Let There Be Life

This is my second blog of the night. Go me. (But only my third blog of 2014!)

Currently airing on UK TV is my 2-part doc, The Secrets of Quantum Physics. It’s on BBC4, which means I can basically get stuck into some pretty heavy physics. What is so great about BBC4 viewers is that they want to be stretched. They know that many of the concepts are not going to make complete sense or sink in immediately – for that they would need to do a degree in physics, and possibly a PhD too. But they want to be made to feel clever, to be blown away by some of the deep issues in fundamental science. So well done BBC4 – and anyone at the Beeb think of cutting back on the its science coverage, particularly on my home channel of Four, better watch out.

Anyway, part 1, which can still be viewed on the BBC iPlayer in the UK here, ended with me conducting an experiment first carried out in the late 70s and early 80s to test who was right over the meaning of quantum mechanics, Einstein or Bohr. I won’t go into it any further as I covered it my last blog posting.

But I am guessing many people think that part 2 will pick up where 1 ended. Not the case. The two films – while both covering the weirdest and most mind-blowing ideas emerging from the theory of quantum mechanics and what it tells us about the world – couldn’t be more different.

Ep 1 was made by director and producer, Tim Usborne, a man I have worked with for many years and made such series as Atom (2007), Science and Islam (2008) and Shock and Awe (2011). Ep 2 was made by Kenny Scott, a director I had not worked with before but who has a real eye for film making and story telling. Oh, and both Tim and Kenny have physics degrees which, as you can imagine, helps a lot.

So, Ep 2 is called Let There Be Life and is all about the role quantum mechanics plays in biology. Now, you may be aware that I have just recently published a book on this subject: Life on the Edge (Bantam Press, 2014), written with my colleague at Surrey, molecular geneticist Johnjoe McFadden. But I should clarify here that while the TV doc and the book cover the same subject, they are not connected, by which I mean the book is an independent entity and not a ‘tie-in’ to the TV series.

In Let There Be Life, I don’t even wear my trademark smart purple shirt and black trousers (Gasp!!) Instead I trade it for a red kagool (kagoule? cagoule?) combat trousers and hiking boots and head out into the world of nature. Oh and I chase and am chased by a giant red ball in the style of the cult 60s tv series, The Prisoner (“I am not a number”.) – So it’s a bit surreal.

Ultimately, ep 1 was more historical, ep 2 is about a whole new field of science. It’s speculative, but very exciting.

Part 2 of The Secrets of Quantum Physics is on BBC4 on Tuesday 16 Dec at 21.00