What Is Life?

By Carl Zimmer

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A series of live conversations between writer Carl Zimmer and eight leading thinkers on the question of what it means to be alive. What Is Life? was recorded in front of a live audience at Caveat in New York and is supported by a grant from Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative.

Episode Date
Episode 8. Kate Adamala: Can We Make Life?

Kate Adamala is a chemist at the University of Minnesota. In her Protobiology Lab, she is trying to build a synthetic cell from scratch.

 Protobiology Lab
 Adamala’s TEDx talk, “Life But Not Alive”

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 7. Donato Giovannelli: Warm Ponds Or Hellish Vents–Where Did Life Begin?

Donato Giovannelli is an assistant professor at the University of Naples “Federico II.” He travels to acid lakes and other extreme environments that are the closest thing today to what Earth was like when life began.

Giovannelli’s web site
Giovannelli on Twitter

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 6. Steven Benner: How Weird Can Life Get?

All the life we know is the same: carbon-based, with DNA for genes. (Okay, except for RNA viruses.) But Steven Benner says it doesn’t have to be that way. Benner is a Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

Benner at FFAME

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 5. Jeremy England: Why Does Life Exist?

Jeremy England is a physicist at MIT. He has developed an influential theory of life as a way for matter to dissipate energy.

England’s MIT lab site
An article about England in Quanta

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 4. Caleb Scharf: How Did Life Begin?

We don’t know how life got its start. But as more evidence emerges, explains astrobiologist Caleb Scharf, only a few theories are emerging as leading contenders. Scharf is the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center at Columbia University.


Jan 28, 2019
Episode 3. Jim Cleaves: The Origin of Life, from Frankenstein to a Laboratory Spark

H. James Cleaves is a professor at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo and co-author of A Brief History of Creation: Science and the Search for the Origin of Life.

Cleaves at ELSI
A Brief History of Creation

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 2. Sara Walker: If We Find Alien Life, Will We Even Know It?

Sara Imari Walker is a physicist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University. She studies life as a physical phenomenon, in order to develop new ways to search for it elsewhere in the universe.

Walker at ASU
Walker’s TEDx talk about a “universal theory of life.”

Jan 28, 2019
Episode 1. Carlos Mariscal: What Do We Mean When We Ask, “What Is Life?”

Carlos Mariscal is a philosopher at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He collaborates with evolutionary biologists and astrobiologists to explore what it means to be alive. When we ask what is life, Mariscal suggests, we may be asking the wrong question.

Jan 25, 2019