The latest issue of the beautifully-produced Ernest Journal is now out. And it includes an article by me on how to make glass from scratch. As I explain in The Knowledge, glass has been utterly crucial for the building of our modern lives. We use this wonder material not just for windows and wine glasses, but also for all the tools for understanding how the world works: grinding lenses for the microscope and telescope, making test tubes for chemistry, and the thermometer and barometer for studying temperature and pressure. The three main ingredients for glass can in principle all be collected off the same beach — sand for silica, seaweed for soda, and chalk, coral or seashells for lime — the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experiment!
One of the areas that the fist chapter of The Knowledge explores is how the world will change after the fall of civilisation, as our cities crumble and collapse and the land returns to forest. This is an aesthetic trope explored very well in sci-fi films like I Am Legend or computer games such as The Last of Us or Fallout. But there are also plenty of real-life places that have been abandoned by humanity and are reverting to nature (and recorded by artistic movement known as ruin porn). One of the most notorious is Pripyat, a city close to the Chernobyl nuclear power station that was abandoned after the reactor melted down in 1986. 30 years later, Pripyat is a hauntingly beautiful landscape, eerily quiet of human life but teeming with nature. Watch this incredible drone footage exploring Pripyat.
One of the possible hazards that could collapse civilisation is an asteroid impacting the Earth. This June I was involved in the launch of Asteroid Day, an international effort to raise awareness and begin a measured discussion on the potential threat posed by asteroids. The event at the Science Museum in London was organised by Grigorij Richters and also included Lord Martin Rees, Brian May, Stuart Clarke, Sir Crispin Tickell, Prof Richard Crowther, Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, and Debbie Lewis. In this guest blog post below, we have Debbie Lewis discussing how it is possible to survive a Near-Earth Object (NEO) impact event. Debbie is a Fellow of the Emergency Planning Society and a Director for Resilience Preparedness.
Every morning, after I’ve stumbled out of bed and through the shower, I make some breakfast to fuel myself through the morning. I often simply have toast with butter. I explain in The Knowledge the fundamental reasons why humanity eats bread and why butter is so useful.
But how many of us actually make breakfast from scratch? I mean really from scratch – growing your own wheat and making butter out of milk fresh from a cow?
Well, Dr Sarah Bearchell (Facebook page: Sarah’s Adventures in Science) has run a project doing exactly this with school children. Working with a group of pupils from a primary school in Oxford she showed them how to cultivate their own wheat, harvest, thresh and winnow the grain, and then mill into flour for baking a loaf of bread, as well as using their own simple butter churn. This is a wonderful education project on the basics of how things we take for granted are actually done. Read here about the project in Sarah’s own words:
The Knowledge is being performed as a play! Theatric dramatisation rights were requested earlier this year by a German production company, and the book will be adapted and directed by Jessica Glause. «Handbuch für den Neustart der Welt» will have a run of ten performances from November in the Volkstheater in Munich. The play will explore on stage how civilisation could be restarted after doomsday, and the challenges that would pose. Read the announcement in Die Welt, the German national newspaper, here or in English using Google Translate.
The Big Issue North printed an interesting feature article about The Knowledge and the invisible processes and principles that underly our everyday lives.
Dartnell doesn’t really think the end of the world is nigh. But why are we so fascinated with the notion?
“One part of our fascination is wishful thinking, that yearning for a simpler time, like in films like Mad Max. You don’t have a job and a calendar and a mobile phone. You can do whatever the hell you please, and have a wild time and wear lots of tight leather. But people also overlook just how brutal life without civilisation provided for us would be. That you would have to fight and fend for everything. You’d have to really struggle to keep your existence going.”
Click on the thumbnail image above to read the whole article.