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"The Wild West" Guide & Resources

Scientific American Frontiers headed out west for the 1995-96 season premiere. In "The Wild West," host Alan Alda and the production crew rounded up science stories with a distinctly Western flavor, featuring scorpions and rattlesnakes, tales told by bones, a search for diamonds, a cowgirl's attempts to throw a better lasso and a visit to Biosphere 2 in Arizona.

In addition to enriching your study of science, this episode of Scientific American Frontiers is also valuable for history and social studies classes. Here's an opportunity to introduce discussions about American history and the West, Native American cultures, different careers, from rodeo riding to forensic pathology, and the future of this planet.

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:

  • Nasty Critters (running time: 13:35) -- A two-part story about the rattlesnake and the scorpion, two legendary villains of the West, and what they reveal about themselves and desert ecology. Activities include building a mobile to study taxonomy and searching for animals by UV light.

  • All That Glitters (running time: 10:31) -- One man's "crazy idea" and persistence lead to a diamond find in the Canadian wilderness. Activities include mining your own "diamonds" and growing crystals from salt.

  • Looping The Loop (running time: 6:17) -- A cowgirl uses physics to become a better roper and brings home a calf and a rodeo prize. The activity includes creating a simple contraption that demonstrates centripetal force.

  • Dead Men's Tales (running time: 10:40) -- Science helps track down the identity of General Custer's troopers, whose bones left clues for forensics experts. Activities include trying a DNA spooling experiment that extracts DNA from onion cells and finding out more about DNA detective work.

  • Model Planet (running time: 12:00) -- Biosphere 2 in Arizona is home to seven biomes, including a rain forest and a miniature ocean. The desert venture is now a lab for today's scientists, who may discover valuable lessons for tomorrow's Earthlings. The activity includes testing for plant absorption of CO2.

  • Viewer Challenge -- After you watch "The Wild West," test your viewing skills with ten questions about the show!


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