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biology, Documentaries

The Shape of Life

YEAR: 2002 | LENGTH: 8 parts (53 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: DOCUWIKI

description:

The Shape of Life tells the gripping and magnificent tale of the beginnings of all animal life.

Using innovative camera techniques to capture rarely seen creatures and breathtaking computer animation to reveal stunning detail, this digital high-definition series tells the stories of the revolutionary findings and scientific breakthroughs in biology, genetics and paleontology that are rewriting the book of life.

The series celebrates the splendors and struggles of evolution, unveiling eight biological designs that are the underpinnings of nearly all animal life.

episodes:

Search for…and discover the origin of today’s animal life. Stunning photography reveals never-before-seen wonders beneath the sea that offer new understanding of life on earth.

Once animals began to move, all life changed. Set out to see how animals first evolved their splendid machinery for motion.

Follow an unlikely predator, the bizarre and vibrant flatworm, whose hunting and sexual exploits forever altered the shape of life.

In a geologic instant,a fantastic array of animals emerged on earth, laying the groundwork for the incredible diversity of life that exists in the world today.

The conquest of land was one of the most important innovations in the history of animal life. See how the relentless invaders – arthropods – have taken over the skies, land and sea, adding to the earth’s diversity in ways strange and beautiful.

As marine life became more varied, competition for food became fierce, creating an evolutionary arms race. Follow the development of the molluscs and learn how they avoid becoming lunch.

The spiny starfish is a shining example of a survivor. Watch as incredible time-lapse photography uncovers startling behaviors that reveal new insights into how even the most unlikely of creatures are amazing success stories.

Modern science is using technology to probe ever deeper into the origins of human existence. See how the latest findings are connecting humans to the array of animals on earth.

Documentaries, nature

Frozen Planet

YEAR: 2011 | LENGTH: 7 parts (50 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

The seven-part series focuses on life and the environment in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The production team were keen to film a comprehensive record of the natural history of the polar regions, because climate change is affecting landforms such as glaciers, ice shelves, and the extent of sea ice. The film was met with critical acclaim and holds a Metacritic score of 90/100. Despite such, it has been criticized for limited coverage of the effects of global warming and attribution of recent climate change.

episodes:

David Attenborough travels to the end of the Earth, taking viewers on an extraordinary journey across the polar regions of our planet, North and South. The Arctic and Antarctic are the greatest and least known wildernesses of all – magical ice worlds inhabited by the most bizarre and hardy creatures on Earth.

 

Our journey begins with David at the North Pole, as the sun returns after six months of darkness. We follow a pair of courting polar bears, which reveal a surprisingly tender side. Next stop is the giant Greenland ice cap, where waterfalls plunge into the heart of the ice and a colossal iceberg carves into the sea. Humpback whales join the largest gathering of seabirds on Earth to feast in rich Alaskan waters. Further south, the tree line marks the start of the taiga forest, containing one third of all trees on earth. Here, 25 of the world’s largest wolves take on formidable bison prey.

 

At the other end of our planet, the Antarctic begins in the Southern Ocean, where surfing penguins struggle to escape a hungry sea lion and teams of orcas create giant waves to wash seals from ice floes – a filming first. Diving below the ice, we discover prehistoric giants, including terrifying sea spiders and woodlice the size of dinner plates. Above ground, crystal caverns ring the summit of Erebus, the most southerly volcano on earth. From here, we retrace the routes of early explorers across the formidable Antarctic ice cap – the largest expanse of ice on our planet. Finally, we rejoin David at the South Pole, exactly one hundred years after Amundsen, then Scott, were the first humans to stand there.

Spring arrives in the polar regions, and the sun appears after an absence of five months; warmth and life return to these magical ice worlds – the greatest seasonal transformation on our planet is under way.

 

Male Adelie penguins arrive in Antarctica to build their nests – it takes a good property to attract the best mates and the males will stop at nothing to better their rivals! But these early birds face the fiercest storms on the planet.

 

In the Arctic, a polar bear mother is hunting with her cubs. Inland, the frozen rivers start to break up and billions of tons of ice are swept downstream in the greatest of polar spectacles. This melt-water fertilizes the Arctic Ocean, feeding vast shoals of Arctic cod and narwhal. The influx of freshwater accelerates the breakup of the sea ice – an area of ice the size of Australia will soon vanish from the Arctic.

 

On land, a woolly bear caterpillar emerges from the snow having spent the winter frozen solid. Caterpillars normally become moths within months of hatching, but life is so harsh here that the woolly bear takes 14 years to reach adulthood. Once mature, it has only days to find a mate before it dies! Alongside the caterpillars, white Arctic wolves race to raise their adorable cubs before the cold returns.

 

In Antarctica, vast numbers of seabirds arrive on South Georgia joining the giant albatross and king penguins that have been there all winter. Elephant seals fight furious battles over females on a beach that contains the greatest mass of animals on the planet.

 

Finally, the female Adelie penguins arrive, chased from the water by killer whales. Mating and chick rearing lie ahead of them.

It is high summer in the polar regions, and the sun never sets. Vast hordes of summer visitors cram a lifetime of drama into one long, magical day; they must feed, fight and rear their young in this brief window of plenty. Summer is a tough time for the polar bear family, as their ice world melts away and the cubs take their first swimming lesson. Some bears save energy by dozing on icy sun beds, while others go egg-collecting in an Arctic tern colony, braving bombardment by sharp beaks. There are even bigger battles on the tundra; a herd of musk oxen gallop to the rescue as a calf is caught in a life and death struggle with a pair of Arctic wolves. But summer also brings surprises, as a huge colony of 400,000 king penguins cope with an unlikely problem – heat. The adults go surfing, while the woolly-coated chicks take a cooling mud bath. Nearby, a bull fur seal is prepared to fight to the death with a rival. Fur flies as the little pups struggle desperately to keep out of the way of the duelling giants. Further south, a minke whale is hunted amongst the ice floes by a family of killer whales. The dramatic chase lasts over 2 hours and has never been filmed before. The killers harry the minke whale, taking it in turns to wear it down. Eventually it succumbs to the relentless battering. Finally, comical adelie penguins waddle back to their half a million strong colony like clockwork toys. The fluffy chicks need constant feeding and protection as piratical skuas patrol the skies. When an unguarded chick is snatched, a dramatic “dogfight” ensues.

For the animals in the polar regions, autumn means dramatic battles and epic journeys. Time is running out – the Arctic Ocean is freezing over and the sea ice is advancing at 2.5 miles per day around Antarctica.

 

Polar bears gather in large numbers on the Arctic coast as they wait for the return of the ice. Soon, tempers fray and violent sparring contests break out. Meanwhile 2,000 beluga whales head for one special estuary, a gigantic ‘whale spa’ where they will thrash their snow-white bodies against the gravel and exfoliate. Inland, the tundra undergoes a dramatic transformation from green to fiery red. Here, musk ox males slam head-first into each other with the force of a 30mph car crash as they struggle to defend their harems. Frisky young caribou males play a game of ‘grandma’s footsteps’ as they try to steal the boss’s female.

 

Down in Antarctica, Adelie penguin chicks huddle together in creches. When a parent returns from fishing, it leads its twins on a comical steeplechase – sadly there’s only enough for one, so the winner gets the meal. Two months later and the chicks are fully feathered apart from downy Mohican hairdos – they’re ready to take their first swim – reluctantly though, as it seems penguins are not born with a love of water! And with good reason – a leopard seal explodes from the sea and pulls one from an ice floe, a hunting manoeuvre that has never been filmed before. As winter approaches and everyone has left, the giant emperor penguin arrives and makes an epic trek inland to breed. The mothers soon return to the sea leaving the fathers to hold the eggs and endure the coldest winter on earth.

There is no greater test for life than winter, as temperatures plummet to 70 below and winds reach 200kph. Darkness and ice extend across the polar regions and only a few remarkable survivors gamble on remaining.

 

We join a female polar bear trekking into the Arctic mountains to give birth as the first blizzards arrive. Out on the frozen ocean, the entire world’s population of spectacled eider ducks brave the winter in a giant ice hole kept open by ferocious currents. Arctic forests transform into a wonderland of frost and snow – the scene of a desperate and bloody battle between wolf and bison, but also where a remarkable alliance between raven and wolverine is made. Beneath the snow lies a magical world of winter survivors. Here tiny voles dodge the clutches of the great grey owl, but cannot escape the ultimate under-show predator – the least weasel.

 

Midwinter and a male polar bear wanders alone across the dark, empty icescape. Below the snow, polar bear cubs begin life in an icy den while fantastical auroras light the night skies above. In Antarctica, we join male emperor penguins in their darkest hour, battling to protect precious eggs from fierce polar storms. Weddell seals escape to a hidden world of jewel-coloured corals and alien-looking creatures but frozen devastation follows as sinister ice stalactites reach down with deadly effect.

 

The sun finally returns, and with it comes the female emperor penguins, sleek and fat, ready to deliver the first meal to their precious chick. Having survived winter, this ultimate ice family now have a head start in raising baby. The Adelies flood back and as the ice edge bustles with life, male emperor penguins can finally return to the sea.

The documentary series reveals the extraordinary riches and wonders of the polar regions that have kept people visiting them for thousands of years. Today, their survival relies on a combination of ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science.

 

Most Arctic people live in Siberia, either in cities like Norilsk – the coldest city on earth – or out on the tundra, where tribes like the Dogan survive by herding reindeer, using them to drag their homes behind them. On the coast, traditional people still hunt walrus from open boats – it is dangerous work, but one big walrus will feed a family for weeks. Settlers are drawn to the Arctic by its abundant minerals; the Danish Armed Forces maintain their claim to Greenland’s mineral wealth with an epic dog sled patrol, covering 2,000 miles through the winter. Above, the spectacular northern lights can disrupt power supplies so scientists monitor it constantly, firing rockets into it to release a cloud of glowing smoke 100 kilometres high.

 

In contrast, Antarctica is so remote and cold that it was only a century ago that the first people explored the continent. Captain Scott’s hut still stands as a memorial to these men. Science is now the only significant human activity allowed; robot submarines are sent deep beneath the ice in search of new life-forms, which may also be found in a labyrinth of ice caves high up on an active volcano. Above, colossal balloons are launched into the purest air on earth to detect cosmic rays.

 

At the South Pole there is a research base designed to withstand the world’s most extreme winters.

David Attenborough journeys to both polar regions to investigate what rising temperatures will mean for the people and wildlife that live there and for the rest of the planet.

