There’s a place in Switzerland where scientists travel on bicycles through tunnels filled with atom-smashing tubes, where the first webpage was born, and where a giant wooden globe watches over researchers replicating the very beginnings of our universe. That place is CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and last Friday, it held its first TEDx event: TEDxCERN.
At the event, 23 speakers and performers — including a Nobel laureate, an Ig Nobel Prize founder, a Google Science Fair winner, and an opera singer — gathered together in CERN’s Globe of Science and Innovation to talk about the Higgs boson, science education, classifying galaxies, and — naturally — an analysis of the forces required to drag sheep.
So what did we at TED HQ learn at TEDxCERN? A lot. But to make things easy, here are seven takeaways from TEDxCERN:
1. In 2010, when prompted to draw a “scientist,” only 33% of schoolchildren asked drew a woman.
In 1980, the figure was 8%. At TEDxCERN, Londa Schiebinger, head of the Gendered Innovations project at Stanford University, talked about some of the issues women in the sciences face today, and the importance of recognizing gender bias in science and technology.
2. Animated elephants and double scoops of ice cream make pondering particle physics a lot more palatable.
Thanks to a collaboration between the whip-smart scientists at CERN and the talented animators at TED-Ed, four new TED-Ed lessons premiered at TEDxCERN — bringing mind-boggling concepts like antimatter, big data, the Higgs boson, and the origins of the universe to life in a way that even the most science-averse student could appreciate: with chocolate-almond ice cream, a lemon, and a giant pile of leaves.
3. Brian May from the band Queen is an astrophysicist.
Yeah, we didn’t know that either. But thanks to a talk from Zooniverse head Chris Lintott, we learned that not only is May a card-carrying astrophysicist (he earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Imperial College in 2007), he is a fan of Lintott’s Galaxy Zoo project — a herculean effort to gamify and crowdsource galaxy classification.
4. Science goes beyond geography.
People called SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) “an impossible project.” But this lab in Jordan, built around a giant synchrotron particle accelerator, has brought together Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian, Turkish, Pakistani and Iranian scientists to study a universe bigger than us all. At TEDxCERN, SESAME scientists Eliezer Rabinovici and Zehra Sayers talked about the project’s groundbreaking work.
5. Cool teachers bring their students on field trips via Google Glass.
Physics class can be boring. But not so much if your teacher is Andrew Vanden Heuvel, the TEDxCERN presenter and online physics teacher who traveled to Switzerland to give his students a live tour of the world’s largest particle collider live through his eyes, using Google Glass. At TEDxCERN, we got to see a video diary of his trip, and it is mesmerizing:
6. Herrings communicate by farting. Really.
When you’re a scientist, what you think you’re looking for isn’t always what you find, and Marc Abrahams — organizer of the Ig Nobel Prize, the annual celebration of “improbable” science — thinks this is awesome. At TEDxCERN, he spoke on improbable findings, and shared some surprising discoveries by past Ig Noble winners, including one Robert Batty, who — with his team at the Scottish Association for Marine Science — discovered that strategically released gas allows herrings to communicate at night.
7. The Higgs field is a big deal. In fact, if its value changed too much, it’s quite possible “all atomic matter would collapse.”
Theoretical physicist Gian Giudice knows a lot about the Higgs boson, the Higgs field, and researchers’ attempts to understand it better. At TEDxCERN, he pondered the question, “What might the Higgs mean for the fate of the universe?” and got us all flustered when he said that new discoveries about the famed boson might mean that someday the value of the Higgs field could change and all would be doomed. But not to worry — whatever happens, we’ve got a lot of time before it does.
(Photo credit: Flickr user Saynine)
The world recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the complex cellular instructions known as DNA. Currently, scientists across the globe are doing a lot more than showing off computer-generated spinning double helix models — they are using DNA to do almost unbelievable things — like create tailor-made microbes and resurrected mammoths.
Below, 5 talks on the wonder of deoxyribonucleic acid.
Sex, evolution, and innovation: Frances Arnold at TEDxUSC
We all know that organisms combine genes to create offspring. But what if we could harness those self-replicating processes and make them work for us, asks scientist Frances Arnold. At TEDxUSC, Arnold takes us through a world of possibilities, from testing drugs on microbes to aiding cancer drugs with engineered cells.
What does your genome reveal about you?: Gilean McVean at TEDxWarwick
The first sequenced human genome took years of work and billions of dollars to complete. Today, a person’s genome can be sequenced overnight for a just few thousand dollars. At TEDxWarwick, geneticist Gilean McVean examines the consequences of this technological advance and what it means for our understanding of disease.
