Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cool science shows of the 20th century

There were a lot of very cool science  shows on TV when I was growing up. Now - not so much, as we seem to be more interested in what the Kardashians or the Wives of (insert practically any city on the planet) are doing. But I credit those shows with firing my passion for what things will be like in the future...

Tomorrow's World

The show had some great presenters, the greatest of which was Raymond Baxter who was a former spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain, but it also introduced James Burke who had an amazing talent for explaining the complexities of scientific development (and who went on to bigger things below).

The show demonstrated cutting edge inventions, and because it was broadcast live, sometimes those inventions didn't behave as expected (which all added to the fun and excitement). Kraftwerk debuted on the show(!), and the presenters demonstrated such marvels as the breathalyser, ATM, pocket calculator, digital watch, CD player and barcode reader. Heady stuff! But to a young kid growing up, if felt like tomorrow was here.


Dr Richard Dawkins - Horizon: The Blind Watchmaker (1987)
Horizon, which is still running today, began in 1964 as a fifty minute documentary series to, 'provide a platform from which some of the world's greatest scientists and philosophers can communicate their curiosity, observations and reflections, and infuse into our common knowledge their changing views of the universe.'

With shows on the latest theories of the universe, advances in medical science or technology, or environmental threats, Horizon exposed us to how fundamental science was to our daily lives.

The Sky at Night

Another long running show, starting in 1957 and hosted by the legendary Sir Patrick Moore until his death in 2013. The Sky at Night told us what was going on in the heavens right above our heads. Moore's style, complete with monocle and quick-fire delivery, was one of the great drawcards as he covered everything from the first moon landing to the launch of the Voyager space probes, the space shuttle and beyond with an infectious enthusiasm for space.


Presented by James Burke (from Tomorrow's World), Connections demonstrated how today's advances had their roots in the past and charted the sometimes tortuous, sometimes unbelievably fortuitous route of scientific discovery. It was storytelling science porn at its best.

One example showed how telecommunications exist because Normans developed stirrups to better ride their horses into battle, which led to further warfare-centric technological advances. You couldn't watch Connections without being blown away by how things came to be.

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