Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence in Science

This compilation of videos from TED.com and our own Distinctive Voices lecture series provides a look at the groundbreaking research and interests of National Academy of Sciences members.

Topic areas:

Biology, Medicine

  • How we discovered DNA
    Nobel laureate James Watson tells the frank and funny story of how he and his research partner, Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • How bacteria "talk"
    Bonnie Bassler studies how bacteria can communicate with one another, through chemical signals, to act as a unit. Her work could pave the way for new, more potent medicine. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Toward a new understanding of cancer
    Mina Bissell pursued a revolutionary idea in her research—that a cancer cell doesn't automatically become a tumor, but rather, depends on surrounding cells (its microenvironment) for cues on how to develop. She shares the two key experiments that proved the prevailing wisdom about cancer growth was wrong. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Stem cells: applications for understanding brain function and disease
    Fred Gage discusses the existence of stem cells in the adult brain and their possible functions, as well as how human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells can be used to model human disease. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • A call for an encyclopedia of life
    Biologist E.O. Wilson makes a plea on behalf of all creatures that we learn more about our biosphere — and build a networked encyclopedia of all the world's knowledge about life. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Experiments that hint of longer lives
    What controls aging? Biochemist Cynthia Kenyon has found a simple genetic mutation that can double the lifespan of a simple worm, C. elegans. The lessons from that discovery, and others, are pointing to how we might one day significantly extend youthful human life. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • On the verge of creating synthetic life
    "Can we create new life out of our digital universe?" Craig Venter asks. His answer is "yes" — and pretty soon. He walks through his latest research and promises that we'll soon be able to build and boot up a synthetic chromosome. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • The dynamic genome: unintelligent design
    Transposable elements sequences of DNA with a penchant for wandering around in plants and animals make up 50 percent of the human genome. Yet much remains unknown or misunderstood about them, especially how they lead to diversity by creating mutation and variation. Susan Wessler describes how these fascinating voyagers help turn the genome into a battleground where random changes can lead to "unintelligent," but always interesting, design. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • A lab the size of a postage stamp
    Traditional lab tests for disease diagnosis can be too expensive and cumbersome for the regions most in need. George Whitesides' ingenious answer is a foolproof tool that can be manufactured at virtually zero cost. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Oceans, climate, and global infectious disease: the Cholera paradigm
    Rita Colwell discusses the seasonality of diseases, including malaria and cholera. New research shows a very close interaction of the environment and both occurrence and distribution of many infectious diseases, notably those that are vectorborne. With satellite sensors, these relationships can be quantified and comparatively analyzed. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Evolution and the future of the Earth
    The Darwinian revolution began in a new understanding of how species change through time by means of natural selection, and affirms that each species, including our own, is genetically adapted in exquisite detail for life in a particular environment. The studies of adaptation through time and the diversity of the millions of other species are the core of evolutionary biology. E. O. Wilson discusses how functional biology, including medical research, will do well to incorporate the study of biodiversity and the process of evolution that has created it. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Growing evidence of brain plasticity
    Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain's incredible power: its ability to actively re-wire itself. He's researching ways to harness the brain's plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function. (video courtesy of TED.com)

Physical Sciences, Mathematics

  • Let's look for life in the outer solar system
    Physicist Freeman Dyson suggests that we start looking for life on the moons of Jupiter and out past Neptune, in the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. He talks about what such life would be like—and how we might find it. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Beauty and truth in physics
    Armed with a sense of humor and laypeople's terms, Murray Gell-Mann tells us about particle physics, asking questions like, Are elegant equations more likely to be right than inelegant ones? (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Questioning the Universe
    Professor Stephen Hawking asks some big questions about our Universe — How did the Universe begin? How did life begin? Are we alone? — and discusses how we might go about answering them. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • The hunt for a supermassive black hole
    With new data from the Keck telescopes, Andrea Ghez shows how state-of-the-art adaptive optics are helping astronomers understand our universe's most mysterious objects: black holes. She shares evidence that a supermassive black hole may be lurking at the center of the Milky Way. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Dark energy and the runaway Universe
    Alex Filippenko was a member of both teams that discovered in 1998 the accelerating expansion of the Universe, driven by "dark energy." He describes observations of very distant exploding stars show that the expansion of the Universe is now speeding up, rather than slowing down due to gravity as expected. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • On the next Web
    More than 20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. For his next project, he's building a web for open, linked data that could do for numbers what the Web did for words, pictures, video: unlock our data and reframe the way we use it together. (video courtesy of TED.com)

