"Atoms" is the fourth episode of the A Series of QI. It first aired on BBC Four on 25 September 2003, and was broadcast on BBC Two a week later.

The episode was the second to feature Jeremy Hardy as a guest, following "Astronomy". It marked the first appearance of Jo Brand, who would later become the third-most common panellist on the show. The previous episode was "Aquatic Animals" and the following episode was "Advertising".


Numbers in brackets mark appearances - e.g. "(2)" means "(second appearance)".

  1. Jo Brand (1): 36 points
  2. Howard Goodall (1): 13 points
  3. Jeremy Hardy (2): 7 points
  4. Alan Davies (4): -24 points


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  • The main component of air is nitrogen, which accounts for 78% of air. Only just under 21% is oxygen and 3/100ths of 1% is carbon dioxide.[1][2]
  • The most boring place in Great Britain is a field outside Ousefleet, near Scunthorpe, according to the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map. It is the blankest square kilometre in the country, with only part of an electricity pylon in it. Alan suggested Salisbury Plain, forgetting that Stonehenge is on Salisbury Plain. Alan's uncle stood on a land mine on Salisbury Plain during his national service.
  • In 1983, with the aid of a sofa and a hot water bottle, Barbara Cartland wrote 23 novel s, which broke the record for the most novels written in one year. She was buried in a Corrugated cardboard coffin beneath an oak tree planted by Queen Elizabeth I. At her funeral, all the funeral-goers were given a leaf of the tree as a memento. She also said, "I'll keep writing until my face falls off". Clive James once compared Barbara Cartland's face to two crow s that had crashed into the White cliffs of Dover.
  • The ozone layer is fifteen miles (24 km) above the Earth's surface. Ozone smells faintly of geraniums.
  • Film critic John Simon described Walter Matthau as resembling "a half-melted rubber bulldog ".
  • Atom s contain mostly empty space. Ernest Rutherford described the centre of an atom as "flies in a cathedral ". The simplest atom is hydrogen, which has a nucleus with one proton, surrounded by one electron. If the proton was the size of a drawing pin, the electron would be the size of a pinhead and would be one kilometre away.
  • A hydrogen atom has more frequencies than a piano has notes. The discoverer of the hydrogen atom and the inventor of the grand piano lived just 3 minutes away from each other in Soho.

General IgnoranceEdit

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  • King Henry VIII technically had either Wives of three or four wives,[3] depending on the source. His marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, the Pope declared his marriage with Anne Boleyn to be void as he was still married to Catherine of Aragon, and the marriage to Catherine of Aragon was declared void by Henry himself (as the new head of the Church of England) as it was illegal to marry the widow of one's brother (Catherine had previously been married to Henry's older brother Arthur). After his death, while being moved to Westminster Abbey, the king's body swelled in the heat and exploded.
  • The word silver rhymes with the English word 'chilver',[4] which is an ewe lamb.
  • All diamond s are created beneath the Earth's surface, and brought to the surface in volcano es.[5] Only 20 countries in the world make diamonds. South Africa is the fifth biggest behind Australia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana and Russia. Diamonds and graphite are both made of pure carbon, but appear at opposite ends of the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Diamond has a score of ten, while graphite's score is around 1.2.
  • When travelling through sodium at -270 degrees, light slows to 38 miles per hour. The speed of light is only constant in a vacuum at 186,000 miles per second. Going through diamonds, the speed of light is only 80,000 miles per second.
  • A chameleon changes colour depending[6] on its mood, temperature and emotions like fear. Their eyes can swivel independently, and it was once believed that they lived on air.


  1. Oxygen, said by Davies (-10 points)
  2. Carbon dioxide would have been a -3000 point forfeit, although nobody said this.
  3. Six
  4. Nothing
  5. In South Africa
  6. Background
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