How to bring a mammoth back to life: Beth Shapiro at TEDxDeExtinction
Bringing ancient mammoths back to life is assuredly a daunting task, but a major roadblock has been the lack of a complete mammoth genetic sequence due to deterioration over time. Scientist Beth Shaprio reveals the novel approaches that she and her colleagues are taking to revive ancient mammoths.
Creating algae factories for sustainable fuel: Michiel Mathijs at TEDxGhent
In this short and sweet talk from TEDxGhent, Michiel Mathijs elaborates on his plan to take species of algae, one of the most common life forms on the planet, and biologically engineer them to produce oil for fuel. Along the way, Mathijs addresses concerns over bioengineering, describing scientists as not composers, but the “DJs of life,” mixing and matching genetic material.
Genetically evolved technology: Luke Bawazer at TEDxWarwick
Inspired by evolution in the natural world, Luke Bawazer’s work incorporates a type of “synthetic DNA” to test and improve materials like computer chips. According to Bawazer, this type of man-made evolution might one day lead to products that naturally adapt to suit the needs of consumers.
TEDxCERN will be held inside CERN’s world-famous Globe. Photo: TEDxCERN
You have probably heard of CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research and the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator: longer than the island of Manhattan. CERN and the LHC are famous for their role in the recent discovery of what very likely is the Higgs boson, a particle crucial to the standard model of physics. But now, CERN will house another exciting first: their first TEDx event.
Tomorrow, May 3, CERN will bring together thinkers of all kinds to examine our universe and provide insight into why studying it matters. And lucky for you, you don’t have to go to Switzerland to watch in real time. The program will stream live online at the TEDxCERN website from 13:45 to 20:00 (CEST).
So why should you tune in?
1. Because of the incredible speaker lineup. CERN has invited 23 great speakers and performers to the stage. Some highlights of the lineup:
- Philosopher John Searle, the winner of the 2004 National Humanities Award
- Astrophysicist George Smoot, cosmologist and Nobel Prize laureate
- Chris Lintott, the head of Zooniverse at Oxford University and co-presenter of the BBC’s Sky at Night program
- Marc Abrahams, MC of the Ig Nobel Awards and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research
- 18-year-old Britney Wegner, grand prize winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair
- Sergio Bertolucci, director for research and scientific computing at CERN
2. Because the venue will be thrilling. TEDxCERN will take place at the Globe of Science and Innovation on the CERN campus in Geneva. This giant wooden globe — about the size of the Sistine Chapel — was first constructed for the 2000 World Exhibition in Hanover, but now stands as a stirring tribute to the groundbreaking work happening at CERN’s headquarters every day. Says the CERN website, “A landmark by day and by night, the Globe … sends a clear message on science, particle physics, cutting-edge technologies and their applications in everyday life.”
3. Because they make understanding particle physics child’s play. Part of CERN’s mission is making the work done there accessible to those who don’t have a deeply-honed understanding of particle physics. To that end, CERN scientists have teamed up with the animators of TED-Ed to create five easy-to-understand (and fun-to-watch) lessons that explain concepts like the Big Bang, dark matter, big data and Higgs boson. The first of these lessons, “The beginning of the universe, for beginners,” is currently available via TED-Ed. The other four lessons will premiere at TEDxCERN — those watching live will be the first to see ‘em.
4. Because CERN is part of the reason we have the internet. Ever wondered who created that little thing called the World Wide Web? Tim Berners-Lee was a software engineer at CERN in the 1980s, when he proposed the idea to his bosses as a way to “reframe the way we use information.” Twenty years ago this week, CERN offered up the software required to run a web server, a basic browser, and a standard library of code — all royalty free. To celebrate the anniversary, CERN posted the very first public web page ever — dedicated to the “World Wide Web project itself.”
5. Because the Higgs boson is poised to change everything. In 2012, the media was abuzz with stories about the “god particle,” aka Higgs boson. This particle was theorized to exist in 1964 by six scientists, including one Peter Higgs. The existence of the particle would confirm the existence of the Higgs field, believed to surround everything, giving mass to elementary particles that, without it, would be massless. The discovery of Higgs boson is the beginning of a whole new field of research and several TEDxCERN talks will touch on where it’s headed. We’re looking forward to the talk, “What the Higgs might mean for the fate of the universe,” from theoretical physicist Gian Giudice.
6. Because you won’t be alone. More than 25 universities, laboratories and organizations will be hosting TEDxCERN livestreaming parties, including TEDxAthens in Greece, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, Università di Pavia in Italy, Kathmandu University in Nepal, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States, and even TED HQ here in New York! Take stock in knowing you’ll be watching along with some of the world’s leading scientists, researchers, and hard thinkers.
Tune in to the TEDxCERN webcast on Friday, May 3rd. It will be available to the public here »
TEDxCERN set-up, in progress. Photo: TEDxCERN