- SHOW 1005
Wonders of the World
Decade of the Brain
Decade in Space
ALAN ALDA: On this edition of Scientific American Frontiers, you're
invited to a party. We're celebrating 10 years of the series,
with a high-speed trip through 200 stories, and a decade of
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We'll see what science discovered, probing
the oceans, the forest and the earth. We'll look at the advance
of high-tech in medicine and in brain research. We'll unearth
the human past, around the world. And we'll have some fun.
After all, it's a party.
ALAN ALDA: Ha ha. I love it. Science! I'm Alan Alda. Join
me now for The Frontiers Decade.
OF THE WORLD
ALAN ALDA: Hi. Come on in. It's going to be a great party. It's
amazing. Scientific American Frontiers has been on the air
for ten years now -- over 200 stories about scientific research
on subjects ranging from the deepest recesses of our brains,
to the furthest reaches of the universe. Of course, there's
no way that our 200 stories can stand for all of science --
science now is enormous. Of all the Scientists who ever lived,
more than 95% of them are alive today. Tonight, as we look
back over our stories, we think we can see here and there
a trend that's emerged. Maybe even a single thought pulls
it all together -- and that's the sheer power of science to
take a simple question and in answering it reveal unexpected
worlds within worlds. For example -- a young biologist heard
rainforest bees buzzing whenever they returned to the nest.
Why do they buzz? he wondered. That's a simple question. After
a series of experiments, he managed to decipher a buzz code
that the bees used to direct other bees precisely to the best
flowers in the forest. Bee sentences, he calls them. That
revelation leads on to many other places that are fascinating
-- in animal communication, animal intelligence, in evolution.
All right, hold on to your seats -- this is going to be a
lightning quick trip back through the Frontiers Decade of
science. If you blink, you're liable to miss a new life form,
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Ancient lifeforms, but new to science, were
in fact discovered in Yellowstone's boiling -- and hazardous
-- volcanic pools, by microbiologists Norman Pace and Sue
NORMAN PACE: Let's map around out here.
ALAN ALDA: I'm sorry.
PACE: No, it's OK.
BARNES: It's not fatal.
ALAN ALDA: Have you lost many microbiologists?
ALAN ALDA: I saw a bleached bone up there.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The DNA of the lifeforms -- called archea
-- is very primitive, suggesting life on earth began in hot
volcanic conditions. It was a surprise to find life in hot
places, and a surprise to find life in deep, dark, cold places.
ALAN ALDA: So we're just traveling through space here. It looks
like we're...Whoa, whoa...
ROBESON: Whoa. Paralia, paralia.
ALAN ALDA: What's that? What's
BRUCE ROBESON: These are great big brown-colored medusae.
ALAN ALDA: Oh, that's gorgeous.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Many of these creatures, discovered off
California in the Monterey Canyon, were also unknown to science.
They live in the vast, unexplored middle depths of the ocean,
below about the half-mile mark. Science also revealed nature's
fantastic versatility in other extreme environments.
SCIENTIST: This fellow's heart will beat about 5-10 beats
per minute. Their breathing rate drops to 10-15 breaths in
a row and then an hour of no breathing.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Alaskan ground squirrels unfreeze every
few hours in winter, while Canadian wood frogs stay frozen.
In spring, their first heartbeats direct blood just to the
waking brain. We learned new things about animal communication
when a baby killer whale named Orkid was born as Sea World
in San Diego. When Orkid's mother died, the baby was adopted
by another female, named Kassatka. Killer whale families have
different calls, but Orkid switched to her adopted mother's
calls -- she showed she could learn something new. ANN BOWLES:
There's a call. Orkid. And I can hear her respon
in there from Kassatka behind. This is super.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We found more terrific examples of
animal communication in the Central American rainforest. There's
a kind of ant which protects a kind of caterpillar by driving
off parasitic wasps. The question was, how do ant and caterpillar
find each other among the billions of leaves in the forest?
It turned out the caterpillars use sound, produced by tiny
vibrating spines which resonate as they knock against the
rough skin of the caterpillar's head. Phil De Vries discovered
the spines and recorded the delicate calls they broadcast
to the forest.
ALAN ALDA: Now these are stingless bees.
ROUBIK: Yeah, these are the user-friendly bees.
ALAN ALDA: So this is what it looks like inside a normal hive.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In Panama, I made my contribution to animal
ALAN ALDA: They have little numbers on them. 78. Now we've numbered
a bee. Number 78 is my bee. When this bee makes a great scientific
discovery and we all go to Sweden to get the prize, number
78 is mine.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Listen to the buzzes. It's a code the scientists
deciphered by attracting foraging bees to particular places
in the forest. The buzz code is how the rest of the hive learns
where to find the food. At the same institute, we joined one
of the world's top bat experts, who works out how bats use
sound both to locate prey -- like fish or insects -- and to
get around in the dark forest.
