What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: When did science spark your interest?

Vest: Well you’ll hear a similar story from many people my age, I suspect. I had a very early interest in science and sort of things physical. And frankly a lot of it came from the fact that at the end of World War II, there was suddenly on the market all of this amazing army surplus equipment – microphones, and head phones, and radio components. And very early on I got interested in playing with things like that; with working with them with my hands; reading all the typical magazines of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science and so forth. The interesting thing however is that I never really developed any affection at all for mathematics until somewhat later. And so it really wasn’t until about the time that I was in high school and college that I started liking the more abstract-analytical part of science. But a lot of it went really back to playing with surplus equipment. I have to tell you one other story because it’s a little amusing. One of my schoolmates in grade school . . . One of my schoolmate’s father was commander of the local state police post. And one of the things he had to do was raid places that were using slot machines. And he’d have to smash the front of the slot machine, and then his son and I got to tear it apart and get all the relays and components out of it. So I had a lot of fun like that – building model airplanes, all the usual things.I studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at West Virginia University. I actually lived at home and went to school to save money. And immediately upon graduation I was married and we moved to Ann Arbor, and I started graduate school at the University of Michigan. And after that for almost 20 years was a very straightforward kind of academic experience and career. I did my thesis work under a quite extraordinary professor from Turkey named Veda Arpiche, and we worked in what I would really call “applied science” today. We worked on something called Hydrodynamic Stability Theory. But it was a lot of work in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer – which at that time were very exciting fields because they had advanced quite dramatically an association with the . . . with the space program. But I worked in a more sort of theoretical part of that. Then when I graduated I ended up having several opportunities to join good faculties around the country, but I ended up staying at the University of Michigan. And when I did that I decided well I should do something really different. The last thing I wanted to do was stay on and continue the kind of work my thesis advisor did. So at that time the field of holography – three dimensional photography, if you will, based on the use of then very new lasers – was being developed largely at Michigan because in its modern form it was really invented by two faculty members there – Emmitt Leath and ___________. So I decided to go over and start working in their laboratory which was an entirely different field populated by physicists, and electrical engineers, and optics experts. I was the only mechanical engineer. And I got very interested in how this technique of forming these amazing three dimensional images of things could be used to measure properties of importance in the kind of engineering I did. So together with my graduate students, we developed a number of techniques for taking these sort of qualitative images and making them quantitative measurement tools; and in particular became the nth group . . . Or “N” is a very large number to sort of independently discover the principles of computer tomography, which most people know from medical applications getting three dimensional measurements such as look inside of the brain structure and so forth. We did this for things like wind tunnels, and flames, and chemical experiments. And so I did a lot of things all around the theme of taking classical engineering problems and applying this sort of radical new measurement technique to it and moving that technique from something that was qualitative to something that could make quantitative measurements. That sort of in a nutshell is what I did. I planned at that point nothing other than a straightforward academic career because I loved teaching. That’s really why I became a professor even more than the research side. I love teaching, working with my graduate students, doing research, and figured I’d probably do that ‘til I retired. But things turned a corner later. Recorded on: 12/5/07



When did science first spar...

Newsletter: Share: