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What’s your smartphone made of?

What’s your smartphone made of?

As of 2018, there are around 2.5 billion smartphone users in the world. If we broke open all their newest phones, which are just a fraction of the total that’ve been built, and split them into their component parts, that would produce around 85,000 kilograms of gold, 875,000 of silver, and 40 million kilograms of copper. 

Gold, silver, and copper are actually just a few of the 70 or so chemical elements that make up the average smartphone. These can be divided into different groups, two of the most critical being rare earth elements and precious metals. Rare earths are a selection of 17 elements that are actually common in Earth’s crust and are found in many areas across the world in low concentrations. These elements have a huge range of magnetic, phosphorescent, and conductive propertie that make them crucial to modern technologies. In fact, of the 17 types of rare earth metals, phones and other electronics may contain up to 16.

In smartphones, these create the screen and color display, aid conductivity, and produce the signature vibrations, amongst other things. And yet, crucial as they are, extracting these elements from the earth is linked to some disturbing environmental impacts. Rare earth elements can often be found, but in many areas, it’s not economically feasible to extract them due to low concentrations. Much of the time, extracting them requires a method called open pit mining that exposes vast areas of land. This form of mining destroys huge swaths of natural habitats, and causes air and water pollution, threatening the health of nearby communities. Another group of ingredients in smartphones comes with similar environmental risks: these are metals such as copper, silver, palladium, aluminum, platinum, tungsten, tin, lead, and gold. We also mine magnesium, lithium, silica, and potassium to make phones, and all of it is associated with vast habitat destruction, as well as air and water pollution. 

Despite this, the number of smartphones is on a steady increase; by 2019 it’s predicted that there’ll be close to 3 billion in use. This means that reclaiming the bounty within our phones is swiftly becoming a necessity. So, if you have an old phone, you might want to consider your options before throwing it away. To minimize waste, you could donate it to a charity for reuse, take it to an e-waste recycling facility, or look for a company that refurbishes old models. However, even recycling companies need our scrutiny. Just as the production of smartphones comes with social and environmental problems, dismantling them does too. E-waste is sometimes intentionally exported to countries where labor is cheap but working conditions are poor. Vast workforces, often made up of women and children, may be underpaid, lack the training to safely disassemble phones, and be exposed to elements like lead and mercury, which can permanently damage their nervous systems. Phone waste can also end up in huge dump sites, leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water, mirroring the problems of the mines where the elements originated. 

A phone is much more than it appears to be on the surface. It’s an assemblage of elements from multiple countries, linked to impacts that are unfolding on a global scale. So, until someone invents a completely sustainable smartphone, we’ll need to come to terms with how this technology affects widespread places and people.

From the TED-Ed Lesson What’s a smartphone made of? – Kim Preshoff

Animation by Compote Collective

The Genius of Marie Curie

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Growing up in Warsaw in Russian-occupied Poland, the young Marie Curie, originally named Maria Sklodowska, was a brilliant student, but she faced some challenging barriers. As a woman, she was barred from pursuing higher education, so in an act of defiance, Marie enrolled in the Floating University, a secret institution that provided clandestine education to Polish youth. By saving money and working as a governess and tutor, she eventually was able to move to Paris to study at the reputed Sorbonne. here, Marie earned both a physics and mathematics degree surviving largely on bread and tea, and sometimes fainting from near starvation. 

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In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium spontaneously emitted a mysterious X-ray-like radiation that could interact with photographic film. Curie soon found that the element thorium emitted similar radiation. Most importantly, the strength of the radiation depended solely on the element’s quantity, and was not affected by physical or chemical changes. This led her to conclude that radiation was coming from something fundamental within the atoms of each element. The idea was radical and helped to disprove the long-standing model of atoms as indivisible objects. Next, by focusing on a super radioactive ore called pitchblende, the Curies realized that uranium alone couldn’t be creating all the radiation. So, were there other radioactive elements that might be responsible?

