The Next Big Thing

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Hear what Neil had to say at the conclusion of the episode "What's the Next Big Thing?"

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While I can appreciate the "human face" aspect of those you feature, if distinctions are now being made on the basis of sexual orientation, hetrosexuals should also be clearly identified as such when the human face aspect of hetrosexuals are being profiled and highlighted.
Its just as important in this day and age for youth to know its just as OK to be straight, and successful, in their chosen fields of developing research as it is to be gay. Otherwise, why even raise the issue of sexual orientation?
I fail to understand why, at a time when it seems our evolving society places so much value on a world without such distinctions, we seem determined to make such distinctions when it suits our purpose.


Very interesting piece from a bioengineer's point of view. However, the reality is that no feedstock (e.g. switchgrass or other cellulosic source, sugar cane, etc) will be able to replace our current infrastructure. In fact, the amount of arable land in the entire world would not provide the area to grow enough feedstock to satisfy the United States' thirst for oil!

The efficiency of converting switchgrass to fuel is less than 5% currently and is unlikely to rise significantly in the near future. Working with E. coli and yeast myself, I highly doubt that this could ever compete with the "$100/barrel" as one post said. It will be far more expensive. In comparison with solar energy (now manufactured around 15-20% efficient now, up to 40% efficient in the lab), I just don't see photosynthesis matching up at ~1% efficient solar energy to carbon conversion efficiency.

Also, consider the land use changes and related food price increase that will occur as a result of land used to make such a high-value product!

In addition to those bioengineers, engineers, and chemists that Jay has working at JBEI, I'd like to see an energy analyst there showing actual switchgrass-to-fuel efficiencies and saying whether this process is even scalable.

About NOVA scienceNOW Scientist Profiles:

Each episode of NOVA scienceNOW includes a “scientist profile” segment, such as our profile of biologist Jay Keasling. These profiles are intended to show the human face of science and engineering and cast a spotlight on individuals making important contributions in their fields. The segments focus not only on scientific endeavors but also on personal stories of the people behind the science. To date, NOVA scienceNOW has presented over 30 profiles, and all of them have included information about our profile subjects’ families—parents, children, siblings, spouses, and partners. NOVA’s producers treated Jay Keasling’s profile no differently than any of the dozens that preceded it.

We encourage you to watch other NOVA scienceNOW profiles (just type “profile” in our search box) to see the wide range of accomplished scientists and engineers featured in this series.


Speaking of hate groups, I don't feel a whole lot of love in your comments either. Seems like there is enough hypocrisy to go around.
Nevertheless, I found Nova's decision to highlight this information irrelevant to the theme, out of context to the forum, and in bad taste. And that is simply a matter of principle based on what I consider to be poor journalistic reporting and priority: what does homosexuality have to do with developing bio-fuels?
If Nova wants to develop a platform for gay rights, perhaps they should leave science to those who can stay focused on the subject of science rather than lobbying for a liberal social agenda.
I think its a shame that they would even taint an otherwise great program with such controversy.


As provocative and stimulating as I find Nova Science to be,I did take exception to references made to sexual orientation. It seemed clearly out of of place, out of context with the theme of the program overall, and in very poor taste.
I could care less about someone's sexual orientation, but there is a time and a place for everything. If Nova Science intends to become a forum for the gay agenda, perhaps it should leave science to someone else who can stay focused. A real turn off, Nova. And since gays are clearly in a fractional minority, just how much viewer support can Nova and PBS really afford to alienate?


Watching the February 23rd program this AM March,15th I wanted to add two other Big Ideas that need development.
Fuel cells which we feel will be the further replacement of the battery.
I began working on yttria stablized zirconia solid electrolytes when Corning purchased Zircoa in 1972. We calculated a 1974 Ford V8 could get 280 miles per gallon of gasoline if vaporized and passed through the cells to produce dc voltage at 93% efficiency. Better than the 7 to 15% that was the conversion from internal combustion to wheels.

A second is composite materials. Glass has been around for about 7,000 years and has never really come close to achieving its remarkable inherent toughness of 14 gpa or 2 million psi. Really, only about 0.5% of theoretically, and Measured strength by the bureau of standards, regardless of composition if performed in a vacuum, away from moisture. The bane of glass is water vapor and composites of glass and polymers can transform our society with new structures using glass as the skeletical structure.

