Picks and Pans Review: The Quantum Universe

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Wed., June 6, 8 P.M. ET)

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"What is the stuff of the world? Of earth and trees and water and air?" asks a child's voice. It's not a rhetorical question from 11-year-old narrator Heidi Brown. She ticks off the irreducible building blocks of matter: quarks and electrons. But this glorious season finale of Smithsonian World is after bigger game: explicating quantum mechanics, the unifying theory of particle physics that has been just as revolutionary and far-reaching as Einstein's theory of relativity.

In addition to Ms. Brown (who was probably hired because she is the daughter of Quantum Universe producer Sandra Wentworth Bradley as much as for her pleasant voice), the program employs a surprising mix of scientists (Nobel winners Sheldon Glashow and Burton Richter), academics (the charming Abner Shimony of Boston University) and artists (92-year-old photographer Berenice Abbott). Actor Roger Rees performs eloquent soliloquies from Tom Stoppard's play Hapgood, about a metaphysical Russian physicist. That eclectic approach encompasses science, nature, art, even philosophy, and makes the focus of this program as much cosmology as physics.

Along the way, it really does render the occluded, sometimes paradoxical principles of the quantum theory in a comprehensible fashion. But you must concentrate. (I know: You like to play with your Game Boy while watching TV, but you can't this time.) Then again, giving your undivided attention to a show this poetically written and artistically photographed is well worth the effort.

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