Category Archives: General

TED Fellow organizes blood donations for victims of the Peshawar tragedy

Image by TED Fellow Usman Riaz. "No one should be made to suffer, especially innocent children."

Image by TED Fellow Usman Riaz. “No one should be made to suffer, especially innocent children.”

As the world comes to terms with the horror of Tuesday’s school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, health care workers are tending to the scores of wounded survivors. Pakistani tech entrepreneur and TED Fellow Faisal Chohan and his team at BrightSypre have responded by creating a Web-based app to connect potential blood donors with hospitals and health care organizations.

“The scale of the Peshawar tragedy is huge,” he says. “Everyone in Peshawar is directly affected. Masses of people are gathering outside hospitals and blood banks offering to donate blood to the victims, but they are being turned away because of lack of capacity.”

If you are in Pakistan and wish to donate blood, Chohan asks that you visit the Web app and enter your name, contact details and blood type. BrightSpyre is currently working to forward this information to hospitals and blood banks, so that donations can be collected as and when needed.

Let’s kickstart Science in America – David Lang


Science funding is broken. To fix it, we need to empower a new class of makers, citizen scientists and explorers

The troubling state of science funding in America goes by many names: sequestration, the profzi scheme, the postdocalypse. Because it can take extensive planning over years in academia to gain research funds from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, “nobody takes risks anymore,” writes one researcher in his “Goodbye Academia” letter. “Nobody young jumps and tries totally new things, because it’s almost surely a noble way to suicide your career.” The result? We are on the verge of losing a generation of scientists at the exact moment we need to embolden them. Biologist Michael Eisen sums up the effects of the funding crunch: “It is an amazing time to do science, but an incredibly difficult time to be a scientist.”

It’s not all bad news for the thousands of science and conservation ideas that fall outside the traditional funding rubric. Fortunately, new citizen science models are emerging — along with a new class of philanthropic backers to fill the funding voids left by the NSF and the NIH. Our experience developing OpenROV (an open-source underwater robot) into one of the largest (by volume) underwater robot manufacturers in the world is illustrative of this shift.

Looking back at the sequence of events, it seems improbable that such a small amount of initial funding could have made such a large impact, but it makes perfect sense when you break down all the contributing factors. Two years ago, we weren’t even part of the oceanographic community. Our ideas and techniques were outside the playbook for experienced ocean engineers. And since we only had enough money to test the first thing, not the whole thing, we started by creating a prototype. Using TechShop equipment in San Francisco, we able to create several iterations of a low-cost underwater robot that was suitable for our purpose: exploring an underwater cave and looking for lost treasure. After sharing our designs online, we found a community of like-minded developers. Together we raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to do a first run of manufacturing.

This experience made us think: How can we make more microsponsorship opportunities available in science, exploration and conservation?

OpenExplorer was our response. Instead of providing seed funding, we’ve created a model that gives everyone a chance to sponsor new ideas, research and expeditions in science and engineering. One success: TED Fellow Asha de Vos‘s work on preventing the ship strike of blue whales in the Indian Ocean.

In a world paralyzed by apathy and inaction, this is a first step. Where will it lead? Let’s find out!

This piece was originally published in the


Buono Fortuna: Jorge Mañes Rubio documents lost grandeur and glorious decay


This is an abandoned tobacco factory just outside Salerno, in the south of Italy, where several villages were destroyed after a devastating series of earthquakes and landslides in the 1980s. With his project Buono Fortuna (“good luck” in Italian), artist and TED Fellow Jorge Mañes Rubio hopes to reopen the abandoned spaces in these villages to the public, replacing stolen icons and looted artwork with new fictional symbols, inspired by Southern Italian folklore. To a full gallery of Jorge’s Buono Fortuna photos, visit the TED Ideas Blog. And to read about Jorge’s work creating a micronation in a neglected Amsterdam neighborhood, visit the TED Blog.

