Feynman: Last Journey of a Genius (NOVA, 1998)

May 12, 2013

Feynman and the famous C-clamp experiment -- in a glass of ice water -- at the Challenger Commission.

Feynman and the famous C-clamp experiment — in a glass of ice water — demonstrating how rubber O-rings failed in launch, at the Challenger Commission. (Why are there so few good photos of this event?)

Geography and history teachers, you should watch this on the day after Feynman Day.  Can you make use of this in your classes — say, after the state tests?

How about you physics and science teachers?

English: Green: Tuvan People's Republic

Tuvan People’s Republic, marked in green. Wikipedia image

In 1998 NOVA produced and broadcast a film that rather defies categorization.  Biography? Drama? Humor? Frustrated travelogue?

“Last Journey of a Genius” tells a lot of biography of Dick Feynman, but it focuses on his unusual drive to learn about, and travel to an obscure Central Asian country/province/area/culture called Tannu Tuva.  Feynman’s close friend Ralph Leighton plays a big role in this film, too.  This film reveals more about the character of Richard Feynman, his overwhelming curiosity and humanity, than you can get any other place, including his memoirs (which every civil human should read).

NOVA captivates me almost every week.  Good fortune found me in front of a television somewhere when this was first broadcast.  For several reasons, I’ve been unable to get a VHS, or a DVD version of the story despite many attempts over the years.

But fortune and good history smile again.  Open Culture collected the film, and it’s available for free in their documentary section.

Drumming, story telling, geography, Cold War politics, ballet, more drumming, some nuclear physics, astronomy, a lot of good humor, and a plea for orange juice.  It still makes me smile.

From Open Culture:

In 1989, PBS’ NOVA aired The Last Journey of a Genius, a television film that documents the final days of the great physicist Richard Feynman and his obsession with traveling to Tannu Tuva, a state outside of outer Mongolia, which then remained under Soviet control. For the better part of a decade, Feynman and his friend Ralph Leighton schemed to make their way to Tannu Tuva, but Cold War politics always frustrated their efforts. The video runs roughly 50 minutes and features an ailing Feynman talking about his wanderlust and their maneuverings. He died two weeks later, having never made the trip, though Ralph Leighton and Feyman’s daughter Michelle later landed in their Shangri-La. Her journey was recorded by the Russian service of the BBC.

The film now appears in the Documentary section of our collection of Free Movies Online.

via Metafilter

Related Content:

Richard Feynman’s Physics Lectures Online

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Hang on to this link for Feynman Day 2014 (May 11).  What’s your favorite Feynman story?

This kind of history and science is exactly the sort of stuff CSCOPE critics in Texas, and critics of the Common Core standards, worry that children will see.  Very odd, because stuff this good is not even mentioned in CSCOPE, nor in CCSS.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kenny Darrell, who found this film and let me know about it.

More:


Darwin’s Darkest Hour, debuts on NOVA tonight

October 6, 2009

From the PBS press release:

BOSTON, MA—This fall, NOVA celebrates the 200th anniversary year of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book the Origin of Species with three evolution-themed programs.

Each film will approach the topic of evolution in a different way. To kick off NOVA’s fall season on October 6, Henry Ian Cusick (Lost) and Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park) star in “Darwin’s Darkest Hour,” a two-hour scripted drama that presents the remarkable story behind the birth of Darwin’s radically controversial theory of evolution and reveals his deeply personal crisis: whether to publish his earthshaking ideas, or to keep quiet to avoid potential backlash from the Church. In November, NOVA premieres “Becoming Human,” a three-part special on human evolution. The series combines interviews with world renowned anthropologists and paleoanthropologists and the most recent, groundbreaking
discoveries with vivid images of our earliest ancestors to present a comprehensive picture of our human past. Then, on December 29, “What Darwin Never Knew” reveals answers to evolutionary questions that even Darwin couldn’t explain. Scientists are beginning to expose nature’s biggest secrets on the genetic level, with the hope of one day answering the crucial question: How does evolution really work?

