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This is Absolute Genius.
Dive into a word of action, adventure and explosions.
Each show will introduce you to a different genius.
An amazing person who had a genius idea which shaped the world.
And they will inspire us to come up
with our own genius idea at the end of each show.
-But will it be any good?
-Will it be any good? It'll be...
On today's show, a genius who discovered an invisible energy
that's all around us.
So pay attention, because what you are about to see...
will blow your mind!
Did you know that one of the most important discoveries in history
was made in a shed?
But by who?
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Marie Curie.
Today we'll be finding out how Marie's voyage of discovery
into a tiny world had a massive impact.
Inspired by her genius,
we'll be coming up with our own genius idea later on in the show.
Involving a shedload of explosives!
But first let's find out a little bit more about Marie Curie herself.
We've all heard of radioactivity and seen this warning sign.
It can be incredibly dangerous,
but it's also one of the greatest sources of energy ever discovered
and is being used to power homes and cities all around the world.
It can even be used to fight off deadly diseases like cancer.
But when Marie Curie was born 1867
this energy was yet to be discovered!
Marie grew up in Poland and always dreamed of going to university
and becoming a scientist.
Problem was, back then in Poland, women weren't allowed
to go to university and become scientists.
But this didn't stop our genius.
She scrimped and saved for years, until she had enough money
to get to a university in Paris
and finally study science to her heart's content.
And that was just the beginning.
Before finding out about Marie's genius breakthrough,
we need to go back in time, back to basics.
We need to get elemental!
This is the periodic table.
And these symbols represent the elements -
the tiny building blocks that the whole world is made out of.
Before Marie Curie and the discovery of radioactivity,
scientists thought they knew everything there was to know
about how the elements behaved.
They knew that you could get energy from elements,
but to do that, you had to combine one element with another to
create a chemical reaction.
And to show us how, here's chemistry expert
Nate Adams from the University of Sheffield.
Look at that!
Bright green, purple, orange, blue, pink, red.
It's a psychedelic barbecue.
Elements are all different, so when we heat them up,
in this case the metal elements, they produce different colour light.
They all contain different properties.
Exactly, and that's what these flames show.
So each one of these elements behaves differently.
Exactly, so these metals that I've just heated up,
they're around here.
Also over here we have other elements which are non-metal.
Back in Marie Curie's time,
they thought that the only way they could get energy
was by combining two elements together.
And the chart itself gives us an idea of how reactive
these elements can be, if we start putting them together,
whether they're going to have a bit of a fizz
or whether they're going to have a bit of an explosion.
So when elements are mixed together, that's when energy is released.
What's the bad boy?
When scientists want to make something explode, what do they use?
The most flammable element is hydrogen.
Ah, the one on the end, the big one.
Bring on the big H, huh?
Ah, here she is, the big H, two balloons full of it.
Exactly. Two balloons full of hydrogen,
which I'm going to fill into my highly modified paint tin here.
Don't try this in your shed at home.
I can already tell this is going to be
the kind of experiment that we like -
we've got safety goggles, we've got ear protectors
and this huge safety screen in front of us.
-Which means things are going to go bang, right?
So I'm going to release the valves on these balloons of hydrogen,
fill them like this.
Now, Dick, if you don't mind lighting that for me.
Huh. Stand back.
I didn't know it was lit.
It's glowing a little bit. Is that it?
There's going to be a big bang.
Well, there's nothing there.
BANG! DOM SCREAMS
That was a big bang!
So what actually happened then?
What happened was the paint tin was full of hydrogen,
there wasn't any oxygen in there for it to burn,
so we just had a little bit of a candle flame up the top,
but as it was burning up, loads of oxygen from the air around us
that we breathe was being pulled in.
When it got to the right amount and mixed correctly,
then it had explosive qualities, and just went boom.
When Marie Curie first started working,
reacting together elements from the periodic table
was the only way to release energy.
But no-one could have predicted what came next.
Marie's university tutor, Henri Becquerel,
was studying an element called uranium and left a rock of it
on photographic plates in his sock drawer overnight.
Sock it to me, Henri!
