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Podcast Profile: In Our Time: Science

podcast imageTwitter: @BBCInOurTime (followed by 0 science writers)
Site: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01gyd7j
270 episodes
1998 to present
Average episode: 40 minutes
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Categories: Broadcast Radio Programs • Panel-Style

Podcaster's summary: Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

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List Updated: 2022-Sep-28 12:10 UTC. Episodes: 270. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

Episodes
2022-Jul-07 • 58 minutes
The Death of Stars
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the abrupt transformation of stars after shining brightly for millions or billions of years, once they lack the fuel to counter the force of gravity. Those like our own star, the Sun, become red giants, expanding outwards and consuming nearby planets, only to collapse into dense white dwarves. The massive stars, up to fifty times the mass of the Sun, burst into supernovas, visible from Earth in daytime, and become incredibly dense neutron stars or black holes. In these moment...
2022-May-12 • 51 minutes
Homo erectus
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and d...
2022-Apr-07 • 50 minutes
Seismology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, t...
2022-Mar-04 • 1 minutes
In Our Time is now first on BBC Sounds
Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps. If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the In Our Time podcast first. BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at bbc.co.uk/sounds. The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now. BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music m...
2021-Nov-11 • 51 minutes
William and Caroline Herschel
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Herschel (1738 – 1822) and his sister Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848) who were born in Hanover and made their reputation in Britain. William was one of the most eminent astronomers in British history. Although he started life as a musician, as a young man he became interested in studying the night sky. With an extraordinary talent, he constructed telescopes that were able to see further and more clearly than any others at the time. He is most celebrated today for disc...
2021-Oct-28 • 52 minutes
Corals
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the simple animals which informed Charles Darwin's first book, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, published in 1842. From corals, Darwin concluded that the Earth changed very slowly and was not fashioned by God. Now coral reefs, which some liken to undersea rainforests, are threatened by human activity, including fishing, pollution and climate change. With Steve Jones Senior Research Fellow in Genetics at University College London Nicola Foster Lecturer in ...
2021-Oct-07 • 48 minutes
The Manhattan Project
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the race to build an atom bomb in the USA during World War Two. Before the war, scientists in Germany had discovered the potential of nuclear fission and scientists in Britain soon argued that this could be used to make an atom bomb, against which there could be no defence other than to own one. The fear among the Allies was that, with its head start, Germany might develop the bomb first and, unmatched, use it on its enemies. The USA took up the challenge in a huge enginee...
2021-Sep-16 • 53 minutes
The Evolution of Crocodiles
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable diversity of the animals that dominated life on land in the Triassic, before the rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and whose descendants are often described wrongly as 'living fossils'. For tens of millions of years, the ancestors of alligators and Nile crocodiles included some as large as a bus, some running on two legs like a T Rex and some that lived like whales. They survived and rebounded from a series of extinction events but, while the range of habi...
2021-May-13 • 50 minutes
Longitude
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a par...
2021-Apr-08 • 48 minutes
Pierre-Simon Laplace
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the plan...
2021-Mar-11 • 49 minutes
The Late Devonian Extinction
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages ...
2021-Feb-04 • 50 minutes
Emilie du Châtelet
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the outstanding French mathematicians and natural philosophers of the 18th Century, celebrated across Europe. Emilie du Châtelet, 1706-49, created a translation of Newton’s Principia from Latin into French that helped spread the light of mathematics on the emerging science, and her own book Institutions de Physique, with its lessons on physics, was welcomed as profound. She had the privileges of wealth and aristocracy, yet had to fight to be taken seriously as an i...
2020-Dec-31 • 51 minutes
Eclipses
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life’s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise o...
2020-Oct-15 • 53 minutes
Alan Turing
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alan Turing (1912-1954) whose 1936 paper On Computable Numbers effectively founded computer science. Immediately recognised by his peers, his wider reputation has grown as our reliance on computers has grown. He was a leading figure at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, using his ideas for cracking enemy codes, work said to have shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. That vital work was still secret when Turing was convicted in 1952 for having a se...
2020-Mar-05 • 51 minutes
Paul Dirac
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theoretical physicist Dirac (1902-1984), whose achievements far exceed his general fame. To his peers, he was ranked with Einstein and, when he moved to America in his retirement, he was welcomed as if he were Shakespeare. Born in Bristol, he trained as an engineer before developing theories in his twenties that changed the understanding of quantum mechanics, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 1933 which he shared with Erwin Schrödinger. He continued to make deep contribution...
2020-Feb-27 • 50 minutes
The Evolution of Horses
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans fi...
2020-Jan-23 • 55 minutes
Solar Wind
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flow of particles from the outer region of the Sun which we observe in the Northern and Southern Lights, interacting with Earth's magnetosphere, and in comet tails that stream away from the Sun regardless of their own direction. One way of defining the boundary of the solar system is where the pressure from the solar wind is balanced by that from the region between the stars, the interstellar medium. Its existence was suggested from the C19th and Eugene Parker developed...
2019-Oct-31 • 51 minutes
Hybrids
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what happens when parents from different species have offspring, despite their genetic differences. In some cases, such as the zebra/donkey hybrid in the image above, the offspring are usually infertile but in others the genetic change can lead to new species with evolutionary advantages. Hybrids can occur naturally, yet most arise from human manipulation and Darwin's study of plant and animal domestication informed his ideas on natural selection. With Sandra Knapp Tropica...
2019-Oct-03 • 52 minutes
Dorothy Hodgkin
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work and ideas of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for revealing the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin and who later determined the structure of insulin. She was one of the pioneers of X-ray crystallography and described by a colleague as 'a crystallographers' crystallographer'. She remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel in science, yet rejected the idea that she was a role model for other women, or th...
2019-May-23 • 52 minutes
Kinetic Theory
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how scientists sought to understand the properties of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume, and what that search unlocked. Newton theorised that there were static particles in gases that pushed against each other all the harder when volume decreased, hence the increase in pressure. Those who argued that molecules moved, and hit each other, were discredited until James Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann used statistics to support this kinetic theory. Ideas about a...
2019-Apr-11 • 49 minutes
The Evolution of Teeth
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss theories about the origins of teeth in vertebrates, and what we can learn from sharks in particular and their ancestors. Great white sharks can produce up to 100,000 teeth in their lifetimes. For humans, it is closer to a mere 50 and most of those have to last from childhood. Looking back half a billion years, though, the ancestors of sharks and humans had no teeth in their mouths at all, nor jaws. They were armoured fish, sucking in their food. The theory is that either ...
2019-Feb-21 • 49 minutes
Pheromones
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how members of the same species send each other invisible chemical signals to influence the way they behave. Pheromones are used by species across the animal kingdom in a variety of ways, such as laying trails to be followed, to raise the alarm, to scatter from predators, to signal dominance and to enhance attractiveness and, in honey bees, even direct development into queen or worker. The image above is of male and female ladybirds that have clustered together in response...
2019-Feb-07 • 50 minutes
Aristotle's Biology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable achievement of Aristotle (384-322BC) in the realm of biological investigation, for which he has been called the originator of the scientific study of life. Known mainly as a philosopher and the tutor for Alexander the Great, who reportedly sent him animal specimens from his conquests, Aristotle examined a wide range of life forms while by the Sea of Marmara and then on the island of Lesbos. Some ideas, such as the the spontaneous generation of flies, did not s...
2019-Jan-24 • 48 minutes
Emmy Noether
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Emmy Noether. Noether’s Theorem is regarded as one of the most important mathematical theorems, influencing the evolution of modern physics. Born in 1882 in Bavaria, Noether studied mathematics at a time when women were generally denied the chance to pursue academic careers and, to get round objections, she spent four years lecturing under a male colleague’s name. In the 1930s she faced further obj...
2018-Dec-27 • 50 minutes
Venus
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Venus which is both the morning star and the evening star, rotates backwards at walking speed and has a day which is longer than its year. It has long been called Earth’s twin, yet the differences are more striking than the similarities. Once imagined covered with steaming jungles and oceans, we now know the surface of Venus is 450 degrees celsius, and the pressure there is 90 times greater than on Earth, enough to crush an astronaut. The more we learn of it, tho...
2018-Nov-01 • 51 minutes
Free Radicals
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the properties of atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron, which tend to be more reactive, keen to seize an electron to make it a pair. In the atmosphere, they are linked to reactions such as rusting. Free radicals came to prominence in the 1950s with the discovery that radiation poisoning operates through free radicals, as it splits water molecules and produces a very reactive hydroxyl radical which damages DNA and other molecules in the cell. There is also an arg...
2018-Sep-20 • 52 minutes
Automata
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of real and imagined machines that appear to be living, and the questions they raise about life and creation. Even in myth they are made by humans, not born. The classical Greeks built some and designed others, but the knowledge of how to make automata and the principles behind them was lost in the Latin Christian West, remaining in the Greek-speaking and Arabic-speaking world. Western travellers to those regions struggled to explain what they saw, attributing mag...
2018-Jun-21 • 51 minutes
Echolocation
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how some bats, dolphins and other animals emit sounds at high frequencies to explore their environments, rather than sight. This was such an unlikely possibility, to natural historians from C18th onwards, that discoveries were met with disbelief even into the C20th; it was assumed that bats found their way in the dark by touch. Not all bats use echolocation, but those that do have a range of frequencies for different purposes and techniques for preventing themselves becoming ...
2018-Apr-26 • 49 minutes
The Proton
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery and growing understanding of the Proton, formed from three quarks close to the Big Bang and found in the nuclei of all elements. The positive charges they emit means they attract the fundamental particles of negatively charged electrons, an attraction that leads to the creation of atoms which in turn leads to chemistry, biology and life itself. The Sun (in common with other stars) is a fusion engine that turn protons by a series of processes into helium, emittin...
2018-Apr-12 • 50 minutes
George and Robert Stephenson
In a programme first broadcast on April 12th 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution of George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son Robert (1803-59) to the development of the railways in C19th. George became known as The Father of Railways and yet arguably Robert's contribution was even greater, with his engineering work going far beyond their collaboration. Robert is credited with the main role in the design of their locomotives. George had worked on stationary colliery steam engines and, wi...
2018-Feb-22 • 50 minutes
Rosalind Franklin
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958). During her distinguished career, Franklin carried out ground-breaking research into coal and viruses but she is perhaps best remembered for her investigations in the field of DNA. In 1952 her research generated a famous image that became known as Photograph 51. When the Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson saw this image, it enabled them the following year to work out that DNA has a double-helix structur...
2018-Feb-15 • 49 minutes
Fungi
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss fungi. These organisms are not plants or animals but a kingdom of their own. Millions of species of fungi live on the Earth and they play a crucial role in ecosystems, enabling plants to obtain nutrients and causing material to decay. Without fungi, life as we know it simply would not exist. They are also a significant part of our daily life, making possible the production of bread, wine and certain antibiotics. Although fungi brought about the colonisation of the planet by p...
2018-Feb-01 • 47 minutes
Cephalopods
The octopus, the squid, the nautilus and the cuttlefish are some of the most extraordinary creatures on this planet, intelligent and yet apparently unlike other life forms. They are cephalopods and are part of the mollusc family like snails and clams, and they have some characteristics in common with those. What sets them apart is the way members of their group can change colour, camouflage themselves, recognise people, solve problems, squirt ink, power themselves with jet propulsion and survive both on lan...
2017-Nov-30 • 49 minutes
Carl Friedrich Gauss
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Gauss (1777-1855), widely viewed as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He was a child prodigy, correcting his father's accounts before he was 3, dumbfounding his teachers with the speed of his mental arithmetic, and gaining a wealthy patron who supported his education. He wrote on number theory when he was 21, with his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, which has influenced developments since. Among his achievements, he was the f...
2017-Oct-26 • 48 minutes
Feathered Dinosaurs
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of theories about dinosaur feathers, following discoveries of fossils which show evidence of feathers. All dinosaurs were originally thought to be related to lizards - the word 'dinosaur' was created from the Greek for 'terrible lizard' - but that now appears false. In the last century, discoveries of fossils with feathers established that at least some dinosaurs were feathered and that some of those survived the great e...
2017-Jul-06 • 51 minutes
Bird Migration
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds' annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany...
2017-Jun-01 • 49 minutes
Enzymes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss enzymes, the proteins that control the speed of chemical reactions in living organisms. Without enzymes, these reactions would take place too slowly to keep organisms alive: with their actions as catalysts, changes which might otherwise take millions of years can happen hundreds of times a second. Some enzymes break down large molecules into smaller ones, like the ones in human intestines, while others use small molecules to build up larger, complex ones, such as those that m...
2017-May-18 • 51 minutes
Louis Pasteur
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and his extraordinary contribution to medicine and science. It is said few people have saved more lives than Pasteur. A chemist, he showed that otherwise identical molecules could exist as 'left' and 'right-handed' versions and that molecules produced by living things were always left-handed. He proposed a germ theory to replace the idea of spontaneous generation. He discovered that microorganisms cause fermentation and disease. ...
2017-Apr-06 • 48 minutes
Pauli's Exclusion Principle
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose Exclusion Principle is one of the key ideas in quantum mechanics. A brilliant physicist, at 21 Pauli wrote a review of Einstein's theory of general relativity and that review is still a standard work of reference today. The Pauli Exclusion Principle proposes that no two electrons in an atom can be at the same time in the same state or configuration, and it helps explain a wide range of phenomena such as the electron shel...
