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Tapping into the worlds outside normal perception
on 7 April 2010
This short BBC series of only 3 one hour long episodes show as the title suggests, the things we cant see with the human eye. This is presented in some wonderful graphics and real films with Richard Hammond of the Top Gear fame narrating along the way. It helps that he is enthusiastic about the material, the narration emphasises what you are about to see as opposed to you being dragged through the program with a boring guide.
The first episode comprises of things we cannot really observe well with the human mind because of the differences in time scales in which the event occurs, either super fast or super slow. Using hi-speed cameras catching hundreds of frames a second we are treated to some wonderful slow motion presentation of natural phenomena, from insects, to the fastest thing in the natural world, a fungal spore! We also get to see extremely slow things sped up to more observable speeds just as the Attenborough Life Documentary showed things like coral grow from start to finish using faster frame rates.
In the second episode the focus is on the light spectrum, and while we only perceive the visible spectrum through our eyes, there are several other spectrums to consider to gain a more holistic view of what is happening around us, ultraviolet and infrared are the two most prominently discussed here but attention is also given to the outer spectrums such as for space telescopes. The highlight here was learning about one of the weird effects experienced post cataract removal surgery concerning UV light filtering.
The final episode centred around the very small that we could only see with microscopes and other even more precise imaging devices. Nanotechnology was given strong focus here and gave a glimpse of our recent new found abilities to tinker with things on the smallest scales, working in spaces only several atoms wide. What the refreshing punch line here was that we are still playing catch up with the natural world, the example given was the coating on a leaf being the source of inspiration for the modern generation of space suits to combat corrosive dust.
While many of the images and films are real captures, I got the impression there was a lot of CGI touch up done to backgrounds. Things like watching a sneeze in slow motion were CGI though the program seemed to generally indicate it was all filmed using the latest technology. This ultimately isn't a big problem as the presented touch ups only enhance further the principle we are trying to learn about.
My only other complaint might be that this high quality series was simply too short. While some episodes could have been split out, like the super fast and super slow, there are still further programs that would have been a nice addition. The Slow motion shots of many explosions could have formed its own episode and the natural kingdom kept in another. One episode about actually trying to make things invisible and the current work to attain cloaking devices and Stealth gear would have been a nice compliment to the rest of the series. Dark matter would also make an interesting candidate for something potentially invisible yet known about through deduction
If you have a general scientific, natural science or technological interest almost everything in this series will appeal to you. Even if not, there is plenty of picturesque imagery to appeal to everyone. Hopefully this series will have highlighted to viewers of all ages that what we see in front of us, with our limited ability eyes, only scratches the surface of what we can learn of any given environment.