A few days later,
the photographic plates had dark images
around where the rock had been.
This chance discovery showed that uranium didn't need to react
with anything to create energy -
it gave off a mysterious energy all on its own.
Marie was fascinated and started testing all kinds of materials
to see if they gave off their own energy too.
And she found something that would ultimately give off
hundreds of times more energy than uranium.
Marie's genius idea was finding a material
that had a mysterious energy all of its own.
After years working in a shed with her husband Pierre,
they discovered radioactive elements.
She called the energy they gave off radioactivity.
Their discovery led to a revolution in science -
from understanding the universe and treating cancer,
to nuclear power and atomic bombs,
the world was never the same again.
But these new radioactive elements were not easy to find.
They were hidden within a material that the Curies studied for years.
So what was this precious material that Marie was so obsessed with?
Did it sparkle like a diamond, was it more precious than gold?
No, it looked like a lump of dirt.
That lump of dirt was called pitchblende.
The energy had to be coming
from a new, undiscovered element hidden inside,
and Marie made it her mission to find that new element.
We've come to Geevor Mine in Cornwall to find out more.
Once upon a time, it supplied tin to all four corners of the world.
It also supplied pitchblende, and Marie needed lots of it.
Our guide in the mine is genius chemist
and Geevor's resident rock expert, David Wright.
It's really compact. Actually quite claustrophobic down here, Dave.
What were the conditions down here like in Marie's day?
They were pretty bad.
I suppose in Marie's time, children of 14 years of age
would be working here, but before that time,
children as young as eight or nine would be here.
This isn't a very healthy environment for a child to work.
It certainly isn't.
There were lots of accidents and many children
were unfortunately badly injured or killed.
But what were they all doing here?
Obviously it was very worthwhile.
How do you know where to start looking?
Can you see, running through the rock, there's a narrow stripe?
This, in Cornwall, is called the lode,
and this is where the minerals are found.
Principally tin, copper, iron, arsenic
and occasionally pitchblende.
So, basically, she had to get a whole lot of rock back to her lab.
Marie and Pierre sourced the pitchblende from mines
like this all over Europe.
They had to find the element in the pitchblende
that was giving off all this energy.
The search took years. And their lab was a converted shed.
Right then, so we've got our pitchblende,
which we know contains Marie's mysterious elements,
but how do we get them?
First job is to break it down into small pieces.
-There's no big machines or anything.
-Well, this is what it was like.
This is what Madame Curie used to work with.
So her shed would have had these...?
-Her shed would have been very much like this.
So how are we going to do this then?
We're going to use a hammer.
Ah, simple as that.
For reasons that Marie was yet to discover,
pitchblende is dangerous to handle.
So we're recreating her experiments with a safer type of rock.
She had to get rid of all the other elements in the pitchblende
until there was only one left -
the one that was giving off the energy.
To do that, she had to crush, boil, dissolve and filter.
Put your back into it, you lazy little boys!
Finding the hidden element was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Finally in 1898, she had it.
A few precious grains of a new element
that Marie Curie called polonium, after her native Poland.
And what an element it was.
It gave off invisible rays with 330 times more energy than uranium.
But the Curies didn't stop there, they discovered another new element
with the same amazing properties. But this time they called it...
With a mysterious green glow.
The discovery caused a sensation, and Marie named this new energy...
Radioactivity gives off invisible energy
that can travel through air and even through solid objects.
It can be very dangerous to your health,
which is why it's serious news when nuclear accidents happen.
So, should we be afraid?
Time to call on our mate Fran for advice.
Our genius scientist Fran explains things in ways even
we can understand.
Best of all, she loves a good experiment.
And she's guaranteed to pop up just when you need her most.
-Thank goodness, look, we need a bit of help.
One minute we're talking about a genius scientist, right?
Next minute we're talking about radioactivity.
Should we be scared of it?
Well, no. Something is said to be radioactive
only if it gives off a certain particle or wave.
It's that particle or wave that we call radiation.
But it's not something we should be scared of.
It is around us every day all the time.
And we'll use this to detect it.