I retired from Corning Inc. in 2003, after 40 years, but began a new career representing the entire Glass Industry with DOE and GMIC.

I think your program serves a vital few and it is the few so many times that is the provider of the many.

455 West Third Street
Corning, NY 14830



Dear Blogger, thank you for putting up my posts. Would you be so kind as to remove my email address from the last post?
It is OK to leave everything else.
I just received an email from a friend, telling that his email address "hijacked" and was being used by someone else. Someone sent me an email as if from him, which would have linked me to an "attack" website. Fortunately my security system blocked access when I clicked on the link in the email.
Thanks. Tom

This is a must see video. TDP = thermodepolymerization

The United States should no longer be the energy or economic hostage of wacko dictators like Chavez and Kadafi, as oil prices continue to rise.
With TDP, it is said we could produce as much oil as we currently import.
If we must subsidize farmers, then pay them to produce real food, not corn based Ethanol or switch grass. (NASCAR driver Dale Ernhardt Jr. says they have noted a 12% drop in fuel mileage with Ethanol.)

At a time when the Federal Government must slash federal spending to halt our skyrocketing debt, TDP could boost the US economy by reducing our out of pocket costs for gasoline,
or the high prices truckers are paying for diesel fuel.


I love the final thought as always.

What a great program. No words to say how excellent it is.

i just love this program.i hope you do many more of them.i learn so much.thank you for teaching my kids and i in a way thats understandable.keep up the great work.thanks,a mother of four boys.pamela


Your program is very uplifting and inspiring. Thank you for showcasing Jay Keasling and his amazing talents. I also appreciated you mentioning he is gay.

I am seven years old. I think the real next big thing will be the Babysitter Bot. I would really like one of those -- then my family could go out and I could stay home and be safe and have food. I would also like a self-driving car so I could go places on my own or with my Babysitting Bot.


using farm ground to produce fuels from corn or switch grass creates new problems. The production of ethanol needs to be subsidized by the US government, since it is not cost effective. Corn prices are up, and supplies are down, since corn is being used to produce ethanol, and that means less corn is available for food. Using switch grass to produce fuel will need to use land to produce fuel, rather than produce food.
More cost effective are methods already being used, that produce oil/fuel from anything that is carbon based. That includes sewage, garbage, metal, etc. This is being done by using water and heat. There are numerous videos on youtube...

Disappointing was the irrelevant sub-story about the Harvard Nebraska man being gay.
There is plenty of junk science being touted as fact today, which does not serve to advance real solutions to our energy needs, i.e. "climate change" "global warming".
These new methods to produce fuels from garbage, tires and junk, may prove to be more cost effective and efficient for example, than recycling plastic containers to make a new product.


Each time I have viewed Nova ScienceNow programing it awakens my belief that this world society has a very good chance to survive as long as we can learn to get along with each other no matter where we live. Keep up the good work.

This program was so uplifting and encouraging at a time when "the news" seems to be all "bad." We hear about everything that's wrong and very little about how to fix it or anything being done to fix it as in "global warming" and its aftermath. "Nova scienceNOW" is by far my favorite TV show, but this episode was the most inspiring. I am going to compel my grown children to watch it (they tend to skip public television much to my dismay), since these subjects will be important factors in their lives and those of my grandchildren, especially the one concerning bio-fuels. The story about robotics also makes the future seem exciting instead of scary.

This episode was particularly interesting because all the ideas and innovations are already in progress rather than theory driven. Neil does an amazing job of wrapping it all up nicely in a format that anyone can understand. Nova has always been one of my favorite shows and things have only gotten better. I think every single thing mentioned can have a huge impact on the future, if only the ones with the power and influence to make it happen would push for these concepts to be a part of our everyday living.
*I think Americans need a concept city - full of innovations and new gadgets. The roads could be made for the newest of computer driven cars, efficient electricity throughout, more efficient mail services even :) Just add in every amazing innovation you all can think a test to see how much more efficient the city would actually be. I have a feeling it would be mind-blowing to see it in action. Computer simulations are great but a real future city would get the point across to everyone...hopefully making everyone think and dream bigger.