 

David starts out at the North Pole, standing on sea ice several metres thick, but which scientists predict could be open ocean within the next few decades. The Arctic has been warming at twice the global average, so David heads out with a Norwegian team to see what this means for polar bears. He comes face-to-face with a tranquilised female, and discovers that mothers and cubs are going hungry as the sea ice on which they hunt disappears. In Canada, Inuit hunters have seen with their own eyes what scientists have seen from space; the Arctic Ocean has lost 30% of its summer ice cover over the last 30 years. For some, the melting sea ice will allow access to trillions of dollars worth of oil, gas and minerals. For the rest of us, it means the planet will get warmer, as sea ice is important to reflect back the sun’s energy. Next David travels to see what is happening to the ice on land: in Greenland, we follow intrepid ice scientists as they study giant waterfalls of meltwater, which are accelerating iceberg calving events, and ultimately leading to a rise in global sea level.

 

Temperatures have also risen in the Antarctic – David returns to glaciers photographed by the Shackleton expedition and reveals a dramatic retreat over the past century. It is not just the ice that is changing – ice-loving adelie penguins are disappearing, and more temperate gentoo penguins are moving in. Finally, we see the first ever images of the largest recent natural event on our planet – the break up of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, an ice sheet the size of Jamaica, which shattered into hundreds of icebergs in 2009.

biology, Documentaries

Walking with Monsters

YEAR: 2005 | LENGTH: 3 parts (88 minutes)  |  SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

description:

Walking with Monsters (also distributed as Before the Dinosaurs – Walking with Monsters or Walking with Monsters – Life Before Dinosaurs) is a three-part British documentary film series about life in the Paleozoic, bringing to life extinct arthropods, fish, amphibians, synapsids, and reptiles. As with previous Walking with… installments, it is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and by Avery Brooks in the American version. Using state-of-the-art visual effects, this prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs shows an epic 300 million year war between creatures before the dinosaurs. The series draws on the knowledge of over 600 scientists and depicts Paleozoic history, from the Cambrian Period (530 million years ago) to the Early Triassic Period (248 million years ago). It was written and directed by Tim Haines. As with some of the other BBC specials, it was renamed in North America, where its title was Before the Dinosaurs: Walking with Monsters. It has also aired as a two-hour special on the Canadian and American Discovery Channel with yet another narrator. At the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2006 it won the Emmy Award in the category Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More).

episodes:

The first episode begins with an illustration of the giant impact hypothesis: approximately 4.4 billion years ago when the Earth was formed, it is conjectured that a planet-like object referred to as Theia collided into the early Earth, dynamically reshaping the Earth and forming the moon. The episode then jumps ahead to the Cambrian Explosion, showing the first diversification of life in the sea. Strange arthropod predators called Anomalocaris feed on trilobites, and fight with each other, whereupon a wounded loser is attacked by a school of Haikouichthys, described as the first vertebrate.

 

The segment moves on to the Silurian period, where Haikouichthys has evolved into the jawless-fish Cephalaspis. The marine scorpion Brontoscorpio pursues a Cephalaspis but falls victim to the giant eurypterid Pterygotus, whose young feed on the smaller scorpion’s body. Later a shoal of Cephalaspis migrate into the shallows to spawn, navigating via memory thanks to their advanced vertebrate brains. As they cross a shallow embankment, they are ambushed by several Brontoscorpio which are depicted as the first animals capable of walking on land. Several fish are killed but the majority slip past the feasting scorpions and arrive at the spawning site. One scorpion misses this feeding opportunity due to having to molt its exoskeleton.

 

A short sequence depicts Cephalaspis evolving into Hynerpeton, amphibian-like tetrapods, who now hunt their arthropod contemporaries which have shrunk. Though capable of terrestrial movement, Hynerpeton have to remain near water to keep moist and reproduce. A lone male Hynerpeton hunting underwater is threatened by predatory fish, at first by a Stethacanthus which is eaten by a two-ton Hyneria that chases the amphibian out of the water. After seeing off a rival during the night, the male finds a receptive female at dawn and the two mate at the water’s edge. They are ambushed by the Hyneria, which beaches herself in the process, but then uses her fins to drag herself ashore and grab the fleeing male. Despite his untimely death, the Hynerpeton eggs were successfully fertilized and sink into the water to develop. A sequence depicts them acquiring hard shells as the first reptiles evolve, but as the offspring leave their nest, those still hatching are left at the mercy of a giant spider, foreshadowing the return of the arthropods.

The second episode shows the swampy coal forests of the Carboniferous. It explains that because of a much higher oxygen content in the atmosphere, giant land arthropods evolved, such as a Megarachne spider, Meganeura; a giant dragonfly the size of a eagle and Arthropleura; a giant relative of modern millipedes and centipedes. A Megarachne hunts down a Petrolacosaurus. She comes back from her hunting expedition only to find her burrow has flooded. Not only that, the Petrolacosaurus she caught is stolen by a Meganeura. On the spider’s search for a new burrow, she passes a pond full of Proterogyrinus. Later she is chased by an Arthropleura, which is later killed in a fight with a Proterogyrinus. The Megarachne finally chases a Petrolacosaurus out of its own burrow and moves in. A storm brews and the narrator explains that its high oxygen content makes the atmosphere very combustible, so lightning is a real danger. The Proterogyrinus are seen leaping out of the water to catch Meganeura, which were driven below the tree canopy by the storm. Later, lightning and a forest fire pour in, devastating the life around. Despite no apparent signs of life, a Petrolacosaurus, who managed to outrun the flames, heads into the Megarachne’s lair, but emerges with her dead body (her burrow was at the centre of a lightning strike) and begins to feed upon the spider’s carcass.

