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Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity - Spark

Updated Thursday 8th November 2012

In the first episiode of Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity, we tell the story of the very first scientists - people like Francis Hauksbee, Stephen Grey and Benjamin Franklin - who started to unlock the mysteries of electricity.

A science lab Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC Professor Jim Al-Khalili The very first scientists who started to unlock the mysteries of electricity - people like Francis Hauksbee, Stephen Grey and Benjamin Franklin -  studied its curious link to life, built strange and powerful instruments to create it, and even tamed lightning itself. It was these men who truly laid the foundations of the modern world.

Electricity was without doubt a fantastical wonder – a platform for showmanship and ‘electrickery’. This is the story about what happened when the first real concerted effort was made to understand it; how we learned to create and store it, before finally creating something that enabled us to make it at will.

In this episode Professor Jim Al-Khalili also shows what electricity actually is: a force created by the movement of charged particles like electrons.

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We’ll see how science learned to harness the power of electricity to build the modern world. As England and the rest of Europe went electricity crazy, and the experiments grew bigger, scientists started to ask more profound questions…how can we control this amazing power?

As science developed new and ingenious ways to produce electricity were devised. But there was still one major problem. There seemed to be no way to capture and store the electricity. Such a breakthrough would catalyse one of the greatest technological and scientific revolutions in history, and with the promise of such a grand prize, it wasn’t long before a solution was invented.

A bitter and rival battle between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta led to one of mankinds most useful inventions. The battery. Mankind had truly learnt to harness the very force of life – it was a sign of our dominion over nature and our growing control of the forces that surround us.

Shock And Awe: Spark was first shown on Thursday 6th October, 2011. For further broadcast details, and to watch online where available, visit

Visit our main series page for Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity.


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