TED2011: Great Minds Share Their Next Big Idea in Just 18 Minutes

World's innovators share ideas at four-day conference.

ByABC News
March 4, 2011, 2:22 PM

March 4, 2011 — -- Welcome to TED, where the world's great minds come to dream the impossible and show that it's happening. This week in Long Beach, Calif., the room gasped at the sight of something that could revolutionize medicine: organs created, in effect, as Xerox copies.

Dr. Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has spent 30 years studying the ability to grow and regenerate human tissue. Stepping onto the TED2011 stage Thursday for his 18-minute talk, he put out his hand and said, "And here it is, you can actually see the human kidney, as it was printed earlier today."

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

In just seven hours, Wake Forest scientists created a functioning human kidney, using cells regenerated from a sample of the patient's living cells. A machine separated out the cells that specialized into kidney cells, which then were grown in a lab and layered on top of one another until they were sculpted into a kidney.

The scientists call it "printing."

Dr. Atala was just one of the 50 or so speakers to present their great ideas over the four-day conference.

Five years ago, TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to "ideas worth spreading," started taking some of these great lectures and putting them online for free. No speaker is ever allowed to go more than 18 minutes -- just 18 minutes to share the next great idea.

Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED conference, said the time limit is "long enough to say something serious, but short enough not to lose your audience."

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who spoke at TED this week, said "by forcing that speaker to boil it down, to capture the essence ... it's inspirational, it's educational."

Starting this month, ABC News will take a deeper look into the remarkable work of TED speakers and feature their related TEDTalks on ABCNews.com

Click Here to Watch Bill Gates Give His TED2011 Talk

Looking back at some of our world's great ideas, many of them first were presented onstage at TED.

Twenty-six years ago, Apple presented its new gadget for the home -- the Mac.

It is where Sony explained the compact disc that might replace the record.

It's where Al Gore went to sound his alarm about the warming Earth with his "Inconvenient Truth," and where chef Jamie Oliver shocked everyone with sugar.