The BEST episodes of NOVA

Every episode of NOVA ever, ranked from best to worst by thousands of votes from fans of the show. The best episodes of NOVA!

Helps viewers of all ages explore the science behind the headlines.

Last Updated: 3/21/2023Network:PBS
The Miracle of Life
31 votes

#1 - The Miracle of Life

Season 10 - Episode 5 - Aired 2/15/1983

A documentary that shows the actual conception and development of a baby. It looks inside the male and female reproductive organs to show the formation of sperm and the passage of a fertilized egg through the fallopian tube. Uses a microscope to observe DNA, chromosomes, and other minute body details building up to the moment of birth.

Directors: Mikael Agaton
Watch Now:AmazoniTunes
The Elegant Universe: Einstein's Dream (1)
30 votes

#2 - The Elegant Universe: Einstein's Dream (1)

Season 30 - Episode 12 - Aired 10/28/2003

An introduction to string theory and its unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Directors: Joseph McMaster
Galileo's Battle For The Heavens
30 votes

#3 - Galileo's Battle For The Heavens

Season 29 - Episode 12 - Aired 10/29/2002

In this two-hour special, NOVA celebrates the story of the father of modern science and his struggle to get Church authorities to accept the truth of his astonishing discoveries. The program is based on Dava Sobel's bestselling book, Galileo's Daughter, which reveals a new side to the famously stubborn scientist—that his closest confidante was his illegitimate daughter, Sister Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun.

Directors: Peter Jones
Surviving the Tsunami
36 votes

#4 - Surviving the Tsunami

Season 38 - Episode 12 - Aired 9/28/2011

The earthquake that hit the northern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, was recorded at magnitude 9.0 the worst ever recorded in Japan. It generated an unprecedented tsunami, obliterating coastal villages and towns in a matter of minutes. In some areas, the tsunami climbed above 100 feet in height and traveled miles inland. Amazingly, amateur and professional photographers captured it all on video, including remarkable tales of human survival, as ordinary citizens became heroes in a drama they never could have imagined. As the waves rush in, a daughter struggles to help her elderly mother ascend their rooftop to safety; a man climbs onto an overpass just as the wave overtakes his car. These never-before-seen stories are captured in video and retold after the fact by the survivors who reveal what they were thinking as they made their life-saving decisions. Their stories provide lessons for how we should all act in the face of life-threatening disasters.

Directors: Tetsuji Miyagawa
The Big Energy Gamble
39 votes

#5 - The Big Energy Gamble

Season 36 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/20/2009

Can California's ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases actually succeed?

Watch Now:Amazon
Whales, Dolphins, And Men
6 votes

#6 - Whales, Dolphins, And Men

Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired 3/17/1974

NOVA explores the impact of whaling and the goods it produces for the industry, verses the grace and beatury of this intelligent mammal of the sea.

Watch Now:AmazoniTunes
Doctors' Diaries (1)
4 votes

#7 - Doctors' Diaries (1)

Season 36 - Episode 7 - Aired 4/7/2009

In 1987, NOVA's cameras began rolling to chronicle the lives of seven young, bright medical students embarking on the longest and most rigorous endeavor in higher education: the years-long journey to become a doctor. From their first days at Harvard Medical School to the present day, none of them could have predicted what it would take, personally and professionally. In "Doctors' Diaries," a two-hour special, NOVA returns to find out what sorts of doctors—and people—the seven young students have become. The program is the latest installment in the longest-running U.S. documentary of its kind.

Directors: Michael Barnes
Watch Now:Amazon
Cuttlefish: Kings of Camouflage
31 votes

#8 - Cuttlefish: Kings of Camouflage

Season 34 - Episode 3 - Aired 4/3/2007

NOVA explores the lives of cuttlefish. Not actually fish, these cephalopods can change their shape and color, they can put on dazzling light shows, and they're surprisingly intelligent.

