Modern Marvels

Available to Stream Now
Season 12 (12)

20 Seasons | 179 Episodes

 1 Containers
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Aired on Jan 04, 2006

They hold just about everything–Containers. We follow a day-in-the-life of a steel freight container from port to port and see how standard containers can be transported by ship, train, or truck while looking into new technology and security measures being used today. We visit a Georgia Pacific plant to see how raw materials are processed in a state-of-the-art plant. We also visit the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an underground container used for extraordinary amounts of vital product. The containers that hold the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve are actually underground salt domes. In a visit to Bryan Mound, Texas, one of four locations housing the SPR, we learn how the caverns within the salt domes are created and how the oil contained in these caverns actually benefits from this type of storage. We also check out silos that were necessary for farmers’ progress. And finally, we sip from metal cans, which revolutionized the food and beverage industry.

 2 Fire
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Aired on Jan 11, 2006

Fire–we have learned to create and control it, but have yet to tame it? It’s alive–it breathes, feeds, and grows. Fire is behind essentially every component of the modern world and has spawned entire industries. We’ll feature great feats in pyrotechnology, or the intentional use and control of fire by humans–from the massive 8-story fire-breathing boilers that create steam heat for downtown Philadelphia, to the nearly 2,000 degree flames that create electricity at a biomass plant. From the massive coal-fired locomotives that powered us across the continent, to the rocket engines that took us to the moon, we’ll cover what fire is, how we have learned to create and harness it, and its behavior with various fuel sources. At a match factory, we see how the seeds of fire are made and explore the significance of this seemingly simple innovation. We also take a look at the important role that fire has played in technological advances as well as warfare.

 3 Cotton
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Aired on Jan 18, 2006
Cotton's journey from dirt to shirt; cotton's ancient origins.
Episode 6 Engineering Disasters 18
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Engineering Disasters 18

Aired on Feb 08, 2006

We look at a 1999 tragedy, when three ironworkers plunged 200 feet when the basket in which they were working was struck by debris during construction of Milwaukee’s Brewers Baseball Stadium. Next, we travel to a deadly explosion in China’s Sunjiwan coal mine–antiquated equipment, minimal safety standards, and a rush to overproduce left the mines susceptible to fires, floods, and explosions. From the 1920s through the `50s, US shoe stores featured the fluoroscope. Based on an early Edison machine, the fluoroscope took x-rays to determine a customer’s size–while emitting high doses of radiation. In California, we visit the Salton Sea, an unnatural body of water with no drainage that grows more salty and less hospitable to life daily. In the 1950s Soviet leaders embarked on a massive irrigation project that diverted water from the Aral Sea. Over time, the coastline receded 100 miles, killing off many species of fish and a once thriving fishing industry.

 7 Candy
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Aired on Feb 14, 2006

It pulls, stretches, bubbles, hardens, crunches, and melts! We eat about 7-billion tons of it yearly. We’re talking about Candy–loved by kids and savored by adults. Candy-making evolved from a handmade operation to high-tech mass production. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Hershey’s. On a tour of their newest production facility, we learn how they process the cocoa bean. At See’s Candy, we see how they make their famous boxed chocolates–on a slightly smaller scale than Hershey’s. We get a sweet history lesson at Schimpff’s Confectionery, where they still use small kettles, natural flavors, and hand-operated equipment. Then, we visit Jelly Belly, purveyors of the original gourmet jellybean. Saltwater-taffy pullers hypnotize us on our sweet-tooth tour; we gaze at extruders making miles of licorice rope; and watch as nostalgia candy bars Abba-Zaba and Big Hunk get packaged. And in this sugary hour, we digest the latest sensations–gourmet chocolates and scorpion on a stick!

 9 Engineering Disasters: New Orleans
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Engineering Disasters: New Orleans

Aired on Feb 28, 2006

One of the deadliest natural disasters experienced by US, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans–submerging it under a torrent of floodwater. We investigate why the levees and water-pumping system failed and join a “Geological Detective” as he sifts through the rubble to uncover how 80% of the city was left underwater and discovers how the levee system was a potential disaster in the making. We also delve deep into the 80-year-old pumping system to unearth how it flooded and why it took weeks to drain the city of up to 25 feet of water. We learn the engineering cause behind the nightmare suffered by victims seeking shelter in the Superdome. And our investigators discover the design flaws on one of the major escape routes of the city. Using satellite global positioning, we find that New Orleans and the entire Louisiana wetland coastline are actually sinking. How can New Orleans stop this from ever happening again and should it be rebuilt at all?

