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IFLScience Meets: Professor Hannah Fry On “The Secret Genius Of Modern Life”

"I feel very strongly about giving science the centre stage it deserves."

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Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

clockNov 30 2022, 15:05 UTC
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You'll never look at your bank card the same again. Image credit: BBC / Marco Servi

In BBC Two’s new series, The Secret Genius Of Modern Life, mathematician Professor Hannah Fry uncovers the innovative technology and inventions hiding inside seemingly mundane things. From the food delivery apps created using tech designed for nuclear missiles, to the way in which X-rated websites revolutionized the way we pay for things online, the series will make you look at modern life in a whole new light.

“The technology that surrounds us undeniably shapes our lives, but how much do we really know about where it comes from, or how it works, and where it's all going,” said Fry in a statement seen by IFLScience.

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“Things like delivery apps, bank cards, trainers - took real innovation and ingenuity to create, and in this series, I'll get to unlock the secrets and meet the amazing brains behind some of this incredible tech, and the things we'll come to depend on in the future”

One particularly memorable snapshot from the show sees Fry melt a bank card to reveal the flimsy Cold War invention inside that makes contactless payments possible. You can see a sneak preview of it below.


We caught up with Fry to find out more about the show’s revelations, and why science communication is the perfect career for people who love spilling the tea.

Can you tell me about a favorite invention from the series?

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At the risk of sounding like a big nerd, it was the pedometer. It seems so unassumingly simple, but as soon as you start to look into it you realise just how amazingly complex that bit of kit needs to be. It needs to be able to differentiate between all sorts of crazy movements and hone in on something as vague as "a step" and then accurately count it. The ability to take that wobbly unpredictable 3D data and translate it into a step count is just wild.

How did you come to be involved with it?

I feel very strongly about giving science the centre stage it deserves. It has this massive, fascinating impact on our lives but is then too often portrayed as something stuffy and stiff and overcomplicated. I loved James Burke's Connections and I wanted to do something similar but freshened up to reflect the amazing and exciting times we live in. 

What do you hope people will take away from the series?

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I really hope that it sparks a refreshed gratitude for everything we have available to us in our lives. We are living in an absolutely epic time of human invention and yet it's so easy to just be blasé about it all. Every single tiny thing that we take for granted was once just a thought in someone's head. The stories of the people who manage to bring these thoughts to life just to make our day to day that little bit better deserve to be celebrated and their accomplishments joyfully appreciated.

What do you enjoy most about science communication?

It constantly feels like I've got this absolutely fabulous bit of juicy gossip to share that I just know is full of delight and humour and surprise and intrigue and I just can't wait to tell someone all about it. What's not to like about being the one with an exciting story to tell?!

The Secret Genius Of Modern Life airs weekly in the UK on BBC Two, with episodes available to watch now on iPlayer.


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