National Physical Laboratory

Precision: The Measure of All Things

In a new three-part weekly series starting on Monday 10 June (BBC Four, 9 pm) Marcus du Sautoy explores humankind's long efforts to add numerical exactness to our world, and the impact of greater and greater precision in measurement on our history, lifestyles and the future.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy
Professor Marcus du Sautoy

NPL assisted with the filming of this series, providing unique access to our facilities and staff to help Marcus on his fascinating journey. As he says:

"What we measure, how we measure it, and how accurately we can measure it are surprisingly complex questions - questions which have obsessed generations of great minds, and created a system that describes everything in our world with just seven fundamental units of measurement. And the quest to define those seven units with ever greater precision has changed our world."

Broadcast details

Time and Distance

The first programme in the three-part series focuses on humanity's obsession with time and distance. Ways of recording may have changed - from the cave paintings of 17,000 years ago to today's methods using astrophysics, lasers and the speed of light - yet we still divide hours and angles using a counting system first devised more than 5,000 years ago.

Find out more about the seven SI Base Units including the metre (m) and the second (s)

Find out more about NPL's Time & Frequency and Dimensional research

Mass and Moles

The topic of programme two is weight, mass and the mole. It opens deep underground in a high-security vault near Paris where rests the most important lump of metal in the world - the last of the physical proofs of an international measure still in use, the kilogram on which every other kilogram is based: 'Le Grand K'. But there's a problem with Le Grand K - it's losing weight! So this programme also looks at the rival international quests to find a 21st century replacement.

Light, Heat and Electricity

To conclude his exploration of the seven standard units of international measurement, Marcus du Sautoy looks at three of the driving forces of modern science and technology: light, heat and electricity.

'Precision: the measure of all things' is a Big Wave production for the BBC and Open University International. The series is presented by Marcus du Sautoy, Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. It is directed by Mike Cunliffe and produced by Mark Woodward. Its executive producer for the BBC is Chris Cole.

BBC Four - Precision: The Measure of All Things

Find out more about Big Wave TV

Contact at Big Wave TV: Mark Woodward

Last Updated: 3 Jul 2013
Created: 4 Jun 2013