Saturday, August 17, 2013

Documentary Junkie - Physics

So in my last post, I mentioned that we watched a couple of documentaries. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I love documentaries. I reckon one of the reasons I have so much "knowledge" is because I watch so many of them. It's like a trashy moving mag for your brain - you can always go in search of more detail if you need it. Oh and I read a lot too. I don't think much of the stuff in my brain comes from doing worksheets, but maybe that's just me.

One of my readers, the ever-thoughtful Helena, requested that I come up with a list of my favourite docos. What a great idea, I thought! And then I thought "OMG where to start?"

I was just going to list all my faves, but it just got very unwieldy, very quickly. So I'm going to do a bit of a series of posts - starting with physics (I was going to start with maths, but I didn't want to scare you all off!).

Science - from the Latin "scientia" means "knowledge" - it builds and organises "knowledge" in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science is basically made up of four sub-disciplines: physics (how the universe behaves), chemistry (properties and behaviour of matter), biology (the study of living things and their relationship to non-living things - ecology), and earth science (geology, geomorphology - hey, that's what I studied!).

A great intro doco on the whole science kit and kaboodle is The Story of Science. I love Michael Mosely (even his bit of a lisp) - he is an ex-banker, ex-doctor turned doco presenter - and he does a great job of nicely summarising this bizzo called "science":

I have (courtesy of a friend) have the whole series of 100 Greatest Discoveries, hosted by Bill Nye (you know, the Science Guy!). The physics one is way cool:

Speaking of Bill Nye, I also have (also thanks to that friend) have all of his docos as well. They are fabulous for younger, inquisitive kids and for us older kids who like getting our silly on. There are a range of physics-based things like motion, waves, light etc and a bunch of space-science ones too:

One of the earliest documentary series I remember watching was the amazing Carl Sagan's Cosmos. It's probably a  bit dated now, but I remembered being so awe-inspired by his thoughts. Check out the introduction and if you like it, the rest of the 13 episodes are on YouTube too:

I loved it so much I bought the book too:

So space and that kind of thing... There are lots of other new great docos on this topic and other topics in physics.  One of my favourites that takes you from the very small to the very big -  Brian Greene's 3 episodes of The Elegant Universe. This series attempt to explain the unexplainable - Quantum Mechanics and explain the The Theory of Everything. Can't get much bigger than that!

Taking these (big) ideas and exploring them in more detail is the amazing Through the Wormhole series, hosted by Morgan Freeman. Ever wondered about the start of the Universe, the nature of time, black holes and more? This is the series for you (but, you'll need large swathes of time up your sleeve to get through all 4 seasons).

Quantum and string theory a bit too esoteric for you? Then head for Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System, by my favourite ex-boy band scientist, Professor Brian Cox. Amazing graphics and great explanations and wonderful locations and that accent...(swoon)

So what about more basic things? What about something closer to home - the weather? Or, more specifically, hot and cold.

Love the BBC doco What Is One Degree?

and in a similar vein, the Nova video, Absolute Zero (and go check out the website for more info and learning activities):

Sometimes, it's the little things in life that you get the most out of. Love me some Mythbusters to get some science across, but you are having so much fun you barely notice:

While you probably can't call them "documentaries" as such, we totally love Minute Physics - who take the phrase "if you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough" to its extreme by explaining complex physics in, umm, well, one minute:

And to finish up, there is no better way to learn about famous scientists (in today's examples, physicists) than to watch documentaries:

I hope you take the time to have a look at at least some of these. Physics has a wonderful way of making the world at the same time more complex and yet more simple, more beautiful, than you ever imagined. And good physics documentaries can make that wonder accessible to people like you and me who don't have a PhD in calculus (if you do have one, just leave me a sarcastic note in the comments).


  1. Oh thank you so much for these. I love The Story of Science...and the well. The others are all new to me. Again, you rock!

    1. I'll be interested in how you like them, Jeanne - some of the umm, "bigger issues" might not sit comfortably with you? But I don't presume to know that for sure.

  2. Oh my goodness, Ingi. This makes me SO happy!! You are so awesome. Thanks so (so!) much for doing this.

    I know, I'm gushing. But seriously. You rock. I can't wait to see these.

    1. I feel a little like a rock star - I'll take it! Biology next, I think!

    2. I love that you are organising the vids into themes! I know EXACTLY what we'll be doing tomorrow morning—sitting with our popcorn in front of The Story of Science!

      You know, this doco series could literally become our core Science curriculum…all I would ever need to do is ask, "What does Ingi want us to learn next?" and come here. Maybe you should start charging?! (Would you take vegan brownies in lieu of cash?) :)

      And that doesn't even count the other docos you're going to mention! Maths, and All The Other Awesome Stuff. Yeah. I can't wait.

  3. D loves physics. He's currently reading a book about physics paradoxes. He will enjoy this list.

    1. Are you sure we didn't have twins, separated by a couple of thousand kilometres????

  4. Thank you, thank you!!

    I am a doco junkie too. I thirst for knowing "why" and my brain never shuts up. I am the one while watching a movie or series will pause to look something up I didn't know. So now I have more documentaries to watch, yea!

    Thanks again. :)

  5. Have you ever watched Synth Britannia? My favourite docco about the beginnings of synth music, name checking just about anyone and everyone you can think of circa 79-83.

  6. Thank you so much! My older son is covering some history of science and technology this year, and I'd love to complement his reading with some videos. I'm looking forward to working through this list.



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