British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Scientific Horizons

Four 45-minute broadcasts in the 2010 series of Reith Lectures, exploring the challenges facing science in the 21st century. Delivered by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, Master of Trinity College and Astronomer Royal.

Lecture 1: THE SCIENTIFIC CITIZEN - We are increasingly turning to government and the media to explain the risks we face. But in the wake of public confusion over issues like climate change, the swine ‘flu vaccine and, more recently, Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud, Martin Rees calls on scientists to come forward and play a greater role in helping us understand the science that affects us all.

Lecture 2: SURVIVING THE CENTURY - Our planet is coming under increasing strain from climate change, population explosion and food shortages. How can we use science to help us solve the crisis that we are moving rapidly towards, as we use up our natural resources ever more quickly? Professor Rees explores the urgent need to substantially reduce our global CO2 emissions, or the atmospheric concentration will reach truly threatening levels. To do this, we need international co-operation, and global funding for clean and green technologies. He calls for the UK to keep one step ahead of other countries by developing technologies to reduce emissions, and says we should take the lead in wave and tidal energy, among other solutions. Science brings innovation but also risk, and random elements including fanatics can abuse new technologies to threaten our planet in ways we never dreamt of. The challenge, for our scientists, governments and people, is to confront the threats to our planet and find the solutions in science.

Lecture 3: WHAT WE’LL NEVER KNOW - Professor Rees stresses there are things that will always lie beyond our sphere of comprehension and we should accept these limits to our knowledge. On the other hand, there are things we’ve never even dreamt of that will one day be ours to explore and understand. The outcome of the quest for alien life will revolutionise our sense of self in the next two decades. But some things - like travelling back in time - will never happen.

Lecture 4: Martin Rees explores how fast our world is moving in the 21st century. He acknowledges how the internet and other technologies have transformed our lives. Now he calls on politicians and other authorities to provide the funding that will keep the UK among the world’s front runners in scientific research and discovery. Without money and without education to attract young people into science, the UK is in danger of falling behind China and other countries in the Far East that are investing heavily in their science and technology sectors. Professor Rees ends his series of lectures evoking memories of the ‘glorious’ Ely Cathedral, near Cambridge, a monument built to last a thousand years. If we, like the cathedral builders, redirect our energies and focus on the long-term, he believes together we can solve the problems that face our planet, and secure its future for billions of people worldwide and for generations to come.
Great Britain
Year of release
Year of production
Broadcast in four weekly parts on Radio 4, beginning 1/6/2010
environmental issues; public understanding of science; scientific research; technological innovation; sustainability


Martin Rees

Production Company


BBC Radio 4

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BBC iPlayer

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