Light
Part of the Series: How We Got to Now

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Into the Atom
Part of the Series: The Mystery of Matter
Caught up in the race to discover the atom's internal parts--and learn how they fit together--is a young British physicist named Harry Moseley, who uses newly discovered X-rays to put the Periodic Table in a whole new light. And a young American chemist named Glenn Seaborg creates a new element--plutonium--that…
Cold
Part of the Series: How We Got to Now
Only in the last 200 years have humans learned how to make things cold. Johnson explains how ice entrepreneur Frederic Tudor made ice delivery the second biggest export business in the U.S. and visits the place where Clarence Birdseye, the father of the frozen food industry, experienced his eureka moment.…
Time
Part of the Series: How We Got to Now
The world today is obsessed by time. Johnson boards a submarine to discover what a lack of natural light means for a sailor's working day and visits Heathrow, the world's busiest airport, to try to get timings right at air traffic control. The story of getting a grip on time…
A New Theory of Matter
Episode 3 of The Nature of Matter
Discover how the idea that light comes in discrete packets called "quanta" led to a startling new theory of matter: quantum mechanics. One prediction is that matter, like light, behaves as both a particle and a wave, a property observed in subatomic particles such as electrons.
Reflection and Refraction
Starting a new section of the course, discover that light often behaves as rays, which change direction at boundaries between materials. Investigate reflection and refraction, answering such questions as, why doesn't a dust mote block data on a CD? How do mirrors work? And why do diamonds sparkle?
Wave Optics
Returning to themes from episode 18 on waves, discover that when light interacts with objects comparable in size to its wavelength, then its wave nature becomes obvious. Examine interference and diffraction, and see how these effects open the door to certain investigations, while hindering others.
Big Bang Cosmology
Episode 6 of Redefining Reality
Investigate the underlying reality that governs the universe. Is the universe eternally the same? Or is it changing and unstable? In modern times, this debate culminated in the contest between the steady state theory and the big bang model. Hear how unexpected events led to a spectacular solution.
Sound
Part of the Series: How We Got to Now
Imagine a world without the power to capture or transmit sound. Journey with Johnson to the Arcy sur Cure caves in northern France, where he finds the first traces of the desire to record sound -- 10,000 years ago. He also learns about the difference that radio made in the…
Special Relativity
Discover the startling consequences of Einstein's principle of relativity: that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion. One result is that the speed of light is the same for all observers, no matter what their relative motion: an idea that overturns the concept of…
Out of Thin Air
Part of the Series: The Mystery of Matter
One of science's great odd couples--British minister Joseph Priestley and French tax administrator Antoine Lavoisier--together discover a fantastic new gas called oxygen, overturning the reigning theory of chemistry and triggering a worldwide search for new elements. Soon caught up in the hunt is science's first great showman, a precocious British…
How We Got to Now - with Steven Johnson
PBS
Join best-selling author Steven Johnson to discover extraordinary stories behind six remarkable ideas that made modern life possible, the unsung heroes who brought them about and the unexpected and bizarre consequences each of these innovations triggered.
Sunlight - Inexhaustible Energy Source
Episode 13 of The Science of Energy
Sunlight is a literally inexhaustible source of energy. Discover why (and how) the sun gives off light, how much sunlight energy the earth's surface gets in an average day, how much land we'd need to supply all our energy needs through sunlight, and some of the geographical problems with solar…