ELISABETH KALKO: I hear the naked-backed bat; then I hear
Saccopteryx balineata, the white-lined bat. In the background
I hear a free-tailed bat. So it's a whole symphony of bat
calls that surrounds us right now.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The aye-aye, from Madagascar, also uses
sound to find its food. It simply hones in on every hollow
sound in the wood -- even though there may be no grubs inside,
as in this experiment. We looked at some wonderful work on
flight. One extraordinary experiment observed a single fruit
fly as it responded to changing surroundings. You could see
that the fly tracks its world visually, because it tries to
fly up or down in sync with the moving background. You'll
be glad to know they gave their subjects time to rest. In
another micro-experiment, a blowfly's muscle pulses are detected
as it aims toward a moving target. Tiny counterweights that
the fly uses for flight control were visible. In George Ruppell's
classic studies of dragonfly flight, he's shown that their
double wings, independently controlled, give them their terrific
agility -- most of the time, that is. Spiders gave us a good
scary time on Frontiers this decade.
WEST: She's turning around. She's going to cover the entrance
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Our cameras stalked tarantulas in the Ecuador
jungle, while I scared myself just imagining spiders in Arizona.
ALAN ALDA: There's something in here...oh, oh jeez...watch
out, there's something in there!
RIECHERT: Yeah, a cricket or something.
ALAN ALDA: What? A cricket?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Crickets have their own problems with spiders,
but scientists are endlessly fascinated, as we discovered.
One study solved the problem of the mysterious zig-zag decorations
on the garden spider's web. Unlike the rest of the web, the
zig-zags shine brightly in ultraviolet light. So to flying
insects, they look like flowers -- just the right place to
VOLLRATH: Oy, hello spider! Oy, oy!
ALAN ALDA: Yeah, it's not the air. It's the sound. Oy! Oy! This
is the first time I've been able to scare a spider.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) I got back at spiders in Denmark, where
Fritz Vollrath has worked out basic web-building rules, and
then transferred them to a cyber spider, which now builds
webs inside a computer. Ingenious high tech methods were also
used here, when female jumping spiders were shown video mates
with different features, to sort out what they preferred.
It turns out they like the gray males -- with some hair. Then
we followed the relentless portia spider as she crept across
her victim's web, gently plucking it in imitation of falling
leaves, to mask her approach.
WILCOX: Raised up high like that, higher and higher. They're
way up high ready to...jump.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The decade brought great revelations in
animal intelligence. One surprise was that octopuses can learn
from each other by observation -- by watching how to open
a glass jar, for example. Here's the student watching an experienced
octopus. And now, here's the student having seen it only once,
succeeding in the task immediately.
ALAN ALDA: Oh look, he got in. He got it open. And he was never
able to do this before?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Just as unexpected was the creativity
shown by young ravens when first confronted by an unfamiliar
Yellow, that's right.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The multiple skills shown by Alex the parrot
were simply startling...
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) ...to our audience and scientists alike.
What matter four-corner blue?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The question means, what is the four-cornered
blue object made of? It was a brand new question for Alex
when we filmed this.
What matter four-corner blue? Wood, that's right.
ALAN ALDA: All right, give me a kiss...oh God.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Rio, the sea lion, showed us in another
way that animals can think abstractly. He's able to sort abstract
symbols -- to us, they're letters or numbers -- into two groups,
and tell one from the other.
ALAN ALDA: By the way, I got that, and I wasn't getting a herring.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Work with chimpanzees confirmed how highly
social animals can be, and how -- just like humans -- baby
chimps have to learn how to behave.
ALAN ALDA: Ouch!
That's not nice.
ALAN ALDA: No.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Frans de Waal, in particular, has spent
years dissecting relationships and personalities within natural
chimp groups. Take sharing, for example. It's normal to share
in the group, but some chimps, like Georgia here, can't handle
ALAN ALDA: Do you think Georgia is stingy because she hasn't learned
to share yet or she's just naturally stingy?
DE WAAL: Well, in human terms, you would almost say she doesn't
have the confidence yet and position yet to be generous with
others. She's still very much in sort of competitive mode
like, "How much can I get myself?"
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We've checked in several times, over the
years, with Sally Boysen, who gently probes the chimpanzee
mind. That was three peaches in the first box. Sheba the chimp
counts three more.
BOYSEN: How many peaches? How many? Show me. Yeah, six. That's
the right answer. Good girl.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Here are Sally and Sheba three years later.
BOYSEN: That was impressive, Sheba.
ALAN ALDA: That was cute.
BOYSEN: I'm going to take this little one. You watching me?
Yeah, and I'm going to put it in here. OK? Watch, I put it
right in here.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Human kids can't manage this test of symbolic
thinking until age 3.
