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Three laboratories where the modern world was forged.
Wednesdays 5 to 19 June 2003 9.00-9.30pm

These programmes tell the remarkable stories of the small groups of research scientists whose inventions in the fields of communications and computing, transport, materials and medicine, changed the world and gave us the modern technologies we enjoy today. Each programme looks at the 'glory days' of the lab and then brings the story up to date, paying particular attention to how science is managed in these much more commercially competitive days.

Air Traffic Control tower at West Drayton
Air Traffic Control tower at West Drayton

1. The Boffins

The first programme is about the evolution of a lab which started during WW2 and which has gone on to become a 7000 strong R&D business, one of Europe's biggest. In its first incarnation the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) developed radar during WW2 and went on to lay the foundations for the information age. The story of TRE is the story of the scientists who helped save Britain from ruinous bombing and invasion and went on to invent computers and air traffic control, modern meteorology, liquid crystal display and the microwave oven. We talk to scientists who remember those including Sir Bernard Lovell.

We bring the story up to date with the new role for the lab as the business called QinetiQ. While the defense industry is still a major customer, the lab's funding has been dramatically reduced and it must now attract commercial and civil customers. We see how the lab is trying to harness the creativity of its employees, give them the freedom to invent and follow their research interests and still make money.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1

2. End of the Line?

The second programme looks at the Bell Laboratories in the USA, birthplace of the transistor, satellite communication and the mobile phone. David Robertson finds out how a once wealthy lab is weathering the storm of deregulation, stock-market collapse and scientific scandal.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2

3. The Cavendish

The Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, famous for pioneering work on the nature of matter, splitting the atom, the beginnings of the universe and the discovery of DNA, is the subject of David Robertson's final programme.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 3
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