2017-Mar-16 • 50 minutes
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years more, with the surface of seas in the Arctic being as warm as those in the subtropics. There were widespread extinctions, changes in ocean currents, and there was much less oxygen in the sea depths. The rise has been attributed to an increase of carbon dioxide...
2017-Mar-02 • 48 minutes
The Kuiper Belt
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Kuiper Belt, a vast region of icy objects at the fringes of our Solar System, beyond Neptune, in which we find the dwarf planet Pluto and countless objects left over from the origins of the solar system, some of which we observe as comets. It extends from where Neptune is, which is 30 times further out than the Earth is from the Sun, to about 500 times the Earth-Sun distance. It covers an immense region of space and it is the part of the Solar System that we know the leas...
2017-Feb-16 • 49 minutes
Maths in the Early Islamic World
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of maths in the early Islamic world, as thinkers from across the region developed ideas in places such as Baghdad's House of Wisdom. Among them were the Persians Omar Khayyam, who worked on equations, and Al-Khwarizmi, latinised as Algoritmi and pictured above, who is credited as one of the fathers of algebra, and the Jewish scholar Al-Samawal, who converted to Islam and worked on mathematical induction. As well as the new ideas, there were many advances drawi...
2017-Jan-26 • 46 minutes
Parasitism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are mistletoe and trees, hookworms and vertebrates, cuckoos and other birds. In many cases the parasite species do so well in or on a particular host that they reproduce much faster and can adapt to changes more efficiently, and it is thought that almost half of al...
2016-Dec-29 • 49 minutes
Johannes Kepler
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary motion Kepler developed transformed people's understanding of the Solar System and laid the foundations for the revolutionary ideas Isaac Newton produced later. Kepler is also thought to have written one of the first works of science fiction. However, he faced a...
2016-Oct-27 • 46 minutes
John Dalton
The scientist John Dalton was born in North England in 1766. Although he came from a relatively poor Quaker family, he managed to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his age. Through his work, he helped to establish Manchester as a place where not only products were made but ideas were born. His reputation during his lifetime was so high that unusually a statue was erected to him before he died. Among his interests were meteorology, gasses and colour blindness. However, he is most remembered tod...
2016-Oct-13 • 46 minutes
Plasma
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss plasma, the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid and gas. As over ninety-nine percent of all observable matter in the Universe is plasma, planets like ours, with so little plasma and so much solid, liquid and gas, appear all the more remarkable. On the grand scale, plasma is what the Sun is made from and, when we look into the night sky, almost everything we can see with the naked eye is made of plasma. On the smallest scale, here on Earth, scientists make plasma to etc...
2016-Sep-22 • 47 minutes
Zeno's Paradoxes
In a programme first broadcast in 2016, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as "immeasurably subtle and profound." The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with the...
2016-Jul-07 • 49 minutes
The Invention of Photography
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of photography in the 1830s, when techniques for 'drawing with light' evolved to the stage where, in 1839, both Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot made claims for its invention. These followed the development of the camera obscura, and experiments by such as Thomas Wedgwood and Nicéphore Niépce, and led to rapid changes in the 1840s as more people captured images with the daguerreotype and calotype. These new techniques changed the aesthetics of the a...
2016-Jun-09 • 47 minutes
Penicillin
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. It is said he noticed some blue-green penicillium mould on an uncovered petri dish at his hospital laboratory, and that this mould had inhibited bacterial growth around it. After further work, Fleming filtered a broth of the mould and called that penicillin, hoping it would be useful as a disinfectant. Howard Florey and Ernst Chain later shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine with Fleming, for their role in developing a way of ma...
2016-Apr-28 • 46 minutes
Euclid's Elements
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euclid's Elements, a mathematical text book attributed to Euclid and in use from its appearance in Alexandria, Egypt around 300 BC until modern times, dealing with geometry and number theory. It has been described as the most influential text book ever written. Einstein had a copy as a child, which he treasured, later saying "If Euclid failed to kindle your youthful enthusiasm, then you were not born to be a scientific thinker." With Marcus du Sautoy Professor of Mathemati...
2016-Apr-21 • 46 minutes
1816, the Year Without a Summer
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in A...
2016-Apr-14 • 46 minutes
The Neutron
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the neutron, one of the particles found in an atom's nucleus. Building on the work of Ernest Rutherford, the British physicist James Chadwick won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the neutron in 1932. Neutrons play a fundamental role in the universe and their discovery was at the heart of developments in nuclear physics in the first half of the 20th century. With Val Gibson Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge and fellow of Trinit...
2016-Feb-18 • 48 minutes
Robert Hooke
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) who worked for Robert Boyle and was curator of experiments at the Royal Society. The engraving of a flea, above, is taken from his Micrographia which caused a sensation when published in 1665. Sometimes remembered for his disputes with Newton, he studied the planets with telescopes and snowflakes with microscopes. He was an early proposer of a theory of evolution, discovered light diffraction with a wave theory to explain it and f...
2016-Feb-04 • 47 minutes
Chromatography
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins, development and uses of chromatography. In its basic form, it is familiar to generations of schoolchildren who put a spot of ink at the bottom of a strip of paper, dip it in water and then watch the pigments spread upwards, revealing their separate colours. Chemists in the 19th Century started to find new ways to separate mixtures and their work was taken further by Mikhail Tsvet, a Russian-Italian scientist who is often credited with inventing chromatography in ...
2016-Jan-14 • 47 minutes
Saturn
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Saturn with its rings of ice and rock and over 60 moons. In 1610, Galileo used an early telescope to observe Saturn, one of the brightest points in the night sky, but could not make sense of what he saw: perhaps two large moons on either side. When he looked a few years later, those supposed moons had disappeared. It was another forty years before Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens solved the mystery, realizing the moons were really a system of rings. Successive as...
2015-Dec-24 • 46 minutes
Michael Faraday
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the eminent 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday. Born into a poor working-class family, he received little formal schooling but became interested in science while working as a bookbinder's apprentice. He is celebrated today for carrying out pioneering research into the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Faraday showed that if a wire was turned in the presence of a magnet or a magnet was turned in relation to a wire, an electric current was generated. This grou...
2015-Dec-17 • 48 minutes
Circadian Rhythms
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution and role of Circadian Rhythms, the so-called body clock that influences an organism's daily cycle of physical, behavioural and mental changes. The rhythms are generated within organisms and also in response to external stimuli, mainly light and darkness. They are found throughout the living world, from bacteria to plants, fungi to animals and, in humans, are noticed most clearly in sleep patterns. With Russell Foster Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at...
2015-Nov-05 • 46 minutes
P v NP
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problem of P versus NP, which has a bearing on online security. There is a $1,000,000 prize on offer from the Clay Mathematical Institute for the first person to come up with a complete solution. At its heart is the question "are there problems for which the answers can be checked by computers, but not found in a reasonable time?" If the answer to that is yes, then P does not equal NP. However, if all answers can be found easily as well as checked, if only we knew how, th...
2015-Sep-24 • 46 minutes
Perpetual Motion
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the idea of perpetual motion and its decline, in the 19th Century, with the Laws of Thermodynamics. For hundreds of years, some of the greatest names in science thought there might be machines that could power themselves endlessly. Leonardo Da Vinci tested the idea of a constantly-spinning wheel and Robert Boyle tried to recirculate water from a draining flask. Gottfried Leibniz supported a friend, Orffyreus, who claimed he had built an ever-rotating wheel. An inc...
2015-Jun-25 • 46 minutes
Extremophiles
In 1977, scientists in the submersible "Alvin" were exploring the deep ocean bed off the Galapagos Islands. In the dark, they discovered hydrothermal vents, like chimneys, from which superheated water flowed. Around the vents there was an extraordinary variety of life, feeding on microbes which were thriving in the acidity and extreme temperature of the vents. While it was already known that some microbes are extremophiles, thriving in extreme conditions, such as the springs and geysers of Yellowstone Park ...
2015-May-28 • 46 minutes
The Science of Glass
While glass items have been made for at least 5,000 years, scientists are yet to explain, conclusively, what happens when the substance it's made from moves from a molten state to its hard, transparent phase. It is said to be one of the great unsolved problems in physics. While apparently solid, the glass retains certain properties of a liquid. At times, ways of making glass have been highly confidential; in Venice in the Middle Ages, disclosure of manufacturing techniques was a capital offence. Despite the...
2015-Apr-30 • 47 minutes
The Earth's Core
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Earth's Core. The inner core is an extremely dense, solid ball of iron and nickel, the size of the Moon, while the outer core is a flowing liquid, the size of Mars. Thanks to the magnetic fields produced within the core, life on Earth is possible. The magnetosphere protects the Earth from much of the Sun's radiation and the flow of particles which would otherwise strip away the atmosphere. The precise structure of the core and its properties have been fascinating scie...
2015-Mar-26 • 47 minutes
The Curies
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the scientific achievements of the Curie family. In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie shared a Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, a term which Marie coined. Marie went on to win a Nobel in Chemistry eight years later; remarkably, her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie would later share a Nobel with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for their discovery that it was possible to create radioactive materials in the laboratory. The work of the Curie...
2015-Mar-12 • 46 minutes
Dark Matter
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance which is believed to make up most of the Universe. In 1932 the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort noticed that the speed at which galaxies moved was at odds with the amount of material they appeared to contain. He hypothesized that much of this 'missing' matter was simply invisible to telescopes. Today astronomers and particle physicists are still fascinated by the search for dark matter and the question of what it is. With Ca...
2015-Feb-12 • 45 minutes
The Photon
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the photon, one of the most enigmatic objects in the Universe. Generations of scientists have struggled to understand the nature of light. In the late nineteenth century it seemed clear that light was an electromagnetic wave. But the work of physicists including Planck and Einstein shed doubt on this theory. Today scientists accept that light can behave both as a wave and a particle, the latter known as the photon. Understanding light in terms of photons has enabled the d...
2014-Dec-11 • 46 minutes
Behavioural Ecology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Behavioural Ecology, the scientific study of animal behaviour. What factors influence where and what an animal chooses to eat? Why do some animals mate for life whilst others are promiscuous? Behavioural ecologists approach questions like these using Darwin's theory of natural selection, along with ideas drawn from game theory and the economics of consumer choice. Scientists had always been interested in why animals behave as they do, but before behavioural ecology this are...
2014-Nov-13 • 45 minutes
Brunel
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineer responsible for bridges, tunnels and railways still in use today more than 150 years after they were built. Brunel represented the cutting edge of technological innovation in Victorian Britain, and his life gives us a window onto the social changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Yet his work was not always successful, and his innovative approach to engineering projects was often greeted with suspicion from investors...
2014-Oct-30 • 47 minutes
Nuclear Fusion
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss nuclear fusion, the process that powers stars. In the 1920s physicists predicted that it might be possible to generate huge amounts of energy by fusing atomic nuclei together, a reaction requiring enormous temperatures and pressures. Today we know that this complex reaction is what keeps the Sun shining. Scientists have achieved fusion in the laboratory and in nuclear weapons; today it is seen as a likely future source of limitless and clean energy. Guests: Philippa Bro...
2014-Sep-25 • 45 minutes
e
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Euler's number, also known as e. First discovered in the seventeenth century by the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest, e is now recognised as one of the most important and interesting numbers in mathematics. Roughly equal to 2.718, e is useful in studying many everyday situations, from personal savings to epidemics. It also features in Euler's Identity, sometimes described as the most beautiful equation ever written. With: Colva...
2014-Jul-10 • 47 minutes
The Sun
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Sun. The object that gives the Earth its light and heat is a massive ball of gas and plasma 93 million miles away. Thanks to the nuclear fusion reactions taking place at its core, the Sun has been shining for four and a half billion years. Its structure, and the processes that keep it burning, have fascinated astronomers for centuries. After the invention of the telescope it became apparent that the Sun is not a placid, steadily shining body but is subject to periodic...
2014-Jun-12 • 47 minutes
Robert Boyle
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Robert Boyle, a pioneering scientist and a founder member of the Royal Society. Born in Ireland in 1627, Boyle was one of the first natural philosophers to conduct rigorous experiments, laid the foundations of modern chemistry and derived Boyle's Law, describing the physical properties of gases. In addition to his experimental work he left a substantial body of writings about philosophy and religion; his piety was one of the most important factors in ...
2014-May-15 • 47 minutes
Photosynthesis
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and many other organisms use sunlight to synthesise organic molecules. Photosynthesis arose very early in evolutionary history and has been a crucial driver of life on Earth. In addition to providing most of the food consumed by organisms on the planet, it is also responsible for maintaining atmospheric oxygen levels, and is thus almost certainly the most important chemical process ever discovered. With: Nick Lane Reade...
2014-Apr-03 • 47 minutes
States of Matter
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the science of matter and the states in which it can exist. Most people are familiar with the idea that a substance like water can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous forms. But as much as 99% of the matter in the universe is now believed to exist in a fourth state, plasma. Today scientists recognise a number of other exotic states or phases, such as glasses, gels and liquid crystals - many of them with useful properties that can be exploited. With: Andrea Sella Professo...
2014-Feb-27 • 42 minutes
The Eye
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the eye. Humans have been attempting to understand the workings and significance of the organ for at least 2500 years. Some ancient philosophers believed that the eye enabled creatures to see by emitting its own light. The function and structures of the eye became an area of particular interest to doctors in the Islamic Golden Age. In Renaissance Europe the work of thinkers including Kepler and Descartes revolutionised thinking about how the organ worked, but it took seve...
