1210ctt pottery lo res

[Image above] Credit: Susy Morris; Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Name an interesting premise, and it was probably made into a reality TV show at some point. Doubt my assessment? Here’s proof: Read this list of the 10 weirdest reality shows.

So we know what happens when you add Vanilla Ice to Amish country or turn Lord of the Flies into real-life—but have you ever wondered what happens when you add pottery to primetime?

In the case of BBC2 show The Great Pottery Throwdown, the answer is about two million interested viewers.

The challenge-style show plots ten potters against one another to vie for the title of Top Potter in the U.K. Each episode features a different pottery challenge, putting the potters on the spot to create porcelain tea sets, bone china chandeliers, and hand-coiled sinks, for example.

In addition to entertaining at the potter’s wheel, however, the show goes one step further—it uses scientific experts to link the show’s traditional ceramics to the world of more high-tech advanced ceramics.

Included in the show’s cadre of experts is none other than ACerS President-elect Bill Lee. “My role is to explain some of the technical detail underlying the processes the potters use, such as clay firing and raku firing,” Lee says in an email. On the show, Lee then links that technical detail to engineering ceramics.

“I have worked in almost all areas of ceramics—including clay-based ceramics (roof tiles, whitewares, porcelain, and bone china), electroceramics, structural ceramics, refractories, nuclear ceramics, ultra-high-temperature ceramics, glass, and glass-ceramics—so I am very comfortable trying to link traditional with modern advanced types,” Lee says. “What the program really highlighted was that the potters’ technology is very much the same as that of the ceramic engineer.”

Lee recently sat down with science communicators at his home institution, Imperial College London, to tape an episode of Imperial’s podcast about his role as a ceramics superstar.

Lee is no stranger to podcasts, so he had no problem putting his role on the TV show in perspective in the Imperial taping: “You have to highlight what you do and put it in context for people. And there are a lot of people who make pots and have and have an understanding of clay. There are even fewer who have understanding of engineering ceramics—so if you can get those people interested in a technical sense, that’s got to be good.”

Listen to Lee’s excerpt from the Imperial podcast here.

And if you’re reading from the U.K., you can view all episodes of the Great Pottery Throwdown on BBC’s iPlayer. (If you’re not located in the U.K., sorry—you’re out of luck!) Prof. Bill Lee, Ceramic Engineer, appears in episodes 1, 3, and 6.

If you can’t watch, here’s a review of the series by Lucideon’s Nigel Leak. (Spoilers: Leak divulges the show’s winner!)

[Listen to podcasts? Check out this episode about concrete from the podcast Surprisingly Awesome. The episode is surprisingly awesome—it’s all about the history of and role for concrete in founding modern civilization.]