Culture TED Talks

9 talks by impressive kids

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Few scientific papers are written in crayon and begin with the words, “Once upon a time.” But then again, few scientific papers are written by a group of 8- to 10-year-olds.

In this adorable talk from TEDGlobal, neuroscientist, artist and educator Beau Lotto shares why he thinks children have an edge when it comes to scientific inquiry — they are able to celebrate uncertainty and ask wonderful questions. An experiment is actually a form of play, says Lotto, who invited a group of 25 students from a small school in the UK to make a useful contribution to science by asking a question of their choice.

The question the students came up with: can bees think like human beings?

Student Amy O’Toole, who’s 12 now, joined Lotto on stage to explain the experiment, which tested whether bees could solve a puzzle and learn to fly to a specific color of flower in a specific pattern. Indeed, the bees could.

“This project was exciting for me because it brought the process of discovery to life,” says O’Toole in this talk. “It showed me that anyone, and I mean anyone, has the potential to discover something new.”

To hear more about this non-traditional experiment and the two-year struggle to get it published in the journal Biology Letters, watch this wonderful talk. (You can actually read the Blackawton Bees study here.) Below, see eight talks from other impressive kids on the TED stage.

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Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids
Childish thinking is worthy of real attention, says 12-year-old short story scribe and blogger Adora Svitak at TED2010. Instead of looking just to teach kids, Svitak urges grown-ups to try to learn from them too.

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Sirena Huang: An 11-year-old’s magical violin
Sirena Huang began violin lessons at age 4, and made her professional debut at age 9. In this talk from TED2006, Huang shows great maturity and charm —  taking the time to praise the design of the violin.

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Thomas Suarez: A 12-year-old app developer
Perhaps you have used Thomas Suarez’s most famous iPhone app, the whack-a-mole game “Bustin Jeiber”? While most kids his age were playing online games, Suarez was learning how to make them. At TEDxManhattanBeach, he shares how he is sharing his knowledge and teaching other kids to develop apps too.

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Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah: Award-winning teen-age science in action
At TEDxWomen 2011, three teenage scientists share the discoveries that helped them sweep the Google Science Fair. 13-year-old Lauren Hodge uncovers the truth about grilled chicken: it may not be as nutritious as you think. Shree Bose exposes the possible resistance of chemotherapy by ovarian cancer. And after realizing the dangerous effects of indoor air pollutants, Naomi Shah shares her startling revelations about how to better approach asthma.

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Tavi Gevinson: A teen just trying to figure it out
15-year-old Tavi Gevinson was struggling to find strong female role models, and noticed that many of the women represented in the media were lacking depth. But Gevinson wasn’t disheartened, she says at TEDxTeen. Instead, she created a space where girls like her could find each other and redefine modern feminism.

Richard Turere (age 13): My invention that outsmarted lions
Tourists come to Kenya for the lions. But lions also attack cattle in towns and villages, at great cost to the locals. When he was 11, Richard Turere developed a device — made from five flashlight bulbs, a car battery and a solar panel — to keep lions away. At TED@Nairobi, he shares his invention.

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Jennifer Lin: Improvising on piano, aged 14
In this moving performance and talk from TED2004, Jennifer Lin shares her process of creativity. Syncing together inspirations to create her own structures, Lin discusses how her love of drawing contributes to her often-improvised musical compositions.

Jack Andraka: A test for pancreatic cancer
15-year-old Jack Andraka has developed a promising new test for detecting pancreatic cancer early, because too often the disease isn’t diagnosed until it has spread throughout the body. Down the road, Andraka’s test could save many lives. In the meantime, it has netted him a win in the world’s largest high school science competition. (Read our Q&A with Jack.)