Nova scienceNOW is an undeniably likable show. The host, Neil deGrasse Tyson is fun, warm, and knowledgeable; and the show itself educates as well as entertains. It manages to walk to careful line between overly simplified and overly in-depth seemingly with ease.
The third episode this season however does contain tweaks from the previous two, and not necessarily for the better. First, at the end of every segment there are now a couple of interesting postscripts to the story given via text. Second, the profile story is now the fourth and final story as opposed to being the third. Third, and maybe it’s just this episode and an anomaly, but Tyson seemed to appear less often than before. While the first two of these changes are interesting and maybe help the flow of the episodes, this last change serves to do just the opposite. Without Tyson appearing as much the episode has more of a disjointed feel than the other two. There was also the inclusion in this episode between the first and second stories of a promo for the third one. Which, as there are no commercials on PBS, felt terribly awkward and made it even more segmented than it might otherwise have been. Presumably though, if the stories being covered in the episode interest the viewer, they are likely to watch whether or not the episode works as a single complete entity.
Even if the show does not stand together terribly well, the stories are interesting. Discussed this time are: aging and possible aging genes, space elevators, Mayan ruins, and a professor who has discovered that bacteria actually communicate with one another.
The story on aging and genes focuses on the discovery of various possible “aging” genes through looking first at various people who have lived to ripe old ages and then moving onto mice and various other animals and entities. There are disturbing implications made throughout the piece about the amount we eat greatly affecting the age we can live to should we have the right genes present in our bodies (it requires a huge amount of calorie restriction that even the scientists in the story find distasteful). Distilling the story, researchers seem to believe there are a couple of genes that affect aging and not-aging, and various factors, including diet, serve to activate some of these genes. Where all this will head in the future is anyone’s guess.
The second story of the evening, and by far the most compelling, is on a hypothetical space elevator, which is actually exactly what it sounds like: an elevator that could take one from earth to space and back. This might all be made possible through the use of carbon nanotubes, a substance made of carbon (and, shockingly, in a tube-like structure) that is stronger than steel and weighs far less. Of course, no carbon nanotube has been made that is longer than 3 centimeters, so constructing a space elevator out of one may not actually be feasible. Still though, NASA is trying to work out how to construct such an elevator, and has held a contest inviting the whole world to try to come up with the correct vehicle for such an endeavor (the nanotubes would form the shaft up which the vehicle would travel).