Meet the TED2020 Fellows and Senior Fellows whose ideas and innovations are creating meaningful impact.
Artist, writer, filmmaker and TED Fellow Zahra Al-Mahdi's work reveals the unintended impacts humans have on their societies and ecosystems. She is known for collage work using ink sketches layered over photographs, animation on live action and installations that deal with dissected anatomical figures that probe themes in science fiction, post-colonialism and post-structuralism.
TED Fellow Feras Fayyad is a two-time Academy Award-nominated film director, producer, writer, editor and cinematographer, best known for his 2017 documentary Last Men in Aleppo and his recent 2019 documentary The Cave, which earned him critical acclaim and numerous awards and nominations, including Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, making him the first Syrian director to be nominated for an Oscar. He also won an Emmy for best current affairs documentary. Feras has been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 2018 and a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Kiran Gandhi, known by her stage name Madame Gandhi, is an electronic musician, producer, drummer and gender-rights advocate who blurs the boundaries between art, performance and activism. To combat menstruation stigmas, she ran the London Marathon while bleeding freely on her period in 2015. She has performed in music festivals such as Pitchfork, Lightning in a Bottle, Roskilde and SXSW.
Kyra Gaunt's book, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop, published by NYU Press, won of the 2007 Alan Merriam Book Prize awarded by The Society for Ethnomusicology, which contributed to the emergence of black girlhood studies and hip-hop feminism. It also inspired a work by fellow TED Fellow Camille A. Brown, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, which was nominated for a 2016 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production.
Gaunt's articles have appeared in Musical Quarterly, The Journal for Popular Music Studies and Parcours anthropologiques, and she has contributed chapters to I Was Born to Use Mics: Listening to Nas’ Illmatic and The Hip-hop & Obama Reader, among other publications.
Gaunt's scholarship has been funded by The Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities and is a nationally- and internationally-recognized speaker. She also is a certified expert witness in federal and state cases on the unintended consequences of social media. She also continues to perform and record as a classically-trained, jazz vocalist and R&B singer-songwriter. Her original compositions are available on Be the True Revolution.
Environmentalist and TED Fellow Kathy Hannun is the cofounder of Dandelion, a geothermal heating and cooling startup on a mission to electrify heating. She started Dandelion while working as a Rapid Evaluator within Alphabet's X lab, where she led a team that created a carbon neutral fuel from seawater. Dandelion grew from two people to the largest residential geothermal installer in the US in less than three years. The company has pioneered novel drilling techniques to make geothermal installations more affordable and has partnered with ConEdison, one of the largest utilities in the US, to promote geothermal heating as an alternative to fuel oil and natural gas.
TED Fellow Aparna Hegde is a urogynecologist, researcher and the founder of ARMMAN, a nonprofit that's leveraging mobile technology to empower, inform and serve more than 24 million Indian women and children who are plagued by gaps in health care infrastructure, along with training 187,000 health workers. Hegde is an associate professor of urogynecology and the founder of the forthcoming Department of Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Cama Hospital, Mumbai, one of the first university based tertiary Centers of Excellence in the field in India. She has also done pioneering research in 2D/3D pelvic floor USG and is the recipient of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.
Daniel Alexander Jones exemplifies the artist as energy worker. His body of original work includes plays, performance pieces, recorded music, concerts, music theatre events, essays and long-form improvisations. Energy is his medium. He creates multi-dimensional experiences where bodies, minds, emotions, voices and spirits conjoin, shimmer and heal.
Jones's numerous plays and performance pieces include Black Light (Public Theater, Greenwich House Theatre); Duat (Soho Rep); An Integrator's Manual (La MaMa, etc. and Fusebox Festival); and Radiate (Soho Rep and National Tour). He has recorded five albums of original songs as his alter ego, Jomama Jones. He is recognized as a key voice in the development of theatrical jazz and has made a significant contribution to Black experimental theatre and performance. He is currently developing Altar no. 5, a commission of the Public Theater developed in partnership with New York Live Arts.
