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Science students help TEDxPurdueU thrive


TEDxPurdueU students

(From left) Shi Choong, Nabilah Hamdiah and Chris Soverns are College of Science students that help organize and run the popular TEDxPurdueU talks.

Finding the story within the scientific data is what propelled the popular Ted Talks to international acclaim.

The same can be said for the TEDxPurdueU conference held every spring since 2012. Purdue’s take on the Talks brings in faculty, students and community members from different disciplines to share their expertise or inspirational stories in front a live audience. The topics fit under a broad theme, and Stewart Center teems with energy and more than 1,000 audience members every year. Each speaker gets just 18 minutes so they have to be direct and to the point.

A trio of College of Science students helps TEDxPurdue thrive. Chris Soverns, a graduate student focusing on Neuroscience and a Purdue Department of Physics and Astronomy graduate, is assistant director and has been with the Purdue TEDx group for two years.

“What gets people excited about TEDx and TED Talks in general is the format we strive for, which is to break away from the traditional academic talk where there is a lot of talk explaining of data using jargon that may be area specific,” Soverns said. “We promote storytelling rather than data presenting.”

Shi Choong, an Analytical Chemistry graduate student, and Nabilah Hamdiah, a freshman studying Molecular Biology, joined up this semester to be a part of the events. The students’ responsibilities range from seating audience members during shows to helping find speakers for upcoming talks.

TEDxPurdueU breakout session

On Nov. 3, TEDxPurdue hosted a “breakout session” – shorter events that pull in just a handful of speakers. The theme centered on “Confronting Our Environmental Health Risks” as five experts in human health gave short talks aided by a large video screen above the Fowler Hall stage. In between speakers, student videos were screened that also delved into local and international health risks.

Dramatic lighting, headset microphones and the familiar TED logo help give TEDxPurdueU events a familiar look and feel. The goal is to be as engaging as the global TED Talks while using more regional experts on topics that especially appeal to Purdue audiences.

Choong said her first exposure to TED was finding celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s “Teach Every Child About Food” from 2010 on Netflix. The British chef’s presentation held the live audience captivated as it displayed humor, conciseness and a powerful message -- the spice of most TED presentations. Combined with scientific data, the talks appeal to Choong and millions of others around the globe.

“This is something that shares a lot of good ideas,” Choong said. “I wanted to join this group to make a difference for the school. … It encourages innovation and diversity.”

Hamdiah discovered TED while still in high school. She recalled many of the students attending the London International Youth Science Forum buzzing about some recent TED Talks. The students represented almost 60 different countries, proving the global significance of the talks.

“The one thing that motivated me to join TEDxPurdueU was to establish a platform to learn more about the TEDx brand itself,” Hamdiah said, “and how to implement it when I go back home to Malaysia.”

Choong said that “60 to 70 percent” of the TEDxPurdue audiences are Purdue students, faculty and staff while the rest are community members. She has seen the event grow quickly and she foresees more growth.

The Nov. 3 event was well attended and positively received by the audience. The next breakout session is set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at Fowler Hall. This session will focus on the 2010 documentary “Inside Job” with a panel discussion following the film that looks at the late-2000s financial crisis.

The main TEDxPurdue conference is set for April 11. For the first time, the event will be held on a Saturday.

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