In Brief

Cassini’s final dive, and more news from TED speakers

Posted by: , and

As usual, the TED community has lots of news to share this week. Below, some highlights.

Farewell to Cassini — and here’s to the continuing search for life beyond Earth. In mid-August, PBS released a digital short featuring Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and the leader of the imaging team for the Cassini mission to Saturn. In the short, Porco discusses what is required for life to exist on a planet, and how Saturn’s moon Enceladus seems a promising place to look for life outside Earth. This coincides with Cassini’s final dive on September 15, 2017. After 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft ended its seven-year observation of Saturn by diving into its atmosphere, where it burned and disintegrated. (Watch Porco’s TED Talk)

How old is zero really? The Bakshali manuscript is a 70-page birch bark manuscript thought to have been used by merchants in India to practice arithmetic. Notably, it contains the number zero, represented by a small dot. After carbon-dating the manuscript, scientists from the University of Oxford, including mathematics professor Marcus du Sautoy, determined that the manuscript likely dates from 200–400 A.D., much earlier than previously thought. If the carbon dating is correct, Bakshali may be the first known usage of zero as a symbol for nothing. (Watch du Sautoy’s TED Talk)

The power of taking time off. In 2009, Stefan Sagmeister took the TED stage by storm as he shared his vision of time off. In his talk, he explains that every seven years, he embarks on a sabbatical year to recharge, be creative, and feel inspired. Fast forward to 2017, and Neil Pasricha teamed up with the CEO of SimpliFlying, a global aviation strategy firm, to test Sagmeister’s approach within the company. Instead of every seven years, employees took vacation every seven weeks. Despite a few pain points, workers’ creativity, productivity and happiness increased, and the firm’s economic performance improved, Pasricha reports in the Harvard Business Review. It seems as though it pays to relax. (Watch Sagmeister’s TED Talk and Neil Pasricha’s TED Talk)

What’s wrong with US democracy — and how to fix it. In this time of divisive politics, Michael Porter and colleague Katherine Gehl released new research describing the causes of the U.S political system’s failure to serve the public interest. Their detailed report explains how the system changed over the years to benefit political parties and industry allies, and offers strategies for how we can reinvigorate our democracy. (Watch Michael Porter’s TED Talk)

The worst flag in North America gets a reboot. In Roman Mars’ TED Talk on awful city flag designs, he calls Pocatello, Idaho’s flag the worst in North America. The city’s residents didn’t stand for that; they called on local officials to create a new flag. In 2016, a flag design committee was formed, discussions were open to the public, and 709 submissions poured in. Mars even traveled to Pocatello to consult on the design process. Now, Pocatello’s flag has been transformed from what the North American Vexillological Association rated as the worst flag in North America into a flag that attempts to capture the beauty and history of Pocatello. (Watch Roman Mars’ TED Talk)  

Community Health Academy: Phase one. The news may be regularly alarming, but around the world, things are on an upward trajectory. At Goalkeepers, held September 19 and 20 in New York City, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation set out to celebrate the “quiet progress” being made toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Amid a speaker lineup that included Malala Yousafzai, Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, 2017 TED Prize winner Raj Panjabi stepped up to share his vision for bringing health care to the billion people who lack it by empowering community health workers. He shared the latest on his TED Prize wish: the Community Health Academy. The project now has 15 partners and phase one, launching next year, will be a free, open-education platform for policy makers and nonprofit leaders interested in community health models. “We cannot achieve the Global Goals without investing in hiring, training and equipping community health workers,” said Panjabi. “We’re working to make sure community health workers are no longer an informal, unrecognized group but become a renowned, empowered profession like nurses and doctors.” (Watch Panjabi’s TED Talk)

Have a news item to share? Write us at and you may see it included in this biweekly round-up.

Featured Image Credit: NASA.