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"Science 911" Guide & Resources

Science 911 presents five stories of scientific detective work that take viewers from the jungles of Panama to the jungle of city streets. Follow the scientists who investigate these questions: What can we learn from car crash tests that will help engineers design safer automobiles? Why does a caterpillar deep in a Panama rain forest turn to ants for rescue - and what's in it for the ants? Meanwhile, back in the States, can aviation specialists find a replacement for halon, a very effective fire-extinguishing chemical, before the supply runs out? Detectives involved in a real-life criminal investigation wondered, "Could DNA from a tree solve a murder?" and soon found themselves involved in a drama of scientific sleuthing. And finally, who do cops in New York City call when they need help dealing with emotionally disturbed people on the streets? Here are the topics and running times of stories on this show and a brief description of related activities in this online teaching guide:

  • Car Crash Testing (running time: 9:41) -- Crash test dummies collaborate with engineers in new tests designed to simulate more realistic auto accidents. Activity: Figure out who was on the ramp at the scene of an accident...and, a crash test for plastics.

  • Panama Protection Racket (running time: 8:41) -- When Thisbe caterpillars are attacked by wasps, who do they call for help? A wicked species of ant that gets a payoff in return. Activity: Puzzle out these symbiotic scenarios.
    Report from the Field: Tropical field biologist Philip DeVries talks about his work in rain forest regions.

    Fight a Fire, Save the Ozone (running time: 9:15) The race is on to find a replacement for halon, an extremely effective fire suppressant with one major drawback -- it depletes the ozone layer. Activity: Monitor the effects of UV light with this biochem lab.

  • Tree Fingerprints (running time: 14:48) -- A murder case is solved with an unusual piece of evidence -- the DNA "fingerprint" from a tree. Activity: Imagine you are a scientist with access to information about a person's genetic makeup: what do you do with it?

  • Cop Psychiatrists (running time: 10:30) -- The Emergency Services Unit of the New York Police Department has borrowed a technique from psychiatry to help defuse dangerous situations. Activity: Devise strategies to use in mediating conflicts that might arise in school.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.