BOYSEN: Go find the real one for me. Hurry! Hurry! See if
you can find it.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) But to Sheba, it's child's play.
BOYSEN: Oho. Good work!
Segment, No Narration]
ALAN ALDA: Let's say you can get a machine to give every indication
that it's feeling stuff. So what? How will that change the
BROOKS: I'm interested in understanding what it is about us
that makes us human. This is my attempt at trying to break
down what it is that makes us human into simpler components,
to therefore understand it.
ALAN ALDA: Our next segment is about medicine. I love discussing
medical problems at dinner. During our decade, two important
and contrasting trends became clear. In the first, we've seen
computers and high-tech methods really take hold in almost
every branch of medicine. We now routinely image and map the
body with unprecedented accuracy, for example, and I don't
think there's a lab I've visited that hasn't made some kind
of computer analysis a crucial part of its work. The second
trend is ominous. Disease organisms are fighting back, developing
resistance to once reliable therapies. As we saw in stories
on TB and malaria, this is an extremely serious worldwide
threat. So there was a lot of action in medicine. Let's take
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In a recent story on high-tech medicine,
I was in the operating room as Linda Tolve had a large tumor
removed from her brain -- a tumor that some doctors had judged
to be inaccessible. A 3-D computer graphic image was superimposed
on Linda's brain to guide the surgery.
BALCK: I think we're pretty happy with that in term of the
resection. I think now it's just a matter of making sure everything's
nice and dry. But we are essentially done.
ALAN ALDA: Congratulations.
TOLVE: Great doctor, huh?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Sophisticated image processing was also
behind this prototype aid for the partially sighted that Leonard
Perra tested, with his grandson helping out.
PERRA: All I've ever seen was shapes, not faces. No features.
And now I can see their faces again.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The program's long-term goal is to continuously
track an eye's defect, and then have a wearable computer literally
fill in the blank. We saw the same idea -- using high tech
to compensate for problems -- as we continued to follow the
story of Kara, a vibrant young victim of cerebral palsy. Here,
infrared lasers surreptitiously track Kara's eye so she can
select messages on a screen, simply by looking at them.
KARA: It's great to see you again.
ALAN ALDA: Hey, what a nice reception! Hi ya, Kara. It's great
to see you again, too!
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In this extraordinary research program,
computer control of muscles through implanted electrodes brought
paralyzed limbs back to life. Right now it's a crude simulation
of natural nerves, but it enabled Dan to stand on his own
for the first time.
How's it feel, Dan?
DAN: It feels vertical.
WIFE: It's been a long time since I've seen him that tall.
There's about an inch-long hole...
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In one high-tech operating room, the patient
was a dummy with pig's intestines, dyed bright red. Being
developed as a way to rapidly apply the best care on the battlefield,
it's a prototype for remote surgery, in which doctor and patient
are in different places, linked only electronically.
ALAN ALDA: Do I have too little of it?
No, that's just fine.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In Russia, surgeons displayed a special
alloy for the wire supports -- called stents -- commonly used
to keep clogged arteries open. The collapsed stent is easy
to insert with a catheter, into a leg artery in this case.
Then the alloy springs into shape as it warms up, opening
the artery and allowing blood to flow. Our cameras filmed
an important milestone in the treatment of heart disease when
an implantable pump was placed alongside a failing heart.
DORSEY: Just drop them into the pouch like this and pull the
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Mike Dorsey demonstrated how he carried
the pump's batteries.
DORSEY: Now I'm ready for traveling.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) After seven months, Mike got a heart
transplant, and the program has been a key step toward the
eventual goal of permanent artificial hearts.
ALAN ALDA: Wait, what is this?
This is cartilage. It's a scaffold of...
LANGER: You see the nostrils?
ALAN ALDA: Yuck! Wait a minute!
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Well, it may have looked gross to me, but
that nose represents a big part of medicine's future -- spare
parts, grown to order in the lab, like these heart muscle
cells, alive and beating. This is the next revolution in medicine
in the making. This story was about another potential revolution,
gene therapy. Lillian Cooper took part in a trial which inserted
into her leg the genes for blood vessels, to see if she could
actually grow new ones, bypassing a blocked artery. This trial
was an unprecedented success, but other gene therapy trials
have since gone badly wrong, so the future of gene therapy
is right now uncertain. But alongside the promise of new ideas,
old diseases we thought we'd defeated -- like TB or simple
infections -- made a comeback.
MAN: Buenos tardes...
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The problem is resistance to antibiotics.
It develops when drugs are misused or over-prescribed or not
taken correctly. Some resistance is almost inevitable, though,
as we found out in Africa, where the malaria parasite is now
resistant to some drugs, and malaria-carrying mosquitoes have
developed resistance to insecticides. The decade saw, in the
West, an increase in interest in traditional medicine. On
our trip to China, we showed how ancient herbal remedies are
prescribed on a large scale. Western drug companies are now
systematically screening those remedies for useful compounds.
