Aired: 21 October 2013 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Repeated: 27 October 2013 at 12 noon, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Humphrey Ker
Steering Committee: Dr Kristin Lippincott, Richard Herring, Dr Christofer Clemente
When we think of the Eureka moment we think of Archimedes in his bath suddenly having a moment of inspiration. He’d been given the task of determining whether a King Heiro II of Syracuse’s new crown was pure gold or whether the craftsman had made a cheaper version using an alloy of silver and gold. The story goes that Archimedes noticed the displacement of water caused by the mass of his own body and suddenly realised that he could use this to assess the mass of the crown (by dividing the weight of the crown by the volume of water displaced you can work out its density and, therefore, what it’s made from). Sadly, the truth of the story can never be proven as Archimedes didn’t mention it in any of his writings and the first record of the story didn’t appear until 200 years later in the writings of Vetruvius.
We can’t even claim that he shouted ‘Eureka!’ as the actual word he would have used was εὕρηκα or heureka (‘I have found it!’), being the first person singular perfect indicative active of the verb heurisko - ‘to find’. But, all that aside, the history of science and discovery is peppered with Eureka moments.
Dr Kristin Lippincott
Dr Kristen Lippincott is a freelance museums and exhibitions consultant. From 2000 to 2006 she was Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum and, before that, she was Director of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. She has been awarded a series of prestigious academic awards and fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship and two Samuel H. Kress Fellowships.
Kristen sees the Royal Observatory as ‘evidence of a great flowering of creativity made possible because scientists, artists and artisans in the 17th century all spoke the same language.’ She led the campaign to celebrate Greenwich as the 'Home of Time' leading up to the start of the third millennium, and she curated The Story of Time, an exhibition devoted to time in all its manifestations at the Queen's House at Greenwich in 2000.
In 2005, she campaigned against the US idea of abolishing the leap second, which is added from time to time to account for variations in the Earth’s rotational speed due to climatic or geological events (the most recent, at time writing, was 30th June 2012). ‘If you get rid of the leap second you are destroying the notion of what time is’, she said, ‘For the first time in history you will separate the timekeeping mechanism from the rotation of the earth and the movement of the sun and the stars. One practical effect is that the lines of longitude will slip gradually eastwards. I'm sure they are proposing this for the best interests but there is no reason for it.’
She has published extensively on subjects relating to art history, cultural history, the history of science and scientific instruments. She was also the Visiting Professor at Harvard University's Center for Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti in Florence in 2004.
Her latest project - The Saxl Project - is a plan to provide complete digital access to over 250 medieval and Renaissance illustrated astronomical and astrological manuscripts. The Project is led by Kristen and run jointly with The Warburg Institute, University of London.
I can't define time.
Richard Herring is an award-winning writer and comedian who has been described as ‘One of the leading hidden masters of modern British comedy’. He has produced an extraordinary amount of work including live shows, books, plays, TV series and, most recently, podcasts.
His career began with the Oxford Review as part of the Seven Raymonds comedy troupe. He then formed a long-running double act with his friend Stewart Lee and they enjoyed great success with the BBC radio and TV series Fist of Fun, This Morning With Richard Not Judy, and Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World. As writers, they also contributed to the creation of Alan Partridge.
Since going solo, Richard has written and performed a new live show nearly every year. These include Talking Cock, which The Guardian described as ‘man's answer to The Vagina Monologues’; The Headmaster's Son which looked at the trials and tribulations of growing up in a school where his dad was in charge, and Hitler Moustache, where he set out to discover if he could ‘reclaim the toothbrush moustache for comedy’ while focusing on the broader subject of fascism.
Richard co-wrote and presented the history-based sketch show That Was Then, This Is Now, and a series called Richard Herring's Objective that challenged traditional taboos. He also wrote a large portion of Al Murray's sitcom Time Gentlemen Please, and was script editor for the third series of Little Britain. He made weekly appearances on Andrew Collins’ BBC Radio 6 Music show and, later, they created a podcast together called Collings and Herrin that ran for over 100 episodes. In 2007, he wrote the ITV comedy drama You Can Choose Your Friends which starred, among others, Rebecca Front, Anton Rogers and Julia McKenzie.
In recent years, he has been exploring the use of podcasts and, in 2009, he began a weekly stand-up and sketch show made especially for the internet called As It Occurs To Me. His latest project is Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast in which he has interviewed such people as Tim Minchin, Stewart Lee, Adam Buxton, David Mitchell, Armando Iannucci, Stephen Fry and John Lloyd.
