Great x-pectations: TED teens take the stage

Leading the way: These two young scientists have collected 16 awards between them.

Clean water for everyone; higher crop yields; energy produced by nothing more than the human body. A TEDx conference on Saturday will bring together some of the world’s most inventive teens.

Ann Makosinki was 15 when she won Google’s Science Fair in 2013. She had been talking to a friend from the Philippines, who was failing at school because the lack of electricity in her home meant she struggled to study at night. Ann was so shocked that she decided to solve the problem herself.

Introducing the ‘hollow flashlight’: a torch made from Peltier tiles which uses the heat from your hand to power an LED light. Her simple invention could transform lives — and she has gone on to give several TED talks, invent the ‘eDrink’, and model for Uniqlo.

Ann will be appearing in London this weekend for the TEDxTeen conference at the O2 Arena. And she will be in good company — teenage entrepreneurs from all over the world will gather in Greenwich to take to the stage.

There is 18-year-old Ciara Judge, who conducted an experiment with natural bacteria in her spare bedroom, and was able to increase the productivity of cereal crops by around 75%. Then comes university student Konstantin Avdienko who invented a solar-powered ‘water condenser’ which produces clean water out of thin air — literally.

The teenagers are part of an inspiring new generation who combine technology know-how with a desire to do good. Last year, the 19-year-old Jack Andraka published a memoir detailing the story behind his own world-changing invention: a strip of paper which can detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers 400 times more efficiently than other tests.

‘I like to think we’re a very self-aware generation,’ explains Ciara. ‘You can launch a company and have it grossing millions a week, but if you’re not giving something back it really doesn’t benefit you as much.’

Genius generation?

Anyone attending Saturday’s conference may conclude that teenagers in 2016 are some of the most creative the world has ever known. Is it any wonder? Endless information is just a Google search away, and they have grown up using social media; promoting their products is as instinctive as breathing. As Ciara puts it: ‘they change the world from inside their bedroom’.

But all of that technology can also be a recipe for distraction, counter others. Last year, a study found that the human attention span had reduced from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight — that’s less than a goldfish. And previous generations still produced their fair share of prodigies without iPads and Twitter. In the 17th century, the mathematician Blaise Pascal used a piece of coal to write his first proof on a wall at the age of 11; Mozart began composing when he was just three years old; and the poet Alexander Pope was 12 years old when he wrote his first major piece, Ode on Solitude.

You Decide

  1. Which of the world’s problems would you most like to help solve?
  2. Are today’s teenagers the most creative ever born?

Activities

  1. Split into groups, and work together to design your own invention. Don’t worry too much about the technical details for now — just think about how you can solve an everyday problem. Take it in turns to pitch the idea to the rest of the class.
  2. Write and research a biography of one of the prodigies mentioned in the article above.

Some People Say...

“The formula for success is simple: practice and concentration.”

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ll never be that successful!
You don’t know that — as the teenagers at Saturday’s conference are eager to point out, it’s easier than ever to pursue your dreams while you’re still young. And it doesn’t just apply to science: other speakers and performers at TEDxTeen include 17-year-old singer Mahalia, who featured on Rudimental’s We The Generation last year, and Mariah Idrissi — whom you may recognise as H&M’s first hijab-wearing model. Just keep working hard at the things you love, and you never know what could be around the corner.
What does the ‘x’ mean?
TED is an annual conference known as the ‘ultimate brain spa’. TEDx events are approved by TED, but independently organised by local enthusiasts.
Can I get tickets?
Sadly not — they have already sold out. Maybe next year...

Word Watch

Philippines
A country in southeast Asia with more than 7,000 islands. Despite some economic growth in the country, around 20% of the population still lived below the international poverty line ($1.25 per day) in 2012.
Peltier
These tiles use heatflow energy to produce electricity when one side is heated and the other remains cool. Ann realised that this was the perfect way to harness the untapped energy of the human body.
TED talks
TED (an acronym for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’) is a nonprofit organisation with the tagline ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. Its speakers give short, accessible talks on their specialist fields.
EDrink
A coffee mug which uses heat from its drink to charge a phone.
12 seconds
From a study of 2,000 people by Microsoft, published in 2015.
Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the world’s most famous and prolific classical composers. He was born in Austria in 1756 and composed around 600 works; he died in 1791.
Alexander Pope
The English poet is known for mastering the art of satire and translating Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey from the Ancient Greek.

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