From the Dust: How the universe became fruitful for life

Star cluster. NASA, ESA & E. Sabbi (ESA:STScI) 678125main_hubble_sparkles_full_full
Two clusters of massive stars that may be in the early stages of merging. NASA, ESA & E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI)

How can a universe that seems so cold, dark, and sterile become a place where life can flourish? This is one of the questions that the astronomer Dr Jennifer Wiseman asked in her seminar at the Faraday Institute last month. In her talk, part of which I have summarised here in my own words, she explained why the cosmos can be seen as a very fruitful place – and why this idea is compatible with her own sense of  purpose for the world.

Jennifer grew up on a farm in Arkansas, where she came to know the stars in a way that those of us who have lived in light-polluted cities all our lives could never appreciate. She went Continue reading

Guest Post: God, Bubbles and the Origin of Life

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Bubble by zacktionman. Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There is something about the sight of a bubble hanging effortlessly in the air that excites a childlike wonder in us, whatever our age. Perhaps it’s their delicate beauty, almost transparent, glimmering with a rainbow of colours? Perhaps it’s the temptation to pop them? For me, the most amazing thing about bubbles is that they make themselves. Continue reading

Water and Life: The Unique Properties of H2O

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A New Voyage by Brooks Bailey – Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Water is a strange thing. The unique structure of its molecules allow it take on three different forms: a liquid that is easily absorbed into porous substances (i.e. it’s wet!), ice that floats, and a gas. In the book Water and Life: The Unique Properties of H2O, the biophysicist Felix Franks has contributed a chapter explaining some of these properties, and how they may have played a part in the origin of life.

The chemistry of life has adapted to water and become very dependent on it, so that even ‘heavy water’[i] is toxic in Continue reading

The God of Small Things

Nanostar, scienceimage.csiro.au, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
Nanostar, scienceimage.csiro.au, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Physicists working at the atomic or molecular scale are revolutionising industry with their ultra-small chips and mini-machines, but in a sense nanotechnology is nothing new. Nature got there first, and we are only just beginning to catch up Continue reading

Chance or Necessity in the Origin of Life?

Stephen Freeland
Stephen Freeland

Was the living world destined to look the way we find it? Or to ask a question that’s closer to home, were our bodies meant to be the way they are? These are the sorts of questions that astrobiologist Stephen Freeland asks as part of his research into the genetic code. Continue reading