Traditional medicine is used by most people in the world,
and wild raw materials are getting scarce. In a South African
township, I visited a traditional healer who has had to start
growing his own rather mysterious supplies.
ALAN ALDA: What is this? Do you eat this?
CELE: In English, I don't know how to call it.
ALAN ALDA: I've never seen anything like this.
CELE: But it's poisonous.
ALAN ALDA: It's poisonous -- thank you. I'm sorry I picked it up.
I had to put my hand on it now. I'll never...
CELE: When you eat it.
ALAN ALDA: Not the skin, huh? You sure about that?
ALAN ALDA: Otherwise you may have to give me another plant to get
rid of that.
CELE: To get rid of it, yes.
ALAN ALDA: What does this do? Why would you sell a poison plant?
CELE: Well, it's for those who know how to control it.
ALAN ALDA: What does it do for you if you take just the right amount.
CELE: An enema.
ALAN ALDA: An enema. Oh great. I'm glad, good.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In the forests of the Pacific Northwest,
Taxol was discovered. We showed some of the first trials of
this promising new cancer drug. Taxol was found in the bark
of scarce yew trees, so the aim was to synthesize the drug,
starting with yew needles. The trials and the synthesis were
successful, and now Taxol is an important weapon against many
different cancers. We showed Chinese medicine's direct influence
on the West in a story on Therapeutic Touch, in which practitioners
claim to manipulate the patient's so-called energy field.
Then, in an exclusive report, we showed how 11-year-old Emily
Rosa proved that the practitioners could not detect the energy
field they claimed existed. Emily used a rigorous experimental
I got 4.1 for an average of correct guesses. 5 is chance and
they got below chance.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Emily's paper on the experiment ended
up in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Eating much less was
one story in an episode about living longer that ended our
medical decade. Low-calorie, high-nutrition diets seem to
be one way to extend life. Results of monkey studies, still
in progress, are pointing in that direction. Then we saw mice
with cells genetically engineered to age more rapidly than
normal, opening up ways to possibly slow the process in humans.
And we saw tiny nematode worms with genetic mutations, induced
in the lab, which multiply the worms' life span up to four
ALAN ALDA: Oh my God, that really is...
KENYON: ...this is a mutant worm. This is the exact same age.
ALAN ALDA: The same age!
KENYON: It's the same age -- I'm not kidding you. Isn't that
ALAN ALDA: It is amazing.
KENYON: I mean it's just unbelievable -- you change one gene
and essentially you cure this disease of aging.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Extended human lifespans really are around
the corner, and that seemed a pretty good idea to me...
ALAN ALDA: It's very good.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) ...although very low-cal diets didn't look
ALAN ALDA: This wouldn't be bad for a dessert, or am I denied dessert
WALFORD: No, that would be fine, sure -- an apple is a good
ALAN ALDA: Your heart would sink if I took out the frozen yogurt
ROY WALFORD: Well no, yours would.
ALAN ALDA: Some of our most fascinating stories on Frontiers have
been about the past. Increasingly in recent years, history
and archeology have benefited from the use of scientific methods
-- like DNA analysis, accurate dating techniques, remote sensing.
And experimental archeology is getting to be a big thing --
why not make the boat or the machine, the way they made it
then, and see how it actually worked? But you know, there's
something different about this field. It does seem to attract
more than its fair share of people who are really passionate
about what they do. Maybe you have to be that way to put up
with the often rotten conditions, in out of the way places;
or maybe it's just the subject -- it's exciting to dig in
the sand and reveal our own past.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) During the decade, human origins in Africa
continued to be teased out. Our cameras witnessed one team
uncovering the first piece of an archaic human's skull, 300,000
There she comes.
BURGER: Hopefully, eventually, with a lot of little pieces,
we'll be able to put him back together, but that's a fantastic
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) This hilltop excavation revealed a rich
native African past, which suddenly, with the end of Apartheid,
it was alright to study. It was the first royal burial found
in the region -- a king and queen who were probably ancestors
of the present king of Venda, who invited me to join in the
celebration dance. In northwest China, after protracted negotiations,
ours was the first TV crew allowed to film 4,000-year-old
mummies, preserved in the dry desert. The mummies' appearance
suggested Caucasians reached China much earlier than had been
thought. In Egypt, new finds were also forcing new thinking,
as excavation got underway of a cemetery for workers on the
Giza Plateau. The conventional wisdom was that slaves had
built the pyramids, but here were hundreds of respectful and
costly tombs, even a fine statue of one site foreman. It was
a revelation to archaeologists.
They were treated and respected by the king because those
are the people who built the pyramids and the tombs. Those
are the people who make the king eternal. Without them the
king would never be a god.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In Denmark, I experienced one of the best
examples of a new trend -- experimental archaeology.
ALAN ALDA: A cinch.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) These exact replicas of Viking warships
were based on wrecks excavated from the bottom of the fjord.
Their superb sailing qualities showed why the Vikings ruled
the waves around the ninth century. In Italy, we saw how they're
trying to avoid a wreck of historic proportions.
ALAN ALDA: Andiamo.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) There's an elaborate rescue plan in the
works, but as a first step, steel bands now hold the Leaning
Tower together at the point of maximum stress. Paolo Heiniger
They are embracing actually the external wall of the structure,
and they are meant to contain the risk of local explosion
ALAN ALDA: That's nice. So glad to hear that. Embracing the structure
so it doesn't explode.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Here in America, experimental archaeology
returned a gift to Native Americans. It's a baidarka -- the
traditional Aleut boat. They were all gone, but a reconstructed
model, based on old drawings and memories, was tried out in
rough Aleutian seas. The mysterious double bow, combined with
a flexible frame, gave speed and buoyancy in the waves.
DYSON: Feels real nice in the rough water. It feels like it
was made for rough water.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) They were perfect hunting boats for these
conditions. Finally, we showed how modern methods helped clear
up a lingering mystery from Custer's Last Stand. The problem
was to identify an unknown soldier from his remains. Using
video technology, historians were able to successfully match
the skull to a specific 19th-century army photograph.
ALAN ALDA: This has been a decade that at least one group of scientists
would rather not have witnessed. They are the people who study
the wild places of the Earth -- the coral reefs, the forests,
the deserts and mountains which are home to an enormous, and
still uncounted, diversity of creatures. Of course, we all
know that those places are coming under increasing pressure
from us -- from humans -- but as we've reported, in many parts
of the world, a few humans are trying to do something about
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into South
Carolina. It destroyed almost every nest site of the rare
red-cockaded woodpecker, which nests only in mature pines.
There was an emergency program to make artificial sites for
the 700 birds left alive. It was a classic demonstration of
how vulnerable species become once human pressure has hemmed
them in. In St. John, I saw some of the coral diseases that
are appearing with increasing frequency around the world.
These white patches are one symptom.
ALAN ALDA: When I see the white stuff down there, what am I looking
GARRISON: It's as if we lost everything except for our bones,
so that we wouldn't have any flesh left.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) An inspired piece of scientific detective
work traced the die-back of coral sea fans to a soil fungus,
blown across the Atlantic from newly created African farmland.
The sea fans were depressing, but the science was wonderful.
ALAN ALDA: Ha, ha, ha. I love it! Science!
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In the booming resort town of Eilat on the
Red Sea, our story showed how direct wear and tear from thousands
of tourists' feet is destroying the shallow reef. But to compensate,
just down the coast, biologists have submerged large steel
frames as the basis for artificial reefs. The first colonies
of marine life have moved in. In Newfoundland, the sad spectacle
of a rare humpback whale that had died trapped in a fishing
net was tempered by the dedication of the biologists.
JON LIEN: Oh jeez, watch out. I'm going in. Oh, OK, is that
coming out? Well, I think for a scientist, it's just amazing
how this huge animal works. We only understand it very poorly.
And it's a rare privilege to be able to get inside of it.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Jon Lien, one of the world's leading whale
rescue experts, has released hundreds of trapped whales in
these dangerous, near-freezing waters, at considerable personal
risk. In St. Thomas, I met another dedicated biologist who
works with sea turtles. Zandy Hillis patrols nesting beaches,
protects nests and regularly checks up on every one of the
adolescent turtles that hang out on the reef in her area.
ALAN ALDA: Ha, ha, ha.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In China, I met a lone Yangtze river-dolphin.
ALAN ALDA: Chi Chi is the only dolphin, river dolphin in captivity
anywhere in the world?
DING: Chi Chi is the only baiji in captivity in the world.
ALAN ALDA: The only baiji, I see. OK.
DING: Yes, that's true.
ALAN ALDA: OK, wait a minute. Wait a minute, don't go away. Wait,
I got it here, here, here.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) It's touch and go now for these animals,
although species can be brought back from the brink -- as
has happened with the great bustard. Its grassland habitat
has given way to farmland, but once again, a campaign run
by a few dedicated enthusiasts has made all the difference,
with young birds now regularly released back into the wild.
ALAN ALDA: You grab him by the wings and then you grab him
by the neck?
If it's close to the fence and it's standing, more or less,
then it's best you first go...
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) I'm discussing how to catch a stork, with
another of those enthusiasts.
If it's flying against you, the best is you take it as you
normally take your woman in the early morning and then you
have it. That's all, no problem.
