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BBC World Service - Discovery

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Discovery

  • Unbottling the past
    Imagine finding a notebook containing the secret recipes of some of the world’s most iconic perfumes? Formulas normally kept under lock and key. That’s what happened to medical research scientist and trained chemist Andrew Holding. His grandfather Charles “Rex” Holding had been Chief Perfumer at the Bourjois Chanel factory in Croydon, near London, during the 1960s. After his death, he left behind a lifetime of perfume memorabilia; bottles of Chanel perfume, rare ingredients, fragrant soaps, and in amongst his things, the most fascinating of finds – a notebook with handwritten formulas, including one for Soir de Paris, written by one of the greatest of all perfumery biochemists – Constantin Weriguine. Can Andrew recreate this almost one hundred year old fragrance? He travels to Versaille’s Osmotheque, the world’s only perfume archive, to smell the original 1928 scent. It’s where top perfumers – all chemists themselves - grant him access to the world’s rarest and sometimes now-forbidden perfume ingredients, and teach him how to mix a scent. And in constructing Soir de Paris, he learns about Constantin Weriguine, his grandfather ‘Rex’, and discovers if his skills as a chemist are enough to turn him into a top perfumer, or is fragrance more of an art than a science? Presenter: Andrew Holding Producer: Katy Takatsuki. Image: Patricia de Nicolaï

  • California burning
    When Paradise burned down last year, it made the Camp Fire the most destructive and deadly in Californian history. A few months earlier the nearby Ranch Fire was the largest. In southern California, a series of chaparral fires have brought danger to towns along the state’s coast. And the statistics show that large, dangerous fires have been increasing for decades. But the reasons are not simple. Roland Pease meets some of the experts trying to work out what is to be done. Producer: Roland Pease Image: A man watches the Thomas Fire above Carpinteria, California, Credit: Getty Images

  • ShakeAlertLA - California’s earthquake early warning system
    Los Angeles is a city of Angels, and of earthquakes. Deadly earthquakes in 1933, 1971 and 1994 have also made it a pioneer in earthquake protection – for example with tough engineering standards to save buildings. Since 2013, with the help of scientists at the US Geological Survey, the city has been developing a resilience plan which culminated in the release of an app that should give residents precious seconds of warning when an earthquake starts. Roland Pease meets the scientists, the Mayor and the officials making the system work. Picture: An apartment after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 Credit: Getty Images

  • From the Cold War to the present day
    For more than 100 years chemical weapons have terrorised, maimed and killed soldiers and civilians alike. As a chemist, the part his profession has played in the development of these weapons has long concerned Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London. In this programme he examines the motivation of chemists like Dr Fritz Haber, who first encouraged the German military to deploy chlorine gas in World War One for the sake of “The Fatherland” and of Dr Gerhard Schrader, who, in his hunt for an effective pesticide, accidentally discovered a new class of lethal nerve agents for Nazi Germany. From chlorine, phosgene and the mustard gases, to tabun, sarin, soman, VX and the novichok agents used to target former Soviet agent Sergei Skipal in England, Andrea weaves archive with interviews with key figures in the ongoing campaign to control and ban the use of such weapons and he asks how science educators can prepare young chemists for the moral hazard posed by this particular class of weapon. (Photo: Mock up of Novichok agent (A-234), Credit: WoodyAlec/Getty Images)

  • From the Crimean War to the end of World War Two
    In the first of two programmes he looks back to the first attempts to ban the use of chemical weapons at the end of the 19th century. Heavily defeated in the Crimea, Russia succeeded in getting unanimous agreement at the 1899 Hague Convention that poison and poison weapons should be banned from warfare. But chemicals such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were heavily used in the First World War by both sides. More substances were developed in the 1930s and 1940s but weren’t used in the battlefield in World War 2. Andrea Sella tells the stories of the chemists behind these developments. Picture: GB Army soldiers train for biological and chemical warfare, Credit: BBC