Brian Cox explores the scientific method and 350 years of British science that has helped shape the world.
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Britain has produced far more than its fair share of trailblazers
Men and women who explained heredity by decoding DNA.
Who provided the physics for every space programme ever conceived.
And transformed communication for ever with the World Wide Web.
I want to explore Britain's pivotal role in creating modern science.
Reveal the characters that have made science what it is today.
I'll be looking at the love-hate relationship
that exists between British science and the British public.
Where some of Britain's greatest discoveries came from.
And asking whether we benefit more from science where we know
what we're looking for, or whether the best ideas come...
..out of the blue.
The great British scientists who have transformed
our thinking about the universe and our place within it, owe much
of their success to one incredible idea - the scientific method.
It's the bedrock of modern science, a way of making scientific ideas
testable by comparing them with experimental results.
One of its earliest practitioners was Sir Isaac Newton.
This is Newton's death mask.
It's a plaster cast of his face
that would have been taken moments after he died.
You think of Newton as almost an abstract set of theories.
We think of his Universal Law Of Gravitation.
But when you look at this you see a different Newton.
You see Newton the man.
Newton was obsessive, malicious and prone to outbursts of rage.
But there was something
quite extraordinary about the way that he worked.
In an age when people still believed in magic,
Newton devised a revolutionary theoretical framework
with which to accurately investigate the nature of the world.
Newton was born in 1642 into an England
that was a country in transition, where science,
where rational thought, where reason were beginning to flower.
At the time,
one of the great questions was about the nature of light.
It was known that if you take a prism and shine sunlight through it,
then it splits the sunlight into all the colours of the rainbow.
The question was why?
The common explanation for the appearance of the colours
was that they were impurities added
by the prism to the pure white light.
Newton thought that the colours were already present in the white
sunlight, but what set Newton apart was the fact that he devised
and performed an experiment to test his hypothesis.
He shone a white source of white light through a prism
and, as expected, obtained a rainbow.
But then he added a twist.
And here's the genius. He introduced a slit into that rainbow beam,
and that allowed him to isolate a particular colour of light
and shine that into a second prism.
Then, he looked for the deflection of the coloured light onto his wall.
You can see that over there.
Now, look what happens when I move the red light across the slit
to the green light.
On the wall what you see is green light into the prism
equals green light out.
Now, that implies that the colours themselves are pure,
the prism is not adding or subtracting anything.
That means that Newton's hypothesis was shown to be correct.
The colours themselves are the basic building blocks of light
and white light is made up of all those individual colours.
Newton was one of the first to interrogate nature
using the principles of what we now call the scientific method.
In other words, he observed the world,
came up with theories to explain
what he saw, then tested them with experiments to see if he was right.
The power of this approach is that it aims
to remove preconceived ideas
and in doing so deliver a more
accurate description of the natural world.
And that's how Newton made incredible discoveries.
Most of which he recorded in this priceless book.
It's in here that the first time that
the Universal Law Of Gravitation is outlined.
It's also his laws of motion
that say how objects move around in the universe.
It's pretty much everything you do in the first year
of an undergraduate degree in physics, actually.
On the face of it, it seems baffling that the scientific method
took so long to emerge.
After all, Newton lived just a few hundred years ago.
Part of the problem is that our world
is a complicated and baffling place...
..but it's much easier to understand...
..if you simplify it.
It is possible to deduce the nature of light
by investigating a rainbow,
but by creating a controllable, repeatable experiment,
Newton was able to support his hypothesis and then transfer
that understanding to the much more complex world
outside the laboratory.
But powerful though the method is, a crucial factor in its success
seems to be extraordinary individuals,
people who appear to bring something extra to the process.
This is the only picture of Henry Cavendish,
and the reason is that he was very uncomfortable
about sitting for portraits.
In fact he never did it.
So this was done mainly by an artist who glimpsed him over dinner
and then sketched it out from memory,
and it shows all the essential eccentric features of the man.
