Rouse Awards – Hari Prasad’s investigation into origin of life theory
4 Nov 2019
Hari Prasad (Upper Sixth) clinched the Rouse Research Award for his in-depth assessment of Jeremy England’s origin of life theory.
For his essay, he reflected on the American physicist’s hypothesis that life emerged through the process of dissipation-driven adaptation – a notion based on thermodynamics, the branch of physics that deals with heat and temperature.
Listen to Hari explain more about England’s theory below.
Hari said his interest in thermodynamics had spurred him into investigating the topic further, although he admitted it had taken him a while to get to grips with the concept.
He said: “At the start, when I was reading some of the research papers, I didn’t understand a single thing – even the language that was used, let alone the equations! I did a MOOC (massive open online course) on thermodynamics and then I was able to actually read the research papers. I began to understand the physics and the next step was to start analysing the significance of the physics.”
As part of his research, Hari also spent time working with Professor Lee Cronin, Regius Chair of Chemistry at Glasgow University. He said getting a different scientific viewpoint on the origin of life theory had been invaluable for his study.
He said: “It was only when I went to work with Professor Cronin for a few days that I realised just how many flaws there were in England’s arguments. In the future, I’d get more references before analysing someone’s work.
“My findings were that England’s theory is quite neat in a physics context, but it’s not that useful when applied to the origin of life. You can’t just say ‘physically-speaking, it’s inevitable life will appear’ because the next question would be ‘how does it appear’?
“The most useful way to look at the origin of life is through chemistry and biology, but it was still interesting to look at it from a physics perspective.”