2014-Feb-20 • 42 minutes
Social Darwinism
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Social Darwinism. After the publication of Charles Darwin's masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859, some thinkers argued that Darwin's ideas about evolution could also be applied to human society. One thinker particularly associated with this movement was Darwin's near-contemporary Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase 'survival of the fittest'. He argued that competition among humans was beneficial, because it ensured that only the healthiest and most intelligent ...
2014-Jan-30 • 42 minutes
Catastrophism
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Catastrophism, the idea that natural disasters have had a significant influence in moulding the Earth's geological features. In 1822 William Buckland, the first reader of Geology at the University of Oxford, published his famous Reliquae Diluvianae, in which he ascribed most of the fossil record to the effects of Noah's flood. Charles Lyell in his Principles of Geology challenged these writings, arguing that geological change was slow and gradual, and that the processes r...
2013-Dec-19 • 42 minutes
Complexity
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss complexity and how it can help us understand the world around us. When living beings come together and act in a group, they do so in complicated and unpredictable ways: societies often behave very differently from the individuals within them. Complexity was a phenomenon little understood a generation ago, but research into complex systems now has important applications in many different fields, from biology to political science. Today it is being used to explain how birds...
2013-Nov-28 • 42 minutes
The Microscope
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the development of the microscope, an instrument which has revolutionised our knowledge of the world and the organisms that inhabit it. In the seventeenth century the pioneering work of two scientists, the Dutchman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke in England, revealed the teeming microscopic world that exists at scales beyond the capabilities of the naked eye. The microscope became an essential component of scientific enquiry by the nineteenth century, but in th...
2013-Oct-10 • 42 minutes
Galen
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Roman physician and medical theorist Galen. The most celebrated doctor in the ancient world, Galen was Greek by birth but spent most of his career in Rome, where he was personal physician to three Emperors. He was one of the most prolific authors of his age, and a sixth of all surviving ancient literature in Greek was written by him. Celebrated in his own lifetime, he was regarded as the preeminent medical authority for centuries after his death, both in the Arab worl...
2013-Oct-03 • 42 minutes
Exoplanets
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss exoplanets. Astronomers have speculated about the existence of planets beyond our solar system for centuries. Although strenuous efforts were made to find such planets orbiting distant stars, it was not until the 1990s that instruments became sophisticated enough to detect such remote objects. In 1992 Dale Frail and Aleksander Wolszczan discovered the first confirmed exoplanets: two planets orbiting the pulsar PSR B1257+12. Since then, astronomers have discovered more tha...
2013-Sep-19 • 42 minutes
Pascal
Melvyn Bragg and his guests begin a new series of the programme with a discussion of the French polymath Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and scientist, inventing one of the first mechanical calculators and making important discoveries about fluids and vacuums while still a young man. In his thirties he experienced a religious conversion, after which he devoted most of his attention to philosophy and theology. Although he died in his late thirties, Pascal left a formidable l...
2013-Jul-04 • 42 minutes
The Invention of Radio
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the invention of radio. In the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations which together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. They predicted the existence of a previously unknown phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. These waves were first observed in the early 1880s, and over the next two decades a succession of scientists and engineers built increasingly elaborate devices to produce and detect them. Eventually this gave bi...
2013-Jun-06 • 42 minutes
Relativity
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Einstein's theories of relativity. Between 1905 and 1917 Albert Einstein formulated a theoretical framework which transformed our understanding of the Universe. The twin theories of Special and General Relativity offered insights into the nature of space, time and gravitation which changed the face of modern science. Relativity resolved apparent contradictions in physics and also predicted several new phenomena, including black holes. It's regarded today as one of the gre...
2013-May-16 • 42 minutes
Cosmic Rays
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss cosmic rays. In 1912 the physicist Victor Hess discovered that the Earth is under constant bombardment from radiation coming from outside our atmosphere. These so-called cosmic rays have been known to cause damage to satellites and electronic devices on Earth, but most are absorbed by our atmosphere. The study of cosmic rays and their effects has led to major breakthroughs in particle physics. But today physicists are still trying to establish where these highly energetic...
2013-Mar-28 • 39 minutes
Water
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the simplest and most remarkable of all molecules: water. Water is among the most abundant substances on Earth, covering more than two-thirds of the planet. Consisting of just three atoms, the water molecule is superficially simple in its structure but extraordinary in its properties. It is a rare example of a substance that can be found on Earth in gaseous, liquid and solid forms, and thanks to its unique chemical behaviour is the basis of all known life. Scie...
2013-Mar-07 • 42 minutes
Absolute Zero
In a programme first broadcast in 2013, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss absolute zero, the lowest conceivable temperature. In the early eighteenth century the French physicist Guillaume Amontons suggested that temperature had a lower limit. The subject of low temperature became a fertile field of research in the nineteenth century, and today we know that this limit - known as absolute zero - is approximately minus 273 degrees Celsius. It is impossible to produce a temperature exactly equal to absolut...
2013-Feb-28 • 42 minutes
Pitt-Rivers
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Victorian anthropologist and archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers. Over many years he amassed thousands of ethnographic and archaeological objects, some of which formed the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University. Inspired by the work of Charles Darwin, Pitt-Rivers believed that human technology evolved in the same way as living organisms, and devoted much of his life to exploring this theory. He was also a pioneering a...
2013-Jan-17 • 42 minutes
Comets
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss comets, the 'dirty snowballs' of the Solar System. In the early 18th century the Astronomer Royal Sir Edmond Halley compiled a list of appearances of comets, bright objects like stars with long tails which are occasionally visible in the night sky. He concluded that many of these apparitions were in fact the same comet, which returns to our skies around every 75 years, and whose reappearance he correctly predicted. Halley's Comet is today the best known example of a comet...
2012-Nov-28 • 42 minutes
Crystallography
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of crystallography, the study of crystals and their structure. The discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal revolutionised our knowledge of materials. This crystal technology has touched most people's lives, thanks to the vital role it plays in diverse scientific disciplines - from physics and chemistry, to molecular biology and mineralogy. To date, 28 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists working with X-ray cryst...
2012-Oct-25 • 42 minutes
Fermat's Last Theorem
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Fermat's Last Theorem. In 1637 the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scribbled a note in the margin of one of his books. He claimed to have proved a remarkable property of numbers, but gave no clue as to how he'd gone about it. "I have found a wonderful demonstration of this proposition," he wrote, "which this margin is too narrow to contain". Fermat's theorem became one of the most iconic problems in mathematics and for centuries mathematicians struggled in vain to w...
2012-Sep-13 • 42 minutes
The Cell
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cell, the fundamental building block of life. First observed by Robert Hooke in 1665, cells occur in nature in a bewildering variety of forms. Every organism alive today consists of one or more cells: a single human body contains up to a hundred trillion of them. The first life on Earth was a single-celled organism which is thought to have appeared around three and a half billion years ago. That simple cell resembled today's bacteria. But eventually these microscopi...
2012-May-10 • 42 minutes
Game Theory
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making. First formulated in the 1940s, the discipline entails devising 'games' to simulate situations of conflict or cooperation. It allows researchers to unravel decision-making strategies, and even to establish why certain types of behaviour emerge. Some of the games studied in game theory have become well known outside academia - they include the Prisoner's Dilemma, an intriguing scenario popularised in novels and films, ...
2012-Apr-12 • 42 minutes
Early Geology
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the emergence of geology as a scientific discipline. A little over two hundred years ago a small group of friends founded the Geological Society of London. This organisation was the first devoted to furthering the discipline of geology - the study of the Earth, its history and composition. Although geology only emerged as a separate area of study in the late eighteenth century, many earlier thinkers had studied rocks, fossils and the materials from which the Earth is made...
2012-Mar-29 • 42 minutes
The Measurement of Time
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the measurement of time. Early civilisations used the movements of heavenly bodies to tell the time, but even in the ancient world more sophisticated timekeeping devices such as waterclocks were known. The development of mechanical clocks in Europe emerged in the medieval period when monks used such devices to sound an alarm to signal it was the hour to pray, although these clocks did not tell them the time. For hundreds of years clocks were inaccurate and it proved hard ...
2012-Feb-23 • 42 minutes
Conductors and Semiconductors
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the physics of electrical conduction. Although electricity has been known for several hundred years, it was only in the early twentieth century that physicists first satisfactorily explained the phenomenon. Electric current is the passage of charged particles through a medium - but a material will only conduct electricity if its atomic structure enables it to do so. In investigating electrical conduction scientists discovered two new classes of material. Semiconductors, f...
2012-Jan-26 • 42 minutes
The Scientific Method
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution of the Scientific Method, the systematic and analytical approach to scientific thought. In 1620 the great philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published the Novum Organum, a work outlining a new system of thought which he believed should inform all enquiry into the laws of nature. Philosophers before him had given their attention to the reasoning that underlies scientific enquiry; but Bacon's emphasis on observation and experience is often seen today as g...
2011-Dec-29 • 42 minutes
Macromolecules
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the giant molecules that form the basis of all life. Macromolecules, also known as polymers, are long chains of atoms. They form the proteins that make up our bodies, as well as many of the materials of modern life. Man's ability to mimic the structure of macromolecules has led to the invention of plastics such as nylon, paints and adhesives. Most of our clothes are made of macromolecules, and our food is macromolecular. The medical sciences are making increasingly sophistica...
2011-Sep-15 • 42 minutes
The Hippocratic Oath
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Hippocratic Oath. The Greek physician Hippocrates, active in the fifth century BC, has been described as the father of medicine, although little is known about his life and some scholars even argue that he was not one person but several. A large body of work originally attributed to him, the Hippocratic Corpus, was disseminated widely in the ancient world, and contains treatises on a wide variety of subjects, from fractures to medical ethics.Today we know that the Hip...
2011-Jun-08 • 42 minutes
The Origins of Infectious Disease
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of infectious disease. Infectious disease has been with us for millennia. There are reports of ancient outbreaks of plague in the Bible, and in numerous historical sources from China, the Middle East and Europe. Other infections, including smallpox, tuberculosis and measles, have also been known for centuries. But some diseases made their first appearances only recently: HIV emerged around a century ago, while the Ebola virus was first recorded in the 1970s.Bu...
2011-Apr-14 • 42 minutes
The Neutrino
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the neutrino.In 1930 the physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed the existence of an as-yet undiscovered subatomic particle. He also bet his colleagues a case of champagne that it would never be detected. He lost his bet when in 1956 the particle, now known as the neutrino, was first observed in an American nuclear reactor. Neutrinos are some of the most mysterious particles in the Universe. The Sun produces trillions of them every second, and they constantly bombard the Earth ...
2011-Mar-03 • 42 minutes
The Age of the Universe
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the age of the Universe.Since the 18th century, when scientists first realised that the Universe had existed for more than a few thousand years, cosmologists have debated its likely age. The discovery that the Universe was expanding allowed the first informed estimates of its age to be made by the great astronomer Edwin Hubble in the early decades of the twentieth century. Hubble's estimate of the rate at which the Universe is expanding, the so-called Hubble Constant, has...
2011-Feb-10 • 42 minutes
The Nervous System
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the nervous system. Most animals have a nervous system, a network of nerve tissues which allows parts of the body to communicate with each other. In humans the most significant parts of this network are the brain, spinal column and retinas, which together make up the central nervous system. But there is also a peripheral nervous system, which enables sensation, movement and the regulation of the major organs. Scholars first described the nerves of the human body over tw...
2011-Jan-13 • 42 minutes
Random and Pseudorandom
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss randomness and pseudorandomness.Randomness is the mathematics of the unpredictable. Dice and roulette wheels produce random numbers: those which are unpredictable and display no pattern. But mathematicians also talk of 'pseudorandom' numbers - those which appear to be random but are not. In the last century random numbers have become enormously useful to statisticians, computer scientists and cryptographers. But true randomness is difficult to find, and mathematicians hav...
2010-Dec-09 • 42 minutes
Thomas Edison
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the innovations and influence of Thomas Edison, one of the architects of the modern age.Edison is popularly remembered as the man who made cheap electric light possible. Born in 1847, he began his career working in the new industry of telegraphy, and while still in his early twenties made major improvements to the technology of the telegraph. Not long afterwards he invented a new type of microphone which was used in telephones for almost a century. In the space of three p...
2010-Nov-04 • 42 minutes
Women and Enlightenment Science
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the role played by women in Enlightenment science. During the eighteenth century the opportunities for women to gain a knowledge of science were minimal. Universities and other institutions devoted to research were the preserve of men. Yet many important contributions to the science of the Enlightenment were made by women. These ranged from major breakthroughs like those of the British astronomer Caroline Herschel, the first woman to discover a comet, to important transla...
2010-Oct-21 • 42 minutes
Logic
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of logic. Logic, the study of reasoning and argument, first became a serious area of study in the 4th century BC through the work of Aristotle. He created a formal logical system, based on a type of argument called a syllogism, which remained in use for over two thousand years. In the nineteenth century the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege revolutionised logic, turning it into a discipline much like mathematics and capable of dealing with exp...
2010-Sep-23 • 42 minutes
Imaginary Numbers
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss imaginary numbers. In the sixteenth century, a group of mathematicians in Bologna found a solution to a problem that had puzzled generations before them: a completely new kind of number. For more than a century this discovery was greeted with such scepticism that the great French thinker Rene Descartes dismissed it as an "imaginary" number.The name stuck - but so did the numbers. Long dismissed as useless or even fictitious, the imaginary number i and its properties were ...
