Science Stories – Series Three

Two episodes by Philip Ball.
Radio 4 Broadcast 2016

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Chaucer’s Astrolabe – The Medieval GPS
Maxwell’s Demon

Episode Two – Chaucer’s Astrolabe – The Medieval GPS (28 minutes)

Philip Ball tells the story of Chaucer’s Astrolabe and why the famed poet came to write the world’s first scientific instruction manual. In the Middle Ages, no self respecting astronomer would be without an Astrolabe, a pocket sized device for working out the movements of the planets and stars. So how did a poet come to write the first user booklet? This story shows Chaucer in a new light: as a pre-eminent astronomer, and offers a new key to unlocking his most famous literary works.

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Radio 4 iPlayer opens in a new windowEpisode Four – Maxwell’s Demon (28 minutes)

Philip Ball explains the thought experiment, motivated by religion, that niggled physicists for a hundred years. To rescue free will from the clutches of deterministic science, James Clark Maxwell picked a hole in the second law of thermodynamics, aided by a demon. Maxwell’s Demon would give us a whole new insight into the very nature of information, and what we do with it, and maybe even what the universe is made of.

Matthew Stanley, author of Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon, describes how Maxwell’s deeply religious personality flavoured much of his thinking.

In the present day, Vlatko Vedral of Oxford University explains how the experiment Maxwell never thought physically possible is now being done in labs, and shows us how to turn information into energy.

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