Recap: TEDxDavis

Recap: TEDxDavis

TED talks teaches us about electron microscopes, creating perfect leaders and extending lives

Article by Hudson Lofchie

Photo: Courtesy, TEDxDavis

Published in The California Aggie (theaggie.org) on May 4th, 2011

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What is the one place to simultaneously learn about electron microscopes, the qualities of a perfect leader and how owning a dog can extend one’s life by seven years?

The answer: the TEDxDavis conference.

On April 23, a group of UC Davis students hosted the first ever TEDxDavis event at the Alumni and Visitor Center.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a non-profit organization dedicated to following the mantra “ideas worth spreading.” Speakers at TED are known for being passionate and renowned in their fields. They are expected to convey that passion to an audience in 18 minutes or less.

Among the 11 speakers at the TEDxDavis event were Klaus Van Benthem, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Keith Baar, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior and Keith Merron, founder of Avista Consulting Group, a leadership development firm.

These three scientists covered topics that related to every-day life from a scientific angle.

Van Benthem uses electron microscopes to study the properties of nano-materials, how the materials function on an atomic scale and how that affects their real life applications.

“Instead of using visible light like normal photography, I use electrons,” Van Benthem said. “With electrons, we can take a picture of the atomic structure of a material.”

The resolution of images depends on the wavelength of the radiation captured. Visible light has a wavelength of between 400 and 800 nanometers (10^-5m). The wavelength of an electron can be down to the picometer (10^-12m).

“We can see things 10,000 times smaller,” Van Benthem said.

Merron studies the qualities that make great leaders. He’s studied this topic for years, and he said it was tough to fit his knowledge into one talk.

“It was a challenge for me to make it 18 minutes,” Merron said. “I had to choose the most important ideas to convey and condense those ideas into clear messages with clear concepts.”

Of all the talks, Keith Baar’s was educational and he directly related his research to the lives of everyone in the audience. His talk centered on the benefits of physical activity – including increased life span, higher academic performance and reduced cancer risk.

There are no chairs in Baar’s office; guests are greeted by a chest-high desk, and an iron handshake. The standing-only office is an embodiment of the lessons he conveyed in his talk.

“Standing burns 100 calories an hour,” Baar said. “If you sit in the same position for more than three hours a day, you have a 20 percent increase in cancer risk.”

The focal point of Baar’s talk was his Australian Kelpie, a hyper-energetic breed of dog.

“She gets me up and makes sure that I get my exercise. She is a year and a half old and hyper as all get-out!” Baar said.

Baar said that learning and memory are directly affected by activity, and students who walk just 15 minutes before an exam show a 15 percent average increase on exam scores.

“Instead of watching your favorite show at home on the couch, watch the same show at the gym, walking on the treadmill,” he said.

In a study of 60-year-olds divided into three groups based on physical strength, the strongest third was half as likely to die from any cause and four times less likely to die from cancer than the weakest third of the group.

Corey Warshaw, a junior animal biology major, was the head curator of the TEDxDavis event. He said organizing an event of this size and complexity was not an easy task.

“I learned a huge amount … most importantly, I learned that when you have one of those conversations that starts with ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…’, to go and do it,” said Warshaw. “I think that everyone has an ‘idea worth spreading.’

“TEDxDavis taught me that if you want something, you have to take it, and keep doing that next step until you eventually meet that goal and never look back,” he said.

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