ALAN ALDA: Ha, ha, ha.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) You'll notice how
I stayed out of that one -- storks have big beaks. But there's
a serious problem with Europe's storks. Many become exhausted
on their migration south to Africa, because intensive farming
in Europe has reduced the frogs and mice they eat. A few people
run this rescue station along the way, but it's not a long-term
solution. It was remarkable to see people everywhere waking
up to the fact that so much wildlife -- like Europe's brown
bears -- must be conserved before it's too late.
ALAN ALDA: Mangia, mangia.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Brown bears, once common, are now confined
to a few mountain strongholds. There's a captive breeding
program here, but inbreeding's a danger, so genetic analysis
ALAN ALDA: Where is he taking the blood from? Is it from this vein
SCIENTIST: Yes, the jugular, jugular vein.
ALAN ALDA: Jugular
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) These Chamois mountain goats are to form
the nucleus of a new herd, to avoid the kind of vulnerability
that almost wiped out South Carolina's woodpeckers. Occasionally,
one of these nervous animals doesn't make it, but biologists
believe it's a price worth paying for future security. Our
story on white rhino showed how intensive management of endangered
species really can work. There were once 50 white rhino left,
all in this park. Now there are 2,000 here, and 5,000 more
worldwide. They're out of danger. In many places, we found
a new understanding of the needs of entire habitats.
ALAN ALDA: I can't believe how fast that's going.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Fire is essential in many ecosystems
-- to promote seed germination, for example -- so more and
more ecologists were starting fires. In this project, simulated
lightning strikes were just the start.
What you'll be doing is simulating a cow's stomach, maybe
a buffalo's stomach.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) It takes buffalo and fire for some prairie
plants to germinate. Our cameras were here nine years ago,
and now there are just 10 precious acres of prairie restored
to original condition. An artificial prairie dog town was
the setting for one of America's best-known restoration projects.
Prairie dogs are brought in so that the young black-footed
ferrets bred here can learn to hunt, under the biologists'
watchful eye. Over 1,000 of the once-endangered ferrets have
since been released, near natural prairie dog towns. Prairie
dogs -- once regarded as pests -- are essential to the future
of the ferrets, and in many stories, we found biologists eager
advocates of the need to conserve the least popular wildlife.
Yes, scorpions have their place, we were told, and so has
everything else -- even if it does attack microphones.
BEAUPRE: Grab that tail for me.
ALAN ALDA: Grab the tail. Do you have the head? Oh, the tail, the
ALDA: (Narration) In this story, I learned that every square
mile of Arizona desert shelters over 2,000 rattlesnakes --
and they just want to get away. And after rattlesnakes...
ALAN ALDA: It's a gigantic head on this.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) ...the producers thought I should try sharks.
ALAN ALDA: It's biting the boat. That doesn't sound like what you
said before about not biting things that aren't food.
HOLLAND: Well, that's the great thing about science, it's
a world of discovery.
ALAN ALDA: Does it make any difference if you rub her tummy? I
mean, does that help her quiet down?
HOLLAND: I don't know. But you know, it's a very, very common
phenomenon in all vertebrates that...
ALAN ALDA: Oh gee. Oh boy. That's why I'm...now I'm playing the
part of Richard Dreyfus. What, was he busy today?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Implanted radios allowed the scientists
to find out the sharks traveled routes extending hundreds
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In our stories on undisturbed ecosystems,
we showed what's been discovered in recent years about the
astonishing diversity of nature. Rainforest studies like these
now have scientists convinced there maybe 30 million different
species on the planet. In our most recent episode about this
aspect of nature, we visited the Galapagos Islands. It's one
of the least disturbed places on Earth, still little changed
from Darwin's time. The Galapagos are an important natural
laboratory where fundamental research on evolution is continuing
-- tracing the adaptation of finches' beaks to changing food
supplies, for example. The islands are a natural paradise.
ALAN ALDA: Hello. My problem is I not only saw ET, I also saw Jurassic
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We told the story of the marine iguanas.
They were devastated in 1997 and '98, when El Nino brought
warm waters to the shores. 90% of the iguanas perished when
the algae they eat died off. The food supply has since recovered.
It was evolutionary pressure that the species must have gone
through many times before.
ALAN ALDA: Why do we see so many smallish iguanas here?
WIKELSKI: They sometimes have these huge algae pastures, and
they just get a mouthful of algae every bite. But here they
only have a tiny little carpet of algae and they constantly
have to scrape it off.
ALAN ALDA: So that has selected out the big ones.
ALAN ALDA: So there they are. That's the
product of natural selection right there.
MARTIN WIKELSKI: Right.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We filmed another famous story of unvarnished
nature here in a masked booby colony. One chick violently
expels the other from the nest. Although it seems inexplicable,
it makes sense, because the female can only adequately feed
one. In the future, are we going to be able to protect places
like this from the powerful human pressures that take their
toll in so many other places?
