We've started the filming for Making Stuff: Smarter, and there's no better way to burst onto the scene than as we did, testing our host David Pogue's nerve with a 10-day block of filming and a couple of extreme sports.

But first, what does it mean for a material to "smart"? Scientists, often inspired by nature, have come up with an increasingly surprising array of smart materials--materials that sense and respond to stimuli. On our filming adventures, David will be discovering just what makes these materials more like the versatile and impressive ones found in nature.

David and the Making Stuff crew recently jetted into Grand Bahama Island, where David took a dive with an animal that is often misunderstood...the shark. He didn't have too much to worry about--he was diving with Caribbean Reef Sharks and not Great Whites. On top of that, he was in the safe hands of expert shark handler Cristina Zenato, who can hypnotize sharks by rubbing their noses. The phenomenon, known as tonic immobilization, causes the shark to fall asleep. 

David and shark.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Powderhouse Productions - David touching a reef shark

(David also happened to be reviewing underwater cameras for his day gig at the NYTimes during our shoot.)

What do sharks have to do with smart materials? The secret is in their skin, which has a number of properties that scientists are trying to imitate. Professor Anthony Brennan at the University of Florida has already developed a chemical-free anti-bacterial material based on shark's skin.
Next, we flew to Orlando for more adrenaline fuelled antics. We had an early shoot at Wallaby Ranch, and David went right back up in the air again. Only this time he wasn't in a plane. He was being towed by one.

Photo Courtesy of Powderhouse Productions - David Pogue coming back to land after being 2,000ft up on the hang-glide

David took to the sky (on several occasions) in a tandem hang-glide. But he was no match for the local vultures, who showed off just how well they could glide and control their wing shape in the air.

David smith 
and DP.jpgWith David's feet firmly back on the ground, we made our last stop. We took a look at a laboratory where the research ideas sound positively surreal compared to the biologically-inspired materials we had been dealing with.

Professor David Smith at Duke University is one of the key players in the area of metamaterials ("meta" meaning "beyond"). He's the experimentalist who created an "invisibility cloak"--an application of transformation optics at the microwave wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Photo Courtesy of Powderhouse Productions - Prof. David Smith and
David Pogue at Duke University

Scientists haven't quite mastered the development of a cloak at the level of visible light. But of course David, a fan of parlor magic, pulled out his own "invisibility cloak" and disappeared.

We just hope he reappears in time for our next trip!

Photo Courtesy of Powderhouse Productions - David underwater in the Bahamas

Publicist's Note: MAKING STUFF: Stronger, Smaller, Cleaner, Smarter will premiere Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9pm ET/PT on PBS

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wow gr8.....

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