures have prompted scientists to reassess the cognitive capabilities of our animal friends. These results challenge not only our idea of intelligence, but man’s unequivocal perch at the top.

Learn the secret communication between camouflaging cuttlefish… how the smarts of Alex the parrot turned “birdbrain” into a compliment… and why brawn sometimes trumps brains in evolution.


Nov 29, 2009
The anti-vax movement.

As the anti-vax campaign rages, parents are just saying “no” to vaccines. But now the incidence of childhood diseases such as whooping cough are on the rise.

A number of studies have refuted the link between vaccines, autism and other chronic conditions, yet the anti-vaccine movement continues. Find out why. Also, how the media have irresponsibility framed the debate.

Plus, we panic over plague, sweat about swine flu, but don’t think twice about jumping in a car and roaring down a crowded highway at 70 mph. Discover why most of our health worries are overblown.


Nov 22, 2009
Life’s friendliest element.

Bond it to oxygen and it’s the scourge of climate change. But earthly life wouldn’t be possible without carbon, and maybe that’s true for alien life, too.

And carbon has other exciting forms: tiny diamonds may be evidence of a catastrophic comet impact 13,000 years ago. And, chalky carbonates may point to a once-habitable Mars.

So get cozy with carbon. Find out if you could swap it for silicon in DNA. Plus, the conundrum of calculating a carbon footprint.


Nov 08, 2009
Popcorn and pandemonium.

Hollywood has a few ideas of how the world will end: killer asteroids … lethal pandemics … deadly ice-ages. These themes have all played out on the big screen. But, hey, they’re only movies, right?

We’ll separate the science from the fiction in doomsday movies. From the 2012 prophesy of the Mayans … to colliding worlds … to abrupt climate change, find out which among this crowd of cinematic scares are for real, and which aren’t worth the price of popcorn.


Oct 25, 2009
How placebos heal.

Popping a pill may help when you’re sick… but maybe not for the reasons you think. Sugar pills - placebos - cure illness better than prescription pills in as many as half of all cases in clinical trials … and the placebo effect is getting stronger.

Plus, the safety – or otherwise - of electromagnetic waves, and the “electro-sensitive” refugees who have built a camp to protect themselves from waves they say are causing pain. Is it all in their minds?


Sep 20, 2009
Cryogenics and zombies.

The undead, those mindless shambling specters from the grave, are enjoying a cultural (if not literal) resurgence, in films, books, and through strange, urban “zombie crawls.”

Discover the unearthly appeal of these reanimated beings and why playing dead may mirror the real social alienation of our digital lives. Also, how mathematicians use “zombie attacks” to model real disease epidemics, such as swine flu.

Plus – another case of life in suspension: the promise and peril of cryonics.


Sep 13, 2009
New discoveries.

It’s hot, too darn hot! And bright, too darn bright! But over-the-top photon flux doesn’t stop scientists from studying the sun. And solar eclipses are an ideal time for observing our favorite nuclear reactor. Discover what it was like to observe totality during the 2009 China solar eclipse.

Plus, how a star is born … the latest from the NASA Kepler mission to seek Earth-like planets … and, planet-hunter extraordinaire Mike Brown discovers the tenth planet: an icy body beyond Pluto.


Sep 06, 2009
Mysteries of physics.

What makes up the universe? Lots of tiny particles with strange names: bosons, leptons, quarks and neutrinos. But physicists think there are more members to be discovered in this particle zoo.

From strange particles to dark matter to vibrating strings, find out why you have to think small to understand the physics of the universe.

Plus, other cosmic connections: is SETI a religion?


Aug 30, 2009
Reading the brain.

Say what you mean. That's difficult, if you don't know what you're thinking. But the neuromarketers do, and they'll be happy to tell Madison Avenue what's on your mind. Discover why this marketing strategy is wired for success.

Also, Steven Pinker on how language reveals private thoughts as well as why the big-brained Homo neanderthalensis couldn't out-compete Homo sapiens. And, we tease your gray matter with the "Monty Hall Problem."


Jul 26, 2009
Is the net changing how we behave?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the second of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part II: Behavior: how computers compel us to interact with them... why your iPod may improve your health... why Facebook may leave you friendless... the unintended consequences of past innovation... and the growing threat of "videophilia."


Jul 19, 2009
Is the net changing how we think?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the first of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part I: Thought: whether Google is making us stupid... how the Internet is curtailing creativity... and the future of a hyper-networked world that does all our thinking for us.


Jun 28, 2009
Onward and upward.

When the economy's down, will humans still be going up - into space, that is? We investigate the future of human spaceflight at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland and find out whether sending Homo sapiens to the Moon and Mars is still a good idea. Also, the chief of Virgin Galactic is happy to send you into space on a private flight - but it may max out your credit card.


Jun 07, 2009
Astronomy at high speeds.

Feel the need for speed? Well, you’ll need an extra helping of speed if you plan to leave the Earth and explore other parts of the solar system. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, and as part of our series for the International Year of Astronomy: what it’s like to travel in a rocket (why you won’t feel any motion), and NASA’s plans for returning to the moon.


May 17, 2009
The biological roots of human behavior.

We see a man laughing and we smile in response. Our heart goes out to the sad-looking woman on the train. Humans are empathetic creatures - we feel what others feel, even the emotions of strangers. And it may be due to brain cells that researchers have only recently discovered: mirror neurons. Find out how these mimicking cells help us survive cocktail parties, keep society humming, and even give rise to the concept of self.

Also, are humans born with a moral code? And, if human behavior is hard-wired - whatever becomes of free will?


May 03, 2009
The age of synthetic biology.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? You changed his look by snapping in plastic mustaches, googly eyes and feet. Now imagine doing the same with a living cell: inserting the genes you want to create the organism you want. Welcome to the world of synthetic biology. It has potential to create new bio-fuels and life-saving drugs. It also ushers in a host of ethical and safety concerns. We examine both when we discuss this emerging science of mix and match genes.

Plus, does doing an end run around Mother Nature challenge the essence of life itself?


Apr 19, 2009
From Fossils to ET Signals

For nearly four billion years, life has been swimming and shuffling across our planet. But how can we deduce what it was like? You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to track the clues of life that came before – call on an anthropologist or biologist. From fossils to alien radio signals, find out how to interpret the clues that living organisms leave behind, and hear adventure stories in the evolution of life on Earth.

Also, the discovery of a dino-eating crocodile and the tale of scientist/explorer/polymath Idaho Brown.