Elements

Episodes

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2014071220140713 (WS)

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the p...

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the periodic table.

2014071920140720 (WS)

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the p...

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the periodic table.

08/02/20142014020920140212 (WS)

We examine how the basic building blocks of the universe - such as carbon, tin and lithiu...

We examine how the basic building blocks of the universe - such as carbon, tin and lithium - fit in to our economy.

15/02/201420140216

We examine how the basic building blocks of the universe - elements such as carbon, tin and helium - fit in to our economy.

Carbon20140223

Carbon-based energy sources underpin the world economy. Presenter Justin Rowlatt visits London's Science Museum to hear how coal, oil and gas sparked the industrial revolution and have led to the unprecedented standards of living we enjoy today.

Yet, as everyone knows, our fossil fuels will not last forever. And most scientists accept that our carbon dioxide emissions risk causing havoc to the world's climate and its oceans.

But here's something you may not know. Could a new carbon revolution - this time based on carbon materials - help wean mankind off its dangerous addiction to hydrocarbons? Justin visits two cutting-edge research centres - the National Composites Centre, and Manchester Graphene - to find out whether solutions to the planet's carbon crunch may be at hand.

Lithium2014070520140706 (WS)

batteries may be the future for cars, but does Bolivia hold the keys?

is the electro-chemical element - big in batteries and bipolar disorder. Over two decades it has shot from obscurity to become almost synonymous with the way we power our gadgets. Presenter Justin Rowlatt hears from chemistry powerhouse Prof Andrea Sella of University College London about what makes lithium so light and energetic. We hear from Gideon Long in Chile, who visits the world's richest source of lithium in the Atacama Desert, and about how neighbouring Bolivia believes it will dominate supply if demand for this alkali metal continues to see double-digit growth. Justin speaks to Prof Nigel Brandon of Imperial College, an expert on cutting-edge battery research, about whether this week's element can ever realistically hope to challenge a can of petrol as the best way to power a car. And we hear from clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison of Johns Hopkins University about the literally life-saving role lithium has played for sufferers of bipolar disorder - including herself.

Tin20140302

Tin may seem old-fashioned, but it plays some surprisingly important roles in the modern economy. Presenter Justin Rowlatt meets our favourite chemist Andrea Sella of UCL at Pewters' Hall in London to discover the unique properties of the metal that sparked the Bronze Age.

He discovers the metal's role in plastics and electronics, and visits the giant Pilkington glass factory to find out how tin revolutionised the glass-making industry. And he meets two very venerable tin chemists, Alwyn Davies and Ted Fletcher.

Tungsten2014072620140727 (WS)

Hot, hard and heavy - it cuts steel and penetrates armour, yet China has a near monopoly

is one of the hardest, heaviest and highest melting metals, used in everything from bulbs to bullets, x-rays to drill bits. Justin Rowlatt hears from the perennial Professor Andrea Sella of University College London about the properties of what is one of the densest of elements.

We get a tour of the SGS Carbide tool factory with managing director Alan Pearce, and we consider the market value of this very useful element with Mark Seddon, head of consultancy firm Tungsten Market Research.

Should we worry that China dominates demand? And why is it taking so long to open up new sources? We visit the Hemerdon mining project in the pretty English county of Devon, and hear from Russell Clark, head of the mining firm Wolf Minerals that is reopening it.

And, there is a very special reason why your government should care about its tungsten supplies, as military technology analyst Robert Kelley explains.

01Elements2014101120141012 (WS)

Does the world face a looming glut of this devilish yellow element?

Sulphur is in abundant supply thanks to its extraction from sour oil and gas, in order to prevent acid rain pollution. But does the world face a glut of this devilish chemical element, famed for its colour and odour? And if so, what uses can it be put to?

Justin Rowlatt has his hair cut as professor Andrea Sella of University College London, demonstrates sulphur's surprisingly plastic - and acrid - qualities. He travels to the leafy London suburb of Twickenham to find out about Joshua Ward, the charlatan who set up the world's first sulphuric acid factory.

We hear from Richard Hands, editor of Sulphur magazine, about the element's many industrial uses, as well as the gigantic heaps of unwanted sulphur piling up in Canada and Florida. And Mike Lumley, who leads efforts at Shell to make use of the oil giant's sulphur bi-product, explains why the end of acid rain has opened up a surprising new source of demand.

Finally, Justin speaks to Dr Robert Ballard - the man who located the shipwreck of the Titanic - about why he actually considers a sulphur-linked oceanic discovery to be his greatest achievement.

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the p...

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the periodic table.

02Elements2014101820141019 (WS)

Justin Rowlatt looks at the world economy from the perspective of the elements of the p...

04 LASTElements2014103020141102 (WS)

Lead is the sweetest of poisons, so have we learnt how to handle this heavy metal?

Lead is the sweetest of poisons, blamed for everything from mad Roman emperors to modern-day crime waves. Yet a lead-acid battery is still what gets your car going in the morning. So have we finally learnt how to handle this heavyweight element? Justin Rowlatt travels to arts shop Cornelissen in London's Bloomsbury to find out why they have stopped stocking lead paints, and hears from professor Andrea Sella of University College London about the unique properties that have made this metal so handy in everything from radiation protection to glassware.

Yet lead in petrol is also accused of having inflicted brain damage on an entire generation of children in the 1970s, as the economist Jessica Wolpaw-Reyes of Amherst College explains. And, producer Laurence Knight travels to one of the UK's only two lead smelters - HJ Enthoven's at Darley Dale in Derbyshire, the historical heartland of the UK lead industry - to see what becomes of the lead in your car battery. And, we speak to the director of the International Lead Association, Andy Bush.