2010-Jul-08 • 42 minutes
Pliny's Natural History
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Pliny's Natural History.Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge on every subject under the sun. The Natural History contains information on zoology, astronomy, geography, minerals and mining and - unusually for a work of this period - a detailed treatise on the history of classical art. It's a fascinating snapshot of the...
2010-Jun-24 • 42 minutes
Antarctica
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of Antarctica.The most southerly of the continents is the bleakest and coldest place on Earth. Almost entirely covered in ice, Antarctica spends much of the winter in total darkness.Antarctica was first named in the second century AD by the geographer Marinus of Tyre, who was one of many early geographers to speculate about the existence of a huge southern landmass to balance the known lands of northern Europe. But it wasn't until the nineteenth century that m...
2010-Jun-17 • 42 minutes
The Neanderthals
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Neanderthals.In 1856, quarry workers in Germany found bones in a cave which seemed to belong to a bear or other large mammal. They were later identified as being from a previously unknown species of hominid similar to a human. The specimen was named Homo neanderthalis after the valley in which the bones were found.This was the first identified remains of a Neanderthal, a species which inhabited parts of Europe and Central Asia from around 400,000 years ago. Often depi...
2010-May-20 • 42 minutes
The Cavendish Family in Science
From the 1600s to the 1800s, scientific research in Britain was not yet a professional, publicly-funded career.So the wealth, status and freedom enjoyed by British aristocrats gave them the opportunity to play an important role in pushing science forwards - whether as patrons or practitioners.The Cavendish family produced a whole succession of such figures.In the 1600s, the mathematician Sir Charles Cavendish and his brother William collected telescopes and mathematical treatises, and promoted dialogue betw...
2010-May-06 • 42 minutes
The Cool Universe
The Cool Universe is the name astronomers give to the matter between the stars.These great clouds of dust and gas are not hot enough to be detected by optical telescopes.But over the last few decades, they have increasingly become the focus of infrared telescopy.Astronomers had long encountered dark, apparently starless patches in the night sky. When they discovered that these were actually areas obscured by dust, they found a way to see through these vexing barriers, using infrared telescopes, to the light...
2010-Mar-04 • 42 minutes
The Infant Brain
Melvyn Bragg and guests Usha Goswami, Annette Karmiloff-Smith and Denis Mareschal discuss what new research reveals about the infant brain.For obvious reasons, what happens in the minds of very young, pre-verbal children is elusive. But over the last century, the psychology of early childhood has become a major subject of study. Some scientists and researchers have argued that children develop skills only gradually, others that many of our mental attributes are innate. Sigmund Freud concluded that infants...
2010-Feb-11 • 42 minutes
Mathematics' Unintended Consequences
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Barrow, Colva Roney-Dougal and Marcus du Sautoy explore the unintended consequences of mathematical discoveries, from the computer to online encryption, to alternating current and predicting the path of asteroids.In his book The Mathematician's Apology (1941), the Cambridge mathematician GH Hardy expressed his reverence for pure maths, and celebrated its uselessness in the real world. Yet one of the branches of pure mathematics in which Hardy excelled was number theory, and it w...
2010-Jan-07 • 42 minutes
The Royal Society and British Science: Episode 4
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society. The horrors of the First World War were a shocking indictment of the power of science. Picking up the thread at this hiatus in scientific optimism, this programme, recorded in the current home of the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace in London, looks at the more subtle, discreet role the Society played in the 20th century, such as secretly arrangin...
2010-Jan-06 • 42 minutes
The Royal Society and British Science: Episode 3
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society. The 19th century blooms scientifically with numerous alternative, specialist learned societies and associations, all threatening the Royal Society's pre-eminence. Attempts to reform the membership criteria - marking scientific leadership's painful transition from patronage to expertise - are troubled, and organisations such as the British Association fo...
2010-Jan-05 • 42 minutes
The Royal Society and British Science: Episode 2
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society. Programme two begins in the coffee house Isaac Newton and the fellows of the early 18th century frequented. At the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, we learn how Newton's feud with the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed tested the lines between government-funded research and public access. In the age of exploration, senior fellows accompany naval expeditions, ...
2010-Jan-04 • 42 minutes
The Royal Society and British Science: Episode 1
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society. Melvyn travels to Wadham College, Oxford, where under the shadow of the English Civil War, the young Christopher Wren and friends experimented in the garden of their inspirational college warden, John Wilkins. Back in London, as Charles II is brought to the throne from exile, the new Society is formally founded one night in Gresham College. When London ...
2009-Dec-10 • 42 minutes
Pythagoras
Melvyn Bragg and guests Serafina Cuomo, John O'Connor and Ian Stewart discuss the ideas and influence of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans.The Ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras is probably best known for the theorem concerning right-angled triangles that bears his name. However, it is not certain that he actually developed this idea; indeed, some scholars have questioned not only his true intellectual achievements, but whether he ever existed. We do know that a gro...
2009-Nov-12 • 42 minutes
Radiation
Melvyn Bragg and guests Jim Al-Khalili, Frank Close and Frank James discuss the history of the discovery of radiation.Today the word 'radiation' conjures up images of destruction. But in physics, it simply describes the emission, transmission and absorption of energy, and the discovery of how radiation works has allowed us to identify new chemical elements, treat cancer and work out what the stars are made of.Over the course of the 19th century, physicists from Thomas Young, through Michael Faraday to Henri...
2009-Oct-22 • 42 minutes
The Geological Formation of Britain
Melvyn Bragg and guests Richard Corfield, Jane Francis and Sanjeev Gupta discuss the geological formation of Britain.Around 600 million years ago the island that we now call Britain was in two parts, far to the south of the Equator. Scotland and north-western Ireland were part of a continent (Laurentia) that also included what is now North America. To the south-east, near the Antarctic Circle, meanwhile, you would have found southern Ireland, England and Wales. They formed a mini-continent (Avalonia) with w...
2009-Sep-24 • 42 minutes
Calculus
Melvyn Bragg discusses the epic feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over who invented an astonishingly powerful new mathematical tool - calculus. Both claimed to have conceived it independently, but the argument soon descended into a bitter battle over priority, plagiarism and philosophy. Set against the backdrop of the Hanoverian succession to the English throne and the formation of the Royal Society, the fight pitted England against Europe, geometric notation against algebra. It was funda...
2009-Jul-09 • 42 minutes
Ediacara Biota
Melvyn Bragg and guests Martin Brasier, Richard Corfield and Rachel Wood discuss the Ediacara Biota, the Precambrian life forms which vanished 542 million years ago, and whose discovery proved Darwin right in a way he never imagined. Darwin was convinced that there must have been life before the Cambrian era, but he didn't think it was possible for fossils like the Ediacara to have been preserved. These sea-bed organisms were first unearthed in the 19th century, but were only recognised as Precambrian in t...
2009-Jul-02 • 42 minutes
Logical Positivism
Melvyn Bragg discusses Logical Positivism, the eye-wateringly radical early 20th century philosophical movement. The Logical Positivists argued that much previous philosophy was built on very shaky foundations, and they wanted to go right back to the drawing board. They insisted that philosophy - and science - had to be much more rigorous before it started making grand claims about the world. The movement began with the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophically-trained scientists and scientifically-traine...
2009-May-21 • 42 minutes
The Whale - A History
Melvyn Bragg and guests Steve Jones, Bill Amos and Eleanor Weston discuss the evolutionary history of the whale. The ancestor of all whales alive today was a small, land-based mammal with cloven hoofs, perhaps like a pig or a big mole. How this creature developed into the celebrated leviathan of the deep is one of the more extraordinary stories in the canon of evolution. The whale has undergone vast changes in size, has moved from land to water, lost its legs and developed specialised features such as filte...
2009-Apr-30 • 42 minutes
The Vacuum of Space
Melvyn Bragg and guests Frank Close, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Ruth Gregory discuss the Vacuum of Space. The idea that there is a nothingness at the heart of nature has exercised philosophers and scientists for millennia, from Thales's belief that all matter was water to Newton's concept of the Ether and Einstein's idea of Space-Time. Recently, physicists have realised that the vacuum is not as empty as we thought and that the various vacuums of nature vibrate with forces and energies, waves and particles an...
2009-Apr-02 • 42 minutes
Baconian Science
Patricia Fara, Stephen Pumfrey and Rhodri Lewis join Melvyn Bragg to discuss the Jacobean lawyer, political fixer and alleged founder of modern science Francis Bacon.In the introduction to Thomas Spratt's History of the Royal Society, there is a poem about man called Francis Bacon which declares 'Bacon, like Moses, led us forth at last, The barren wilderness he past, Did on the very border stand Of the blest promis'd land, And from the mountain's top of his exalted wit, Saw it himself, and shew'd us it'.Fra...
2009-Mar-12 • 42 minutes
The Library of Alexandria
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Library at Alexandria. Founded by King Ptolemy in the 3rd century BC the library was the first attempt to collect all the knowledge of the ancient world in one place. Scholars including Archimedes and Euclid came to study its grand array of papyri. the legacy of the library is with us today, not just in the ideas it stored and the ideas it seeded but also in the way it organised knowledge and the tools developed for dealing with it. It still influences the things we know ...
2009-Mar-05 • 42 minutes
The Measurement Problem in Physics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the deepest problems in contemporary physics. It’s called the measurement problem and it emerged from the flurry of activity in the early 20th century that gave rise to Quantum Mechanics. If the most famous fruit in physics is an apple, the most famous animal in physics is a cat. Schrödinger’s cat is named after Edwin Schrödinger, a theoretical physicist who in the early 20th century helped to develop the radical theories of Quantum Mechanics. The cat does not actuall...
2009-Feb-19 • 42 minutes
The Observatory at Jaipur
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Observatory in Jaipur with its vast and beautiful instruments built to make astronomical measurements of the stars. Commissioned in the early 18th century by the Rajput prince and child prodigy, Jai Singh, it was at the centre of attempts to marry hundreds of years of Indian and Persian astronomical tradition. The Observatory was also at the very centre of the city which was laid out according to astrological principles. Jai Singh’s observatory was the cutting edge of Ind...
2009-Jan-08 • 42 minutes
Darwin: Life After Origins
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin's life and work.Melvyn visits Darwin's home at Down House in Kent. Despite ill health and the demands of his family, Darwin continued researching and publishing until his death in April 1882.Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, geneticist at University College London Steve Jones, Darwin expert Alis...
2009-Jan-07 • 42 minutes
Darwin: On the Origin of Species
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin's life and work.How Darwin was eventually persuaded to publish On the Origin of Species in November 1859 and the book's impact on fellow scientists and the general public.Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, Steve Jones, geneticist at University College London, Jim Secord of the Darwin Correspondence Proje...
2009-Jan-06 • 43 minutes
Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin's life and work.Darwin's expedition aboard the Beagle in December 1831 and how his work during the voyage influenced and provided evidence for his theories.Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, Steve Jones, geneticist at University College London, David Norman, Fellow of Christ's College Cambridge and Jenny...
2009-Jan-05 • 43 minutes
Darwin: On the Origins of Charles Darwin
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin's life and work.Melvyn tells the story of Darwin's early life in Shropshire and discusses the significance of the three years he spent at Cambridge, where his interests shifted from religion to natural science.Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, geneticist at University College London Steve Jones,...
2008-Dec-18 • 42 minutes
The Physics of Time
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the physics of time. When writing the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton declared his hand on most of the big questions in physics. He outlined the nature of space, explained the motions of the planets and conceived the operation of gravity. He also laid down the law on time declaring: “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” For Newton time was absolute and set apart from the universe, b...
2008-Dec-04 • 42 minutes
Heat
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of scientific ideas about heat. As anyone who’s ever burnt their hand will testify – heat is a pretty commonplace concept. Cups of coffee cool down, microwaves reheat them, water boils at 100 degrees and freezes on cold winter nights.Behind the everyday experience of hot things lies a complex story of ideas spread across Paris, Manchester and particularly Glasgow. It’s a story of brewing vats and steam engines, of fridges, thermometers and the heat death of the un...
2008-Nov-13 • 42 minutes
Neuroscience
Melvyn Bragg and guests examine the relationship between the mind and the brain as they discuss recent developments in Neuroscience. In the mid-19th century a doctor had a patient who had suffered a stroke. The patient was unable to speak save for one word. The word was ‘Tan’ which became his name. When Tan died, the doctor discovered damage to the left side of his brain and concluded that the ability to speak was housed there. This is how neuroscience used to work – by examining the dead or investigating t...
2008-Oct-16 • 42 minutes
Vitalism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Vitalism, an 18th and 19th century quest for the spark of life. On a dreary night in November 1818, a young doctor called Frankenstein completed an experiment and described it in his diary: “I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet…By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open…”Frankenstein may seem an outlandish tale, but Mary Shelley wrote i...
2008-Oct-09 • 42 minutes
Godel's Incompleteness Theorems
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an iconic piece of 20th century maths - Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. In 1900, in Paris, the International Congress of Mathematicians gathered in a mood of hope and fear. The edifice of maths was grand and ornate but its foundations, called axioms, had been shaken. They were deemed to be inconsistent and possibly paradoxical. At the conference, a young man called David Hilbert set out a plan to rebuild the foundations of maths – to make them consistent, all encompassing an...
2008-Jun-19 • 42 minutes
The Music of the Spheres
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the music of the spheres, the elegant and poetic idea that the revolution of the planets generates a celestial harmony of profound and transcendent beauty. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice the young Lorenzo woos his sweetheart with talk of the stars: “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’stBut in his motion like an angel sings,Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;Such harmony is in immortal souls;But whilst this muddy vesture of decayDoth grossly close i...