A ‘Sunken Cathedral’: Bora Yoon’s new album builds musical architecture out of sound, sight and theatrical experience


Bora Yoon builds soundscapes out of instruments and found objects from assorted centuries and cultures, weaving an unlikely and undulating web of immersive sound. As a live performer, the Korean-American composer, vocalist and sound architect often seeks interesting spaces in which to work, creating music specifically for each site. Now she’s created Sunken Cathedral, a multimedia album that lets listeners take the experience of sound and space with them. Here, Yoon tells the TED Blog about the ideas behind this dynamic work, which will culminate in a live performance in January 2015.

You’ve launched an IndieGoGo campaign for Sunken Cathedral, but the record is done, right?

Yes. It’s an enormous beast of a multi-tentacled project that I have been working on for seven years, and it’s all unveiling now in a four-part, year-long rollout—a transformation from record to the theatrical stage. The Sunken Cathedral album—which Innova Recordings released online and on CD in late April—is essentially a musical blueprint upon which everything else will be built.

A trilogy of interactive music videos will be released this month for the iPad with theGralbum Collective—it’s short for graphic album (think: visual album)—featuring the dangerously beautiful kinetic sculptures of U-Ram Choe, who is a crazy, wonderful Seoul-based artist. That will give the piece a virtual and cinematic structure to engage with. A series of music videos will follow in the summer by filmmaker Brock Labrenz, Toni Dove, with remixes by King Britt and DJ Scientific. But the whole thing will culminate as a staged multimedia theater production — essentially the experience of the cathedral itself. That will premiere at the PROTOTYPE Festival, co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Art Center, in January 2015. So theIndiegogo campaign will help pay for this transformation from record into a staged world premiere.

Above: Watch Bora Yoon perform “Sons Nouveaux” live at TED2014.

You typically do site-specific, live musical performances. What possessed you to make such a massive, multifaceted work?

I wanted to create a project that built itself—like musical architecture—from the invisible to the tangible and visceral. Living in New York City, I was doing one-off events and projects, but as someone whose work is already really hard to define, it felt discouraging to be building what seemed a super-disparate and random body of work. So when I got a recording grant in 2009 from the Sorel Organization for Women Composers, I decided to take the opportunity to chip away at a larger aesthetic. I wanted to show a concept of who I am and help define what my artistic practice actually is about — sound and space, environment, experience.

While working on it, I started to understand that because I work site-specifically — or architecturally — the project would have to be multidimensional and multimedia, so that people can engage with it in different ways. And because we live in such an increasingly visual age, I think you have to make things an experience. You can’t just put out a record. When I make music, I definitely see music. I know what environment I’m making, what memory I’m painting, or environment or landscape I’m evoking. These videos are a way for me to show that. It’s visual poetry to support the sonic language that’s happening.

You’re a classically trained musician, right?

Yes. I had a very stereotypical Asian-American upbringing outside of Chicago — with piano, Suzuki violin. I started singing in junior high, and that was really my first love. Choral music was where I started to notice how vertical and horizontal music can happen at the same time. Even though you’re singing one part within many, you’re aware of the vertical staff: you make harmony and chords that are going by in the horizontal aspect of time, and the arc of phrases. When you put vertical and horizontal together, the feeling of transport happens. I always feel art is successful when you can take people somewhere. That’s the litmus test for me. Have you transported people somewhere, and returned them transformed? It’s a ride.

Above: Watch “Father Time” from Sunken Cathedral, directed by filmmaker Adam Larsen, and featuring the kinetic sculpture of Seoul-based artist U-Ram Choe. It’s the first of three interactive music videos releasing on new iPad app Gralbum this May.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Lars Jan: “Art can make people feel climate change in their gut, rather than just understand it”


Flood victims scramble for food rations as they battle the downwash from a Pakistan Army helicopter during relief operations on September 13, 2010 in the village of Goza in Dadu district in Sindh province, Pakistan. Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Flood victims scramble for food rations as they battle the downwash from a Pakistan Army helicopter during relief operations on September 13, 2010 in the village of Goza in Dadu district in Sindh province, Pakistan. Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

The multiple recent papers and reports highlighting the true impending cost of climate change are a relief, right? The ramifications are clearer than ever, the media outlets are taking more notice than ever. People must be taking notice. They must be…   

But are these reports enough to make us change our behavior?


Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’ve been riveted by media images of comparatively frail human figures at the mercy of surging waters, their bodies and movements transformed by this life-giving element momentarily turned against them.

During the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in 2010, I began a personal inquiry into the increasing incidence of devastating floods around the world because the pattern seemed undeniable and relentless — and because a single photo captured by Daniel Berehulak moved me unexpectedly and deeply.

By 2012, the pattern had reached my apartment in Brooklyn in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

At that time, my interest had already turned more broadly towards the mechanisms of climate change. Having achieved a basic understanding of the relevant science and data, I began investigating the real mystery: us. That inquiry has led me to new research on how we make decisions, how we both form and break habits, how our brains evolved to consider the long term, and how we developed as both visual and empathetic animals.

While consulting with several scientists working across such fields as climate paleontology, social cognitive neuroscience and decision science, I kept hearing essentially the same question:

How can the complex, oversaturated topic of climate change be communicated in ways that hit people in their gut?

The implication being, of course, that a visceral response is the most likely path towards behavioral change on a personal and societal level.

When Sandy hit, I remember several scientists responsibly — though almost reluctantly — admitting in the national press that, No, Hurricane Sandy could not be attributed directly to climate change. The devastation climate change wreaks is a macroscopic trend, not a single event, so it’s been nearly impossible to give this complex phenomenon a symbolic face people can mobilize around.

That’s a problem that begs a solution. I believe art is a solution worth trying because its essence is to both articulate the inarticulable and to hit people in the gut, hard.


Earthrise. Photo: NASA

Earthrise. Photo: NASA

It’s generally accepted that the environmental movement reached mass scale when the photo known as Earthrise — among the first color images of our planet taken from space — reached the public.

A world of people and nations divided and fraught in late 1968 saw instantly that in fact, they together were part of one single system: Earth. With the barren surface of the moon looming in the foreground, the uniquely hospitable nature of our collective home was wordlessly apparent.

Of course, Earthrise is a piece of art, taken by an amateur photographer who just happened to be a very professional astronaut. The space program — a terrifically precise integration of science and engineering, fueled by a jaw-dropping brew of national(ist) will and resources — ultimately found its most powerful expression in the artistic form of photography.

The environmental movement had many heroes up to that point, but this photograph moved people and changed popular consciousness more than any one person or piece of legislation ever had.


Holoscenes 3 aquarium concept rendering. Image: Peter Zuspan (Bureau V)

Holoscenes 3 aquarium concept rendering. Image: Peter Zuspan (Bureau V)

As an artist and citizen concerned about climate change, and overwhelmed by the thickening stream of fearsome reports and headlines, I find inspiration in this example.

For three years, together with a team of engineers, scientists and artists, I’ve been developing HOLOSCENES: a public art and performance project that collides the long-term patterns fueling climate change with the short term-patterns of our everyday behaviors.

The project features three massive aquarium-like sculptures, sited in urban public space, that each fill and drain with up to 12 tons of water in less than a minute. Inside each aquarium, a single performer simulates an everyday behavior that collaborators around the world have submitted by video — such as making ramen in Japan or fixing a fishing net in Rwanda. Driven by streams of environmental data, water surges in and out at varying speeds, deluging the performers while they adapt their behaviors to this cycle of endless mini-floods — a collision of the patterns both making up our lives and transforming our biosphere.

I’m working in the legacy of Earthrise, but with crucial updates for the 21st century.

