“Treasures of the Earth: Gems, Metals, and Power” Explores How These Treasures Have Allowed Humankind to Progress

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28 October 2016
Treasures of the Earth
Photo: Courtesy of Doug Hamilton
“Treasures of the Earth: Gems, Metals, and Power”
Premieres Wednesday, November 2 at 9PM ET/8C on PBS
(Check your local listings)

          This 3-part NOVA series focuses on Gems, Metals and Power. They grace the crowns of royalty, sharpen weapons of war, and both power and pollute our cities. They are Earth’s natural resources: treasures in the forms of stunning gems that we hold dear, metals that have altered the course of civilizations, and fuels that drive our modern world.

          “Treasures of the Earth: Gems, Metals, and Power” will take us on a journey deep inside Earth to uncover the mysteries of how these treasures were created, and to explore how they have allowed humankind to progress and build our great civilizations. But even as that quest continues... we are discovering that some of our treasures may soon run out or have unintended consequences that bring new perils. Can our ancient treasures reveal new secrets that will help us solve the problems we face today?  

          NOVA travels around the world for this one. The footage drills down to show how these treasures were created and how they built our civilization and how they’re being used today – checking in on the mines and laboratories and businesses all over the world unlocking the power and mysteries of GEMS (diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, jade, opal), METALS (gold, copper, bronze, iron, steel) and POWER (coal, oil, natural gas, silicon, plastics, solar, wind, nuclear—even trash).


Here’s a brief synopsis of what we can look forward to:


          Their beauty has captivated us for millennia. Their cost can be extraordinary – some are even considered priceless. Precious gems like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opal, and jade are the ultimate treasures of the earth, and each one is made from a specific – and often torturous – recipe of chemistry, pressure, and heat. The secrets to their sparkle, color, and even strength lie deep inside the gems themselves... but could they also hold clues to one of the most enduring mysteries in the field of geology? From Tiffany’s workshop in New York to the sapphire mines of Sri Lanka, from North Carolina’s emerald fields to the jade-laden Forbidden City of China, join NOVA in the first episode of a 3-part series, Treasures of the Earth, as we explore the fascinating science of gems.


          The enduring luster of gold, the conductivity of copper, the strength of steel... the special properties of metals have reshaped societies and defined eras; they have such an important role in human history that entire ages have been named after them. But what gives metals their astounding characteristics? From the perfect ring of a bronze bell to the awe-striking steel construction of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium, how have humans perfected metalworking? And how have metals enabled our modern hi-tech world? Explore the science of metals with chemists and engineers as they literally test the mettle of metals and investigate how these remarkable materials have ushered humanity from the Stone Age to the stars.


          Drill down to discover the treasures beneath our feet that power our world. Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – powered the industrial revolution and allowed us to build a way of life that many cherish today. Personal cars, planes, lights, hot showers – all of these are gifts from our fossil fuels... but they have a dirty dark side in that they are polluting the planet. What is it about these natural resources that has allowed them to fuel our civilization? What secrets are locked in their molecules? Where did that energy come from, and can we find alternative energy resources that come in a cleaner form? The hunt is on for new treasures that might allow us to power our modern way of life without damaging the environment. Join NOVA as we explore the resources that both power and pollute, from modern-day oil prospecting in California, to a mega-city utility company struggling to keep the lights on during hot summer days, to China where an engineer strives to solve one of the greatest obstacles to the success of solar power. Travel the globe to see how our energy treasures are changing—and if they can keep the lights on.

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