 10 Leather
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Aired on Mar 08, 2006

Sometime at the dawn of civilization, animal hides were rubbed down with animal fat, making them more flexible, durable, and malleable. By the 5th Century BC, this’tanning process expanded to include vegetable and tree oil washes, creating what’s now known as’leather –one of man’s most reliable and versatile products. Without advances in leather shoes, the Romans could never have marched to the Tigris; nor could the Pilgrims have survived winters in Plymouth. Today, leather is a staple of our daily lives. Modern tanners have devised techniques to make leather more versatile, colorful, and luxurious than ever. We visit modern tanneries of conventional cowhide leather, and explore the more exotic leathers made from alligator, snakes, and even sting-ray. And we’ll examine the race of modern science to create synthetic leathers that are supposedly more convenient in today’s fast-paced life. We’ll see how leather binds us to the past in an unparalleled way.

Episode 11 Engineering Disasters 19
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Engineering Disasters 19

Aired on Mar 22, 2006

Examine one of the most mysterious maritime tragedies, when the sturdy Edmund Fitzgerald suddenly sank on a stormy night in November 1975; and unlock the mysteries of the rudder problems behind two Boeing 737 crashes–a 1991 United flight and 1994 US Air flight. Then, we take viewers inside one of the most dangerous but least-known nuclear disasters in US history–a meltdown at a secret government facility in 1959. We also travel to an oil storage facility where nearly 4-million gallons of diesel fuel suddenly flowed out as the storage tank cracked and catastrophically unzipped from top to bottom. Finally, we take a “close look” at microscopic structures causing gigantic problems in the electronics industry–tin whiskers, as they are known by researchers, that spontaneously grow from pure tin coatings on electronic boards and microchips.

 12 Insulation
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Aired on Apr 26, 2006
The past, present and future of insulation technology.
 13 Shovels
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Aired on May 03, 2006

From a prehistoric sharpened digging stick to today’s $15-million monster machines, our journey for the ultimate shovel begins in California’s borax mines, where the P&H 4100 uses advanced electronics, brute strength, and savvy operators to excavate 170-ton chunks in a single scoop. We travel back to 1835, when William Otis set off an American digging frenzy with his patented steam shovel. And at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we kick the legs of NASA’s latest Mars Lander: Phoenix. This stationary probe has a robotic arm with a shovel scoop designed to dig into the soil, locate ice, and analyze its properties. Back on Earth, the Hitachi Corporation’s 200-ton hydraulic humanitarian shovel is designed to locate and explode landmines in Third-World countries.

 14 Drilling
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Aired on May 10, 2006

Spiraling deep into the ground…driving holes through solid rock…rotating, hammering, and scraping its way through whatever it may encounter…whether it’s earth or ice, steel or stone, nothing can stand in its way! This episode penetrates the world of drilling and explores various types of drilling’s colorful histories. From drilling for water in the New Mexico desert to searching for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ll show you how it’s done. The program features the quest to drill the deepest hole ever and the scientific drill ship expected to perform the feat, and also looks at drills used to recover ice cores that will unearth thousands of years of climate history. We also examine the latest and greatest tunnel boring machines, robotic drills, and handheld power drills. Finally, we check out laser drills–both large and small–including a drill that can bore a hole a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.

Episode 15 '80's Tech
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'80's Tech

Aired on May 24, 2006

Remember “brick” cell phones, Pac-Man, Rubik’s Cube, Sony Walkman, and the first music CDs? Remember all the new and exciting gadgets of the 1980s? Join us as we investigate the transition from Industrial to Information Age–a digital decade dedicated to ergonomics and entertainment. The microchip ushered in an era that revolutionized the way we work, play, and communicate. And we tour Silicon Valley–birthplace of some of the greatest inventions from an amazing time of change, including the modern personal computer. Steve “Woz” Wozniak tells us about the evolution of Apple computers, and we talk to Sony–makers of the Walkman, Betamax, and the first CD players. A visit to the Computer History Museum shows fun technological “artifacts”, primitive by today’s standards. At Intel, makers of the first microchips, we learn why technology moves at such a fast pace. We also take a ride in a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car–few things moved faster.

