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Nuclear physicist, professor Jim Al-Khalili, tells the story of the greatest scientific discovery ever - the discovery that everything is made of atoms. As scientists delved deep into the atom, into the very heart of matter, they unraveled nature’s most shocking secrets. They had to abandon everything they believed in and create a whole new science, which today underpins the whole of physics, chemistry, biology and maybe even life itself. ‘Atom’ tells a story of great geniuses, people like Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg who were driven by their thirst for knowledge and glory. It\'s a story of false starts and conflicts, ambition and revelation, a story which leads us through some of the most exciting and exhilarating ideas ever conceived of by the human race.
  • Title ID 65-ATM
  • Science, Core Science, Physical Science
  • 3 Programs
  • 7 Supplemental Files
  • 10th Grade through Post Secondary
  • Published by Oxford Scientific Films for the BBC
Included Programs
Supplemental Files

Included Programs

Atom: Clash of TitansRunning time is 49 minutes

Jim Al-Khalili takes the viewer through the conflicts and discoveries of the giants of modern physics as they uncover the mysteries of the atom.

Chapter List
The Grand Search for the Secrets of Matter
The existence of atoms was claimed by Ludwig Boltzman and later confirmed by Albert Einstein who used Robert Brown's Brownian motion of pollen grains to show that there were atom-like- particles.
The Atom Has Structure
Physicists such as Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr, and Hans Geiger, of Geiger counter fame, among others revealed the secrets of the atom, including the atom's nucleus, electrons, x-rays, radioactivity, and alpha rays, by using radium and uranium.
The Quantum Nature of the Atom
Niels Bohr's revised the model of the atom from Rutherford's solar system model to a multi story building one, where the nucleus was on the ground floor and electrons made quantum jumps from the floors to other floors caused a modern physics debate involving great scientists such as Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger.
The Atom's Wave-like Nature
Erwin Schrodinger solved the riddle of the atom by using De Broglie's idea of pilot waves guiding electrons and came up with his famous Schrodinger's wave equation, which said the electron was a wave of energy, but Werner Heisenberg believed that Niels Bohr's quantum jumps were the key to understanding the atom.
The Dual Nature of the Atom
Werner Heisenberg and Max Born took on Schrodinger's Equation and developed a new theory of the atom known as Matrix Mechanics, which would lead to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.
The Uncertainty Principle
Niels Bohr, supported by his students Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli, would develop what is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation, which would lie at the heart of atomic physics, much to the dismay of Albert Einstein.

Atom: Key to the CosmosRunning time is 49 minutes

Jim Al-Khalili shows how the story of the Atom is the story of the creation of the universe.

Chapter List
The Atom and the Creation of the Universe
The atom has helped humans solve the mysteries of existence, and it all began with Marie Curie's studies of radioactivity.
Manipulating the Atom
Leading physicist Ernest Rutherford used radium's radioactivity to uncover the secrets of the sub-atomic world, including the proton and the nucleus,
The Structure of the Atom's Nucleus
In 1932 physicists Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick, and Francis Aston, established a new kind of science - nuclear physics -when they established the atom's basic structure - the nucleus, proton, neutron, and electrons.
The Mysterious Proton and the Strong Nuclear Force
Roughly speaking, nuclear behavior is a balance between the strong nuclear force squashing protons and neutrons together and the positive electric charge of the protons forcing them apart, while at the same time the turmoil between the strong nuclear and the electro magnetic forces strive to dominate the nucleus of the atom and release energy known as nuclear fusion.
The Atomic Bomb
Robert Oppenheimer led America's race to develop the atomic bomb, a race that uncovered that the stability of the atom was a direct result of the battle between the strong nuclear force and the electro magnetic force which could lead to fusion or fission as all atoms strove to find the same perfect stability as the iron atom.
The Ever Changing Atom
The iron atom helped unlock the secrets of the universe, a quest led by maverick physicist Fred Hoyle who, helped by astronomer Walter Baade, worked out how the stars, such as red giants, used stellar nuclear fusion to make all the elements in the universe except for hydrogen and helium.
The Big Bang
Because the Earth's sun had more helium than expected it sparked a controversy between , George Gamow and Fred Hoyle about how the helium came to be, with Gamow supporting the Big Bang Theory of the universe's creation, a theory proved by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson used a radio antennae to listen to the sound of radiation from the cosmos or the afterglow of the Big Bang.

Atom: The Illusion of RealityRunning time is 49 minutes

Jim Al-Khalili shows that the atom, with its neutrons, protons, and electrons, is not fundamental after all.

Chapter List
The Quantum Revolution Revisited
At the beginning of the 20th cxentury the atom revealed its strange secrets through the work of extraordinary scientists such as Victor Hess who discovered cosmic rays, Marie Curie who discovered radioactivity, Albert Einstein, who proved the existence of the atom, and Ernest Rutherford, who discovered the shape of the interior of the atom.
The Anti-matter Universe
Paul Dirac created the Dirac equation which unified two of science's most difficult ideas -quantum mechanics and Albert, Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, involving space and time - in a single equation, an equation that showed there is our universe and an anti-matter universe made up of anti-particles and, anti-matter atoms, and if the two universes ever meet, then according to E=MC2 they would explode, converting instantly to energy.
The Theory of Nothing
Physicists Carl Anderson, who used a cloud chamber to show anti electrons and anti matter particles exist, Paul Dirac, who created Dirac's equation, and Richard Feynman, who created Quantum Electro Dynamics, which accurately predicted the electron's magnetic moment value, have shown that on a smaller scale of the atom space is a constant storm of creation and destruction which physicists call 'quantum foam'.
Quantum Electrodynamics
Quantum Electro Dynamics was developed by Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger and was opposed by other physicists such as Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac and Robert Oppenheimer who viewed the concepts sof quantum foam and its virtual particles as nonsense.
Sub-atomic Particles
Murray Gell-Mann tried organizing the world of sub-atomic particles, including anti-protons, anti-neutrons, positrons, the neutrino, pion, caon, lamda, delta and muon, in a system he called the Eight-Fold Way and discovered there is a deeper underlying fundamental reality made up of quarks.
The journey of understanding the atom has gone from Einstein's proof of their existence in 1905 to Murray Gell-Mann's Quarks in 1967 and includes startling discoveries such as anti-matter.
The Atom's Paradoxes
The story of the atom is filled with paradoxes concerning gravity, including the mind boggling Schrodinger's Cat Experiment, which physicists have tried to explain using string theories.

Supplemental Files

Educators Guide for Atom - Program 1 - Clash of Titans
Educators Guide for Atom - Program 2 - Key to the Cosmos
Educators Guide for Atom - Program 3 - The Illusion of Reality
MARC Records for ATM
MARC records for the series Atom
Transcription for Atom: Clash of Titans
Transcription for Atom: Key to the Cosmos
Transcription for Atom: The Illusion of Reality


"In filmmaker Tim Usborne’s entertaining three-part BBC-aired documentary, nuclear physicist and university professor Jim Al-Khalili chronicles the development of atomic science, which is presented as the foundational underpinning of physics, chemistry, and biology...this inspiring documentary is highly recommended. “
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