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MIT lecturer produces NOVA program 'Origins'

While it is no small task to explain the origins of the universe in four hours, writer, filmmaker and MIT lecturer Thomas Levenson has done just that in the four-part, two-night Nova series he helped produce for PBS that airs next week.

Levenson, who was executive producer for the show, is the author of three books. His latest, "Einstein in Berlin," was published in 2003. Just this year, he started at MIT as a lecturer in the graduate program in science writing.

"Its great, I absolutely love it," said Levenson of his time at MIT. "It's been a dream."

For Levenson, part of the joy of working at MIT comes from the sense of community at the university. "My life as a writer and filmmaker is largely a solitary life," he said. "Now I have colleagues who can help me think about the problems I once dealt with alone."

Teaching at MIT is a natural evolution for Levenson, for whom writing and producing have always been about educating the public.

His latest work--"Origins"--is set to air on PBS starting next Tuesday, Sept. 28 from 8 to 10 p.m. The next two parts air Sept. 29, also beginning at 8 p.m.

The mini-series, which is billed as a lesson on "the beginnings of Earth, life and the universe," allowed Levenson the opportunity to share the latest information regarding our origins. "It is a report from the front lines about what we really know now," said Levenson. "This is a story that has only come together in the last few years."

Over the course of four, hour-long segments, "Origins" explores the formation of both our planet and the life on it as well as the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

"Working with NOVA is always exciting," said Levenson. "They expect world class work. It is clearly the best science television on television."

The final product has Levenson--who is already working on his next projects, a book about Isaac Newton and another film about astronomy--beaming.

"You might pull your hair out during the process," said Levenson of the effort to explain complicated science on television. "But the end result is worth it."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 22, 2004 (download PDF).

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