Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
Genome: [r4 Bd=19910329]

NEW The first of four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements.

'Look at the product you have - the freshest, most life-giving product in the world. We can't get along without it. We parch and die without it.'

(Esther Williams). 1: Water

Impressions of their chosen element from people who swim, fish or dive in it, literally walk on it, or observe it from outer space. Contributors include: Dr Robert Ballard , James Hamilton-Paterson , Thor Heyerdahl ,

Alexandra Hildred , Dr Jeffrey Hoffman , John Kerr ,

Robin Knox-Johnston ,

Robert Swann and Esther Williams. Producer Rosemary Hart. Stereo

Contributors

Unknown: Dr Robert Ballard

Unknown: James Hamilton-Paterson

Unknown: Thor Heyerdahl

Unknown: Alexandra Hildred

Unknown: Dr Jeffrey Hoffman

Unknown: John Kerr

Unknown: Robin Knox-Johnston

Unknown: Robert Swann

Unknown: Esther Williams.

Producer: Rosemary Hart.

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910331]

The first of four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements.

Water

Impressions of their chosen element from people who swim, fish or dive in it, literally walk on it, or observe it from outer space.

Stereo

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910405]

Four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements. 2: Air

'In normal life one isn't actually aware of the air unless it's full of smoke or somebody's perfume or there's some ghastly smell in it. But in the Arctic you're aware of your breathing because it's so cold.'

(Robert Swann )

Impressions of their chosen element from a polar explorer, an astronaut, an astronomer, balloonists, a birdwatcher, kite flyers, a weather forecaster and members of the Red Arrows aerobatic team.

Producer Rosemary Hart. Stereo (Repeated Sunday at 10.15pm;

Contributors

Unknown: Robert Swann

Producer: Rosemary Hart.

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910407]

Four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements.

2: Air

Impressions of their chosen element from a polar explorer, an astronaut, an astronomer, balloonists, a birdwatcher, kite-fliers, a weather forecaster and members of the Red Arrows aerobatic team.

Stereo

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910412]

Four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements.

3: Fire

'I saw a firework display as a way of painting the sky. A painter has a palette, we have Roman candles, rockets, shells, fountains and a show that contains elements of beauty and fear.' (Wilf Scott )

Impressions of their chosen element from pyrotechnics experts, a fire-eater, fire safety officers, bonfire builders, a NASA astronaut, and oil-well fighter Red Adair. Producer Rosemary Hart. Stereo

Contributors

Unknown: Wilf Scott

Producer: Rosemary Hart.

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910414]

Four programmes relecting personal views of the elements.

3: Fire

Impressions of their chosen element from pyrotechnics experts; a fire-eater; fire safety officers; bonfire builders; a NASA astronaut; and oil-well fighter Red Adair. Stereo

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910419]

The last of four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements: Earth

'I've always been drawn to the soil for as long as I can remember. There are few more pleasing sights than a vegetable plot that has just been dug with great clods of wet earth, steaming and gleaming in the sunshine.' (Clay Jones)

Impressions of their chosen element from a gardener; a grave digger; a Polar explorer; a dry-stone waller; cavers; coal miners; archaeologists and a cross-Channel tunneller. Producer Rosemary Hart. Stereo

Contributors

Producer: Rosemary Hart.

Genome: [r4 Bd=19910421]

The last of four programmes reflecting personal views of the elements: Earth

Impressions of their chosen element from a gardener; a grave-digger; a Polar explorer; a dry-stone waller; cavers; coal miners; archaeologists and a cross-Channel tunneller.

Stereo

0101Mercury - Chemistry's Jekyll And Hyde2017042520170501

The most beautiful and shimmering of the elements, the weirdest, and yet the most reviled.

The most beautiful and shimmering of the elements, the weirdest, and yet the most reviled.

Chemist Andrea Sella tell the story of Mercury, explaining the significance of this element not just for chemistry, but also the development of modern civilisation.

It's been a a source of wonder for thousands of years - why is this metal a liquid? and what is its contribution to art, from the Stone Age to the Renaissance?

We look at how Mercury is integral to hundreds of years of scientific discoveries, from weather forecasting to steam engines and the detection of atomic particles it has a key role.

However Mercury is highly toxic in certain forms and ironically the industrial processes it helped create have led to global pollution which now threatens fish, wildlife and ourselves.

We ask is it time to say goodbye to Mercury?

Chemist Andrea Sella tell the story of Mercury, explaining the significance of this element not just for chemistry, but also the development of modern civilisation.

It's been a a source of wonder for thousands of years - why is this metal a liquid? and what is its contribution to art, from the Stone Age to the Renaissance?

We look at how Mercury in integral to hundreds of years of scientific discoveries, from weather forecasting to steam engines and the detection of atomic particles it has a key role.

However Mercury is highly toxic in certain forms and ironically the industrial processes it helped create have led to global pollution which now threatens fish, wildlife and ourselves.

We ask is it time to say goodbye to Mercury?

0102Oxygen: The Breath Of Life2017050220170508

Trevor Cox takes a deep breath and tells the story of oxygen on earth and in space.

Oxygen appeared on earth over 2 billion years ago and life took off. Now it makes up just over a fifth of the air. Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, tells the story of oxygen on earth and in space.

Historian of science, Dr James Sumner of Manchester University describes how three scientists in the late 18th century contributed to the discovery of oxygen.

Tim Lenton, Professor of Earth Systems Science at the University of Exeter, talks about his recent research into the Great Oxidation Event that eventually led to oxygen in the atmosphere.

Ozone is three atoms of oxygen, and when it is in the stratosphere it stops harmful UVB rays from the sun reaching us. Manchester University has one of the world's ozone and UV monitoring stations, and Dr Andy Smedley took Trevor to see it. Professor Ann Webb tells Trevor about research into ozone at different levels of the atmosphere.

If we are ever to leave the earth we will need to find a way to generate enough oxygen to keep us alive. Doug Millard, space curator at the Science Museum, explains how astronauts on the space station get their oxygen.

As an acoustic engineer Trevor has explored sounds in many locations on earth. The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere affects what we hear. You know what a lungful of helium does to our voices. Trevor talks to fellow acoustician Tim Leighton, Professor of Ultrasonics and Underwater Acoustics at the University of Southampton, who has modelled sounds on other planets, where the atmosphere is made up of different gases.

0103And Then There Was Li2017050920170515

The element that links the formation of the universe with the functioning of our brains.

From the origins of the universe, though batteries, glass and grease to influencing the working of our brains, Neuroscientist Sophie Scott tracks the incredible power of lithium.

Its 200 years ago this year that lithium was first isolated and named, but this, the lightest of all metals, had been used as a drug for centuries before.

From the industrial revolution it proves its worth as a key ingredient in glass and grease, and as the major component in lithium ion batteries it powers every smartphone on the planet.

In mental health lithium has proved one of the most effective treatments. And its use to treat physical ailments is now making a comeback.

We explore how the chemistry of lithium links all these apparently unrelated uses together.

0104Carbon - The Backbone Of Life20170522

Why is all known life built on carbon?

Carbon is widely considered to be the key element in forming life. It's at the centre of DNA, and the molecules upon which all living things rely.

Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University, explores the nature of carbon, from its formation in distant stars to its uses and abuses here on earth.

She looks at why it forms the scaffold upon which living organisms are built, and how the mechanisms involved have helped inform the development of new carbon based technology, and products - from telephones to tennis rackets.

One form of carbon is graphene which offers great promise in improving solar cells and batteries, and introducing a whole new range of cheaper more flexible electronics.

Carbon is also the key component of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane. To counter some of the effects of man-made climate change, Scientists are now developing novel ways to speed up this mechanism - using waste materials created from mining and industry.

Monica Grady also looks to space, and the significance of carbon in the far reaches of the universe. There is lots of carbon in space, some in forms we might recognise as the precursors to molecules. As elemental carbon seems to be everywhere what are the chances of carbon based life elsewhere?

0105 LASTSilicon - The Worlds Building Block2017052320170529

The key component of rocks, sand and materials from glass and concrete to microelectronics

Silicon is literally everywhere in both the natural and built environment, from the dominance of silicate rocks in the earth crust, to ubiquitous sand in building materials and as the basis for glass.

We've also harnessed silicon's properties as a semiconductor to build the modern electronics industry - without silicon personal computers and smartphones would simply not exist.