2008-Jun-05 • 42 minutes
Lysenkoism
Melvyn Bragg and guests delve into the dark world of genetics under Joseph Stalin in discussing the career of Trofim Lysenko. In 1928, as America lurched towards the Wall Street Crash, Joseph Stalin revealed his master plan - nature was to be conquered by science, Russia to be made brutally, glitteringly modern and the world transformed by communist endeavour.Into the heart of this vision stepped Trofim Lysenko, a self-taught geneticist who promised to turn Russian wasteland into a grain-laden Garden of Ede...
2008-May-29 • 42 minutes
Probability
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the strange mathematics of probability where heads or tails is a simple question with a far from simple answer. Gambling may be as old as the hills but probability as a mathematical discipline is a relative youngster. Probability is the field of maths relating to random events and, although commonplace now, the idea that you can pluck a piece of maths from the tumbling of dice, the shuffling of cards or the odds in the local lottery is a relatively recent and powerful one. It...
2008-May-08 • 42 minutes
The Brain
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas about the human brain. Since time immemorial people have puzzled over the brain and its functions. In the 5th century BC the Greek physician Hippocrates confidently asserted:“Men ought to know that from the brain and from the brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, grieves and tears.” This might suggest that people have never doubted the importance of the brain, but for Aristotle the heart was the ruler of...
2008-Apr-03 • 42 minutes
The Laws of Motion
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Newton’s Laws of Motion. In 1687 Isaac Newton attempted to explain the movements of everything in the universe, from a pea rolling on a plate to the position of the planets. It was a brilliant, vaultingly ambitious and fiendishly complex task; it took him three sentences. These are the three laws of motion with which Newton founded the discipline of classical mechanics and conjoined a series of concepts - inertia, acceleration, force, momentum and mass - by which we still des...
2008-Mar-06 • 42 minutes
Ada Lovelace
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century mathematician Ada Lovelace. Deep in the heart of the Pentagon is a network of computers. They control the US military, the most powerful army on the planet, but they are controlled by a programming language called Ada. It’s named after Ada Lovelace, the allegedly hard drinking 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. In her work with Charles Babbage on a steam driven calculating machine called the Difference Engine, Ada understood, perhaps befo...
2008-Feb-21 • 42 minutes
The Multiverse
Melvyn Bragg and guests will be leaving the studio, the planet and indeed, the universe to take a tour of the Multiverse. If you look up the word ‘universe’ in the Oxford English Dictionary you will find the following definition: “The whole of created or existing things regarded collectively; all things (including the earth, the heavens, and all the phenomena of space) considered as constituting a systematic whole.” That sounds fairly comprehensive as a description of everything, but for an increasing numb...
2008-Jan-24 • 42 minutes
Plate Tectonics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the science of plate tectonics revolutionised our understanding of the planet on which we live. America is getting further away from Europe. This is not a political statement but a geological fact. Just as the Pacific is getting smaller, the Red Sea bigger, the Himalayas are still going up and one day the Horn of Africa will be a large island. This is the theory of plate tectonics, a revolutionary idea in 20th century geology that claimed the continents of Earth were danc...
2007-Dec-20 • 42 minutes
The Four Humours
Melvyn Bragg and guests talk about blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. These are the four humours, a theory of disease and health that is among the most influential ideas aver conceived. According to an 11th century Arabic book called the Almanac of Health, an old man went to the doctor complaining of a frigid complexion and stiffness in winter. The doctor, after examining his condition, prescribed a rooster. Being a hot and dry bird it was the perfect tonic for a cold and rheumatic old man. This is ...
2007-Dec-06 • 42 minutes
Genetic Mutation
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss mutation in genetics and evolution. When lying mortally ill with cancer, the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane penned the following lines: Cancer's a Funny Thing:I wish I had the voice of HomerTo sing of rectal carcinoma,Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked...Haldane knew better than most that many cancers, and many other diseases, are caused by genetic mutation. A mutation is an error in reproduction between one generation and the n...
2007-Nov-29 • 42 minutes
The Fibonacci Sequence
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Fibonacci Sequence. Named after a 13th century Italian Mathematician, Leonardo of Pisa who was known as Fibonacci, each number in the sequence is created by adding the previous two together. It starts 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 and goes on forever. It may sound like a piece of mathematical arcania but in the 19th century it began to crop up time and again among the structures of the natural world, from the spirals on a pinecone to the petals on a sunflower.The Fibonacci sequence i...
2007-Nov-15 • 42 minutes
Oxygen
Melvyn Bragg discusses the discovery of Oxygen by Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier. In the late 18th century Chemistry was the prince of the sciences – vital to the economy, it shaped how Europeans fought each other, ate with each other, what they built and the medicine they took. And then, in 1772, the British chemist, Joseph Priestley, stood in front of the Royal Society and reported on his latest discovery: “this air is of exalted nature…A candle burned in this air with an amazing strength of flame...
2007-Oct-04 • 28 minutes
Antimatter
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Antimatter, a type of particle predicted by the British physicist, Paul Dirac. Dirac once declared that “The laws of nature should be expressed in beautiful equations”. True to his word, he is responsible for one of the most beautiful. Formulated in 1928, it describes the behaviour of electrons and is called the Dirac equation. But the Dirac equation is strange. For every question it gives two answers – one positive and one negative. From this its author concluded that for ev...
2007-Jun-28 • 42 minutes
The Permian-Triassic Boundary
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Permian-Triassic boundary. 250 million years ago, in the Permian period of geological time, the most ferocious predators on earth were the Gorgonopsians. Up to ten feet in length, they had dog-like heads and huge sabre-like teeth. Mammals in appearance, their eyes were set in the side of their heads like reptiles. They looked like a cross between a lion and giant monitor lizard and were so ugly that they are named after the gorgons from Greek mythology – creatures that tu...
2007-Jun-14 • 28 minutes
Renaissance Astrology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Renaissance Astrology. In Act I Scene II of King Lear, the ne’er do well Edmund steps forward and rails at the weakness and cynicism of his fellow men:This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,when we are sick in fortune, - often the surfeitof our own behaviour, - we make guilty of ourdisasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: asif we were villains by necessity.The focus of his attack is astrology and the credulity of those who fall for its charms. But the idea that e...
2007-May-17 • 42 minutes
Gravitational Waves
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss mysterious phenomena called Gravitational Waves in contemporary physics. The rather un-poetically named star SN 2006gy is roughly 150 times the size of our sun. Last week it went supernova, creating the brightest stellar explosion ever recorded. But among the vast swathes of dust, gas and visible matter ejected into space, perhaps the most significant consequences were invisible – emanating out from the star like the ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond. They are called G...
2007-Apr-19 • 42 minutes
Symmetry
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss symmetry. Found in Nature - from snowflakes to butterflies - and in art in the music of Bach and the poems of Pushkin, symmetry is both aesthetically pleasing and an essential tool to understanding our physical world. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described symmetry as one of the greatest forms of beauty to be found in the mathematical sciences, while the French poet Paul Valery went further, declaring; “The universe is built on a plan, the profound symmetry of which is som...
2007-Mar-29 • 42 minutes
Anaesthetics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of anaesthetics, from laughing gas in the 1790s to the discovery of “blessed chloroform”. Remembering his unsuccessful stint at Edinburgh Medical school Charles Darwin described the horrors of surgery before anaesthetics : "I attended the operating theatre and saw two very bad operations... but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the ...
2007-Mar-08 • 42 minutes
Microbiology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of microbiology. We have more microbes in our bodies than we have human cells. We fear them as the cause of disease, yet are reliant on them for processes as diverse as water purification, pharmaceuticals, bread-making and brewing. In the future, we may look to them to save the planet from environmental hazards as scientists exploit their ability to clean up pollution. For microbes are the great recyclers on the earth, processing everything – plants, animals and u...
2007-Mar-01 • 28 minutes
Optics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of optics. From telescopes to microscopes, from star-gazing to the intimacies of a magnified flea. As Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens in the early 1600s, Kepler began to formulate a theory of optics. The new and improving instruments went hand in hand with radical new ideas about how we see and what we see. Spectacles allowed scholars to study long into the evening (and into old age), while giant telescopes, up to 100 feet long, led to the discovery of...
2007-Feb-08 • 42 minutes
Popper
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, Karl Popper whose ideas about science and politics robustly challenged the accepted ideas of the day. He strongly resisted the prevailing empiricist consensus that scientists' theories could be proved true.Popper wrote: “The more we learn about the world and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance”. He believed t...
2007-Jan-25 • 42 minutes
Archimedes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek mathematician Archimedes. Reputed to have shouted “Eureka!” as he leapt from his bath having discovered the principles of floating bodies. Whatever the truth of the myths surrounding the man, he was certainly one of the world’s great mathematicians. The practical application of his work in pulleys and levers created formidable weapons such as catapults and ship tilting systems, allowing his home city in Sicily to defend itself against the Romans. “Give me a place t...
2007-Jan-18 • 42 minutes
The Jesuits
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order of priests who became known as “the school masters of Europe”. Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teachi...
2007-Jan-11 • 42 minutes
Mars
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Mars. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars has been a source of continual fascination. It is one of our nearest neighbours in space, though it takes about a year to get there. It is very inhospitable with high winds racing across extremely cold deserts. But it is spectacular, with the highest volcano in the solar system and a giant chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon.For centuries there has been fierce debate about whether there is life on Mars and from the 19th c...
2006-Dec-14 • 42 minutes
Indian Mathematics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution Indian mathematicians have made to our understanding of the subject. Mathematics from the Indian subcontinent has provided foundations for much of our modern thinking on the subject. They were thought to be the first to use zero as a number. Our modern numerals have their roots there too. And mathematicians in the area that is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were grappling with concepts such as infinity centuries before Europe got to grips with it. There’s...
2006-Nov-30 • 42 minutes
The Speed of Light
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the speed of light. Scientists and thinkers have been fascinated with the speed of light for millennia. Aristotle wrongly contended that the speed of light was infinite, but it was the 17th Century before serious attempts were made to measure its actual velocity – we now know that it’s 186,000 miles per second. Then in 1905 Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity predicted that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This then has dramatic effects on the nature of ...
2006-Nov-02 • 42 minutes
The Poincaré Conjecture
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Poincaré Conjecture. The great French mathematician Henri Poincaré declared: “The scientist does not study mathematics because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living. And it is because simplicity, because grandeur, is beautiful that we preferably seek simple facts, sublime facts, and that we delight now to follow the...
2006-Oct-19 • 42 minutes
The Needham Question
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Needham Question; why Europe and not China developed modern technology. What do these things have in common? Fireworks, wood-block printing, canal lock-gates, kites, the wheelbarrow, chain suspension bridges and the magnetic compass. The answer is that they were all invented in China, a country that, right through the Middle Ages, maintained a cultural and technological sophistication that made foreign dignitaries flock to its imperial courts for trade and favour. But the...
2006-Sep-28 • 42 minutes
Humboldt
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt. He was possibly the greatest and certainly one of the most famous scientists of the 19th century. Darwin described him as 'the greatest scientific traveller who ever lived'. Goethe declared that one learned more from an hour in his company than eight days of studying books and even Napoleon was reputed to be envious of his celebrity.A friend of Goethe and an influence on Coleridge and Shelly, when Darwin went voyagi...
2006-Jun-29 • 42 minutes
Galaxies
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the galaxies. Spread out across the voids of space like spun sugar, but harbouring in their centres super-massive black holes. Our galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, is shaped like a fried egg and we travel inside it at approximately 220 kilometres per second. The nearest one to us is much smaller and is nicknamed the Sagittarius Dwarf. But the one down the road, called Andromeda, is just as large as ours and, in 10 billion years, we'll probably crash into it. Galaxi...
2006-Jun-15 • 42 minutes
Carbon
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Carbon. It forms the basis of all organic life and has the amazing ability to bond with itself and a wide range of other elements, forming nearly 10 million known compounds. It is in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the shampoo we use and the petrol that fuels our cars. Because carbon has the largest range of subtle bonding capabilities, 95% of everything that exists in the universe is made up of carbon atoms that are stuck together. It is an extraordinary element for ma...
2006-Jun-01 • 42 minutes
The Heart
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the heart. Aristotle considered the heart to be the seat of thought, reason and emotion. The Roman physician Galen located the seat of the passions in the liver, the seat of reason in the brain, and considered the heart to be the seat of the emotions. It was not until the 17th century that the physician William Harvey wrote in the preface to his thesis On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, a letter addressed to King Charles I. 'The heart of animals is the foundat...
2006-May-04 • 42 minutes
Astronomy and Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between astronomy and the British Empire. The 18th century explorer and astronomer James Cook wrote: 'Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go'. Cook's ambition took him to the far reaches of the Pacific and led to astronomical observations which measured the distance of Venus to the Sun with unprecedented accuracy. Cook's ambition was not just personal and astronomical. It repre...
2006-Apr-20 • 42 minutes
Immunisation
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for immunisation. In 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote a letter to her friend describing how she had witnessed the practice of smallpox inoculation in Constantinople. This involved the transfer of material from a smallpox postule into multiple cuts made in a vein. Lady Montagu had lost her brother to smallpox and was amazed that the Middle Eastern practice of inoculation rendered the fatal disease harml...
