‘NOVA: Beyond The Elements’ Goes Beyond The Enjoyment Of Its Predecessor

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution/WGBH

Science, like math, is at the heart of everything.  Science can be and is also cooler than most people realize.  Just ask David Pogue, the host of PBS’ NOVA: Hunting the Elements and its recent follow-up, NOVA: Beyond The Elements. Released on DVD April 6 following its nationwide airing in February, NOVA: Beyond the Elements is a presentation that proves just how prevalent and fun science really is.  That is proven through the episode’s main feature.  This will be discussed shortly.  The three-part episode’s presentation style ensures viewers’ engagement and entertainment in its own way.  It will be discussed a little later.  The episode’s packaging rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the episode’s presentation in its new home release.  All things considered, they make this episode of NOVA an unquestionably positive addition to this year’s field of new documentaries.

PBS and PBS Distribution’s recently released home presentation of NOVA: Beyond the Elements is a presentation that fans of the popular, long-running, science-based series will enjoy.  That is proven in part through its main content.  The content here refers to host David Pogue’s experiences showing how the elements play into our everyday lives.  From partaking in a chili eating contest (no, not chili as in the stuff with beans and meat, but actually chilis), to watching stuff explode (who doesn’t love a good explosion?) to examining how glass can actually be unbreakable (truth is stranger than fiction), Pogue puts in layman’s terms how the elements work together play into our everyday lives in so many ways.  In the case of the chili eating contest (which will have audiences laugh uproariously), it is used to show how molecules in chilis actually act as a “defense mechanism” for the vegetables.  Pogue discovers in his discussion with a scientist that the molecules in question actually trick the human brain into thinking chilis are spicy when in fact they really are not.  It makes for a really interesting exploration and discussion in itself.  In regards to the explosions, the discussion turns to talks on how molecules in certain elements come together to make explosives, such as ammonium nitrate and C4.  The discussions are presented in an effort to show how construction resources are obtained at their base from quarries.   It is yet another clear, accessible discussion on how the elements play into our daily lives, and is certain to keep viewers engaged and entertained in its own right.  The noted exploration of how glass can possibly be unbreakable is used to show how elements and their molecules play together to create glass, another item which we use daily.  Audiences will be surprised here to watch as a super hot piece of molten glass is cooled quickly in water and made virtually unbreakable.   Throughout the experiments noted here and so many others, Pogue maintains a certain humility.  He never tries to be more than he is, making for even more  enjoyment.  His everyman presence makes him more relatable to audiences, sort of like fellow media personality Mo Rocca.

While the experiments featured throughout NOVA: Beyond The Elements go a long way towards making science so enjoyable and accessible, they are just a portion of what makes this episode’s primary feature so entertaining and engaging. The discussions about the ecological effects of products created by the elements make for their own interest.  What’s more, the discussions on the efforts that are being made to counter the noted effects makes for even more interest.  All things considered here, the primary feature of NOVA: Beyond the Elements makes for a strong starting point for the episode.   Building on the foundation formed by the main feature is the episode’s presentation style.

NOVA: Beyond the Elements runs just shy of the three-hour mark (two hours, 50 minutes to be exact).  Being that this episode is so long, it is divided into three separate segments in its DVD presentation, just as was done in the episode’s original broadcast early this year.  The segmentation seems minimal on the surface, but taking into account all of the information delivered through each segment, it is necessary.  It allows audiences to watch the episode at their pace.  In watching at their own pace, audiences will find themselves that much more inclined to remain engaged.  That increased engagement means that viewers will in turn more easily comprehend and remember the topics discussed in each segment.  Keeping all of this in mind, the way in which this episode of NOVA was presented proves important in its own right.

Moving from the matter of the episode’s presentation, the packaging of the episode in its home release proves important in its own right.  The packaging stands out primarily in that a brief but concise summary of each segment is provided on the back of the episode’s box.  What’s more, it lets audiences know before they even put the DVD in their DVD/BD player, that it is separated into each segment.  This is an aesthetic element, but is important in its own way.  It allows viewers to decide for themselves which segment to watch before they even start watching.  The decision might take a moment, but that moment will take less time than having to learn the topic of each episode one at a time by playing out the start of each episode.  The positive mindset that will result from the use of   the segment summaries will play greatly into the overall engagement and enjoyment in its own right.  When that impact is considered along with the impact of the episode’s main feature and its presentation style, the whole of that content completely rounds out the episode and makes it completely enjoyable.

