TEDxTufts 2017 Talks Now Available

Ten video presentations by students, faculty and alumni cover everything from teaching justice to humanizing science

Death, muscles, small talk and autism were just a few of the topics presented at the TEDxTufts 2017 event.

TEDx events are local, self-organized, smaller-scale versions of TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences, whose mission is “to use the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and the world.” The theme of the event held on campus in March was “rhizome”—in this case not a plant but a philosophical structure that maps ideas as an interrelated, ever-expanding network.

Ten talks were presented, including one by Eric Tytell, an assistant professor of biology at Tufts who studies how fish swim. He kicked off his talk by asking audience members to shake hands with a person seated nearby. Then he asked one person in each pair to let his or her arm go limp and do it again, which sparked laughter. “Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve just done something no robot can do, something engineers would give millions for.”

The ability of animal muscle to switch from stiff to flexible provides both efficiency and maneuverability, Tytell said. “If we could make something that works half as well as muscle, we could make some amazing devices—better robots for working with people and exploring the planet, artificial joints and limbs that work with bodies,” he said.

Art history major and Tisch Scholar Isabel Merrin, A17, opened with a story about a man with Alzheimer’s whom she cared for as a hospice volunteer, speaking Hebrew with him. The experience made her realize how little she had thought about her own death. “How can something that happens to every person, that happens every day, be barely talked about and barely engaged with?” she said.

Merrin told how she went on to hold a workshop on campus about people’s relationship with death and dying. “As millennials, it’s incumbent on us to change the dynamic of fear and awkwardness surrounding these issues and replace it with a sense of control that will grow with us, that we can teach our children,” Merrin said.

Among the other talks presented were “Speaking While Female” by Malal Cheema, A17; “#StayWoke or Stay Divided” by Alyssa Rivas, A18; “Targeted, Accused and Why I Teach About Justice” by retired judge Sonja Spears, A86; “Humanizing the Science Conversation” by School of Dental Medicine professor and stem cell researcher Jonathan Garlick; “Embracing Science as a Verb” by Rachael Bonoan, G18; and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy Being an Anime Expert” by Japanese and film studies professor Susan Napier.

Monica Jimenez can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.

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