Adam Savage (Host of MythBusters) Explains How Simple Ideas Become Great Scientific Discoveries

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Adam Sav­age (Host of Myth­busters) Tells Sarah Lawrence Grads to Think Broad­ly … and Don’t Work for Fools

1370 TED Talks List­ed in a Neat Spread­sheet

TED-Ed Brings the Edgi­ness of TED to Learn­ing

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. See more of her work at and

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