• University of Exeter

Invisible Worlds: Understanding the Natural Environment

Explore the connection between life and the Earth's invisible systems and gain new insights into the natural environment.

8,033 enrolled on this course

Invisible Worlds: Understanding the Natural Environment

Discover Earth's invisible systems and transform your understanding of the world

Given the current climate emergency, it’s increasingly important that we have a good understanding of Earth’s life support systems. We rely on these systems for fresh air, clean water, fertile soil, rich biodiversity and a stable climate.

On this course, you’ll explore the natural systems we can’t see or feel, from microscopic creatures to gases.

You’ll discover how life is shaped by and shapes these invisible worlds and explore the evolution of these systems and the impact humans have on it. As you explore the interconnectedness of everything, you’ll transform your understanding of the world.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds [BREATHING] We take 20 thousand breaths a day To extract the oxygen from the air that we need to live. Wake up the next morning, the oxygen’s still there. There’s an invisible world A life support system which gives us this clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, rich biodiversity, a stable climate, and a phenomenal recycling system. I’m Professor Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter. And I’m Dr Jo Elworthy from the Eden Project. And together, we’re going to be teaching you about the incredible Invisible Worlds that provide this life support system for us.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds Invisible Worlds is also an exhibition here at the Eden Project, where scientists like myself work with communicators, artists, designers, writers to bring those Invisible Worlds to our senses and to explore a fresh perspective on our life support system. Because if we are to have a flourishing future on this planet, with all the magnificent life forms that we share it with then we need to see our place in the world in a new way. We need to think about how we interact with the rest of our life support system to create a better future together.

What topics will you cover?

  • Past Invisible: A time so long ago it’s hard to imagine: the evolution of the Earth’s life support system; the products and processes that are necessary for maintaining life.

  • Vast Invisible: Natural systems and cycles (carbon, nitrogen, phosphate) so massive we can’t feel them: the bigger picture and you in the bigger picture.

  • Small Invisible: Creatures so small we can’t see them: minions or masters of the universe? See how the smallest things underpin the biggest things; the life support systems.

  • The Anthropocene era/effect: Since the small things have such a significant influence on the life support system, you won’t be surprised to see the huge effects we have had.

  • Interconnections: The interconnectedness between life and the Earth’s environments at all scales.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe the fundamental science of the invisible worlds
  • Understand how everything on Earth is interconnected
  • Understand the past: the evolution of the planet and our life support system
  • See yourself within the vast: the planetary cycles that we depend on
  • Respect the small: the microbes that built and maintain the life support system
  • Discuss human effects, and how to work towards a positive future
  • Discuss the role played by art and exhibitions in science communication

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone with an interest in science, nature, and the environment, including students and policy makers.

The course expands on the content shown at the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds exhibition.

Who will you learn with?

Professor Tim Lenton is Chair in Climate Change/Earth System Science at the University of Exeter. His research focuses on understanding the behaviour of the Earth as a whole system.

Dr Rhiannon White is a Biochemist, Cell Biologist and Researcher and Writer for the interpretation and science communication team at the Eden Project, Cornwall, UK.

Dr Jo Elworthy, Director of Interpretation, the Eden Project. Jo trained in plant science and works in science communication with a particular interest in reconnecting people with the natural world

Who developed the course?

University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction.


supported by

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supported by

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supported by

Arts Council England

supported by

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