 16 Ben Franklin Tech
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Ben Franklin Tech

Aired on May 25, 2006

You may know him as a man of great wit and wisdom, as the oldest and wisest Founding Father. But now you’ll get to know Dr. Franklin as the late 18th Century’s foremost scientist, and one of the greatest inventors of any era. From the humble Pennsylvania Stove to the spectacular lightning rod–Franklin was concerned with putting scientific principals to practical use. We’ll explore his many inventions, including: his unique musical instrument, the glass armonica, for which both Mozart and Beethoven wrote pieces; his crafty anti-counterfeiting techniques, including multi-colored inks, elaborate ornamentation, and the use of “leaf printing”–when a metal engraving plate is made from a plant’s leaf, making it impossible to copy; and bifocal glasses. And we’ll see how Franklin’s inventive genius extended to entire systems, including: the modern volunteer fire department, first fire insurance company, Daylight Savings Time, and America’s first lending library.

 18 Heavy Metals
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Heavy Metals

Aired on Jun 14, 2006

They are elements that occupy a select portion of the periodic table and are so essential to America’s economic and military might that they are stored in the National Defense Stockpile in case of all-out war. We plan a riveting visit. Some of the vital heavy metals that we survey include copper, uranium, lead, zinc, and nickel. We also take a look at superalloys–consisting of steel combined with chromium, cobalt, and dozens of other heavy metals–that resist corrosion and perform increasingly elaborate functions. From Earth to space, from cosmetics to vitamins, in a million different ways, heavy metals are here to stay!

 19 Horsepower
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Aired on Jun 21, 2006

Buckle up for a rip-roaring ride through the world of extreme horsepower. Experience the fastest accelerating cars on earth. Find out how horsepower was first coined as a marketing tool for the steam engine in the early 1800s and meet the horsepower police–the Society of Automotive Engineers who test today’s most powerful car engines. Feel the amazing power of Unlimited Hydroplane racing as 3-ton boat-beasts careen across water at speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Journey to the bowels of an enormous container ship where the world’s most powerful diesel engine provides over 100,000 horsepower. At the Hoover Dam, watch as it harnesses the enormous power of water. Explore the 80,000 horsepower pumping units at the Edmonston Pumping Plant that delivers 2-billion gallons of water a day to thirsty Californians. And sit behind the steering wheel of a new generation of hybrid cars that boast 400-horsepower yet get 42 miles per gallon of gas.

 20 BBQ Tech
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BBQ Tech

Aired on Jun 28, 2006

An old-fashioned style of cooking, barbecue has evolved into a modern food craze and spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. We digest famous barbecue cook-offs and visit long-established barbecue restaurants like Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, where the huge grills and taste thrills of true barbecue are more popular than ever. At home, three out of four US households own a grill. After WWII’s end, the phenomenon of backyard barbecuing swept the nation, thanks to inexpensive and mass-produced grills, including the kettle-shaped Weber. Our tour of Weber’s modern factories shows how they keep pace with demand by manufacturing more choices than ever, including portable mini-grills. We also examine the variety of fuels available for the savory selection of spicy sauces and rubs. Join us as we devour the mouthwatering flavors of BBQ in this episode.

Episode 22 Pirate Tech
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Pirate Tech

Aired on Jul 09, 2006

Bold, cunning, and audacious, pirates are a breed of fighting men and women who have terrorized the high seas since before recorded history. At the height of their power in the 1700s they literally influenced the fate of nations when they became embroiled in the rivalry between England and Spain. This special will visit maritime museums and shipwreck sites, utilize walk-and-talk demonstrations of fire arms, swords, and navigation instruments to help spotlight the innovations pirates brought to maritime technology. Includes a look at how many pirates modified their ships to make them faster and more powerful.