2006-Mar-23 • 42 minutes
The Royal Society
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the formation of the Royal Society. In the 17th century the natural philosopher Francis Bacon heralded the new age of science. The frontispiece to his 1620 edition of the Instauratio Magna depicted a galleon travelling between the metaphorical Pillars of Hercules thought to lie at the Strait of Gibraltar and believed to mark the end of the known world. The image encapsulated Bacon's desire to sail beyond the limits set by Aristotle and the curriculum of the Ancient universiti...
2006-Mar-09 • 42 minutes
Negative Numbers
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss negative numbers, a history of mystery and suspicion. In 1759 the British mathematician Francis Maseres wrote that negative numbers "darken the very whole doctrines of the equations and make dark of the things which are in their nature excessively obvious and simple". Because of their dark and mysterious nature, Maseres concluded that negative numbers did not exist, as did his contemporary, William Friend. However, other mathematicians were braver. They took a leap into the u...
2006-Feb-16 • 28 minutes
Human Evolution
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the story of human evolution, which stretches back over six million years. It is not the story of one species but of several diverse species, some of whom walked the Earth at the same time. From the earliest hominids to the early Homo sapiens, there was nothing inevitable about the course of human evolution. But what conditions created the opportunity for diverse human species to thrive? What environmental factors led to the survival of one human species, but contributed to t...
2006-Jan-19 • 28 minutes
Relativism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss relativism, a philosophy of shifting sands. "Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own 'ego'." Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech gi...
2006-Jan-12 • 28 minutes
Prime Numbers
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 … This sequence of numbers goes on literally forever. Recently, a team of researchers in Missouri successfully calculated the highest prime number - it has 9.1 million digits. For nearly two and a half thousand years, since Euclid first described the prime numbers in his book Elements, mathematicians have struggled to write a rule to predict what comes next in the sequence. The Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler feared that it is "a myste...
2005-Dec-08 • 40 minutes
Artificial Intelligence
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss artificial intelligence. Can machines think? It was a question posed by the mathematician and Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing and it is a question still being asked today. What is the difference between men and machines and what does it mean to be human? And if we can answer that question, is it possible to build a computer that can imitate the human mind? There are those who have always had robust answers to the questions that those who seek to create artificial inte...
2005-Nov-24 • 42 minutes
The Graviton
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for the Graviton particle. Albert Einstein said "I know why there are so many people who love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees the results". Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life trying to find a theory that would unify electromagnetism with gravity, but success eluded him. The search is still on for a unifying theory of gravitational force and hopes are pinned on the location of the graviton - a hypothetical elementary particle that ...
2005-Nov-03 • 28 minutes
Asteroids
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the unique properties of asteroids. They used to be regarded as the 'vermin of the solar system', irritating rubble that got in the way of astronomers trying to study more interesting phenomena. It was difficult or even impossible for an observer of asteroids to book time using the world's best telescopes, because they were regarded as unspectacular objects that could tell us little about the origins of the universe. However, that has all changed. It is now thought that aster...
2005-Oct-13 • 42 minutes
Mammals
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the mammals. The Cenozoic Era of Earth's history began 65 million years ago and runs to this day. It began with the extraordinary 'KT event', a supposed asteroid impact that destroyed the dinosaurs, and incorporates the break up of Pangaea, the enormous landmass that eventually formed the continents we know today. It is known as the 'Age of the Mammals', and it is the period in which warm-blooded, lactating, often furry animals diversified rapidly and spread acros...
2005-Sep-29 • 42 minutes
Magnetism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of magnetism. Pliny the Elder, in his Historia Naturalis, tells a story of a legendary Greek shepherd called Magnes who, while guiding his flock on Mount Ida, suddenly found it hard to move his feet. The nails of his sandals held fast to the rock beneath them, and the iron tip of his crook was strangely attracted to the boulders all around. Magnes had stumbled across the lodestone, or 'Magnetite', and discovered the phenomenon of magnetism. Plato was baffled by th...
2005-Jun-23 • 42 minutes
The KT Boundary
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the KT Boundary. Across the entire planet, where it hasn't been eroded or destroyed in land movements, there is a thin grey line. In Italy it is 1 cm thick, in America it stretches to three centimetres, but it is all the same thin grey line laid into the rock some 65 million years ago and it bears witness to a cataclysmic event experienced only once in Earth's history. It is called the KT Boundary and geologists believe it is the clue to the death of the dinosaurs and the ult...
2005-Jun-02 • 42 minutes
Renaissance Maths
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Renaissance Mathematics. As with so many areas of European thought, mathematics in the Renaissance was a question of recovering and, if you were very lucky, improving upon Greek ideas. The geometry of Euclid, Appollonius and Ptolemy ruled the day. Yet within two hundred years, European mathematics went from being an art that would unmask the eternal shapes of geometry to a science that could track the manifold movements and changes of the real world. The Arabic tradition of A...
2005-Apr-28 • 28 minutes
Perception and the Senses
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss perception: how the brain reacts to the mass of data continually crowding it. Barry Stein's laboratory at Wake Forest University in the United States found that the shape of a right angle drawn on the hand of a chimpanzee starts the visual part of the brain working, even when the shape has not been seen. It has also been discovered that babies learn by touch before they can properly make sense of visual data, and that the senses of smell and taste chemically combine to give u...
2005-Mar-17 • 42 minutes
Dark Energy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss 'dark energy'. Only 5% of our universe is composed of visible matter, stars, planets and people; something called 'dark matter' makes up about 25% and an enormous 70% of the universe is pervaded with the mysteriously named 'dark energy'. It is a recent discovery and may be only a conjecture, but it has been invoked to explain an abiding riddle of the cosmos: if the expansion of the universe is powered by the energy of the Big Bang, then why isn't the expansion slowing down ov...
2005-Feb-24 • 42 minutes
Alchemy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Alchemy, the ancient science of transformations. The most famous alchemical text is the Emerald Tablet, written around 500BC and attributed to the mythical Egyptian figure of Hermes Trismegistus. Among its twelve lines are the essential words - “as above, so below". They capture the essence of alchemy, that the heavens mirror the earth and that all things correspond to one another. Alchemy was taken up by some of the most extraordinary people in our intellectu...
2005-Feb-17 • 42 minutes
The Cambrian Period
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cambrian period when there was an explosion of life on Earth. In the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia in Canada, there is an outcrop of limestone shot through with a seam of fine dark shale. A sudden mudslide into shallow water some 550 million years ago means that a startling array of wonderful organisms has been preserved within it. Wide eyed creatures with tentacles below and spines on their backs, things like flattened rolls of carpet with a set of teeth at one e...
2005-Jan-13 • 42 minutes
The Mind/Body Problem
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the mind/body problem in philosophy. At the start of René Descartes' Sixth Meditation he writes: "there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and mind is entirely indivisible. For when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish many parts within myself; I understand myself to be something quite single and complete. Although the whole mind seems to be united to the ...
2004-Dec-16 • 28 minutes
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Second Law of Thermodynamics which can be very simply stated like this: "Energy spontaneously tends to flow from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused and spread out". It was first formulated – derived from ideas first put forward by Lord Kelvin - to explain how a steam engine worked, it can explain why a cup of tea goes cold if you don't drink it and how a pan of water can be heated to boil an egg.But its application has been found to be rather grander ...
2004-Dec-02 • 28 minutes
Jung
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the extraordinary mind of the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. In 1907 Sigmund Freud met a young man and fell into a conversation that is reputed to have lasted for 13 hours. That man was the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. Freud is celebrated as the great pioneer of the 20th century mind, but the idea that personality types can be 'introverted' or 'extroverted', that certain archetypal images and stories repeat themselves constantly across the collective history of mankin...
2004-Nov-18 • 42 minutes
Higgs Boson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Higgs Boson particle. One weekend in 1964 the Scottish scientist Peter Higgs was walking in the Cairngorm Mountains. On his return to his laboratory in Edinburgh the following Monday, he declared to his colleagues that he had just experienced his 'one big idea' and now had an answer to the mystery of how matter in the universe got its mass. That big idea took many years of refining, but it has now generated so much international interest and has such an important place in...
2004-Nov-04 • 42 minutes
Electrickery
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the dawn of the age of electricity. In Gulliver's Travels, published in 1726, Jonathan Swift satirised natural philosophers as trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. Perhaps he would have been surprised, or even horrified, by the sheer force of what these seemingly obscure experimentalists were about to unleash on society. Electricity soon reached into all areas of 18th century life, as Royal Society Fellows vied with showmen and charlatans to reveal its wonders to the wo...
2004-Sep-23 • 28 minutes
The Origins of Life
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the emergence of the world’s first organic matter nearly four billion years ago. Scientists have named 1.5 million species of living organism on the land, in the skies and in the oceans of planet Earth and a new one is classified every day. Estimates of how many species remain to be discovered vary wildly, but science accepts one categorical point – all living matter on our planet, from the nematode to the elephant, from the bacterium to the blue whale, is derived from a sin...
2004-Sep-02 • 28 minutes
Pi
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the most detailed number in nature. In the Bible's description of Solomon's temple it comes out as three, Archimedes calculated it to the equivalent of 14 decimal places and today's super computers have defined it with an extraordinary degree of accuracy to its first 1.4 trillion digits. It is the longest number in nature and we only need its first 32 figures to calculate the size of the known universe within the accuracy of one proton. We are talking about Pi,...
2004-Jun-17 • 28 minutes
Renaissance Magic
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Renaissance obsession with Magic. In 1461 one of the powerful Medici family’s many agents carried a mysterious manuscript into his master’s house in Florence. It purported to be the work of an ancient Egyptian priest-king and magician called Hermes Trismegistus. When Cosimo de Medici saw the new discovery, he ordered his translations of Plato to be stopped so that work could begin on the new discovery at once. Hermes promised secret knowledge to his initiates and claimed to h...
2004-May-27 • 28 minutes
The Planets
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss our knowledge of the planets in both our and other solar systems. Tucked away in the outer Western Spiral arm of the Milky Way is a middle aged star, with nine, or possibly ten orbiting planets of hugely varying sizes. Roughly ninety-two million miles and third in line from that central star is our own planet Earth, in thrall to our Sun, just one of the several thousand million stars that make up the Galaxy.Ever since Galileo and Copernicus gave us a scientific model of our o...
2004-May-13 • 42 minutes
Zero
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the number between 1 and -1, which has strange and uniquely beguiling qualities. Shakespeare’s King Lear warned, “Nothing will come of nothing”. The poet and priest John Donne said from the pulpit, “The less anything is, the less we know it: how invisible, unintelligible a thing is nothing”, and the English monk and historian William of Malmesbury called them “dangerous Saracen magic”. They were all talking about zero, the number or symbol that had been part of...
2004-Apr-22 • 28 minutes
Hysteria
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a problematic notion which can be an emotional condition, a syndrome, an extreme or over-reaction, or the physical signs of trauma. The term ‘hysteria’ was first used in Greece in the 5th century BC by Hippocratic doctors. They were trying to explain an illness whose symptoms were breathing difficulties and a sense of suffocation, and whose sufferers were seen chiefly to be recently bereaved widows. The explanation was thought to be a wandering womb putting pressure on other ...
2004-Mar-25 • 42 minutes
Theories of Everything
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 30 year search to solve all the biggest questions in physics. At the end of the last century, brave voices were predicting that all the big questions of physics were on the verge of being answered by a Theory of Everything. The disparity between the physics of the very small would finally be reconciled with the very large, and the four forces of nature would finally be united with a single set of equations. It was suggested that with such a theory we might solve the riddl...
2004-Mar-04 • 28 minutes
Dreams
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the interpretation of dreams. Over a hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud declared confidently, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind”. He was writing in his famous volume, The Interpretation of Dreams and his ideas made a huge impact on the century that was to follow. However, despite the cultural influence of his work, there is still no agreement in neuroscience as to the function or mechanism of dreaming; this ...
2004-Feb-19 • 28 minutes
Rutherford
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Ernest Rutherford. He was the father of nuclear science, a great charismatic figure who mapped the landscape of the sub-atomic world. He identified the atom’s constituent parts, discovered that elemental decay was the cause of radiation and became the first true alchemist in the history of science when he forced platinum to change into gold. He was born at the edge of the Empire in 1871, the son of Scottish immigrant farmers and was working the fields when a telegram came fro...
2004-Jan-29 • 42 minutes
Cryptography
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins and history of codes. In October 1586, in the forbidding hall of Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was on trial for her life. Accused of treason and denied legal representation, she sat alone in the shadow of a vast and empty throne belonging to her absent cousin and arch rival Elizabeth I of England. Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary, had already arrested and executed Mary’s fellow conspirators, her only hope lay in the code she had used in all h...
2003-Dec-24 • 57 minutes
Lamarck and Natural Selection
Melvyn Bragg discusses Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the 18th century French scientist.Charles Darwin defined Natural Selection in On the Origin of Species, “Variations, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the individuals of a species… will tend to the preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the offspring”. It was a simple idea that had instant recognition, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” said T H Huxley. However...
2003-Nov-20 • 28 minutes
Ageing the Earth
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the age of the Earth. It was once thought that the world began in 4004 BC. Lord Kelvin calculated the cooling temperature of a rock the size of our planet and came up with a figure of 20 million years for the age of the Earth. Now, the history of our planet is divided into four great Eons: the Hadean, the Archaen, the Proterozoic and the Phanerozoic. Together, they are taken to encompass an incredible four and a half billion years. How can we begin to make sense of such a hug...
2003-Oct-23 • 42 minutes
Infinity
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the nature and existence of mathematical infinity. Jonathan Swift encapsulated the counter-intuitive character of infinity with insouciant style:“So, naturalists observe, a fleaHath smaller fleas on him that preyAnd these hath smaller fleas to bite ‘emAnd so proceed ad infinitum.”Alas, the developing utility mathematicians put to the idea of infinity did not find the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes quite so relaxed. When confronted with a diagram depicting an infinite solid...
2003-Oct-02 • 42 minutes
Maxwell
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the life and ideas of James Clerk Maxwell whose work is not widely known, but whose genius and contribution to the age in which we live is enormous.He took the first colour photograph, defined the nature of gases and with a few mathematical equations expressed all the fundamental laws of light, electricity and magnetism - and in doing so he provided the tools to create the technological age, from radar to radio and televisions to mobile phones. He is credited with fundament...
2003-Jul-10 • 42 minutes
Nature
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the attempt to define humanity’s part in the natural world. In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Lord Byron wrote:“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore,There is society where none intrudes,By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:I love not man the less, but Nature more.” In the Bible’s book of Genesis, ‘nature’ was the paradise of Eden, but for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes it was a place of perpetual war, where the life of man was “solita...
2003-Jul-03 • 42 minutes
Vulcanology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the formation of volcanoes. In 79AD Mount Vesuvius erupted on the Bay of Naples, buried Pompeii in ash and drowned nearby Herculaneum in lava. The great letter writer Pliny the Younger was staying with his uncle in Misenum and was a witness to the cataclysm. He described it to the historian Tacitus, It seemed as though the sea was being sucked backwards, as if it were being pushed back by the shaking of the land. Certainly the shoreline moved outwards, and many sea creatures ...
2003-Jun-05 • 28 minutes
The Lunar Society
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Lunar Society. In the late 18th century, with the ascendant British Empire centred on London, a small group of friends met at a house on the crossroads outside Birmingham and applied their minds to the problems of the age. Between them they managed to launch the Industrial Revolution, discover oxygen, harness the power of steam and pioneer the theory of evolution. They were the Lunar Society, a gathering of free and fertile minds centred on the remarkable quartet of Matth...
2003-May-29 • 28 minutes
Memory
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the function and significance of memory. The great writer of remembrance, Marcel Proust, declared “We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand, sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison”. The memory is vital to life and without it we could not be the people we are, but can it really contain the sum of all our experience? Is it a repository constantly mounting events wait...
2003-May-22 • 42 minutes
Blood
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss blood. For more than 1500 years popular imagination, western science and the Christian Church colluded in a belief that blood was the link between the human and the divine. The Greek physician, Galen, declared that it was blood that contained the force of life and linked the body to the soul, the Christian Church established The Eucharist – the taking of the body and blood of Christ. In our blood was our individuality, it was thought, our essence and our blood lines were spec...
2003-Mar-27 • 28 minutes
The Life of Stars
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life cycle of stars. In his poem Bright Star John Keats wrote, "Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art". For Keats the stars were symbols of eternity- they were beautiful and ordered and unchanging - but modern astronomy tells a very different story. Stars, like everything else in the universe, are subject to change. They are born among vast swirls of gas and dust and they die in the stunning explosions we call supernovae. They create black holes and neutron star...
2003-Mar-06 • 28 minutes
Meteorology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss meteorology. The Book of Genesis resounds with a terrible act of vengeance, carried out by an angry God seeking to punish his people. And the mechanism with which this is carried out - a catastrophic flood which wipes out evil on earth. In fact, many ancient civilisations believed extreme meteorological phenomena like thunder and lightning, hailstones and even meteors were acts of divine intervention. Running parallel with this belief, however, was also a desire to understand...
2003-Feb-13 • 28 minutes
Chance and Design
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theories of a grand design in the universe. The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould argued that if you re-ran the tape of evolutionary history, an entirely different set of creatures would emerge. Man would not exist because the multitude of random changes that resulted in us would never be repeated exactly the same way. Others disagree, arguing that there is a pattern that points to some kind of direction – even, perhaps, a design, a sense that some things are ...
2002-Dec-19 • 42 minutes
The Calendar
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the calendar, which shapes the lives of millions of people. It is an invention that gives meaning to the passing of time and orders our daily existence. It links us to the arcane movements of the heavens and the natural rhythms of the earth. It is both deeply practical and profoundly sacred. But where does this strange and complex creation come from? Why does the week last seven days but the year twelve months? Who named these concepts and through them shaped our lives so abs...
2002-Dec-12 • 28 minutes
Man and Disease
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss man and disease. The Book of Exodus makes clear that when God wants to strike humankind, he does so with plague and disease. For millennia epidemics were understood exactly that way - as acts of divine retribution, a force of nature that could devastate empires and annihilate great swathes of population at a stroke. From the bubonic plague to measles, from cholera to smallpox, epidemics have constantly reshaped our world, leaving destruction and huge social upheaval in their ...
2002-Nov-28 • 28 minutes
Imagination
Melvyn Bragg investigates the creatives forces of the imagination. Immanuel Kant said, "Imagination is a blind but indispensable function of the soul without which we should have no knowledge whatever but of which we are scarcely even conscious". Imagination has been the companion of artists, scientists, leaders and visionaries but what exactly is it? When did human beings first develop an imagination and why? How does it relate to creativity and what evolutionary function does creativity have? And is it po...
2002-Nov-07 • 42 minutes
Human Nature
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the vexing issue of human nature. Some argue that we are born as blank slates and our natures are defined by upbringing, experience, culture and the ideas of our time. Others believe that human nature is innate and pre-destined, regardless of time and place. Is there really such a thing as human nature? And, if there is, can it be changed? Does the truth about human nature mean we should stop striving for progress, or should it give us cause for optimism? How important is the...
2002-Oct-24 • 28 minutes
The Scientist
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origin of the concept and historical role of the scientist. The word "science" first appeared in the English language in 1340 and ever since its meaning has been in a state of flux. The notion of "the scientist" has had a similarly evolving history. For some, "the scientist" does not truly appear until after the Renaissance, others put its emergence much later than that. When did the words and concepts we recognise today take on their contemporary meaning? How has the rol...
2002-Jul-11 • 29 minutes
Psychoanalysis and Democracy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of politics on psychoanalysis. The 20th century saw the birth and rise of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud led people to think about how the mind functioned and how our behaviour might be understood through the process of working with a psychoanalyst, either one-to-one or in a group. Freud thought a lot about this process and in 1922 he published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in which he pronounced that the group "wants to be ruled and oppressed and to...
2002-May-23 • 28 minutes
Drugs
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of drugs. Throughout history people have taken them to alter their perceptions and change their moods. The attractions lie in the promise of instant pleasure and the possibility of heightened perceptions. Nietzsche said that no art could exist without intoxication and believed that a dream-like state was an essential precondition to superior vision and understanding. But artists and writers from De Quincey to Coleridge to Huxley have found drugs to be both a creat...
2002-May-16 • 42 minutes
Chaos Theory
Melvyn Bragg examines whether world is a fundamentally chaotic or orderly place. When Newton published his Principia Mathematica in 1687 his work was founded on one simple message: Nature has laws and we can find them. His explanation of the movements of the planets, and of gravity, was rooted in the principle that the universe functions like a machine and its patterns are predictable. Newton’s equations not only explained why night follows day but, importantly, predicted that night would continue to follow...
2002-May-02 • 28 minutes
The Physics of Reality
Melvyn Bragg examines the physics of reality. When Quantum Mechanics was developed in the early 20th century reality changed forever. In the quantum world particles could be in two places at once, they disappeared for no reason and reappeared in unpredictable locations, they even acted differently according to whether we were watching them. It was so shocking that Erwin Schrodinger, one of the founders of Quantum Theory, said "I don’t like it and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it." He even develop...
2002-Apr-04 • 28 minutes
Extra Terrestrials
Melvyn Bragg examines Extra Terrestrials. New planets have been observed far beyond our solar system and telescopes are being built that will enable us to look for water and oxygen on these distant planets. If water and oxygen are present, there is every reason to suppose that some form of life might also exist there. It has even been suggested that we might find life within our own solar system. One of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, appears to be covered in an ice-crusted ocean and there is evidence that water o...
2002-Feb-14 • 28 minutes
Anatomy
Melvyn Bragg examines the history of mankind's quest to understand the human body. The Greeks thought we were built like pigs, and when Renaissance man first cut his sacred flesh it was an act of heresey. We trace the noble ambitions of medical science to the murky underworld of Victorian grave robbing, we trace 2000 years of anatomical study. From the great showman Vesalius, enthralling the Renaissance Artists in the operating theatres of Italy to the sad and gruesome pursuits of Burke and Hare, Anatomy is...
2002-Feb-07 • 28 minutes
The Universe's Shape
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the shape of the universe. In the Beginning, runs one account, was the Big Bang. All matter in existence today originated around 13 billion years ago in a phenomenally hot, extraordinarily condensed primordial atom that exploded with incredible force. Hydrogen and helium were shot across the firmament, gravity caused the gases to condense into clouds and in these clouds the first stars were formed, then galaxies came and more galaxies in clusters, onwards and outwards, ever...
2002-Jan-10 • 28 minutes
Nuclear Physics
Melvyn Bragg examines one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, and certainly the most controversial; the development of nuclear physics. Harnessing the enigmatic qualities of the atom’s tiny core brought us nuclear power and gave us The Bomb, a breakthrough with such far-reaching consequences that it moved the physicist Albert Einstein to say, “Had I known, I should have become a watch maker”.How can such outlandish power be released from such infinitesimal amounts of matter and wh...
2001-Dec-13 • 28 minutes
Genetics
Melvyn Bragg looks at the development of the science of genetics. In the 1850s and 60s, in a monastery garden in Burno in Moravia, a Franciscan monk was cultivating peas. He began separating the wrinkly peas from the shiny peas and studying which characteristics were passed on when the next crop of peas were grown. In this slow and systematic way Gregor Mendel worked out the basic law of heredity and stumbled upon what was later to be described as the fundamental unit of life itself…the gene.But Mendel’s wo...
2001-Nov-22 • 28 minutes
Oceanography
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the science of Oceanography. In 1870 Jules Verne described the deep ocean in 2,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He wrote: “The sea is an immense desert where man is never alone for he feels life, quivering around him on every side.” This was actually closer to the truth than the science of the time, when ‘Azoic Theory’ held sway and it was believed that nothing could exist below 600 metres. Now we estimate that there are more species in the deep ocean than in the rest of the plane...
2001-Jul-05 • 28 minutes
The Earth's Origins
Melvyn Bragg discusses the origin of the Earth. Ideas used to be very clear about its origins. Bishop Ussher, in 1654 arrived at an exact figure and specified it in his work Annalis Veteris et Novi Testamenti: He deduced that work on Planet Earth began at exactly 9am, on Monday 23rd October 4004 BC. The date was then printed in the margin of The Bible and preached from the pulpit, and right up to the nineteenth century to the left of ‘In The Beginning…’ was specified ‘Before Christ 4004’.Christian believers...
2001-Apr-12 • 28 minutes
Black Holes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Black Holes. They are the dead collapsed ghosts of massive stars and they have an irresistible pull: their dark swirling, whirling, ever-hungry mass has fascinated thinkers as diverse as Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Hawking and countless science fiction writers. When their ominous existence was first predicted by the Reverend John Mitchell in a paper to the Royal Society in 1783, nobody really knew what to make of the idea - they couldn’t be seen by any telescope. Although they w...
2001-Mar-22 • 42 minutes
Fossils
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the significance of fossils. In the middle of the nineteenth century the discoveries of the fossil hunters used to worry poor Ruskin to death, he wrote in a letter in 1851, “my faith, which was never strong, is being beaten to gold leaf…If only those Geologists would let me alone I could do very well, but those dreadful Hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses.”The testimony of fossils over the ages has been remarkably eloquent when we...
2001-Feb-22 • 28 minutes
Quantum Gravity
Melvyn Bragg examines Quantum Gravity. Early in the 20th century physicists were startled by the realisation that the smallest things in the universe do not obey Newton’s laws of gravity. Ripe apples fall from trees, billiard balls roll mostly on the table and the moon orbits the Earth in thrall to its gravitational pull, but there is no such force of gravity at work in the world of very small things. It seems there is one set of rules for the realm of every day objects, and a very different set of laws for...
2001-Feb-01 • 28 minutes
Imperial Science
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what drove the British Empire, especially in Victoria’s century. Was it science, more specifically, the science of plants, of agriculture, a scientific notion of nature and the improvement of nature? Was this seemingly rather adjacent notion - that the source of Empire can be found in Kew Gardens, Royal, Botanical, rather than in the muzzle of a gun or in the purse of a plunderer or in the consciousness of a conqueror - was science “the force that was with us?” Francis Baco...
2001-Jan-11 • 28 minutes
Mathematics and Platonism
Melvyn Bragg looks at the deep claims made for mathematics, the discipline some believe to be the soul and true key to the understanding of all life, from the petals on the sunflower to the pulse in our wrists. The notion that mathematics is akin to theology might take some taking in at first. But from the first, in the West, they were. To Pythagoras, numbers were mystical and “prove” God. To Plato, who, it is claimed, has driven mathematics for over two thousand years, the ideals beyond the reality of o...