Directors: Gisela Kaufmann
The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret
30 votes

#9 - The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret

Season 16 - Episode 20 - Aired 12/12/1989

The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret recreates the story of a British schoolteacher and his students who discovered secrets of the Soviet space program. In the 1960s, Geoffrey Perry at the Kettering Grammar School gave his students used short wave radios for a science project, but the school project had international reach when the group connected with Soviet transmissions.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time (2)
93 votes

#10 - The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time (2)

Season 38 - Episode 16 - Aired 11/9/2011

Ask physicists what time actually is, and the answer might shock you: they have no idea. The deep sense we have of time passing from present to past may be an illusion. How can our understanding of something so familiar be so wrong? In search of answers, Brian Greene takes us on the ultimate time-traveling adventure.

Directors: Randall MacLowry
Watch Now:Amazon
Absolute Zero: The Race For Absolute Zero (2)
8 votes

#11 - Absolute Zero: The Race For Absolute Zero (2)

Season 35 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/15/2008

Our mastery of cold is something we take for granted, whether it s air conditioning and frozen food or the liquefied gases and superconductivity at the heart of cutting-edge technology. But what is cold? How do you achieve it, and how cold can it get? This two-part NOVA special brings the history of this frosty fascination to life with brilliant dramatic recreations of high moments in low-temperature research and the quest for ever-lower notches on the thermometer. The first hour, The Conquest of Cold, opens in the 1600s when the nature of cold and heat was a complete mystery. Were they different aspects of the same phenomenon? The experiments that settled these questions helped stoke the Industrial Revolution. In the second hour, The Race For Absolute Zero dramatizes the titanic rivalry between Scottish researcher James Dewar and Dutch physicist Heike Onnes, who plunged cold science to the forbidding realm at which oxygen and then nitrogen turn into liquids. The race continues today as scientists pioneer super-fast computing near absolute zero the ultimate chill of -459.67° F where atoms slow to a virtual standstill.

Directors: David Dugan
Watch Now:Amazon
Ape Genius
35 votes

#12 - Ape Genius

Season 35 - Episode 5 - Aired 2/19/2008

As new research continues to reveal that apes are smarter than previously thought, NOVA explores just what separates humans from the great apes.

Directors: John Rubin
Writer: John Rubin
Invisible Universe Revealed
52 votes

#13 - Invisible Universe Revealed

Season 42 - Episode 8 - Aired 4/22/2015

Follow the historic rescue of Hubble—the space telescope that unveiled the cosmos.

Watch Now:Amazon
Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius
34 votes

#14 - Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius

Season 34 - Episode 1 - Aired 2/6/2007

Against all odds, African-American chemist Percy Julian became one of the greatest scientists of the 20th-Century.

Secrets of the Samurai Sword
120 votes

#15 - Secrets of the Samurai Sword

Season 34 - Episode 9 - Aired 10/9/2007

NOVA follows the long and exacting centuries-old process of making a Japanese samurai sword, from smelting the ore to the finished katana.

Directors: John Wate
Watch Now:Amazon
Smartest Machine on Earth
41 votes

#16 - Smartest Machine on Earth

Season 38 - Episode 6 - Aired 2/9/2011

Augmenting human intelligence is a lot tougher than it looks, and the promise of "Hal" from 2001: A Space Odyssey is still just a fantasy. But scientists are edging closer with machines like "Watson," an IBM computing system that is gearing up for a first-of-its-kind challenge: taking on human contestants on the game show Jeopardy! With a brain the size of 2,400 home computers and a database of about 10 million documents, will Watson be able to compute its way to victory? Given the complexity of human language, could any computer truly understand it? It remains to be seen if this amalgam of circuits and silicon can really take us closer to the dream of a fully developed artificial intelligence, a truly "conscious" machine. Win or lose, the difficulty of mimicking the human thought process with software is showing artificial-intelligence researchers that there's more than one way to be "intelligent."

Directors: Michael Bicks
Descent Into The Ice
36 votes

#17 - Descent Into The Ice

Season 31 - Episode 4 - Aired 2/10/2004

A team of "glacionauts" verntures into a labyrinth of unexplored and hazardous glacier caves on France's Mt. Blanc.

