The Order of the Elements

Image for The Order of the ElementsNot currently available on BBC iPlayer

Episode 2 of 3

Duration: 1 hour

The explosive story of chemistry is the story of the building blocks that make up our entire world - the elements. From fiery phosphorus to the pure untarnished lustre of gold and the dazzle of violent, violet potassium, everything is made of elements - the earth we walk on, the air we breathe, even us. Yet for centuries this world was largely unknown, and completely misunderstood.

In this three-part series, professor of theoretical physics Jim Al-Khalili traces the extraordinary story of how the elements were discovered and mapped. He follows in the footsteps of the pioneers who cracked their secrets and created a new science, propelling us into the modern age.

In part two, Professor Al-Khalili looks at the 19th-century chemists who struggled to impose an order on the apparently random world of the elements. From working out how many there were to discovering their unique relationships with each other, the early scientists' bid to decode the hidden order of the elements was driven by false starts and bitter disputes. But ultimately the quest would lead to one of chemistry's most beautiful intellectual creations - the periodic table.

  • World of Wonder

    World of Wonder

    This programme is part of World of Wonder - a year of science across the BBC in 2010. From popular science to chaos theory, there's a little something for everyone.

    Find out more about World of Wonder on BBC Science
  • Photo: Jim Al-Khalili

    Photo: Jim Al-Khalili

    Professor Jim Al-Khalili experiments with blown glass as he continues his explorations into the history of chemistry.


Jim Al-Khalili
Executive Producer
Sacha Baveystock
Ros Homan
Ros Homan
Production Manager
Giselle Corbett


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss