Margaret (pling) wrote,

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The Story of Science; Secret Britain

The episode of The Story of Science that we watched last night billed itself as all about the search to answer the question "can we have unlimited power?", but really it was talking about answering the questions "what is power?" and "how can we get more of it?" ... which is less snappy, so I know why they went for that programme title ;) We both realised while watching this episode that the programmes don't ever actually explain the science they're talking about - there's enough for the flavour but none of the details (like last night talking about the fact that Watt's steam engine wasn't that different from the ones already in operation, just that his modifications made it more efficient, the programme mentioned it was that it had a separate condenser but not how this worked at all or really how it made it more efficient). Which isn't a criticism - more an acknowledgement that that is not what the programmes are about. Instead we got lots of interesting social/historical detail surrounding it - in this example it was mentioned how the real genius & why it took off so was that it was well funded & they not only got it patented but enforced it. So it was capitalism in action as much as it was a new good idea.

The programme took us from the industrial revolution & more efficient windmills & steam engines, through the Victorian era when people started to investigate the science of it all (and yes, it was that way round - first the practical approach, then the theory). It also covered the invention of the battery - the original app without a use, it existed for a while developed by analogy with the electrical organs in electric rays before anyone actually had more than parlour tricks for it to do. And the subsequent development of our electricity dependent world. He also covered the discovery of radioactivity - originally hailed as a potential unlimited energy source (before they figured out the science) and the cure for all ills. The "radium" enhanced products from the States in the 1920s were scary, and make you wonder if any of our modern fads will turn out to be as counter-productive as drinking radioactive water. And I found the end to it pretty sobering - it's always a slightly disturbing realisation just how much of my life depends on electricity & modern society existing in this fashion. (Not the take home message of the programme, just a thought I often have but try not to dwell on that much ;) )

And then we watched the next episode of Secret Britain - covering the "True North" ... er, that's the Peak District up & across to County Durham, apparently. Not quite even the most north bit of England ;) Tho to be fair the northernmost part of England might be in the next programme which is billed as the borderlands & beyond. Again, pretty to look at but rather shallow. I find it very hard to write about to be honest, I'm not getting much more out of it than "ooh pretty" (and some giggles about whether the presenter was going to be eaten by a grue when she headed into the caves to find something "totally unexpected" ;) ). But "ooh pretty" is a valid reason to watch a programme showing off some of the interesting & beautiful parts of our country that are often overlooked :)
Tags: britain, history, physics, science, tv
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