University Challenge legends Eric Monkman and Bobby Seagull are embarking on a ‘Genius Adventure’, as they travel around Britain on a journey through time, exploring their favourite scientific breakthroughs from the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era – a period when scientific progress changed the world, and one that continues to influence the way we live today.
Their adventures begin with the 18th century inventions that kick-started the Industrial Revolution and transformed our scientific understanding.
First stop is 1759 and Greenwich – home to John Harrison’s marine chronometer – eventual winner of the £20,000 Longitude Prize. Taking to the ‘high seas’ in a pedalo, our duo show how this marvellous machine transformed our navigation of the oceans.
Travelling ten years on, they head to Derbyshire in 1769 and Richard Arkwright’s water frame – a spinning machine that allowed cotton textiles to be mass-produced – supersizing Britain’s economy.
Next, they get up close and personal with James Watt’s separate condenser, an unassuming invention that would be the biggest single improvement ever made to the world-transforming steam engine.
Having explored how the Industrial Revolution began, the duo then travel north to the Scottish Highlands, to illustrate a momentous 1774 experiment to weigh the planet, before making a pit stop at the National Library to get their hands on the very first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica – the book that brought accessible knowledge to the masses.
Moving on to 1774, their scientific odyssey takes them to Bowood House, Wiltshire, where they recreate Joseph Priestley’s breakthrough experiments on gases in the very room where he discovered oxygen.
Monkman and Seagull’s penultimate stop is 1784 in Oxford, where they attempt to take to the skies in homage to the 18th century’s hot air ballooning pioneers.
Finally, they head to see a breakthrough that had a profound impact on British society – the world’s first steam railway locomotive.
Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Adventures – Monday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.