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Radio recordings: science

The science and science history radio collections encompass educational programmes for young people, 'popular science' features for a general audience, and specialist talks to professional bodies.

The Library's science and science history radio recordings extend back to the early 1930s in formats including educational programmes for young people, 'popular science' features for a more mature general audience, and speeches or talks to professional bodies. Early examples include talks by physicists Sir Oliver Lodge (1932), and Ernest Rutherford (1933), the latter discussing his research into the atom, and an early transcription series entitled Science lifts the veil (1942), in which other particle physics pioneers related developments in the field a decade on. 

Much of the surviving post-1940s programming is among our BBC Archive discs, often in the form of extracted talks from series such as Science in Action (1967-1990s) or Scientifically Speaking (1965-1982). Others may be requested from our BBC Radio International collections, or from the BBC Sound Archive, for which separate catalogues are available. These include complete series of Science in Progress and Science in Progress Special, in which leading international researchers explored the implications of the latest developments. One-off documentaries cover topics from a broad spectrum of the earth, life and space sciences. Whilst most are pitched at a non-specialist audience and avoid technical language, many are nevertheless of interest to undergraduates, subject specialists and professionals in training. A number concern aspects of medicine, surgery and psychology, such as The Brain Operation (1987), and About Face (1987), a two-part study of face recognition.

As with science literature, those programmes dealing with subjects in which rapid advances are being made tend to date rapidly, particularly medicine, astronomy and the computer sciences, but as permanently frozen snapshots of the routes taken to our current state of knowledge, they remain of lasting value to students of science history.

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Paul Wilson
Curator, Radio
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7446
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441