20 Incredible TED Talks for Math Geeks

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December 8th, 2010

For some, math education, whether it's in grade school or on the path to getting a bachelor's degree, is just plain dull. Yet math geeks know that the subject can be fascinating, beautiful and even awe-inspiring when it's presented in the right way. These lecturers know how to do just that, making everything from fractals to physics fun, interesting and just plain entertaining to learn to about, whether you're a math geek or a math hater.

  1. Arthur Benjamin's formula for changing math education: Whether you always knew you wanted to focus on a career in math, or were one of those students wondering where the heck you would ever use your newly-cultivated knowledge in real life, this lecture will speak to you. Benjamin offers up new, practical ways to make math education relevant in today's society.
  2. Margaret Wertheim on the beautiful math of coral: If you've ever marveled at the beauty and complexity of the coral reef, you'll enjoy this talk from Margaret Wertheim. In it, she showcases not only the geometry behind coral reef creation, but her own unique crocheting technique that allowed her to replicate those designs in textiles.
  3. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita predicts Iran's future: Can math predict the future? While there is always an element of uncertainty, in this lecture you'll see how math has been used to correctly predict events like war and political power shifts – and what it says for the future of Iran.
  4. Robert Lang folds way-new origami: We've all seen the simple swans or fortune tellers that we folded as kids, but few have ever seen origami as complex as this. Robert Lang showcases his origami methods in this lecture that combine math and engineering to create objects that are truly awe-inspiring.
  5. Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals and the art of roughness: If you know a thing or two about fractals, you're bound to know the name Mandelbrot. In this lecture, this legendary mathematician explains the essentials of fractal math and what these complex structures can tell us about nature and humankind.
  6. Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover: In this talk, education expert Dan Meyer explains what's wrong with math education today and why it should focus less on teaching kids to solve problems and more on how to formulate ones of their own.
  7. Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers: Even if you loved math class, you probably agree that it could use a makeover to reflect modern technology and applications. Here, Conrad Wolfram explains why math is so boring to so many students and what can be done to change it.
  8. Arthur Benjamin does "Mathemagic": You'll love watching mathemagician Arthur Benjamin race against calculators to figure out three-digit squares, solve massive equations and even guess audience member birthdays. Best of all, he'll explain how you can do it too.
  9. Sean Gourley on the mathematics of war: War may not be as random as one might think. In this lecture, you'll see how analysis of wartime statistics reveals some interesting correlations between fatalities and frequency of attacks.
  10. Steven Strogatz on Sync: Ever wonder how birds, fish and insects manage to work, move and survive together in such large groups? Take a look at this lecture where mathematician Steven Strogatz explains the phenomenon of sync and what it means for both the natural and unnatural worlds.
  11. Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, reality's riddle: There are many things both in the natural world and in the manmade one that rely on symmetry. It's virtually everywhere you look, but we often don't see all that's really behind it. In this lecture, you'll get a chance to understand the numbers that bring these symmetrical objects together.
  12. Ron Eglash on African fractals: In this engaging lecture, you'll learn about the research mathematician Ron Eglash has done on fractal patterns that show up in African villages and architecture.
  13. Demo: Stunning data visualization in the AlloSphere: Numbers themselves can sometimes seem a bit boring, and it can be hard to understand what they really mean. This demonstration of the AlloSphere helps bring data to life in a stunning way.
  14. Evan Grant: Making sound visible through cymatics: We can hear sounds well enough, but can rarely see them. This lecture turns that on its head, talking about cymatics, the process by which sound waves are made visible. You'll not only find the math compelling but the designs these sound waves create beautiful.
  15. Greg Lynn on calculus in architecture: Think calculus has no place in architecture? Architect Greg Lynn would beg to differ and shares how using calculus and digital tools lets architects create new building forms and amazing structures.
  16. Peter Donnelly shows how stats fool juries: Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly explains how human beings are so often fooled by numbers, especially statistics. For example, these errors hold the potential to impact the lives of all those involved in a trial — perhaps for the worse.
  17. Gary Wolf: The quantified self: Can't get enough of numbers? This lecture from Gary Wolf shows how mobile apps and gadgets can help you track just about every number about yourself and your life in infinite detail.
  18. Stephen Wolfram: Computing a theory of everything: The creator of Mathematica and the Wolfram behind Wolfram Alpha, Stephen Wolfram knows a thing or two about using computers for math. Here, he shows how the abilities of computers to analyze, collect and organize data can help us unravel the mysteries of our own world and the universe beyond.
  19. Alan Kay shares a powerful idea about ideas: Learn how computers can be amazing tools when it comes to teaching kids about science and math, demonstrating concepts in ways that no other things can.
  20. Dan Cobley: What physics taught me about marketing: Physics and marketing may make strange bedfellows but that didn't stop Google marketing director Dan Cobley from bringing them together. In this lecture, he shares how he applied what he learn in physics to his own ideas on branding.

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