He's wearing a hat which has been described as something
from the previous century.
And he always wore the same coat,
and he liked it so much that every year when it wore out
he had a new one exactly the same tailored.
Cavendish's eccentricity was combined with a far more
important trait for a scientist -
an insatiable sense of curiosity.
His main aim in life was to weigh, number and measure
as many objects as he possibly could,
and fortunately, like many scientists at the time,
he was fabulously wealthy so he was able to
indulge his curiosity with hundreds of extraordinary experiments.
Like this one, which he first reported in 1766.
It involves taking a metal...
We'll take zinc...
And then I'm going to pour
concentrated hydrochloric acid onto the zinc.
Now I'm going to bubble the gas that's produced into this soap
solution, so these bubbles are now going to be filled with this gas,
and very quickly and carefully I'm going to light the gas.
Now, Cavendish called that not, um...
not inappropriately, I suppose, inflammable air.
It's the gas that we now know as hydrogen.
But Cavendish didn't stop there,
he doggedly continued his quest to quantify hydrogen
until he could describe every aspect of its existence.
First he wanted to see how it would react with other things,
So, I'm going to repeat Cavendish's experiment again
but this time with a vessel.
What I'm going to do is fill it with hydrogen...
So that's full of inflammable air, and I'm going to light the spark.
Now, what you saw there was a chemical reaction,
the reaction of hydrogen with air,
and if you look closely on the sides of the flask
you'll see that it's... well, it's wet.
That is water, and it's appeared as a result of the chemical reaction.
In many respects, Cavendish embodies what science
and what being a scientist is all about.
His curiosity about the world drove him to design experiments
in an effort to gain new insights into the way the world works.
Now, Cavendish didn't really have any idea
what happened in these chemical reactions.
Indeed, his whole theoretical framework was nonsense
to modern eyes. It was based on alchemy.
But because he was a great experimental scientist,
his measurements were correct.
So he managed to measure that water is made of
two parts of hydrogen to one part of oxygen - H2O.
Even though he didn't believe that water was made of anything at all.
So that ability to get your theoretical picture,
your ideas about the way that nature worked, completely wrong
and yet make honest and precise measurements that stand the test
of time and are correct, is the mark of a great experimental scientist.
Cavendish has rightly gone down in history as one
of this country's greatest scientists.
But perhaps he should be remembered
more for his association with another aspect of science,
because he was instrumental in establishing this place,
at 21 Albemarle Street, London.
The Royal Institution.
Where the vision was that the public could hear of the great
discoveries of science.
The Royal Institution became a platform for a new breed,
the science personality.
From Humphry Davy,
the showman who famously danced with joy at his scientific discoveries...
..to Michael Faraday,
who began the tradition of giving the now famous Christmas Lectures.
And the theatre is still used by scientists to engage
with the public to this day.
If now I remove the filter...
Britain was amongst the first countries to understand that
the pursuit of science is a vital part of nationhood.
I'd like you to grab some of that hydrogen in the soap bubbles.
'And that public engagement ensures science's bloodline.'
-You all right?
In the early 19th century,
as science rapidly transformed the way we understood the world,
the public became increasingly desperate
to hear of the latest advances.
London's Royal Institution was a beacon of scientific learning.
Lectures given by the top scientists of the day
were sold out quickly and, in 1802,
the hottest ticket in town offered the chance to see a real star,
the Royal Institution's new professor of chemistry,
As well as being a brilliant chemist,
Davy was also a passionate communicator of science.
Davy was a genuine star.
The Royal Institution theatre was packed with the great
and the good of the day.
They had come to witness Davy's spectacular demonstrations.
It had all the excitement of a magic show.
But what Davy was doing was better than magic.
It was chemistry.
Davy was said to be something of a pyromaniac.
He even burnt diamonds,
to demonstrate that these most precious gems
are made of carbon, the same stuff as coal.
