Just 92 elements made up the world, but the belief that were only four - earth, fire, air and water - persisted until the 19th Century. Professor Al-Khalili retraces the footsteps of the alchemists who first began to question the notion of the elements in their search for the secret of everlasting life. He reveals the red herrings and rivalries which dogged scientific progress, and explores how new approaches to splitting matter brought us both remarkable elements and the new science of chemistry.
What are the origins of life? How did things go from non-living to living? From something that could not reproduce to something that could? Earth is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old, and for much of that history it has been home to life in one form or another. Our planet is teaming with life, from the highest mountain to the deepest ocean; life is everywhere. But what was the firing pistol that started the evolutionary race? How did material go from non-living to alive? It's one of the most fundamental and difficult questions that has challenged us since the beginning of time.
2007 • Science
In part two, Professor Al-Khalili looks at the 19th century chemists who struggled to impose an order on the apparently random world of the elements. From working out how many there were to discovering their unique relationships with each other, the early scientists' bid to decode the hidden order of the elements was driven by false starts and bitter disputes. But ultimately the quest would lead to one of chemistry's most beautiful intellectual creations - the periodic table.