264 episodes

Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

In Our Time: Science BBC

    • History

Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

    The Manhattan Project

    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 engineering project led by General Groves and Robert Oppenheimer and, once the first bomb had been exploded at Los Alamos in July 1945, it appeared inevitable that the next ones would be used against Japan with devastating results.

    The image above is of Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves examining the remains of one the bases of the steel test tower, at the atomic bomb Trinity Test site, in September 1945.

    With

    Bruce Cameron Reed
    The Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics Emeritus at Alma College, Michigan

    Cynthia Kelly
    Founder and President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation

    And

    Frank Close
    Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    The Evolution of Crocodiles

    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 habitats of the dinosaur descendants such as birds covers much of the globe, those of the crocodiles have contracted, even if the animals themselves continue to evolve today as quickly as they ever have.

    With

    Anjali Goswami
    Research Leader in Life Sciences and Dean of Postgraduate Education at the Natural History Museum

    Philip Mannion
    Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London

    And

    Steve Brusatte
    Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh

    Producer Simon Tillotson

    • 53 min
    Longitude

    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 particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved.

    With

    Rebekah Higgitt
    Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland

    Jim Bennett
    Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum

    And

    Simon Schaffer
    Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Pierre-Simon Laplace

    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 planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'.

    With

    Marcus du Sautoy
    Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford

    Timothy Gowers
    Professor of Mathematics at the College de France

    And

    Colva Roney-Dougal
    Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    The Late Devonian Extinction

    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 in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life.

    The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction

    With

    Jessica Whiteside
    Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton

    David Bond
    Professor of Geology at the University of Hull

    And

    Mike Benton
    Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol.

    • 49 min
    Emilie du Châtelet

    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 intellectual in a world of ideas that was almost exclusively male.

    With

    Patricia Fara
    Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge

    David Wootton
    Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York

    And

    Judith Zinsser
    Professor Emerita of History at Miami University of Ohio and biographer of Emilie du Châtelet.

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 49 min

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