The Genius of Invention

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Series 1 - Episode 1 Power



What does the name Thomas Newcomen mean to you? Not much, I’ll bet, because he has been shamefully, if not entirely, forgotten. Newcomen was a Devon ironmonger in the early 18th century who designed the first reliable steam engine — a thing of beauty, as we see here — but because James Watt improved the design half a century later, Watt is the name we remember. How their ideas evolved and what they led to (ie the entire Industrial Revolution) is the subject of this wonderfully educational programme.

It comes to us from a suitably beefy location — a room in the colossal Drax power station in Yorkshire, which powers six million homes using ten million tons of coal a year. There, our co-presenters (Michael Mosley is joined by scientists Mark Miodownik and Cassie Newland) draw out the story of steam engines, turbines and electricity via neat experiments (look out for the imploding oil barrel) and some slightly strained banter.


Michael Mosley is joined by academics Mark Miodownik and Cassie Newland to examine the chain of events that leads to innovations that make everyday life easier. The first programme comes from Drax power station in North Yorkshire and focuses on the British inventors who helped build the modern world by understanding, harnessing and using various forms of power - looking in detail at the steam engine, the electrical generator and the steam turbine.