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Surprising Science

Discovering How Humans Got Malaria

Today marks the second installment of Big Think’s newest series, “Moments of Genius,” which is sponsored by Intel and focuses on key discoveries by math and science leaders. In our latest clip, Nathan Wolfe, director of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, talks to Big Think about how he and his team of epidemiologists discovered the chimpanzee origins of one of the most important public health crises of our time: malaria.

In the interview, Wolfe also talks about how he developed his passion for science. He says he found his calling in life at four or five years old, while watching a National Geographic documentary on wild gorillas in central Africa with his father. “That was the first sense I had of the potential of scientific inquiry to change the way that we think about the world and to grasp insights that afterwards appear somewhat obvious but beforehand are really quite opaque.”

So far for the series, we sat down with math and science thought leaders—from the inventor of the very first portable cell phone, to the man who turned HIV into a manageable disease—to figure out when and how their passions were born. This first set of interviews featured Martin Cooper, inventor of the cell phone; David Ho, the AIDS researcher famous for pioneering combination therapy in treating HIV-infected patients; and Arlie Petters, a mathematical physicist at Duke who’s out to prove that there’s a fifth dimension.

“Moments of Genius” will run for the next six Tuesdays. Get exclusive insight into the fascinating minds of our greatest math and science thinkers at This series is sponsored by Intel.


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