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Zenith Grant Awardee

Paula Apsell

WGBH Educational Foundation


Gregory Kestin, WGBH; Lauren Aguirre, WGBH

Project Title

What the Physics?!

Project Summary

Since 1974 on broadcast and 1996 on its web platform, NOVA has tackled challenging physics and other science subjects, making them exciting and understandable to a lay audience. Previous grants have enabled us to build a loyal following on The Nature of Reality blog. Funding from FQXi is the sole reason we have been able to create this level of focused reporting on foundational physics. However, growing interest in short-form videos—and younger audience preferences for other content platforms such as YouTube and Facebook—presents an opportunity to significantly expand the reach of this content in both numbers and diversity of audiences. NOVA’s digital team has the proven ability to produce short videos with a lively style appropriate to YouTube, without sacrificing the accuracy and credibility that are the hallmark of NOVA’s identity. We propose producing 30 to 40 short videos launched over the course of two years. These videos, hosted by Dr. Greg Kestin, would take on foundational questions in physics in an accessible manner with broad appeal. This subject matter aligns with NOVA’s and FQXi’s mission, responds to digital audiences’ clear interest, and promotes public interest in and understanding of foundational physics.

Technical Abstract

In October 2011, with support from the Foundational Questions Institute, NOVA launched a weekly physics blog called The Nature of Reality that deals with such foundational questions as the origin of the universe, the unification of quantum mechanics with general relativity, and the nature of space and time. A second FQXi grant enabled us to continue this work, publishing a total of 159 articles with a combined audience of 1.7 million unique visitors over the life of the project. To further expand public awareness and support of such research, NOVA proposes to launch a video series called What the Physics?!, taking on similarly complex foundational questions that can be tackled effectively in video format, allowing us to reach and inspire new, younger audiences. These videos would appear on The Nature of Reality blog, YouTube, and other popular content-sharing platforms such as Facebook. The series would be produced and hosted by Dr. Greg Kestin, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and has a proven talent for distilling complex topics into entertaining visual explorations of ideas that people want to watch and share.

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