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TEDxUCIrvine Gets at the Core of Tech and Humanity

Walking through the double doors of Samueli Theater on Saturday afternoon, one might’ve thought they were arriving at an elegantly-decorated gala or dinner show, with intricate centerpieces dotting the myriad tables and blue and purple lights falling on the stage. Spotting the giant block letters on the stage though, they’d find themselves at TEDxUCIrvine’s spring event, “At the Core.” The showcase highlighted “ideas worth spreading” from members of the UC Irvine community, and featured two distinct acts: “At the Core of Innovation” and “At the Core of Humanity.”

TEDxUCIrvine is a benefactor of the TEDx Program, which provides licensing to independent groups to hold TED-sponsored events. The TEDxUCIrvine events are planned by a group of students called the CORE team, who choose the theme, contact and coordinate the speakers and organize the event itself. This hard-working group of students put on multiple events a year, and continue to provide the university community with thought-provoking and informative discussions.

The first act of the event featured speakers involved in computational, medical and environmental innovations at the university. UCI alumnus and Adjunct Professor at the Merage School of Business Neil Sahota spoke on the everyday utility of cognitive computing, which aims to simulate human thinking and language in order to make interfacing with computer programs feel more natural. Sahota argued that cognitive computing is useful in situations ranging from immediate and correct diagnoses for rare diseases to helping a group of friends figure out where to go for dinner. Dr. Weian Zhao discussed innovations in health care, examining the overuse and misuse of antibiotics and the detrimental effects of this practice. Dr. Zhao advocated for the creation of tools of definitive diagnosis in order to circumvent the cycle of antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Gregory Weiss, the father of UCI’s famous “unboiled egg,” introduced the idea of reversible transformations, using the analogy of a snowboarder riding down a hill and boarding the ski lift to return to their original position to help contextualize the concept of chemical transformations. Dr. Weiss discussed the processes of untangling and folding the proteins in the egg with a vortex fluid device, and simplified the idea for the TEDxUCIrvine audience without dumbing it down. His charismatic telling of this well-known phenomenon was definitely a highlight of the first act of “At the Core.”

The second act of the event, titled “At the Core of Humanity,” featured speakers with profound, emotionally-evocative stories. UCI alumnus Ben Teller spoke on his six-year battle with lymphoma; the speaker began with a story of visiting a sperm bank with his mother in order to freeze his sperm before chemotherapy (his “children in a cup”), a tale that elicited both laughter and squirms from the audience. Teller’s talk motivated the audience to not fear pain, as “pain can be our friend.”

Abby Reyes, the director of UCI’s Sustainability Initiative, told a heartbreaking tale: In 1999, her boyfriend, who advocated for the preservation of a Colombian tribe’s land, was kidnapped and murdered by a resistance group. Reyes discussed healing through the act of rest, and how to recover energy and hope after a debilitating loss. The seriousness and sincerity of her talk resonated through the room as the event came to a close.

Throughout the event, student performers took the stage to show the diversity of talent in our campus community. Two members of spoken word poetry group Uncultivated Rabbits, Farah Billah and Alejandro Sosa, performed powerful pieces about creativity, both ending with the phrase, “…and if that’s not art, I don’t know what is.” Soulstice 2016 winner Ellen Shieh took the stage at the top of the second act, blowing the audience out of the water with a powerhouse rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” The variety in performance kept the energy of the event high and lively.

“At the Core” presented an array of compelling stories based around concrete, physical innovations and forces within the self, ways to build hope and resilience. With powerful messages and profound tales, TEDxUCIrvine truly presented its audience with “ideas worth spreading.”