285 episodes

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

In Our Time: Science BBC Radio 4

    • History
    • 4.6 • 639 Ratings

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



    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet which is closest to our Sun. We see it as an evening or a morning star, close to where the Sun has just set or is about to rise, and observations of Mercury helped Copernicus understand that Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun, so displacing Earth from the centre of our system. In the 20th century, further observations of Mercury helped Einstein prove his general theory of relativity. For the last 50 years we have been sending missions there to reveal something of Mercury's secrets and how those relate to the wider universe, and he latest, BepiColombo, is out there in space now.
    Emma Bunce
    Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics and Director of the Institute for Space at the University of Leicester
    David Rothery
    Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University
    Carolin Crawford
    Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and Emeritus Member of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production
    Reading list:
    Emma Bunce, ‘All (X-ray) eyes on Mercury’ (Astronomy & Geophysics, Volume 64, Issue 4, August 2023)
    Emma Bunce et al, ‘The BepiColombo Mercury Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer: Science Goals, Instrument Performance and Operations’ (Space Science Reviews: SpringerLink, volume 216, article number 126, Nov 2020)
    David A. Rothery, Planet Mercury: From Pale Pink Dot to Dynamic World (Springer, 2014)

    • 53 min
    Nikola Tesla

    Nikola Tesla

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and his role in the development of electrical systems towards the end of the nineteenth century. He made his name in New York in the contest over which current should flow into homes and factories in America. Some such as Edison backed direct current or DC while others such as Westinghouse backed alternating current or AC and Nikola Tesla’s invention of a motor that worked on AC swung it for the alternating system that went on to power the modern age. He ensured his reputation and ideas burnt brightly for the next decades, making him synonymous with the lone, genius inventor of the new science fiction.
    Simon Schaffer
    Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College, University of Cambridge
    Jill Jonnes
    Historian and author of “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World”
    Iwan Morus
    Professor of History at Aberystwyth University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (Princeton University Press, 2013)
    Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth, Tesla: Master of Lightning (Barnes & Noble Books, 1999)
    Thomas P. Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983)
    Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New (Open University Press, 1988)
    Iwan Rhys Morus, Nikola Tesla and the Electrical Future (Icon Books, 2019)
    Iwan Rhys Morus, How The Victorians Took Us To The Moon (Icon, 2022)
    David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology (MIT Press, 1991)
    John J. O’Neill, Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla (first published 1944; Cosimo Classics, 2006)
    Marc J. Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius (first published 1996; Citadel Press, 2016)
    Nikola Tesla, My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (first published 1919; Martino Fine Books, 2011)
    Nikola Tesla, My Inventions and other Writings (Penguin, 2012)
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production

    • 52 min
    Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle

    Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German physicist who, at the age of 23 and while still a student, effectively created quantum mechanics for which he later won the Nobel Prize. Werner Heisenberg made this breakthrough in a paper in 1925 when, rather than starting with an idea of where atomic particles were at any one time, he worked backwards from what he observed of atoms and their particles and the light they emitted, doing away with the idea of their continuous orbit of the nucleus and replacing this with equations. This was momentous and from this flowed what’s known as his Uncertainty Principle, the idea that, for example, you can accurately measure the position of an atomic particle or its momentum, but not both.
    Fay Dowker
    Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London
    Harry Cliff
    Research Fellow in Particle Physics at the University of Cambridge
    Frank Close
    Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics and Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College at the University of Oxford
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Philip Ball, Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew about Quantum Physics Is Different (Vintage, 2018)
    John Bell, ‘Against 'measurement'’ (Physics World, Vol 3, No 8, 1990)
    Mara Beller, Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 2001)
    David C. Cassidy, Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, And The Bomb (Bellevue Literary Press, 2010)
    Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (first published 1958; Penguin Classics, 2000)
    Carlo Rovelli, Helgoland: The Strange and Beautiful Story of Quantum Physics (Penguin, 2022)

    • 58 min


    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss some of the chemical signals coursing through our bodies throughout our lives, produced in separate areas and spreading via the bloodstream. We call these 'hormones' and we produce more than 80 of them of which the best known are arguably oestrogen, testosterone, adrenalin, insulin and cortisol. On the whole hormones operate without us being immediately conscious of them as their goal is homeostasis, maintaining the levels of everything in the body as required without us having to think about them first. Their actions are vital for our health and wellbeing and influence many different aspects of the way our bodies work.
    Sadaf Farooqi
    Professor of Metabolism and Medicine at the University of Cambridge
    Rebecca Reynolds
    Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh
    Andrew Bicknell
    Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading
    Produced by Victoria Brignell
    Reading list:
    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (first published 1962; Penguin Classics, 2000)
    Stephen Nussey and Saffron Whitehead, Endocrinology: An Integrated Approach (BIOS Scientific Publishers; 2001)
    Aylinr Y. Yilmaz, Comprehensive Introduction to Endocrinology for Novices (Independently published, 2023)