Behavioral Sciences, Social Sciences

  • The riddle of experience versus memory
    Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy—and our own self-awareness. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal
    Sharing the results of a massive, worldwide study, geneticist Svante Pääbo shows the DNA proof that early humans mated with Neanderthals after we moved out of Africa. He also shows how a tiny bone from a baby finger was enough to identify a whole new humanoid species. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • The art of strategy
    Game theory is the art of anticipating your opponent's next moves, knowing full well that your rival is trying to do the same thing to you. Using a diverse array of rich case studies—from pop culture, TV, movies, sports, politics, and history—Avinash Dixit examines how nearly every business and personal interaction has a game-theory component to it. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • The linguistic genius of babies
    Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and "taking statistics" on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Why societies collapse
    Why do societies fail? With lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how—if we see it in time—we can prevent it. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Moral behavior in animals
    Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity—caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • How long will we live?
    Population researcher John Bongaarts works at the intersection of science and policy, examining the causes and impacts of population trends. In this talk, he describes how the science has changed and the factors and phenomena that affect mortality and other human longevity statistics. Population aging and extending the human life span can challenge public support systems, and skills of the demographer are applied to these and other important social and economic issues. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Chaotic elections! A mathematician looks at voting
    Voting is a basic tool of every democracy. We vote to choose the name for a pet dog, a club treasurer, and the president of the United States. But do election outcomes really capture what the voters want? Donald Saari explains how the mathematics of group decisionmaking helps explain why people vote the way they do, how voting can lead to results that don't reflect the true wishes of the electorate, and what could be done to improve the process. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • The fiction of memory
    Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus studies memories. More precisely, she studies false memories, when people either remember things that didn't happen or remember them differently from the way they really were. It's more common than you might think, and Loftus shares some startling stories and statistics, and raises some important ethical questions we should all remember to consider. (video courtesy of TED.com)

Earth, Environment

  • Cooking, health, and climate: the surprisingly large impacts of humanity's oldest daily task
    Kirk R. Smith examines the relationships among environmental quality, health, resource use, climate, development, and policy in developing countries including health effects in women and children from indoor air pollution due to household fuels. He also talks about his research in the development of smart, cheap, portable electronic monitors for exposure assessment in developing countries. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Climate change seen from space and earth's surface
    NAS president Ralph Cicerone reviews the data on temperatures of air and water, ice amounts and sea level, including many observations taken from Earth-orbiting satellites. There is much evidence of global climate change especially in the last 30 years. Rising temperatures are strongly linked to increased amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases from human activities. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Why I must speak out about climate change
    James Hansen tells the story of his involvement in the science of and debate over global climate change. In doing so he outlines the overwhelming evidence that change is happening and why that makes him deeply worried about the future. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Developments in climate change
    In spite of clear scientific consensus by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conclusion that the current and projected increases in average global temperature constitute "dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system," climate change ranks low on the list of the nation's perceived "big problems.' Donald Kennedy talks about how science educators must accept that the real disconnect between science and the public can be repaired only through a revolutionary new assessment of how humans and their organizations behave when confronted with resource challenges. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)

Policy, General Interest

  • Health and the human mind
    Marvin Minsky is one of the great pioneers of artificial intelligence and using computing metaphors to understand the human mind. His arch, eclectic, charmingly offhand talk on health, overpopulation and the human mind is packed with subtlety: wit, wisdom and just an ounce of wily, is-he-joking? advice. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • Is this our final century?
    Speaking as both an astronomer and "a concerned member of the human race," Sir Martin Rees examines our planet and its future from a cosmic perspective. He urges action to prevent dark consequences from our scientific and technological development. (video courtesy of TED.com)
  • The scientist as advisor
    More than ever before, science advisers must operate in a volatile political environment, as they serve to help their employer succeed in office while maintaining their personal integrity. Frank Press, science advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter and NAS president emeritus, talks about the problems facing a scientist advising a high level public official using case histories of successes and failures. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • Whence morality: biology or religion?
    Following the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, many biologists and philosophers thought that morality could be explained as a consequence of biological evolution. Others considered its origin a cultural or religious phenomenon. Francisco Ayala will examine how both groups are right in some respects and both are wrong in other respects. (Distinctive Voices lecture series)
  • My friend Richard Feynmann
    What's it like to be pals with a genius? Onstage, physicist Leonard Susskind spins a few stories about his friendship with the legendary Richard Feynman, discussing his unconventional approach to problems both serious and ... less so. (video courtesy of TED.com)

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