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  • Tom Zimmerman: We'd like to take you on a fantastic journey

  • to visit the creatures we call the Elders.

  • We call them the Elders because a half a billion years ago

  • they tripled the amount of oxygen in the air,

  • which led to an explosion of life,

  • which led to all of us.

  • We call them the Elders, but you probably know them as plankton.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, Simone is a physicist, and I'm an inventor.

  • A couple of years ago,

  • I was giving a talk about an invention I made --

  • it was a 3D microscope.

  • And Simone was in the audience.

  • He realized that my microscope could solve a big problem he was having.

  • Which was, how to measure the movement of plankton in 3D fast enough

  • so he could mathematically model their sensing and behavior.

  • And I frankly needed an application for my microscope, so ...

  • (Laughter)

  • It was like peanut butter meets chocolate.

  • (Laughter)

  • So we started working together, studying these amazing creatures.

  • And then we were alarmed to discover something.

  • And that's why we're here today.

  • And I just want to do something with you.

  • Now, please, just hold your breath for a second.

  • Yes, literally hold your breath.

  • This is the world without plankton.

  • You see, plankton generate two-thirds of our oxygen using the sun.

  • OK, now you can breathe, because they're still here.

  • For now.

  • Simone Bianco: As many of you know,

  • since 1950, the average surface temperature of the earth

  • has increased by one degree Centigrade

  • due to all the carbon dioxide we are pumping into the air.

  • Now, while this temperature increase may not seem like a big deal to us,

  • it is to plankton.

  • Indirect measurements have shown that the global phytoplankton population

  • may have decreased by as much as 40 percent between 1950 and 2010

  • because of climate change.

  • And you see, this is a problem

  • also because it's starving the fish that eat them.

  • And about a billion people around the world

  • depend on fish as their primary source of protein from animals.

  • So you see, this isn't just about breathing.

  • No plankton means no fish.

  • And that is a lot of food we will need to replace.

  • There's something else that is interesting.

  • The bodies of plankton's ancestors

  • actually make up a for lot of the carbon we burn today.

  • Which is kind of ironic, if you ask me.

  • Because the plankton that are here today clean that carbon out of the air.

  • But you see, they don't really hold a grudge.

  • (Laughter)

  • The problem is they cannot keep up

  • with the tremendous amount of carbon we are dumping into the air.

  • So what does all of this mean?

  • Well, it means that our big carbon footprint

  • is crushing the very creatures that sustain us.

  • And yes, like Tom said,

  • killing almost half of the creatures that allow us to breathe

  • is a really big deal.

  • So you're probably asking yourself:

  • Why aren't we doing something about it?

  • Our theory is that plankton are tiny,

  • and it's really, really hard to care about something you cannot see.

  • You see, there's a quote I really like in "The Little Prince" that goes,

  • "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

  • We really believe that if more people could come

  • face to ... cilia with plankton,

  • there is a greater chance we could all rally together

  • and save these creatures

  • that are so important to life on our planet.

  • TZ: Exactly, Simone.

  • So to do this,

  • we're going to bring you scuba diving with plankton.

  • But I just need to shrink you by a factor of 1000,

  • to a scale where the diameter of a human hair is as big as my hand.

  • And I happen to have invented a machine to do just that.

  • SB: Anyone here remember "Fantastic Voyage"

  • or "Innerspace?"

  • Yeah, yeah.

  • Martin Short is one of my all-time favorite actors.

  • And now this -- this is just like that.

  • TZ: Indeed, yes.

  • When I was a boy, I saw "Fantastic Voyage,"

  • and I really loved how I could travel through the bloodstream

  • and see biology work on a cellular level.

  • I've always been inspired by science fiction.

  • As an inventor, I try and turn fantasy into reality.

  • And I once invented this glove

  • which let me travel and help people like you explore the virtual world.

  • So now I've invented this machine

  • to let us explore the microscopic world.

  • It's not virtual, it's real.

  • Just really, really tiny.

  • It's based on the microscope that got Simone's attention.

  • So, here's how it works.

  • I have an image sensor

  • like the kind in your cell phone, behind the lens.

  • And then I have a little tray of plankton water

  • like you might find from a river

  • or my fish tank, which I never change the water on.

  • (Laughter)

  • Because I love plankton.

  • (Laughter)

  • And underneath I have a light, an LED,

  • which is going to cast shadows of the plankton on the image sensor.

  • And now this silver thing is an XY plotter,

  • so I can move the image sensor to follow the plankton as they swim.

  • Now comes the fantasy part.

  • (Laughter)

  • I put a tilt sensor on this helmet

  • so I can control the microscope with my head.

  • And now let's look at the video from this image sensor.

  • These are all plankton.

  • This is in that little tray,

  • and with my head, I can move the microscope.