Episode 23 World's Biggest Machines 5
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World's Biggest Machines 5

Aired on Jul 26, 2006

Join us for another look at big machines. At NASA’s Ames Research Center, we visit the world’s biggest wind tunnel, part of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, and one of the biggest and most complex flight simulators, NASA’s Vertical Motion Simulator, or VMS. At the Joy Mining Machinery plant in Franklin, Pennsylvania, giant machine tools form, cut, and measure the enormous individual parts that make up a Continuous Miner, the biggest underground mining machine in the world. But big machines aren’t limited to science and commerce. Ride with us on the biggest observation wheel in the world, the London Eye, which stands 443 feet high and provides a 360 degree unobstructed view of London. And we take a look at IMAX technology. The film, cameras, projectors, and theater screens are the largest in the world. Finally, we take a ride on every lawn tender’s dream machine–the Claas Cougar, the world’s biggest lawnmower.

 29 Mummy Tech
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Mummy Tech

Aired on Aug 23, 2006

After thousands of years, Egyptian mummies are speaking from the grave. With the use of state-of-the-art computer tomography scanning, known as CT-scanning, we explore inside a 2,000-year-old mummified body of an Egyptian child. With today’s technology, mummies are studied without being unwrapped. Researchers travel around inside the mummy’s head and body with 3-D imagery. We meet Dr. Robert Brier, a renowned Egyptologist. Dr. Brier reveals secrets of Mummification–it took up to 70 days to preserve the dead. Aided by new technology, we investigate the death of one of the most famous mummies, King Tut. Was he murdered or did he die from an illness? We also uncover the case of the Mummy who lay in obscurity for over a hundred years, until modern science unlocked the secrets of his identity as an Egyptian pharaoh. And we join a team of conservationists as they build a nitrogen-filled glass display case to provide a safe sanctuary to prevent mummies from decay.

 30 Levees
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Aired on Aug 30, 2006

From collapsing floodwalls in New Orleans to high-tech mechanical storm surge barriers in Europe, we’ll explore the 2,500-year history of keeping rivers and tides at bay by erecting levees. To get a lesson on how levees are built and why they fail, we’ll climb atop Sacramento, California’s crumbling river levees to see evidence of erosion that portends a New Orleans-level disaster. In stark contrast are the ingeniously engineered levees and dikes holding back tidal waters in the Netherlands. Their success inspired other mechanized flood barriers on both the River Thames outside London and one currently under construction near the sinking city of Venice, Italy. We’ll also take a look at the hard lessons learned when levees are breached. In New Orleans, we’ll see what the US Army Corps of Engineers is doing to protect the Crescent City from future hurricane seasons.

Episode 31 Water
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Aired on Sep 06, 2006

The transfer, consumption and search for water.

 32 Copper
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Aired on Sep 13, 2006

It transports electricity, water, and heat. Our bodies can’t survive without it, yet it can kill microbes in minutes. It brings music to our ears and beauty to our eyes. We’ll delve into all of copper’s impressive traits, history, and how it’s mined. This versatile red metal’s most famous attribute is its ability to conduct electricity–copper wires connect and energize the world. And it’s revolutionizing the electronics industry by enabling ever-shrinking computer chips. It’s also formed into plumbing pipes to convey water and is the metal of choice for beautiful roofs and sculptures. It doesn’t only look good–it sounds great too. A visit to a bell foundry reveals why bronze, a copper alloy, has been used to make music for hundreds of years. In myriad shapes and for innumerable uses, copper figures prominently in our world.

 35 Renewable Energy
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Renewable Energy

Aired on Sep 20, 2006

In the young 21st Century, two realizations are dawning on the world’s population: we are hopelessly dependent on petroleum, which is only going to get more expensive; and global warming, caused mainly by our burning of fossil fuels, will impact civilization in ways that we’re only beginning to grasp. Stepping in to fight both of these massive problems are the rapidly evolving technologies that harness renewable energy. We will see how air, water, earth, and fire are transformed into clean, reliable sources of heat, electricity, and even automobile fuel. We’ll take an in-depth look at the most proven and reliable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, and tidal power. From the experimental to the tried-and-true, renewable energy sources are overflowing with potential… just waiting to be exploited on a massive scale. And unlike fossil fuels, they’ll always be there.