 

The episode then moves on to the Early Permian, where the swamp-loving trees of the Carboniferous have been replaced with more advanced conifers that are better adapted to survive in a changing climate. Petrolacosaurus and a few other diapsids have evolved into the sub-group of creatures called pelycosaurs like the Edaphosaurus which are now closely related to mammals. They live in herds and have outgrown their arthropod contemporaries in size. A pregnant female Dimetrodon, another pelycosaur, hunts the Edaphosaurus herd, beginning with a mock charge to expose the juveniles. She finally kills a baby Edaphosaurus, but is forced to abandon her kill when the scent of blood attracts others of her kind, all highly-aggressive males. She builds a nest on a hill and is watched by the egg-stealing reptiliomorph, Seymouria. Some time after laying her eggs, another gravid Dimetrodon tries to take over her nest. After a long duel, the original female drives off the intruder, but is badly injured and fatigued in the process. A male Dimetrodon approaches the now unguarded nest, but luckily kills the thieving Seymouria and leaves the eggs unharmed. The eggs hatch and the mother’s bond with her offspring is severed. The episode ends with the wounded mother joining other adult Dimetrodon in attacking her own young which race to the trees and hide in dung to escape. At the end the Dimetrodon is seen evolving into an Inostrancevia and the narrator says that the reptiles will evolve to tighten their grip on land, becoming new “specialist reptiles”.

The third episode is set in the Late Permian, on the supercontinent Pangaea, which was covered by a vast and inhospitable desert. In this arid climate, early therapsids, which are described as more mammal-like than reptile, are shown fighting to survive alongside other animals. The programme starts with an old Scutosaurus, a relative of turtles, being killed by a female Inostrancevia, a type of gorgonopsid which later joins others of her kind at a small waterhole. Other inhabitants of the area include Diictodon, a small burrowing dicynodont. In the pool itself is a starving Rhinesuchus that ambushes the female gorgonopsid in desperation and quickly retreats. A herd of Scutosaurus arrive and eventually drink the waterhole dry. The female gorgonopsid tries to dig out a pair of Diictodon but is unsuccessful. Upon returning to the waterhole, she unearths the Rhinesuchus wrapped in a “cocoon” which it utilized to survive drought. In a torpid state, it is helpless and quickly killed. The gorgonopsid is eventually killed by a sandstorm, foreshadowing the oncoming Permian–Triassic extinction event. The Diictodon meanwhile are able to adapt by digging their burrows deeper, occasionally unearthing plant tubers for sustenance.

 

Diictodon is seen evolving into the larger Lystrosaurus. The Lystrosaurus multiply into vast herds that must continually migrate in order to find fresh foliage. Also featured is the small insectivorous Euparkeria that is depicted as an ancestor of the dinosaurs. When the Lystrosaurus herd traverses a ravine, one is killed by a pack of venomous Euchambersia, though the herd doesn’t show concern for the victim. Encountering a river, the herd enters the water and is attacked by numerous Proterosuchus. Many are killed, but the majority escape and continue their migration. The narrator explains that despite the dominance of Lystrosaurus, eventually the world will recover in full from the Permian-Triassic extinction event and other reptiles will overtake them; the resulting decline in all mammal-like reptiles meaning that mammals are destined to be confined to the shadows as a new group of animals becomes the dominant species on Earth. The episode ends as a Euparkeria is confronted by a Proterosuchus: the Euparkeria suddenly rapidly evolves into an Allosaurus and the scene cuts to the Late Jurassic where it passes two Stegosaurus (in the American version it cuts to both the Jurassic and late Triassic). The Age of Monsters is over. This is the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Documentaries, society

How Science Changed Our World

YEAR: 2010 | LENGTH: 1 part (60 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

Professor Robert Winston presents his top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past 50 years. Tracing these momentous and wide-ranging discoveries, he meets a real-life bionic woman, one of the first couples to test the male contraceptive pill, and even some of his early IVF patients. He explores the origins of the universe, probes the inner workings of the human mind and sees the most powerful laser in the world. To finish, Professor Winston reveals the breakthrough he thinks is most significant.

biology, Documentaries

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

YEAR: 2012 | LENGTH: 1 part (60 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

David Attenborough asks three key questions: how and why did Darwin come up with his theory of evolution? Why do we think he was right? And why is it more important now than ever before?

David starts his journey in Darwin’s home at Down House in Kent, where Darwin worried and puzzled over the origins of life. He goes back to his roots in Leicestershire, where he hunted for fossils as a child and where another schoolboy unearthed a significant find in the 1950s, and he revisits Cambridge University, where both he and Darwin studied and where many years later the DNA double helix was discovered, providing the foundations for genetics.

At the end of his journey in the Natural History Museum in London, David concludes that Darwin’s great insight revolutionised the way in which we see the world. We now understand why there are so many different species, and why they are distributed in the way they are. But above all, Darwin has shown us that we are not set apart from the natural world, and do not have dominion over it. We are subject to its laws and processes, as are all other animals on earth to which, indeed, we are related.

Documentaries, nature

Hot Planet

YEAR: 2010 | LENGTH: 1 part (60 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

Professors Iain Stewart and Professor Kathy Sykes take a timely look at global warming ahead of the Copenhagen summit, exploring the world’s leading climate scientists’ vision of the planet’s future.

Scientists predict that if global temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, Earth will be one degree warmer within 10 years, two degrees warmer within the next 40 years and three degrees or more warmer before the end of the century. If the Earth’s temperature increases to three degrees warmer than the average pre-industrial temperature, the impact on the planet will be catastrophic. Across the Earth, ways of life could be lost forever as climate change accelerates out of control. This isn’t inevitable, however: climate change is not yet irreversible.

