Science on TV: Do try these at home

There has never been so much science on television, and never have the programmes been so dazzling. Rebecca Armstrong tunes in to an on-screen revolution


The Real Lost World

What is it?

A two-hour documentary about Roraima, the magical plateau in Venezuela that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World in 1912. The book tells the story of an expedition to a land where prehistoric animals still survive. This show follows a modern expedition to discover the truth behind Conan Doyle's work.

What will I learn?

Apart from learning that the area is alive with spiders, snakes and centipedes, viewers will discover the story of the expedition that inspired Conan Doyle. Roraima was revealed to the public in 1884. The explorers Everard Im Thurn and Harry Perkins travelled there, returning with amazing tales. Do ape-men still haunt the forests? Are there unexplored caves teeming with life?

When is it on?

24 December at 4pm on Animal Planet

Dinolab

What is it?

In this new series, scientists use the latest technology and animation to explain how dinosaurs moved, hunted and lived. Using a huge laboratory- cum-gym, the digital dinosaurs are put to the test by treadmills, swimming tanks and obstacle courses under the expert eye of a team of palaeontologists. As well as showing how fast a T Rex could run, Dinolab reveals surprising connections between prehistoric creatures and today's animals.

What will I learn?

That the Triceratops is closer to a cross between a crab and a bull than it is to a rhinoceros; what happens when a T Rex falls at 40kmh; and how the huge sea beast Plesiosaurus used its three-metre-long neck to stun its prey. Impressive animated dinosaurs have been seen on the BBC in recent years, but this show takes these virtual creatures to a new level. Although young viewers seldom need to be encouraged to watch programmes about dinosaurs, this programme is thought-provoking and impressive in its scope.

When is it on?

Fridays at 8pm on Sky One

Brainiacs: Science Abuse

What is it?

A British science show that takes neither itself nor its experiments too seriously. It premiered on Sky One in 2003 and its fifth series is in production. Fronted by the Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond (right), it has gained a loyal following of fans who suggest experiments and vie for the chance to appear. As Sky puts it: "We aim to inform, excite and, above all, entertain our viewers with science method conducted in a fun and engaging way."

What will I learn?

Some things should never be put in a microwave. Some items will break when dropped; others will bounce. How fire extinguishers can be used to propel an office chair. Brainiacs' critics say it's bad science, and that the show's many explosions have been artificially enhanced, but it gets everyone talking.

When is it on?

Weekdays at 8am on Sky Two; series five goes out in 2007

Animals In The Womb

What is it?

Biology in close-up. The programme uses ultrasound images of foetuses and CGI effects to show the gestation periods of elephants, dolphins and dogs. "Using the 3D scanner on the dolphin, you could see that the tail of the foetus flips like crazy all the time, as though it is trying to swim in the womb," film-maker Stuart Carter says.

What will I learn?

Apart from many facts (an elephant needs 22 months to have one baby; dolphins have sex for fun; elephant sperm swim two metres to reach the egg), the programme gives unparalleled insight into pregnancy and birth. Seeing an elephant's tiny toenails or a dolphin taking its first swim makes biology feel alive and kicking.

When is it on?

Tomorrow at 9pm on Channel 4

MythBusters

What is it?

Pop science at its finest, MythBusters is a US programme devoted to testing the validity of rumours, urban myths and historical claims by seeing if they stand up to scientific experiments.

What will I learn?

Myths are judged either "busted", "plausible" or "confirmed", according to often-explosive testing.

When is it on?

Weekdays at 7pm on the Discovery Channel

How It's Made

What is it?

Cult viewing. How It's Made looks at everyday objects and the processes involved in their manufacture. It first appeared in Canada in 1999 (it was originally broadcast in French and called Comment C'est Fait) and made its debut in the UK in July last year. It's gone on to become one of the Discovery Channel's sleeper hits. Each show lasts 30 minutes, during which time the design and manufacture of up to four items is examined in detail.

What will I learn?

As well as fly-on-the-wall footage of factories, expect to discover the inner workings of things you've probably never given a second thought to. Ice cream, yule logs, fly-fishing equipment and snowboards have all recently been given the treatment.

When is it on?

Weekdays at 8pm on the Discovery Channel

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