TEDxUCLA 2017: Gravity

The visualization of science


About Olivia

Dr. Olivia Osborne is an interdisciplinary research scientist and artist with a forte in educational entertainment. She is a bold adventurer with a passion to spread virtue and knowledge across the globe. From guest lectures to undertaking terrestrial conservation work in the jungles of Honduras, her love for nature has made Olivia the dedicated environmental toxicologist that she is and an admirable advocate for environmental issues.


One of my greatest fears in this life is the dark. In fact I’m a little bit afraid right now because you’re all in the dark.

But why am I afraid of the dark? For someone that is known to be such a bold adventurer, this not only comes as a surprise but an irrational fear.

As a research scientist, I’m perpetually asking myself about the how and why in things. So when it came to my fear of the dark, I came to the realization that it’s because I simply cannot understand it. If I cannot process it, I fear it, and I am afraid.

I believe this is true to be knowledge of these days, specifically scientific knowledge. I think that we’ve become very afraid of it, and this is exactly the opposite of what we need.

As our world becomes more complex, we need to start thinking in a much more complex way. The human average attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds in the last ten years. That’s shorter than a goldfish. Think about that. I won’t let you think too long because I won’t have your attention span. Still have you? Okay.

As we move forward, we’re going to start thinking about things in a completely different way. So I propose something called curiosity. I’m here today to start the spark, initiate the interest, commence the curiosity.

I propose to do this in a number of ways, but specifically by something called the curiosity flow. Being an avid yogi, I like to use the word “flow” because it means that we can come in and out of it in any sort of way. My curiosity by my research starts in the research aspect and development. Then comes the important bit, which I’ll talk about in a minute: the dissemination of knowledge, the public engagement, the visualization.

This in turn will start planting the seed, this interest, which will grow into an action making the mark.

I want you, if anything, to take home today that you don’t know how powerful you are. You don’t know how one thought can lead to something so big.

Small things can make a very big impact. My research specifically looks at nano, which someone talked about earlier. Nanoparticles are just essentially particles that are very small. And I published a paper that was very well received in the scientific community. It was about nanoparticles and water-related issues.

But as I pondered looking at the Californian sunset, I realized that really the only people that were seeing this were the academic realm. And that’s all very nice, but really this research was about the public, the consumers themselves.

So this is where sort of my artistic point of view comes in. How could I put something of my research into the public realm? And that’s where we came up with this public engagement grant. Through a water molecule structure with mason jars that contained water, we presented my research in a very different way. I realized in the Los Angeleno sweltering heat, that graphs were just not going to cut the mustard.

I actually decided to explain this nano phenomenon through simple experiments and activities. The most popular one, in fact, was the sediment activity, the one that you see there. In a simple way of picking up sediment from the ground and putting it in said mason jar, the public were able to see the particles dissipate within the medium and separate all on their own. Within minutes I had explained a phenomenon that probably could have taken an hour’s lecture.

This visualization is so important in translational science that I think institutions need to start taking charge now. We simply cannot keep our research to ourselves. We need to start spreading this knowledge so it can fit in this curiosity flow.

Now I will say this: this is not just a one-way street. This is going to take your participation as well. Because if I’m doing the research and I’m disseminating my knowledge, you as the public are going to have to start sparking your inner curiosity. Because if you don’t, we are going to start fearing more and more science, people are going to believe less in it, and in the end we’re not going to get any more fruitful outcomes. Plus science is just really cool, to be fair.

And we are here today at Royce and the theme is gravity. By definition — I love definition of words and the etymology — and gravity comes from the Latin “gravitas” and it means “mass that is influenced by energy and light” and it gravitates towards one another.

As far as I’m aware. I’m considering all of you as a mass. So I want you to gravitate towards curiosity. I want you to be influenced by this energy and light, but instead of this darkness, shine a light on it. Take a glimpse into what it actually means. Because actually? The more we do this, the more ideas as one individual can make a massive difference.

And I will finish — sorry! — I will finish with a couple more famous quotes from two very famous scientists that you see up there. I can’t tell the difference I know.

“Nothing in this life is to be feared, only understood. The more we understand, the less we fear.” Marie Curie stated this all those years ago, and I want you to do this again and revisit the topic again today.

What I’m telling you is to spark your inner curiosity. Let this be the seed of change. Let this be your realization. I want to see this visualization and curiosity network grow into something huge and beautiful.

Now go forth and spark your inner curiosity. Thank you very much.