First it was samurai swords. Then came the fate of “megabeasts.”
Now Rick Vinci, professor of materials science and engineering, has lent his hand to his third NOVA production, “Making Stuff,” which airs this month on the Public Broadcasting Service.
Vinci was a consultant for script development and fact-checking for two of the four episodes in “Making Stuff,” the latest production of the long-running science television series. Hosted by New York Times technology reporter David Pogue, the program explores groundbreaking materials of today and the future, from micro-robots to spider silk that is stronger than steel.
The program focuses on the scientific innovations that are making materials “stronger, smaller, cleaner and smarter.”
“Few people realize it, but materials are the basis of our civilization – the Stone Age, the Iron Age – and materials are what will take us into the future,” said Paula Apsell, NOVA senior executive producer, on the program’s website.
Materials science: A field with a flair
Vinci became involved in the program through his participation in the Materials Research Society, an organization of researchers from academia, industry and government. The organization’s outreach committee works on activities and programs to educate the public on the importance of materials research. Vinci served on a NOVA subcommittee that surveyed scripts, checked for scientific accuracy and suggested topics and people that would appropriately tell the stories featured in “Making Stuff.” Subcommittee members represented a range of backgrounds and specialties, from university faculty members to national laboratory scientists.
Vinci, director of Lehigh’s Nano- and Micro-Mechanical Behavior Laboratory and a longtime NOVA fan, consulted on the episodes “Making Stuff: Stronger” and “Making Stuff: Smaller.”
“Making Stuff” is the third NOVA project in which Vinci was involved.
He and Michael Notis, Lehigh professor of materials science and engineering, were featured in “NOVA: Secrets of the Samurai Sword” – some of which was filmed in Lehigh’s Whitaker Laboratory – which explored the sword’s mechanical behaviors.
Vinci also was a consultant for “NOVA: Megabeasts’ Sudden Death,” providing information about nanodiamonds, the formation of which is key to one theory of extinction. He also consulted on carbon sequestration for an upcoming NOVA program on carbon.
Vinci believes exposure to materials science through NOVA programs “is good for the field of materials and engineering in general,” giving the public a better idea of what materials science is and what materials scientists do.
The Materials Research Society felt it was important to be involved for that reason, he said.
“MRS’s goal is to spread the word and show the general public that this field exists, that it’s important and that there are aspects of it that have a certain flair, a certain coolness factor,” Vinci said. “From MRS’ perspective we will be successful if we have some influence on public perception.”
NOVA is viewed by more than 6 million people a week in the United States and is also seen in more than 100 countries. Each NOVA program is accompanied by a website. The “Making Stuff” series aired on Jan. 19, Jan. 26, Feb. 2, and Feb. 9. Each episode can be viewed on NOVA’s website after airing.