UI to host TED talks


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When a Netflix user is looking for a more elevated viewing experience, he or she will often turn to TED Talks, filmed lectures produced by the global nonprofit organization Technology, Entertainment, and Design. 

Topics can range from “How schools kill creativity” to “10 things you didn’t know about orgasm,” but all fall under one category: “ideas worth spreading.”

University of Iowa students at can view a TED Talk live through the UI independently organized TEDx program, TEDXUIowa, featuring a series of lectures around a central theme. This year’s theme is “serve.”

The even will feature six guest speakers: Ken Brown, the associate dean for the UI undergraduate program in the College of Business;  Avery Bang, CEO of Bridges to Prosperity in Denver; Willis Johnson, the reverend of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri; H.S. Udaykumar, UI professor of mechanical and industrial engineering; Lorainne Williams, owner of Café Dodici in Washington, Iowa; and Victor Saad, the founder of Chicago’s Experience Institute. 

Each guest will hold her or his talk between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday in the IMU Main Lounge.

Ken Brown

Brown will take the TEDx stage for the second time this weekend.

“I asked myself, ‘What can I talk about that I think is important to students that could be helpful and maybe even inspiring?’" he said.  

Brown, who is also a member of the the Iowa City School District Foundation, said his talk will focus on the bystander effect, a social-psychological phenomenon. 

“It’s one thing to stand up and say something; it’s another to start a movement,” he said. “There are more than 300 different studies that show if you set up a situation in which no one intervenes, it is very possible or even likely that no one will, but if you set up a situation in which one person intervenes, the whole world changes.”

Brown hopes his audience takes away both knowledge of how to better get help in a crowd and how to lead change by using strength in numbers.

“I am trying to get people to reframe service, to recognize we don’t need to be afraid of crowds or large groups. Armed with a more of a nuance than accurate understanding of the bystander effect, you can actually leverage crowds to your advantage.”

Rev. Willis Johnson

“TED talks have always been viewed as being the brilliant, inventive, and inspiring,” Johnson said. “I never really considered myself any of that. I don’t have a solution for the Internet; I never participated in a death-defying lifetime achievement, I just get up and go to work every day and try to be present.”

Johnsons’ humble words fail to mention that he has he has initiated a  faith-based social service and education project and started a feeding program in his community. 

“My hope is not necessarily to tell people what to think but encourage them to do,” he sad. “In the theme of service and how we empower one another, I’m not telling people what to do but enforcing the responsibility that each of us has for humanity. This level of action is beyond ourselves but toward the benefit of all of us.” 

This message is especially relevant in the town of Ferguson, where intense, highly publicized protests have raged recently, provoking a national discussion on the best way to make a difference.

“Service is realized, rationalized, or even radicalized in our case,” Johnson said. “I think radical change requires radical acts.”

H.S. Udaykumar

TED Talks will often spotlight subject that alter an audience’s understanding. Udaykumar hopes to do just that, focusing his talk on the idea that cheaper, more basic technologies can often solve problems better than high technology.

“It’s almost depressingly simple,” he said. “It’s the solution we should have been looking for since the very beginning. … People like me who are overeducated, we are not interested in the simple solutions. Quite often the best solution is the simplest one.” 

Udaykumar has been working for nearly four years to design a both cost- and energy-efficient solar cooker.

“Three billion people rely on firewood for cooking,” Udaykumar said. “That’s almost half of humanity; that’s a huge amount of forest extraction and biomass burning.”

When firewood is burned, it releases carbon dioxide and black carbon, which is not only bad for climate change, it’s dangerous to breathe.

“Firewood-generated-smoke inhalation is the fifth largest killer of women and children there,” Udaykumar said. “I am trying to save the lungs of the women as well as the lungs of the earth. Forests are the lungs of the Earth.”

Humans worldwide have been cooking with three-stone hearths as long as fire has been used, he said. His solar cooker could turn that on its head.

“People are still using the same design today, and no one has ever thought to just improve the three-stone hearth, which is a funny thing,” Udaykumar said. “I realized we could redesign the traditional three-stone hearth to cut down wood use by 50 percent for $1. So that’s my idea, a $1 hearth implant to save lungs.”

MULTIMEDIA: Follow Daily Iowan Arts on Twitter for live tweeting from TEDXUIowa

Featuring guest speakers LIST NAMES
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: IMU Main Lounge
Admission: $25 for students, $35 for general public

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