PBS Documentary Brings Discovery of Chemical Elements to Life

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Scerri Eric Small

The PBS documentary “The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements” features on-camera interviews with lecturer Eric Scerri who served as historical consultant for the show.

Airing on Wednesday, August 19th, the three one-hour episodes tell the story of seven of history’s most important scientists, including UCLA alumnus Glenn T. Seaborg (B.S. Chemistry ’34), as they seek to identify, understand and organize the basic building blocks of matter.

In the show, Dr. Scerri, an expert on the periodic table, is interviewed extensively about the creator of the periodic table, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.  

Dr. Scerri, a full-time lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is a world authority on the history and philosophy of the periodic table and has authored and edited several books on the topic. To learn more about Dr. Scerri, visit his website.

After the August 19th premier, the entire series will be streaming on the PBS website starting on Aug. 20th. At that time it will be possible to view the documentary by visiting the PBS website and clicking on the “Watch Online” button. In the meantime, seven short videos about the featured scientists are available to be viewed here

The documentary was featured in a recent issue of Chemical & Engineering News (by Bethany Halford) excerpted below:

PBS Show

Actors Sebastian Roche and Juliet Rylance portray Pierre and Marie Curie in “The Mystery of Matter”.

Credit: Jenny Arbugaeva/Moreno/Lyons Productions

In the world of science television, chemistry rarely gets a starring role. But for more than a decade, filmmaker Stephen Lyons has been working to bring the stories of chemistry’s pioneers and their groundbreaking discoveries to life on the small screen. On Aug. 19, many PBS stations across the country will air the culmination of that effort, “The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements.”

The three-hour broadcast uses dramatic reenactments, expert interviews, animation, and narration to tell the story of seven scientists and their work. The series begins with Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, and the discovery of oxygen. Chemistry giants Humphry Davy, Dmitri Mendeleev, Marie Curie, and Harry Moseley each get their own tale. And the show finishes with Glenn Seaborg’s groundbreaking research on transuranic elements.
“It’s the story of how the elements came about through the contributions of these seven different people,” Lyons tells C&EN. “Obviously, we’ve glossed over quite a bit and not mentioned lots and lots of people, but we decided that it would make a more interesting series if we focused on a few individuals because it gave each of them time to emerge as a full-blown character.” Read full article Chemical & Engineering article here.