OF THE BRAIN
ALAN ALDA: The 1990s was the official Decade of the Brain, and
on Frontiers, we did a lot of stories on brain research --
on sleep, on memory, language, phobias, how babies and kids
think and learn. We're still a long way from being able to
say how the brain works in any comprehensive way. But what
has emerged is a new appreciation for how tremendously complex
the brain is, while at the same time being flexible and changeable.
It doesn't seem to be like a computer program in there, the
way we once thought it did. Although, maybe that's just because
we don't understand it all yet. Here's just a sampling of
what we found out when we had our heads examined during the
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Asking the question, how do kids think about
magic, or illogical things, yielded some revealing answers.
ALAN ALDA: Is that high enough?
ASSISTANT: A little higher up above your head.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In one notable series of experiments, babies
under one year old were shown illogical events. Even minds
this young seem to have mastered how the physical world should
work, as shown by an analysis of their reactions.
What's in the box?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In contrast, kids as old as three can't
yet recognize how their own minds work.
Look at that. What are they? JACOB: Ropes.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Jacob calls them ropes, but the point is,
he's now sure he always knew they were there.
What did you think was inside the box before I turned it over?
Paul, ready for the injection.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The decade saw tremendous advances in ways
to look directly at the brain's activity. PET scans were used
widely, revealing here, for example, lower blood flow in the
language area of a dyslexic's brain, on the left. I tried
out the latest of these brain examination methods, a functional
MRI, in a study looking at memory and age.
ALAN ALDA: How was my brain?
ALBERT: It actually looks very young.
ALAN ALDA: Yes? What could you see? Marilyn Albert Yes, we were
ALAN ALDA: Yeah?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) They identified an area that's active in
memory with young people, but not old. Drawing two shapes
was the task in a less high-tech, but no less revealing, study.
ALAN ALDA: Nothing wrong with that!
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Normal brains can't do this because signals
to the two hands get mixed up.
GAZZANIGA: Well, we're seeing the fact that Alan's hemispheres
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) But a subject whose hemispheres had been
surgically separated to treat epilepsy can draw as if he has
two brains. We put on this piece of theater to illustrate
some important research on the unreliability of memory. When
later I was shown pictures of the picnic, I couldn't remember
what I'd really seen.
ALAN ALDA: No umbrella, no.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) I got that right...
SCHACTER: Nail file.
ALAN ALDA: Yes, I think I remember her filing her nails, although...
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) But I got that wrong.
ALAN ALDA: ...the picture is also vivid in my mind. But I think
I remember her filing her nails, too.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) I had a largely sleepless night in a sleep
lab so we could report on a study of dreams. I finally settled
down at six in the morning.
STICKGOLD: These are really good eye movements. These are
fast and they're big.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) The rapid eye movements showed I was dreaming,
so of course they woke me up to take a word association test.
It turns out we're really fast at associations during dreaming,
suggesting that's how we make dreams, in response to random
signals in the brain. Receiving direct signals into the brain
was how dowsers claimed they were able to find water.
Coming up on something. Here we are. 342 feet deep. 26 gallons
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We challenged several dowsers with scientifically
based tests of their abilities, but in our limited sample
at least, nothing worked out. Yet something that seemed equally
far-fetched appeared to work pretty well -- using brain waves
picked up by electrodes to steer a sailboat. And in perhaps
the most unexpected story of the Frontiers Decade, it turned
out the Air Force was looking at the same method to control
It's simply a matter of desiring this thing the go to the
right or desiring it to go to the left. And then my brain
automatically produces the signals necessary in order to make
it happen for me.
ALAN ALDA: Next we're going to look back at the stories we did
on earth science, planetary science and space science. It
was kind of exciting -- our film crews landed on a brand new
volcanic island here on Earth, we discussed ways to get to
Mars cheap and soon, we analyzed some of the first pictures
from the newly fixed-up Hubble telescope, and I got to talk
to a genuine spaceman. There was one very sad event in this
field -- Carl Sagan died in 1996 at the age of 62. He had
been a tireless advocate for space and planetary exploration,
a teacher, a TV star, a prolific author -- especially of books
that interpreted science for the non-scientist. He was insistent
on the importance of rational scientific thinking, and above
all, he wanted us to understand our human place in the universe.
Here's what he said when I visited him...
ALAN ALDA: The question is, if there are planets that could possibly
support life, are we alone here? I imagine you feel passionately
about the answer to that.
SAGAN: I don't know the answer, but I do feel passionately
ALAN ALDA: That's a great combination. Explain that.
