The Nature of Things - Crystals and Gems

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Lawrence Bragg explores the Nature of Things.

A series of six outside broadcasts filmed at the Royal Institution in the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Nature of Things was presented by William Lawrence Bragg with the assistance of Bill Coates.

'Crystals and Gems' is the last show in the first series recorded by the Beeb and explores the properties and molecular structure of crystals.

After demonstrating that the regular structure of crystals resemble "soldiers on parade or the pattern of a wallpaper", Bragg showcases a range of gemstones arranged according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness such that the next stone up the scale will scrath the one before it.

Exploring the wondrous properties of diamonds he then explains how a extraordinarily high refractive index makes the gemstone sparkle so brilliantly before advising the "Ladies" of the audience to clean the back of their diamonds!

Bragg was, of course, a specialist in crystals having worked with his father William Henry Bragg to determine the molecular structure of crystals using their X-ray diffraction patterns in 1912-13; a discovery for which he received the Nobel Prize two years later.

Coates recalled Bragg once remarking to him: "never talk about science, show it to them", which is what The Nature of Things set out to do. Like the Christmas Lectures, the programmes were structured around a series of demonstrations and were filmed as a lecture in the Ri's theatre. Although the filming took place with an audience of adults, the series was aimed at children and broadcast on children's television. As he states at the end of the series, he hoped it would provoke "deep interest in the science of everyday things". 

View more Nature of Things episodes in the Ri Archive Collection.




Sir William Lawrence Bragg, William Coates
London, UK
Filmed in:
The Theatre

The Royal Institution / BBC

Collections with this video:
Explore the Ri Archive, The Crystallography Collection, The Nature of Things

Licence: © The Royal Institution

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