Neuroscientist Spotlight: Triangle SmartTalk Teaches You to Think Outside the Box

How do machines learn, movies get made, and economists study the environment? We can learn the answers to these questions and more with Triangle SmartTalk. These days, you can train your brain to pay attention, remember things, and even be happier… but can you train your brain to think outside the box?

Bin Yin, soon-to-be Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, says you can. And he’s started Triangle SmartTalk to teach you how. Imagine a TED talk – only instead of just
a broad introduction to an interesting idea, you learn the key terms and concepts that enable you to talk to specialists in the area and create a foundation for learning more on your own time. Now imagine that you get to personally work with the researchers and professionals who work on this issue to develop that story.

That is what Triangle SmartTalk is all about – team-based knowledge-sharing to expand your world. For Bin, such team-based knowledgesharing is essential for creative thinking. “Just listening to a lecture isn’t enough,” Bin said in an interview. “You have to go through the learning process – only then can you think about things in different ways.”

This learning process is central to Triangle SmartTalk’s mission. Each 40 minute talk is presented by only one or two people but is created by an interdisciplinary team of four or five. Prior to the talk, the team meets to discuss the topic, share what they know, and learn from each other how best to introduce the topic to a general audience. The talk is then presented to an auditorium of interested students, postdocs, professionals, and members of the Triangle community. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions. Throughout the process, mutual learning is the primary focus.

“Sometimes the questions can be naïve, but you need that to get out of your framework,” said Bin. While learning how to think in different ways is a primary aim of Triangle SmartTalk, there are other benefits to going to or helping produce one of these talks. “This process helps you build confidence,” Bin said. “You’re not afraid to talk to new people because you know interesting stuff.”
A key component to broadening horizons is by gaining insight from a diverse group of people. As such, Triangle SmartTalk is always looking for new participants. “I really want people who are
interested in it to contact us,” Bin urged. “Get involved, and see what it’s about. We can figure out together how to proceed.”

– Story by Ted Stanek, Duke University

If you are interested in learning more about Triangle SmartTalk and are a Duke affiliate, please add your email to the listserve Non- Duke affiliates can contact Bin at


This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of The Triangle Transmitter. 

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