Delightful! Fantastic to think about. Its rare that I feel compelled to write a review but the show really made me smile and think and dream. Awesome! Thanks to all who made the show possible. Neil, you rock!

I am concerned that we are talking more and more about "Global Warming" and less and less about "pollution". We need to stay focused on reducing pollution before we simply poison ourselves to death. At that point, the weather might be the least of our concerns....

This show is so awesome. Proud to cal Jay Keasling a fellow Nebraskan!

Neil if I remember right you had said that when in space such as on the space station for extended time periods the human body looses bone mass and muscle strength. And if I remember right that you had said that while on the space station that they are pressure raised to 1/3 our atmospheric pressure. And that the exercises they do doesn’t seem to be helping much. I scuba dive and I know the effects of pressure.
I was thinking maybe the pressure that our space explorers are kept in is part of the body’s degeneration problem. With one third pressure and lack of gravity--- when you look at it at the cellular level gravity has only so much to do with it, I think the pressure may have more to do with it.
There are cretin dangers to depressurizing to fast and that may be the reason why they are kept at 1/3 pressure. But I have a feeling if the trip into space you keep that the same as it is now for safty and for the time at the space station for extended stays or trips the pressure should be higher than what we are accustom to here on earth. Maybe even twice as high as what we have at sea level or more to make up for the lack of gravity.
When diving every 33 feet is equal to one atmosphere and people dive to 60 to 100 feet all the time and as long as they decompress properly to let the gasses leave our liquid parts (our blood) of our bodies we have no problem.
I think a simple thing of increasing the pressure of our space vessels may be the answer people are looking for bone health while in space. The stress of exercising on earth makes for stronger bones and muscles, maybe the stress of pressure will make the bones stronger for space travel, rubber straps for exercise in space.
We know the short term effects on pressure on an animal; we need a study of the long term effects of pressure on a animal. Like will there be gasses or things compressed into our bones or organs that will want to be released when we go back to a normal pressure? Like nitrogen in the air we breathe when we dive for the short term effect.
Just something to think about


Neil is awesome, the Carl Sagan of our age.

I have questions regarding the switchgrass -> biodiesel via e. coli segment:

- How many gallons of biodiesel can you get from 1 acre of switchgrass?

- How much energy input do you need to produce 1 gallon of biodiesel from switchgrass?

- What other resources are needed in the process (water)? And how much per gallon of biodiesel produced?

- What is the best time estimate for getting the process working on a large scale?

Without this information I find myself VERY skeptical about the claims of this technology to save the world from the crisis of ever-increasing oil demand and ever-dwindling oil supply... which is not only a gasoline/diesel demand since oil is needed for making countless other products which are rising in demand (plastics, fertilizer, pesticides, lubricants, rubber, etc.)

Check out the movie Collapse on Netflix (streamable) or check out Zeitgeist 2011 on youtube ( for some insight on exactly how complex this problem is.

Bravo!!! This is the best show on television. Neil DeGrasse is superb! He has so much charm and charisma and presents this show for everyone to watch whether you are a sceince buff or not. The segment about the robots was scary, particularly the human looking robot. I now know why most robots being made look like toys. Neil, you are the best.


Neil, your presentation is just superb! It is progam like this one, makes me to continue my PBS membership without fail. I work in NIF program. May be you will include it in your future episodes. Thank you.

My husband and I absolutely love this show. We look forward to this show every week. Thank you, thank you, thank you.....

I find mr.tysons program very stimulating,enjoyable and informative. i whish i had this kind of programing when i was much younger

My wife and I, as usual with Neil's shows, were informed and stimulated. It is particularly valuable to non- scientists to have at least some explanation of the topics chosen. On this show we were particularly interested in the development of biofuels. Yes, it would require an enormous amount of switchgrass (or animal parts for that matter), but at $100+ per barrel of oil, these are good alternatives. A second area of major interest was of the smart grids. It might be interesting to see both of these areas developed further in future shows.

Nova Science Now is one of the best, if not the best, show on television. This seasons big questions are so interesting and informative. Keep up the good work.

