When it comes to science programs on television, Mr. Wizard has all the answers.
But Dr. Leon Lederman has all the questions.
Lederman is director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), a facility near Chicago that specializes in accelerating atomic particles and smashing them into other particles, demolition derby-style, in an effort to find out more about the nature of matter.
"We're concerned with a terribly simple question: How does the universe work? As soon as we can find that out, we'll close," he said.
Lederman is a part of the first program in a new series of science specials, "The Infinite Voyage." The series, consisting of 12 quarterly programs, is produced by PBS affiliate WQED in Pittsburgh and the National Academy of Sciences. The series is financed by Digital Equipment Corporation.
The first installment, "Unseen Worlds," airs Wednesday at 8 on PBS stations. (The series is also scheduled for broadcast on at least 12 commercial stations, beginning Dec. 1 on Channel 5.) This week's piece looks at the world from the smallest particles of matter to the far reaches of the universe.
The "Voyage" series aims to take viewers beyond textbook explanation of familiar science problems and, indeed, beyond the news of the day. It is oriented toward the future and toward the open and as yet unanswered questions, some of which are everyday concerns.
"Science has become a major factor in the work place," said Lederman. "And in elections, people are often confronted with technical issues -- AIDS, deterioration of the ozone layer, acid rain. There are a number of depressing problems to solve."
Each problem represents an unanswered scientific question. "I'm interested in the matter of senility," said Lederman with a laugh.
Lederman is especially interested in striking a responsive chord among the young. He acknowledged that he makes few friends among educators with his bare-knuckle comments on pre-college science education. "There are a number of national studies on science at the pre-college level," he said. "It ranges from mediocre to disastrous. There are examples of schools where the football coach teaches science ... It's better not to teach it than to teach it badly."
Lederman is encouraged by the fact that the presentation of the TV series will be augmented by widely circulated study guides and free taping rights granted to nonprofit educational institutions.
There are a number of grassroots efforts underway to nurture youngsters' interests in science, including one that Lederman started nine years ago at Fermilab. Each year 300 youngsters come to Fermilab for Saturday lectures and tours. The program is being expanded to take in junior high school students and teachers as well.
"The lectures are given by our post-docs," said Lederman. "The kids get a chance to see someone who's making a living in science, and they're dressed in sneakers and jeans just like the kids."