To Davy's audience this was captivating.
Here, in front of their eyes,
he was demonstrating one of the latest scientific theories.
That everything is made up of a limited number of elements.
Davy was famous for doing spectacular experiments,
in particular for blowing things up.
And this is one of the experiments. It's involving iodine,
which is in fact one of the elements Davy is famous for discovering.
So, Davy mixed iodine... with this liquid...
..and what happens is
a powerful contact explosive is made,
and in one of his experiments he temporarily blinded himself
by doing just what I'm doing now.
Now what Davy wanted to do was to educate his audience.
He wanted to show them that chemistry was exciting
and counter intuitive,
this idea that you can make compounds
out of other substances
that have extremely surprising and, in this case,
Nitrogen triiodide is a wonderful compound for demonstrating
It's basically a nitrogen atom with three iodines stuck to it.
Now, nitrogen atoms want to interact,
they want to bond together into the very stable nitrogen molecule,
but the iodines keep them just far enough apart
that they can't interact.
All you have to do to change that and make them
interact very quickly indeed, is to give them a little tickle.
And it really is a very little tickle.
Look at that!
And that purple vapour there is iodine,
so that was a very rapid chemical reaction.
Nitrogen is produced and iodine is released.
Yeah, I can see why Davy liked that.
Davy was demonstrating
that acquiring and applying scientific knowledge...
..gives us power over nature.
And his writings reveal how he believed
the future of humankind lay in exploiting that power.
"Science has bestowed upon him powers
"which may be almost called creative,
"which have enabled him to modify
"and change the beings surrounding him,
"and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power,
"not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand
"but rather as a master, active with his own instruments."
Here Davy is talking about being a creator.
In the Biblical sense.
Of controlling nature.
Davy is claiming for science the territory previously occupied
exclusively by religion.
The seeds of public disquiet regarding scientists
playing God were sown.
And may have provided the inspiration for
Mary Shelley's seminal novel, Frankenstein.
The idea of scientists creating monsters...
These potato plants growing in a field in Norfolk
are considered by some people to be dangerous...
..because they've been genetically modified.
They are even referred to as Frankenfoods.
They were created here at the Sainsbury laboratory,
just outside Norwich, by plant geneticist Jonathan Jones.
But he doesn't see these plants as monsters.
You can put in genes that you could not put in by breeding, and so there
are certain genes that do something really useful, such as make
it much easier to control disease, much easier to control pests,
and much easier to control weeds.
It's remarkable that we have the ability to precisely manipulate
and alter the genetic make-up of other living organisms,
But it also means GM is at the heart of a long-standing debate
about the possible dangers of scientific progress.
A debate that started at the beginning of the genetic revolution
with the discovery of DNA.
It's here in Cambridge that Francis Crick and James Watson
discovered the structure of DNA.
The molecule that passes biological information
from generation to generation.
Crick and Watson's approach to finding that structure was to
build physical models of the molecule.
But it was proving unsuccessful.
They desperately needed more and better data.
And it came from a branch of physics called X-ray crystallography.
This is a very famous photograph.
It's called Photograph 51.
It was actually taken by another scientist,
and it's what's called an X-ray diffraction photograph.
So Franklin shone X-rays through a sample of DNA molecules
and the way that they scatter or diffract off the molecules,
the pattern they leave on the photographic plate,
allowed you to deduce the structure of those molecules.
The key piece of evidence is the X.
That allowed Franklin to suggest that the molecule must be helical,
and in fact, must have that famous double helix.
So, this photograph, along with Franklin's suggestions,
her interpretation of the pattern,
allowed Watson and Crick to go away and build their model of DNA.
When they published the structure of DNA in 1953,
Crick said, "We have discovered the secret of life."
Crick was right.
The discovery of the structure of DNA was one of the great moments
in modern scientific history.
By the early 1970s, the genetic code had been translated, making it
possible to identify individual genes and study their function.
