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Science `sampler' sends viewers on incredible high-tech voyage

The Infinite Voyage: Unseen Worlds PBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., check local listings for premi`ere on PBS and repeats on commercial stations in 12 major markets. Narrator: Richard Kiley. Writer/producer: Steve Eder. Special effects: John Allison. Produced by WQED, Pittsburgh, in association with the National Academy of Sciences. Here's a glorious electronic trip that will zoom you off to the outer edges of science and art, to the frontiers of astronomy, medicine, physics, biology, and computer science. ``Unseen Worlds,'' the first program in a three-year, quarterly science/adventure series, employs the latest in magical computer animation effects as it surveys current scientific research into everything from Egyptian mummies to Big Bang re-creations. It is a marvelously demystifying science sampler.

Narrator Richard Kiley jumps right into an incredible display of high-tech prestidigitation with the opening sequence taped at the Manchester (England) Museum. Here scientists use modern imaging techniques to reconstruct the lives of mummies through their body histories rather than through buried artifacts, which have presented an idealized picture to the world.

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Then the show moves on to the University of Illinois, where computer graphics reveal the secrets of photosynthesis through the use of a supercomputer, which can also visualize the eye of a hurricane or the flight path of the spaceship Voyager, or read the entire New York City phone book in one-tenth of a second.

And then there's the Fermilab linear accelerator near Chicago, with its four-mile tunnel in which protons collide head-on in a kind of atomic demolition derby. Scientists there are re-creating the 15 billion-year-old explosion in which it is believed the universe was born.

The major weakness of this exhilarating program is that so much flows by so fast, with so many fascinatingly graphic illustrations by master special-effects creator John Allison, that the viewer may feel he is missing something. Each segment could easily have devoted triple the amount of time to the research and the researchers involved.

There is also the problem that sometimes the high-tech wonders of computerized illustration fight for attention against the high-tech scientific research being illustrated. One finds it hard to decide whether to concentrate on the presentation or the substance. But isn't that a wonderful problem to cope with!

The series underwriter, Digital Equipment Corporation, doesn't have to insert commercials. It's own message is buried deep in the heart of the fascinating material it presents. According to Digital's senior vice-president of corporate operations, Winston R. Hindle, ``This new series will result in an exciting run of PBS-quality programming on commercial television and a uniquely high-quality environment in which Digital can reach its critical audience. We're pursuing an entirely new way for private organizations to fund public television.''

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