Here's the amiable academic Michael Moseley again for the second episode of The Story Of Science, dealing with the subject of matter and quantum physics, and the discovery of the very building blocks of life. The tale begins in the Middle Ages with the alchemists, those quixotic researchers who, the history books tell us, pursued the secret of turning lead into gold. But far from the 'deluded mystics' or snake oil salesmen that popular history depicts them as, the alchemists laid the groundwork for modern, empirical science. They took the ancient Greek belief that the world was made of fire, air, earth and water, and understood, as we do, that everything in existence can be reduced to simple building blocks, even if their particular choice of building blocks was somewhat wide of the mark. Pioneering alchemist Henning Brand also believed that gold could be acquired by distilling human urine (they obviously drank a lot of Australian lager in the 17th century). The resulting matter, far from the material Brand was expecting, was, in fact, phosphorus. With the crudest of equipment and often fumbling around in complete ignorance, the alchemists of the Middle Ages gave rise to the chemists, metallurgists and biologists of the modern age. While last week's story of astronomy was told via video postcards from across the globe, this week's episode is, by contrast, full of gleeful moments of adolescent chemistry; the flashy, noisy glows and bangs of one of your more memorable ...

Film Duration: 55 min .