We now had access to the workings of life itself.
But the genetic revolution was accompanied by a widespread
feeling that science had gone too far,
and to this day,
scientists haven't always been able to control the debate.
And nowhere is that clearer
than in the controversy over GM crops in this country.
To many scientists, GM crops hold the key to more efficient,
more environmentally-friendly agriculture,
but they've been unable to persuade a sceptical public
of the safety of the technique.
Instead, public opinion has been led by a vigorous anti-GM campaign
that started in the 1990s
and which has left many people dead-set against GM crops.
There are fears that the crops may contaminate the environment,
or that they may be unsafe to eat,
and underlying it all is a feeling that there's something
fundamentally wrong about meddling with life at such a basic level.
Yeah, what do you think of this...this label, Frankenfood?
The suggestion is that because we can now put genes from an animal,
let say a cow or a jellyfish or whatever it is,
into a plant, there's something
unnatural and therefore potentially dangerous about that procedure.
Well, the word "unnatural" is a real weasel word.
I mean, it's unnatural to treat your kids with antibiotics, isn't it?
You ought to let them die. I know which I'd prefer.
Agriculture is fundamentally unnatural,
whether it's organic agriculture or hi tech agriculture,
conventional agriculture. We are eliminating all the trees
and wildlife that used to be there and planting the plants that we
want to have there to provide the stuff that we eat.
So, the thing we have to ask ourselves is, what's the least
bad way of protecting our crops from disease
and pests, for reducing the losses caused by weeds?
As a scientist working on GM crops, you'd expect Jonathan
to be a powerful advocate for the technology,
but his view is also backed up
by a vast body of research that shows it to be safe and effective.
So if GM crops are to have a future in this country
the scientists need to find a better way to persuade the public
to share their confidence.
Scientists are often baffled by negative public reaction
to a new scientific discovery.
They sometimes fail to appreciate that the public
genuinely fear that science is dangerous.
The way to combat that fear
is through effective public engagement.
And perhaps surprisingly, one of the best examples of that
comes from over 200 years ago
and a scientist who at the time was perceived to be a dangerous villain.
In the lobby of the Royal College of Surgeons stands a statue
of John Hunter, a Scotsman and one of the fathers of modern medicine.
In the 1780s he started performing surgical operations
that were decades ahead of their time.
This is the original documentation of the case of John Burley.
It's a really excellent example of Hunter's skill as a surgeon.
It's a picture of a tumour, so that's...
what happens when you leave a tumour for too long.
It says here it was an "increase to the size of a common head...
"..attended with no other inconvenience
"than its size and weight."
And then, the second drawing here is after the operation,
and it's completely cured, essentially.
But for all his medical brilliance, Hunter was treated
with suspicion and even horror,
because to develop his remarkable surgical skills
he had practised on human corpses.
In the 18th century anatomists were
legally entitled to corpses fresh from the gallows,
but even so, demand comfortably exceeded supply,
and so they had to look to
another source of bodies for experimentation.
And the easiest place to get hold of fresh corpses
was to dig them up from a graveyard.
Anatomists were prepared to pay large amounts of money for corpses,
and that meant that there were hundreds of grave-robbers
operating in gangs in London
who could dig up to ten bodies per night,
and the best customer of all was John Hunter.
On one occasion he was even arrested
for giving a hand to a gang of grave-robbers.
And these exploits made Hunter
incredibly unpopular with the man on the street.
Hunter revolutionised surgical techniques for the benefit
of everybody, but I suppose, not unsurprisingly,
his work was controversial in public.
So, even though he was working in the 18th century, I suppose
you could say, in the modern vernacular, he had a PR problem.
Hunter was so afraid of the adverse public reaction
to his work that he was actually in fear of his life.
But he reasoned that fear was born of ignorance,
and therefore education was the answer.
And, so, he opened this museum to display his work to the public.
His collection is still on display today
in the Royal College of Surgeons.
