Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity

Physicist and presenter Jim Al-Khalili guides us through the history of electricity, how we learned to harness its power and how it changed our society forever after.

Before it served us, electricity was seen as a magical power with tremendous force. it was something, people believed, which could revive the dead, slay the living and bend all laws of nature.

After we learned how to control electricity, society has become so dependent on it we cannot function without.

But how did we get to this point? Explore the story and science of electricity with Jim Al-khalili.

Episode 1: Spark

Episode 1: Spark

Episode one tells the story of the very first ‘natural philosophers’ who started to unlock the mysteries of electricity.

They 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.

This is the story about what happened when the first real concerted effort was made to understand electricity – how we learned to create and store it, before finally creating something that enabled us to make it at will – the battery.

Episode 2: The Age of Invention

Episode 2: The Age of Invention

Just under 200 years ago scientists discovered something profound, that electricity is connected to another of nature’s most fundamental forces – magnetism.

In the second episode, Jim discovers how harnessing the link between magnetism and electricity would completely transform the world, allowing us to generate a seemingly limitless amount of electric power which we could utilise to drive machines, communicate across continents and light our homes.

This is the story of how scientists and engineers unlocked the nature of electricity in an extraordinary century of innovation and invention.

Episode 3: Revelations and Revolutions

Episode 3: Revelations and Revolutions

Electricity is not just something that creates heat and light, it connects the world through networks and broadcasting.

After centuries of man’s experiments with electricity, the final episode tells the story of how a new age of real understanding dawned – how we discovered electric fields and electromagnetic waves.

Today we can hardly imagine life without electricity – it defines our era.

As our understanding of it has increased so has our reliance upon it, and today we are on the brink of a new breakthrough, because if we can understand the secret of electrical superconductivity, we could once again transform the world.

Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity
  • Info
  • Release date2011
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Jon Eastman, Alex Freeman
  • Production companyBBC