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Westminster’s Professor of Science Communication, Lewis Dartnell, explains how to rebuild the world from scratch from the TED stage

7 November 2016

Lewis Dartnell, author of the ground-breaking book The Knowledge and Professor of Science Communication in the Faculty of Science and Technology presented his work at a TED talk in Vancouver. 

Drawing form his book The Knowledge, an exploration of how to survive after an apocalypse, Professor Dartnell discussed how you might be able to reboot civilisation identifying three main areas, finding food, making fire and learning knowledge. Starting the talk he said: “As a society we have an immense collective capability, but we are individually ignorant and incapable.”

Taking the task of finding food, Professor Dartnell advised to first- scavenge for leftovers at the closest supermarket you can find. He calculated this source could last a person 55 years, rising to 63 years if they were happy to eat tinned dog and cat food, but he continues, to be sustainable, you have to learn to grow food. The other method of survival he described was growing food, specifically cereal crops such as wheat, rice and maize that have served humanity over many years.

But to make these crops into food, Professor Dartnell explained the next key ingredient in humanity’s survival: Fire. Fire is used to cook, but also to construct, in brick baking and to power, burning fuels, “we use fire to drive much of the crucial chemistry that our society today depends on.”

Professor Dartnell displayed and lit a gasifier stove, a homemade smokeless stove which he made himself out of tin cans that can be used for cooking and heating and for driving machinery including cars.

Once you have equipped yourself with food and mechanical energy, you next need to continue expanding human knowledge. “There’s one invention” Professor Dartnell says “that’s over 400 years old that has been more important than any other in enabling us to build the modern world… and that is glass.”

Glass has been used for centuries by scientists to investigate the natural world around, for test tubes and beakers, to manipulate light, to make lenses and windows, and it can be made, Professor Dartnell says, using sand, seaweed, sea shells and fire.

He concluded his talk by saying: “If you ever find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world, remember this most important truth: It is science that built our modern world and its science you would need to build again from scratch”

You can watch the entire TED talk below.

Lewis Dartnell's TED Talk - How to rebuild the world from scratch

Professor Lewis Dartnell describes his work from the TED stage

Lewis Dartnell’s book The Knowledge is a New York Times and Sunday Times best-seller, and the Sunday Times ‘New Thinking’ Book of the Year.

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