The Elegant Universe
Host: Brian Greene
NOVA series from PBS/WGBH Boston
Released: 2003; available on DVD
Subtitled "Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory," The Elegant Universe is physicist Brian Greene's very accessible 3-part travelogue through inner and outer space. While it may not have the FBI-crimestopper storyline of the TV series NUMB3RS, this NOVA exploration uses incredible animation and clear writing to help explain the scientific search for a "theory of everything."
In The Elegant Universe, Greene starts with basic concepts and illuminates them in such a clear way that we are welcomed into what are very complex subjects — physics, quantum mechanics — and can follow along without difficulty. Firmly grounding us in an understanding of the basic concepts of physics (gravity, electromagnetism, relativity), Greene moves easily into explanations of quantum mechanics and particle physics, leading us toward a new idea about the fundamental building blocks of nature. Tiny strands of energy — strings — with different modes of vibration may underpin everything in the universe.
The theory attempts to combine Albert Einstein's theories on general relativity (the laws of the large) and quantum mechanics (the laws of the small) to break through a barrier that has frustrated scientists for more than half a century. Like many things for which we have no answers (yet), string theory isn't finished. But it presents an interesting opportunity for study, and The Elegant Universe shows us why that matters.