When a huge meteorite hit the Earth 65 million years ago, it wiped out the dinosaurs whilst our ancestors survived. Since then our planet has experienced several similar episodes of mass extinction and each time, our ancestors have lived on. We have evolved to withstand the most extreme environments, but what determines our survival?

The science of survival

In his series of five lectures from 2007, geneticist Dr Hugh Montgomery leads an exploration of human endurance, and the very thin line between life and death.

Hugh reveals how the body is equipped to perform exercise, adjust to high altitudes, and endure hot and cold climes. Discover how the human body responds when faced with peril, and why some people take flight, whilst others stay and fight. Plus, find out how our bodies deliver the energy we need to react, and what happens to our vital organs when the adrenaline kicks in.

A question of fate?

Along the way, Hugh speaks to real-life survivors who have fought some of the world’s most extreme conditions. From starvation to dehydration, and severe cold to blazing heat, their extraordinary tales remind us of the fragility of human life and the astonishing endurance of the human body.

Why do some people live and some people die in perilous situations? Does our fate boil down to good old-fashioned luck, or does it lie deeper in our genes? And just how much influence does our environment have over our chances for survival?

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES® in 2007 were originally broadcast on Channel Five.

Media Gallery

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Dr Hugh Montgomery on the set of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2007

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Dr Hugh Montgomery with a pair of pig's lungs.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Hugh Montgomery gets to grips with a snake, which unlike humans, can't keep their body temperature constant.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Dr Hugh Montgomery with mountaineer Jamie Andrews, who had his hands and feet amputated following an accident in the French Alps.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Dr Hugh Montgomery meets Dr Mike Stroud, who made the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic with Sir Ranulph Fiennes in 1993.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2007

    Dr Sundeep Dhillon, who summited Everest in 1998, makes an appearance to talk about his experience.

    Image: Royal Institution

Related link(s)

Related download(s)

CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2007 - Back from the Brink

Human endurance and the science of survival. By Professor Hugh Montgomery

Professor Hugh Montgomery, CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2007

Image: The Royal Institution