Professor Lewis Dartnell, Professor of Science Communication, wrote an article for the science magazine Scientific American on the internal-combustion engine as an example of how new inventions are most often a rearrangement of pre-existing technologies.

Talking about a hypothetical case in which civilisation has to be rebooted, Professor Dartnell wrote it will take substantial time to recover technologies that have taken so much time to be built. He said: “The power of teaching, copying and, especially, enhancing the creations of previous generations sets our species apart from all others.”

Drawing on three of the engine’s components – the crank, camshaft, and flywheel, he shows how these items have changed historically from ancient inventions. He concluded: “The story of these parts demonstrates that even though the purring engine in a brand-new sports car may seem like the height of modern technological sophistication, it is in fact a mishmash of components co-opted from ancient inventions.”

Scientific American is the longest continuously published magazine in the US and has been covering insights about developments in science and technology for more than 170 years. 

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