-This is a Geiger counter.
If it clicks, that means it has detected radiation.
I had a shower this morning, there's no radiation on me.
I can hear a little bit of clicking there.
Substances can have different amounts of radioactivity,
just depending on what they're made from.
So to prove that radioactivity is around us all the time,
I want you guys to go into that market
and find me the three most radioactive things you can.
All right, so there not necessarily going to be chemicals
-or anything like that?
-No, it's in everyday objects.
-Objects that are in your home right now.
-OK, all right.
Go on, give us your Geigo-whatsit.
Challenge is on.
-We'll do it, see you in a bit.
So it turns out, not all radiation is bad.
We are surrounded by small amounts of naturally occurring radiation
all the time, you just need to know where to look.
This chopping board. A slab of granite. Try.
Ah, yes. Granite. Course, it's a stone from the ground.
Yeah, like when we went down to the mine.
-Sweets. Can't be radioactive.
Aah. BOY LAUGHS
-Something round here.
Open it, there's something inside there
-that's making it go a bit wild.
-Is it the battery?
No, it's not the battery.
Oh, look. It's got a radioactive sign on top of it!
Yeah, look. Radioactive.
We'll have that.
-OK, what've you got for me?
-Well, the granite chopping board
and the salt were a little bit radioactive.
Now, this isn't ordinary salt, though.
-This is low sodium salt.
-So what's the difference?
Ah, well, normal salt has sodium in,
low sodium salt has less sodium in.
But they replace sodium with potassium.
Yeah, we saw that on the ingredients.
-So that's the thing that's radioactive.
-The best thing was the smoke alarm.
The smoke alarm did well, listen, listen.
Yeah, that's going for it.
We noticed that it has a radioactive sign on top.
Yes, smoke alarms have an element that's radioactive in them.
So is it true then that Marie's discovery of radioactivity
saves lives today on a daily basis?
SMOKE ALARM SOUNDS
Turn it off, then.
-I don't know how to stop it.
So radioactivity isn't always bad.
Some types can be dangerous, which is why safety is so important
with ANYTHING involving radioactivity.
But when carefully controlled, it can be incredibly useful.
It's the genius top five uses of radioactivity.
Five - an invisible ray that saves lives.
Sounds like science fiction?
Radiotherapy has been doing it for decades
by using high energy radiation
to treat cancerous cells without the need for surgery.
Four - irradiated food sounds a bit scary,
but it just means that radiation has been used
to kill nasty bugs that the human eye can't see.
Best to wash that apple first though, just in case.
Three - atomic batteries harness the power of radioactivity
to last six months or more on a single charge.
They're already used in spacecraft.
We're just waiting for one for our mobile phones.
Five months?! Woo-hoo!
Two - ever wondered how scientists know how old ancient objects
like Egyptian mummies are?
The secret is to measure the levels of radioactive material
contained in the object.
That's how we can tell Egyptian mummies have been dead
for over 3,000 years.
At least we hope they are!
And at number one, possibly the most well-known use of radioactivity.
-Fighting crime and saving the world.
Everybody knows that if you want to be a superhero,
the quickest way to do it is to get bitten by something radioactive.
Shame it's all just science fiction, really.
So we've found out about Marie Curie and the discovery of radioactivity.
We've seen how hard she worked in her shed
to find the radioactive element in this dirty old rock,
and discovered that low-level radiation is all around us.
Later in the show we'll be coming up with our own genius idea
involving our very own shed.
After the discovery of radioactive elements,
Marie dedicated herself to helping others.
Marie and her husband Pierre's work was crucial
to the development of X-rays,
and, in World War I, she developed a new kind of mobile X-ray,
which could be loaded into ambulances.
She even drove these ambulances herself to the front lines,
saving countless lives.
Today X-rays are part of everyday life.
If you've been unlucky enough to break a bone,
you'll have had an X-ray.
And if you're lucky enough to be jetting off on holiday,
your suitcases will go through an X-ray too, come on!
-It's very exciting, where are we off to, Benidorm?
We are going to a top secret airline training airline facility
in the vicinity of Doncaster.