 36 Freight Trains
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Freight Trains

Aired on Sep 20, 2006

They are the life blood of the American Economy, transporting 1.8 billion tons of freight each year, carrying everything from crops, to consumer electronics, cars to chemicals, not to mention coal and just about any other item that you can think of. This program will take you to what is considered the greatest freight transportation system in the world, the Union Pacific’s Bailey yard–a pit stop for much of the nation’s freight on its journey across the continent. We’ll also explore the history of freight transportation from its humble beginnings as tramways in mines to complex system of rails that stretches to every corner of the nation.

Episode 38 Assembly Lines
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Assembly Lines

Aired on Sep 23, 2006

Its efficiency has produced billions of products, from toys to Boeing 747s, cheaply and quickly. Follow the evolution of the assembly line, including its sometimes troubled relationship with the human beings who make it work. We’ll see how Americans eventually overcame prejudices toward blacks and women in the factories during World War II. And we’ll follow a family of four generations of Detroit auto assembly workers as they tell us how they dealt with the relentless pace of production. During the 1930s, assembly lines’ frantic pace led to widespread labor unrest; and in the 1970s, it was a symptom of a greater concern for quantity than quality.

 41 Ink
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Aired on Oct 04, 2006

Invented by the Chinese in about 3000BC, it spread the word of God and war. It set us free and spelled out our rights. It tells stories, sells products and solves crimes. It’s ink and it’s everywhere! From squid to soybeans, from ancient text to awesome tattoos, join us as we dip into the well for the scoop on ink.

 42 Distilleries 2
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Distilleries 2

Aired on Oct 11, 2006
It's an art. It's a science. It's a marriage of vapor and water. From the elite to the illegal, the banned, to the celebrated, the distillation of spirits is a 50 billion dollar a year business. We will visit brandy, liqueur, moonshine, and absinthe distilleries to see how this magic is done. A trip to the Christian Brothers Distillery in northern California will reveal the secrets of how brandy is made and in the Deep South we observe a working moonshine still. Then it's off to France, where we visit the Courvoisier Cognac distillery and at the Jade Absinthe Distillery we see how this controversial drink is made. Includes expert commentary and historical perspective given by Bon Appetit's Anthony Dias Blue.
 43 World's Strongest
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World's Strongest

Aired on Oct 18, 2006

Strength…A powerful word, but what does it mean? How is it measured? Why are some things simply stronger than others. How strong is a rope, a tractor, a diamond, a tugboat or even plastic. From Spectra fibre to Lexan learn where, how and why strength matters to us every day.

Episode 44 Tomcat Sunset
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Tomcat Sunset

Aired on Nov 01, 2006

Explore the legacy of the F-14 fighter jet, one of America’s greatest aerial weapons ever built. Witness first hand the last F-14 catapult launches and arrested trap landings aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Hear what the aviators and sailors, who have flown and maintained this iconic aircraft over the years, have to say about its long lived active duty career.

Episode 45 Tobacco.
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Aired on Nov 08, 2006

Discovered around 18,000 years ago, tobacco was first cultivated in the Andes between 5000 and 3000 B.C. At a modern tobacco farm in North Carolina, a farmer will show us how the crop is harvested and cured and we’ll visit the Fuente cigar plantation in the Dominican Republic. While tobacco has brought pleasure to countless smokers the world over–it has sent millions to an early grave. In an interview with the Surgeon General, we will explore this leading public health issue. The show will also look at smokeless methods of consumption as well as explore the use of nicotine replacement therapy.

Episode 46 The Telephone
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The Telephone

Aired on Sep 15, 1996

From Alexander Graham Bell’s crude creation to today’s high-speed wireless networks, explore the past, present and future of the telephone.

Episode 47 The Supermarket
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The Supermarket

Aired on Nov 15, 2006

Our basic need and desire for food has made the supermarket one of the great success stories of modern retailing. Making customers’ visits to the market as efficient as possible has led to many technological advancements such as bar coding and a scale that recognizes the type of produce placed on it. We’ll explore the psychology of the supermarket including store layout, lighting, music and aromas that trigger the appetite. With a growing percentage of the public interested in eating healthier foods, organic grocers are carving out an increasingly large niche. These are just a few of the items worth checking out in this appetizing hour.

