It’ll be a cold weekend across the United States, but you’ll find fires aplenty in a three-part BBC video series called Chemistry: A Volatile History, which aired around this time in 2010 in the UK. The series is by hosted professor of theoretical physics Jim Al-Khalili, a particularly charismatic science communicator.
In a manner that’s lucid, intelligent and creative, Dr. Al-Khalili explores the history of the elements listed in the periodic table, from argon to zirconium. That might sound like dry subject material, but it isn’t – scientific discovery is, for the most part, fraught with passion, intrigue and deception. In other words: drama. From the BBC’s website:
Just 92 elements made up the world, but the belief that there were only four – earth, fire, air and water – persisted until the 19th Century. Professor Al-Khalili retraces the footsteps of the alchemists who first began to question the notion of the elements in their search for the secret of everlasting life.
He reveals the red herrings and rivalries which dogged scientific progress, and explores how new approaches to splitting matter brought us both remarkable elements and the new science of chemistry.
We hope the fires of scientific discovery are enough to keep you warm, this weekend, should you choose to cozy up with some videos on chemistry.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.