I love the vicinity of Doncaster.
A jumbo jet can carry over 400 passengers.
And all their luggage has to be scanned
to make sure dangerous objects aren't being taken on board.
Using X-rays, like Marie Curie did.
Meet genius aviation security expert, Ed Termini.
He stops bad things being brought on big planes.
-Wait for it.
-Any suspicious items in there?
-Here we go. Right, so...
-So, Ed, how is this working here?
OK, what you're seeing is an image representation
of the X-rays being fired through the bag.
So there's a component in the machine that generates these X-rays.
The X-rays travel through the case
and are absorbed at different rates by different materials.
The computer measures these differences and creates an image.
Looks like we've got a chicken in this one, mate.
Like to explain that, eh? CHICKEN SQUEAKS
There's no limit to how many times a bag can be scanned,
but the invisible beams of radiation are dangerous to humans.
So there's a lead lining that keeps the X-rays
safely inside the machine.
Oh, I see. Bit of a gamer, are you?
Fake leather? Cheapskate.
X-rays are another part of Marie Curie's legacy,
thanks to her bravery during World War I.
But meanwhile, her discovery of radium was making other people rich.
Which turned out to be a not so genius idea.
In the early 1900s, radium was used in health products such as tea,
face cream and even toothpaste.
The new wonder element was full of energy,
so many thought it would give you energy too.
Unfortunately, the reverse turned out to be true,
as the radiation given off by radium was seriously bad for your health.
So radioactive products turned out to be a not so genius idea.
Even Marie Curie didn't realise
that her work would have an effect on her health,
and in 1934 she died from leukaemia,
a cancer, in her case, thought to be caused
by a lifetime's exposure to dangerous radiation.
But her genius lives on.
Over 100 years after the discovery of radioactive elements,
the invisible energy locked inside is being used to create
power on a massive scale.
And it's all down to the billions of tiny atoms
that elements are made up of.
Now, atoms are really, really small,
but the energy that holds them together is huge.
Unlike other elements,
the atoms in radioactive elements are unstable and break down.
That's why they are pumping out this invisible energy
we've been banging on about.
But if you can actually split the powerful bonds
that hold an atom together,
you can generate an almost unimaginable amount of energy.
The first time scientists split the atom was just before World War II.
And the energy was used to create a weapon -
the terrifyingly powerful atomic bomb.
After the war, scientists were able to take the same technology
and harness it to help people.
Atomic energy became the way to power millions of homes.
Yeah, and it all happens here.
Dungeness B in Kent is one of many nuclear power stations
around the world. A gigantic atom-splitting factory.
It generates over 1,000 megawatts of power every day,
which is enough to supply over 1.5 million homes with electricity.
It's like there's nothing happening, but there's a massive chain reaction
going on just four metres below our feet.
It's really bizarre. I mean, if this was like coal energy,
you'd be able to smell the coal, wouldn't you?
You'd be able to hear it, you'd be able to feel the heat everything.
But because it's nuclear, you can't feel or see anything.
-It's really weird.
-We just can't get our heads around it.
-I don't understand.
-There's only one thing for it.
Ah, Fran, are we pleased to see you!
We've actually stood on top of the reactor,
but it's hard to work out exactly what's going on underneath.
-What does it look like?
-Can you not picture it?
-Not really, it's pretty tricky.
Well, I thought for you guys to picture it,
the best way would be for me to use mousetraps and ping pong balls.
-What do they resemble?
It's all about nuclear fission.
So what's nuclear fission?
Nuclear fission is when an atom splits into two smaller atoms.
-In that process, energy is released,
-but also little bits of the atom are spat out.
These little bits are called neutrons.
That's what the ping pong balls are.
Very simple - atom, split it into two and some neutrons come out.
Yeah, and some energy as well.
Some energy as well - all right, fine.
So what we're going to do is try and recreate that.
These neutrons, when they're spat out, collide with other atoms,
they get taken in, and then they cause fission again.
They cause that atom to split.
The energy comes off, the neutron comes off, and then it goes,
crashes into another and another.