Ingenious technology and science is currently being devised, advanced and tested around the world which could offer solutions for a sustainable future. The question that remains is, can the world embrace and implement them on a large enough scale within an effective timeline? If widespread damage to human societies and ecosystems is to be prevented, global temperature rise must be slowed and eventually reversed.

Hot Planet offers an accurate visual prediction of the planet’s future, based on the findings of over 4,000 climate scientists.

Documentaries, medicine

Back from the Dead

YEAR: 2010 | LENGTH: 1 part (60 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

Dr Kevin Fong investigates a pioneering technique of extreme cooling that is being used to bring people back from the dead. In the operating theatre, a patient’s heart is stopped and their brain shows no activity. They are indistinguishable from someone who is dead. Yet patients can then be warmed up and brought back to life.

Kevin Fong meets the doctors who have developed this procedure, finds out how it could revolutionise intensive care and trauma medicine, and meets some of the remarkable people who have been brought back from the dead.

Documentaries, medicine

Is Alcohol worse than Ecstasy?

YEAR: 2008 | LENGTH: 1 part (50 minutes)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

Recent research has analysed the link between the harmful effects of drugs relative to their current classification by law with some startling conclusions. Perhaps most startling of all is that alcohol, solvents and tobacco (all unclassified drugs) are rated more dangerous than ecstasy, 4-MTA and LSD (all class A drugs). If the current ABC system is retained, alcohol would be rated a class A drug and tobacco class B.

The scientists involved, including members of the government’s top advisory committee on drug classification, have produced a rigorous assessment of the social and individual harm caused by 20 of the UK’s most dangerous drugs and believe this should form the basis of future ranking. They think the current ABC system is arbitrary and not based on any scientific evidence.

The drug policies have remained unchanged over the last 40 years so should they be reformed in the light of new research?

chemistry, Documentaries

Chemistry: A Volatile History

YEAR: 2011 | LENGTH: 3 parts (60 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: BBC

description:

The explosive story of chemistry is the story of the building blocks that make up our entire world – the elements. From fiery phosphorous to the pure untarnished lustre of gold and the dazzle of violent, violet potassium, everything is made of elements – the earth we walk on, the air we breathe, even us. Yet for centuries this world was largely unknown, and completely misunderstood.

In this three-part series, professor of theoretical physics Jim Al-Khalili traces the extraordinary story of how the elements were discovered and mapped. He follows in the footsteps of the pioneers who cracked their secrets and created a new science, propelling us into the modern age.

Just 92 elements made up the world, but the belief that there were only four – earth, fire, air and water – persisted until the 19th Century. Professor Al-Khalili retraces the footsteps of the alchemists who first began to question the notion of the elements in their search for the secret of everlasting life.

He reveals the red herrings and rivalries which dogged scientific progress, and explores how new approaches to splitting matter brought us both remarkable elements and the new science of chemistry.

episodes:

The explosive story of chemistry is the story of the building blocks that make up our entire world – the elements. From fiery phosphorous to the pure untarnished lustre of gold and the dazzle of violent, violet potassium, everything is made of elements – the earth we walk on, the air we breathe, even us. Yet for centuries this world was largely unknown, and completely misunderstood.

 

In this three-part series, professor of theoretical physics Jim Al-Khalili traces the extraordinary story of how the elements were discovered and mapped. He follows in the footsteps of the pioneers who cracked their secrets and created a new science, propelling us into the modern age.

 

Just 92 elements made up the world, but the belief that there were only four – earth, fire, air and water – persisted until the 19th century. Professor Al-Khalili retraces the footsteps of the alchemists who first began to question the notion of the elements in their search for the secret of everlasting life.

 

He reveals the red herrings and rivalries which dogged scientific progress, and explores how new approaches to splitting matter brought us both remarkable elements and the new science of chemistry.

In part two, Professor Al-Khalili looks at the 19th century chemists who struggled to impose an order on the apparently random world of the elements. From working out how many there were to discovering their unique relationships with each other, the early scientists’ bid to decode the hidden order of the elements was driven by false starts and bitter disputes. But ultimately the quest would lead to one of chemistry’s most beautiful intellectual creations – the periodic table.

In the final part, Professor Al-Khalili uncovers tales of success and heartache in the story of chemists’ battle to control and combine the elements, and build our modern world. He reveals the dramatic breakthroughs which harnessed their might to release almost unimaginable power, and he journeys to the centre of modern day alchemy, where scientists are attempting to command the extreme forces of nature and create brand new elements.

biology, Documentaries

Walking with Dinosaurs

YEAR: 1999 | LENGTH: 9 parts (30 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

description:

Walking with Dinosaurs is a six-part documentary television miniseries that was produced by BBC, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and first aired in the United Kingdom, in 1999.  The series was subsequently aired in North America on the Discovery Channel in 2000, with Branagh’s voice replaced with that of Avery Brooks. It is the first entry of the Walking with… series and used computer-generated imagery and animatronics to recreate the life of the Mesozoic, showing dinosaurs and their contemporaries in a way that previously had only been seen in feature films. The programme’s aim was to simulate the style of a nature documentary and therefore does not include “talking head” interviews. The series used palaeontologists such as Michael Benton, Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Peter Dodson, Peter Larson and James Farlow as advisors (their influence in the filming process can be seen in the documentary The Making of Walking with Dinosaurs).

Scientific inaccuracies:

Michael J. Benton, a consultant to the making of the series (and Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at Bristol University), notes that a group of critics gleefully pointed out that birds and crocodiles, the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs, do not urinate; they shed waste chemicals as more solid uric acid. In the first episode of Walking with Dinosaurs, Postosuchus urinates copiously.

