Segments in this Video

Gold (05:54)


Gold was valued before money existed. A jewelry maker discusses the element and the ancient techniques she employs. A scientist uses an electron microscope to study its individual atoms; they form small clusters, but do not combine with other chemicals.

Creating Elements (02:38)

In a star's core, extreme temperatures forge elements through fusion; once its energy is depleted, it explodes; small, dense neutron stars form as a result, often in pairs. Scientists theorize when binary stars collide, fusion occurs on a massive scale and creates heavy elements. Whether present during solar system formation or delivered by asteroids, most Earthly metals originated in space.

Gold Technology (02:17)

Hubble 2.0 relies on two ounces of gold for the power to detect infrared light. Watch as a mirror and an infrared camera are used to demonstrate why the James Webb telescope's mirrors are covered in gold.

Copper (08:10)

Watch as Malachite is burned to extract Cu; smelting allowed early humans to shape and use the element for tools, vessels, and surgical equipment. Ancient Egyptians used it as a disinfectant, and modern medicinal applications are being researched; watch an experiment that shows copper killing a superbug. The metal is abundant, flexible and conducts electricity; electrons move easily through its well-ordered atoms.

Bronze (06:46)

Smelted tin and copper make bronze; the large tin atoms restrict movement and create a stronger metal suitable for weapons manufacture. The alloy revolutionized warfare; an expert in ancient relic preservation discusses the discovery and qualities of the Sword of Goujian. Gigantic bells made from bronze are used by Buddhist temples in South Korea; the elastic atomic properties generate the ringing sound.

Iron (06:11)

Freeing iron from stone requires great heat; a bloomery uses oxygen pumps to achieve the necessary temperatures. The metal was commonly used for tools and weapons. Slag left behind from smelting weakens metals; hammering and reheating it with carbon creates steel; see a bend test performed on steel and wrought iron from the Eiffel Tower.

Steel (08:33)

Steel has greatly influenced industrialization and construction; the structure of Beijing National Stadium is explained by an engineer; two types of the metal provide flexibility and strength. Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world, made of steel and niobium. Different additives create different alloys; see a lab demonstration of carbon from garbage combined with iron to form steel.

Aluminum and Metal Foam (05:21)

Aluminum has 14 electrons, protons, and neutrons, making it relatively lightweight and ideal for aeronautics. See the laboratory process of new materials being created from metal and rubber; the metal foam retains strength while changing shape; projected applications include submergible planes and refigurable tools.

Graphene (04:41)

Graphene is the strongest known material; it is pure carbon, one atom thick and flexible. Its potential applications include cell medicine, environmental monitoring and structural engineering. Metals have revolutionized life on earth.

Credits: Metals (00:56)

Credits: Metals

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Part of the Series : NOVA: Treasures of the Earth
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



The enduring luster of gold, the conductivity of copper, the strength of steel—the special properties of metals have reshaped societies and defined eras; they have such an important role in human history that entire ages have been named after them. But what gives metals their astounding characteristics? From the perfect ring of a bronze bell to the awe-striking steel construction of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium, how have humans perfected metalworking? And how have metals enabled our modern hi-tech world? Explore the science of metals with chemists and engineers as they literally test the mettle of metals and investigate how these remarkable materials have ushered humanity from the Stone Age to the stars.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: FPT166791

Copyright date: ©2016

Closed Captioned

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