Jones creates his own distinctive dramaturgy. His roots reach deep into Black American and queer performance traditions, and his work explores ideas of the Afromystical (awakening awareness of the numinous in the everyday through ritualized performance). Over more than two decades of professional practice, Jones has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to civic healing through vulnerable presence, truth telling and collective critical engagement.
Adam Kucharski creates mathematical and computational approaches to help us understand how epidemics spread, and how we can better control them. He has worked on real-time analysis of COVID-19, influenza, dengue fever and Zika outbreaks. His research has provided new insights into how Zika spread prior to the Latin American epidemic, what factors influenced the early dynamics of COVID-19, and how social behavior can shape influenza outbreaks. His popular science articles have appeared in publications including The Observer, Financial Times, Wired and Scientific American. Currently, Kucharski is developing new ways to extract reliable insights about disease transmission from unreliable surveillance data. He is author of The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread -- and Why They Stop.
Jae Rhim Lee is a visual artist and mushroom lover. In her early work as a grad student at MIT, she built systems that reworked basic human processes before turning to work on a compelling new plan for the final human process: decomposition. Her Infinity Burial Project explores the choices we face after death and how our choices reflect our denial or acceptance of death's physical implications. She's been developing a new strain of fungus, the Infinity Mushroom, that feeds on and remediates the industrial toxins we store in our bodies and convert our bodies into nutrients.
Sonaar Luthra is the founder and CEO of Water Canary, a company building a weather service for water to help governments, businesses and communities manage 21st-century water risk. He believes that transforming the world's water data collection infrastructure is the most urgent and least understood challenge facing humanity.
Theoretical cosmologist, scientific storyteller and TED Fellow Katie Mack tackles the biggest and most profound questions about our universe. What is it made of? How did it begin? How will it end? In her work as a physics professor at North Carolina State University, she aims to create links between the wealth of new data astronomers and physicists are gathering and the latest developments in new theories of the cosmos. Parallel to her academic work, she uses her skills as a writer and communicator to make physics and astronomy more accessible to everyone through science writing, social media and public speaking. Her book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), explores how the universe might end.
TED Fellow Itamar Mann is a legal scholar and human rights lawyer dedicated to defending migrants and people facing border violence. His book, Humanity at Sea, focuses on the legal claims of refugees traveling through the world's seas since the mid-20th century. He has brought cases in the name of border violence victims in a variety of international courts and tribunals. He also teaches human rights and has guided students in projects, such as assisting refugees stranded in Greek prison islands. His legal advocacy strives to highlight the facts of his clients' lives in a captivating way, including working with filmmakers and artists to portray important events.
There is a nebulous factor that artists like TED Fellow Jorge Mañes Rubio have. This factor is a relentless yet stylish drive to accomplish something significant, to make a difference, to fulfill a vision -- in a big way. It's inexorable. Mañes Rubio recontextualizes the common and overlooked in our society and reveals it to us in a way that makes us know more about what we thought we already understood. And he does it with a warmth or humour that includes us -- not excludes or demeans. There's a compassionate, shared, embracing energy to his art. It draws us in, makes us more aware and more human.
Data champion Barbara Maseda is founder of Proyecto Inventario, a project that explores innovative ways to collect and open data in Cuba, a country without transparency policies and with very poor internet access.
TED Fellow Matthew Mazzotta works at the intersection of art, activism and urbanism, focusing on the power of the built environment to shape relationships and experiences. His community-specific public art projects integrate new forms of civic participation and social engagement, revealing how the spaces we travel through and spend our time living within have the potential to become distinct sites for intimate, radical and meaningful exchanges.
Mazzotta works with local residents to invent spaces -- from active systems that convert dog waste into energy to light city parks to physically transformable buildings that turn main streets into movie theaters to traveling dining experiences that bring together chefs and climate scientists to serve meals made of local plants endangered by climate change.
Majala Mlagui champions the socioeconomic advancement of women, youth in government, ethical mineral value chains and environmental conservation.
