In their element – Oxygen: the breath of life

Press/Media: Expert comment


Oxygen appeared on earth over 2 billion years ago and life took off. Now it makes up just over a fifth of the air. Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, tells the story of oxygen on earth and in space.

Historian of science, Dr James Sumner of Manchester University describes how three scientists in the late 18th century contributed to the discovery of oxygen.

Period6 Aug 2017

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleOxygen: The breath of Life
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletBBC World Service / BBC Radio 4
    Media typeRadio
    Duration/Length/Size30 minutes
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionWithout oxygen, there would be no life on Earth, yet it was not discovered until late in the 18th Century. During the Great Oxidation Event, three billion years ago, cyanobacteria, thought to be the earliest forms of life on our planet, started to photosynthesise and these tiny creatures were responsible for putting the oxygen into our atmosphere, so we can breathe today. But it is not just for breathing. Ozone is three atoms of oxygen, and when it is in the stratosphere it stops harmful UVB rays from the sun reaching us. And if we are ever to leave our home planet, we will need to find a way to generate enough oxygen to keep us alive.
    Producer/AuthorDeborah Cohen
    PersonsJames Sumner


  • oxygen
  • history of science