The BEST episodes of NOVA

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

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

Last Updated: 5/18/2022Network: PBS
The Miracle of Life
30 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
Surviving the Tsunami
39 votes

#2 - 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
Watch Now:Amazon
Galileo's Battle For The Heavens
32 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
The Elegant Universe: Einstein's Dream (1)
35 votes

#4 - 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
The Big Energy Gamble
40 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
5 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
The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret
30 votes

#7 - 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)
96 votes

#8 - 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
Descent Into The Ice
35 votes

#9 - 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
Watch Now:Amazon
Ghost In Your Genes
8 votes

#10 - Ghost In Your Genes

Season 34 - Episode 10 - Aired 10/16/2007

Experts investigate how a mysterious "second genome" helps determine our biological fates.

Ape Genius
39 votes

#11 - 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
Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius
32 votes

#12 - 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.

Cuttlefish: Kings of Camouflage
35 votes

#13 - 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
Saved By The Sun
4 votes

#14 - Saved By The Sun

Season 34 - Episode 5 - Aired 4/24/2007

NOVA explores solar energy and its contribution towards getting humanity off of fossil fuels.

Directors: Steven Latham
Secrets of the Samurai Sword
122 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
Apollo’s Daring Mission
41 votes

#16 - 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.

Watch Now:Amazon
Shadow of the Condor
3 votes

#17 - 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.

Life's Greatest Miracle
5 votes

#18 - Life's Greatest Miracle

Season 28 - Episode 17 - Aired 11/20/2001

A sequel to the most popular NOVA of all time, "Miracle of Life," the program once again uses the extraordinary microimagery of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson to track human development from embryo to newborn.

Watch Now:Amazon
Pocahontas Revealed
5 votes

#19 - Pocahontas Revealed

Season 34 - Episode 6 - Aired 5/8/2007

The recent archeological discovery of the Native American Powhatan village of Werowocomoco, sheds new light on the Jamestown story of Pocahontas.

3D Spies of WWII
15 votes

#20 - 3D Spies of WWII

Season 39 - Episode 3 - Aired 1/18/2012

During World War II, Hitler’s scientists developed terrifying new weapons of mass destruction. Alarmed by rumors of advanced rockets and missiles, Allied intelligence recruited a team of brilliant minds from British universities and Hollywood studios to a country house near London. Here, they secretly pored over millions of air photos shot at great risk over German territory by specially converted, high-flying Spitfires. Peering at the photos through 3D stereoscopes, the team spotted telltale clues that revealed hidden Nazi rocket bases. The photos led to devastating Allied bombing raids that dealt crucial setbacks to the German rocket program and helped ensure the success of the D-Day landings. With 3D graphics that recreate exactly what the photo spies saw, NOVA tells the suspenseful, previously untold story of air photo intelligence that played a vital role in defeating the Nazis.

Directors: Tim Dunn
Watch Now:Amazon
Dawn of Humanity
69 votes

#21 - Dawn of Humanity

Season 42 - Episode 13 - Aired 9/16/2015

Deep in a South African cave, an astounding discovery reveals clues to what made us human.

Directors: Graham Townsley
Watch Now:Amazon
First Flower
10 votes

#22 - First Flower

Season 34 - Episode 4 - Aired 4/17/2007

In the remote mountains of China, scientist come closer to understanding the origins of flowers.

Watch Now:Amazon
Secrets Of Lost Empires: Medieval Siege
2 votes

#23 - Secrets Of Lost Empires: Medieval Siege

Season 27 - Episode 3 - Aired 2/1/2000

In the film, which is a part of the NOVA series Secrets of Lost Empires, a team of timber framers and other specialists design, build, and fire a pair of trebuchets, a devastating engine of war popular in the Middle Ages.

Directors: Michael Barnes
Watch Now:Amazon
Lassa Fever
2 votes

#24 - Lassa Fever

Season 10 - Episode 4 - Aired 2/8/1983

A gripping docudrama about a mysterious, highly lethal disease which struck a village in Nigeria in 1969, and the frustrating, seesaw battle against it. NOVA recounts how public health workers came perilously close to accidentally releasing a deadly virus in the US.

Watch Now:iTunes
Asbestos: A Lethal Legacy
2 votes

#25 - Asbestos: A Lethal Legacy

Season 10 - Episode 6 - Aired 3/1/1983

Every 58 minutes between now and the end of the century, one American will die from asbestos exposure. NOVA turns its spotlight on the tragic consequences of asbestos use and on the current controversy over who is responsible.