BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Go to the Listen Again page
Wednesdays 12 April to 3 May 2006 9.00-9.30pm 

They may not wear stovepipe hats and smoke cigars, but which engineers today deserve the title 'Britain’s Modern Brunels'? In a new four part series for Radio 4, Sue Nelson goes in search of today's heroes of engineering - men and women whose spectacular achievements remind us of the genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was voted one of the greatest of Britons in a recent BBC poll. 

200 years ago, Brunel devoted his life to high speed communication - transforming the English countryside and its economy via his Great Western Railway and speeding up transatlantic travel with his great Iron steamships. His bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts still stand today, a testament to Brunel's genius.  But will the achievements of today's engineers similarly stand the test of time? Judge for yourself in Britain's Modern Brunels.

Doug, Nigel and Jennie
Doug Oakervee, Nigel Gee and Jenny Goodman, high speed innovators

High Speed Travel (12 April 2006)

For Victorian travellers, Brunel's Great Western Railway and giant transatlantic steam ships were a high speed revolution. Today's transport revolution needs men and women like Doug Oakervee OBE, Nigel Gee and 'budding Brunel' Jenny Goodman.

Doug Oakervee's achievements include include Hong Kong's newest international airport, Chek Lap Kok, for which he had to remove two mountains and build an artificial island in the South China Sea. He was also behind the former British colony's Mass Transit Railway, which helped regenerate the area's economy in the 1990s. Now he hopes to help regenerate the economy of East London with a project to create the country's biggest container shipping port at Shell Haven, a former oil refinery.

Chek Lap Kok Airport 
London Gateway Port

One of Britain's leading naval architects, Nigel Gee is the designer of a revolutionary high speed container ship. Called a Pentamaran because of its five hulls, Nigel predicts this ship could cross the Atlantic twice as fast as conventional container ships. 

Nigel Gee and Associates
Royal Institution of Naval Architects

'Budding Brunel' Jenny Goodman is still at University, working on improvements to Ramjet engines for her PhD in aerospace engineering. Ramjet engines can enable massively supersonic flight and some think they could propel passenger aircraft from London to Sydney in just two hours.

Jenny is not only helping boost ramjets' fuel efficiency, she's also helping develop much more environmentally sustainable transport. She's the driver of Team Green's award-winning eco-car, which does 6000 miles per gallon. 

Jenny Goodman
Team Green

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1
Norman Haste(l), Stephen Morley (c) and Jim Stirling (r)
Norman Haste, Stephen Morley and Jim Stirling, structural pioneers

Giant Structures (19 April 2006)

Sue Nelson's 'modern Brunels' this week are:

Norman Haste OBE, whose major projects include the second Severn crossing and the design of Heathrow airport's new Terminal 5. Formerly head of Crossrail, the planned rail link between east and west London, Norman is now working on the expansion of Dubai's international airport.

Second Severn Crossing
Terminal 5, Heathrow
Dubai airport expansion

Stephen Morley designed the new Wembley Stadium's giant arch, Stephen is a specialist in long span structures. Unlike Brunel - whose long-span structures were bridges - Stephen Morley designs gravity-defying roofs for sporting stadia, earning himself the nickname 'Stadium Man'.

Stephen Morley
Wembley Stadium's Arch

Jim Sterling OBE, Technical Director of British Waterways, led the construction of the Scotland's Millennium Link and it's spectacular centrepiece, Falkirk Wheel - the world's first rotating boat lift.  The Falkirk Wheel, though moving, is a bridge - between Scotland's Union and Forth & Clyde Canals.

Jim Sterling, British Waterways
The Falkirk Wheel

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2
Jeff Farrow, Phil Nedin and Richard Granger, engineers against disease

Public Health (26 April 2006)

One of Brunel's less well-known achievements was a pre-fabricated hospital he built and shipped out to Renkioi, in Turkey, to care for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. Brunel's design enhanced air circulation and drastically cut hospital-borne infections, earning it high praise from Florence Nightingale, who called its wards 'those magnificent huts'.

This week, Sue Nelson asks what role engineers play in in helping prevent disease in Britain today.

Her 'Modern Brunels' include Jeff Farrow, a chief engineer on the Thames Water Ringmain which provides safe and clean drinking water for Londoners.

Thames Water Ring Main

She also speaks to Arup's Phil Nedin, whose design for the Altnagelvin Hospital extension in Northern Ireland combines techniques used by Brunel for his Crimean War hospital with 21st Century technology to keep hospital-borne infections to a minimum.

Phil Nedin on Sustainable Hospital Design

Sue's third guest is Richard Granger, Director General of IT for the NHS, who is head of the world's biggest government-sponsored IT project. Connecting for Health aims to link patients, doctors and clinics throughout England via a digital network that would have been unimaginable in Brunel's day.

NHS Connecting for Health

Listen again Listen again to Programme 3
Mark Whitby, Richard Yemm and Hannah Chalmers, innovators

Environmental Concerns (3 May 2006)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the architects of the industrial revolution, wasn’t known for his environmental concerns – but Britain’s Modern Brunels certainly are. But as Sue Nelson discovers, for 21st century engineering pioneers, green technologies and sustainability are the keys to a new industrial revolution.

Richard Yemm, Managing Director of Ocean Power Delivery and the inventor of the Pelamis Wave Energy system, which has recently been shipped to Portugal for the world's first commercial wave energy farm. Richard is also the Chairman of the Scottish Renewables Forum.

Ocean Power Delivery Ltd
Scottish Renewables

Mark Whitby, former President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (its youngest in 50 years) and Design Director of the engineering firm Whitby Bird, whose work includes the Millennium Bridge in York.  He also built the tiny Chelsea Bridge Wharf Link in London, which is a more human-scale structure favouring pedestrians and cyclists over motorised transport. Mark is also a supporter of Dynamic Demand technology, making maximum use of existing power supplies.

Whitby Bird
Dynamic Demand

Hannah Chalmers is 22 and the youngest Modern Brunel in the series. Still completing her first degree in engineering at Imperial College in London, Hannah has already succeeded in convincing politicians and industry of the benefits of Carbon Capture and Storage, to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power stations.

Carbon Capture and Storage
Imperial College Sustainable Development

Listen again Listen again to Programme 4
Listen Live
Audio Help
Leading Edge
Science, Nature & Environment Programmes
Current Programmes
Archived Programmes

News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

Back to top

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy