Segments in this Video

Dragonfly (02:43)


The Anisoptera or dragonfly sheds its exoskeleton and turns from an aquatic animal to a flying one. Within weeks, after maturing and mating, it dies.

Introduction: What Is Life? (01:34)

We will seek a scientific understanding of what life is, and the chemistry that got it started. Isolated islands in the ocean are home to creatures that show us how life builds its intricate structures.

Beliefs About Life and Death (03:01)

Sagada, the Philippines, is an isolated town that has held onto Animism. The people prepare for the annual Day of the Dead.

Energy and Life (01:37)

Ancient beliefs about death raise questions about the line between life and death. A scientific answer must describe life by the same laws governing the rest of the universe, specifically those regarding energy.

Constant Quantity of Energy (02:31)

The sun's energy evaporates water and lifts it. Atop a waterfall, this becomes gravitational potential energy, then kinetic, then sound waves when the water hits the bottom.

Ultimate Source of Energy (01:52)

The energy behind all life derives from sunlight created by nuclear explosions in the sun's core, and ultimately from the big bang. Life began with energy transformation.

Lake Taal (01:25)

At Lake Taal, volcanic eruptions transformed the landscape over thousands of years.

Tracing Earth's Energy (01:35)

Exploded stars' energy brings together their ashes, forming radioactive elements. Such elements became part of the forming earth, sinking to its core. As they decay, they release energy.

Earth's Energy Locked Into Lake (01:46)

At Taal volcano, energy from earth's core melts rock, releasing gases which dissolve into the lake, making it acidic and turning the energy into chemical potential energy.

Releasing Chemical Energy (01:34)

See a demonstration in which chemical potential energy of acidic water is released when we bring it into contact with a less-acidic solution, creating electrical energy.

Energy Transformation and Life (01:26)

Volcanic activity on the ocean floor created chemical gradients in the seas, providing the energy source behind life.

Chemical Reaction and Life (03:00)

Scientists discovered hydrothermal vents for the earth's energy on the ocean floor. A chemical gradient results. This would have been more common in the early ocean, and could have provided the spark for life.

Mitochondria and Chemical Gradients (01:29)

In each of our cells, a mitochondria uses the food we eat to create a chemical gradient across its own membrane. As chemicals flow down the gradient, energy is released.

Golden Jellyfish (03:32)

The Golden jellyfish, found only in Jellyfish Lake in Palau, evolved in isolation and have nothing to eat. They get energy by following the sun.

Golden Jellyfish and Algae Symbiosis (01:53)

Algae living in the Golden jellyfish share with it the energy they produce through photosynthesis, in return for the jellyfish transporting them to follow the sun.

Defining Life (02:00)

Use of energy to sustain complex, intricate structures defines life. Algae use the sun's energy to form glucose, a highly structured molecule on which life is based.

Second Law of Thermodynamics (02:12)

Life's creation of complex structures appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics, which says energy transfer brings reduced order.

Organisms Export Heat (02:09)

Living organisms give off heat, a highly disordered form of energy. This allows them to create have high levels of order internally without violating the second law of thermodynamics.

Organisms and Thermodynamics (01:02)

As they use energy to build ordered structures, living things give it off in the form of heat to stay within the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Eventually, the law catches up to them and they die.

Inheritance (01:49)

Life persists because of the process of inheritance. Visit Sabah in Malaysia and see an orangutan.

Orangutan's Inheritance (02:11)

Orangutans can remember experiences and pass them on to their young to enhance survival. They inherit limbs and hips suited for climbing trees.

Inheritance and Species Survival (01:34)

Members of a species inherit characteristics because the species genome is preserved almost flawlessly. This precision allows a species like the orangutan to succeed for millennia.

Genes In Common (02:07)

Genetic information is carried across species, leading to complex life forms. This preservation of life's basic instructions makes it possible for new species pass on their adaptations.

Continuity of Life (01:29)

The same mechanism first life used to harness energy fuels life today, allowing it to build complex structures, temporarily thwarting disorder. Passing on genetic information keeps life going.

Credits: What Is Life? Wonders of Life (00:44)

Credits: What Is Life? Wonders of Life

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What Is Life? Wonders of Life

Part of the Series : Wonders of Life
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In this episode Brian Cox visits South East Asia's 'Ring of Fire'. Attending the annual Day of the Dead in the Philippine highlands, he explores the thin line between life and death, and raises the question: what is life? Brian explains the laws governing energy and reveals life to be a conduit through which energy passes. Visiting a volcano, he demonstrates how the first spark of life may have arisen through a source of energy created by chemical changes. He explains how the order of life can be possible given the second law of thermodynamics. So life is a chemical process. Far from demanding a mystical explanation, the emergence of life might be a consequence of the laws of physics.

Length: 49 minutes

Item#: BVL55732

ISBN: 978-0-81609-273-4

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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