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NOVA scienceNOW: Capturing Carbon

Program Overview

Scientists discuss how they developed a synthetic "tree" that can remove carbon dioxide from the air. They detail how they overcame major challenges while developing this system and discuss how it can be an effective tool in fighting global warming.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • reviews the greenhouse effect and its connection to global warming—sunlight hits Earth's surface, and some is reflected upward in the form of heat. Gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, trap the heat and warm the atmosphere.

  • states that burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Recognizes that because people will continue to use fossil fuels, it is necessary to develop technologies to counter their negative environmental impact.

  • introduces scientists who created a "synthetic tree" that captures carbon dioxide from the air.

  • describes challenges the scientists faced in developing an effective "tree." They had to determine the most effective leaf size and shape, the least expensive leaf surface coating that could bind carbon dioxide, how to dispose of the captured carbon dioxide, and how to remove more carbon dioxide than was generated in producing and running their system.

  • presents the team's prototype synthetic tree, but notes that they don't know how durable it is or where funding for large-scale production will come from.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Capturing Carbon