Seeing the invisible: van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world

7 minutes

Why time seems to fly as you get older

4 minutes

The comet

3 minutes

Drawn & recorded: Chemirocha

3 minutes

Crannog

15 minutes

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‘I could not but wonder at it’: history’s first glimpses into the microbial world

‘What do you do when you see things that no one has ever seen before?’

When the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek pointed a new, handcrafted microscope down into a jar of algae in 1674, he became the first person to learn of the microbial world. ‘And the motion of most of them in the water was so swift and so various, upwards, downwards, and round about, that I confess I could not but wonder at it,’ he later wrote to the Royal Society of London. What followed was one of the most outstanding cascades of scientific breakthroughs in history: from bacteria to protozoa to sperm to blood cells we learned that the vast majority of life is invisible to the naked eye and, in many cases, fundamentally inseparable from us. 

This imaginative animation from Sweet Fern Productions probes van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world, as well as the indelible mark his work left on science and the ongoing quest to understand how microscopic life shapes our existence.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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Time seems to accelerate as we get older, but there’s a tested way to tap the brakes

Most adults seem to agree that the older you get, the quicker time flies by. This feeling might, on its surface, seem like one of life’s more enigmatic qualities. But according to the US neuroscientist David Eagleman, there’s actually a pretty straightforward scientific explanation for this phenomenon: habitual situations require much less of our attention than novel ones and, as we age, we become much more likely to be fixed in our routines, and much less likely to encounter anything out of the ordinary. So, as Eagleman suggests in this animation from BBC Ideas, if you want to pump the brakes on your experience of time, try pursuing new experiences – large and small.

Video by BBC Ideas

Animator: Peter Caires

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How the Rosetta space probe brings a distant comet into vivid focus

In 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) sent the Rosetta space probe to explore the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, located beyond the asteroid belt, more than five times the Earth’s distance from the Sun. In 2014, the orbiter finally reached the comet, and a lander touched down on its nucleus – a first in human history – where it briefly gathered data before losing battery power. In this video, the Austrian filmmaker and photographer Christian Stangl pays tribute to Rosetta’s historic journey, digitally enhancing some of the 400,000 images released by ESA after the mission to create a remarkably vivid and visceral tour of the alien astral body.

Director: Christian Stangl

Composer: Wolfgang Stangl

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How an American country music pioneer entered African mythology

In 1933, the US country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers died of tuberculosis. Just 35 years old and at the peak of his career, his demise left a legacy of a life and career unfinished. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s Drawn & Recorded series, which tells little-known stories from the annals of modern music history, recounts the improbable story of how, in death, Rodgers would go on to inspire not just luminaries of American music, but also the Kipsigis peoples of the Rift Valley in Kenya – whose folk music found its way back to the US decades later. 

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

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‘When it comes to the end, we all want the same things.’ Why animals need a good death

Alexis Fleming has devoted her life to providing palliative care for sick and disabled animals. At the animal hospice she established in rural Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, she treats every sheep, chicken and pig with the same gentle care and patience that most people reserve for dear friends and family. Underlying her work is a deep conviction, with her since childhood, that all animals desire comfort, safety and companionship in their final days. Fleming herself is living with a life-threatening disease, and her proximity to death somehow buoys her up as she tends to the sick and dying around her. In making her short documentary Crannog with a spare, observational style, the Glasgow-based director Isa Rao mirrors the intimacy, strength and tenderness of Fleming’s labour of love. The video’s title comes from the Gaelic for an ancient form of dwelling found in Ireland and Scotland that often housed extended families, and is an apt metaphor for Fleming’s world, one in which moments of intense joy and sorrow are unified by a deeply felt sense of purpose in caring for others. 

Director: Isa Rao

Producer: Tom van den Hurk

Website: Scottish Documentary Institute, Guardian Documentaries

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‘I could not but wonder at it’: history’s first glimpses into the microbial world

‘What do you do when you see things that no one has ever seen before?’

When the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek pointed a new, handcrafted microscope down into a jar of algae in 1674, he became the first person to learn of the microbial world. ‘And the motion of most of them in the water was so swift and so various, upwards, downwards, and round about, that I confess I could not but wonder at it,’ he later wrote to the Royal Society of London. What followed was one of the most outstanding cascades of scientific breakthroughs in history: from bacteria to protozoa to sperm to blood cells we learned that the vast majority of life is invisible to the naked eye and, in many cases, fundamentally inseparable from us. 

This imaginative animation from Sweet Fern Productions probes van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world, as well as the indelible mark his work left on science and the ongoing quest to understand how microscopic life shapes our existence.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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