Silicon is also found widely across the universe. It is formed in stars, particularly when they explode. And the similarities between how silicon and carbon form chemical bonds has led many to wonder whether there could be silicon based life elsewhere - perhaps in some far flung part of the galaxy where carbon is not as abundant as here on earth.

As well as discussing the potential for silicon based life on other planets Birkbeck University Astrobiologist Dr Louisa Preston considers the varied uses of silicon here on earth, from its dominance in our built environments to its driving role in artificial intelligence and new ways to harness the sun's energy.

Dr Louisa Preston explores the origins of silicon in stars and its role in life on earth.

0201Our Lives With Lead20180116

Uta Frith assesses the impact of the use and abuse of lead on humanity.

From the plumbing of ancient Rome, to lead acid batteries, paint, petrol and a dangerous legacy, the metal lead has seen a myriad of uses and abuses over thousands of years. In bullets and poisons it has killed us both quickly and slowly, and yet its malleability, low melting point and resistance to corrosion make it a fantastic material for all kinds of containers and water proofing. And it is key to one of the most commonly used, and ignored, devices on the planet, the car battery.
However it's only recently that the serious impact of lead poisoning on the development of children's brains has come to light.
Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, who studied the impact of lead poisoning in the 1970s and 80s, journeys with lead from the iron age to the present day delving into the history and scandal associated with this often overlooked element.

0202Phosphorus, Smoke And Lighting20180123

How a discovery in boiled urine led to the trade union movement and chemical weapons.

What links trade unions with urine, Syria with semiconductors, and bones and bombs? The answer is phosphorus, UCL Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella, who is himself engaged in researching new phosphorus based materials, looks at this often rather frightening element.
We hear how the health impact of phosphorus on a group of Irish girls changed politics, how the element has been used as a weapon of war and we peer into the future, as chemists break new ground on what might be possible with phosphorus and nanotechnology.

0203 LASTAwesome Iodine20180130

Why iodine is essential for our health.

The phrase 'essential 'element' is often incorrectly used to describe the nutrients we need, but can aptly be applied to iodine - without it we would suffer severe developmental problems. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormones, responsible for the regulation of our metabolism. And yet most of us have no idea how much we need, nor where it comes from.
In her research, Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at Surrey University, has found pregnant women in particular are at risk of iodine deficiency - and there's a lack of iodine in what many consider healthy diets.
As well as looking at contemporary issues with iodine, Margaret explores the legacy of past iodine deficiency - the word cretin, was coined to describe someone living in the Alps with such a condition. We learn why you might find iodine in British milk - but not necessarily elsewhere in the world, and we discuss the consequences of exposure to radioactive iodine isotopes - both good and bad.

03Any Old Iron20180801

Beyond war and peace, how iron has shaped human biology and culture.

Scientists tell stories of the elements, explaining how chemistry made the modern world.

From weapons to ploughshares, iron holds a key place as the element for the tools of the rise and destruction of human civilisations. As a grand scale shaper of our towns and ciities and our culture it is unmatched. And yet it also has a major role to play in living cells.

Andrew Pontzen, Reader in Cosmology at University College London. explores iron's sometimes ambivalent history and also delves deep inside ourselves to understand how iron is key to keeping us all alive.

Dr Kate Maguire, astrophysicist at Queens University, Belfast, explains how the iron on earth was formed in distant exploding stars. Andrew talks to Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres about how our ancestors first used this metal. And Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor, of the University of Surrey, discusses one of iron's greatest and most mysterious properties - magnetism.

In blood and bodies what does iron actually do - could any other element perform its life giving functions? Andrew finds out from Chris Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Essex University, how iron is the key atom in haemoglobin that transports oxygen. And Dr Kathryn Robson, from Oxford University's Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, describes the condition haemochromatosis,, in which people have too much iron. which runs in Andrew's family.

03Sodium: The key to life20180808

Sodium, the explosive alkali metal that is crucial for all life on Earth.

Scientists tell stories of the elements, explaining how chemistry made the modern world.

Putting sodium into water is one of the most memorable experiments from school chemistry lessons. It's this ability to react ferociously with water which is the starting point for sodium's key role in powering all of biology. Simply, without sodium we wouldn't exist. It helps provide the electricity that allows us to move, breathe, think. Sodium could help with pain. Recent discoveries of families who feel searing pain with mild warmth, or those who feel no pain at all even in childbirth has opened up new avenues in pain research. Their rare genetic mutations change the way sodium works in their body and so neuroscientists understanding these are developing drugs that could give rise to a much needed new generation of pain killers.