TED Fellow Aaron Morris's research focuses on creating an early-warning system for autoimmune disorders, organ transplant rejection and cancer. In 2022, he will open his lab within the department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan with the mission of advancing the ideas in this talk. Before beginning this work as a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan, he earned his PhD from Yale University in 2017. At Yale, Morris used genetic engineering and controlled drug delivery to develop better materials for medical devices.
Dr. Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil is searching for the most peculiar objects in the universe. Her research led to a discovery of an extremely rare galaxy with a unique circular structure, now commonly referred to as Burçin's Galaxy. Her work provided the first description of a double-ringed elliptical galaxy, challenging current theories and assumptions about how the universe works and how galaxies start and evolve.
Mutlu-Pakdil earned her PhD at the University of Minnesota and her undergraduate degree is from Bilkent University in Turkey. She spends most of her time searching for hierarchical structure at the scale of dwarf galaxies as a novel test of the Cold Dark Matter paradigm. She uses data gathered in a large range of wavelengths from premier telescopes worldwide to learn more about how the universe came to be the way it is today.
TED Fellow Naomi Mwaura is the founding director of Flone Initiative, an organization that's creating a safe and professional public transport industry in Kenya by influencing behavior change, generating knowledge and movement-building. For the past seven years, Flone Initiative has worked with more than 3,000 public transport workers, over 100 transport stakeholders and 1,000 women professionals to implement interventions. As part of its mission, Flone Initiative hosts the annual Women and Transport Africa Conference.
Mwaura was among the leading organizers of MyDressMyChoice protest against gender-based violence in the Kenyan public transport. She has led research projects that have significantly contributed to the knowledge base of gender and mobility issues in developing cities. She is a coauthor of the Flone Initiative "Gender Sensitive Mini-Bus Services and Transport Infrastructure for African Cities Toolkit" in partnership with UN-Habitat.
TED Fellow Rohan Pavuluri is the founder of Upsolve, a nonprofit that empowers low-income and working-class families to overcome financial distress and legal complexity by providing free education, community and technology. To date, Upsolve has relieved over 350 million dollars in debt for families suffering from medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans. Pavuluri is also an advocate for increasing access to justice for low-income families by simplifying courts and reforming rules that limit who can provide legal assistance. He serves as a member of the Emerging Leaders Council of the Legal Services Corporation, which gives out 400 million dollars each year to fund civil legal services, and as a board director of the National Center for Access to Justice.
TED Fellow Khalil Ramadi is a biomedical researcher developing hair-thin brain probes, ingestible medical devices and other innovative technologies. His work centers on creating minimally-invasive techniques to modulate neural physiology and studying how to build a nurturing entrepreneurial ecosystem to support translational technologies.
Paul Rucker is a visual artist, composer and musician who combines live performance, sound, original compositions and visual arts. The product of a rich interactive process, his work investigates community impacts, human rights issues, historical research and basic human emotions of a particular subject matter. Much of his work focuses on the prison-industrial complex and the many issues accompanying incarceration in its relationship to slavery. He has presented performances and visual art exhibitions across the country, including in schools, active prisons and inactive prisons like Alcatraz.
Rucker's installation REWIND garnered much praise and acclaim, including "Best Artist 2015" from Baltimore Magazine, "Best Solo Show 2015" and "#1 Art Show of 2015" from Baltimore City Paper, reviews by the Huffington Post, Artnet News, Washington Post, The Root and The Real News Network. He has received numerous grants, awards and residencies for visual art and music. He is a 2012 Creative Capital Grantee in visual art as well as a 2014, 2018, 2019 MAP (Multi-Arts Production) Fund Grantee for performance. In 2015, he received a prestigious Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant as well as the Mary Sawyer Baker Award. In 2016, he received the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, for which he is the first artist in residence at the new National Museum of African American Culture.
