My TED talks today are all about the future and how recent discoveries make that future every exciting indeed. They are also about discovering something new about some things that are very old. Here they are:

#1 – Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life?

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I love that we are exploring our solar system and that beyond the politics and scientific glory hunting there is serious exploration fueled by wide-eyed curiosity.

In this talk, Carolyn comes back to update TED viewers about some new and exciting discoveries her team – a joint effort by NASA and ESA – are making about Saturn. They have found elements that they believe encourage their hypothesis that Enceladus – one of Saturn’s moons – could sustain life. They found pretty complex chemical compositions when they analysed the material in what turns out to be geysers blowing from the surface of Enceladus. Benzene and formaldehyde are just some of the compounds they found. Even the ice crystals have been analysed – salt water!

Personally I believe it is wholly arrogant of human kind to believe we are the only ones out there. Life is more likely to exist than not (given that we exist) and this kind of research helps us get closer to realising what is out there.

What I really loved about this short talk was just how googoo seasoned scientists – who no doubt have to fight for funding from the bureaucrats – go for discoveries. It is reassuring for me to see that curiosity and deep passion for something still drive immense discovery.

My Key Learning: That I must remain curious about things and commit more time to understanding things – even those that are old and seemingly familiar – in deep detail.

#2 – Fiorenzo Omenetto: Silk, the ancient material of the future

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In this talk Fiorenzo shares some of the discoveries he and his research team have made from one of the oldest materials that mankind has been using – silk.  This talk is simply breathtaking and I have found huge new respect both for the material and the people who study it.

Humans have been using silk in some form or other for over 5000 years and you might be forgiven for thinking that we had figured out all of its uses. But new tech allows us to dig further and rethink what we know about silk and find new and exciting ways to use it.

Silk is biodegradable, incredibly strong – like bullet stopping Kevlar – and biocompatible (meaning the body won’t reject it). Now with new tech – 3d printing – silk can form the basis for a new generation of medicines and medicine carriers. It can be printing into replacement bone without rejection. So many new uses of this ancient material.

I loved this talk because Fiorenzo was clearly passionate about his work and the life-changing potential (ok – not the styrofoam cup) that silk with new tech can offer us.

My Key Learning: Aside from a whole new and fascinating subject area for me to explore and gain some knowledge in, the big learning for me is there is plenty of innovation in old materials – especially when we have new means of exploring that old material. This is a huge lesson for me because it changes how I think of new capabilities. We might develop new innovation that helps us look farther into the future, but we should also be using it to look clearer into the past and explore existing materials better.

What did you learn from these talks? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below or tweet!

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