TEDGlobal: Scientists, activists and a cave art researcher

As TEDGlobal 2011 kicks off, Al Jazeera highlights some of the best talks, presentations and discoveries from the extensive line-up of speakers.

    As the "coolest conference in the world" officially kicks off in Edinburgh, and people pour in from across the globe, various side events exhibit the sharing of ideas and the showcasing of interesting work and projects.

    The TED Fellows programme was one of the pre-conference events. Founded in 2009, the programme "handpicks world-changing innovators from around the globe, and brings them to the TED stage to raise international awareness of their remarkable work".

    This year's class of Fellows included young scientists, photographers, activists, artists and even a cave art researcher.

    Chris Anderson, TED's curator, told Al Jazeera that the conference always has lots of surprises.

    "You have all the big names - Malcolm Gladwell, for example, is speaking on the last day, but usually it is the people who nobody has heard off that turn out to be the big hits."

    Sonaar Luthra is a water-testing innovator and the creator of Water Canary - an open-source device that inexpensively provides information about water safety something that is especially useful during humanitarian crises.

    Luthar explained that testing water in the field requires a huge amount of time and complex, expensive equipment. His device is cost-effective and fast, providing immediate results on water quality.

    Another key speaker, Suleiman Bakhit - a comic creator and social media entrepreneur - started Aranim, a company that creates comics and animation inspired by Middle Eastern mythologies.

    After he was attacked for being an Arab following the 9/11 attacks, Suleiman realised there were no Arab superheroes. Rather than reacting negatively, he decided to use comic books to fight extremism and hatred to promote tolerance, unity and empowerment through his work.

    Another pre-conference event was the TEDx organisers workshop. TEDx events are self-organised, self-supporting mini-TED events that are fast becoming as popular as the original event itself.

    Organisers from across the world are in Edinburgh, learning about new ways to improve their satellite events and network with their counterparts in other regions.

    "You can hold TED anywhere - it's about the ideas, the people that come together, and what's thrilling to see is this amazing international crowd of people from every discipline," Anderson said.

    "TED has become this force around the world with thousands of volunteers around the world, helping us re-invent the art of sharing ideas and that is a very exciting thing to see."

    A big announcement for TEDx organisers came from Amanda Palmer, executive director of the Doha Film Institute and organiser of the TEDx Doha event in Qatar.

    Next year TEDxWWW, a "world-wide workshop", will be held in Doha for all TEDx organisers from around the world, Palmer said.

    TED is - in many cases - becoming a fantastic network of skills and shared values across multiple disciplines, Anderson said.

    However, the main TED conference remains an elite event, attended only by those who can afford the hefty price tag and are accepted into the audience. However, videos of the main talks will soon be available online for free, allowing everyone to watch and benefit from them.

    "Just a few square inches of space on a computer screen and you can really shift a person's thinking," Anderson said.

    "They can weep with emotion and tell their friends, and this convinced us that we should change TED from being just a conference to being ideas worth spreading."


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