11 TED Talks about science and the brain

These TED Talks offer intriguing insights on science topics

TED-TalkEvery educator needs some inspiration now and then, and these days, such inspiration can be found online in just a few seconds.

The internet brings inspiring and motivational speakers and experts to anyone with a connection and an internet-ready device.

TED Talks are some of today’s most popular examples of the internet’s power to expand learning opportunities to all.

Each month, we’ll bring you a handful of inspiring TED Talks. Some will focus specifically on education; others will highlight innovative practices that have long-lasting impact. But all will inspire and motivate educators and students alike.

Did you miss our most recent TED Talks features? You can find them here.

(Next page: 11 TED Talks on the brain and science)

1. Could future devices read images from our brains?
As an expert on cutting-edge digital displays, Mary Lou Jepsen studies how to show our most creative ideas on screens. And as a brain surgery patient herself, she is driven to know more about the neural activity that underlies invention, creativity, thought. She meshes these two passions in a rather mind-blowing talk on two cutting-edge brain studies that might point to a new frontier in understanding how (and what) we think.

2. How your “working memory” makes sense of the world
“Life comes at us very quickly, and what we need to do is take that amorphous flow of experience and somehow extract meaning from it.” In this funny, enlightening talk, educational psychologist Peter Doolittle details the importance — and limitations — of your “working memory,” that part of the brain that allows us to make sense of what’s happening right now.

(Next page: TED Talks 3-4)

3. Why truly innovative science demands a leap into the unknown
While studying for his PhD in physics, Uri Alon thought he was a failure because all his research paths led to dead ends. But, with the help of improv theater, he came to realize that there could be joy in getting lost. A call for scientists to stop thinking of research as a direct line from question to answer, but as something more creative. It’s a message that will resonate, no matter what your field.

4. What is so special about the human brain?
The human brain is puzzling — it is curiously large given the size of our bodies, uses a tremendous amount of energy for its weight and has a bizarrely dense cerebral cortex. But: why? Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel puts on her detective’s cap and leads us through this mystery. By making “brain soup,” she arrives at a startling conclusion.

5. A monkey that controls a robot with its thoughts. No, really.
Can we use our brains to directly control machines? Miguel Nicolelis suggests yes, showing how a clever monkey in the US learned to control a robot arm in Japan purely with its thoughts. The research has big implications for quadraplegic people — and in fact, it powered the exoskeleton that kicked off the 2014 World Cup.

6. The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain
Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

7. How to look inside the brain
There have been remarkable advances in understanding the brain, but how do you actually study the neurons inside it? Using gorgeous imagery, neuroscientist and TED Fellow Carl Schoonover shows the tools that let us see inside our brains.

8. Open science now!
What if every scientist could share their data as easily as they tweet about their lunch? Michael Nielsen calls for scientists to embrace new tools for collaboration that will enable discoveries to happen at the speed of Twitter. (Filmed at TEDxWaterloo.)

9. Hey science teachers — make it fun
High school science teacher Tyler DeWitt was ecstatic about a lesson plan on bacteria (how cool!) — and devastated when his students hated it. The problem was the textbook: it was impossible to understand. He delivers a rousing call for science teachers to ditch the jargon and extreme precision, and instead make science sing through stories and demonstrations. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)

10. 4 pillars of college success in science
At age 12, Freeman Hrabowski marched with Martin Luther King. Now he’s president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where he works to create an environment that helps under-represented students — specifically African-American, Latino and low-income learners — get degrees in math and science. He shares the four pillars of UMBC’s approach.

11. Hands-on science with squishy circuits
In a zippy demo at TED U, AnnMarie Thomas shows how two different kinds of homemade play dough can be used to demonstrate electrical properties — by lighting up LEDs, spinning motors, and turning little kids into circuit designers.

Laura Ascione

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