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Britain's top scientific names tell the story of the British science and ingenuity that has been at the forefront of some of history's greatest advances

About the Show

Britain's top scientific names tell the story of the British science and ingenuity that has been at the forefront of some of history's greatest advances

Series 1 Summary

Britain may only be a small island, but its great scientists and inventors have literally created the modern world: from the invention of the steam engine, computers and the world-wide web to the discovery of the theory of evolution and the atom.

In this five-part series some of Britain's leading scientific figures - Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, James Dyson, David Attenborough, Robert Winston, Paul Nurse, Jim Al-Khalili, Kathy Sykes and Olivia Judson - tell the stories of the people behind these innovations.

From Isaac Newton to Frank Whittle, James Watt to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Joseph Banks to Rosalind Franklin, these are the people who - through blood, sweat and tears - overcame all obstacles in the search for answers.

  • Kathy Sykes

    Episode 1

    The first programme begins 350 years ago when a small group of friends, colleagues and rivals defied everything that was known about the world at that time.

    Stephen Hawking and Jim Al-Khalili explain how Isaac Newton saw mathematics at the root of everything, from gravity to light.

    James Dyson demonstrates Robert Boyle's air pump, which revealed the life-giving invisible world around us, whose laws could be understood through experiment and reason.

    David Attenborough celebrates the many interests of Christopher Wren, who was best known as an architect, but was equally fascinated by surgery and astronomy.

    Richard Dawkins explores Robert Hooke's revelatory microscopic world, and champions the virtues of a scientist whose name was almost wiped from the history books by men who despised him: most notably his arch-rival Newton.

    And Kathy Sykes charts Edmond Halley's exploration of the stars, which helped Britain's sailors to rule the waves.

  • Jim Al-Khalili

    Episode 2

    This episode looks at the scientific spark that ignited the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

    James Dyson tells the story of how a young James Watt was inspired to perfect the steam engine that would change the world forever.

    Jim Al-Khalili explains how Joseph Priestley, a clergyman with a fascination for gases, discovered the very air we breathe and started a craze for soda water.

    David Attenborough talks about his hero Joseph Banks, the great naturalist who sailed to the South Seas and founded Kew Gardens on his return.

    And Robert Winston reveals the extraordinary story of John Hunter, surgeon, anatomist... and body-snatcher.

  • Richard Dawkins

    Episode 3

    This episode looks at the scientific titans of the 19th century, whose drive and ambitions created the railways, discovered electricity and devised one of the most explosive ideas ever: evolution.

    James Dyson looks at the life of Michael Faraday, the impoverished son of a blacksmith who became obsessed with electricity and gave us energy at the flick of a switch.

    Kathy Sykes explores the many achievements of Lord Kelvin, who amassed over 70 patents, wrote the laws of thermodynamics and was responsible for the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

    Richard Dawkins talks about a great neglected hero of his, Alfred Russel Wallace: the man who nearly pipped Darwin to the theory of evolution.

    And James Dyson explores the life and vast accomplishments of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

  • Paul Nurse

    Episode 4

    This episode examines how war can bring with it innovation as well as horror.

    It tells the story of some of the scientists and engineers who helped Britain win the Second World War, and how we have enjoyed the benefits of their discoveries to this day.

    Richard Dawkins reveals his admiration for Alan Turing, the man who pioneered modern computing science as a by-product of his work deciphering the German Enigma Code at Bletchley Park.

    James Dyson celebrates the work of engineer Frank Whittle, who came from nowhere to invent the jet engine, and experiences the incredible power of Whittle's invention for himself in an RAF jet.

    Jim Al-Khalili reveals how, without the discovery of radar by Robert Watson-Watt, the Battle of Britain would certainly have been lost.

    Kathy Sykes explains how Paul Dirac tried to combine the seemingly incompatible worlds of relativity and quantum mechanics, and helped to pave the way for modern electronics.

    And Paul Nurse tells the true story of Alexander Fleming, whose discovery of penicillin went on to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of fighting men, as well as millions more people since.

  • James Dyson

    Episode 5

    The final programme in the series looks at the incredible discoveries of the last 50 years and reveals where some of the greatest minds of our time think we are heading.

    Richard Dawkins and Olivia Judson reveal the controversial true story of how Rosalind Franklin's work in crystallography helped Watson and Crick to discover the double-helix structure of DNA, and the wealth of knowledge now gathered about the human genetic blueprint as a result.

    Jim Al-Khalili charts the career of astronomer Fred Hoyle, who helped to popularise science, worked out that we are all made of star-dust and, ironically, coined the term 'Big Bang' for a theory he rejected.

    James Dyson explores a revolutionary new discovery - carbon nanotubes - which, as well as being the toughest material known to man and 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, offer potential applications from cheap and super-efficient solar power to building a 'space elevator'.

    To end the series, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins ask each other the questions they really want answered: Is there life on other planets? Why are you so obsessed with God?

    And all of the scientists explain just why they think science is now more important than ever.

Genius of Britain synopsis

Britain's top scientific names tell the story of the British science and ingenuity that has been at the forefront of some of history's greatest advances

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