Researchers and students share ideas at TEDxVCU

Photo by Julie Tripp

Kris Mason
Staff Writer

TED x VCU came to the Altria Theater Saturday. The six hour event featured 13 different talks with a lunch break and an intermission. The presentations touched on a wide variety of issues, ranging from liberal arts to criminal justice to science and technology

Elliot Roth is a senior biomedical engineering major and the sponsorship coordinator of TEDxVCU. Roth played a primary role in the planning and coordination logistics of making a TED —  Technology, Entertainment, Design — talk happen at VCU.

Last August, he realized there wasn’t any way to share what was going on at VCU with members of the community who were not directly involved with research. An eye-opening moment for him was when his friend did not realize that a professor down the hall was doing the same research on tissue scaffolding as his friend.

“Something like that showed me that there needs to be a platform for VCU to share ideas and go back and break down walls and barriers between disciplines,” Roth said.

This inspired him to get together a group of inspired student leaders and came to the conclusion that a TEDx event was the best platform to inform the VCU community of all that was happening at the university while celebrating the communal identity.

Last fall a group was formed to begin making plans for an event in the fall  2014 semester. The TEDxVCU planning team hopes to makes this an annual event .

One of the talks was about Bio-interfaced NanoEngineering by Hong Yeo, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at VCU. His research includes multifunctional epidermal electronics printed directly onto the skin. Also known as EES, they are health monitoring electronics and sensors that he is testing to potentially be used as a  sensor system for cancer diagnostics and human-machine interfaces. Yeo showed a picture of the strip on his wrist, which was thin, flexible and nearly transparent.

Yeo also researches human-machine interface (HMI) technologies based on surface electromyography (sEMG). A video of a man wearing Yeo’s patch to control a small  airplane-like machine by just moving his hands without any controller drew applause from the crowd.

Perhaps the most well known speaker in the VCU community is men’s basketball player Melvin Johnson. The junior criminal justice major spoke along with Dr. Robyn McDougle, who is a professor in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

Johnson spoke of his experience in going to a juvenile detention center and how playing basketball and speaking with the people there changed his perspective on his own situation.

He talked about how appreciation is one of the five core values of VCU’s basketball program. His experience at the juvenile detention center helped him develop a better understanding of appreciativeness for what he has in life.

“That right there was my reality check and my humbling moment. I would like to think everyone has had that one humbling moment where they become  extremely appreciative of everything around you,” Johnson said. “Its just something that needs to be embedded in all of us: appreciation and humility. Having a heavy dose of humility can definitely change our lives.”

Professor McDougle felt that it was especially important to have an example of an athlete being a positive role model and a influence in the community in light of the negative headlines professional athletes have been in recently, such as the domestic abuse case of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the child abuse case of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Another speaker who talked about athletic activity was Kevin Gaffari. He told his story of being overweight and how he began to get in shape as he reached the end of high school. He completely changed his physique by the time he reached VCU and his own transformation inspired him to assist others to change their bodies. Gaffari started his own fitness business last year and operates a website: Now a senior at VCU, with plans to pursue a career as a physician, he also enjoyed seeing his fellow members of the VCU community making their presentations.

“I love all the other talks, ” Gaffari said. “There is definitely a wide variety of topics that are being covered and I’m a big fan of everything that been put on so far.”

While not a speaker, current junior biology and psychology student Jennifer Hively enjoyed seeing fellow VCU students and faculty speak as well. After hearing about the event on Facebook, she wanted to see a TED talk in person after watching many talks online.

Hively was particularly fascinated with a talk by Jon DeShazo. The Scientific Director of VCU Biomedical Informatics Core spoke about how his health informatics research assists healthcare providers and patients.

“That kind of inspired me. That was another reason I came here, was to be inspired . As a biology student, I’m really intrigued by that sort of thing, and it seemed like anyone could do it,” Hively said.

Sophomore Jillian Stevens was a speaker at TED x VCU and felt that the experience was beneficial for her. The political science major spoke about why liberal arts still matter in a STEM driven society and due to the communication and analytical skills you can gain from a liberal arts degree.

“It was really empowering to know that people came here at 10 in the morning on a Saturday just to listen to me and others speakers,” said Stevens.

TED x events are independent of TED talks and can be organized by anyone who obtains a license and agrees to a set of rules.

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