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In 1898, they reported two new elements, polonium, named for Marie’s native Poland, and radium, the Latin word for ray. They also coined the term radioactivity along the way. By 1902, the Curies had extracted a tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride salt from several tons of pitchblende, an incredible feat at the time. Later that year, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics, but Marie was overlooked. Pierre took a stand in support of his wife’s well-earned recognition. And so both of the Curies and Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize, making Marie Curie the first female Nobel Laureate.

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In 1911, she won yet another Nobel, this time in chemistry for her earlier discovery of radium and polonium, and her extraction and analysis of pure radium and its compounds. This made her the first, and to this date, only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different sciences. Professor Curie put her discoveries to work, changing the landscape of medical research and treatments. She opened mobile radiology units during World War I, and investigated radiation’s effects on tumors.

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However, these benefits to humanity may have come at a high personal cost. Curie died in 1934 of a bone marrow disease, which many today think was caused by her radiation exposure. Marie Curie’s revolutionary research laid the groundwork for our understanding of physics and chemistry, blazing trails in oncology, technology, medicine, and nuclear physics, to name a few. For good or ill, her discoveries in radiation launched a new era, unearthing some of science’s greatest secrets.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The genius of Marie Curie – Shohini Ghose

Animation by Anna Nowakowska

Happy Birthday to Marie Curie!

teded: In the mid-ninth century, Chinese alche…

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In the mid-ninth century, Chinese alchemists were trying to create a potion for immortality. Instead, what they created was a flammable powder that burned down many of their homes. They quickly realized that this black powder, which they called fire medicine, was precisely the opposite of something that would make you live forever.

Once they figured out the right proportions of ingredients to create a blast, they began using the powder even more, creating fireworks to keep evil spirits away and bombs to defend themselves against Mongol invaders. It was these Mongols, most likely, who spread the invention of gunpowder across the world.

So, while the Chinese alchemists never found the compound for eternal life, they did find something that would go on to shape all of civilization, something that has caused many tragic moments in human history, and yet still gives us hope when we look up in celebration at the colorful night sky.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The deadly irony of gunpowder – Eric Rosado

Animation by Zedem Media

teded: It’s 1762. John Montagu is the 4th Ear…

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It’s 1762. John Montagu is the 4th Earl of Sandwich, a small parish in the southwest of England. Despite his keen administrative skills, Montagu is a corrupt politician, an adulterous husband, and an incessant, degenerate gambler. Often, while Montagu is in the midst of a particularly high-stakes game, he will insist on being served his meals at the table. In a moment of vision, though likely inspired by his travels, the Earl orders his meat and cheese be brought to him stacked between two slices of bread so that he may eat with one hand while continuing to gamble with the other. In one notorious episode, Montagu spends a full day and night gambling. It is during the infamous 24 hours at the gaming table that Montagu’s characteristic handheld concession is dubbed “the sandwich.“ 

According to one estimate, Americans now consume more than 300 million sandwiches every day.

Happy Sandwich Day!

From the TED-Ed Lesson How the sandwich was invented | Moments of Vision 5 – Jessica Oreck

7 Spooky(ish) Scary(ish) TED-Ed Lessons to Wat…

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Vampires: Folklore, fantasy and fact – Michael Molina

Animation by The Moving Company Animation Studio

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Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) – Helen Sword

Animation by Bran Dougherty-Johnson

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The terrors of sleep paralysis – Ami Angelowicz

Animation by Pew36 Animation Studios

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Diagnosing a zombie: Brain and behavior – Tim Verstynen & Bradley Voytek

Animation by TED-Ed

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The science of stage fright (and how to overcome it) – Mikael Cho

Animation by KAPWA Studioworks

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The brilliance of bioluminescence – Leslie Kenna

Animation by Cinematic Sweden

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How do you decide where to go in a zombie apocalypse? – David Hunter

Animation by @provinciastudio

Happy Halloween! <3 TED-Ed 

Pre-game for Halloween with some Spoooooooky TED-Ed Lessons!

Why Do Cats Do That? (Vol.4)

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Happy #Caturday Tumblr! For the next several Saturdays, we’ll be trying to help you understand what’s up with your house cat.