Following are descriptions for NOVA films in fall 2009:

Darwin’s Darkest Hour (2 hrs) – Tuesday, October 6
NOVA and National Geographic Television present the extraordinary human drama that led to the birth of the most influential scientific theory of all time. Acclaimed screenwriter John Goldsmith (David Copperfield, Victoria and Albert) brings to life Charles Darwin’s greatest personal crisis: the anguishing decision over whether to “go public” with his theory of evolution. Darwin, portrayed by Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), spent years refining his ideas and penning his book the Origin of Species. Yet, daunted by looming conflict with the orthodox religious values of his day, he resisted publishing—until a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace forced his hand. In 1858, Darwin learned that Wallace was ready to publish ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn all of his work to obscurity—his voyage on the Beagle, his adventures in the Andes, the gauchos and bizarre fossils of Patagonia, the finches and giant tortoises of the Galapagos. But to come forward with his ideas risked the fury of the Church and perhaps a rift with his own devoted wife, Emma, portrayed by Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park, The Importance of Being Earnest, Steven Spielberg’s “Artificial Intelligence”), who was a strong believer in the view of creation and honestly feared for her husband’s soul. Darwin’s Darkest Hour is a moving drama about the birth of a great idea seen through the inspiration and personal sufferings of its brilliant originator.

Hubble’s Amazing Rescue – Tuesday, October 13
In the spring of 2009, NASA sent a shuttle crew on a risky mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time. Hubble has enthralled scientists and the public by capturing deep views of the cosmos and a wealth of data from distant galaxies. It has helped lead the search for alien planets and is a key tool in cosmology’s quest to investigate and map the universe’s mysterious dark matter. The astronaut servicing team carried out the first-ever in-space repairs of Hubble’s defective instruments, a task that required ingenious engineering fixes and the most intensive NASA spacewalk ever. From training to launch, NOVA presents the inside story of the mission and the extraordinary challenges faced by the rescue crew.

Lizard Kings – Tuesday, October 20
Though they may look like dragons and inspire stories of man-eating, fire-spitting monsters with long claws, razor-sharp teeth and muscular, whip-like tails, these creatures are actually monitor lizards, the largest lizards to walk the planet. With their acute intelligence—including the ability to plan ahead— these lizards are a very different kind of reptile, blurring the line between reptiles and mammals. And even though these bizarre reptiles haven’t changed all that much since the dinosaurs, they are a very successful species, versatile at adapting to all kinds of settings. Lizard Kings will look at what makes these tongued reptiles so similar to mammals and what has allowed them to become such unique survivors. But while the creatures can find their way around many different habitats, finding them is no easy task. Natural loners, and always on guard, they sense anything or anyone from hundreds of feet away. NOVA will follow expert lizard hunter Dr. Eric Pianka as he tracks the elusive creatures through Australia’s heartland with cutting-edge “lizard cam” technology for an unparalleled close encounter with these amazingly versatile “living dragons.”

Becoming Human: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors – Tuesday, November 3, 10, 17
NOVA presents a three-part, three-hour special—investigating explosive new discoveries that are transforming the picture of how we became human. The first program explores fresh clues about our earliest ancestors in Africa, including the stunningly complete fossil nicknamed “Lucy’s Child.” These three-million-year-old bones from Ethiopia reveal humanity’s oldest and most telltale trait—upright walking rather than a big brain. The second program tackles the mysteries of how our ancestors managed to survive in a savannah teeming with vicious predators, and when and why we first left our African cradle to colonize every corner of the Earth. In the final program, NOVA probes a wave of dramatic new evidence, based partly on cutting-edge DNA analysis, that reveals new insights into how we became the creative and “behaviorally modern” humans of today, and what really happened to the enigmatic Neanderthals who faded into extinction. Shot “in the trenches” where discoveries were unearthed throughout Africa and Europe, each hour of Becoming Human unfolds with a forensic investigation into the life and death of a specific hominid ancestor, such as “Lucy’s Child.” Dry bones spring back to vivid life with stunning animation, the product of a unique NOVA collaboration between top anthropologists and a talented team of movie animators.