However, Benton notes that nobody can prove this was a real mistake: copious urination is the primitive state for tetrapods (seen in fish, amphibians, turtles, and mammals), and perhaps basal archosaurs did the same. He believes many other claims of “errors” identified in the first weeks fizzled out, as the critics had found points about which they disagreed, but they could not prove that their views were correct. Ornithocheirus was depicted as far larger than it actually was. In the book based on the series, it was claimed that several large bone fragments from the Santana Formation of Brazil possibly indicate that Ornithocheirus may have had a wingspan reaching almost 12 metres and a weight of a hundred kilogrammes, making it one of the largest known pterosaurs.However, these specimens have not been formally described. The largest definite Ornithocheirus specimens known measure 6 metres in wingspan. The specimens which the producers of the program used to justify such a large size estimate are currently undescribed, and are being studied by Dave Martill and David Unwin. Unwin stated that he does not believe this highest estimate is likely, and that the producers likely chose the highest possible estimate because it was more “spectacular.” However, no other Early Cretaceous pterosaurs reached its size. Similarly, Liopleurodon was depicted as being 25m long in the series, whereas the adult size known to have been reached by Liopleurodon is around 7m.

episodes:

220 million years ago, Late Triassic (Arizona)
Filming location: New Caledonia

 

The episode follows a female Coelophysis as she tries to survive during the dry season in what will become the North American Southwest. The Coelophysis is shown stalking a herd of Placerias (a giant synapsid or mammal-like reptile), looking for weak members to prey upon. A male mammal-like cynodont is shown downstream, returning to his burrow from the river. A female rauisuchian Postosuchus (one of the largest carnivores alive in the Triassic) is shown attacking the Placerias herd, and bites one of the members, driving the rest of the herd to retreat and leave the wounded and weakened member of the group to the carnivore. Early pterosaurs called Peteinosaurus are depicted feeding on dragonflies and cooling themselves in what little water is present during the drought. Still searching for food, the Coelophysis are shown discovering the cynodont burrow (and are initially frightened away by the emerging male). Eventually, one young cynodont strays too close to the entrance and is eaten before the father can drive the predators away.

 

At night, the pair of cynodonts are shown eating their remaining young, then moving away, while during the day, the Coelophysis work to expose the nest. The female Postosuchus is later shown to have been wounded by Placerias’s tusks (the wound is on her left thigh), and after being unable to successfully hunt another member of the Placerias herd she is beaten out of her territory by a rival male Postosuchus. Wounded, sick and without a territory, the female dies and is eaten by a pack of Coelophysis. As the dry season continues however, food becomes scarce and extreme measures are taken by all animals. The Placerias herd embarks on a trek through parched wasteland in search of water and are not seen again, meanwhile the Coelophysis start killing and cannibalising their young. The cynodont also resorts to hunting baby Coelophysis during the night. Finally, the wet season comes, and the majority of the Coelophysis have survived (including the female), along with the cynodont pair, who have a new clutch of eggs. The episode ends with the arrival of a herd of the prosauropod Plateosaurus, foreshadowing the future dominance of the giant sauropods after the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event.

 

Animals: Coelophysis  · Cynodont  · Placerias  · Postosuchus  · Peteinosaurus  · Plateosaurus  · Dragonfly  · Lungfish  · Lacewing

152 million years ago, Late Jurassic (Colorado)
Filming location: California State Parks, Chile, Tasmania, New Zealand

 

This episode follows the life of a young female herbivorous sauropod Diplodocus beginning at the moment when her mother lays a clutch of eggs at the edge of a conifer forest. Months later, some of the eggs hatch and the young sauropods are preyed upon by Ornitholestes. After hatching, the young female and her siblings retreat to the safety of the denser trees. As they grow, they face many dangers, including repeated predation by Ornitholestes and Allosaurus. Even the herbivorous Stegosaurus kills one of her siblings while swinging its tail. In parallel, adult herds of Diplodocus are depicted as titanic eating machines that use their massive weight to topple trees in order to get at the leaves of cycads in between trunks. The Diplodocus are also shown to host their own small mobile habitats that include damselflies, Anurognathus and dung beetles.

 

Close to adulthood, the group of five-year old Diplodocus grow to 13 meters and are nearly all killed by a huge forest fire. In the end only three, then two, survivors including the female make it onto the open plains, where they find a herd and safety. Years later, the protagonist female mates, but not long afterwards is attacked by a bull Allosaurus. She is saved when another Diplodocus strikes the allosaur with its tail. In the end it is commented that her kind will only get bigger. In the DVD release, most of the narration from the original broadcast is missing.

 

Animals: Diplodocus · Allosaurus · Ornitholestes · Stegosaurus · Brachiosaurus · Anurognathus · Dryosaurus · Dung Beetle · Damselfly · Ornithopod

149 million years ago, Late Jurassic (Oxfordshire)
Filming location: The Bahamas, New Caledonia

 

The opening portrays a Liopleurodon snatching a Eustreptospondylus from the land, but there is no evidence of this ever occurring (according to the producers, they were influenced by similar attacks by killer whales on land creatures, such as sea lions). Meanwhile, the ichthyosaur Ophthalmosaurus live-breeding ceremony is the main event taking place, as hundreds of Ophthalmosaurus arrive from the open ocean to give birth. In the midst of the birthing sharks and other predators, including the pliosaur Liopleurodon, are on the hunt, and when one mother has trouble giving birth, a pair of Hybodus sharks go after her, but are frightened off by a male Liopleurodon, which eats the front half of the Ophthalmosaurus, leaving the tail to sink down. Meanwhile a Eustreptospondylus swims to an island and discovers a turtle carcass that it must contend for with another Eustreptospondylus. Later during the night, a group of horseshoe crabs gather at the shore to lay their eggs, which attracts a flock of Rhamphorhynchus in the morning to eat the eggs. However two or three of the pterosaurs are caught and eaten by a Eustreptospondylus. While the Ophthalmosaurus juveniles are growing up, they are still hunted by Hybodus, which in turn, are prey for the Liopleurodon.

