Airs Wednesday, April 4th from 8-10 p.m. on WTVP-HD.
- NOVA JOURNEYS THROUGH NATURE’S HIDDEN LAB IN QUEST
OF THE UNIQUE — REMARKABLY FEW — ELEMENTS THAT MAKE UP OUR WORLD -
What are things made of? The answer is astonishing. There are about 90 naturally-occurring
elements that are the ingredients for everything and everyone — combining in countless ways to form things
from solid rocks to ethereal gases, from scorching acids to the living cells in our body. Of those elements,
we are made of only six. But how can it be that it takes so few to make so much?
In “Hunting the Elements,”
NOVA’s fascinating two-hour documentary, intrepid New York Times technology correspondent David Pogue —
host of NOVA’s popular “Making Stuff” series — takes viewers on a quest to understand chemistry and all of the
materials of life: the 118 unique ele¬ments that make up the amazing periodic table, including the 90
naturally-occurring elements and those created by scientists.
Find out why copper is king, gases are noble and gold is “stand-offish.” What is the rarest? What
does it take to create a new element?
“Hunting the Elements” is a journey that delves into the elements that are essential to
understanding everything from the Big Bang to the living cells within the human body.
“NOVA’s fresh approach focuses not only on the basic chemistry but shows viewers the
impact and importance of the elements on the rise of civilization and industry,” said Paula S. Apsell, senior
executive producer for NOVA. “David Pogue’s boundless energy and curiosity make him the perfect host
to bring viewers on this roller coaster ride through nature’s hidden lab and to tell the compelling stories
of discovery that reveal its secrets.”
The abstract periodic table is the link to understanding, and David Pogue uses this amazing chart
as his guide to explore the chemistry used to predict the behavior of atoms anywhere in the universe.
Each element has unique properties and can be combined in a multitude of ways to compose everything
in the universe, including the stars, the planets and all living things. But what are the elements, where did they
come from and how do they shape our modern way of life?
Why are some elements, like oxygen, phosphorus and potassium, violently reactive while others — such
as platinum and gold — are relatively inert? Why are some elements potentially lethal while others are vital to
sustain every breath we take?
Pogue travels the globe, visiting places including St. Petersburg, where Russian scientist Dmitri
Men¬deleev first cracked the code of the elements in the 1860s; a U.S. gold mine and refinery; and a facility in
Florida where researchers are testing a tank of sharks that may be repelled by rare earth metals.
The film is also punctuated by surprising experiments, in which Pogue and researchers dramatically
blow up more than a few items. Pogue visits a research center at New Mexico Tech where the business of violent
reactions is booming. Plus, he pays a call on lively scientist Theodore Gray at his lair hidden amidst the
Midwestern cornfields, where the pair conduct a few more volatile chemistry experiments — including one in which
they combine sodium and chlorine gases, a potentially hazardous scenario that instead yields some freshly salted
popcorn for them to munch on!
According to Gray, the key to understanding the periodic table is to think like a matchmaker rather
than a chemist. On the far right of the chart are the noble gases, confirmed loners that don’t like to mix with
the riff-raff; on the far left, the alkali metals, desperate lonely hearts that would react with nearly every
element that comes along.
Not all elements are happy on their own. Like eligible singles, most of the elements are looking
for stability by combining with others. Alone, they may be highly reactive — sometimes explosively so — but
partner them up and they become chemically stable.
Others love to stay alone. Humanity has long had a love affair with one such loner: gold. It doesn’t
rust or tarnish, it’s virtually indestructible — yet also soft and malleable — and has never lost its luster.
The problem is that it’s also an exceedingly rare element found in the earth’s crust. The trick is extracting it
and then coaxing the gold out of the ore. Gone are the Gold Rush days of panning for nuggets with the naked eye.
Pogue shows viewers just how many tons of sifting and pulverizing it takes to get a teacup full of gold using the
multi-step process scientists developed to extract gold from rock on an industrial scale.
Likewise, copper has similar properties to gold and also plays a major role in history, with human
usage dating back 7,000 years. Malleable and conductive, it even scares away bacteria! But did you know that
copper is absolutely vital to the global economy — used to make electronics, computer chips, plumbing,
infrastructure and more?
Using animations and eye-popping experiments, NOVA and David Pogue will demonstrate how
each element’s internal structure has fundamentally determined its properties as well as its role in history in
this visually spectacular documentary.
Now in its 39th season, NOVA is the most-watched primetime science series on American
television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly. The series remains committed to producing in-depth
science programming in the form of hour-long (and occasionally longer) documentaries, from the latest breakthroughs
in technology to the deepest mysteries of the natural world. NOVA airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET/PT on WGBH Boston
and most PBS stations. The Director of the WGBH Science Unit and Senior Executive Producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell.