An new show on the National Geographic called The Link tells the history of human innovation in 5 episodes–and gets a little dangerous doing so.
“I grew up on science series like Nova and Nature, and they really shaped how I approach the world,” explains host Josh Klein. He says that those type of shows gave him a huge sense of curiosity about how things work, and made him feel like he could go out and make a difference in anything interesting. “It’s my hope that The Link will get people excited about science and innovation again; the world needs it,” he says.
What were the best moments of innovation? Klein says he enjoyed rappelling into Vesuvius, making a bronze sword in Shangzen, China, and playing with an original Enigma machine. “It was like the worlds’ best bucket list doing this show,” he reports.
Each episode traces innovation through history. One week, Klein explores the origins of automated control systems, from ancient Rome, where local volcanic ash was once used to create superstrong concrete, to the Renaissance, when architects created the vacuum pump. As Josh discovers, the vacuum was integral to the invention of the steam engine—which requires a flyball governor to regulate power. From there, advances in feedback controls and remote controls were applied to undersea remote operating vehicles, allowing for deeper drilling.
Another top moment was when Klein got to drop liquid oxygen onto a lit barbecue. “Normally that’s pretty dangerous, so my inner 14-year-old was screaming with delight getting to melt it into slag,” he says.
“If you’ve ever found yourself clicking ‘just one more link’ when you should have been going to bed, this is the show for you,” says Klein. “Each episode spans a dozen or so technologies, and traces how each one was dependent on the capabilities provided by the one before it.”