UCI Students Host TEDx Talk

Courtesy of Alan Wu

Courtesy of Alan Wu

Over 100 people crowded the Calit 2 building to discover what UC Irvine’s TEDx had to offer last weekend.

An estimated 130 people attended “The Adventure of Discovery,” UCI’s first TEDx talk of 2014 on Saturday, May 31, in Calit 2. The event opened up with choreography at 2 p.m. and played host to lectures from 10 guest speakers including UC Irvine professors and students as well as non-UC Irvine associated speakers and performers. The TEDx UC Irvine CORE Team spent a total of 1,700 hours to prepare for the event, according to TEDx Executive Director for UC Irvine José Luis Ramos.

“Today we want to challenge you to redefine what adventure and discovery mean to you and how we incorporate these words into our everyday lives,” Ramos said before kicking off the event.

TEDx talks are independently organized and funded lectures that bring a similar experience to that of talks hosted by TED. The event hosted a wide variety of talks from 10 different presenters and several short movies. The presentations were varied with several sub-themes emerging to show discovery in several fields, with the most common being technological and personal innovation. Several talks centered on this theme, including TED movies which accompanied the lectures. Mark Bachman, UCI assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and director of the eHealth Collaboratortory, was the first to speak on the importance of innovation and how it affects our lives.

“My job is to think of innovation and teach innovation. Innovation is on everyone’s mind,” Bachman said, leaving little doubt that he valued innovation. However, as he later put it, innovation is not easy.

Bachman elaborated on this and how it led to his belief that the American educational system is not preparing the innovators of tomorrow, rather in his words, it is similar to a superhighway that makes students “take the safe way and avoid risk.” Rather, he felt that a better approach would be to model America’s education system after a complex ecosystem with focus on Bachman’s “four keys to innovation” of risk, adaptability, creativity and execution.

In addition to innovation, one of the other sub-themes that came up during the talks was the re-discovery of old knowledge in today’s world. For example, Jeremy Hohn, an actor and UC Irvine drama major, presented a talk on the history and idea of clowns that questioned the audience’s conventional held beliefs regarding the character’s place in society. Hohn summarized the character as “a mask,” though the audience was left to come to their own conclusion.

However, Hohn was not alone in relearning past knowledge. Neurobiology professor James McGaugh, who was unable to attend but pre-recorded a video talk for the occasion, revealed how his research on stimulation and its effects on memory revealed a truth that was discovered by Sir Francis Bacon in 1620.

Other talks were on more pressing topics such as war refugees. Sama Wareh, an artist and activist from Orange County who raised money to aid Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon, told her story of how she worked to help the lives of families who had suffered from the Civil War in Syria. Other presenters focused on problems closer to home, including Sharine Wittkopp, a medical toxicology graduate student who revealed a surprising correlation between air pollution, cellular mitochondria and cardiovascular health. As air pollution increases so too does mitochondria inflammation, which increases the chances of heart disease and stroke.

However even though all humans have mitochondria, all mitochondria are not identical across ethnic lines. Due to the different climates around the earth, different groups evolved different structures of mitochondria; those closest to the equator have tight-knit and efficient mitochondria and those far away have less efficient and more spread-out mitochondria. This difference affects the way the mitochondria react to harmful environments and makes air pollution more harmful for those with tight-knit mitochondria.
She explained, “Where your family landed after migrating out of Africa 100,000 years ago could determine how your body responds to pollution today.”

The event concluded after Informatics professor William (Bill) Tomlinson’s talk on his idea for how to create more sustainable infrastructure and food production methods, or “Collapse Complaint Systems,” as he called them. Tomlinson’s systems were based on sustainable food production but could be expanded to other areas as well. Even though, as Tomlinson said, “when I say collapse I do not mean apocalypse,” he conveyed that it is still a very serious issue.

“Recently my colleagues and I have been asking a different question, ‘what if sustainability doesn’t work out?’ So I would propose that if sustainability doesn’t work out, if we need to adapt to these new ways that the world is, we need new ways of living. We need ways of living that don’t rely on relatively few resources but on no resources.”

He called these systems “an insurance policy” that would be used in case of future resource shortages and the chaos that comes with them. These systems are designed to make areas self-sufficient. Tomlinson wished to create a realistic plan to prepare for a scenario similar to those presented in Niel Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse.”

Tomlinson’s ideas may come into being as a result of a new class that will be offered across the UC system during winter quarter of 2015 called “Global Disruption and Information Technology.” This and some of the other ideas presented may change the future of our world, but only time and action will show which succeed and which fail.