On Wednesday, Nov. 2, PBS will premiere a new four-part NOVA series entitled, “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” based on physicist Brian Greene’s book of the same name. Aiming to comprehensively explain modern physics through powerful imagery, the series mixes enthralling metaphors with informative interviews.
“We all learn about space and time as little children, so we assume that they are simple to understand,” said Craig Hogan, the head of the Center for Particle Astrophysics and one of several Fermilab scientists who appear throughout the series. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. The nature of space and time, and their relationship to matter and energy, are the deepest mysteries of physics.”
The first episode, “What is Space?”, explores the concept of space – the seemingly vast emptiness between two obviously solid objects. From the infinitesimal to the mind-bogglingly massive gaps, every part of inner and outer space is filled with something. It’s in this episode that viewers begin to learn about dark energy, which makes up about 70 percent of all space, yet has remained largely elusive.
“At Fermilab, we are building experiments to learn more about dark energy,” said Hogan. “For example, the Dark Energy Survey will start collecting data next year to find out what is causing the expansion of space on the largest cosmic scales to speed up with time.”
Airing on Nov. 9, “The Illusion of Time” is the second episode of the series. The modern concept of time – forward motion – is dismissed. Brian Greene takes viewers back to the big bang, to the start. From there, only time will tell which theories will keep pace with the universe.
“It’s a difficult question – I don’t know what time is,” said Joe Lykken, a particle theorist at Fermilab who also appears in the series. “Brian Greene picked some of the most difficult concepts I could imagine, but he and his producers are very good at taking these complex issues and explaining some of what the problems are in an understandable way.”
“Quantum Leap,” the third episode, will air on Nov. 16. An overview of quantum mechanics takes a strange jump when it becomes clear that the rules governing the behavior of matter at the molecular level change spectacularly as atoms build into larger objects, like people and buildings.
“We’ve only started to scratch the surface on some of these questions,” Lykken said. “These are not trivial topics, but I think people will learn something from the series.”
The final episode, “Universe or Multiverse?”, airing on Nov. 23, makes the audience question everything they’ve come to think they know. It’s possible, said Brian Greene, that our universe is just one face of an infinitely-sided die.
“The results of the experiments we’re conducting at Fermilab will help guide theory to a deeper understanding,” Hogan said. “I hope the series helps everyone understand our excitement about the work we do at the laboratory.”
To see the three-minute trailer of “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” please click here.