Philip Ball is a freelance writer and broadcaster and worked previously for over 20 years as an editor for Nature. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and has authored many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and the wider culture, including H2O: A Biography of Water, Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, The Music Instinct, and Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything. His book Critical Mass won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. Philip is a presenter of Science Stories, the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of science. He trained as a chemist at the University of Oxford, and as a physicist at the University of Bristol. His latest book is How To Grow a Human (2019).
All life on Earth needs water to survive. But increasingly it seems that the characteristics that make water a solvent for life are also those that make it the weirdest of liquids. Some of these quirks of 'life's matrix' are well understood; others are still being debated, sometimes furiously and controversially. I will explore what we do and don't know about water, ending with a consideration both of how its behaviour in living cells can offer clues for new purification technologies and of whether its unique role for life on Earth makes it a prerequisite for life on other worlds.