15 Amazing TED Talks for Chemistry Geeks

Every day, we cause and are subject to a wide range of chemical reactions. From the combustion of fuel to power our cars to the microscopic chemical triggers allowing our bodies to function properly, chemistry is all around us. No one knows this better than a chemistry geek, those students and professionals, like chemists and engineers, who just can’t get enough education and experience on the subject. The following TED lectures are perfect for college students studying it or those with a passion for the field, no matter what level of geekdom they fall under. These talks provide an in-depth look at some cutting-edge research, like medical research, and very interesting phenomena in the chemical world.

  1. Peter Reinhart on Bread: Bread has been a staple food of people around the world for thousands of years, but how many of us really understand the chemistry and biology that go into creating this beloved baked good? In this talk, master breadmaker Peter Reinhart explains it all, giving listeners a new appreciation for the humble foodstuff.
  2. Kary Mullis’ next-gen cure for killer infections: Whether it’s because of overuse of antibiotics or just particularly virulent strains of a germ, there are a good number of drug resistant bacteria out there that can cause potentially deadly infections. Yet there may be a new way to battle these, a process which Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis will share here.
  3. George Whitesides: A lab the size of a postage stamp: Some of the places most in need of labs to test for disease are too remote or poverty stricken to have these amenities. That’s where the genius of this small lab, showcased here by chemistry legend George Whitesides, comes into play.
  4. Rachel Pike: The science behind a climate headline: This short video will show you some of the amazing science going on behind the scenes when it comes to climate change research and development. Environmental scientists, biologists and chemists alike will enjoy learning about a key molecule that could play a big part in global warming and the effects of fuel emissions on the weather.
  5. Susan Shaw: The oil spill’s toxic trade-off: One solution to the BP spill in 2010 was to dump large amounts of a chemical dispersant into the water to help dissolve the oil. Yet, as you’ll discover in this lecture from marine toxicologist Susan Shaw, this may have just made matters worse.
  6. George Whitesides: Toward a science of simplicity: Well-known chemist George Whitesides shares some deep thoughts on just what simplicity really is and how we can pursue it. Sometimes funny, sometime poignant, it’s a great watch for anyone interested in science.
  7. Dimitar Sasselov: How we found hundreds of potential Earth-like planets: You might not immediately think of astronomy when you think of chemistry, but there is some overlap between the two, as you’ll see in this talk. Sasselov shares the methods they used to hunt and find Earth-like planets and what their similar geochemistry may mean for extraterrestrial life.
  8. Bonnie Bassler on how bacteria “talk”: Bacteria don’t have mouths, so they can’t chat to one another as we can; a good thing, as it would be a pretty noisy world! But as you’ll learn from this lecture, they have other means of communication. Geeks will get a chance to better understand how chemicals play a big role in the biology of creatures big and small on our planet.
  9. Alan Russell on regenerating our bodies: Regenerative medicine may sound like science fiction, but it’s not as far off as you might think. Surgeon and chemical engineer Alan Russell shows how it’s possible and how some processes are already being done in medical research labs around the world.
  10. Craig Venter Unveils Synthetic Life: For thousands of years we’ve been trying to figure out just how to create life in the lab. It seems as though that goal may be close to being accomplished, as you’ll see in this talk. Craig Venter will explain how he and his research partners created a cell with the same chemistry and functioning DNA as a natural one.
  11. Rob Dunbar: Discovering ancient climates in oceans and ice: Chemistry can help us work toward a better future, but it can also help us to better understand our past. Through this talk, Rob Dunbar will share how he and his team are looking at the chemical and biological fingerprints left behind in ancient ice, and what these indicators can tell us about the future of earth’s climate.
  12. Heribert Watzke: The brain in your gut: Heribert Watzke studies all aspects of food, from its chemical makeup to how they make our brains react. Here, however, he discusses the impact of our digestive system on how we feel and the strange things it may make us do when it wants a particular type of nutrient or food.
  13. Rachel Armstrong: Architecture that repairs itself?: Why does architecture have to be inert? Why can’t it change and adapt to outside conditions? Rachel Armstrong asks these questions and others in this engaging talk that presents ideas on how the architecture of the future may just have a mind of its own.
  14. Frederick Balagadde: Bio-lab on a microchip: Learn how a tiny lab on a chip can make a huge difference in diagnosing and treating disease in sub-Saharan Africa from the inventor of the device Frederick Balagadde. The small chemical-based tests it can perform could save thousands of lives.
  15. Why can’t we grow new energy?: In this talk, you’ll get a chance to see some ideas on the potential of bioenergy and how engineers and chemists might be able to accelerate the process of natural fuel production to make synthetics on a large scale.

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