Last Tuesday night the first episode of Dara O’Briain’s Science club aired on BBC2, a new six-part series which aims to make science accessible and more importantly interesting to all. When producing a programme of this nature it’s hard to appeal to everyone; do you over-simplify the content in order to reach a larger audience or focus on complicated scientific detail in order to provide a factual program that appeals to those interested in science? So, did Dara O’Briain succeed where many others have failed and actually manage to bring science to the masses and make it interesting?
The first episode focused predominately on genetics, with the program opening with a concise animation on how genetic inheritance works. Leading geneticist Professor Steve Jones came on to talk about genes, DNA and a subject perhaps more interesting to the audience, sex. The discovery of semen, and hence sperm, and the breakthrough that woman produced eggs as opposed to simply acting as an incubator proved insightful, with the added historical theories of what was once thought to occur adding a comical aspect to the show. Jone’s theory that the invention of the bicycle was one of the key moments in human evolution was unique to say the least, but he did have a point about how the development of modes of travel were key to maintaining genetic variation.
Science writer Alok Jha’s went on to investigate whether or not The Human Genome Project was oversold to potential donors, concluding that the scientists involved had used their initiative to trick leading politicians into funding their project by promising results they didn’t know would be achieved. Scientists conning politicians to secure funding isn’t something you normally hear about and it added a political side to science many people haven’t given much thought to.
Further on in the show a mixture was made in order to extract DNA from the saliva of volunteers from the audience. Using super-strong vodka, (which Dara proceeded to shot in a student like fashion) and washing up liquid, the gloop-like DNA was removed from the solution. This hands on segment showed that experiments don’t need to be complex and over-complicated, and even the use of the most basic of equipment can produce interesting results.
The light hearted and humorous atmosphere of the show, coupled with the scientific content was only aided to by the fact the Dara himself is a theoretical physicist turned comedian. Throughout the episode he bridged the gap between the scientific content and the audience with humour, making the show seem less like a science lesson and consequently, a program which is enjoyable for a wide range of viewers.