Take five scientists, ferry them to a remote Mediterranean island, set them some science-based challenges with a time-limit and what do you get? Answer, some flashes of scientific brilliance, some experiments that go wrong, a few laughs along the way and the chance for viewers to try out numerous challenges in their own home.

Rough Science, which is broadcast on BBC TWO from Friday May 26, involves five scientists putting on their thinking caps and pooling their collective wits to complete a series of challenges using only the island's natural resources and a few basic tools issued at the start of each programme.

Swapping their hi-tech laboratories and workshops for a disused prison, the group takes on tasks ranging from producing their own soap, toothpaste and insect repellent to making light-sensitive film for a home-made camera, generating electricity and building a radio. "We wanted to force our scientists to go right back to basics," says series producer Paul Manners.

"We wanted them to face the problem of being dropped somewhere on earth and having to use basic scientific principles to solve the everyday hurdles they would face if it happened to them for real."

Each of the four programmes follows the scientists over three days as they tackle the challenges set by Top Gear presenter Kate Humble.

Some things inevitably go wrong, just like in real life. There are exploding bottles, failed experiments and the occasional difference of opinion. At the same time there are some wonderful 'Eureka!' moments.

Team chemist, Mike Bullivant from the Open University, says the programmes reflect the reality of science. "Science involves far more failure than success, and that's what people get to see. We show them experiments going wrong but then they get to see how we adapt our ideas to put things right," he says. Mike says that as well as being entertaining, the programmes aim to demystify science and make viewers realise what fun it can be. "A lot of chemistry, for example, is like cooking. A bit of this, a bit of that, mix together and heat for 30 minutes at gas mark seven! Working on the challenges took me back to my schooldays in that it gave me the same sense of awe I got as an inquisitive teenager in a chemistry lab. It's that excitement that we wanted to capture, to enthuse people about science and encourage them to have a go for themselves," he says.

A free 64-page booklet is being produced for viewers who want to try out some of the activities featured in the programmes, and learn more about the science behind some of the challenges.

Three special short courses are also being launched to coincide with the series. The courses, Global Warming-the science behind the headlines; The Molecules of Nutrition and Health; and Explaining the Emergence of Humans, all start in September and will give students a chance to experience OU science first hand, studying at their own pace and in their own home.

In addition a Rough Science website with full details of each week's challenges offers viewers the chance to join an on-line team to try to solve the following week's problems.

Editor's Notes:
The scientists taking part are: Mike Bullivant (chemist), The Open University, Milton Keynes; Mike Leahy (molecular-biologist), Oxford University; Anna Lewington (ethnobotanist and writer), Dorset; Vanessa Griffiths (marine biologist), Field Studies Council, Pembrokeshire; Jonathan Hare (physicist), Sussex University.

Rough Science will be broadcast for four weeks on BBC TWO from May 26 at 7.30pm. Preview tapes, photographs and scientists' biographies are available.

The Rough Science website can be found on http://www.Open2.NET It will be active from Monday May 22.

The viewers' booklet will be available by calling 0870 900 7788.

Contact details:
OU Media Relations: Fiona Leslie 01908-653256
BBC Producer: Paul Manners 01908-655280

* click below to go back to
Rough Science page


Dr Jonathan Hare, Physics Dept., The University of Sussex
Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 9QJ

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