Joe, those are some of the undiscussed details. I wonder if it'd be more like millions of acres. A limiting factor, other than the rate at which bacteria can produce fuel, is photosynthesis itself. So this may be a good supplement at some point, but not sure about a primary source with so many massive, inefficient vehicles on the road (and the future need for more food acreage). Jay is a smart guy with a quality eduction, so I'd think he realizes this, but media promotion of projects (or even the potential for miracle-working) wouldn't be unusual when it comes to energy research. People like their magic pills.

Loved the show. Just the right balance for the non-technically oriented and science geeks like me to stay interested. Great job! The earthquake program for laptops is the Quake Catcher Networker.

Seems to me, you are the bigot with your rants against those with alternate sexual preferences. Why is Jay's orientation alright with you but not the other orientations listed by jo which are just as normal to those who feel them as is same sex attraction to homosexuals?

And jo just listed them matter-of-factly. You are the one spewing inuendo and vemon.

Sorry for bursting bubbles guys but the havoc and land movement of whats named Earthquake comes from a tone of sound interacting with the Earths Magnetic field.

Simply go out and dig holes, insert a listening device, record the tone of sound of a large quake. Once you have the tone pegged install these at strategic places around the globe. Monitoring sound as it approaches a damaging tone gives ample warning to a catastrophic Earthquake.

My science of this was relayed to Pacific Geo Science Centre and I understand that this filtered down to Stanford University. At Depth SAFOD Earth Scope

The results of this has the US government spending hundreds of millions for drilling and I understand that Japan has now manufactured a ship for ocean drilling. bruce voigt

Fair enough, the segment about the gay scientist who created the anti-malarial drug was about the man as well as his good works - but the segment did mention he had two sons. How? It still takes a man and a woman to create a baby.

Concerning your segment on fuel from switchgrass, what is the yield of this stuff as compared to corn or sugar cane? Also, what will be the prices of our corn, corn byproducts, pork, and beef once we give up hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land to switchgrass?

It’s part of our genetics, for the most part, to create and explore, so the next big thing will happen eventually. We must continue working on electric cars, reliable and available enough to replace our current technology. The faster the better, for the sake of our planet, but, I must admit, the idea of been able to eat a sandwich, texting, taking a nap, and play board games, and not having to worry about accidents sounds lovely.


Thank you for informing us that the man behind
the anti malaria vaccine is gay. Gay youth need
to have excellent role models just like everyone else.
Perhaps the day will come when good role models are
just that and the distinction between gay and straight
is obsolete.

I thought the piece on Jay was amazing...what a great guy giving to the world with malaria vaccine, trying to figure out the fuel crisis and being a great dad and taking care of his father...we need more people like him in the world for sure!

To respond to your comments: "Who cares about a scientist's sex life; whether he is attracted to married women, men, children, or animals? Ruined the segment. Boo."

I'll tell you who cares: those of us who have been persecuted by bigoted comments like yours! I find it particularly disturbing that you IMMEDIATELY try to denigrate Jay - and by extension, gay people in general - with the whole gays = pedophiles or gays = bestiality clap-trap. Seriously, why on earth is an obvious non-believer in science doing even watching a program like NOVA? Or are you only on here commenting because you're paid to do so by NOM, Focus on the Family, the Koch brothers, or some other documented hate group? The person that needs "booing" is YOU.

On the other hand, I highly commend NOVA for highlighting the fact that Jay is gay, and despite enduring the kind of ignorant, bigoted vitriol that Jo here spews, Jay succeeded in reaching his full potential as a vital, responsible member of society. It's particularly good for people like you, Jo, to see first-hand that most gay people are respectful, responsible members society that use their time and talents to do GOOD things for others - as opposed to selfish, pridefully ignorant bigots like you who spend their time and what little talents you have HARMING people for the pure pleasure of it.

Of course, I'm guessing that knowing that someone like Jay, who has worked to make the world better, even for people like you, is gay "ruined the segment" for you because it blows your bigoted world view that gays are deviant monsters who molest kids and have sex with sheep. "Boo?" Seems more like boo-hoo to me.

I agree. I really don't care about a scientist's sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with his research and breakthroughs. It really detracted from the article.