 

At one point, while the male Liopleurodon is hunting for prey, he is encountered by a female Liopleurodon. After biting one of her flippers, she retires from his territory. A typhoon then strikes the islands, and kills many animals, including several Rhamphorhynchus. The Liopleurodon is washed ashore and lays upon the beach, eventually suffocating under his own weight. The carcass then becomes the banquet of a group of hovering Eustreptospondylus. At the end of the episode, the juvenile Ophthalmosaurus that survived the storm and are now large enough to swim off to live and breed in the open sea.

 

Animals: Ophthalmosaurus · Liopleurodon · Eustreptospondylus · Cryptoclidus · Rhamphorhynchus · Hybodus · Ammonite · Leptolepis · Horseshoe Crab · Squid · Bark Beetle · Turtle · Jellyfish · Fish · Coral

127 million years ago, Early Cretaceous (Brazil)
Filming location: New Zealand, Tasmania

 

The story begins with a male Ornithocheirus (pterosaur) dead on a beach. It then goes back six months to Brazil, where the Ornithocheirus, resting among a colony of breeding Tapejara (pterosaur) flies off for Cantabria where he too must mate. He flies past a migrating column of Iguanodon and a Polacanthus (all herbivorous dinosaurs). He reaches the southern tip of North America, where he is forced to shelter from a storm. To pass the time, he grooms himself, ridding his body of Saurophthirus fleas while his snout begins to show color changes. He then sets off across the Atlantic (which was then only 300 kilometres wide) and after a whole day on the wing, reaches the westernmost of the European islands. He does not rest there however, as a pack of Utahraptor are hunting Iguanodon. He flies to the outskirts of a forest to rest, but is driven away by Iberomesornis birds. Flying on, he reaches Cantabria, but due to the delays and his exhaustion he cannot reach the centre of the many grounded male Ornithocheirus, and consequently he does not mate. After hours under the sun trying to attract a mate, and worn out by his travels and advanced age, Ornithocheirus dies from exhaustion. In the end, a young Ornithocheirus is seen feeding on his carcass.

 

Animals: Ornithocheirus · Utahraptor · North American Iguanodon (now known as Dakotadon) · Iguanodon · Tapejara (now known as Tupandactylus) · Polacanthus · Iberomesornis · Pteranodon · Plesiopleurodon · Saurophthirus · Pterosaur · Fish · Wasp

106 million years ago, Middle Cretaceous (Antarctica)
Filming location: New Zealand

 

A few hundred kilometres from the South Pole, a clan of herbivorous Leaellynasaura are seen emerging to activity after months of total darkness. Now with the coming of spring, the members of the clan are shown feeding on the fresh plant growth and building nests so they can lay their eggs. A male amphibian Koolasuchus has also woken up from hibernation and heads to a river where he will stay during the summer. Out on the rocky river banks, migrating herds of herbivorous Muttaburrasaurus have arrived to feed on the fresh vegetation and lay their eggs. By summer, many of the Leaellynasaura clan’s eggs have been eaten, but those of the matriarch hatch successfully. A male polar Allosaur is shown hunting the Leaellynasaura and Muttaburrasaurus, but fails and must resort to scavenging, refusing to share the carcass with a female Allosaur. The Leaellynasaura clan continues to prepare for the winter, as well as raising the young that have now grown.

 

When autumn arrives, the Muttaburrasaurus herd begins head back north, and the Koolasuchus leaves the river to find a pool in the forest to hibernate through the winter. However, during the migration some Muttaburrasaurus become lost in the forest and create a ruckus in the process of trying to get back to the herd. In the confusion, the male Allosaur manages to catch and kill the matriarch of the clan, while only one of the hatchlings survives the year. After the last day passes in a matter of minutes, winter descends, and the forest becomes almost completely darkened. The Leaellynasaura clan is able to stay active, using their large eyes to help them forage for food. During this time, the clan and other fauna use various methods of dealing with the cold, including suspended animation, hibernation or using group body temperature to maintain heat. Finally, spring returns, and two Leaellynasaura males challenge one another for the right to mate, and after a short confrontation, the clan establishes a dominant pair once again. In the end it is accepted that the shifting of the continents will soon pull the landmass closer to the South Pole, and that the forests, and all these dinosaurs will soon disappear.

 

Animals: Koolasuchus · Leaellynasaura · Polar Allosaur· Muttaburrasaurus · Steropodon[note 1] · Giant Weta · Tuatara · Unidentified Pterosaur · Giant Mosquito

65.5 million years ago, Late Cretaceous (Montana)
Filming location: Chile, New Zealand

 

This episode starts months before the extinction of the dinosaurs. The last dinosaurs are depicted living under intense environmental stress due to excessive volcanism. Many of the dinosaurs species still in existence are the largest and most developed of their respective generas, including Ankylosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, and Tyrannosaurus rex. The story focuses on a female Tyrannosaurus who abandons her nest, the eggs rendered infertile due to volcanic poisoning. Her calls for a mate are answered by a smaller male who has kills a young Triceratops to appease her. Later, after repeated copulation, she eventually drives him off. The mother fasts for an extended period as she tends to her nest, dealing with raids by dromaeosaurs and marsupial Didelphodons. As the female tends to her vigil, the hadrosaur Anatotitan herds wander from islands of vegetation among fields of volcanic ash, while Torosaurus males rut for the right to mate and lose their young to attacking packs of dromaeosaurs.

