We take them for granted, but innovations such as the automobile, the rocket and the telescope were once unthinkable. Once they emerged, often the products of centuries of progress, they changed the world forever. “Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed the World,” a six-part PBS series that debuts Wednesday, demonstrates that their stories are worth reliving.
The TV show follows pioneers whose work led to some of the most revolutionary technology in history.
Their names won’t always be familiar. Next to icons such as Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell are figures such as Henrietta Swan Leavitt, an American astronomer whose discoveries laid the foundation for innovations such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and Karl and Bertha Benz, automotive trailblazers who awoke the world to the potential of cars.
Each show dives deep into the background behind a key innovation — the telescope, airplane, robot, car, rocket and smartphone — backgrounds that go much further back than you might expect. (What does a cave in ancient China have to do with rockets? Tune in to find out.)
Science-focused and undeniably enthusiastic, the series may make you appreciate even more the tech around you. The twists and turns it took to make each invention are a reminder that it takes collaboration, patience and creative thinking to push humanity forward.
“Breakthrough” will air Wednesday nights on local PBS stations from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern. Check your local listings for air times in your area. Want to watch using spectacular innovations such as your smartphone or smart TV? It will stream on all PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS video app.