Which causes the nuclear reaction.
-Like a chain reaction. It goes on and on and on.
Obviously it happens at a much smaller scale than my mouse traps.
We want to see it, we want to see it, come on.
So I'm going to put in this neutron,
which will start this chain reaction.
-Every single one.
-That's absolutely brilliant.
Imagine neutrons flying around and splitting atoms on a scale
millions of times smaller than this,
all the time generating incredible energy and heat.
An atomic chain reaction that will keep on going and going and going...
Marie Curie could never have imagined how her discoveries
would take the human race down so many paths.
Some good, some bad.
What is beyond doubt though,
is that over 100 years later,
her vision, curiosity and sheer determination stand out,
but how are we going to pay tribute to that?
Yeah, I know. Take the power back, all the way back to the shed.
Yeah, but we can't create a nuclear reaction.
But we could create a chain reaction, one that you could see.
Shed, chain reaction.
Chain reaction that leads to...
Ah, that's my kind of tribute. Genius.
So this is it, our genius idea - to blow up a shed.
The challenge, inspired by Marie Curie and nuclear energy,
we're going to create our own chain reaction
leading to a genius explosion.
The problem. We're going to need a shedload of explosives.
Shed. Get it?
This is incredibly dangerous, so don't try this at home!
Marie had a love-hate relationship with her laboratory
and called it her "miserable shed".
This is our shed. We love ours.
But we're still going to blow it up!
With the help of our mate, genius special effects expert Mark Turner.
In the past he's helped us to do this...
..so an exploding shed should be no problem.
Is that it?
That is the first one - the start...
Ah, small. Right, OK.
..of your chain reaction.
So when you light this, it goes puff.
-Can we see it?
-You can see it. Ear defenders on.
Don't try this at home.
This is bigger.
-Yes, this is bigger.
-Get back, get back. This is going to be a big one.
That didn't give us much time to get back!
So we're going to probably have a thousand or two of those
just popping away.
Wow, so that's the chain reaction, small to big.
-So how many are we talking?
-Two to three thousand.
Look at that! Look what's that?
Now you're talking! What do you want us to do?
Ah, I've got a really important job for you.
Ah, good. Explosive!
One for you, one for you.
OK, here's what we're doing.
We're painting the shed white with this emulsion.
It's like an undercoat.
Then we're going to paint this over the top.
Hopefully it will then glow luminous green,
just like Marie's discovery radium.
You're doing all right there, mate.
I'm doing OK. Nearly finished the whole of one side.
Just going to have a look at yours.
I've done that bit there, look. I've put my name on it too.
I think you did all right, there.
As the sun sets, our genius chain reaction takes shape.
Remember, Mark is a professional explosives expert,
so never, ever attempt something like this yourself.
This is where it begins.
We light the fuse, which then hits firecracker number one,
which will ignite all these other little firecrackers,
-which will be lovely, won't it?
-And then we move up to the next gear,
which is around here,
where we increase the volume and size of the firecrackers.
This goes all the way up the incline, more and more and more.
More and more intense. Louder and louder and brighter and bigger.
Until it gets to this. How many do reckon there are?
There's got to be about 4,000.
I think there are just under 4,000 firecrackers,
and we do not know the size of the explosion waiting for us inside.
One way to find out is get the lighter, get the fuse and light it.
Chain reaction has started.
Not long now before it's going to get silly.
Now it's silly!
Here we go!
So this is it.
We're about to reach the end of own chain reaction.
We've seen incredible science,
from the smallest radioactive elements
to the biggest nuclear power stations.
And now, taking inspiration from that genius atomic chain reaction,
we're going out with a bang.
Right, now we are reaching the absolute pinnacle.
That is quality.
Well, what an amazing experience that was.
And what an amazing experience the whole show has been.
When we started this and we found about Marie Curie,
of course we knew the name,
but we had no idea how much one person had achieved.
We can safely say, Marie Curie, you are an absolute genius.
Thank you, boys!
-It smacked me in the face.
What are you doing?!
Let me get it straight.
But what's all that?! What's all the black stuff?