A good TED talk is like a commercial for a great idea. There might not be much meat to sink into, but like any good ad agency, TED has its own unique formula for making even the most esoteric subject grabby.
Who, after all, would have thought that a video of a British guy lecturing about how schools kill creativity would get more than 8 million hits? Evidently the folks at TED did, and were they ever right.
Good TED talks come in a few flavors. That British guy I mentioned? Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about contemporary education is one of TED’s best policy critique talks (and its most popular overall). There are also the personal stories that compel and the demonstrations of great new ideas.
This talk by actor and educator Adam Savage might fall into more than one of those buckets. In the video above, Savage—who designed models for two Star Wars movies and hosts Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel—talks plain and simple about some of humanity’s most amazing scientific discoveries. He walks us through how Eratosthenes calculated the Earth’s circumference more than 2000 years ago and how Hippolyte Fizeau measured the speed of light in the mid-1880s.
These two men used nothing more than their own brains and a few relatively simple tools to make astonishingly accurate observations. It’s stuff we already know, but in true TED style Savage makes the whole thing revelatory and inspiring.
“What happens when you think about the discoveries and what they were thinking is you understand that they were not so different from us,” Savage says. “The people who made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at. And they were a little bit more curious.”
Savage’s video is part of TEDEd’s Lessons Worth Sharing, which comes bundled with other videos and exercises that teachers can use to discuss the notion that simple ideas can lead to scientific discovery.
It’s also a very good commercial for curiosity. Seven and a half minutes promoting curiosity. Take a look. Curiosity, as Savage says, can change the world.
Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. See more of her work at and thenifty.blogspot.com.