 

Meanwhile, the mother Tyrannosaurus sees only three of her twelve eggs hatch and brings down an Anatotitan to feed herself and her brood. While defending her two surviving offspring several days later, the mother tyrannosaur is fatally injured by an Ankylosaurus who swings its clubbed tail and cracks her femur and ruptures internal organs. The chicks remain next to the carcass of their mother the next morning until they, and the rest of the non-avian dinosaurs in this region, are killed when an asteroid slams into the Earth, a catastrophe that triggers the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. A short final sequence shows the present-day Earth, dominated by large mammals, but still populated with numerous forms of dinosaurs: the birds.

 

Animals: Anatotitan (now known as Edmontosaurus annectens) · Ankylosaurus · Deinosuchus · Didelphodon · Dinilysia · Dromaeosaurus · Quetzalcoatlus · Torosaurus · Tyrannosaurus · Triceratops (carcass) · Unidentified ornithopods

The Ballad of Big Al (distributed as Allosaurus: a Walking with Dinosaurs Special) is a combination biography-sequel for Walking with Dinosaurs . It focuses on an Allosaurus (Allosaurus fragilis) named Big Al and his constant struggle to survive in a world filled with danger. The special begins at the University of Wyoming, showing the bones of a sauropod followed by an Allosaurus named Big Al. After the ghost of Big Al wanders the museum for a bit, the film then travels back in time to 145 Mya showing a nest containing some eggs. Al and his siblings hatch and are helped out of the nest by their mother. She brings them to a river bank and the hatchlings start to hunt for insects. When the mother leaves the hatchlings temporarily, a year-old Allosaurus comes and kills one of them (fortunately, Al isn’t the victim).

 

Al is then shown at two years old. He is trying to hunt a flock of Dryosaurus. He hasn’t yet learned how to ambush so he fails to kill one of the swifter, smaller dinosaurs. Later, he snatches a lizard from a branch. Al comes across a dead Stegosaurus and an Allosaurus waiting for death in a pit of sticky mud. Meanwhile, a female Allosaurus, attracted to the Stegosaurus carcass, also gets stuck. She struggles to free herself, but fails. Al luckily avoids the same fate as he had learnt to avoid carrion. The trapped Allosaurus pair are stuck forever and die, their corpses left to Anurognathus. Five years pass, and a herd of Diplodocus are migrating across the prehistoric salt lake. Al is joined by several other Allosaurus and they attempt to bring a weak member of the herd down. Once the herd leaves the sick Diplodocus, the Allosaurs gather. Al is struck down by the neck of the Diplodocus. The pack wait for a few hours until the Diplodocus is brought down by heat exhaustion and his illness. Though they feed, within the hour an adult female Allosaurus scavenges the kill. A year passes by, and Al is shown drinking at a pond. His prescense however makes others around the pond nervous and the smell of blood he brings with him puts off a pair of Stegosaurus who were attempting to mate. Away from the pond, he discovers the scent of a female Allosaurus. She is not interested, but the inexperienced Al gets too close. She finally injures his right arm, deforms his right claw, and breaks his ribs, though Al is lucky enough to escape with his life. Later the dry season comes, and Al is attempting to hunt a flock of Dryosaurus. Whilst ambushing them, he trips on a log and badly breaks something in his right foot. As the dry season turns to a drought, Al’s limp from the fall gets worse and his right middle toe -which he broke in the fall- has become badly infected. Soon, unable to hunt, he dies in a dried-up riverbed, where two hatchling Allosaurus are hunting for bugs and come across his emaciated carcass. He is said not to have reached full size, dying as a mature adolescent and his fossilisation preserved even his injuries including the healed ribs and the infection on the toe.

biology, Documentaries

The Human Body

YEAR: 1998 | LENGTH: 7 parts (50 minutes each)  |  SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA

description:

The Human Body is a seven part documentary series, first shown on 20 May 1998 on BBC One and presented by medical scientist Robert Winston. A co-production between the BBC and The Learning Channel, the series looks at the mechanics and emotions of the human body from birth to death.

The series was nominated for numerous awards, winning several, including three BAFTA awards, four RTS awards and a Peabody Award.

Described as the BBC’s “first major TV series on human biology”, it took over two years to make and aimed to be the definitive set of programmes on the human body. The series was produced by Richard Dale and presented by Professor Robert Winston, a fertility expert.

The series used a variety of different techniques to present the topics being discussed, including endoscopes and computer graphics for internal shots, time-lapse photography to show the growth of hair and nails, magnetic resonance imaging and scanning electron microscopy.

episodes:

Every second, a world of miraculous microscopic events take place within the body.

The drama of conception activates the most sophisticated life support machine on earth.

In four years, the new-born child learns every survival skill.

The hormone-driven roller-coaster otherwise known as adolescence!

The adult human brain is the most complicated – and mysterious – object in the universe.

Is far more complex – and fascinating – than mere decline.

Even in death, the body reveals remarkable secrets.