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Creativity in biology

Hear from biology professionals as they talk about creativity in biology. Created by Khan Academy.

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Video transcript

(gentle rock music) (marker scratches) - Hi, everyone, Sal Khan here. Biology is the study of living systems, and you can look all around you and even at yourself to recognize that living systems and biology and nature is fundamentally creative. And for us to understand it, we have to be even more creative. But don't take my word for it. I'm gonna introduce you to some of my close friends who can even better draw this link between biology and creativity. (keyboard keys clicking) (marker scratching) - Creativity is super important in biology because it's hugely important (keyboard keys clicking) in the process of evolution. Evolution often takes a winding path to get to what we see now, and if we wanna follow this path in an attempt to understand it, sometimes we've gotta be as resourceful and clever as evolution has been. That requires creativity in how we solve problems, and even creativity in the questions we ask. - Creativity is so important for anybody who is thinking (keyboard keys clicking) about, who is studying biology. Because the question we're trying to understand is not just, take in all the information that we know about biology. We want people to imagine what biology, what the natural world, what the physical world, you know, what our bodies can actually do, what our brains can do. And to be able to do that, you need to think out of the box, you need to think about things that haven't been thought about before, and that is why biology, that is why creativity is so critical for anybody studying biology. - Creativity isn't exclusive just to the arts, but it also spans into science (keyboard keys clicking) and technology and engineering and mathematics. Creativity and science comes down to, thinking about a problem or a situation, and how best to approach that problem or situation from multiple angles. So, when you approach a problem in the real world, it won't be multiple choice, like you may have in school. It actually would be something that requires you to think about that particular situation, and apply other things you've learned about it to be creative, and to come up with answers that may not have been familiar to you before. (keyboard keys clicking) (marker scratching) - One question that people ask me is, how do I apply creativity to the presentations (keyboard keys clicking) that I give? And my secret sauce is to come up with a visual image that anybody, I don't if you're the adult, whether you're a fifth grader or second grader, that you can grasp that concept. And here's my favorite one. So every single time you move your body, there's whole bunches of neurochemicals that are released in your brain. And you've heard of these neurochemicals: dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin. And so, that's the fact, but the image that I give is that every single time you move your body, it's like giving your brain a wonderful bubble bath of neurochemicals that enrich your brain, that change that neurochemical milieu, and that is the image that everybody that comes to my talks leaves with, and inspires them a little bit (gentle electronic music) to move their body more. So can you come up with that image, that playful, fun, but factually accurate image that conveys your message. That will be your secret sauce too. - Have you heard that the bees aren't doing great? Well, I've been studying that, (keyboard keys clicking) and trying to understand how their complex health issues connect to a curious little parasite that's in nearly every honeybee colony worldwide. It's called Varroa Destructor, by the way. Now, before I started this study, we thought the that it was an open and shut case, that the parasite was sucking out the bee's blood, sort of like a tick on a puppy, but I thought something more strange might be going on. The damage that it caused just didn't seem like the damage that would be caused by blood removal. The feeding process is super difficult to see though, so, I had this idea. I fed different color glowing food to the bees in their pollen and their sugar water, to color their organs specific colors. Then, when the parasite fed on the bees, I could tell which organ it was eating, based on which color was in its digestive system, and it turns out that they were eating the bee's liver, by the way, which is pretty weird, but, this kind of work is actually pretty fun. And it was definitely a place where creativity was rewarded in biology. (keyboard keys clicking) (marker scratching) Some of the world's greatest discoveries have been reached by applying creative thinking (keyboard keys clicking) to scientific questions. Here's a good example. I have been super inspired by the creativity of the Geiger-Marsden gold foil experiments, since I was in high school. They have helped us understand the structure of an atom, and atoms make up pretty much everything we can interact with, biological or otherwise. Like, you can't see an atom, so, you've gotta get creative to figure out how its pieces are all laid out. We used to think that its positive charge was pretty evenly spread out, but this research team fired a beam of positively charged particles at gold atoms, and found that a bunch of them bounced off, while even more of them passed straight through. And this suggested that the positive charge in the atom was concentrated in a small part, because some of the positive particles were upheld, like the two positive poles of like, two separate magnets, but much of the rest of the atom must be empty space, because a bunch of the particles passed right through. Because of this absolutely genius way of visualizing what we can't see, we now know the structure of the stuff that makes up the observable universe. (upbeat synthpop music) And, because of this pioneering research, we've got everything from nuclear power to MRI machines, even the life saving technology that's inside of the smoke detectors in your home. (keyboard keys clicking) (marker scratching) So, the first step discoveries is always the same. (keyboard keys clicking) Figure out your question. Maybe you wanna know where fireflies go during the day, or how mosquitoes find people to bite. And then you should create a hypothesis. Maybe mosquitoes find people by following the smell of sweat and their breath, then consider what must be true for your hypothesis to be true. You might not be able to test a mosquito's smell receptors directly, but if your hypothesis is true, people who are exercising, and thus exhaling a lot, and producing more sweat, should attract more mosquitoes. Actually, I probably shouldn't encourage you to experiment on humans. Why don't you maybe try the firefly question instead? - Young people can get creative in science, (keyboard keys clicking) by using not just science but other things that they're learning from their life, and connecting it to science or connecting science to other things in their life such as art, and other things that are outside of the traditional STEM fields. For example, when you're looking at, or wondering about how something works, like an mRNA vaccine, or how the organ systems work, you can use other aspects of your life, and learn to make, or draw analogies between different systems. That's a really important aspect of being creative and using critical thinking, because a lot of systems are similar to other systems, even though they use different names or look very different, and you can expand on your knowledge on something by being creative, or using other things outside of science to draw connections between different fields and different things.