Skip to content
  • Video
  • 5 mins

Explosions: How we shook the world

Updated Thursday, 7th December 2017

Bang Goes The Theory's Jem Stansfield is used to creating explosions, but for this explosions special he explores how we have learned to control them - and harness their power for our own ends.





Jem Stansfield (against background of explosions)

This is the story of some of the most dangerous substances ever known.  Explosives have shaped our world. 

That looks like a lot of gunpowder to me. 

I’ll be testing my very own 14th century cannon. 

And I’m going to be finding a way of turning this common laxative into a compound that’s not only good for your heart, it’s also one of the most dangerous things that mankind has ever made.

I’ll experience the awesome power of high explosives.  That seemed big enough.

And split an atom. 


This is the story of how we learnt to harness the forces that shook the world.



Love science? There's something for you in The Open University's STEM faculty

From recreating a rather dramatic ancient Chinese alchemy accident to splitting an atom in his own home-built replica of a 1930s piece of equipment, Jem reveals the science behind explosions and investigates how we have learned to control them and use their power throughout history.

He goes underground to show how gunpowder was used in the mines of Cornwall, recreates the first test of guncotton in a quarry with dramatic results and visits a modern high explosives factory with a noble history.

Ground-breaking high speed photography makes for some startling revelations at every step of the way.

Explosions: How we shook the world was first shown on BBC Four on 13th October 2010. For further broadcast details, or to watch online where available, please visit





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?