History and Philosophy

Nuclear Physics

Duration: 45 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 10 January 2002

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 what does the science of the nucleus tell us about how our universe is built? Nuclear technology provokes strong emotional and political reactions, but what are the plain facts behind its development as a science?

With Jim Al-Khalili, Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Surrey; Christine Sutton, Particle Physicist and Lecturer in Physics at St Catherine’s College Oxford; John Gribbin, Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.


Laws of Nature

Duration: 45 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 19 October 2000

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 single over-arching equation that unites all of physics, and can perhaps explain the organisation of everything in existence.

But are the Laws of Physics really ‘facts of life’? Is what is true in physics, true in all areas of existence? Is it even true in other areas of physics?

With Mark Buchanan, physicist and author of Ubiquity; Professor Frank Close, theoretical physicist and author of Lucifer’s Legacy: The Meaning of Asymmetry; Nancy Cartwright, Professor of Philosophy, LSE.



Duration: 30 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 06 May 1999

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 sciences at the end of the twentieth century – will it ever be made redundant, or is it increasingly crucial to our understanding of the world and ourselves? What insight can it give us into the origins of life, and the functioning of our brains, and what does it mean to say that maths has become more ‘visual’?

With Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics and Gresham Professor of Geometry, University of Warwick; Brian Butterworth, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London