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Why are we here? This question is at the heart of modern physics.

Wednesdays 10 to 24 July 2002, 9.00-9.30pm

We live in an asymmetrical world, full of asymmetrical beings. In the course of this three part series, writer and physicist, Frank Close, discovers that we owe our very existence to the destruction of the symmetry of the universe at the instant of creation.

The Lopsided Universe

Programme 1 - Lucifer's Legacy

Human males have asymmetric testicles. The left one hangs lower than the right one. Check now - if you have this apparatus. Some of you may find that you're the other way round. Don't panic, but beware, you belong to a very small group of people whose hearts are situated on the right side of their thorax. That's the wrong side.

The outside of our bodies are generally symmetrical, either side of a line drawn from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet. But look inside and it's quite another story - asymmetry reigns supreme. Our organs are packed in to produce an organised asymmetry. But how does the developing embryo know its right from left? How does it "know" to lay down the heart on the left side and the liver on the right? Could it be that the molecules that make the tissues, that become the organs, are handed? Frank Close sets out on his quest to explore asymmetry in people, planets, galaxies, space and ultimately the universe - and discovers how all these things are inextricably linked to produce US!

Physicist and writer, Frank Close, met Lucifer while strolling in the Tuillerie gardens in Paris. This chance meeting sent him on a journey of exploration to discover the meaning of asymmetry. In the series he reveals just how pivotal asymmetry is to life, the universe and a grand theory of everything.

Listen again to programme 1 Listen again to Programme 1

Programme 2 - Life Through the Looking Glass

There's an ass in mythology that stood equidistant between two bunches of carrots. One on its left, the other on its right side. The ass, unable to choose between left and right, starved to death. Luckily for us, life made a decision and didn't perish like Buridan's ass. The molecules that make living things are all handed. What's more they all have the same handedness - but why? Frank Close finds out how a French chemist found the clue to this conundrum at the bottom of a glass of wine a hundred and fifty years ago.

Listen again to programme 2 Listen again to Programme 2

Programme 3 - One in a Billion

When the universe was born there was an equal amount of matter and antimatter. When matter and antimatter meet, as Trekkies will tell you, they annihilate to produce nothing. So why are we here? This profound question is at the heart of modern physics. What broke the symmetry of the early universe? And how has that led directly to us and our ability to ponder that very question?

Listen again to programme 3 Listen again to Programme 3
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