How science changed our world.

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About this work


Written and presented by Professor Robert Winston, this documentary presents his top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past fifty years. They are the combined oral contraceptive pill, the microchip, magnetic resonance imaging (MRi), lasers, biomechanics, the World Wide Web, the Big Bang theory (Robert Winston's choice), the Human Genome Project, stem cell research and in vitro fertilisation. The first scientific breakthrough, the contraceptive pill is lauded for its liberating influence on society. Winston interviews a number of women with personal recollections together with gaunty 1960s archive footage. Extraordinary degrees of miniaturisation have led to the widespread use of microchips in our lives, including in biomedicine. It is considered to be a fundamental part of many scientific advances. Winston then goes on to talk about MRi technology which gives us the ability to look into the body. A young woman with epilepsy discovers that she has a brain tumour. In the operation to remove the tumour, MRi technology has helped mitigate the risk by mapping the healthly brain and ensuring accuracy in its removal; she makes a miraculous recovery. Winston explores lasers at the National Ignition Facility's laser laboratory, USA. At the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court, veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan demonstrate their prosthetic limbs. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW, developed a code to enable computers to communicate with each other and this has led to the democratisation of information. Galaxy Zoo is a good example of crowd sourcing research. Winston's personal favourite, the Big Bang theory, is then explored. Winston covers the human genome project very briefly, then goes on to demonstrate a use of gene therapy in restoring sight to a boy. There is potential for treating asthma in this way too. Stem cell research is leading to the possibility that damaged tissue can be repaired or replaced. Finally, Winston covers in vitro fertilisation. He expresses surprise that this innovation has led to one million IVF babies Worldwide. The top invention as voted by the viewers in a poll which ran for two weeks after the programme was the microchip.


London : BBC1, 2010.

Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, color, PAL

Copyright note



Broadcast on 23 December, 2010

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Naomi Austin.



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