Wonders of Life

What Is Life?

Series 1 - Episode 1 What Is Life?



After glamorising physics, Brian Cox expands his remit to look at “the underlying machinery that powers life”. As ever, he’s a mesmerising scientific storyteller, equally good at explaining the nitty-gritty or wowing us with the big picture.

You’ve probably never given much thought to proton gradients, but Cox devotes a chunk of his programme (perhaps too big a chunk) to explaining what they are and how they are central to the way living things harness energy – or put another way, what makes living things live.

There are gorgeously filmed animals to illustrate the tale, from dragonflies to orangutans. At one stage Cox swims with swarms of beautiful golden jellyfish and explains how they use photosynthesis to harvest solar energy using algae in their own tissue – it’s a lovely sequence.

Thumbs may hover over remote controls when the science bits get taxing, but this is a series that, like his previous triumphs, intends to plumb real depths and in the process waft some very big ideas through our heads. The result is fantastic, mind-expanding television.


Professor Brian Cox travels around the world to investigate whether the emergence of life was an inevitable consequence of the physical laws that govern the universe. On the edge of Taal Volcano lake in the Philippines, he demonstrates how the first spark of life may have arisen from the chemical changes caused when heat from the inner Earth forced its way to the surface. The physicist also swims with millions of golden jellyfish, which have algae embedded in their structures that draw energy from the sun and nourish the creatures.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Brian Cox
Executive Producer Andrew Cohen
Producer Stephen Cooter
Series Producer James Van der Pool