A close look at chemical elements, the basic building blocks of the universe. Where do we get them, what do we use them for and how do they fit into the economy?

  • Updated:
  • Episodes available:
    Indefinitely help

Subscribe for free

Subscribe to this podcast and automatically receive the latest episodes.

More help with subscribing

Recent episodes (10)

  • Chromium (Cr), 25 Feb 2015

    Thu, 26 Feb 15

    34 mins

    Chromium is the metal of modernity - the key ingredient in stainless steel. But this chemical element also has a dark side - one brought to public attention by Erin Brockovich.

    Download 16MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Nickel (Ni) & Rhenium (Re), 18 Feb 2015

    Wed, 18 Feb 15

    34 mins

    Nickel is the metal that made the jet age possible, not to mention margarine and bicycle sprockets. We visit Rolls Royce to discover the incredible materials science that this chemical element and its super-alloys have driven.

    Download 16MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Uranium (U), 08 Oct 2014

    Wed, 8 Oct 14

    42 mins

    The fuel for nuclear power stations, uranium splits environmentalists down the middle. Is carbon-free nuclear a green energy option? Or are its global warming credentials trumped by the 10,000-year question of how to deal with its radioactive waste?

    Download 19MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Lead (Pb), 01 Oct 2014

    Wed, 1 Oct 14

    39 mins

    Lead is the sweetest of poisons, blamed for everything from mad Roman emperors to modern-day crime waves. Yet a lead-acid battery is still what gets your car going in the morning. So have we finally learnt how to handle this heavyweight element?

    Download 18MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Caesium (Cs), 24 Sep 2014

    Wed, 24 Sep 14

    39 mins

    The atomic clock runs on caesium, and has redefined the very meaning of time. But it has also introduced a bug into timekeeping that affects everything from computerised financial markets to electricity grids to satellite navigation to the Greenwich Meridian.

    Download 18MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Bromine (Br), 17 Sep 2014

    Wed, 17 Sep 14

    29 mins

    Famed as an anti-aphrodisiac, bromine's biggest use is actually in dousing flames in your home, not in your heart. Bromine-based fire retardants are found in everything from your sofa to your radio. But this chemical element has also sparked a series of health scares. So is bromine something to worry about, or is it just the victim of "chemophobia"?

    Download 14MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Plutonium (Pu), 10 Sep 2014

    Thu, 11 Sep 14

    38 mins

    Plutonium is one of a family of highly radioactive "synthetic" elements cooked up in nuclear reactors. But does it and its kin have any practical application besides the atom bomb? We travel to plutonium's sunny birthplace to find out.

    Download 18MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Silicon (Si) - solar, 30 July 2014

    Mon, 18 Aug 14

    39 mins

    Silicon is a key component in solar panel manufacturing and as such is crucial to the future of power for the planet. We hear from John Schaeffer, a solar power pioneer, Richard Swanson of Sun Power and Lynn Jurich, founder of Sunrun, busy developing ways to make solar panel manufacturing and distribution ever more cost efficient. Meanwhile Barry Goldwater Jr., former Republican Congressman, is busy fighting its cause in the corridors of power. The sun, he says, will win the day.

    Download 18MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Silicon (Si) - chips, 23 July 2014

    Thu, 31 Jul 14

    40 mins

    Silicon is the basis of the hi-tech revolution - why is it so important in the manufacture of silicon chips? And will we continue to rely on it into the future?

    Download 19MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

  • Sulphur (S), 16 July 2014

    Wed, 30 Jul 14

    35 mins

    Smelly and colourful, much of our sulphur comes as a byproduct of oil and gas. It is used in fertilisers, to strengthen materials and as sulphuric acid it is the most widely used industrial chemical. The world faces a glut of this chemical element, what uses can it be put to?

    Download 17MB (right click & "save target as / link as")

Terms of Use

The BBC Podcasts are for your personal non-commercial use only.

All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the BBC Podcasts shall remain the property of the BBC or third parties. You may not edit, alter, adapt or add to the BBC Podcast in any way. The BBC Podcasts are made available by the BBC on an "as is" and "as available" basis and the BBC gives no warranty of any kind in relation to the BBC Podcast. To the maximum extent permitted by law the BBC will not be liable for any loss or damage which you may suffer as a result of, or connected to, the download or use of the BBC Podcasts.


See the full Standard Licence Terms here.

Play recent episodes

You may also like


  • Factual > Science & Nature
  • Factual > Science & Nature > Science & Technology

How computers and digital technology affect our lives around the world. Presented by Gareth Mitchell. Available for download weekly on Tuesdays.

Tue, 24 Feb 15

37 minutes

Let's Talk About Tech

  • Learning
  • Factual > Science & Nature > Science & Technology

BBC Radio 5 live’s technology and gaming podcast, featuring Click Live with the latest technology and the web news, plus Adam Rosser’s Game On, looking at the world of video games.

Wed, 25 Feb 15

30 minutes