Already living amidst a flood of images, I — and I believe many others — hunger for the local and the live to counterpoint and complement an increasingly screen-based world. HOLOSCENES will translate into many images — photos, videos — but the beating heart of the project is an epic live experience. This urban intervention will travel to one community at a time, manifesting in a visual, visceral experience in public spaces across North America (for starters), accessible to the broadest audience possible, at no cost to them.

And, today, astronauts won’t take the photos; everyone will.

Then again, as a hero of the environmental movement, Bucky Fuller, said, “We are all astronauts.”  Who wants to take the picture?

Lars Jan is the director of Early Morning Opera, a performance + art lab. Learn more about the Kickstarter campaign to fund HOLOSCENES at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche Festival here.

Wall of sound: Ryan Holladay’s Fermata invites you to make space to listen

Experience art with your eyes closed and ears open at Artisphere’s recently launched exhibit Fermata.

The show is centered around a wall of speakers of every conceivable shape and size, and is dedicated entirely to the celebration of sound. Curated by TED Fellow Ryan Holladay, Fermata features the work of almost 30 artists each working with audio in some way, including sound artists (Alvin Lucier, Annea Lockwood), musicians (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Forest Swords, members of Swans, Fugazi, Future Islands), engineers, storytellers and scientists — all working with the medium of sound.

Fermata unfolds in three parts movements each featuring a different combination of six to ten sound works that cycle continuously for a month. Each movement plays on a continuous loop, with no two works playing simultaneously in the gallery. Fellow TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz will have work – music composed using the rhythms of starlight and planets – during the third movement of the show, from June 25 to July 20.

Ears burning? Make haste to Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery in Arlington, Virginia, through Sunday, 10 August 2014.

Somi releases a haunting single and video from her forthcoming album The Lagos Music Salon

“If this were my last song, would you hum along? If this were my last song, would you try to remember everything?”

Somi, American vocalist & songwriter of Rwandan and Ugandan descent, has just released her hauntingly beautiful new single “Last Song” on iTunes, ready to download here.

This haunting, delicate track is from her about-to-be-released album The Lagos Music Salon, inspired by a 2009 journey to Lagos after the death of her father. Of the music video, above, Somi says, “It was shot at the very end of my time in Lagos, just over a year ago. It takes me back to the sun, people, and inspiration that filled my heart.”

The album will be available internationally on May 24, 2014, on Sony’s historic imprint Okeh Records. Watch this space!

Sharmistha Ray’s new blog challenges existing definitions about what constitutes art in India

Photo: Challenge existing definitions about what constitutes art in India.</p>
<p>TED Fellow artist and writer, Sharmistha Ray, explores the metaphysical emergence of gender identity through paintings and drawings. Now, she has partnered with author and art promoter, Anupa Mehta, to create a blog called "Politics of Art," which will serve as an alternative platform for fostering conversations around contemporary art trends in India and internationally. Find the new blog here:

Artist and writer Sharmistha Ray explores the metaphysical emergence of gender identity through her paintings and drawings. Now, she has partnered with author and art promoter, Anupa Mehta, to create a blog called “Politics of Art,” which will serve as an alternative platform for fostering conversations around contemporary art trends in India and internationally. Check it out here. You can also follow the blog on Twitter @politicsofart. To discover more about Sharmistha, read a full interview with her on the TED Blog >>>

One Ring to rule them all: Antonio Torres’s design firm Bittertang to create an organic outdoor amphitheatre

This summer, the design firm Bittertang, co-founded by Mexican-American architect and TED Fellow Antonio Torres, will construct this “living” amphitheater in Lake Forest, Illinois,  primarily from netted straw embedded with wildflowers and vines, which will grow, bloom and transform the theater throughout the summer and fall. The theater, which was the winning entry to the 2014 Ragdale Ring competition, will be twenty feet tall and will function as an outdoor performance space.

