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"Life's Big Questions" Guide & Resources

In this episode of Scientific American Frontiers, you'll meet scientists who are exploring the cosmic mysteries of our past and future. Join them in the quest for answers to some of life's biggest questions: How did the universe begin? Where did life come from? Is there life on other planets? Sometimes the search for answers leads to more questions, as you'll find out when you watch this show.

Here are the topics and running times of stories on this show and a brief description of related activities you'll find in this online teaching guide:

  • How Did the Universe Begin? (running time: 12:45) -- Astronomers study ancient galaxies through the lenses of the world's two most powerful telescopes. Activities: Modeling red shift; Modeling an expanding universe; Find your place in the galaxy.

  • Where Did Life Come From? (running time: 5:40) -- In the volcanic hot springs of Yellowstone, biologists search for clues to when and where life first began on Earth. Activities: Just how tough are bacteria?; Build a caldera and find out what happens when a volcano blows its top.

  • How Did Earth Get Animals? (running time: 8:45) -- Rocks in a Chinese quarry provide the evidence to explain an explosion of life that occurred about 570 million years ago on Earth. Activities: An experiment in half-life.

  • Are We Alone? (running time: 11:25) -- Carl Sagan ponders the question, Paul Horowitz looks for clues, and NASA scientist Jack Farmer plans a search for fossils of ancient life on Mars. Activity: Send a message into space.

  • Will Robots Take Over? (running time: 14:20) -- Two examples of artificial intelligence: Flaky, a programmed robot, and a computer creature that evolves without being programmed. Contest Ideas/Activities: Build a robotic explorer; Design a soft lander.


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