The Chemical World

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The Chemical World




The chemistry that shaped our planet is the very chemistry that shaped human life – and all life on earth – from the giant blue whale to the tiniest single celled organism. Surprisingly, out of all the chemical elements on the periodic table, just six - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur – combine to make up everything we know, from the planets in our solar system to the invisible bacteria and viruses of the microbial world, and everything in-between.

In three captivating and informative hours, The Chemical World explores the scientific and technological breakthroughs that have enabled us to understand how life began, how it evolved, what maintains it, how we’ve used our knowledge of chemistry to enhance our lives – as well as what puts it all at risk.

Episode One Origins examines the chemistry of us. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1955, and the subsequent sequencing of our entire genetic code by the Human Genome Project in 2000, scientists have increasingly been able to explain humans as a series of chemical reactions. We can now treat previously incurable genetic diseases, understand the role that chemistry plays in attraction and love, explain the secrets of the womb, and how an unborn fetus chemically controls both its mother and its father. We’re even finding ways to slow down the inevitable decline of our bodies due to aging.

Episode Two Within explores the chemistry of our origins, travelling back in time over four billion years to uncover new evidence for life on earth, hidden deep inside the geological fabric of the planet, in the deepest oceans and in the far reaches of our solar system. It’s a journey full of paradoxes and surprises, that redefines the understanding of our first common cellular ancestor, providing revolutionary insights into the primal origins of stem cells - and how this new understanding offers hope for how these could be used to treat cancers and debilitating autoimmune diseases.

The quest to master chemistry has led to incredible breakthroughs that have enhanced every aspect of human life – but there has also been devasting consequences. Episode Three Human Impact explores the darker impacts of anthropogenic chemistry on the environment, uncovering the threats to our very survival, and takes a look at some recent breakthroughs that could us help reverse human damage. Innovations include new-generation, carbon based solar panels (suitable for fitting on the widows of cars, houses and buildings), a vortex fluidic device that reduces the toxic by-products in food and drug manufacturing, a revolutionary technique to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the cement of buildings, phosphorous reclamation essential for food production from our own excreta, and bringing extinct species back to life.

The Chemical World allows us to view our world and our place in it with fresh eyes, and to appreciate the intricate never-ending chemical reactions at the heart of it all.