Read more about the Ragdale Ring here, and to find out more about Antonio and his work, read the feature-length interview “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” on the TED Blog.

Want to see more cool images like this? Follow us on Instagram @TEDFellow

The man who plants trees: Shubhendu Sharma is reforesting the world, one patch at a time


A forest planted by humans, then left to nature’s own devices, typically takes at least 100 years to mature. But what if we could make the process happen ten times faster? With his company Afforestt, eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma is creating mini-forest ecosystems using an accelerated method. It’s based on the practices of Japanese forester Akira Miyawaki, as well as on Sharma’s own experiences gleaned from his former career in car manufacturing. The TED Blog spoke to Sharma to learn how he’s developing ways to grow native, self-sustaining forests anywhere in the world, with the efficiency of industrial processes.

You started out as an industrial engineer at Toyota. How did you go from the car industry to forestry?

Back in 2008, I was at Toyota in India, helping prepare assembly lines and dispatch systems for car manufacture. One day, a scientist named Akira Miyawaki came to the factory to plant a forest on Toyota’s campus. He gave a presentation on his methods, and I became so fascinated that I decided I wanted to learn how to plant a forest myself.

Miyawaki is quite famous, and very old — I think he’s now 86. He has planted around 40 million trees all over the world. In 2006, he won the Blue Planet Prize — the equivalent to the Nobel Prize in the environmental field. His method is based on what’s called “potential natural vegetation” — a theory that if a piece of land is free from human intervention, a forest will naturally self-seed and take over that land within a period of around 600 to 1,000 years, with the species that would be native and robust, and that would require no maintenance. Miyawaki’s methodology amplifies that growth process to establish a mature, native forest in ten years — ten times the normal rate of forests planted by humans.

I volunteered with Miyawaki and studied his methodologies, and then planted a forest of 300 trees of 42 species in a 93-square-meter plot in my back garden. It was such a success that I decided to quit the car industry to start Afforestt — a for-profit company devoted to planting native forests for all kinds of clients, from farmers to corporations to city governments.

Sharma breaking ground in preparation to plant a new forest. Photo: Afforestt

How does the method work, exactly?

It takes six steps. First, you start with soil. We identify what nutrition the soil lacks. Then we identify what species we should be growing in this soil, depending on climate. We then identify locally abundant biomass available in that region to give the soil whatever nourishment it needs. This is typically an agricultural or industrial byproduct — like chicken manure or press mud, a byproduct of sugar production — but it can be almost anything. We’ve made a rule that it must come from within 50 kilometers of the site, which means we have to be flexible. Once we’ve amended the soil to a depth of one meter, we plant saplings that are up to 80 cm high, packing them in very densely — three to five saplings per square meter. The forest itself must cover a 100-square-meter minimum area. This grows into a forest so dense that after eight months, sunlight can’t reach the ground. At this point, every drop of rain that falls is conserved, and every leaf that falls is converted into humus. The more the forest grows, the more it generates nutrients for itself, accelerating growth. This density also means that individual trees begin competing for sunlight — another reason these forests grow so fast.

The forest needs to be watered and weeded for the first two or three years, at which point it becomes self-sustaining. But after that, it’s best to disturb the forest as little as possible to allow its ecosystem — including animals — to become established.

Don’t you have to keep an eye on the forest in case of changing conditions? Rainfall patterns, for example, are different from what they were in the past, and that could affect native species.

That’s right. In Oman, for example, where I am doing a forestation project, the climate is changing rapidly. The country is getting more rainfall year after year, so biodiversity is actually increasing. We have gone from having to plant thorny, bushy species that can grow in any desert to choosing more deciduous species. This is why, for every species chosen, we do a thorough survey first. We go by real-time data, gathering information for our native species databases. So while a book on native trees may say that X, Y, Z species belongs to a particular geographic region, until we see that species grow full bloom and in good health in that region with our own eyes, we won’t select it as a forestation species.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>