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TEDGlobal 2012 Fellows Talks: A recap of Session 2

Hakeem Oluseyi
Photo: Ryan Lash

Andrew Nemr, tap dancerAndrew takes the stage again – one built especially for his performance here – to dance in improv based on his time at TED so far. Even as his rhythms – some familiar, some confounding – intensify, he dances as naturally as walking … painting with his body and with sound. There’s music in his shoes – he’s just tapped out the rhythm of Turkey in the Straw!

Elaine Yan Ling Ng, smart materials artist + designer
Elaine calls herself a textile evolutionist, a scientist of materials. “A pine cone – when it’s wet it closes, when it’s dry, it opens. Magic within natural material is all around us,” she says. She captures the design magic of nature in objects by giving artificial technologies natural attributes – such as moisture, heat, and movement – using a combination of synthetic and natural materials. Her work, which she calls Naturology, involves programming – allowing her to control precisely how materials expand and contracts in response to stimuli. She also embeds manmade materials into natural ones to amplify natural movement, creating sensual examples of technology working in partnership with nature – dancing gossamer flowers and waving wood veneer.

Hakeem Oluseyi, astrophysicist and science educator
Hakeem wants to democratize astronomy. Africa, he points out, has a high level of science education, but lacks the equipment needed because poverty alleviation and economic development take priority – leaving Africa out of the research dialogue. Only three countries in Africa have a research-grade telescope, whereas in the developed world, such telescopes are readily available to consumers. He announces the launch of a new initiative, the One Telescope Project, which aims to place at least one research-grade telescope in every country in the world, “uniting people into an intellectual global community, and advancing human knowledge.”

Joel Jackson, auto innovator
Joel tells the story of Marius, a twelve-year-old child in Kenya who walks 14 km every day just to get through day to day life. Across Africa, 320 million people are cut off from appropriate transport. Minivans are expensive, rickshaws are affordable but unsafe, motorbikes are low capacity…and the problem is compounded by rained on roads, which turn into impassable mud. To solve this problem, he’s developed the Mobius 2 – a stripped-down car with a robust frame, passenger capacity, foldable seats for cargo, good ground clearance and capable suspension. Cost? Only $6,000, affordable to the Africa’s middle-income market, where it can be used as a platform for entrepreneurship such as transport services, delivery and medical care.

Ivana Gadjanski, neuroscientist and poet
How does poetry help in a scientific career? It helps you follow your gut feelings. During her research in multiple sclerosis, Ivana focused on optic nerves. While using lethal toxins to block calcium channels in rat brains during her research, she discovered one that blocked the signal, reducing the symptoms of MS. Her guts told her, though, something wasn’t quite right. She did what she always does when she gets that feeling – she wrote a poem, and decided to change her research focus. She now researches cartilage injury, which turn out to have the same calcium channels. Now she’s developing modified cell-constructs to help the cartilage healing process, and is hoping to learn how to make new cartilage. Meanwhile, she followed her heart – and poetry – back to Serbia, where she has started a research lab at a new institute and continues to write poems.

Usman Riaz, musician + artist
Usman returns to the stage to tell how his extraordinary talent developed, from growing up in an arts-inclined family to training at classical piano at 6. He wanted to learn more instruments, but felt limited in Pakistan, as there were no teachers who could teach the scope of what he wanted to learn. So he went to the next best thing – YouTube, freeing him up to learn and experiment freely. He picked up American flat-picking, percussive instruments, mandolin, harmonica, demonstrating his skills onstage with stunning versatility.

Juliana Machado Ferreira, forensic biologist
Keeping poached wild birds and parrots as pets is a big part of Brazilian culture, and are even sold internationally, a trade of millions of birds a year, with has terrible consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem health. Juliana helps combat wildlife trafficking using forensic genetics. By gathering blood samples from wild birds and analyzing museum tissue samples, Juliana determines the genetic identity of birds, which are, associated with particular geographical regions. Knowing animals’ origins not only allows rehabilitated birds to be released into their own ecosystems, but helps identify wildlife trafficking hotspots, pinpointing certain regions to be monitored and allowing an enforcement plan to be developed.

Sheref Mansy, artificial life scientist
Synthetic biology can do many amazing things – provide fuel, feed us, but the general public fears genetically modified life. Typically you start with life and modify its behaviour by modifying its genetic content. So he is trying to build cells with nonliving components – constructing lifelike technologies using artificial structures that mimic life, intentionally incorporating features that are useful but don’t replicate or evolve, instead living for a finite period and die. Communication is key – artificial cells can already detect the presence of natural cells, but the goal is to get artificial cells to be able to emit a chemical signal in response, which will close the loop.

Ola Orekunrin, health care entrepreneur
When Ola’s 12-year-old sister became critically ill in Nigeria, there was no way to get her to England, where her condition could be adequately treated. Hope arrived: a South African company would be able to pick up her sister by aircraft and take her to hospital. Ola called her sister to tell her, but it was too late; she died before help could arrive. This tragedy inspired Ola to work “at the speed of life.” The critical care doctor and a helicopter pilot founded an air ambulance company Flying Doctors Nigeria, which gives people unprecedented access to immediate, life-saving care – circumventing deaths by trauma and childbirth – both disproportionately high in Africa – in Nigeria and beyond. A simple idea, adapted for Africa.

Skylar Tibbits, architect and computer scientist
Skyar is developing ways to make things that make themselves, which would allow for such innovations as passive construction and self-repair. He showed how this might work at TED2012 in Long Beach with The Self- Assembly Line. For TEDGlobal 2012, in collaboration with Autodesk, he’s made the Biomolecular Self-Assembly Kit – 500 glass beakers with individual parts which find each other via magnets and traction. As you shake them, they assemble themselves, creating a unique molecular structure, a fun and fascinating demonstration of production of the future.

Christopher Soghoian, privacy researcher + activist
“We are entering a new age where anyone who can listen to anyone else’s phone calls,” says Christopher, who reveals that powerful and readily available devices – which essentially function as portable cell phone towers – can intercept our phone calls. These devices used to cost up to $100,000 and have been used by governments for many years, but are now sold at much lower cost at surveillance conferences. Open source has made it possible for anyone to make such a device for between $20 – using a simple drugstore cell phone – and $1,500. Surveillance, he warns, is now available to anyone. If we don’t implement solutions soon, privacy is gone.

Bahia Shehab, artist + creative director + Islamic art historian
When Bahia was asked to participate in an art exhibition commemorating Islamic art in Europe, on the condition that her piece had to use Arabic script, her first instinct was “no”. Not no to the chance to exhibit, but resistance to trying to communicate to a Western audience in Arabic language. She solved the problem by creating a piece made up of one thousand examples of the character “no” from deep in Arabic art history – from Spain to the borders of China, reflecting the Arabic way of saying “No, and a thousand times, no.” As the the revolution in Egypt accelerated, Bahia began choosing characters from the piece and assigning messages to each – spray painting the messages on the streets of Cairo – no to violence, no to a new pharaoh – transforming herself from artist to revolutionary. She ends with a stencil that combines a “no” with a quote from Neruda: “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t delay spring.”

Robert Gupta, violinist, & Joshua Roman, cellist
The session ends with a Stradivarifest by Robert Gupta and Joshua Roman, who play The Ravel Duo – a piece featuring pizzicato, intricate rhythms and a lighthearted evocation of a cat and mouse game.