The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements
premiered August 19, 2015

37th Annual News & Documentary Emmy® Awards Winner
- Outstanding Lighting Direction and Scenic Design

About the Program | Bonus Videos About the Scientists

About the Program

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements is an exciting series about one of the great adventures in the history of science: the long and continuing quest to understand what the world is made of. Three episodes tell the story of seven of history’s most important scientists as they seek to identify, understand and organize the basic building blocks of matter.

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements shows us not only what these scientific explorers discovered but also how, using actors to reveal the creative process through the scientists’ own words and conveying their landmark discoveries through re-enactments shot with replicas of their original lab equipment. Knitting these strands together is host Michael Emerson, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor. 

Meet Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, whose discovery of oxygen led to the modern science of chemistry, and Humphry Davy, who made electricity a powerful new tool in the search for elements. Watch Dmitri Mendeleev invent the Periodic Table, and see Marie Curie’s groundbreaking research on radioactivity crack open a window into the atom. Learn how Harry Moseley’s investigation of atomic number redefined the Periodic Table, and how Glenn Seaborg’s discovery of plutonium opened up a whole new realm of elements still being explored today.

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements brings the history of science to life for today’s television audience.

Read more about the episodes below.

A Sneak Peek at The Mystery of Matter

Episode Guide

Episode 1: Out of Thin Air (1754-1806)
One of science’s great odd couples — British minister Joseph Priestley and French tax administrator Antoine Lavoisier — together discover a fantastic new gas called oxygen, overturning the reigning theory of chemistry and triggering a worldwide search for new elements. Soon caught up in the hunt is science’s first great showman, a precocious British chemist named Humphry Davy, who dazzles London audiences with his lectures, introduces them to laughing gas and turns the battery into a powerful tool in the search for new elements.

Episode 2: Unruly Elements (1859-1902)
Over a single weekend in 1869, a young Russian chemistry professor named Dmitri Mendeleev invents the Periodic Table, bringing order to the growing gaggle of elements. But this sense of order is shattered when a Polish graduate student named Marie Sklodowska Curie discovers radioactivity, revealing that elements can change identities — and that atoms must have undiscovered parts inside them.

Episode 3: Into the Atom (1910-1960)
Caught up in the race to discover the atom’s internal parts — and learn how they fit together — a young British physicist, Harry Moseley, uses newly discovered X-rays to put the Periodic Table in a whole new light. And a young American chemist named Glenn Seaborg creates a new element — plutonium — that changes the world forever, unleashing a force of unimaginable destructive power: the atomic bomb.

About the Scientists

About the Scientists

Uncover the stories of the seven scientists who sought answers to the mystery of matter.


Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements
was produced by Moreno/Lyons Productions LLC.

Find biographies, educational materials and more videos at the official Mystery of Matter website:


Related Links

Produced by:  Moreno/Lyons ProductionsMoreno/Lyons Productions


In association with:  Oregon Public Broadcastig
Major funding 
provided by: 
National Science FoundationNational Science Foundation  
Additional funding  
provided by:
The Arthur Vining Davis FoundationThe Arthur Vining Davis Foundation  
Support for official website
and educational applications
provided by:
Wyncote FoundationWyncote Foundation

Support for the development of the Mystery of Matter project provided by: the Chemical Heritage Foundation, The Otto Haas Charitable Trust and The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation. All support administered by: Filmmakers Collaborative. The series was filmed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the support of the Massachusetts Film Office.

© 2015 Moreno/Lyons Productions LLC

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