Dick, Dom and Fran from 'Absolute Genius' describe the life and scientific work of James Watt. He was born in 1736 in Scotland and became a mechanical engineer. Steam engines had been around for 50 years, but he made them much more efficient. The presenters show how powerful steam can be by heating up water in a bottle attached to a syringe. They visit a pumping station in Wiltshire to see the separate condenser that made Watt’s design so revolutionary. They finish by riding in powerful cars to explain how Watt devised the term horsepower as a unit of power. The key scientific points are made in a fun and student-friendly way.
This clip could be used as an introduction to James Watt and his improvement of the steam engine. Show the clip to the pupils and then ask them to write a newspaper-style report about his work, perhaps concentrating on the separate condenser. What might people have thought about this in James Watt's times? Use the experiments shown in the clip to illustrate the power of steam. Stop the clip before the outcome of the experiment is shown (before the plunger comes out of the tube and before the metal can distorts) and invite the children to make their predictions. Continue the clip and ask the pupils to evaluate their predictions.