NOVA Probes the Biggest, Most Provocative Questions in Science on the New Series "NOVA Wonders"

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18 April 2018
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NOVA Wonders
Courtesy of PBS
"NOVA Wonders"
Premieres Wednesday, April 25 at 9 PM ET on PBS
(Check your local listings)

          From the makers of the award-winning NOVA science series comes a tantalizing new documentary series reporting from the frontiers of science. NOVA WONDERS is a six-episode, one-hour, primetime series produced by WGBH Boston. Hosted by three engaging young scientists, the program follows remarkable researchers who are tackling the biggest unanswered questions about life and the cosmos, and pushing the boundaries of understanding in ways that could transform our world and the future.

          NOVA Wonders is a fresh, lively series that makes complicated concepts accessible while taking a deep dive into the scientific process. Each week, an hour-long episode poses a single big scientific question and takes viewers along on a journey to explore how far we’ve come in our quest for answers, and how we’ve managed to get here. Among the intriguing topics pondered are the secret language of animals, what’s hidden in the human body, the artificial intelligence technologies that could rival and surpass the abilities of the human mind, the controversial power to engineer life in a lab, and the mysteries of the universe. 

 

          The series travels to some unexpected places to look for answers—including deep underwater, where humpback whales are essentially playing a game of “telephone” across the world, with pods teaching each other new songs; deep beneath our skin, where trillions of microbes are living in our bodies; deep below the earth, in mines where researchers are trying to detect elusive dark matter particles; deep into space, where astrophysicists are hunting for signs of extra-terrestrial life, and more.

NOVA Wonders
Hosted by Scientists Talitha Williams, Rana el Kaliouby and André Fenton
          Three young scientists serve as enthusiastic guides and science communicators. Talithia Williams is a mathematician and statistician who also applies data models to the human body and the environment. She is joined by co-hosts Rana el Kaliouby, a computer scientist developing emotion recognition technology used in artificial intelligence, and André Fenton, a neuroscientist studying the biology of memory. All three help to set-up the inquiry, demonstrate key aspects of the challenges facing scientists, and ask provocative questions about research carried out on the winding paths of uncertainty and the unknown.

          “Much of what we wonder the most about can be distilled to what it means to be human, what our place is in the world, and where we stand in the universe. What’s so special about us? How special are we? Now, how do we find answers?” said Michael Bicks, Series Producer, NOVA Wonders. “In the series, as we see how scientists think about problems and develop strategies, we see patterns emerge. Could we apply similar methods to understanding aliens as animals? What are the connections and parallels between our human brains, A.I. intelligence and animals? It’s a truly fascinating trip."
NOVA WONDERS
Courtesy of PBS
The six episodes for Season One are as follows:

NOVA WONDERS: WHAT ARE ANIMALS SAYING?
Premieres Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

From singing whales and howling wolves to chirping birds and clicking dolphins, the world is filled with the exotic vocalizations of other creatures. But what are they saying? While we believe language sets us apart, scientists are finally beginning to unravel the codes of animal communication. Some animals demonstrate they can learn our language—like Chaser the dog, who recognizes hundreds of words, and Kanzi the gorilla, who understands some English spoken in context. But the question scientists are asking now is whether we can learn theirs. NOVA Wonders travels around the globe, where researchers are deciphering an amazing array of clues that reveal how animals share information critical to their survival—from a cacophony of ultrasonic bat squeaks to spider thumps and mice mating songs. Will we one day be able to write the bat dictionary, or decode the hidden sign language of chimps? And what can these findings tell us about the roots of our own language? 

