Art TEDx

Playlist: 9 talks that give a new view of nature

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Most people rarely feel compelled to stare at grains of sand. But when those same grains are magnified hundreds of times and rendered in three dimensions, they appear like individual pieces of colored glass crafted by a skilled artist — no two pieces the same.

In today’s TEDTalk, photographer turned microbiologist turned inventor Gary Greenberg introduces us to the micro world, revealing the hidden wonder of everyday objects in nature as seen close-up using his high-definition, 3D microscopes.

“It’s a magical world beyond reality,” says Greenberg in this talk from TEDxMaui.

In the talk, Greenberg shows us what a bee’s eye look likes when magnified, how human nerve cells look as they fire, and what the stamens in flowers appear like to bugs.  But he spends the most time on his recent obsession — sand. For his book A Grain of Sand, Greenberg photographed samples around the globe, from Bermuda to Japan. (The image above is sand from Maui.) These photos make you realize that, when you take a long walk on the beach, you are walking over thousands of years of geological history. Greenberg even shows close-ups images of dust from the moon — which appear like woven crystals — procured by NASA’s Apollo 11 Mission.

In honor of Greenberg’s work, here are eight talks that give other unexpected views of nature.

Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
Louie Schwartzberg is not content to let us pass by the wonders of nature without taking a movement to be thankful. In this talk from TEDxSF, Schwartzberg shows his amazing time-lapse images of flowers blooming — which can take a month to film. “Theirs is a dance I will never tire of,” he says. “Their beauty immerses us with color, taste and touch.”

Frans Lanting: The story of life in photographs
“Nature is my muse,” says Frans Lanting as he describes his attempts to photograph the places where earth’s evolution began. In this talk from TED2005, he shares striking photographs of what our surroundings looked like before the oceans formed and before the exhale of oxygen.

Edward Burtynsky photographs the landscape of oil
If Frans Lanting photographs the “before,” Edward Burtynsky photographs the “after” — how humans have altered and ravaged the earth. He chalks up the majority of these modifications to nature to one thing: oil. At TEDGlobal 2009, he shares large format photographs of our drilling, production and automobile use, sounding a warning bell about peak oil.

Nick Veasey: Exposing the invisible
Nick Veasey captures images of ordinary sights — people, animals, familiar objects — but he does so in an extraordinary way: using X-ray photography. Most inspired by nature, Veasey shows us our surroundings from the inside out at TEDGlobal 2009.

Karen Bass: Unseen footage, untamed nature
Karen Bass records the previously inaccessible parts of nature. Traversing the remotest parts of the globe by helicopter for weeks at a time, Bass uses new technology to show the world recently discovered species while also solving the mysteries of nature. At TED2012, she shows the astonishing nature footage she’s shot for the BBC and National Geographic.

Reuben Margolin: Sculpting waves in wood and time
Mimicking the beauty of nature, Reuben Margolin sculpts massive structures — like one that imitates the landing of two raindrops next to one another and another that emulates the collision of waves. In this talk from TED2012, he describes the mechanisms and inspirations behind his art.

Camille Seaman: Haunting photos of polar ice
Who knew that icebergs and glaciers have personalities? In this talk from TED2011, TED Fellow Camille Seaman shows her stunning photographers, which somehow humanize massive bodies of ice. As they document the beauty of polar regions, they also highlight a tragedy — that glaciers and icebergs are melting, some giving up quickly and others fighting the good fight. (As a bonus, make sure to watch James Balog’s wonderful talk, “Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss.”)

Louie Schwartzberg: The hidden beauty of pollination
Pollination is an intimate dance between honeybees and flowers. In this talk from TED2011, Louie Schwartzberg gives us an up-close look, showing high-speed footage from his film “Wings of Life.”