Bang Goes The Theory and the coffee-powered car

Friday 12 March 2010, 14:51

Jay Hunt Jay Hunt Controller, BBC One

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I should have learnt by now never to underestimate the Bang Goes the Theory team.

The first time they came to see me they brought a vacuum cleaner, an excitable presenter and boundless enthusiasm for science. They then literally climbed the wall. They used the vacuum to provide the suction to clamber up the stairwell outside my office with the casual throwaway line that they were keen to do the same thing again up the treacherously shiny face of the BBC White City building in London. And they did.

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It was the start of an exciting journey that put popular science right back at the heart of the BBC One schedule. Bang captured the audience imagination with its enthusiasm for making sense of the world. Seventy thousand people braved some pretty atrocious weather to meet the team and put science to the test at a series of roadshows.

Many more went online to pose a question for the charismatic Dr Yan or watch experiments they could try at home. From their rather magnificent home in a disused power station, Dallas and Liz tackled everything from the behaviour of cows to sound waves. And all the time, Jem went on building things.

This time round, Jem's surpassed himself. He's driven from London to Manchester in a car powered by nothing more than coffee beans.

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Before he started on his epic drive, Jem and his the team told me that this alternative fuel could get Jem's motor to 45kph.

That was their theory anyway. Until recently, they'd only managed to drive 5km altogether so the pressure was really on.

Well, they made it. Having faced what must have seemed like endless traffic jams and a few minor engine hiccups the car arrived in Manchester late last night, still in one piece but a little bit dirtier than when it first left.

On the way, in true Bang spirit, Jem was not only greeted by drivers tooting their horns and people waving as the car raced to its end but was helped by dozens of drivers (including a very helpful group of nuns) who came up with any number of creative solutions whenever the car faced any difficulties.

Today, his car will be the centrepiece at The Big Bang Fair, the country's largest science and engineering exhibition for young students.

That's a hugely exciting moment for him and for the team because this journey has embodied what Bang does best - show science in action. Alternative energy is a notoriously tricky thing to make interesting. Jem and his coffee power car might just have cracked it.

Watch out for the car and for lots more spectacular builds when the series returns on 15 March.

Bang Goes The Theory won't be ducking the difficult subjects. Dallas sets himself the challenge of explaining atoms with the use of a few mopeds and a beach and Liz looks at the lab data around whether we can live forever.

It's part of a new look for science on BBC One. Shows like Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds and Jimmy's Food Factory are making difficult subjects engaging in the most entertaining way. And through the website we are also gathering real data of our own.

Thirteen thousand people (at the time of writing) have contributed data to a bold new experiment about brain training. Does it matter if you keep exercising the grey matter or does it not make any difference at all? We have a large enough sample to deliver some real insight. Watch out for Brain Test Britain - a Bang Goes the Theory special on BBC One soon.

So congratulations to Jem and the team. So far we've had a coffee powered car and a vacuum powered climbing machine. I am slightly terrified about what they might suggest next!

Jay Hunt is controller of BBC One

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    Comment number 1.

    Well done to the Bang team - it's good to see science back in the schedules.

    But it's all a bit Boys' Own Paper stuff, isn't it? At least 10% of the population actually do understand science reasonably well, and would love to have a proper programme that doesn't spend over half its time explaining that gravity pulls things together and water is made of hydrogen and oxygen.

    You do it for the arts all the time. Now it's time for science and technology to have a turn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I agree with John, lets have some programmes for adults. Its as if science and engineering are kiddy subjects. Assume, say, GCSE Science is known to your audience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Horizon seems to be back towards its best - it went through a very dumbed down era a few years back, though it has a way to go to beat how it used to be in the 70's and 80's; or maybe I was just dumber then and more in awe of it!!

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    Comment number 4.

    I would agree that there should be a regular adult oriented science programme. I woule even like to see a programme along the lines of "Tomorrow's World" where the latest scientific developments can be showcased. Science seems to be left to satellite channels these days and most of course then have an American bias as the shows are imported e.g. Mythbusters etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I think the problem is that adult "science" has become very fragmented in terms of topic area...

    We have shows like Mythbusters aimed at producing the biggest crash or explosion possible with very little science - witness the results as grouped into only three areas - confirmed, plausible, busted.

    Next we have the "tech" shows like Click (which does not even make the main channels at all and is treated as news - eh??) and The Gadget Show on Five that only look at modern fast moving technology and web sites; these are probably the nearest to where Tomorrow's World would have been if it had continued. Now very little science at all.

    Then we have shows like Horizon and the new "Wonders of the Solar System" that try to look at physics, cosmology and astronomy, but the problem is that most new research has now gone way above the man in the street with multi-dimensional string theory, quantum chromodynamics and the like, so is a difficult area around which to build a programme.

    Chemistry is just as dull as ever (!) though the recent "Chemistry, a Volatile History" on BBC4 was excellent, if only a look backwards.

    Biology all seems to revolve around mapping DNA and finding what each piece does, so there's not much excitement for the average man in the street watching TV there.

    "Bang Goes the Theory" has its main threads as "vacuum cleaner up walls" type sequences, with very little adult real science in there in short sequences with the "Professor".

    So as a "Science" programme comissioner at the BBC, where should they aim - It's a tough one, I have to admit.


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