Rucker's residencies include MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, Ucross Foundation, Art OMI, Banff Centre, Pilchuck Glass School, Rauschenberg Residency, Joan Mitchell Residency, Loghave, Montalvo, Hermitage, Hemera Artist Retreat, Air Serembe, Creative Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. In 2013-2015, he was the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Artist in Residence and Research Fellow at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He was also awarded a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2018 TED Fellowship and the 2018 Arts Innovator Award from the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation and Artist Trust.
Rucker is an iCubed Research Fellow embedded at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
TED Fellow Sarah Rugheimer is an astronomer and astrobiologist at Oxford, where she's learning how to find life on another planet. She studies how stars' high energy radiation might help or hamper our efforts to discover new life and explores how a planet's atmosphere changes over geological time. Her work is used to inform future telescope development and observation planning, such as for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Outside of her research, she cohosts a podcast for women in STEM called Self-care with Drs. Sarah.
Dr. Edsel Salvaña discovered that the driving force behind a new AIDS epidemic in the Philippines is the entry and spread of a deadlier strain of HIV -- a situation that can easily occur anywhere in the world.
Salvaña is an infectious disease specialist, molecular epidemiologist and the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines in Manila. He uses next-generation sequencing to study HIV viral diversity and superinfection. He looks at how HIV develops drug resistance to better understand why the Philippines suddenly has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and why HIV treatment that works well in developed countries is failing on emerging HIV strains in the country. He trains doctors in infectious diseases, and supervises the care of several thousand HIV patients at the Philippine General Hospital. He has been a national force in the formulation of HIV treatment guidelines, campaigning against stigma, and raising awareness.
Salvaña's advocacy work has been featured in Science, and he has been recognized with numerous national and international awards including the "Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World" from JCI International and the Young Physician Leader Award from the Interacademy Medical Panel of the World Academy of Sciences. He was named a TED Fellow in 2017.
Environmental journalist Peter Schwartzstein reports on the immediate, present-day violence and disruption caused by climate-related environmental change. Based out of Egypt and Greece, he mostly works in the Middle East, North and East Africa, and sometimes further afield.
Ecologist Gowri Shankar is cofounder of the Kalinga Foundation Trust and the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology, two environmental education and research organizations in Karnataka, India. His work focuses on the conservation of the Western Ghats with a specific focus on reptiles, particularly king cobras.
For years, filmmaker and journalist Almudena Toral has tracked the difficulties and exploitation faced by immigrants and asylum seekers in the US and Latin America. Currently, she is the executive producer at ProPublica, heading documentary films at the nonprofit investigative news organization. Prior to her current role, she headed the enterprise video team at Univision News Digital, which covered the US and Latin America through documentaries, photo essays, visuals for interactives, special projects, illustration and animation. Previously, she taught video storytelling, pursued her own projects worldwide and worked at the New York Times and TIME. Her work has been published by The Guardian, AlJazeera, VICE, The Intercept, Canal+, NPR, PBS and other outlets.
Toral produced a short documentary on children with PTSD stemming from the zero tolerance policy and was awarded the 2019 World Press Photo Online Video of the Year. Her work has also been recognized with four News and Documentary Emmy Awards, three Edward R. Murrow awards, Pictures of the Year International, the Hillman Prize, RFK Human Rights Journalism Award, PDN Photo Annual, NPPA Best of Photojournalism, the Webbys, the Gabo award, the Ortega and Gasset and others.
TED Fellow Bianca Tylek is one of the nation's foremost experts on the prison industry and the founder of Worth Rises, a nonprofit working to dismantle the prison industry through public education, policy advocacy, corporate activism and community organizing. She works to protect the limited economic resources of people, families and communities exploited by prison profiteers and strip the industry's power over the criminal policy. More specifically, as a leader in the prison phone justice movement, she led the nation's first successful campaign to make jail phone calls free in New York City and has since supported similar initiatives across the country.
Engineer-turned-teacher and TED Fellow Brittany Young helps people make the next big jump in their lives by connecting culture, talent and genius to opportunity -- helping to help end the cycle of poverty, disrupting the prison pipeline and building bridges in communities.