What Are Dreams? – Tuesday, November 24
What are dreams and why do we have them? NOVA joins the leading dream researchers as they embark on a variety of neurological and psychological experiments to investigate the world of sleep and dreams.  Delving deep into the thoughts and brains of a variety of dreamers, scientists are asking important questions about the purpose of this mysterious world we escape to at night. Do dreams allow us to get a good night’s sleep? Do they improve our memory? Do they allow us to be more creative? Can they solve our problems or even help us survive the hazards of everyday life? NOVA follows researchers like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Matthew Wilson who is literally ‘eavesdropping’ on the dreams of rats and takes viewers into a sleep lab for a first-hand look at how scientists do their best to eavesdrop on human dreams. From those who violently act out their dreams to those who can’t stop their nightmares, from sleepwalking cats to people who can’t dream, each fascinating experiment contains a vital clue to the age-old question: What are dreams?

What Darwin Never Knew (2 hours) – Tuesday, December 29
Earth teems with a staggering variety of animals, including 9,000 kinds of birds, 28,000 types of fish, and more than 350,000 species of beetles. What explains this explosion of living creatures—1.4 million different species discovered so far, with perhaps another 50 million to go? The source of life’s endless forms was a profound mystery until Charles Darwin’s revolutionary idea of natural selection, which he showed could help explain the gradual development of life on Earth. But Darwin’s radical insights raised as many questions as they answered. What actually drives evolution and turns one species into another? And how did we evolve?

Now, on the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s the Origin of Species, NOVA reveals answers to the riddles that Darwin couldn’t explain. Stunning breakthroughs in a brand-new science—nicknamed “evo devo”— are linking the enigma of origins to another of nature’s great mysteries, the development of an embryo.  To explore this exciting new idea, NOVA takes viewers on a journey from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic, and from the Cambrian explosion of animal forms half a billion years ago to the research labs of today. Here scientists are finally beginning to crack nature’s biggest secrets at the genetic level. And, as NOVA shows in this absorbing detective story, the results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin’s insights while exposing clues to life’s breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.


“Judgment Day” censored in Memphis?

November 18, 2007

PBS’s ombudsman takes note of worries that Memphis did not get the NOVA program on the Dover, Pennsylvania trial of intelligent design. “Judgment Day” was not aired in the normal NOVA timeslot.

Station management pleads that they made no decision to censor, just a decision to run supporting program for Ken Burns’ massive film project, “The War,” instead. (HD viewers could see the NOVA program).

Let’s hope that’s accurate.

In the meantime, the letters to the ombudsman give a clear probe into the minds of viewers; favorable reactions were many; more numerous, unfavorable reactions seemed to come mostly from the reason-challenged side of humanity. It’s worth a read.

Sample of the unfavorable:

After tonight’s program on Intelligent Design it proves that PBS has a “design” of its own — it’s one that is driving the country to destruction — your bias is completely counter to history, to the very foundation of our nation and history of nations. Every part from beginning to end had its own objective; completely counter to the Truth which is proven in the rise and fall of nations.

Daryle Getting, Winter Park, FL
It doesn’t take a “Rocket Scientist” to figure out that if we, as humans, evolved from monkeys . . . THEN WHY? . . . Are there STILL Monkeys??? We were “Created” by God!!! Pull up AOL now and you’ll notice the Gov. of Georgia praying for rain, (No Doubt to GOD). When 9/11 happened what did every good neighbor do? PRAY. Not to monkeys . . . To our “Creator”!!! It shouldn’t take tragic and desperate circumstances for people to realize this fact!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! In GOD We Trust!!!

Sonya L. Johnson, North Port, FL

Sample of the favorable:

I just watched your program “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” Fantastic! I don’t remember recently watching such an informative and well put together program. PBS deserves to be awarded for this stellar program. Thank you so much for actually airing a program that was intelligent, well put together, and fun to watch. Superb. Atlanta, GA

Am I unfair in labeling some “reason-challenged?” Certainly fact challenged. Read the rest of this entry »


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