In these exhibits, people could see how Hunter was using corpses
to learn about anatomy and physiology.
You could even see his pioneering attempts at opening
new fields of medicine.
These chicken heads were the recipients of some
of the first transplant operations.
Although some of these exhibits are gruesome, they show how
Hunter was using his knowledge to move medicine out of the Dark Ages.
This exhibit marks the beginning of the end
of the age of barbaric surgery.
What you see here is an aneurysm in the popliteal artery,
that's the artery that goes behind the knee.
It's essentially a sack of blood as the artery swells up.
If this goes untreated, then what would happen
is that sack will eventually burst and the patient will bleed to death.
Now, the treatment at the time for that was amputation.
What Hunter noticed, through his work on animal physiology
and, indeed, on the dissection of human specimens,
was that there are very many other arteries in the leg
and he reasoned that if he tied off the affected artery,
ligated it, then the blood supply to the aneurysm would be cut off,
and he hoped that the other arteries
would expand to allow blood to flow down the leg.
As well as revolutionising medicine,
John Hunter's approach was a model for public engagement.
By inviting people into his museum, he was able to address
and confront the moral objections to his work.
Medicine is one of the most crowd-pleasing
branches of science because of the benefits it brings.
It improves all our lives.
But what about the rest of science?
What should be the driver of scientific research?
Britain's scientists have often been motivated by one thing.
Indeed, some argue it's perhaps THE greatest driver
of scientific discovery.
The simple aspiration to understand how nature works.
In its purist form, it is just that -
the desire to understand, without any regard at all for how
useful the discoveries may be, or how profitable.
And this approach to science
is called "curiosity-driven research",
or sometimes "blue skies" research.
And one of the best examples of the practitioner
of this pure form of discovery is John Tyndall.
He was born in 1820.
As well as being a scholar, Tyndall was also something of a romantic.
He was transfixed by the Alpine sunsets
and their magnificent range of colours.
So he set out to understand their origin and, in turn,
inspired generations of scientists to pursue fundamental research.
This is the experiment he hoped would provide answers.
It's basically a tank full of water.
Into that water, I'm just going to put a few drops of milk.
Now, that basically just introduces some particles into the liquid.
Now, what Tyndall then did was shine a white light into the tank.
And you immediately see that the tank lights up
with different colours. Tyndall loved this.
In his typically poetically fashion he described it as "sky in a box".
You see, at this side of the tank, the solution is blue.
As you move through the tank, it becomes more and more yellow.
Actually, to us, this end,
it's even beginning to become orange.
So, this is the Alpine sky in a box.
And Tyndall had an explanation for why this happens.
He knew that white light is made of all the colours of the rainbow.
And he proposed that blue light has a higher probability
of bouncing around and scattering
off the particles of milk in the water.
Now we know this is because blue light has a shorter wavelength
than the other colours of visible light.
So, that means that the blue light would be the first
to scatter and get dispersed throughout the liquid.
And, so, the first piece of the tank will look blue.
And this is why the sky's blue.
Because blue light from the sun has a higher
probability of scattering in the atmosphere.
But the tank also explains the sunset colours.
As the light penetrates deeper into the milky water,
eventually all of the shorter wavelengths of blue light
are scattered away leaving just the longer wavelengths
of orange and red.
So the water looks progressively more orange,
and, if the tank were long enough, red.
So, too, the sky.
As the sun gets lower, its light has to travel through more atmosphere,
so the shorter blue wavelengths scatter away completely,
leaving just the orange and red light,
making the sky appear red at sunset.
Today, we know that light scatters primarily off the air molecules
themselves, rather than dust particles,
so Tyndall's explanation was right in principle, but wrong in detail.
But it didn't matter.
In fact, it was the misinterpretation of his results
that led Tyndall to make his most important discovery of all.
Being a curious scientist, Tyndall decided to proceed
and carry out more experiments. So he took a box of air...
..filled with dust.