NOVA WONDERS: WHAT’S LIVING IN YOU?
Premieres Wednesday, May 2, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

From what makes us fat, to what makes us fart, to what makes us freak out, there is a whole new paradigm for understanding how the human body works. Research reveals we’re more like an ecosystem with tons of microbes living in us, on us, and even having sex literally right under our noses. Our human cells are outnumbered by non-human bacteria, viruses, and fungi, making our bodies a host and resource for multitudes of other organisms. But not all bugs are detrimental or just nasty hitchhikers. Some are actually crucial to our survival and important players in our health. Evidence suggests that a damaged microbiome may contribute to obesity, allergies, even mental disorders—but scientists are just scratching the surface of this biological frontier, opening up a new world of microbial forensics.NOVA Wonders visits the world’s largest stool bank, which transforms raw stool into life-saving poop pills. These miraculous “brown bullets” serve as fecal transplants for those struggling with bacterial infections. Throughout the hour, you’ll see the fascinating, bizarre, and the just plain gross. From the mites living on our faces to the bacteria in our guts, we are not alone...in our [not so] human body.

NOVA WONDERS: ARE WE ALONE?
Premieres Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

While the search for extraterrestrial life is an age-old quest, recent breakthroughs make today like no other in the history of astronomy. From the Kepler mission’s astounding discovery of thousands of extrasolar planets, to the exhilarating probing of planetary ecosystemswithin our own solar system, to the high-tech telescopes under development, the prospects for finding life beyond Earth have never been stronger. Still, there are daunting hurdles to surmount. How can we study small planets light years away? In the vast universe, where should we even start to look? Is the failure of SETI to hear any other voices in the galaxy a warning sign that advanced civilizations don’t last long? Have we simply not been looking long enough, or are there perhaps none to discover? NOVA Wonders checks in with the explorers now searching the galaxy for life and intelligence on other planets—and asks, if we do find other life in the universe...then what?

NOVA WONDERS: CAN WE BUILD A BRAIN?
Premieres Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

Artificially intelligent machines are taking over—influencing our everyday lives in profound and often invisible ways. They can read handwriting, interpret emotions, play games, and even act as personal assistants. They are in our phones, our cars, our doctors’ offices, our banks, our web searches... The list goes on and is rapidly growing ever longer. But how does today’s A.I. actually work, and is it trulyintelligent? And for that matter, what is intelligence? The world’s brightest computer programmers are trying to build brighter machines by reverse-engineering the brain and by inventing completely new kinds of computers, with exponentially greater speed and processing power. NOVA Wonders looks at how far we’ve come and where machines are headed as their software becomes ever more...cerebral. If we place more and more of our lives under the control of these artificial brains, what are we putting at risk?

NOVA WONDERS: CAN WE MAKE LIFE?
Premieres Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

“It’s alive!” Since Dr. Frankenstein spoke those famous words, we’ve been alternately enthralled and terrified by the idea of creating life in the lab. Now, a revolution in genetic engineering and thrilling innovations in synthetic biology are bringing the dream—or nightmare, as the case may be—closer to reality. New tools allow researchers to use cells to create their own DNA and edit it into existing genomes with more ease and less cost than ever before. Along with renewed hopes for treating some genetic diseases, there’s serious talk of using the newest technologies to bring long-extinct animals back from the dead—like the team hoping to resurrect the woolly mammoth. Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. Another daring genetic experiment to bioengineer animals could prevent Lyme disease. But the power to make life comes with deep ethical questions. What are the potential rewards—and dangers—of tinkering with nature? NOVA Wonders explores the benefits and the burden of risk surrounding the controversial new technology.

NOVA WONDERS: WHAT’S THE UNIVERSE MADE OF?
Premieres Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS
(Check local listings)

The universe is hiding something. In fact, it is hiding a lot. Everything we experience on Earth, the stars and galaxies we see in the cosmos—all the “normal” matter that we understand—make up only 5% of the known universe. The other 95% is made up of two mysterious components: “dark matter” and “dark energy.” We can’t see them, but we know they’re there. And what’s more—these two shadowy ingredients are locked in an epic battle to control the very fate of the universe. Now, scientists endeavor to shed light on the so-called “dark sector” as the latest generation of detectors rev up, and powerful telescopes peer deeper into the cosmos than ever before to observe how it behaves. Is there a purpose for all these cosmic forces and will the answers help reveal how galaxies formed? In the series finale, NOVA Wonders journeys to the stars and back to investigate what we know—and don’t know. Find out how scientists are discovering new secrets about the history of the universe, and why they’re predicting a shocking future.
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