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Invisible Worlds: Understanding the Natural Environment

University of Exeter via FutureLearn


Delve into the history of Earth to 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 four-week course, you’ll explore the natural systems we can’t see or feel, from microscopic creatures to gases. You’ll discover how all life is shaped by and shapes these invisible worlds, exploring the impact humans have on our natural systems.

You’ll also investigate the evolution of these systems and the history of the Earth to understand how we can learn from our past.

Gain an understanding of the carbon cycle

As you start to explore the Earth as a system, you’ll delve further into how we are all connected.

You’ll look at the carbon cycle and how this impacts climate change before investigating nutrient cycles and both the challenges and solutions that come with this.

Unpack natural systems including microbes

You’ll look at the small invisible – the microbes that run our life support system on Earth and inside our bodies.

As you discover the importance of microbes, you’ll explore what we can learn from them and what we can do better.

Understand how the Anthropocene contributes to the climate emergency

Finally, you’ll explore the age of the Anthropocene – the human era that our planet is currently experiencing.

Within this, you’ll understand how the Earth system has shaped us and how we in turn are reshaping the Earth system.

This course expands on the content shown at the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds exhibition. Guided by the experts at the University of Exeter and the Eden Project, you’ll finish the course with a solid understanding of the Earth’s natural systems.

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in nature and the environment, including students and policymakers. A science background is not necessary to follow the videos and articles.

Invisible Worlds is an exhibition at the Eden Project, where scientists work with communicators, artists, designers, and writers to bring those Invisible Worlds to our senses and to explore a fresh perspective on our life support system.


  • Past Invisible
    • Invisible Worlds
    • The Past Invisible
    • Oxygen
    • Revolutions
    • Learning from the Past Invisible
  • Vast Invisible
    • The Vast Invisible
    • Carbon
    • Nutrient Cycles
    • Summarising the Vast Invisible
  • Small Invisible
    • Introducing the Small Invisible
    • Minions, or Masters of the Universe?
    • Learning from the Small Invisible
  • Invisible Worlds in the Anthropocene
    • Interconnections and the Anthropocene
    • Influences on and from the Anthropocene
    • The Future of the Anthropocene Influence
    • Course wrap-up

Taught by

Steph Comley


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.8 rating at FutureLearn based on 188 ratings

Start your review of Invisible Worlds: Understanding the Natural Environment

  • Maria Antônia Silva Rocha
    Very enlightening and easy to understand. It was truly as if I was taking a guided tour around the exhibition at the University of Exeter. Although I would only recommend this course to people interested in biology, I do think it´s more than valid to anyone who wants to understand the planet better from a different point of view.

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