2000-Nov-09 • 42 minutes
Psychoanalysis and Literature
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss role of Freudian analysis in understanding the great works of literature. Freud said, “The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious. What I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied”. Psychoanalysis has always been more than a ‘talking cure’ and it has strong ties to literature, but one hundred years after the publication of the first great work of psychoanalysis, The Interpretation of Dreams, critics are putting the scie...
2000-Nov-02 • 28 minutes
Evolutionary Psychology
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Evolutionary Psychology. Richard Dawkins redefined human nature in 1976, when he wrote in The Selfish Gene: “They swarm in huge colonies, safe inside giant lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rational of our existence…they go by the name of genes and we are their survival machines”....
2000-Oct-19 • 28 minutes
Laws of Nature
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Laws of Nature. Since ancient times philosophers and physicists have tried to discover simple underlying principles that control the Universe: In the 6th Century BC Thales declared “Everything is water”, centuries later Aristotle claimed that all of creation was forged from four elements, Newton more successfully laid down the Law of Universal Gravitation and as we speak, contemporary scientists are struggling to complete the task of ‘String Theory’ - the quest to find a...
2000-Jun-29 • 43 minutes
Imagination and Consciousness
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the question of consciousness, our sense of self, and how we are able to imagine things when they are not there, which are problems that have troubled the great minds of philosophy for thousands of years. Consciousness has been linked to language, has been married to the mind and divorced from the body; it has been denied to animals, opposed to the subconscious and declared irreducible, but still it defies definition, and the debate rages on as to why we evolved it at all. Bu...
2000-May-25 • 28 minutes
Chemical Elements
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the chemical elements. The aim and challenge in chemistry, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is the understanding of the complex materials which constitute everything in existence since the Big Bang, when the whole universe emerged out of the two elements of hydrogen and helium. For Aristotle there were four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Now there are one hundred and eight, sixteen of which are produced artificially, and none of which figure in Aristotle's or...
2000-Apr-27 • 28 minutes
Human Origins
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the evolution of the human species. Where did we come from - we being Homo Sapiens? Let’s not go back to the Big Bang or in search of Genesis, but sift through the evidence from biology, palaeontology, climatology and anthropology.The story of human evolution is one that stretches back over five million years, and during that time there are reckoned to have been between fifteen and twenty species of hominid to have walked this planet. From the earliest (Genus) Australopithe...
2000-Apr-06 • 28 minutes
The Natural Order
Melvyn Bragg examines the science of taxonomy. The Argentinean author Jose Luis Borges illustrated the problematic nature of scientific classification when he quoted from an ancient Chinese Encyclopaedia, the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On these remote pages, in a complete absence of Phylum, Genus and Species, animals are divided into: “(a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs” and “those that tremble as if they were mad” ending ...
2000-Feb-24 • 28 minutes
Grand Unified Theory
Melvyn Bragg examines 20th century physics’ quest for the ultimate theory of everything. Einstein left us with his theory of General Relativity, which explained how gravity works on the scale of stars, galaxies, and the universe itself and Schroedinger left us with the equation that explained the mechanics of the tiny quantum realm. Both theories work to wonderful effect in their own worlds, but (and this is the sticking point) gravity is strangely absent from the quantum realm and planets behave nothing l...
2000-Feb-10 • 28 minutes
Goethe and the Science of the Enlightenment
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great poet and dramatist, famous for Faust, for The Sorrows of Young Werther, for Storm und Drang and for being a colossus in German literature. Born in the middle of the eighteenth century he lived through the first third of the nineteenth. He wrote lyric and epic verse, literary criticism, prose fiction, translations from 28 languages, he was a politician as well and was hailed by Napoleon as the boundless measure of man; but for much of his ...
2000-Jan-13 • 28 minutes
Information Technology
Melvyn Bragg discusses the social and economic consequences of the information revolution. There are now more than 200 million people connected to the internet world-wide. The world’s biggest ever merger has just seen Time Warner united with the internet service provider America Online, and in the United States alone it is predicted that transactions conducted in cyberspace will account for 327 billion dollars worth of business by 2002. Should we be pleased? Is it the ‘third wave’ as Dr Toffler predicted in...
2000-Jan-06 • 28 minutes
Climate Change
Melvyn Bragg discusses climate change. In 1999 the weather gave the planet’s occupants a terrible beating: 16,000 people lost their lives as a result of storms. Some 15 million people were left homeless and 10,000 died when the world’s worst cyclone swept across eastern India. Hurricane Floyd wreaked 4.3 billion pounds worth of damage in the United States, Typhoon Bart hit Japan and Typhoon York hit Hong Kong and Macau. Western Europe is unused to hurricane force winds, but since Christmas 80 people have d...
1999-Dec-30 • 28 minutes
Time
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of mankind’s attempt to understand the nature of time. At the end of the 19th century, H.G.Wells imagined travelling through time in The Time Machine; “The palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness; the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous colour like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch in space”. When he was writing we thought time was unbending and universal and counte...
1999-Dec-16 • 28 minutes
Medical Ethics
Melvyn Bragg examines the technological advances and ethics of modern medicine. On an average working day about three quarters of a million of us go to the doctor’s. About a hundred thousand are visited by nurses and other health professionals. Then there are the three hundred thousand that go to the dentist. Health is a central preoccupation. It is also big business, saving life, lengthening life and even promising a stab at eternal life. Yet while some technology is Space Age, the morality is often not fa...
1999-Nov-25 • 28 minutes
Consciousness
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problems of consciousness, one of the greatest mysteries facing science and philosophy today. The frustrations, the stubborn facts and the curiosities of today’s thinkers, philosophers, physicists and psychologists, demonstrate the elusiveness, and the utter impenetrability of consciousness. Can we explain our perception of colour, smell or what it is like to be in love in purely physical terms? Can memory, conviction and reason be explained primarily in terms of neural f...
1999-Sep-23 • 28 minutes
Genetic Determinism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theory of Genetic Determinism. In the middle of the last century two men - Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, and Charles Darwin, an English naturalist, established the central theories of modern biology and changed the world forever. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has been described as the book of the Millennium, “the only best-seller to change man’s conception of himself”. Through the rediscovery of Mendel’s work in the early decades of our century, evolutionary theor...
1999-Jul-22 • 28 minutes
Pain
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss pain; something of which everyone has an individual experience. What causes it, how do we cope with it, what mechanisms are involved, what is the traditional view of pain and how is that being challenged today? Do we experience pain in the same way and how is emotional pain different from physical pain? What can our experience of pain tell us about ourselves and human consciousness? Is each individual human experience unique or are there experiences we can say apply across al...
1999-Jul-01 • 28 minutes
Intelligence
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a question that has stalked the twentieth century: Intelligence. Since the first IQ tests were invented in 1905, the question of what makes Homo Sapiens stupid and what makes him clever has involved human kind in sterilisation, racism and misery. How do we define intelligence, how do we measure it; what are its origins and how do we uncover it? But are we any closer to understanding what this elusive quality of intelligence is? The debate still rages as to whether we are born...
1999-Jun-17 • 28 minutes
The Great Disruption
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the shift that has gone on through the 20th century from our being an industrial society to what is often called ‘the information society’. Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Great Disruption talks of the third great shift in the whole history of humankind. Along with all the technological and economic changes, in the past thirty years we have seen massive social changes. What has been the cause of this shift and how will we recover the social cohesion that preceded it? With Fran...
1999-May-27 • 28 minutes
Memory and Culture
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss memory. At the start of the twentieth century Freud put memory at the centre of our psychology, and as the century has worn on what a nation remembers and what it should try to forget has become one of the binding political questions that modern societies face. As every second passes, humanity has a moment more to remember, and perhaps this fact alone goes a long way to explaining the ever changing role of memory, both in the mind of individuals and at the heart of the body p...
1999-May-20 • 28 minutes
The Universe's Origins
Melvyn Bragg examines the history of what we know about the origins of the universe. Some four hundred years ago in Rome, one Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for his belief in other inhabited worlds - it’s a possibility which has fascinated scientists, writers, artists and the general public for centuries - and any consideration of the origins of life and matter on other planets, and indeed this one, inevitably raises huge questions. Do other worlds exist? How did our planet come into existence? How c...
1999-May-06 • 28 minutes
Mathematics
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the way perceptions of the importance of mathematics have fluctuated in the 20th century, the nature of mathematical ability, and what mathematics can show us about how life began, and how it might continue. Galileo wrote “this grand book the universe… is written in the language of mathematics”. It was said before Galileo and has been said since and in the last decades of the 20th century it is being said again, most emphatically. How important is maths in relation to other ...
1999-Apr-29 • 28 minutes
Artificial Intelligence
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss artificial intelligence. Can we create a machine that creates? Some argue so. And is consciousness, as we are, with headaches and tiffs and moods and small pleasures and sore feet - often all at the same time - capable of taking place in a machine? Artificial intelligence machines have been growing much more intelligent since Alan Turing’s pioneering days at Bletchley in World War Two. Its claims are now very grand indeed. It is 31 years since Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Cl...
1999-Apr-15 • 28 minutes
Evolution
Melvyn Bragg examines the future of gene therapy and advances in evolutionary biology. Are we continuing to evolve? If so, what are the signs and if not, why not? And those apes, so very very near us in genetic kinship, why are they so far away in so much else, and will they ever evolve? And is evolution necessarily progression? If so, does our apparent lack of evolution mean lack of progress? Also on the evolutionary front, could electronic devices discover the means of self-replication, and what will that...
1999-Mar-18 • 28 minutes
Animal Experiments and Rights
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role of animals in humankind's search for knowledge. Since the Greek physician Galen used pigs for anatomical studies in the 2nd century, animals have been used by scientists to further human knowledge. Yet few, if any subjects in this country, raise such violent feelings and passions as animals and their place in our society. With the growing politicisation of animal rights, it is a subject which is increasing in intensity. Do animals have rights and do our needs permit...
1999-Feb-18 • 28 minutes
Space in Religion and Science
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of thought about space, and examines whether cyberspace has introduced a new concept of space in our world or if its roots are in Einsteinian physics. It would have seemed extraordinary to Dante or Newton, from their different perspectives, that at the end of the 20th century there would be learned scholars who would find no place for religion in the great schemes of thought and belief. In the 20th century our notions of physical space have been revolutionised. Ei...
1999-Feb-11 • 28 minutes
Language and the Mind
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of our ideas about the formation of language. The psychologist George Miller worked out that in English there are potentially a hundred million trillion sentences of twenty words in length - that’s a hundred times the number of seconds since the birth of the universe. “Language”, as Chomsky put it, “makes infinite use of finite media”. “Language”, as Steven Pinker puts it, “comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is”...
1999-Feb-04 • 28 minutes
Psychoanalysis and its Legacy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relevance of psychoanalysis at the end of the 20th century. It’s 100 years since Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, a term which he coined, published The Interpretation of Dreams. Sixty years after his death, Freud’s influence and the influence of that book, has been felt in the 20th century in everything from the arts, history and anthropology, to of course psychology and even science. Dreams have inspired political speeches, songs, and seduction, captivating ...
1999-Jan-28 • 28 minutes
Ageing
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ageing. In 1900, 1% of the world’s population were over 65. In the 1990s nearly 8% are. By the year 2020, nearly 1/5th of the world’s population will be over 65 - the figure rises to 25% in the UK. We are now living longer than at any time in our history. How much do economic factors, rather than biological factors, determine what ageing really means and our attitude to it? And what are the ethical, economic and biological implications of living longer?Tom Kirkwood, is an...
1999-Jan-14 • 28 minutes
Genetic Engineering
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the implications of the developments in genetic engineering. Out of the city of Cambridge in the mid century came DNA and out of Edinburgh at the end of the century came the cloning of Dolly the sheep. These two facts might well do more to change the world literally, and our view of the world, than anything else that has happened at any time. Genetics have become the conversation of our day and with the Human Genome Project lumbering towards completion, its power grows. But a...
1998-Dec-24 • 28 minutes
Neuroscience in the 20th century
Melvyn Bragg and guests marvel at our brains and discuss how at the end of a century of research we still understand so little about how they work.Developments in the understanding of the brain represent one of the major leaps forward in science in the 20th century, and the research is gathering pace and intensity. It’s a subject which captures the imagination, particularly the search for consciousness whatever that might be, and brings together some of the newest technology and the oldest belief systems. W...
1998-Nov-19 • 28 minutes
The Brain and Consciousness
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how our increased knowledge of the functioning of the brain and the mechanisms of memory in the 20th century has changed our feelings about our own natures, and our approach to the behaviour and treatment of others.Many questions have been thrown up this century by our growing knowledge about how the brain and the mind function. How easy is it to establish the relationship between the two, and what light can this relationship throw on our understanding of our own and others n...
1998-Nov-05 • 28 minutes
Science in the 20th century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how perceptions of science and the power of science have changed in the 20th century. Does scientific endeavour increasingly concern itself with doubt rather than certainty, and is it coming any closer to integrating with other disciplines - philosophy or the social sciences? How much does the scientific explanation of the world owe to a wish for coherent understanding we all have, rather than objective observation, and why are we alternately disapproving of, then obsessively...
1998-Oct-29 • 28 minutes
Science's Revelations
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss whether the mass of scientific understanding and knowledge we have accumulated has destroyed our sense of poetic wonder at the world. Has our sense of awe at how the world works obscured our desire to know why it works the way it does? With Richard Dawkins evolutionary biologist, reader in Zoology and Fellow of New College, Oxford, Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University and author of Unweaving The Rainbow: Science, Delusion and The Appeti...