And he let the dust settle for days and days and days.
He called this sample, with all the dust settled out,
"optically pure air".
And then he started putting things in the box to see what happened.
So he put some meat in it. And he put some fish in it.
And he even put samples of his own urine in it.
And what he noticed was something very interesting.
The meat didn't decay. The fish didn't decay.
And his urine didn't cloud.
He said that it remained as clear as a fresh sherry.
He hadn't just created dust-free or optically pure air.
Without realising it, Tyndall had sterilised it.
He let all of the bacteria settle out
and stick to the bottom of the box. The air inside was now germ-free.
It may not have been his original intention, but Tyndall had provided
decisive evidence for a controversial theory of the time.
And that is that decay and disease are caused by microbes in the air.
John Tyndall was a man who followed his curiosity for its own sake,
not for where it might lead.
He didn't set out to discover the origins of airborne disease
when he began exploring the colours of the sky,
but that's exactly what he did.
It's appropriate, then, that curiosity-led investigation
like this is often called "blue skies research".
Another way to generate new knowledge is applied science.
A more practical approach to research,
and an area where Britain has always excelled.
The British pharmaceutical industry
is at the forefront of drug discovery and manufacture.
They have pioneered antibiotic medicine,
enabled mass vaccination,
and made previously fatal conditions treatable.
It's part of an industry worth an estimated £200 billion a year.
And it's not a business that hangs around waiting for happy accidents.
Drug discovery uses a targeted approach to scientific research.
What I'm amazed about is the level of work, compared to a university.
There's so many people.
GlaxoSmithKline is behind many of the pharmaceuticals
that are commonplace in today's market place, from painkillers,
to asthma inhalers.
One of GSK's biggest research and development hubs is here
on home soil, 20 miles north of London, in Stevenage.
This lab in general, this is the early discovery...
'Dr Tom Webb joined GSK three years ago
'and has been working to develop new drugs ever since.'
How do you do it?
If somebody comes along from management to GSK
and says, "Right, we need a drug to treat...
"..arthritis, a new one."
-What do you do? Do you say, "OK."
-Run around screaming!
"Here's a test tube."
It's an incredibly complex process.
Drugs discovery takes ten to 15 years.
It starts off with a target in mind for treating that disease.
And then we start off with huge libraries.
These might be libraries of small molecules,
so containing tens of thousands of different chemical compounds.
And we're starting with all of these potential medicines,
and really whittling them down to one candidate, one medicine.
So, that sounds a very...
very targeted approach, really.
You have a specific example, a specific challenge in mind.
It's a beautiful example, isn't it, of almost an industrial-scale search
for useful antibodies, or useful drugs.
Yeah, and we're getting better and better at doing it,
as we gain more experience.
The screenings done at pharmaceutical companies such as GSK
allow researchers to test millions of different compounds,
antibodies or genes to see
if they'll work as part of a new drug or treatment.
The scale of the work means the chance of success over
conventional research methods is dramatically increased.
If we were just playing around in the lab,
I think the likelihood of us stumbling across a discovery
that enables us to make a medicine is probably unlikely.
So we have to commit to making medicines for patients,
and that doesn't happen by complete serendipity.
The pharmaceutical industry in Britain
is a triumph for home-grown science,
providing cures for previously untreatable diseases,
and changing the lives of millions of patients around the world.
This is an impressive place.
It's science on an industrial scale, and you see these vast
research labs, and that's what you need
because you have to do hundreds of thousands,
or even millions of individual experiments
to bring a new drug to market.
It also costs billions of pounds.
So this is targeted science.
There are particular problems that need solutions.
There's a particular disease that needs treating.
And I suppose for medical science as a whole,
you can state its goal in one simple sentence -
it's to make people better.
It's undeniable that targeted research delivers.
But, and it's a big but, there is a catch, and it's this.
