Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Last night I attended a TED event for the first time ever. It was a TEDx (i.e. independently organized) event with a Carleton University flavour. The speakers were all professors, but attendees were members of the general Ottawa community. Each person invited or accepted via application was considered to be a 'change maker.' The theme was ideas driving innovation.

Even though none of the speakers were computer science specific (the cognitive scientist being the closest), I still think this event is worth mentioning. The atmosphere was almost electric, and the subjects of the talks, each so different from the others, were all very interesting.

Our Women in Science and Engineering faculty advisor, Banu Ormeci, spoke about water purification, pointing out that simple and affordable solutions are possible and can save many lives. For instance, UV filtration can be done with a plastic tube and light bulb.

School of Architecture professor Manuel A. Báez dazzled us with images of his 'crystal and flame' sculpture creations. He studied the generative potential of forms such as the patterns on a long-exposure photograph made by swinging a rope around, and wondered if it would be possible to actually build these structures. Check out some of his work here.

Maria de Rosa, a truly pro presenter and professor of chemistry, talked about nano-particles in the context of fertilizer. The idea was to create a fertilizer that would not evaporate or be washed away when the plant didn't need it, and that would release itself when the plant's roots sent a particular signal indicating that it needed nutrients.

Musician Jesse Stewart actually played the podium early in his talk. That's right - he started tapping it as a true percussionist would. He told us about making music with found objects, and convinced us that you don't need lots of money to teach music in schools. Just look at his students' Paperphonics band. They used nothing more than pizza boxes.

Finally, cognitive scientist Jim Davies told us about imagination. He told us to focus on the kind of imagination that can picture what something looks like even when we haven't seen it, not the creativity kind (though the latter is still pretty awesome!). His research involves databases of images that can correlate relative positions that common objects appear in. For instance, if the image contains a keyboard, mouse, etc, then there's a good chance there will be a monitor, probably somewhere above the keyboard. With this, a computer vision algorithm could potentially figure out what objects are missing or what something is in the correct context (e.g. sky vs. an image of the sky on a computer monitor).

Despite the inspiration-value of the talks themselves, I found the networking opportunities before, during, and after the event the most valuable. Thanks to a community website set up a few days earlier, I knew there were a few attendees interested in games and augmented reality and was able to chat with them. I was also able to talk about a potential interview with our MC Alan Neal from CBC's All in a Day. I would get the chance to talk about our Women in Science and Engineering group (CU-WISE) and the upcoming Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering.

All in all, TEDxCarletonU was great, and I hope there will be more local TEDx events I can attend in the future!


Oliver said...

I'm curious where their advertising was focused. I would have been very interested to attend, but your blog is the first I've heard of the event. I must be losing touch with the rest of the world. -_-

Gail Carmichael said...

That's too bad. :( I'm guessing a lot of advertising was done through school, but definitely being on Twitter helps (lots of locals talking about it). I was invited, so I don't remember if I learned about it at all before that.

Japman said...

Amazing post Gail :) Always nice to relive the event from last night.

Oliver, there was a decision made to focus advertising through viral and social mediums. So much of the effort was on Twitter and Facebook, as well as word of mouth. Very little conventional advertising was done.

Don't worry. Last night was a success, as far as I believe. Hopefully TED feels the same way, and a future TEDxCarleton will be in the cards :)

Gail Carmichael said...

Glad you liked it! :)

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