I really love the thought of the automatic Pilot Car Just big enough for me and my shopping or me and one other. as a great help for seniors and disabled or young people just nedding to get around and needing safe transportation ithink it is a perfect idea I hope we can afford it. $$

Very interesting segment of robots, the smart grid looks to be the next big step we need to take along with bio engineering a fuel supply.


It was a "profile" of the man. Possibly why he felt forced to leave his home was relevant. Especially since it was reflected in how he ran his company. Your homophobia would be silly if you weren't so disgusting. However, it is encouraging that you are watching Nova. People like you usually don't believe the world is round much less understand the scientific method. I'm sure if you keep watching empathy will penetrate your 'hard' head and you will evolve in spite of yourself.

Who is the redheaded geologist in Haiti?


I'm in Houston and work in the industry. In the worst of the "recession" Exxon Baytown posted three record quarters. Billions of dollars each quarter. So much that they stopped announcing their quarterly profits and forbid their people from discussion it. You are absolutely correct. If we had the economic will and freedom the world would be a much better place. Except for the top 2%. And they won't let that happen. Their greed combined with Americans apathy and ignorance is an unbeatable combination. Our only hope is if they screw up and get too greedy. Only if "average" Americans have to live without cable, or god forbid; go hungry, will we ever do anything to oust our Plutocratic Overlords. It's a sad day in American when most of us know it doesn't really even matter who the president is. Or that it is more important who is the president of "X" Corporation.

I missed the info as to how to register your laptop for the earthquake monitoring program.
Could you pass that on to me?

Switchgrass for biofuel is interesting, but just remember that "Petroleum Plantations" were proposed as far back as the 1970's. The oil companies suppressed Dr. Melvin Calvin's ideas back then, they will also suppress the idea of using switchgrass as well.
Melvin Calvin is attributed with doing groundbreaking research with photosynthesis.(check on wikipedia) He also formulated how to get oil from "gopher weed" a common weed whose scientific name is euphorbia lathyris. Calvin got a grant to grow acres of "gopher weed" on several UC campuses in California in the 1970's. He calculated how we coud break our dependence on foreign oil by simply growing this common weed and extracting the oil. He calculated a formula of barrels of oil per acre. It was a more than viable option to imported oil but guess what? The oil industry not only suppressed his ideas and research, but they were, of course--not interested.
As long as the likes of Exxon Mobile rule America, no great idea will ever get produced. Notice that you mentioned "sometime in the future" as the time frame for using switchgrass? We've been there many, many times. It's all "in the future." A viable electric car was "killed" in the 90's, (GM Impact) and now we have this incredible joke called the GM Volt. In fact there were several electric car prototypes that were never produced as far back as 1968! (The Stir-Lec car--an electric car with a stirling engine as its battery charging unit, one example)
Sorry folks. Switchgrass is a wonderful idea, so was gopher weed, so were the hundreds of electric car prototypes never produced--but the oil companies are determined to suppress these ideas, and milk their very bloody industry for all its worth, destroying the planet in the process. Good try--but why not put it into an "economic" perpsective next time? Then we'll truly see why nothing ever gets done--why all ideas will come about only sometime "in the future."
Expose the oil companies and their corporate fascism, why ideas never get developed, and who really rules America. Right on "Nova Science Now!"

Completely agreed, Prem. It's interesting stuff, but this show makes things like cellulosic biofuel sound like they're on the cusp of commercial reality, when one of the biggest obstacles is scaling them up to the point of making a dent in the HUGE demand for energy. I understand the need for optimism, but not to the extent that it fosters complacency on things like efficiency and interim solutions that are viable today. Even if those solutions do require some up-front investment to compete in a system that ignores the externalized costs of fossil fuels AND continues subsidizing them.

Nice try Mike, but I think you need an update on the so-called "climategate". It was essentially a non-event beyond the blogosphere of denial. And despite China's expansion of coal (to meet the basic needs of 1.3 billion people), they're actually investing more in efficiency and renewables than we are. Regardless of climate concerns, they're going to need that extra energy to even come close to the typical Western lifestyle.

Excellent show. Just enough info with just the right "tone" to ramp up my curiosity without intimidating my lay person's brain. I'm encouraged to learn more and look forward to future episodes. Neil has great rapport.


