Segments in this Video

Men and Women Behind Science (03:01)


The 20th century witnessed a physics revolution. The personalities, eccentricities, and rivalries of scientists were fundamental to their discoveries. Hiroshima caused destruction on an unprecedented scale and broke Albert Einstein’s heart.

A Scientist's Conscience (02:46)

Hiroshima devastated Albert Einstein, because he'd played a role in developing the atomic bomb and his equation, E=MC2, was used in its engineering. In 1939, he'd encouraged the U.S. President to build it to deter the Nazis—an action he later regretted.

Physics Thought Experiments (02:51)

Einstein developed E=MC2 as a young man working at a patent office in Bern. He asked profound questions about space and time, laying the foundation for the special theory and general theory of relativity.

Worldwide Scientific Fame (01:56)

Einstein’s non-academic setting provided freedom to develop ground breaking theories. The public latched onto his playful persona and the intellectual elite adored him. Subsequent physicists built on his ideas, attacked them, or filled in the gaps.

Quantum Theory (03:25)

After relativity, a new physics branch developed featuring bizarre ideas and people. Cambridge mathematician Paul Dirac was shy and literal minded; some believe he was autistic.

Dirac Equation (04:06)

Dirac developed a formula describing electron behavior, consistent with both quantum theory and special relativity. He also developed a quantum electrodynamics theory describing interactions between electrons and light. His discoveries won a Nobel Prize but avoided press attention and married Eugene Wigner’s sister.

Big Bang vs. Steady State (02:02)

General relativity led to the idea of an expanding universe. The question of whether there had been a beginning created a rivalry between Fred Hoyle and Martin Ryle. They worked at Cambridge and lacked sufficient evidence to prove one another wrong.

Steady State Theory (02:12)

Hoyle discovered that atoms are forged inside stars, and wasn't afraid to go against the scientific community. He believed new galaxies form in spaces made by the universe's expansion and promoted his ideas on BBC radio programs.

Big Bang Theory (03:08)

Hoyle coined the popular "explosion" theory term, providing his opponents with a marketing tool. Ryle was a practical scientist and engineer who mapped the universe with radio telescopes. He was sensitive to criticism and had a quick temper.

Astronomy Rivalry (03:22)

Ryle was determined to disprove Hoyle’s Steady State theory using radio telescopes. They made no attempt to collaborate scientifically; hear evidence that would support both theories. In 1961, Ryle presented data showing the furthest observable galaxies were more densely distributed—proving the Big Bang theory.

Quantum Physics Showman (03:05)

Hoyle refused to accept the Big Bang theory and left Cambridge, befriending mathematician Richard Feynman. Feynman's charisma, humor, and enthusiasm for quantum mechanics made him popular.

Quantum Electrodynamics Diagrams (02:34)

Feynman worked on solving a mystery in Dirac's equations. He depicted each step through drawings that simplified calculations and eliminated infinities for physicists around the world.

Teaching Quantum Mechanics (01:58)

Feynman received the Nobel Prize in 1965, but didn't appreciate the honor. He was more interested in communicating his passion to students. His informal approach and creativity were instrumental to Quantum theory development.

Astronomical Developments (03:05)

Jocelyn Bell Burnell faced discrimination as the only female physics student at Glasgow University. She joined Ryle's group at Cambridge studying the evolution of the universe and helped construct the radio telescope.

Search for Quasars (03:47)

Bell Burnell’s radio telescope picked up a mysterious signal, other than quasars or radio interference. She convinced her colleagues that it was coming from outer space; some proposed it was alien communication but she continued gathering data on her own.

Discovering Pulsars (03:39)

Bell Burnell identified evenly spaced pulses in her radio telescope data. The dead stars that emitted radiation indicated gravitational waves—evidence for Einstein’s general relativity theory. Her discovery was a vindication for gender discrimination in the physics field.

Theoretical Cosmology Developments (02:50)

Anthony Hewish won a Nobel Prize for his role in the pulsar discovery but Bell Burnell was excluded. In the early 1960s, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. His marriage to Jane Wilde motivated him to continue research.

Singularity Theory (03:05)

Hawking applied general relativity to show there was a singularity in the Big Bang—a controversial idea in the 1960s. His health deteriorated and he lost the ability to speak, but he was mentally sharp. Colleagues translated for him.

Black Hole Discovery (02:19)

Colleagues recall Hawking's determination. He showed that black holes emit some light—radiation occurring from quantum effects at their edge—and was the first to use both general relativity and quantum theories in the same explanation.

"A Brief History of Time" (02:53)

Hawking published a book in 1988 explaining the mysteries of the universe to the general population and became the most famous living scientist. Today, groups of scientists using cutting edge technology explore physics frontiers—rather than individuals.

Credits: Secrets of the Universe: Great Scientists In Their Own Words (00:31)

Credits: Secrets of the Universe: Great Scientists In Their Own Words

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

Secrets of the Universe: Great Scientists In Their Own Words

DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



The 20th century witnessed an astonishing revolution in physics, from unlocking the secrets of the atom to solving the mysteries of the cosmos. It was also the century when radio and television became widespread, so for the first time we were able to see who the greatest minds really were. Using rare archive dating back to the 1920s, this program provides a unique insight into the lives and personalities of some of the most brilliant physicists. Although intellect and talent were important to the success of the scientists it was ultimately their characters that drove the great discoveries. Albert Einstein’s youthful self-confidence, Paul Dirac’s innate eccentricities, Fred Hoyle’s explicit obstinacy, Martin Ryle’s shrewd competitiveness, Richard Feynman’s love of the unconventional, Jocelyn Bell-Burnell’s steadfast doggedness and Stephen Hawking's brilliant conviction are what is truly responsible for transforming our understanding of life, the universe and everything.

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL109740

ISBN: 978-1-68272-363-0

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video customers.