25 Awe-Inspiring Science Talks on TED

The natural world is an amazing thing, and despite the volumes upon volumes that we know about it, we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to truly understanding our universe and the things within it. Yet just because there’s so much information out there doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn as much as you can about science. These lectures reflect information that’s at the cutting edge, from medical discoveries that could change lives to astrophysical research that’s expanding our knowledge of the worlds that lie beyond our own galaxy, and they can help you get an education in some of the greatest wonders the scientific fields have to offer.


These lectures address the science of human life, from how our brains work to how we interact with one another.

  1. Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions: In this talk, you’ll hear how science can play a role in the establishment of right, wrong, good and evil — even if that seems against all common logic on the subject.
  2. Luca Turin on the science of scent: At face value, the difference between a scent you love and a scent you hate might not seem like a big deal. In this talk, however, biophysicist Luca Turin will show you the science behind our sense of smell and what truly goes into creating scents we want to wear.
  3. Helen Fisher tells us why we love + cheat: Learn about the science that underlies our relationships from anthropologist Helen Fisher (University of Colorado, Boulder). She explains the biochemical reasons we fall in, and out, of love.
  4. VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization: Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran delves into the effects of recently discovered “mirror neurons.” These neurons are responsible for allowing us to learn complex social behaviors and may form the biological basis for civilization as we know it.
  5. Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds: Mind reading sounds like something out of a movie or book, but it’s not as far-fetched as it seems, according to Rebecca Saxe, who currently teaches at MIT, Cambridge. Learn how we read and sense the motives and feelings of others, sometimes without even knowing it, in this lecture.
  6. Steven Pinker chalks it up to the blank slate: There has always been a great debate about what is born into humans and what they learn through education and experience, a topic that Steven Pinker addresses somewhat controversially in this lecture. Pinker argues that we are indeed born with some innate traits and we are not born as blank slates.
  7. Nina Jablonski breaks the illusion of skin color: No matter our intention, we all have ideas and feelings about skin color. In this lecture, learn the true science behind skin color and fully understand why it really is only skin deep– a fact that had it been known or believed might have greatly changed history. Jablonski currently teaches at Penn State University.


The latest technology and the speed with which it is evolving is nearly always awe-inspiring. Hear from some of the greatest technological thinkers working today about ideas that could shape the future of our world in these TED talks.

  1. Evan Grant: Making sound visible through cymatics: In this talk, you’ll learn more about programs that can make complex sounds visible to the human eye, not only creating beautiful designs but letting us experience with two senses the sounds that are around us.
  2. Brian Cox on CERN’s supercollider: The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has been a subject of much debate, but in this lecture you’ll learn about the amazing science that went into its construction and what it really may be capable of helping scientists discover.
  3. Kwabena Boahen on a computer that works like the brain: Drawing links between the brain and computer processors, this talk explores how studying the way the brain works may enable us to make computers that work better, faster and more efficiently than ever before.
  4. Juan Enriquez wants to grow energy: With global warming looming and issues with oil in constant political debate, it makes sense to find an alternative energy source. Learn about how we may be able to grow our own plant-based energy, turning farms into fuel.
  5. Rachel Armstrong: Architecture that repairs itself?: Buildings today need repairs in order to avoid decay and eventual destruction, but in this talk, you’ll hear about some innovative new materials that may allow buildings to repair themselves.


The celestial world has puzzled humankind for thousands of years and even now with modern technology we’re still struggling to learn about the mysteries it holds. Check out these lectures to learn more about the latest research being done and some of the amazing discoveries that have come with it.

  1. Charles Elachi on the Mars Rovers: While it is our closest neighbor our solar system, Mars has always remained a place of mystery for us. Learn more about one of the most successful and enlightening missions to the red planet in this talk from NASA’s jet propulsion expert Charles Elachi.
  2. Patricia Burchat sheds light on dark matter: Dark matter and dark energy are everywhere, making up over 96% percent of our universe, but what they are and how they work are still a bit of a mystery. Watch this talk from Burchat, an expert on dark matter, to learn about how these invisible substances play a huge role in our universe.
  3. George Smoot on the design of the universe: With stunning photos of the cosmos, astrophysicist George Smoot inspires listeners to consider the very structure and design of the universe in this amazing talk from 2008.


Understanding the biological processes as well as the plants and animals of this world is a challenging but immensely interesting undertaking. These talks will help show you some awe-inspiring ideas about the world we call our home and those we share it with.

  1. Richard Preston on the giant trees: Some of the biggest and oldest living things on our planet are trees, namely the awe-inspiring redwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Learn about their history and how little we still understand about these magnificent trees from this lecture.
  2. Lee Hotz: Inside an Antarctic time machine: Get insights into a living time machine in this talk from journalist Hotz, as scientists study the history of climate change through ten thousand year old ice from Antarctica.
  3. Michael Pollan gives a plant’s-eye view: We tend to think of plants as passive living things, capable of growing and spreading but not of having a conscious will or agenda. Michael Pollan questions that view, suggesting we think of it in another way and consider the ways plants may be manipulating us to their own ends.
  4. Spencer Wells builds a family tree for humanity: Our DNA is more than just a map of who we are. It is also a blueprint for where we came from, not only telling scientists who our parents were but who are ancient ancestors were as well. In this lecture, learn how this genetic data can lead scientists to discover where we all came from and how we’re all connected.
  5. Richard Dawkins: Growing up in the universe: Given in 1991, this lecture will inspire awe in viewers. Dawkins gives a history of our universe and the life within it that showcases the true wonder of evolution and nature.

Health and Medicine

From extending life to creating it from nothing, these lectures delve into some amazing medical issues that may even inspire you to pursue your own degree in healthcare.

  1. Craig Venter unveils “synthetic life”: Creating life in a test tube seems like science fiction, but as you’ll hear in this talk, it’s science fact. Venter and his research team have created the first fully-functioning cells controlled by synthetic DNA– an amazing benchmark for genetic science.
  2. Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+: What is it that allows some people to live to be 100 while others die much younger? In this lecture, Buettner investigates the genetics, lifestyles and diets that allow some individuals to defy their age and remain healthy and happy well into triple digits.
  3. Paul Ewald asks, Can we domesticate germs?: Generally, we think of germs as bad things, invasive, harmful and even potentially deadly. But what if we could control them? This talk from biologist Ewald touches on just that topic, and supposes that we can alter and disarm even some of the most virulent germs.
  4. Mark Roth: Suspended animation is within our grasp: We’ve all seen it in science fiction movies, but suspended animation has never really been something most people thought would become a reality. And yet, as Mark Roth discusses, it is and can help many people survive heart attacks and trauma that would otherwise kill them.
  5. George Whitesides: A lab the size of a postage stamp: In many regions of the world, simple lab tests for diseases may be too expensive and difficult to perform– but not with the aid of this new technology. See how a miniature lab can be constructed at the nano level that can be just as effective and useful at almost zero cost.