Size matters – Elephants can't dance, but hamsters can skydive (2010)

Mark Miodownik

From the very large to the very small, size is an important factor for both living and non-living matter.

Watch time: 59:08
A close-up of two ants
Credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 1 – Elephants can't dance but hampsters can skydive

If a hamster and a human both fall from a skyscraper, why would the hamster fare better? Why can’t elephants dance and how strong are ants compared to humans? By exploring the physical rules that govern the animal kingdom, Mark Miodownik reveals how size governs the strength, life span and dance moves of animals.

We are all familiar with watching ants labouring for hours on a hot sunny day lifting crumbs or dragging bits of leaf back to their ant hill – but have you ever wondered how hard it is for them? They are often carrying 300 times their own weight, which is impressive when you consider that the world's strongest man can only lift three or four times his own weight.

Are the materials that make up ant muscles much better than ours, or are we just not trying hard enough?

In the first of his CHRISTMAS LECTURES Mark Miodownik reveals how the amount of sleep mammals need is in proportion to their size, and how all animals have the same number of heartbeats, but mice use them up quicker than elephants. 


From the very large to the very small, size is an important factor for both living and non-living matter.

Beginning his journey into the world of scale with a furry friend, Mark reveals why hamsters fare better than humans when jumping from the top of a skyscraper. We find out why mountains don't grow any taller, why the size of an elephant means it has trouble dancing, and why ants can lift many times their own body weight.

Scaling down to the molecular level, Mark Miodownik reveals why chocolate tastes so good and returns to size again to explain how sperm whales – one of the world’s biggest animals – have developed nifty ways of diving deep into the ocean.

2010 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters

18 and 19 August holiday workshops cancelled

Due to planned transport strikes, all holiday workshops on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 August are cancelled.