The story of Rasputin's long-drawn out death rested upon the claims of Yusupov whose account was full of contradictory statements. Many historians suggest that he exaggerated how difficult Rasputin was to kill in order to make himself seem braver.
The autopsy didn’t show any poison in Rasputin’s stomach at all and it seems likeliest that Rasputin was beaten, stabbed, and shot twice. Then, upon finding that he still had a pulse, a third man shot him in the head, which killed him.
There is a plausible theory that it was an MI6 officer that killed Rasputin; the only man present with the sort of revolver which would have fired the fatal bullet was a British Intelligence officer called Oswald Rayner. MI6 had been involved in planning Rasputin’s death, worried that he was going to persuade the Tsar to pull Russia out of World War I and probably lose it for Britain. It is possible that British Intelligence actively ordered Rasputin’s death. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing for sure because Rayner burnt all of his papers before his death in 1961.
Rasputin's body was originally buried in the grounds of Alexander Palace near St Petersburg, but it was removed by workers during the February Uprising and taken to the woods for an impromptu cremation.
Autopsy records show that Rasputin’s allegedly 13 inch long penis was removed (after his death) by a group of angry nobles. It was supposedly pickled and kept in a wooden box by his daughter Maria and stayed in her possession until she died in California in 1977, though there were rumours that it was worshipped by a female cult in Paris in the 1920s.
In the 1980s, an American man called Michael Davenport claimed to own the penis and he sold it at auction. However, the object actually turned out to be a sea-cucumber. The ‘true’ penis, or so it is claimed, today can be seen in a jar of formaldehyde in the museum of erotica in St Petersburg.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Unfortunately, my enemy is his own worst enemy. That’s annoying. It means I have to invite him to barbecues and stuff.
Some lizards, when running at speed, run on two legs instead of the usual four. Australian biologist Dr Christofer Clemente wanted to find out why. Did it make them run faster? Was it more energy efficient?
He began by plotting out a lizard ‘family tree’ to see if there was an evolutionary connection but it appeared not. Most species that ran on two legs were not closely related to each other while they did have close relatives that only ran on all fours.
So he then progressed to analysing data obtained from lizards running on treadmills, and found that running on two legs was more energetically costly, and that the bipedal runners were no faster than the quadrupeds. There seemed to be no logical or evolutionary reason for bipedalism.
He eventually discovered that it’s an accidental by-product of the speeds the lizards achieve. They reach a velocity where their powerful hind legs are going faster than the front legs. This, combined with air resistance, causes them to ‘pop a wheelie’, just as you would do on a motorcycle if you sent too much power to your rear wheel. Bipedalism does mean that the lizards lose some stability but it also increases their ability to manoeuvre quickly; something that is hugely useful when running away from predators. Therefore, this accident of physics has proven to be beneficial.
Dr Christofer Clemente is an Australian zoologist who has worked at prestigious universities in Australia, America and the UK. He has a particular interest in reptiles and animal locomotion.
While he was at Harvard in the USA, Clemente used Hollywood-style motion capture techniques, treadmills and high speed cameras to capture the movement of lizards when they run. He discovered that dragon lizards, which move from running on four legs to two legs when running at speed, don’t do this to go faster; they actually can’t help it. Their hind legs move so quickly that the front limbs lift off the ground. In effect, the lizards ‘pop a wheelie’. He calls lizards ‘the jet fighters of the Outback’ as, like a lizard, a fighter jet has a centre of gravity near the back. It makes it more manoeuvrable but less stable.
While at the University of Cambridge, Christofer studied how insects adhere to smooth surfaces, allowing them to walk up walls and across ceilings. He discovered that many insects, such as ants, secrete an emulsion composed of oil and water that helps them to stick. This has led to the development of new surfaces specially designed to repel insects by changing the properties of this emulsion and turning it into a lubricant, causing insects to slip off them.
Clemente was once contracted by the BBC Natural History Unit to ‘audition’ appropriate animals (i.e. those that weren’t overly aggressive) for use in Sir David Attenborough’s series Life in Cold Blood. He also contributed to the accompanying book. Recently, Christofer was awarded a $375,000 grant to work at the University of Queensland on developing robots that run like lizards and, more importantly, ‘can run up and down walls’.
We sort of take bipedalism for granted because we do it. But not many other animals do. And we don’t really know why we started doing it either.