I like the the auto pilot cars and if they were somehow able to access mass transit for longer trips they would be ideal.

Thanks for very interesting episode, particularly striking at the end was the innovation of using switchgrass for biofuel which had you comparing the American midwest to the "American middle east". Farmers can grow the switchgrass and so the farm belt would become a new economic powerhouse. What's so striking is that yesterday, the Colbert Report parodied this very idea in its episode, but due to a different reason: the spreading strikes in the American midwest, mimicking in some ways the current unrest in north Africa and the middle east. It was fascinating to see these comparisons made back to back.


I was surprised that Neil Degrasse Tyson made the mistake of describing electric current as electrons moving from here to there on tonight's episode of Nova ScienceNOW... I'm confused how he could make such an elementary mistake about the nature of electromagnetism. Of course we know there is a very small amount of electron drift, but the actual electrical current is the thing that moves at a speed "close to the speed of light," not electrons.

I regret that you didn't go into much deeper detail about energy - e.g. how many acres of switchgrass would it take to offset even 10% of our fossil fuel use? How much water would be involved? What is the conversion efficiency of sunlight energy to biofuel energy [clue less than 1%]. Too much glitz and feel feel good and too little actual data... we NEED actual good data to start getting educated to real solutions.

Why do we need to know the one guy in this show is a homosexual?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: NOVA has removed part of this post because it violates our guidelines on profanity.]

I do love seeing my tax dollars spent this way. Really, I do.

What the hell is wrong with you people? Has political correctness softened your brains?



Since Earthquakes are stress in the fault-lines, might there be a way to release that stress?

I live near an Air Force Base. They are breaking every now and then breaking to sound bearer. This is causing cracks to appear in many houses. (Because of stress in these buildings, and the sonic booms quickly relieve them as cracks.)

Might this help with the stress in the earth's plates?

I laughed out loud at the idea that people would be vulnerable to robots playing on our emotions. insincerity was not invented with robots. We have been dealing with this problem since we were humans. Think about how we have dealt with new technology in the past hundred years. People fallen for radio, television and internet advertisement and celebrety infatuation and we are still OK.


Why does your show continue to peddle the discredited "global warming" propaganda? The e-mails leaked from East Anglia University gave us a clear view of the manipulation of the data and the silencing of dissenting researchers. Those scientists who weren't willing to toe the party line were denied access to the raw data. Temperature monitoring stations that didn't yield the "expected" data were simply omitted.

If the globalists really believed their own hype, they wouldn't allow General Electric and other companies to build several "dirty" coal-powered generating plants PER WEEK in China, while virtually shutting down the development of any new coal-powered plants in the U.S. China is being thrust into the 21st century as America is pushed back into the 19th century by the global social(ist) engineers, who see no role for a nation with a tradition of individual liberty in the so-called New World Order.


I would love for my laptop to be a monitor for earthquake's.
I live in Richmond VA 23227. count me in!
I love NOVA. Thank you so much!!!! Stanya


couple things here people... 1st 2 gwen since NOVA wont respond i will. Switch grass will yield a much larger crop than cow dung would. (unscientific) but i suspect we would all have to eat WAY more meat 4 that crap 2 power our world. meat is expensive i love meat. prime rib baby. i digress.

previous shows profiled other scientists lives, FAMILIES, Activities, Interests. So I dont think the oriantation of the scientist profiled 2 night is outside of the norm of this show. the show is great


another fabulous episode. the entire show and its format is world class. i always enjoy how you folks profile the amazing individuals who change our world and our lives 4 the better. Neil"s perspective is prophetic as usual, hes a gem. your show is better than most 145 min movies. im just saying. :0)

pbs rules.

wait! i can see the future. serious (not really), in the year..... 2043 NIEL DEGRASSE TYSON will B awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Im calling it right now. serious.

Who cares about a scientist's sex life; [EDITOR'S NOTE: NOVA has removed part this post, which violated our guidelines on profanity.]

Ruined the segment. Boo.


If we use arable land growing switch grass for bio fuel, doesn't that reduce food production? Why not use animal and food waste that are by products of food production?

Excellent show - informative and entertaining! Neil is a great host!


Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

I was sorry to see the show come to an end.