Directors: Liesl Clark
Writer: Liesl Clark
Apollo’s Daring Mission
42 votes

#18 - Apollo’s Daring Mission

Season 45 - Episode 17 - Aired 12/26/2018

Apollo astronauts and engineers tell the inside story of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. The U.S. space program suffered a bitter setback when Apollo 1 ended in a deadly fire during a pre-launch run-through. In disarray, and threatened by the prospect of a Soviet Union victory in the space race, NASA decided upon a radical and risky change of plan: turn Apollo 8 from an earth-orbit mission into a daring sprint to the moon while relying on untried new technologies. Fifty years after the historic mission, the Apollo 8 astronauts and engineers recount the feats of engineering that paved the way to the moon.

Marathon Challenge
6 votes

#19 - Marathon Challenge

Season 34 - Episode 11 - Aired 10/30/2007

13 amateurs train for the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon.

Directors: Daniel McCabe
Watch Now:Amazon
Shadow of the Condor
3 votes

#20 - Shadow of the Condor

Season 20 - Episode 14 - Aired 11/2/1993

NOVA soars with the condor, an extraordinary bird that lives a tenuous existence in the California mountains and the Andes of South America. Footage includes never-before-photographed nesting sites in the cliffs of Patagonia.

Deadliest Tornadoes
6 votes

#21 - Deadliest Tornadoes

Season 39 - Episode 9 - Aired 4/11/2012

In April 2011, the worst tornado outbreak in decades left a trail of destruction across the U.S., killing more than 360 people. Why was there such an extreme outbreak? How do such outbreaks form? With modern warning systems, why did so many die? Is our weather getting more extreme—and, if so, how bad will it get? In this NOVA special, we meet scientists striving to understand the forces at work behind last year's outbreak. Could their work improve tornado prediction in the future? We also meet people whose lives have been upended by these extreme weather events and learn how we all can protect ourselves and our communities for the future.

Directors: Sean Varley
Writer: Sean Varley
Watch Now:Amazon
The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies
8 votes

#22 - The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies

Season 36 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/27/2009

Orange-and-black wings fill the sky as NOVA charts one of nature's most remarkable phenomena: the epic migration of monarch butterflies across North America. To capture a butterfly's point of view, NOVA’s filmmakers used a helicopter, ultralight, and hot-air balloon for aerial views along the transcontinental route. This wondrous annual migration, which scientists are just beginning to fathom, is an endangered phenomenon that could dwindle to insignificance if the giant firs that the butterflies cling to during the winter disappear.

Directors: Nick de Pencier
Watch Now:Amazon
Why The Towers Fell
5 votes

#23 - Why The Towers Fell

Season 29 - Episode 7 - Aired 4/30/2002

Can lessons learned from the Twin Towers' collapse make new buildings safer?

Bigger Than T. Rex
65 votes

#24 - Bigger Than T. Rex

Season 41 - Episode 20 - Aired 11/5/2014

Almost a century ago, paleontologists found the first tantalizing hints of a monster even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex, perhaps the largest predator ever to roam the Earth: spectacular fossil bones from a dinosaur dubbed Spinosaurus. But the fossils were completely destroyed during a World War II Allied bombing raid, leaving only drawings, questions, and a mystery: What was Spinosaurus? Now, the discovery of new bones in a Moroccan cliff face is reopening the investigation into this epic beast. What did it feed on and how? Why did it grow so big? We follow the paleontologists who are reconstructing this terrifying carnivore, revealing a 53-foot-long behemoth with a huge dorsal sail, enormous, scimitar-like claws, and massive jaws tapered toward the front like a crocodile. Bringing together experts in paleontology, geology, climatology and paleobotany, this NOVA/National Geographic special brings to life the lost world over which Spinosaurus reigned more than 65 million years ago.

Directors: Chad Cohen
Watch Now:Amazon
Making Stuff Stronger (1)
11 votes

#25 - Making Stuff Stronger (1)

Season 38 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/19/2011

What is the strongest material in the world? Is it steel, Kevlar, carbon nanotubes, or something entirely new? NOVA kicks off the four-part series "Making Stuff" with a quest for the world's strongest substances. Host David Pogue takes a look at what defines strength, examining everything from steel cables to mollusks to a toucan's beak. Pogue travels from the deck of a U.S. naval aircraft carrier to a demolition derby to the country's top research labs to check in with experts who are re-engineering what nature has given us to create the next generation of strong stuff.

Directors: Chris Schmidt
Watch Now:Amazon

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