TEDx rekindling the ‘college experience’
April 07 2012 12:00 AM
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Robert Wirsing of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service – Qatar giving a speech on the perils of fresh water shortages
Ross Jackson/Staff Reporter
The magic of the university experience came to life on stage at the Qatar National Convention Centre yesterday, as Education City professors gave inspiring, informative and entertaining talks at TEDxEducation City.
Speakers covered a wide range of subjects, from the material to the intangible, at the first TEDx event.
Yasser Masood, curator of TEDx in Doha, explained his motivation for bringing this event to life, saying: “People miss university life, and we thought ‘Why not try and rekindle that?’ with this event.
“Give them a taste of what they miss, and especially the cutting-edge that they must’ve seen at that time, so it reminds them that there is stuff of significant importance and you don’t have to just stick to what you’re doing – learn about other things that remind yourself that.”
The TEDx team went to each college to find someone who was doing something that was particularly special.
While the format reflected regular TED events, it was kept casual to reflect the college atmosphere.
The speakers took 15 minutes to share their thoughts, activities and interests.
The speeches were filmed by Red Monkey Productions and will be uploaded on the Internet, joining other TEDx speakers from around the world in a rapidly expanding database of informative and inspirational speeches.
The first session saw professors talk about the value and meaning of tolerance for a pluralistic world, the threat of water shortage from Mena (the Middle East and North Africa) to South Asia, and how studying genetics and rethinking our approach to cancer can help improve the alarmingly stagnant rates of curing the disease.
Law Alsobrook, assistant professor of Graphic Design at Virginia Commenwealth University – Qatar (VCU-Q), told the audience how design, something so ingrained in daily life that it goes unnoticed, can save lives when done well.
David Gray, post-doctoral teaching fellow at Carnegie Mellon University – Qatar, discussing the complexities of tolerance in modern societies
Everything from road signs to instruction guides on medical equipment can have a significant impact on human life, and the cost of failure can be high.
VCU-Q professor of sociology Bryad Yyelland talked about the complex nature of identity and how it can change or stubbornly resist change in the face of other people, ideas, and thought constructs.
Yyelland said that people’s first reactions to someone challenging our preconceived ideas and notions are surprise, humour, and then negative when the challenge is persistent.
He also said that the most significant challenge people face when confronting the unknown is to overcome the inertia of our own mental constructions and expectations.
Matthey Szudzik, assistant teaching professor of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University – Qatar, explained how a mathematician’s idea from the 1920s helped develop today’s IT infrastructure, as well as Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine.
Wolfram Alpha “changed the game” for providing answers to mathematical questions for students and professionals, as a tool that did not simply search for an answer stored on the Internet, but actually calculated the formula providing unique data to individual questions.
Rodney Sharkey, professor of Writing at the pre-medical programme at Weil Cornel Medical College – Qatar, gave a hugely entertaining speech on the duality of truth and understanding in poetry, narrative and drama, and how this informs our life and understanding of the world around us.
In an emotionally powerful and moving talk, Ann Woodworth, associate professor in the School of Communications at Northwestern University – Qatar, explained how acting is a form of human communication, and makes us pay attention to others, to human behaviour and what is and isn’t being said.
It teaches us to live in the moment and focus on the positive things that we can do to achieve our goals rather that what we can’t do.
Arun Srinivasa, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University – Qatar, challenged the audience to take the things that look like magic in science fiction and to try and make them real.
He focused on smart materials, which are materials that can do what we tell them to in a dynamic way.
He demonstrated how wires can in fact have geo-metric memory, and can change and restore their shape when given a signal and energy.
One of the practical working examples he gave was of a man-made “jellyfish” which can mimic the movements of the sea creature by harnessing the chemical energy available in the ocean, travelling for large distances without any other input.
TEDxSummit opens on Monday, gathering over 600 TEDx organisers from around the world for the first time.
Delegates will discuss the platform which has now entered its fourth year, and “the future will be decided by the community itself”, said Masood.
The opening night, which is open to the public, will bring popular speakers from TEDx events around the world to participate in a three-hour forum to give people a taste of what TEDx is all about.
Of the 2,000 tickets available, most have already been sold.
TEDx Youth Day will be held again this November with the aim of reaching a wider audience at even younger ages to instill the concept and inspirational value of TEDx.
TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, and was first organised to provide a platform for cutting edge thinking and ideas to be shared with a wider audience.
The digital video knowledge archive now available on the Internet containing these ideas continues to expand everyday thanks to independently organised TEDx events like TEDxEducation City.

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