  • So now we're ready to go scuba diving with plankton.

  • My head will be the navigator,

  • and Simone will be our tour guide.

  • SB: Yes.

  • (Laughter)

  • So welcome all to the wonderful world of life in a drop of water.

  • Actually, as you can see,

  • with this instrument, we are not at all limited to a single drop.

  • Alright, let's find something.

  • The little creatures you see in the center of your screen,

  • they are called rotifer.

  • They are the garbage collectors of our waters.

  • They break down organic matter

  • and allow it to be reclaimed by the environment.

  • Now, you know, nature is an amazing recycler.

  • Structures are continuously built, they are decomposed and recycled,

  • and all of that is powered by solar energy.

  • But just think.

  • Think about what will happen if, you know, our garbage collectors

  • didn't come anymore, if they disappeared.

  • Something else? Let's look for something else.

  • Oh, look at that.

  • You see the big ice-cream-cone-shaped things?

  • Those are called Stentor, those are amazing creatures.

  • You know, they are big, but they are a single cell.

  • You remember the rotifer we just met?

  • That's about half a millimeter, it's about 1,000 cells --

  • it's typically 15 for the brain, 15 for the stomach

  • and you know, about the same for reproduction,

  • which is kind of the right mix, if you ask me.

  • (Laughter)

  • But ... right?

  • TZ: I agree.

  • SB: But a Stentor is only a single cell.

  • And it's able to sense and react to its environment.

  • You see, it will swim forward when it's happy;

  • it will swim backward when it's trying to get away from something

  • like, you know, a toxic chemical.

  • With our friends in the Center for Cellular Construction

  • and the help of the National Science Foundation,

  • we are using Stentor to sense the presence of contamination in food and water,

  • which I think is really cool.

  • Alright, last one.

  • So the dots that you see there that are, let's say, behind everything,

  • they're algae.

  • They are the creatures that provide the majority of oxygen in the air.

  • They convert solar light and carbon dioxide

  • into the oxygen that is filling your lungs right now.

  • So you see, we all got algae breath.

  • TZ: (Exhales)

  • SB: Yay! (Laughter)

  • You know, there's something interesting.

  • About a billion years ago, ancient plants got their photosynthesis capability

  • by incorporating tiny, tiny plankton into their cells.

  • That's exactly like us putting solar panels on top of our roofs.

  • So you see, the microscopic world is even more amazing than science fiction.

  • TZ: Oh, indeed.

  • So now you've seen how vital plankton are to our lives

  • and how much we need them.

  • If we kill the plankton, we will die

  • of asphyxiation or starvation, take your pick.

  • Oh, yes, I know it's sad, yes.

  • (Laughter)

  • In the game of plankton, you win or you die.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, what amazes me is, we have known about global warming

  • for over a century.

  • Ever since the Swedish scientist, Arrhenius,

  • calculated the effect of burning fossil fuel

  • on the earth's temperature.

  • We've known about this for a long time, but it's not too late if we act now.

  • Yes, yes, I know, I know, our world is based on fossil fuels,

  • but we can adjust our society to run on renewable energy from the Sun

  • to create a more sustainable and secure future.

  • That's good for the little creatures here, the plankton,

  • and that good for us -- here's why.

  • The three greatest concerns of people all around the globe

  • typically are jobs, violence and health.

  • A job means food and shelter.

  • Look at these creatures, they're swimming around,

  • they're looking for a place to eat and reproduce.

  • If a single cell is programmed to do that,

  • it's no surprise that 30 trillion cells have the same agenda.

  • Violence.

  • Dependence on fossil fuels makes a country vulnerable.

  • Which leads to conflicts all around the oil resources.

  • Solar energy, on the other hand, is distributed around the whole globe,

  • and no one can blockade the sun.

  • (Laughter)

  • And then, finally, health.

  • Fossil fuels are like a global cigarette.

  • And in my opinion, coal is like an unfiltered type.

  • Now, just like smoking, the best time to quit is when?

  • Audience: Now.

  • TZ: Now! Not when you get lung cancer.

  • Now I know if you look around, some people may abandon facts and reason.

  • Only until suffering --

  • (Laughter)

  • Yes, they will abandon facts and reason.

  • But suffering will eventually and inevitably force change.

  • But let's instead use our neocortex, our new brain,

  • to save the Elders, some of the oldest creatures on the earth.

  • And let's apply science to harness the energy

  • that has fueled the Elders for millions of years --

  • the sun.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Tom Zimmerman: We'd like to take you on a fantastic journey

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT US plankton simone microscope sensor sb carbon

【TED】Simone Bianco and Tom Zimmerman: The wonderful world of life in a drop of water (The wonderful world of life in a drop of water | Tom Zimmerman and Simone Bianco)

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    Zenn   posted on 2018/03/29
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