How do children think the world might end?

I’m doing an event called the End of the World Cabaret in Oxford on 12th December, along with some very talented science communicators. Dr Sarah Bearchell is also taking part, and has a plea for some input… 


Pleeeease……I need your help!

I work with children. We do science together. It’s immensely rewarding and often (inadvertently) hilarious.

I’ll be joining Lewis for The End of The World Cabaret on 12th December. Choosing my topic was very easy; I decided to ask children “How do you think the world will end?” Zombie apocalypse, disease, meteor strike and global warming have all been mentioned with some wonderful descriptions and variations!

My sample is geographically localised and I would really like to discover the opinions of children further afield. This is where you come in.

Please ask your child/sibling/niece/nephew/grandchild how they think the world will end, and then send their response to me. You can simply email me ( what they say, or ideally you could record their response on your phone and then send me the sound file as an mp3. I don’t need their name, just their age at the time of recording and the town/area where they live.

I’ll incorporate some of these into the show and I’ll share the best on Twitter (@SarahBearchell) and my Facebook page (Sarah’s Adventures in Science).

Thank you very much for your help, I really look forward to hearing their responses!

Dr Sarah Bearchell
Sarah’s Adventures in Science

BioLite electricity-generating stove

BioLite The Biolite woodstove is an incredible supereffficient design that will not only boil water in minutes but even charge your phone while it does it. The stove uses a small electric fan to get started and drive fierce combustion using nothing more than twigs as fuel; so there’s no need to carry heavy fuel with you. When it’s going at full-burn it will boil water in a matter of minutes. And even better than that, the stove will even recharge your phone or other device through the USB cable. To do this, the Biolite woodstove incorporates a themoelectric generator to convert heat to electricity – the same technology employed by the Curiosity Mars rover. The whole thing is no bigger than a 1 litre Nalgene waterbottle and weighs just a kilogram. And the stove isn’t just for camping, and the electricity it generates could be vital for keeping devices charged when the power goes out in a storm or other natural disaster. The Biolite woodstove is available here

Beard beer

Photo credit: Flickr user notmargaret

Chapter 4 of The Knowledge talks about the importance of fermentation for making wine, beer, mead (see the How To guide here), or any other alcoholic beverage, and how concentrated ethanol can be distilled from that for applications like antiseptics. If you can’t find any dried sachets of yeast for brewing or making bread I explain how you can isolate the yeast and other microorganisms you can use from the environment around you. The cells are present on the skins of grapes, or wheat grain, or even just floating on the air. One increasingly popular method for producing craft beers is spontaneous fermentation - simply allowing wild or natural yeasts and bacteria to essentially infect your starter and drive fermentation.  Well, about the most wonderfully hipster effort I have ever come across is that of John Maier of Rogue Ales, who is planning to sell beer brewed using yeast harvested from his own beard. Cheers…

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World Made by Hand

Although it’s been out for a little whiWorldMadeByHandle now, I’ve only just stumbled across and read James Howard Kunstler’s novel World Made by Hand, after it was recommended by a visitor to this website. Kunstler wrote The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century, an analysis of the likely societal effects as we reach depletion of fossil fuels, and has been thinking long and hard about the challenges of a post-oil future.

‘World Made by Hand’ is the first book in a series of novels set in a post-apocalyptic world, beginning an unspecified number of decades after collapse. The majority of humanity has succumbed to a combo-whammy of terrorist nuclear bombs devastating major US cities, global pandemics, resource wars and climate change. Small surviving communities have regressed to simpler means, living off locally-grown food and relearning skills of  self-sufficiency and home production – the central character was once a business executive but now plies his trade as a carpenter.

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Tacit knowledge and loss of reading

The Knowledge attempts to provide a guide to the fundamental principles and processes that underlie our civilisation, and so how to rebuild from scratch if you ever needed to. But trying to rebuild civilisation and resurrect practical skills purely from the knowledge contained in a guide book would be a huge challenge, no matter how extensive it might be. Tasks are achieved not just by knowing the correct information, but also by possessing the required practical skills.

NetMakingDiderot recognised this short-falling in the mid-1700s and so attempted to preserve not just facts in his encyclopaedia but also the practical or manual skills needed in carpentry, weaving and mining, for example, in detailed engravings. While a picture may well be a worth a thousand words, how can you hope to capture the subtlety of the dextrous motions required for, say, carpentry in just a few images or even a video? Achieving the required ability can take years of apprenticeship, under the tutelage of an already-proficient craftsman.

This is the problem of implicit or tacit knowledge; something you may know how to do yourself, but would find extremely challenging, if not impossible, to successfully convey to someone else in just words or pictures.

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Is this the best survival device yet?

One of the things I’ve been on the look-out for is a ruggedised, shock-proof, water-proof e-reader that you could load-up with all of the most useful texts and documents, and keep re-charged indefinitely with an integrated solar panel.

Well, meet Earl.

Earl is described by the developers as a backcountry survival tablet, and is absolutely stuffed with practical functionality. If civilisation ever were to collapse, you’re certainly going to want to have one of these in your pocket.


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charclothAs is clear through-out The Knowledge, one of the fundamental drivers for a vibrant civilisation is its finesse in harnessing thermal energy. Fire is used for everything from cooking food to unlock nutrients and kill pathogens, to roasting lime for mortar and rebuilding, smelting metals and forging iron tools, and creating many of the fundamental substances that society replies upon. Whilst the book isn’t a survival manual with wilderness skills, starting a fire is an interesting problem and charcloth makes the ideal tinder. Charcloth is made by carbonising cloth using the heat of a fire; it’s analogous to charcoal produced from carbonised wood. And the beauty of this, from the point of view of pulling yourself by your own bootstraps, is that once you’ve started one fire you can create charcloth and use that to greatly simplify starting all other fires from then on.

Charcloth is perfect for not just catching sparks from flint and steel, but its blackened surface is also ideally-suited for absorbing heat and igniting from sunlight focussed with a pair of glasses or other lens (or even a coke can or bottle of water as explained in my How-To video here).

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Best apocalyptic comedies

Quite a niche category, sure, but here are the best apocalyptic comedy films. A wonderful combination of silliness, dark humour and painfully awkward social situations at the end of the world…

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

zeal and zombies
Zombieland (2009)

undead roadtrip
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

pouty ‘pocalypse
It’s A Disaster (2012)

doomsday dinner-party
This Is the End (2013)

perfectly puerile