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20 Coolest TED Talks for Engineers

by Staff Writers

With new technology and innovation rapidly changing how we live our lives, practice health care, communicate, travel and even attend college, there has never been a better time to enter the field of engineering. Whether your interest is in designing new life forms or creating innovative computer architecture, there are classes and majors you can follow to suit your passion. In the meantime, here are some lectures that may help to inspire your engineering ideas, from the microscopic to the massive, from some of the world’s leading thinkers, builders and engineers.

  1. Kwabena Boahen on a computer that works like the brain: Your brain works faster and more efficiently than even the most complex computers in the world today. For this reason, engineer Kwabena Boahen wants to use the organ as a model for building the next generation of computers.
     
  2. Eric Giler demos wireless electricity: We’re all familiar with devices that can connect to the internet wirelessly, but what about the ones that don’t need a plug at all — even to charge? That’s the idea presented in this amazing lecture from Eric Giler, a breakthrough that could change how we interact with our electronics.
     
  3. R.A. Mashelkar: Breakthrough designs for ultra-low-cost products: While we tend to think of super low-cost products as throwaways, that’s not always true. In this lecture, you’ll see how some savvy engineering helped make necessities like prosthetic limbs and cars available to even those with lower incomes.
     
  4. Dennis Hong: My seven species of robot: Robots have long fascinated engineers, whether from a desire to fulfill sci-fi prophecies about human-like automatons or just to see how much can be done to have machinery imitate life. In this talk, you’ll get a chance to see some of the basic types of robots that exist in the world today and where they might go in the future.
     
  5. Saul Griffith’s kites tap wind energy: Dreaming up new, low-cost, green ways to create energy will be one of the biggest businesses for engineers in the coming decade. Here, you’ll see one way that an engineer is turning a simple design into an amazing way to create a large amount of renewable energy.
     
  6. Robert Lang folds way-new origami: You might not think of origami when you think of engineering, but it’s no different than any kind of product or structural design. Watch this talk to see how one man has used the power of mathematics and engineering to fold impossibly complex forms out of paper, taking the ancient art to a whole new level.
     
  7. Frederick Balagadde: Bio-lab on a microchip: It can often be difficult to help those who need it most when you’re limited by space, resources and budget. That’s part of what makes the innovation behind the microscopic lab in this talk so amazing– not only is it an engineering breakthrough, but it’s one that has the potential to save lives.
     
  8. Adam Sadowsky engineers a viral music video: Sometimes, engineering can be pretty fun– or at least entertaining to watch. Listen to this talk to hear how engineers devised a way to make a huge Rube Goldberg machine for a music video.
     
  9. Anupam Mishra: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting: There are some marvels of ancient engineering, like the pyramids, that modern man simply doesn’t even know how to begin replicating. These water management systems, first designed centuries ago, are also an example, performing their purpose more efficiently than any modern innovation has been able to do.
     
  10. Robert Full on engineering and evolution: If you’re looking for inspiration in your engineering, why not look to the animal world? As Robert Full explains, the bioengineered animal kingdom offers up a wealth of tricks scientists and developers can use rather successfully in their own designs.
     
  11. David Hanson: Robots that "show emotion:" As you’ll get a chance to see in this lecture, robots that show emotion and look more human may not be as far away as you think.
     
  12. Amy Smith shares simple, lifesaving design: You probably weren’t away of the danger that indoor cooking fires pose to children in the developing world, but over 2 million die each year– a very saddening statistic to say the least. Yet, as Amy Smith shares, there is a simple solution that shows the true power of engineering at work.
     
  13. Joshua Prince-Ramus: Building a theater that remakes itself: Famous for his work on the Seattle Central Library, this architect and engineer shares how he thinks his contemporaries and successors should change how they work through design to create buildings that are dynamic and versatile.
     
  14. Bertrand Piccard’s solar-powered adventure: Where would innovation be without adventure? In this talk, you’ll hear how one man wants to use the latest engineering in solar powered aircraft to fly around the world.
     
  15. Michael Pritchard’s water filter turns filthy water drinkable: We often take for granted the ready availability of clean, safe water to drink. Yet many people in the world aren’t so lucky. This engineer has a solution with a filter that can turn even the most disgusting water into something drinkable in only a few minutes.
     
  16. Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?: Mushrooms can be for more than pizza toppings, as you’ll see in this lecture, with new innovations helping to turn the fungus into a completely biodegradable replacement for styrofoam.
     
  17. Mathieu Lehanneur demos science-inspired design: Designer Lehanneur shares some of his favorite innovations in this talk, from miniature fish farms to an antibiotic course in one pill, showing how all of these great designs were inspired by the work of scientists.
     
  18. Kevin Surace invents eco-friendly drywall: For the most part, construction materials haven’t changed drastically in the past century. In this talk, you’ll get a chance to see how one man wants to change that, creating a much more environmentally-friendly drywall.
     
  19. Jane Chen: A warm embrace that saves lives: Every year, millions of premature babies die — something that could be prevented by simple access to an incubator. Jane Chen explains how a new design for this lifesaving device can be inexpensive and effective.
     
  20. Peter Haas: Haiti’s disaster of engineering: Learn from Peter Haas on why Haiti’s earthquake was so devastating, and what better engineering can do to help prevent another deadly disaster like it in the future.