In the wild, cats needed sharp claws for climbing, hunting and self-defense.  

Sharpening their claws on nearby surfaces kept them conditioned and ready, helped stretch their back and leg muscles, and relieved some stress too.  

So, it’s not that your house cat hates your couch, chair, ottoman, pillows, curtains and everything thing else you put in her environment. She’s ripping these things to shreds and keeping her claws in tip top shape because this is exactly what her ancestors did in order to survive.

Curious about cats? Check in with us every Saturday for some more #catfacts!

From the TED-Ed Lesson Why do cats act so weird? – Tony Buffington

Animation by Chintis Lundgren

It’s Cat Day, Tumblr! Wanna play ‘Why’s my cat so weird??’ with us?

From the TED-Ed Lesson Why do cats act so weird? – Tony Buffington

Animation by Chintis Lundgren

10 facts you should know about Pablo Picasso

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10 facts on the highly influential Spanish artist.

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Pablo Picasso, Self Portrait, 1907

1. Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. His father was an artist and art teacher in the classic European style.

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Pablo Picasso, The old fisherman, 1895

2. As a teenager, Picasso studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. There he learned how to paint realistic images of people and landscapes, just like his father had before him. 

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3. At school, Picasso began to question the conventional art wisdom in Europe. For example, why should a portrait strive to duplicate reality from a single viewpoint, when the recent invention of photography made it possible for anyone with the right equipment to accurately portray a person’s face?

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Pablo Picasso, The old blind guitarist, 1903 // Pablo Picasso, A boy with pipe, 1905

4. In his early 20s, Picasso began to experiment with new ways to create meaning through unconventional brushwork styles and color palettes of blue and rose. His first exhibit was not a financial success.

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5. Picasso moved to Paris and became friends with a group of painters and writers who were also pushing the boundaries of what was considered to be “acceptable” art in Europe. One of these avant-garde painters was the French post-Impressionist artist Paul Gaugin. Another was Henri Matisse.

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Self Portraits: Paul Gaugin // Pablo Picasso // Henri Matisse

6. Gaugin and Matisse introduced Picasso to a variety of non-European art forms, viewpoints and ideas.

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7. Picasso found one non-European art form particularly enchanting: African masks, traditionally used in ritual storytelling.

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8. Inspired by the African art he’d seen, Picasso created the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

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Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

9. While most of Picasso’s friends disliked the multifaceted style of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he found a kindred spirit in George Braque. Together, they invented a new art form that embraced many angles and viewpoints. Matisse called this “Cubism.”

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10. Picasso is known for Cubism — but he created much more than that. Throughout his life, Picasso kept learning and experimenting with new art forms and types of media, and he continued to paint, sculpt and draw in a variety of styles. Today he is considered to be one of the most influential European artists of the 20th century.

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For a deeper dive into ancient influences on modern art, watch How ancient art influenced modern art – Felipe Galindo

Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse

Animation by TED-Ed

Happy Birthday, Pablo Picasso!

teded: More Mole Day facts for you!! If you co…

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More Mole Day facts for you!!

If you covered the Earth in a mole of donuts, how thick would that layer be?

8 km!

Happy Mole Day!

From the TED-Ed Lesson How big is a mole? (Not the animal, the other one.) – Daniel Dulek

Animation by Augenblick Studios

teded: Happy Mole Day! Not every number is coo…

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Happy Mole Day!

Not every number is cool enough to have its own nickname, let alone two. Way to go 6.02 x 10^23 (aka Avogadro’s number aka the mole)!

How big is a mole? (Not the animal, the other one.) – Daniel Dulek

Animation by Augenblick Studios

teded: Today is Alfred Nobel’s birthday. Among…

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Today is Alfred Nobel’s birthday.

Among the top prestigious awards in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize has honored some of the most celebrated and revered international figures and organizations in history. But how does the nomination process work? And who exactly is eligible? 

Adeline Cuvelier and Toril Rokseth detail the specifics of the Nobel Peace Prize in the TED-Ed Lesson How does the Nobel Peace Prize work? – Adeline Cuvelier and Toril Rokseth