 49 Wine
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Aired on Nov 29, 2006

France’s Moet vineyards and La Tour d’Argent.

 50 Harvesting 2
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Harvesting 2

Aired on Nov 29, 2006

In America’s orchards and farm fields, the constant struggle between hand labor and mechanization has produced dozens of efficient and sometimes bizarre harvesting methods. We’ll learn the secrets of the orchard manager and his ladder crew as they check fruit pressures and barometric readings. We’ll visit California’s largest fruit packing house and try to keep up with 10-fruit-per-second conveyors. Then we’re off to the corn fields of Nebraska and the cranberry marshes of central Wisconsin. Finally, we’ll go underground to the world’s largest mushroom farm where the harvest takes place in limestone caverns that run some 150 miles. From fruit tree picking platforms to cranberry beaters and corn pickers, we constantly strive to speed the harvest.

 51 Engineering Disasters 20
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Engineering Disasters 20

Aired on Dec 06, 2006

In March of 2005, the BP Refinery in Texas City, Texas, suffered a series of explosions that decimated a large portion of the facility and killed 15 workers. Examine the series of events that led to one of the worst industrial accidents in the United States. Then we’ll document the unusual circumstances that caused American Airlines flight 587 to fall from the sky. What happened in Times Beach, Missouri, when a local waste hauler oiled down dusty roads with oil that was laced with dioxin? Next we’ll look at what went wrong with NASA’s Skylab in 1974 and finally we’ll examine the fire that destroyed the gas company, Praxair, in June of 2005. Interviews with survivors help complete the picture.

 52 Snow
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Aired on Dec 10, 2006
It is the bane of every suburban parent and the joy to every school kid. Born in a swirling storm cloud through a process called nucleation, the characteristics of snow flakes are threatened by pollution trapped in the clouds. We'll travel two miles into the sky, where scientists study the inner workings of clouds while perched high on a mountaintop at the Storm Peak Laboratory. Then we'll head to the finest ski resorts in Colorado to discover how they manage the snow on their slopes and how snowmaking really works. These resorts also reside in one of the most avalanche-prone regions of the world. Despite best efforts of experts, avalanches still occur. Discover the new technology that gives rescuers a critical assist to quickly find skiers buried alive when the beauty of snow quickly turns to terror. We'll also go to Buffalo, New York the "Blizzard Capital of America" to watch how a TV Weatherman forecasts blizzards and warns his viewers to prepare for the onslaught.
Episode 53 Tea
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Aired on Dec 13, 2006

After water, tea is the second most popular drink in the world. It has been around as a drink for 5000 years, and 6 billion pounds of tea are harvested annually. We begin with a trip to the Lipton’s plant in Suffolk, VA., where state of the art machines crank out 24 million teabags a day, and then its off to the only tea plantation in the US, the 127 acre Charleston Plantation in South Carolina. We’ll follow the flow of tea from England to the Colonies, where a tea tax precipitated the Boston Tea Party, and chronicle the brief but glorious age of the Clipper Ships, speed craft that brought tea from China to London in less than 100 days. Big news in the 20th century for the tea trade includes the emergence of herbal, powdered, iced and decaf teas. Tour the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder Colorado, and then visit a boutique tea garden where expensive teas sell for upwards of $300 a pot.

 54 Christmas Tech
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Christmas Tech

Aired on Dec 20, 2006

Christmas is observed by nearly one-third of the world’s population…and probably more if you count the non-Christians who incorporate some of the more secular traditions into their winter season. Every year, revelers go all out with trees, ornaments, lights, window displays and Christmas treats. Technological advancements have made them cheaper, easier and safer. We’ll visit Rockefeller Center for a look at their yearly tree preparations and then take a walk to Macy’s, Herald Square, where we’ll find out what it takes to design, assemble and install their annual holiday windows. How is the 3,300 pound UNICEF crystal snowflake hoisted above Fifth Avenue every year? Then it’s off to Yule Tree Farms, one of Oregon’s largest Christmas tree farms and we’ll visit a bakery in Texas that bakes and ships about 33,000 fruitcakes per day during the holiday season. So plug in the tree, grab some eggnog, sit back and enjoy!

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