Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity

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Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity
Shock and Awe - The Story of Electricity.jpg
Title screenshot
GenreHistory of science
Presented byJim Al-Khalili
Narrated byJim Al-Khalili
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes3
Running time45 minutes
Production companyOpen University and BBC
Original networkBBC Four
Picture format16:9 1080i
Audio formatStereo
Original release6 October (2011-10-06) –
20 October 2011 (2011-10-20)
External links

Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity is a British television series outlining aspects of the history of electricity. The series was a co-production between the Open University and the BBC and aired from 6 to 20 October 2011 on BBC Four. The programs were presented by Jim Al-Khalili.


  • Spark: How pioneers unlocked electricity's mysteries and built strange instruments to create it.
  • The Age of Invention: How harnessing the link between magnetism and electricity transformed the world.
  • Revelations and Revolutions: After centuries of experimentation, how we finally came to understand electromagnetism.


In the first episode Al-Khalili introduces the history of our understanding of electricity and the harnessing of its power.[1] He covers the achievements of these "natural philosophers" - [2] Francis Hauksbee, Stephen Gray, Musschenbroek, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Cavendish, Galvani, Volta and Humphry Davy.

The programme starts with Hauksbee's invention of a static-electricity generator and its subsequent demonstration to the high-minded.[3] It covers Franklin and the resulting experiments to capture and tame lightning.[4] The narrative continues with Cavendish's investigations of the electric shock received from the torpedo fish.[5] Al-Khalili expands on the development of the electric battery following Volta's discovery that simultaneously licking a copper coin and a silver spoon would generate a tingle of electricity.[3] The programme finishes with the first breakthrough in finding a commercial use for electricity:[6] Humphry Davy demonstrating the first carbon-arc light before members of the Royal Institution.[3]

The Age of Invention[edit]

In the second episode Al-Khalili covers the scientists who discovered the links between electricity and magnetism leading to a way to generate electric power- [7] Hans Christian Oersted, Michael Faraday, William Sturgeon and Joseph Henry.

The development of commercial applications started with Samuel Morse and Al-Khalili then tells the story of the 1866 transatlantic cable. He revisits the war of the currents rivalry between direct current and alternating current.[8]

Revelations and Revolutions[edit]

In the final episode Al-Khalili brings the story up to date covering the achievements of James Clerk Maxwell; Heinrich Hertz; Oliver Lodge; Jagadish Bose; William Crookes; Mataré & Welker; and William Shockley.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gilbert, Gerard. Pick of the day The Independent 1 October 2011
  2. ^ Hardy, Alex. Digital choice The Times 1 October 2011
  3. ^ a b c Sutcliffe, Tom. Secrets and lies are worth investigating The Independent 7 October 2011
  4. ^ Mueller, Andrew, G2: Television. The Guardian 6 October 2011
  5. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Digital choice 1 October 2011
  6. ^ Gilbert, Gerard. Critic's Choice The Independent, 6 October 2011
  7. ^ The Daily Telegraph Digital choice 8 October 2011
  8. ^ Dugdale, John; Kinnes, Sally. Choice Sunday Times 9 October 2011

External links[edit]