In any commercial environment,
specific targeting brings with it a possibility
that during the process of discovery, any kind of result that
doesn't positively enhance the chance of success may be ignored.
Now, on the face of it, that seems fair enough,
but in fact, it's extremely worrying indeed.
See, if you look through the history of science,
through any scientific journal, then you'll find that the negative
results are recorded, as well as the positive ones.
And that's important because all knowledge is valuable.
But in a commercial setting, where you're asking a question -
can we find a drug to cure this particular disease, to do this
particular job - then the temptation is to ignore the negative results.
This is almost anti-knowledge.
It goes against the ethos of science and more importantly, it
closes the doors to some magnificent serendipitous discoveries.
This is a self-portrait of a 14-year-old boy.
He took it in 1852, which is
only just over ten years after the invention of photography.
So, given the quality of this photograph,
then that makes him a very precocious individual indeed.
His name is William Perkin.
When he started his career, Perkin was living in exciting times.
This was the age of Empire, a world where, in time,
the sun really would never set on British Imperial assets.
But as the Empire expanded,
so too did the risk to Britain's colonialists,
as they were exposed to deadly tropical diseases, such as malaria.
Fortunately, there was relief available from malaria,
in the form of a drug called quinine.
But it could only be extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree,
which grows on the remote eastern slopes of the Andes,
making it expensive and difficult to get hold of.
What was needed was a more reliable and cheaper source.
So the young William Perkin was set to work, to find
a way to make synthetic quinine in the lab.
This is a mock-up of what Perkin did.
I'm not using the real chemicals because they're dangerous,
but the idea is simple and the logic is impeccable.
This is quinine, the white powder that Perkin wanted to make.
He knew that this was made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
and hydrogen and he also knew the proportions, so he reasoned like
this - why don't I take something simpler, an amine, actually an amine
called aniline, which is a ring of carbons with a nitrogen
and a couple of hydrogens stuck on the end.
So it's everything you need, apart from the oxygen.
He then took this, potassium dichromate,
which is a strong oxidising agent.
And today we know that this rips electrons off things,
but Perkin thought that it added oxygen.
And so, you see what he wanted to do?
He wanted to take a simple compound, with carbons, nitrogens
and hydrogens, mix them
together with something that struck oxygens on, and produce quinine.
So, he just dissolved his potassium dichromate in solution,
dissolved some amines in dilute sulphuric acid,
turned the tap, mixed them together,
heated them up and waited.
At the end of the experiment, what he got was a muddy black mess.
In other words, apparently, the experiment had failed.
Had Perkin been working in a modern commercial environment,
he might well have stopped here.
But what happened next is a prime example of why the enquiring mind
must be given the freedom to explore and knowledge should never be lost.
What he noticed is that the residue
seemed to colour whatever it touched purple.
So being a good experimental chemist, he started trying to
purify it, to investigate it, to understand its properties.
So he mixed it with petroleum and then he mixed it with ethanol.
And if I just dab a bit of cloth into this...
..then it dyes it bright purple.
So Perkin had discovered a dye, which he called mauveine.
Perkin's dye was far superior to anything created by nature
and one that could be mass produced at a fraction of the cost.
It quickly gained popularity after Queen Victoria appeared at her
daughter's wedding in a silk gown dyed with mauveine.
Thanks to Perkin,
the 1890s are now affectionately known as the mauve decade.
Perkin helped usher in the dawn of organic chemistry,
a new age of products, from plastics to perfumes and medicines.
The interesting thing about William Perkin is that
if he'd set out with the aim of discovering a new purple dye,
then he probably would have failed,
and if he hadn't been a curious scientist,
wanting to understand why his experiment didn't seem to work,
Then again, he would've probably failed to discover that dye.
Perkins's story is a warning of the potential perils of limiting science
to targeted research, that is research with an end result in mind.
Had he been working in a commercial environment, it's likely that,
because the purple dye wasn't quining, his further
investigations would've been thought to be an expensive waste of time.
