Science is pretty amazing. By studying the world and the infinite space around us, science sets us down the road to discover who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. However, most scientific discussions can be difficult to comprehend for those of us without advanced degrees.
With that in mind, scientists with the knack to comfortably explain the complexities of our world in ways that are compelling and fun have stepped up to fill the role of science educators. This week’s column highlights several prominent television personalities who want to help us get to know what makes life on Earth so fascinating and unique.
In 1980, astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan launched a television series called “Cosmos.” Taking viewers aboard the Spaceship of the Imagination, the program explored mankind’s place in a massive universe. The series proved to be immensely popular when it aired, quickly becoming the most-watched program on the Public Broadcasting Service.
In each episode, Sagan delivered a compelling look into a multitude of scientific subjects from evolution to astronomy in order to help us better understand what brought us to where we are today.
Sagan’s legacy would eventually be picked up by Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose career in astrophysics was inspired partly by a chance meeting with the “Cosmos” creator. Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, is no stranger to mainstream science education as his book, “Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution,” was adapted into a special for PBS’ “NOVA.”
He has also picked up where Sagan left off by hosting “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” Tyson also hosts a podcast series called “StarTalk,” in whichhe and a guest muse on various scientific subjects.
At first blush, the antics of “MythBusters” hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman would appear that the two special-effects fabricators spend their days blowing things up in their pursuit of understanding urban folklore.
In reality, the series does something much more worthwhile: it makes science fun.
Whether testing the plausibility of getting killed by a washing machine or testing out the viability of Batman’s grappling hook, the core message of this show is the power of the scientific method. The math, science and engineering processes behind each myth are featured prominently each week as Adam and Jamie deliver science with a comfortable mix of seriousness and good humor.
Entertaining as the “MythBusters” can be, for my generation there was one person responsible for making science interesting and fun to young children. No other scientist has done more to cultivate and nurture interest in the field to audiences than “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
With a love of bow ties and a really catchy theme song, Nye delivered fun explanations of such important and complex topics as gravity, archeology, the human body, chemistry, the solar system and animals without dumbing the content down for his audience.
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