    • 50 min


    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the tiny drifting organisms in the oceans that sustain the food chain for all the lifeforms in the water and so for the billions of people who, in turn, depend on the seas for their diet. In Earth's development, the plant-like ones among them, the phytoplankton, produced so much oxygen through photosynthesis that around half the oxygen we breathe today originated there. And each day as the sun rises, the animal ones, the zooplankton, sink to the depths of the seas to avoid predators in such density that they appear on ship sonars like a new seabed, only to rise again at night in the largest migration of life on this planet.
    Carol Robinson
    Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of East Anglia
    Abigail McQuatters-Gollop
    Associate Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Plymouth
    Christopher Lowe
    Lecturer in Marine Biology at Swansea University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Juli Berwald, Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone (Riverhead Books, 2018)
    Sir Alister Hardy, The Open Sea: The World of Plankton (first published 1959; Collins New Naturalist Library, 2009)
    Richard Kirby, Ocean Drifters: A Secret World Beneath the Waves (Studio Cactus Ltd, 2010)
    Robert Kunzig, Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science (Sort Of Books, 2000)
    Christian Sardet, Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World (University of Chicago Press, 2015)
    Helen Scales, The Brilliant Abyss: True Tales of Exploring the Deep Sea, Discovering Hidden Life and Selling the Seabed (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2022)

    • 48 min
    Albert Einstein

    Albert Einstein

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who, in 1905, produced several papers that were to change the world of physics and whose name went on to become a byword for genius. This was Albert Einstein, then still a technical expert at a Swiss patent office, and that year of 1905 became known as his annus mirabilis ('miraculous year'). While Einstein came from outside the academic world, some such as Max Planck championed his theory of special relativity, his principle of mass-energy equivalence that followed, and his explanations of Brownian Motion and the photoelectric effect. Yet it was not until 1919, when a solar eclipse proved his theory that gravity would bend light, that Einstein became an international celebrity and developed into an almost mythical figure.
    Richard Staley
    Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and Professor in History of Science at the University of Copenhagen
    Diana Kormos Buchwald
    Robert M. Abbey Professor of History and Director and General Editor of The Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology
    John Heilbron
    Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (first published 1971; HarperPaperbacks, 2011)
    Albert Einstein (eds. Jurgen Renn and Hanoch Gutfreund), Relativity: The Special and the General Theory - 100th Anniversary Edition (Princeton University Press, 2019)
    Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (first published 1950; Citadel Press, 1974)
    Albert Einstein (ed. Paul A. Schilpp), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist: The Library of Living Philosophers Volume VII (first published 1949; Open Court, 1970)
    Albert Einstein (eds. Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden), Einstein on Peace (first published 1981; Literary Licensing, 2011)
    Albrecht Folsing, Albert Einstein: A Biography (Viking, 1997)
    J. L. Heilbron, Niels Bohr: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2020)
    Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2008)
    Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion (Princeton University Press, 2002)
    Michel Janssen and Christoph Lehner (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Einstein (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
    Dennis Overbye, Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance (Viking, 2000)
    Abraham Pais, Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein (Oxford University Press, 1982)
    David E. Rowe and Robert Schulmann (eds.), Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (Princeton University Press, 2007)
    Matthew Stanley, Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I (Dutton, 2019)
    Fritz Stern, Einstein’s German World (Princeton University Press, 1999)
    A. Douglas Stone, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian (Princeton University Press, 2013)
    Milena Wazeck (trans. Geoffrey S. Koby), Einstein's Opponents: The Public Controversy About the Theory of Relativity in the 1920s (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

    • 49 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
639 Ratings

639 Ratings

queen of the Anthropocene ,

A brilliant array of topics

The range of fascinating topics curated by the excellent Melvin Bragg and the very-well chosen guests is a treat.

SnappyDani ,

Need more variety

A great informational podcast but they only focus on scientific advances that took place in Europe. Quite whitewashed. Africa, South America, Asia, Russia are NEVER mentioned.

Benji X. ,

Change of Host Needed

Melvyn Bragg uses unacceptable behavior with women: rude, domineering, interrupting, and foolish, useful questions. Please seek another host.

Top Podcasts In History

The Rest Is History
Goalhanger Podcasts
The Big Dig
Everything Everywhere Daily
Gary Arndt | Glassbox Media
American Scandal
American History Tellers
You're Wrong About
Sarah Marshall

You Might Also Like

In Our Time: History
BBC Radio 4
In Our Time: Culture
BBC Radio 4
In Our Time
BBC Radio 4
In Our Time: Religion
BBC Radio 4
In Our Time: Philosophy
BBC Radio 4
BBC Inside Science
BBC Radio 4

More by BBC

Global News Podcast
BBC World Service
6 Minute English
BBC Radio
In Our Time
BBC Radio 4
You're Dead to Me
BBC Radio 4
BBC World Service
Learning English Conversations
BBC Radio