The Genius of Britain - Episode 2

After exploring the birth of the scientific revolution in England, today's episode explores five more men whose curiosity not only led to fascinating new discoveries like their predecessors, but would actually change the world.

Richard Dawkins tells the fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) story of how Edward Jenner confronted small pox, one of history's greatest killers, head-on: by deliberately infecting a young boy with the disease after infecting him with a dose of cow pox. His experiment wouldn't be approved by ethics committees today, but Jenner's discovery of immunization has saved more lives than perhaps any other single discovery in medical science.

David Attenborough celebrates Joseph Banks, the naturalist who would sail across the globe in search of new animal and plant species, and would eventually establish the beautiful Botanical Gardens at Kew. Meanwhile, James Dyson recounts the story of how James Watt's design for the steam engine would fuel the industrial revolution. Thanks to the two, Britain would become the wealthiest nation in the world.

Stephen Hawking and Jim Al-Khalili tell the story of Henry Cavendish's discovery of hydrogen and Joseph Priestley's discovery of oxygen, and how their mutual collaboration revealed water to be a compound and not a basic element, as had been justifiably believed, though mistakenly, for millennia.

Finally, Lord Robert Winston explains the story of how modern surgery was born: from the insatiable curiosity of Joseph Hunter, surgeon, anatomist and body-snatcher :)

Learn more about the scientific tradition in the Cavendish family in this episode from In Our Time.
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