Social Studies

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Homo Sapiens Versus Neanderthals

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Explore the origins of modern humans. Fossil evidence from Middle East caves and elsewhere has revealed some competitive advantages modern humans, known as Homo sapiens, are believed to have held over the more archaic human species, Neanderthals. For example, during the time in which the two species may have coexisted, Homo sapiens lived on high ground, from which they could survey the landscape and plan their hunting expeditions. Some scientists have theorized that the success of this strategy may have contributed to the demise of the valley-dwelling Neanderthals, who became extinct about 30,000 years ago. Adapted from NOVA.

This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

NOVA: Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius | Getting an Education

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Learn about the education of chemist Percy Julian. Julian's early educational years paralleled an educational movement that prepared African Americans for industrial jobs, the growing white supremacist movement, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Julian would eventually move north, and finally to Europe to earn his Ph.D. Explore more about this topic, from the NOVA program Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius.

This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

NOVA: To The Moon | How Do You Get to the Moon?

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During the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. This video, adapted from NOVA, details the three competing mission plans considered for landing a manned spacecraft on the lunar surface and focuses on how the Moon's low-gravity conditions and lack of atmosphere influenced the design and manufacture of the landing craft.

Energy Transfer in a Trebuchet

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In this video segment adapted from NOVA, a team of historians, engineers, and trade experts recreate a medieval throwing machine called a trebuchet. To launch a projectile, a trebuchet utilizes the transfer of gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy. A massive counterweight at one end of a lever falls because of gravity, causing the other end of the lever to rise and release a projectile from a sling. As part of their design process, the engineers use models to help evaluate how well their designs will work.

This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

Avalanche Town

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In 1995, an avalanche overran an unsuspecting fishing village in Iceland, killing 20 of its residents. Although avalanches are a common occurrence in the region, this was the first avalanche in this village's history to travel as far as the city center. In this video segment adapted from NOVA, learn more about the Iceland avalanche and how engineers plan to protect the village from future avalanches.

Oil Spill: Exxon Valdez, 1989

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Coastlines serve as both physical and biological frontiers between land and sea. They are highly vulnerable to pollution from contaminated rivers as well as from urban waste and industrial products that are discharged at sea and wash up on shore. This video segment adapted from NOVA features one of the largest oil spills in history: the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the costliest industrial accident to date.

Raising an Obelisk: An Engineering Puzzle

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In this video segment adapted from NOVA, two teams test out two theories put forth by archaeologists to explain how ancient Egyptians might have raised massive obelisks to stable, upright positions. While only one plan works in practice, both attempts demonstrate that difficult challenges require careful planning.

This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

Locating Zeppelins by Sound

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Learn how the British used sound mirrors to detect enemy aircraft in this video from NOVA: Zeppelin Terror Attack. During WWI, Germany used zeppelins to attack the British. Because the airships flew at night and were impossible to see, the British developed a method to detect incoming zeppelins by amplifying their engine noise. Sound mirrors—concrete structures with a concave surface—could reflect and focus sound waves, allowing a listener to deduce the direction of an approaching airship. An experiment with a sound mirror, microphones, and an airplane demonstrates how the system works to provide advance warning of an aircraft miles away.

Holocaust Escape Tunnel | Discovering the Burial Pit

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Using a new imaging tool—electrical resistivity tomography (ERT)—two geophysicists investigate an area that they suspect was a burial pit in Lithuania during the Holocaust, in this excerpt from NOVA: Holocaust Escape Tunnel. Using hundreds of electrical impulses to measure how soil conducts electricity, ERT scans the ground and creates a map that identifies disturbances in the soil—without disrupting the ground. These changes in the soil would indicate activity, such as a mass grave. Archeologists were able to confirm the location of a site where thousands of people, mostly Jews, were killed and buried by the Nazis. This resource is part of the NOVA Collection.

Holocaust Escape Tunnel | Testament to Courage

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Join archaeologists, geologists, and engineers as they uncover the truth about an astonishing story—told by a handful of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust—of a secret escape tunnel, dug by hand, in these video excerpts from NOVA: Holocaust Escape Tunnel. Using new technologies, scientists were not only able to locate the tunnel, they also were able to reveal the extent of Nazi atrocities in Vilna, Lithuania—once a vibrant center of Jewish life and culture. This resource is part of the NOVA Collection.

Galileo: Sunspots

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Galileo used his telescope to gather data about the heavens, and his observations and theories sparked much controversy. Contrary to the popular belief of the time, Galileo suggested that Earth was not the center of the universe. In this video segment adapted from NOVA, the importance of unbiased scientific inquiry is demonstrated by Galileo's observations of sunspots.

Galileo: Discovering Jupiter's Moons

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The telescope forever changed astronomy by providing more detailed views of distant objects than was previously possible. Galileo pioneered astronomy as the first person to study celestial objects through a telescope. His observations, including the discovery of moons around Jupiter, helped revolutionize the way people think about the universe. This video segment adapted from NOVA describes some of Galileo's first discoveries with the telescope.

Galileo: Sun-Centered System

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Before the 17th century, people generally believed that Earth was at the center of the universe. Galileo, however, was not afraid to challenge existing beliefs when he published his work in support of the Sun-centered, or heliocentric, Copernican theory. In this video segment adapted from NOVA, learn about the two opposing worldviews and the strong piece of evidence Galileo offered to support the heliocentric theory.

How Do Tornadoes Form?

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On average, about 800 tornadoes occur in the United States each year. They can appear and disappear in moments, and key details about their formation are unknown. These factors make the research to understand and predict tornado occurrence extremely difficult. This video segment adapted from NOVA describes the challenges of studying tornadoes and shows how computer simulations are helping researchers observe what they can't possibly see in a real storm.

Mount Pinatubo: The Aftermath of a Volcanic Eruption

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The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was the largest volcanic eruption in 80 years. The explosive eruption deposited tons of ash on the towns and villages near the volcano's base. Even more devastating than the eruption, however, were the devastating flows of water and debris that resulted when monsoon rains mixed with the accumulated volcanic ash. This video segment adapted from NOVA shows the impact of these events on the communities surrounding the volcano.

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