Nobel's Greatest Hits


NOBEL'S GREATEST HITS (13 x 10') celebrates the first century of the Nobel Price - awards for physics, chemistry and medicine. Under the will of Alfred Bernhard Nobel, the guilt-ridden inventor of dynamite, prize are made "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". View a clip from each episode.

1. Wired

Thanks to electronics, our world is a global village.  How radio, television and the computer have changed our lives through the inventions of Nobel Prize-winners.  The story of the triode valve, the cathode ray tube, the transistor, the silicon chip and the laser.  From Marconi’s first trans-Atlantic radio signal to the information superhighway and satellite communication, the world is wiring up.

2. The Code Breakers

Human genetics and how heredity works.  The Nobel Prize-winner who crack our genetic code.  From chromosomes and genes to the Double Helix and the Human Genome.  What makes us male and female, why the gene for brown eyes dominates that for blue, how conditions like colour-blindness and haemophilia are inherited.  The way genetic engineering may replace unhealthy genes in humans, as it already creates disease-resistant plants.

3. Cracking the Cosmos

We consist of matter - the 92 elements that pervade the cosmos.  But where did matter originate and how were those elements conceived?  From the Big Bang to cosmic background radiation, Nobel laureates get at the facts - how matter forms in a particle soup when the Universe is less than one second old, how stars produce energy, how heavy elements like iron are born in super-massive stars.

4. Impulse

The mysteries of the human nervous system unravelled by Nobel Prize-winners.  The neuron as its fundamental unit.  How impulses, firing at up to a thousand times a second, carry messages to and from our brain.  Why reflex actions don’t need the brain.  And without a thought from us, how the autonomic nervous system controls the body functions that keep us alive - such as signals from the mouth warning the stomach of what to expect!

5. See Trhough

From the discovery of x-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen, the first Nobel Prize-winner in Physics, to 3-D cross-sections of the body, the ability to view the seemingly invisible is routine diagnostic medicine thanks to a string of Nobel laureates.  Electron microscopes, x-rays, ECGs, how CAT and MRI scanners work.  Plus - checking baby in prenatal ultrasound screening and scanning the brain for epilepsy.

6. The Good, The Bad

The story of radioactivity - from its discovery by three French Nobel Prize-winners to its application in the atomic bomb and the generation of nuclear electricity.  As a force for good, radioactivity helps in medicine, archaeology and space exploration.  But it has a down side - such as the problem of disposing spent nuclear fuel and the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986.   

7. In the Blood

The human cardiovascular system - how Nobel Prize-winners reveal the workings of the heart, the lungs and the 100-thousand kilometres of blood vessels that keep us alive. The discovery of blood groups. The roles of arteries and veins and the capillaries that fuel our muscles.  Why aspirin stops blood clots. How diet and lifestyle affect the health of heart and blood system. Why prevention is better than cure.

8. Super Cool

The discovery that electricity flows with little or no resistance at ultra-low temperatures, prompts a string of Nobel laureates to hunt for superconductors that can deliver cheap electricity.  But the science of super cool and the strange properties of superconductors deliver so much more - Japan’s levitating train, smaller and more efficient motors, faster and tinier computers, high speed communication.

9. Loners

Occasionally, a single powerful innovation - unconnected to the work of other laureates - prompts a Nobel Prize.  These are three such stories.  Sweden’s Gustav Dalén makes sea-faring safer by developing the automated lighthouse;  Finland’s Artturi Virtenen finds the chemical tricks of silage-making to feed cattle through the winter with sweet-tasting forage; Switzerland’s Paul Müller discovers the insecticidal properties of DDT.

10. Quantum Leaps

Quantum mechanics - the measurement and workings of the smallest entities - are so strange they take years to gain acceptance.  The most eminent Nobel Prize-winners - Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger and Carl Heisenberg - explain how light is small packets of energy called quanta, how waves can be particles and particles can be waves, and how The Uncertainty Principle means everyday experience no longer applies.

11. Battling the Bugs

Nobel Prize-winners are the heroes of the ceaseless war against disease and the bacteria and viruses that constantly evolve new strains.  The discovery of immunisation and antibiotics.  The control of polio, TB and diphtheria.  How our immune system works.  The way sneezes spread diseases.  The identification of prions in the brain diseases of BSE and scrapie in animals and kuru and CJD in humans.   

12. Beyond The Atom

Everything is built of atoms - liquids, gases and solids. But of what are atoms built? The inner world of protons, neutrons and electrons unlocked by Nobel Prize-winners such as Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr and James Chadwick. From the atom-smasher and the discovery of anti-matter to today’s classification of sub-atomic particles into quarks and anti-quarks, bosons and leptons.

13. Nobel - The Man

The biography of Alfred Bernhard Nobel - the world’s most famous Swede, founder of the world’s most famous prize. Nobel, who invents dynamite and is dismayed at its use in war, compensates the world by bequeathing the Nobel Prize - to reward the best in science, literature and peace. The prizes reflect the passions of Nobel - a man who combines the penetrating mind of a true scientist and inventor with the ambitious dynamism of a great industrialist.