Written by award-winning science writer Piers Bizony and with a foreword by series presenter Jim Al-Khalili, Atom – the official tie-in with the BBC programme of the same name – is the truly incredible story of a discovery with a strong claim to be the most important in the history of science. Atomic theory has a reputation for complexity, but this is a human story – of the men and women who revolutionised our knowledge of the universe and all it contains.
No one ever expected the atom to be as bizarre, as capricious, and as weird as it turned out to be. Its tale is one riddled with jealousy, rivalry, missed opportunities and moments of genius.
John Dalton gave us the first picture of the atom in the early 1800s. Almost a century later, the young misfit New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford, showed that the atom consisted mainly of empty space: a discovery that turned 200 years of classical physics on its head.
It was a brilliant Dane, Niels Bohr, who made the next great leap, into the incredible world of quantum theory. Yet he and a handful of other Young Turks in this revolutionary new science weren’t prepared for the shocks that Nature had up her sleeve. At the dawn of the Atomic Age, a dangerous new force was unleashed with terrifying speed.
Mind-bending discoveries about the atom were destined to upset everything we thought we knew about reality. Even today as we peer deeper and deeper into the atom, it throws back at us as many questions as it answers.