The helix

The helix

Listen to a lecture about the helix shape to practise and improve your listening skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.



I'd like to turn now to the object which is the main point of this talk: the helix. This is a fascinating mathematical object which touches many parts of our lives. Movement, the natural world, the manufactured world and our genetic make-up are all connected to the shape of the helix.

A helix is a type of three-dimensional curve that goes around a central cylindrical shape in the form of a spiral, like a corkscrew or a spiral staircase. The helix is a very popular shape in nature because it is very compact. In fact, helices are sometimes referred to as 'nature's space saver'. In architecture too, the helix shape of a spiral staircase is an attractive option in buildings where space is very restricted.

The most renowned type of helix is probably the double helix of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is made of two helices that curve around each other, a bit like a twisted ladder. DNA contains the genetic information or 'code' that determines the development and functioning of all known living things. The helix shape is a very efficient way to store a long molecule like DNA in the limited space of a cell.

There are different types of helices. Helices can twist clockwise, right-handed, or anti-clockwise, left-handed. An interesting experiment is to hold a clockwise helix, such as a corkscrew, up to a mirror. The clockwise helix appears to become counterclockwise.

We can perceive examples of helices in many areas of our world. Spiral staircases, cables, screws and ropes can be right-handed or left-handed helices. A helix that goes around a cone is called a conical helix. Examples of conical helices are screws or the famous spiral ramp designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Helices are also prevalent in the natural world. The horns of certain animals, viruses, seashells and the structure of plants, flowers and leaves can all contain helices. The human umbilical cord is in fact a triple helix.

With the discovery that the helix is the shape of the DNA molecule, it is not surprising that the helix is found in so many areas. It's one of the most natural shapes in nature.

Let's turn our attention now to the mathematical description of the helix. You'll need a pen and paper for the next part of the talk as I am going to give you some variables to write down. Take your time to notice the different ...


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Submitted by jonatasteixeira on Wed, 27/03/2024 - 18:16


Yes definitively. For me it's very common to watch this kind of thing, I'm also love to watch documentaries. These always help me to learn new words and increase my vocabulary. There are a lot of options of documentaries on YouTube for free. I recommend DW channel, there are a lot of video with diverse subjects for different countries, it is pretty nice. 

Submitted by Montemu96 on Sun, 10/09/2023 - 23:09


No, I´m not used to this type of lecture. Most of the time online, I see publications on social media about topics like travel, mindfulness, food, and other areas of interest. However, I find stimulating to learn about this diverse subject matter.

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Submitted by Ramiro Solana on Wed, 09/08/2023 - 00:34


I definitely like watching scientific lectures on youtube. In addition, I also read books and articles on the Internet. Fortunately today there is a lot of scientific material that is very easily accessible, unlike when I was a child that this type of information was only available in specialized books, very difficult to find, or as short articles in newspapers.

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Submitted by vanenglish on Tue, 18/04/2023 - 17:47


I don't. Usually, I only watch some videos but about psychology topics. But from today, I really think that lectures like this would make me more cultured person.

Submitted by Ehsan on Tue, 15/11/2022 - 08:04


I've been in some lectures. but they were different from this.

Submitted by jmajo on Mon, 01/08/2022 - 16:45


Not very often, although I do like to see documentaries about human nature and evolution theories, I rarely watch scientific lectures or talks related to that. It’s really interesting though how humans have been adopt different shapes observed in nature to apply them to solve different kind of problems in engineering, mechanics or in medicine.

Thanks for the episode!
Great site.

Submitted by Gabriela Saavedra on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 17:38


Yes I watch many scientific lectures. The last lecture I've seen was about subatomic particles in TEDed. I found fascinating how the things we assume are common can produce so much dilema in the scienific community. In this case the helix it's everywhere in the nature however it has an esential role in the structure of DNA.

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Submitted by Hennadii on Thu, 03/06/2021 - 15:27

Actually, I like science and scientific lectures as well. I often watch them on Youtube (generally TED) or on Facebook. I subscribed to some specific groups for that. I like to know something new even if I'm not a specialist in this theme and can't fully understand the topic. I also buy some journals about science and travel. And I never throw them in the bin, despite they occupy someplace on my shelves. And of course, I often watch my favourite TV channels - Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planel
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Submitted by El Cuy Mágico on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 20:25

Nop I haven’t, well when I was a kid I used to enjoy biology classes but I didn’t like physics or chemistry classes as I think I’m not good enough solving math problems. But I am steel interested on biology and how the body works inside, it’s a fascinating subject. I really like animals and I’d have liked study veterinary medicine but I’m in love with culture, history and so on.

Submitted by BobMux on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 19:32

Hello members of The LearnEnglish Team! I have studied the grammar rules given in this website but i have not been able to find advanced level rules. I would like to know if it exists.