SAGAN: Well, we have not found extra-terrestrial life. We
are just at the very earliest stages of the beginning. You
haven't found it yet, so it would be foolish for anyone to
say that he or she is absolutely certain that there is life
elsewhere. At the same time, we have a fairly good idea of
the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It's about 400
ALAN ALDA: 400 billion.
SAGAN: Right. So that's roughly speaking 100 times more than
the number of people on earth. Imagine every person had 100
ALAN ALDA: And every one of those stars had an unknown number of
SAGAN: And that's just in this galaxy, and there are tens
or hundreds of billions of other galaxies. Put that all together
and it seems laughable arrogance for humans to pretend that
they're the only life and the only intelligence.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Scientists said they'd found life in this
KEPRTA: Now is this your first look, this is your first look
ALAN ALDA: I can't believe I'm this close to it.
KEPRTA: That's right.
ALAN ALDA: How long ago did that get knocked off Mars?
KATHIE KEPRTA: About 16 million years ago.
ALAN ALDA: Well, I see a dark crack.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) People still don't agree if the suggestive
shapes in the rock had been alive or not. We looked extensively
at how humans can live in space.
ALAN ALDA: Hello, Andy, it's Alan Alda. Can you hear me up there?
THOMAS: I can hear you loud and clear. Welcome aboard Mir.
ALAN ALDA: Tell me about the effect of this weightlessness on your
body and what you're doing about that.
THOMAS: We use a regime of exercise up here. We actually put
on a harness which has bungies which simulate the load and
ties us down to the treadmill.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) It was the Russian space program that discovered
how long-term weightlessness causes muscles and bones to waste
away. Our cameras were in what was then the Soviet Union 10
years ago, to film pioneering research on counter-measures.
Today, the Russians still have the most experience of living
Do you want blindfolds?
ALAN ALDA: I don't know, do I?
ALAN ALDA: Maybe a blindfold and a last cigarette? I don't know.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) With trepidation I tried out the latest
ALAN ALDA: What's going to happen to me? I don't know what
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) In orbit, it would provide exercise while
also forcing blood down into the legs, simulating gravity.
It's part of NASA's program preparing for a long flight to
Mars. Space exercises is one area, another is maintaining
muscle control during a landing. They put me in a centrifuge
to try that out.
ALAN ALDA: It's as though my arm has some magnetic force pulling
Well, that's G-forces.
ALAN ALDA: Unbelievable. Unbelievable feeling.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) We also checked in with volunteers sealed
in a chamber for three months to test recycling systems that
could be used in space. The water just went round and round.
ALAN ALDA: Let me see you drink a glass of water, if you don't
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) And the bread was made from wheat that grew
with CO2 that the volunteers breathed out. In our story on
travel to Mars, Bob Zubrin explained his scheme to produce
fuel on Mars itself for the return journey. The fuel is made
from the Martian atmosphere in a machine like this.
ZUBRIN: This is a general purpose Martian still. It makes
oxygen, water, methane, methanol, kerosene, ethylene, anything
ALAN ALDA: Blast off. Oh, look at that. Whoa.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Bob's fuel seemed to work pretty well
in a test run.
ALAN ALDA: So now are we in orbit now, is that it?
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Bob wants to go to Mars to look for
life, but some people believe a film like this proves that
alien life has already found us. We made our own alien film
in a Hollywood special effects house to show how easy it is
to be fooled. We also explored the universe's history, back
in time, with the aid of the sharp pictures that the newly
repaired Hubble Telescope began to produce in 1993. The pictures
showed galaxies so distant that they revealed processes going
on 4 billion years ago, when galaxies were crashing together,
merging into the kinds of galaxies we see today. We're still
living with the heat left over from the formation of our solar
system. It causes volcanoes. In our story on Vesuvius, we
showed how the next eruption threatens residential areas and
highways. A dramatic computer simulation modeled pyroclastic
flow, as it's called, sweeping down the volcano's slopes.
Unless, that is, this barrier system is built. Montserrat,
in the Caribbean, showed graphically how destructive the hot
gas and rocks in pyroclastic flow can be. Whole towns were
destroyed, and left abandoned. Our cameras accompanied volcano
scientists when they went in after each new eruption. The
long-term aim is to be able to predict the volcano's behavior.
The houses which were standing in this location beforehand
are now out in the Caribbean Sea.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Then in our story about Surtsey, we were
reminded how creative the Earth's activity can be. The island,
south of Iceland, was formed in 1963, and one scientist has
been watching it since his first visit in 1965. Seeds soon
arrived on Surtsey, he found, attached to floating fish egg
cases, for example. Within a few years, there was a new piece
of living Earth.
ALAN ALDA: (Narration) Well, it's been an exciting decade for science
and a fascinating 10 years for Frontiers.
be back next season to begin a new decade of stories. Hope
to see you then. Don't go away -- Trinidad's champion steel
band, the Renegades, is going to play us out.