Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Cold is hot
Three cheers for BBC4’s Absolute Zero, a two-part series on ‘cold’ that began last night. I thought this was one of the best science programmes I’ve seen for a long time. It made me very happy to see the programme explaining – gasp – thermodynamics, including the Carnot cycle. Even the now-obligatory dramatic reconstructions were fairly unobtrusive and a little bit inventive. This was startlingly old-fashioned TV, in a good way: a story told chronologically, with good contributors (Simon Shaffer is always good value, and it was nice to see that they’d found Hasok Chang), minimal flashy graphics, and a sober commentary.
Nothing’s perfect – in particular, I suspect that many people will have found the explanations of Carnot and refrigeration hard to follow without having been given some essential concepts such as the gas laws and latent heat. But full marks for trying. And I learnt some stuff, such as Michael Faraday’s discovery of the principle of the compression-condensation cycle of fridges, and Joule’s work on the relationship of heat and energy. I look forward to tonight’s episode.