So though targeted research seems like an efficient way to do
science, it brings with it the very real chance that we
miss out on some unexpected discovery.
By providing the minds and the methods, Britain has arguably
had a greater influence than any other nation on how science is done.
Here at CERN,
the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, can be
found perhaps the best example of Britain's scientific legacy.
Below the ground here, around 100 metres below the ground,
is the Large Hadron Collider. It's 27km in circumference.
Its job is to accelerate protons to 99.9999% the speed of light, at
which speed they circumnavigate this 27km 11,000 times a second.
The protons are collided together, and each of those collisions,
the conditions that were present, less than a billionth of a second
after the universe began, are recreated.
By making particles collide
and studying the products of those collisions, scientists can glean
a new understanding of the structure of the subatomic world,
and the laws of nature that rule it.
The collider was designed to explore some of the biggest mysteries in the
universe, including what happened immediately after the Big Bang.
The sheer audacity of it,
that human beings might be able to reach back 13.7 billion years
to discover how the universe evolved, is breathtaking.
And yet, that's what's being done here...on an epic scale.
The Large Hadron Collider is the most complicated scientific
experiment ever built.
But it's still just an experiment like any other.
At its heart, there is repeatable process.
Teams of people dedicated to making detailed measurements,
and comparing those measurements to theoretical predictions.
These are simple principles, yet they hold great power.
Half of the world's particle physicists, 10,000 of them,
are gathered here because of the tantalising prospects of what
they might discover.
CERN is now the place to be, because everything is happening here.
New physics, new stuff. Super-symmetry, dark matter.
We're solving problems which are fundamental to all people.
We don't really care where anyone comes from,
we all want the same thing.
And being part of this is just brilliant.
What do I do? I'm going to have to think about that for a second.
But while one or two of them can't remember what they're supposed to be
doing individually, as a group, the scientists here have made
one of the most important discoveries in physics.
BBC NEWS THEME TUNE
Researchers at the Centre for Nuclear Research near Geneva...
..have just announced in the last few minutes that Higgs boson,
the so-called God Particle, has been glimpsed.
In July 2012, it was confirmed that a new particle,
the Higgs boson, had been detected.
This elusive piece of the subatomic jigsaw is
responsible for the masses of the building blocks of the universe.
The particle is named after British physicist Peter Higgs,
who worked on the theory some 50 years earlier.
The discovery is a vindication of the ideas behind CERN.
But the reason that we can be confident in the discovery is
the painstaking effort that has gone into the design of the experiments.
Even to the point of funding two separate teams of researchers,
analysing exactly the same things.
A cross check so vital that the teams are not allowed to
discuss their work, even with each other.
My institute in Manchester is part of an experiment
a few hundred metres in that direction called Atlas.
It's a collaboration of over 160 institutes from 38 countries,
and together we designed, we built and we operate that experiment.
Now, if you go several miles, actually, in that direction,
over to the other side of the LAC, there's another collaboration.
It's called CMS. It's run by different physicists.
It was designed, built
and it is operated completely independently from Atlas.
But they're both designed, essentially, to do the same
thing, which is to search for new physics, like the Higgs boson.
And because these two groups found exactly the same thing,
everyone could be confident that the Higgs really had been discovered.
All the basic principles of science are put into action
here at CERN, and it's this, the scientific method, that gives CERN
and all scientific investigation its power and validity.
Science is one of this country's success stories.
Many of its important characters are British,
and Britain has always been a place where crucial discoveries are made.
Newton's theory of gravity...
The form of the DNA molecule...
All courtesy of a few small islands in the North Atlantic.
But these great discoveries haven't happened by accident.
The existence of organisations like the Royal Institution
demonstrates that here is a place where inquiring minds are valued.
And the apparently unknowable is thought worthy of investigation.
This is also a nation that celebrates curiosity,
and combining this curiosity with a powerful method to
has always ensured that British science is among the world's best.
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