TEDxTufts presents its second annual event, ‘Verge’

Jordin Metz (LA '16) presents “Chemistry is All Around You" at the Annual TEDxTufts event on April 17. Alberto Rivera courtesy Steph Cleland

TEDxTufts presented its second annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event, “TEDxTufts: Verge,” to an audience in Cohen Auditorium on Sunday afternoon. 

The event, which was co-sponsored by the Tufts Institute for Innovation, Tisch College, the Tufts Office of the President, Tufts Alumni and Anna’s Taqueria, was independently organized under the general guidelines of the TEDx program and was designed to bring members of the Tufts community together to share ideas and experiences through spoken presentations, according to the TEDxTufts website. The event sold 430 tickets, 10 tickets from selling out, according to sophomore Dani Kupfer, the partnerships director of TEDxTufts.

This year’s event theme, “Verge,” was highlighted by the division of the program into two halves titled “Converge” and “Diverge.”

“The stories shared on our stage all interact with this concept — whether they serve to consolidate different ideas to create something new, or break from traditional modes of thought to find a radical, uncharted space,” Slide Kelly, the curator of TEDxTufts, told the Daily in an email.

The event featured 13 speakers in total, including undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and professors — all from the Tufts community. Five undergraduate students, beginning with senior Jordin Metz, who is a chemistry major, spoke at the event. 

Metz, whose presentation was titled “Chemistry is All Around You,” spoke about society’s perceptions of chemistry and the subject’s application to everyday life.

“The ‘I could never [study chemistry]’ response was ubiquitous,” Metz said, describing results from a survey he took. “Chemistry is too abstract, too math-y, too small to comprehend.”

He challenged audience members to see chemistry in a more nuanced way.

“We know the ‘how’ but not the ‘why,’” he said, providing an example about the painkiller Advil, which many people consume without understanding the chemical processes behind the drug.

Metz ended his presentation by comparing the microscopic nature of chemistry’s scope to viewing the Earth from space.

“Look at the world from outer space and find the courage to jump,” he said. 

Jimena Sanchez Gallego, a senior triple majoring in international relations, community health and French, discussed the stigma surrounding mental illnesses in her presentation titled “Mental Well-Being.”

She discussed the impact that mental illness has had on her and her family, opening up about the toll that her sister’s mental illness had on her own well-being.

“It is extremely difficult to care for yourself when someone you love is sick,” Gallego said.

She demonstrated the stigma surrounding mental health through a poll completed by her friends on Facebook. When asked which words they associated with mental health, the most common answers were negative, including “depression,” “stigma” and “crazy,” Gallego said. Negative perceptions of mental health impacted her view of her own mental health.

“Emotional equaled weakness,” she said, reflecting on her previous attitudes toward mental illness. “Emotion equaled irrationality.”

Gallego asked audience members to recognize the stigma surrounding mental health, to start having conversations about mental health and to work toward its acceptance and prevention.

“Let’s strive to be healthy people, not just healthy bodies,” she said.

Next, Sam Weiser, a junior, a dual-degree student at the New England Conservatory studying computer science and violin performance, spoke about the role of classical music in modern society during his presentation, “Storytelling and Accessibility in Classical Music.”

He argued that music, like other forms of art, serves to tell a story.

“Music is at its very core a narrative art form,” Weiser said.

(Alberto Rivera courtesy Steph Cleland) (Daily Photo)

Sam Weiser (LA’17) speaks at the Annual TEDxTufts event on April 17. (Alberto Rivera courtesy Steph Cleland)

He believes that classical music is often ignored by young people, who have a difficult time connecting with pieces by composers like Mozart and Bach. Classical music, he said, is like any other genre of music.

“Not every piece speaks to us,” he said. “It’s the nature of art … We treat classical music as a historical relic, and that takes away from its narrative potential.”

Weiser ended his presentation by encouraging audience members to try listening to classical music and looking for these narratives.

“What’s important is that we work to break down the barriers surrounding classical music,” he said. “It’s a book that a lot of us are missing out on.”

In “Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence — Get Involved,” Max Bennett, a senior majoring in cognitive brain sciences and computer science, talked about the role that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) play in modern society.

“Studying artificial intelligence is studying ourselves,” he said.

Bennett explained that in the Human Robot Interaction Laboratory where he works, researchers seek to positively shape the interactions between humans and robots. He discussed the negative connotations surrounding AI and the idea of an “AI apocalypse” offered in science fiction.

“What people don’t realize is that these dramatized and sensationalized sci-fi movies are just that — sensationalized,” he said.

He ended his presentation by asking audience members to reconsider AI in a positive way and to see the role that robotics has in improving our everyday lives.

“Think about how we might make a smarter, more familiar, more welcoming world for us all,” Bennett said.

The last Tufts undergraduate to present was Soubhik Barari, a senior majoring in mathematics and computer science. He discussed the relationship between data and stories in “Numbers and Narratives: Why Both Matter.”

“There’s something interesting about the way people think, analytically or anecdotely,” he said.

Barari compared characters like Dr. Gregory House and Sherlock Holmes of the television series “House, M.D.” (2004 – 2012) and “Sherlock” (2010 – present), who think in terms of statistics and data, with characters like Han Solo from the “Star Wars” franchise, who accomplish their goals through instinct and intuition.

He argued that the best policies are made at the intersection of these two modes of thought, where data scientists and social scientists come together.

“I propose less intellectual monogamy,” he said, calling for more “statistician storytellers” to bring together quantitative and qualitative ideas.

“We are all seeking out evidence for the same truths,” he said.

In addition to the undergraduate speakers, eight other speakers from the Tufts community spoke.

Howard Woolf, the director of the Experimental College and associate dean of undergraduate studies, discussed reinterpreting the learning relationship between students and teachers in universities.

Neal Jawadekar, who graduated from Tufts in 2014 with a BA/MPH, discussed improving food safety with data.

Lecturer in the peace and justice studies department Laura Graham spoke about the relationship between truth and reconciliation in conflict resolution.

Sasha Chanoff, who received his master’s from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, reflected on the role that difficult decisions with moral consequences have on our personal development.

Ph.D. candidate in social psychology Jennifer Perry spoke about the relationships between racism, psychology and human empathy for others.

Cristina Rosa, a lecturer in the drama and dance department, presented on different forms of Brazilian dancing and the ways in which movement shapes our identities.

Mahmoud Jabari, a graduate student at the Fletcher School, gave a talk on promoting new partnerships to promote social and economic change and his experience using a video game to promote gender equality at summer camps in Palestine. 

Another graduate student at the Fletcher School, Ameya Naik, discussed the nature of complex issues and how we tend to simplify them.

Kelly, a junior, gave the closing remarks, encouraging audience members, in the spirit of TED, to continue spreading ideas beyond the TEDxTufts stage.

“We are constantly writing and researching and producing at this university, but it is so rare that we take the time to celebrate all that we produce.” Kelly told the Daily in an email. “TEDxTufts is about making this time and creating a space where brilliant minds from all corners of this campus can be truly heard.”