Skip to main content
Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed the World
Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed the World

Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed the World

Take a journey through history told through iconic objects modern people take for granted.

1m 42s

Polybius Square

Polybius, a Greek statesman and tutor to the Roman general, Scipio Africanus, sees that the Romans' method of signaling on the battlefield is limited to a small number of messages. He decides to invent a code so words can be exchanged between battalions freely. The result: the first long distance messaging system.

2m 56s

Hollywood Icon Hedy Lamarr

In 1941 the Nazi’s are winning the war in Europe. The Nazi U boats are fast and agile and the allied torpedoes are not very accurate. Hollywood star, a secret inventor, Hedy Lamarr is determined to help fight the Nazis. Inspired by a player piano, she invents a way to control torpedoes remotely and creates the world’s first secret communications system.

0m 30s

Episode 6 Preview | The Smartphone

Dial in to the fascinating history of the smartphone, from its roots in Morse Code to 2007, when Apple unveiled the first-ever iPhone. Plus, see how the next generation of smartphones will allow us to communicate through them just by thinking.

0m 30s

Episode 5 Preview | The Rocket

Learn the explosive history of the rocket, from its origin in ancient China, to its use as a weapon of war, to how adding hydrogen allowed it to carry astronauts all the way to the moon.

2m 27s

The Ultimate Rocket Fuel

Jim Al-Khalili recreates Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s thought experiments to demonstrate why hydrogen is the ultimate rocket fuel.

2m 48s

The First Long Distance Test Drive

In 1886, German inventor and engineer, Karl Benz, has his patent accepted for what is regarded as the world’s first automobile, but it’s a failure. Benz doesn't sell a single one for two years. Facing financial ruin he plunges into depression. Thankfully for humanity one person sees great potential in his "motor wagon" - someone who also knows how to create a bit of publicity, his wife Bertha.

0m 30s

Episode 4 Preview | The Car

Go for a ride through the 9,000-year history of the car, from its roots in dogsleds to Henry Ford’s affordable and assembly line-built Model T, and meet the scientists working on the next generation of self-driving automobiles.

3m 23s

A Chicago Slaughterhouse

In 1909, the Model T’s first year of production, Henry Ford sells over 10,000 cars at $825 each. It’s a promising start, but it’s still only affordable for the well off. Ford has set his sights on creating a car for "everyman." He needs to speed up the Model T’s construction and slash its price in half. Therein lays the challenge. The solution comes from a visit to a Chicago slaughterhouse.

4m 19s

Humanoid Robots

A lab in Germany is developing a robot that could fill our factories with mechanical workers.

0m 30s

Episode 3 Preview | The Robot

Learn how robots were first conceptualized in ancient Rome and see how their use has evolved over the centuries, from the calculator to the Roomba. Then, take a sneak peek at what future robots will be able to do.

2m 53s

Abass Ibn Firnas

Over a thousand years ago, legend has it that Moorish pioneer Abass Ibn Firnas jumped from a cliff with feathers attached to his arms and legs. A modern day wing suit flyer recreates the feat using modern technology, with a spectacular flight.

0m 30s

Episode 2 Preview | The Airplane

Take to the sky with the dreamers whose work gave humans the ability to fly. From Leonardo da Vinci’s “flying machines” to the modern commercial plane, without these inventions, we may have never left the ground.

2m 46s

Leonardo da Vinci

A legendary artist studies the bodies of flying animals in extraordinary detail. This cements in his mind that, if we are to fly, we will need a machine to do the work for us.

5m 28s

Discovering the Big Bang

In 1923, Edwin Hubble began the manual process of photographing the Andromeda Nebula. He spent many nights at the Hooker telescope collecting data and discovered that Andromeda was not a cluster of stars in our own galaxy but in fact a separate galaxy.

Fascinating. Entertaining.


We're counting down to December 31. Your donation will help KCTS 9 reach the year-end goal!

Supported by