0301Fluorine: Chemistry's Tiger20180725

Fluorine has a deadly reputation as one of the most reactive of all the elements.

Scientists tell stories of the elements, explaining how chemistry made the modern world.

Many chemists have lost their lives trying to isolate the periodic table's most chemically reactive element - hence the nickname "the tiger of chemistry". Fluorine can react with almost all elements. As an acid, hydrofluoric acid, it will dissolve glass. Yet chemists have been able to tame the beast - creating remarkable and safe uses for it by utilising its reactive nature that lets it make strong bonds with other chemicals.

One in five medicines contain fluorine atoms, including one of the most widely used antidepressants Prozac, fluorinated anaesthetic, cancer medication, the cholesterol regulating drug Lipitor and the antibacterial Cipro. Though perhaps it is most famous for being added to toothpaste in the form of fluoride and in some places, drinking water. Fluoride protects our teeth from decay. But despite the benefits, it has a history of receiving a bad press. During the cold war, false allegations were made that adding fluoride to the water supply was a communist plot designed to weaken the American people. Stanley Kubrick satirised these fears in the film Dr. Strangelove in 1964.

The suspicion around fluoride has not gone away and many people feel negatively towards any tinkering with something as fundamental as our water supply. Professor Andrea Sella from University College London examines the effects of fluorine and looks to current and future uses of the element that chemists clearly respect - but no longer fear.

Producer: Louisa Field.

0302Any Old Iron20180801

War and peace - how iron shaped us. Andrew Pontzen on iron's sometimes ambivalent history.

Scientists tell stories of the elements, explaining how chemistry made the modern world.

From weapons to ploughshares, iron holds a key place as the element for the tools of the rise and destruction of human civilisations.
As early metallurgists learn to emulate and unconsciously reverse the processes that led to iron's formation in the planets they hit upon one of the strongest and most durable elements known.

Andrew Pontzen, Reader in Cosmology at UCL looks at iron's sometimes ambivalent history and also delves deep inside ourselves to look at how iron is key to keeping us all alive.
In blood and bodies what does iron actually do - could any other element perform its life giving functions ?
And we look forward, with its history stretching back millennia, spawning industries and engineering of all kinds, is humanity now done with iron? Or is there a bright shiny future awaiting this dense and sometimes rusty metal?

Beyond war and peace, how iron has shaped human biology and culture.

From weapons to ploughshares, iron holds a key place as the element for the tools of the rise and destruction of human civilisations. As a grand scale shaper of our towns and ciities and our culture it is unmatched. And yet it also has a major role to play in living cells.

Andrew Pontzen, Reader in Cosmology at University College London. explores iron's sometimes ambivalent history and also delves deep inside ourselves to understand how iron is key to keeping us all alive.

Dr Kate Maguire, astrophysicist at Queens University, Belfast, explains how the iron on earth was formed in distant exploding stars. Andrew talks to Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres about how our ancestors first used this metal. And Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor, of the University of Surrey, discusses one of iron's greatest and most mysterious properties - magnetism.

In blood and bodies what does iron actually do - could any other element perform its life giving functions? Andrew finds out from Chris Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Essex University, how iron is the key atom in haemoglobin that transports oxygen. And Dr Kathryn Robson, from Oxford University's Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, describes the condition haemochromatosis,, in which people have too much iron. which runs in Andrew's family.

0303Sodium: The Key To Life20180808

Sodium, the explosive alkali metal that is crucial for all life on Earth.

Scientists tell stories of the elements, explaining how chemistry made the modern world.

Putting sodium into water is one of the most memorable experiments from school chemistry lessons. It's this ability to react ferociously with water which is the starting point for sodium's key role in powering all of biology. Simply, without sodium we wouldn't exist. It helps provide the electricity that allows us to move, breathe, think. Sodium could help with pain. Recent discoveries of families who feel searing pain with mild warmth, or those who feel no pain at all even in childbirth has opened up new avenues in pain research. Their rare genetic mutations change the way sodium works in their body and so neuroscientists understanding these are developing drugs that could give rise to a much needed new generation of pain killers.