TED Talks senior fellow Manu Prakash’s specialty in solving the world’s problems is devising simple, inexpensive tools to bring science to places that lack infrastructure.
And he brought his latest discoveries to Vancouver for the fellows sessions that start the annual TED Talks.
Prakash’s first idea was the Foldscope, a $1.50 microscope made of cardboard and plastic lenses that is being used to do field tests for cervical cancer in Argentina, among other things.
Since then, he and his researchers have devised a manual centrifuge made from a whirligig – the child’s toy made from a disk attached to pieces of string – that can separate blood samples and help diagnose blood diseases as well as a database of buzzing sound signatures captured by cheap, flip-phone cell phones that can map pathogen-carrying mosquitoes.
“I call this frugal science,” Prakash told an audience in Vancouver Monday, “It’s the idea of sharing the experience of science, not just the information.”
In that, he embodies TED Talks’ theme this year of “the future of you,” in which TED challenges speakers to imagine how people might work to “collectively thrive in a world of change,” according to TED curator Chris Anderson.
And for Prakash, that isn’t just about bringing diagnostic tools to the one-billion people on the planet where there are no roads, electricity or other infrastructure to support health care, it is also about spreading science education to the one-billion children living in poverty.
“Let’s make science and scientific literacy a human right,” Prakash said to the influential crowd gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s west building.
“The moment you pass the tingling feeling of discovery to another child, you’re enabling them to be the next group of people who will actually solve these problems.”
TED Talks is an annual $8,500 per person event that brings deep thinkers together with an exclusive group of top influencers to talk about ideas to solve the world’s intractable problems.
In addition to the discussions, which take place in a specially crafted theatre built inside the Convention Centre’s biggest ballroom, TED is surrounded by interactive exhibits including Yoga classes and virtual-reality experiences.
TED is an acronym for Technology Entertainment and Design, and the conference that has evolved around its philosophy of emboldening ideas has gathered 90 speakers and performers, including tech-sector guru Elon Musk and tennis phenom Serena Williams.
Sessions started Monday and will stretch to Friday around topics such as “our robotic overlords,” and “the human response,” to “protection, planet,” and “connection, community.”
Williams, one of the world’s greatest tennis players, is due to speak in a session on the topic of “health, life, love,” along with American television journalist Gayle King and a “surprise guest,” who is only identified as a “world figure.”
When TED landed in Vancouver in 2014, it tempted attendees with the promise of a secret guest, who turned out to be William Snowden who addressed the crowd by teleconference on the topic of “taking back the Internet.”