NOVA: Beyond the Elements is a welcome follow-up/companion presentation or NOVA: Hunting the Elements.  As a matter of fact, one could argue that it is in fact an improvement from its predecessor.  That is due in part to the episode’s main feature.  The main feature is accessible because it presents so much heavy science content in a fashion that is accessible to the most average viewer.  That in itself will hopefully help viewers see the fun in and importance of science.  The fact that the episode is separated into its three segments here just as it was in the episode’s initial airing makes the episode even more appealing.  That is because the separation will encourage viewers to remain engaged and appreciate the whole even more.  The episode’s packaging in its new DVD presentation puts the finishing touch to the episode.  It does so through the brief but concise segment descriptions on the box’s rear artwork.  The summaries allow viewers to decide which segment to watch before they even place the disc into their DVD/BD players.  This in itself will give viewers a positive mindset, too.  When the positive mindset ensured by the packaging is considered along with the positive mindset generated by the episode’s content and its segmentation, that whole makes this episode of NOVA one more of this year’s top new documentaries.  NOVA: Beyond the Elements is available now.

More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available online now at:




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NOVA ScienceNow Latest Another Enjoyable Episode

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

NOVA ScienceNOW is one of the best series that PBS has.  Whereas NOVA is more documentary style programming, NOVA ScienceNOW is more accessible to average viewers.  Host David Pogue introduces topics that would have otherwise been presented mainly as a documentary in NOVA, and makes it easier to understand in this series, thus really making science fun.   And the program, What Makes Us Human?  Is proof positive of that fun.

In this latest presentation from NOVA ScienceNOW, Pogue asks the question, what is it that sets humans apart not only from other animals, but from our ancient ancestors.  He examines our differences from the noted categories first by studying the factors that made early humans and Neanderthals different.  This first investigation is a wonderful tart to the presentation.  Audiences will laugh out loud as Pogue is first turned into a Neanderthal by a group of art students.  The makeup and prosthetics used to turn Pogue into a Neanderthal were based largely on a discussion that Pogue had with a scientist who has studied the cranial differences between humans and Neanderthals.  This mix of entertainment and educational content are just the first step in the enjoyment of this feature.  Viewers will also love watching Pogue try his hand at making a primitive hand axe. 

From the ability to make primitive tools and natural adaptations, Pogue notes more factors that set us apart from both Neanderthals. One of those factors is the ability to communicate vocally.  He examines how something as simple as a bone and the ability to laugh set us apart from our Stone Age ancestors.  This is examined through the comparison of the “vocal abilities” of baby primates and baby humans.  As Pogue notes, who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a baby laughing.  Footage of babies laughing in various situations from YouTube are included to help highlight this portion of the discussion on what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  Again, something as simple as this make this feature much more relatable and accessible to audiences, and thus more enjoyable.

The content of What Makes Us Human? makes it another wonderful addition to PBS’ Nova ScienceNow series.  On a more level, the manner in which each section of the feature is separated is another positive.  Rather than just going from one topic to another, the near hour long feature—it actually runs just over fifty-three minutes not counting credits—is broken up using slates introducing each section.  These momentary breaks make the program that much easier to follow for audiences of all ages.  And it is also another way in which the Nova offshoot separates itself from its “parent” product yet makes itself just as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable.  Along with the viewer friendly content, it shows once again the value of not only Nova ScienceNOW but of programming in general on PBS.  This program is available now online and can be ordered via the PBs online store at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Hunting The Elements Is An Excellent Tool For Teachers

Courtesy: PBS

NOVA’s recent special, “Hunting The Elements” is one of the show’s most enjoyable episodes yet.  This episode of PBS’ hit series isn’t just an episode of NOVA.  It mixes in elements of Discovery Channel’s hit series, “Dirty Jobs.”  And it’s a great tool for both high school and college level chemistry level chemistry courses.

“Hunting The Elements” is hosted by David Pogue.  It takes viewers on a journey across the entire periodic table of elements.  What really makes this episode of NOVA interesting is how it aims to simplify the table for viewers, rather than come across as a visual classroom.  In each segment, viewers see the periodic table light up somewhere close by Pogue.  It serves as a reminder for viewers throughout each segment of what element is being discussed.  One of the key pieces of the discussion in this episode is actually very brief.  But it’s equally important.  That key piece is the revelation that the symbol for each element on the table is actually based on each element’s Latin name.  This may come across as something that doesn’t really play much role.  But many younger chemistry students ask exactly what Pogue asked about that relationship between the two.  Teachers and students alike will also appreciate the segment showing the actual physical periodic table that comes complete with the physical elements contained therein for association.  This is a brilliant tool for teaching.

“Hunting The Elements” clocks in at roughly two hours in length. During that time it makes a valid attempt to cover as much of the periodic table as possible.  Being that it is two hours long, that still isn’t enough time to cover the entire table.  This isn’t an entirely bad thing, though.  Rather than try to cover everything and be a glorified classroom setting, the program really tries to simplify everything and entertain audiences at the same time.  This is a big bonus to the program.  It does manage to be entertaining and educational at the same time, making for a great program to which any teacher could refer throughout the course of an academic year.  Teachers wouldn’t have to rely on the entire program for one class.  Each element could be spread out throughout a school calendar as one part of a class each day.  PBS is to be commended for this.  “Hunting The Elements” is available now on blu-ray and DVD.  It can be ordered direct via PBS’ website, http://www.shoppbs.org.

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