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15 Fascinating TED Talks for Physics Students

Considering physics literally keeps the known (and possibly some of the unknown) cosmos alive and kicking, anyone with a particularly piquant passion for the science enjoy thousands of lessons far beyond classroom confines. No matter the principles and applications that capture their imaginations, there likely exists a corresponding TED Talk. Though, admittedly, many heavily emphasize things on a distinctly more spacey scale. Nevertheless, even the distant quasars and pulsars and black holes and question marks out there illuminate some decidedly more terrestrial phenomena.

  1. Michael Moschen juggles rhythm and motion:

    Physics students both novice and rightly seasoned will probably wring plenty of enjoyment out of this delightful merging of science and performance art. Macarthur genius Michael Moschen discusses the more-than-likely-game-changing Dynamic Manipulation process behind his breathtaking juggling acts. And, of course, shows off these perfectly-honed skills to an appreciative TED (and hopefully home!) audience.

  2. Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe:

    TED2008’s overarching modus operandi focused on taking broad questions and attempting to break them down and find some viable answers. Here, the highly decorated and heavily celebrated Cambridge cosmologist and theoretical physicist tackles the broadest — specifically, the very nature of the universe itself. Philosophical and scientific inquiries regarding its origins and populace have stimulated mankind since there was a mankind, and Stephen Hawking offers up some starting points for finding out the truth.

  3. Aaron O’Connell: Making sense of a visible quantum object:

    Quantum particles, which one cannot detect with the naked eye, adhere to physics principles entirely different than those propelling the macro world. One of Aaron O’Connell’s most astounding experiments applied these strange and beautiful phenomena to objects at the visible level, allowing them to exist in two places and two states simultaneously. Listen to him talk about this groundbreaking, jaw-dropping discovery that might very well change the shape of physics someday.

  4. Murray Gell-Mann on beauty and truth in physics:

    Despite his Nobel distinctions, Murray Gell-Mann makes sure to present his scientific and philosophical insights in a manner accessible to general audiences. At once intelligent and quite funny, he challenges viewers and listeners to think about the aesthetics behind inquiries. The idea of more attractive equations garnering more solid, viable results definitely sounds strange, but a fascinating — even a little engaging — case lurks behind it.

  5. Steven Cowley: Fusion is energy’s future:

    Few alternative energy options angry up the collective blood quite like those involving anything nuclear, despite its sustainability and cleanliness. Anyone interested in green initiatives and/or the science behind them will want to check out some of the proposals presented in this illuminating lecture. Even if they never see implementation, these designs still offer up some strategies to explore weaning humanity off fossil and other not-so-clean-burning fuel sources.

  6. Brian Cox on CERN’s supercollider:

    Although the Large Hadron Collider still needs some tweaking these days to offer physicists an intimate glimpse at particle potential, its ultimate goals remain mostly unchanged since this 2008 TED Talk. University of Manchester’s Brian Cox participates in "the biggest scientific experiment ever attempted" and outlines everything it will hopefully accomplish someday. No matter one’s familiarity with all things physics, he or she can still follow the wondrous project’s past and multiple possible futures (which, calm down, conspiracy theorists, probably won’t end the world anytime soon).

  7. Richard Feynman: Physics is fun to imagine:

    TED’s Best of the Web series shares this beautiful, even romantic, BBC talk by the heavily influential late quantum physics trailblazer. In a warm, intelligent, and approachable manner, he sends the audience on a journey inside everyday objects, educating them about the particles making them them. As the title states, the fabulous reality serves as a wondrous springboard towards piquing imagination, innovation, and creativity.

  8. Brian Greene on string theory:

    At some point, most physics students and all physics majors will encounter the bizarre and disputed world of string theory. It posits that every bit of matter in the universe grows from a core comprised of, well, strings of course, and strings vibrating through 11 dimensions. If that sounds a rather strange concept to grasp, don’t be intimidated — Brian Greene explains it thoroughly using ideas and terminology non-scientists can still process.

  9. Honor Harger: A History of the Universe in Sound:

    Stars make sounds, and Honor Harger blends her artistic and technological backgrounds to turn them into creative and educational pieces. Tracking their ancient songs allows scientists (and listeners) to hear what waves remain from the Big Bang! Listen to 14.7 billion-year-old compositions straight from the universe’s origins itself, courtesy of this amazingly beautiful presentation.

  10. Andrea Ghez: The hunt for a supermassive black hole:

    Before Muse ever dedicated a song to the concept, scientists went hunting for the unique physics constructs behind supermassive black holes. The Keck telescope has provided them some breathtaking insight into one of the universe’s most bizarre, powerful phenomena, including evidence that the Milky Way plays host to a particularly giant one at its very center. As technology advances, they may finally discover the truth behind this popular, and well-supported, theory.

  11. Dan Cobley: What physics taught me about marketing:

    Although Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, thermodynamics, and Newton’s second law have little immediate connection with the branding biz, Google marketing director Dan Cobley enjoys smashing the two subjects together. Physics was actually his "first passion," and he highlights how one can use the science to explain the business. Turkish Airlines, McDonalds, and other companies serve as examples in this educational and interesting little lecture.

  12. Patricia Burchat sheds light on dark matter:

    Both dark matter and dark energy make up 96% of the known universe, and despite no scientists ever encountering them directly, still majorly impact pretty much everything. It’s not possible to measure it directly at the moment, but there are ways to track what they are and what forces they exert. Particle physicist Patricia Burchat has devoted a generous proportion of her career to their study, and she shares what science knows about the bizarre structures.

  13. Sean Carroll: Distant time and the hint of a multiverse:

    Parallel and multilayered universes are, to the general public, the stuff of comic books and sci-fi films. Physicists, however, consider it a viable theory to test — and one for which they might be able to draw up some viable supporting science. Time’s strange and not-at-all-straightforward structure unsurprisingly might be the key to understanding this super strange possible reality.

  14. George Smoot on the design of the universe:

    Physics majors and students hoping to turn their studies towards the heavens should certainly switch on this fabulous TED Talk. Marvel at Nobel Prize winner George Smoot’s lush photos of deep space and contemplate the universe’s gorgeous complexities. In particular, he showcases how — despite massive furrows of dark matter and dark energy creating a nearly infinite void — everything we know today came together.

  15. Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, reality’s riddle:

    Everything from the most distant supermassive black holes to the minuscule quantum particles holding reality together operate on similar symmetrical principles. As a mathematician at Oxford, Marcus Du Sautoy understands the intricate inner workings of (almost) everything more than anyone, and he hemorrhages some of his knowledge in this 2009 recording. He knits together how all things interconnect with one another on a base, numerical level sure to tantalize physics buffs.


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