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Awe and Wonder at Google Zeitgeist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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One of the great privileges of my job—and, indeed, of any job that is somehow related to science and technology—is that it comes with

Scientific American Science in Action winner Elif Bilgin, 16, of Istanbul, Turkey, tells the audience about how she turned banana peels into bioplastics for her Google Science Fair entry. Credit: Google

regular infusions of wonder at what humanity has been able to do through the use of that process we call “science”: It is fundamental to how we learn about the way things work, or how we have come manage our needs. As one of the speakers in during the morning sessions that I moderated as part of the theme “A Sense of Wonder” at Zeitgeist Americas on September 17 put it, “blowing our minds is therapeutic.”

And those feelings of awe and wonder are not limited to those of us who work in related fields. You don’t have to believe me: In a 2010 study of thousands of the most e-mailed stories by the New York Times, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that stories about science were among the most forwarded. As reporter John Tierney wrote: “Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that researchers investigated after noticing how many science stories made the list.”

With that in mind, I thought I’d share the terrific talks in that session in the videos below.

First let’s hear from, Ron Finley, the “Guerilla Gardener,” who transformed empty spaces in neighborhoods and lives around Los Angeles with green wonderlands of edible plants with some simple advice: “Just grow some s—.”

 

Next, Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer, and Capt. Don Walsh, a one-time airman who later voyaged to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, made clear humanity’s vital connection to the world’s great oceans. First, we hear from Sylvia Earle:

 

And Don Walsh:

Here is the conversation afterward.

Elif Bilgin, who has already won the Scientific American Science in Action award and the Voter’s Choice, and is a finalist for the Google Science Fair awards on September 23, spoke about how she learned to turn old banana peels into bio-plastics. The Science in Action award recognizes a project that makes a practical difference in by addressing an environmental, health or resources challenge. (I serve as chief judge for the Google Science Fair as well as managing the Science in Action awards.)

 

In his talk, Kevin “Kit” Parker of Harvard University combines fascinating biotech research into such fields as traumatic brain injury and wound repair with real-world knowledge—having made two combat tours of Afghanistan.

 

To conclude the session, Jason Silva, who hosts the show “Brain Games” on the National Geographic Channel, put an energetic philosophical spin on the nature of “Wonder.”

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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