Mystery of Matter features Dr. Joseph Priestley

New PBS series to spotlight Dr. Joseph Priestley

Dr. Joseph Priestley, the renowned British scientist whose self-imposed exile brought him to Northumberland in 1794, will be one of the pioneering scientists portrayed in a major new PBS series, “The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements,” on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Patrick Page portrays Dr. Joseph Priestley
Central Pennsylvania’s three public television stations – WVIA-TV (Pittston), WITF-TV (Harrisburg) and WPSU-TV (University Park) – will broadcast the program beginning at 8 p.m. The series, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, explores the long and continuing quest to understand what the world is made of and to identify, understand and organize the basic building blocks of matter.

Members of the production team visited the Joseph Priestley House museum during the research and background phase of the project and had several follow-up communications with members of the Friends of the Joseph Priestley House.

(l to r) Dr. Priestley, Marie Anne Lavoisier (played by Ava Deluca-Verley) and Antoine Lavoisier (Hugo Becker)

Three one-hour episodes, airing consecutively, will introduce viewers to some of history’s most extraordinary scientists:
  • Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, whose discovery of oxygen--and radical interpretation of it--led to the modern science of chemistry;
  • Humphry Davy, who made electricity a powerful new tool in the search for elements;
  • Dmitri Mendeleev, whose Periodic Table brought order to the growing gaggle of elements;
  • Marie Curie, whose groundbreaking research on radioactivity cracked open a window into the atom;
  • Harry Moseley, whose discovery of elements' atomic numbers redefined the Periodic Table; and
  • Glenn Seaborg, whose discovery of plutonium opened up a whole new realm of elements, still being explored today.

The series not only shows what these scientific explorers discovered but also how they did it. Broadway-caliber actors reveal the creative process through the scientists' own words and convey their landmark discoveries through reenactments shot with working replicas of original lab equipment. Knitting these strands together into a coherent, entertaining whole is host Michael Emerson, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor.

A National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, Priestley’s manor house was built in 1798 and is one of 23 historic sites on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Trails of History. Information about tours and events is available at