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String theory on NOVA unravels surprises about our "elegant universe"

Dave Masko's picture

The next PBS “Nova” TV program offers astounding details about our “elegant universe;” while explaining “string theory” as both everything and nothing.

Only Nova’s award-winning science experts can explain for a TV audience what "string theory" is and if it will prove to be a "Theory of Everything;" or will it unravel into a "Theory of Nothing” as this second hour episode explains. Also, this episode of “The Elegant Universe” is "outstanding TV," say teachers here in central Oregon who've viewed this miniseries in their classrooms as part of the PBS mandate to "educate" as well as entertain. In turn, this three-hour miniseries with physicist Brain Greene delves into what PBS calls “the nuts, bolts and outright nuttiness of string theory.” For this part 2 called “String’s the Thing” – that airs Wednesday, July 18 at 10 p.m. ET on the PBS – Nova’s science experts feature a “whimsical scene in a movie theater in which Nova’s program overview explains as “the history of the universe runs backwards to the Big Bang, the moment at which general relativity and quantum mechanics both came into play, and therefore the point at which our conventional model of reality breaks down.”

While most non-science experts – such as this reporter – may have difficulty understanding something as complex as “string theory,” that view changes after watching this “elegant universe” miniseries; because it becomes clear and even easy to understand with general TV viewers sure to “get it" while enjoying the visual experience of the program’s outstanding views of the Cosmos; making this show a must see for those who've wondered about "string theory."

Get set to have your mind blown by our "Elegant Universe"

For instance, its string theory to the rescue as Professor Greene describes the steps that led “from a forgotten 200-year-old mathematical formula to the first glimmerings of strings—quivering strands of energy whose different vibrations give rise to quarks, electrons, photons, and all other elementary particles. Strings are truly tiny, being smaller than an atom by the same factor that a tree is smaller than the solar system. But, as Greene explains, they are able to combine the laws of the large and the laws of the small into a proposal for a single, harmonious theory of everything.”

This Nova TV program is based on Physicist Brian Greene's bestselling book that Nova says “comes to the small screen in this stimulating look at a complicated topic: the search for order in the universe. Is a revolutionary proposal--"string theory"--the answer scientists have been seeking for centuries?

Greene tackles the mind-boggling complexity of the theory with vivid, clear images, and calmly points the way to the answer.

The Elegant Universe: Part 2 goes further into the Cosmos

While this award-winning miniseries first aired on PBS back on Oct. 28, 2003, it’s been updated with new commentary and visuals for breaking science news in 2012.

For instance, the Nova website includes both background about this second hour of “The Elegant Universe” and a complete transcript that’s a super education resource for students studying the universe in science, or simply for the fun and enjoyment of challenging one’s mind to the possibilities of something as complex as “string theory.”

In brief, a high school science text book states that string theory is “an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything (TOE), that’s a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forces and forms of matter.”

Also, as this Nova TV show explains to viewers, “string theories require the existence of several extra dimensions to the universe that have been put into extremely small scales, in addition to the four known space time dimensions.”

To help explain “string theory” even further, Nova’s website offers teacher and education resources that offer different frameworks for better understanding of this complex and confusing theory.

String theory as TV entertainment

Yes, watching a Nova TV program about “string theory” on a summer evening is hardly exciting for some but give it a view and you may be surprised at how entertaining host Brian Greene (a professor at Columbia University) is at explaining how the world of "string theory," is a way of “describing every force and all matter from an atom to earth, to the end of the galaxies - from the birth of time to its final tick, in a single theory, a ‘Theory of Everything.’”

For instance, Professor Greene notes how “we really may live in a universe with more dimensions than meet the eye.”

Thus, the Nova program goes on to explain how “obsession drives scientists to pursue the Holy Grail of physics, but are they ready for what they discover? Step into the bizarre world of the Elegant Universe right now,” the TV show adds with Professor Greene revealing: “It's a little known secret but for more than half a century a dark cloud has been looming over modern science. Here's the problem: our understanding of the universe is based on two separate theories. One is Einstein's general theory of relativity - hat's a way of understanding the biggest things in the universe, things like stars and galaxies. But the littlest things in the universe, atoms and subatomic particles, play by an entirely different set of rules called, ‘quantum mechanics.’”

Nova also asks viewers to think of the beginning of the universe, the "big bang."

In turn, it explains that “at that instant a tiny nugget erupted violently. Over the next 14 billion years the universe expanded and cooled into the stars, galaxies and planets we see today. But if we run the cosmic film in reverse, everything that's now rushing apart comes back together, so the universe gets smaller, hotter and denser as we head back to the beginning of time.”

Thus, when you tune in to watch “The Elegant Universe: Part 2” – when it airs on PBS at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 18 – you will be treated to the gold standard of TV science reporting with the question being: “Do miniscule vibrating strands of energy hold the key to a unified theory of physics?”

Image source of a view of “string theory” as explained on the PBS “Nova” TV show July 18 that features part 2 of the famed miniseries “The Elegant Universe.” Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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