Posted April 22, 2013

TEDxTempleU brings science with style to Alumni Weekend

Betsy Manning
Hosted by the College of Science and Technology (CST) as part of Alumni Weekend, TEDxTempleU explored how scientists investigate the world, embrace uncertainty and discover new knowledge.
  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Zdilla gargles with liquid nitrogen. (Paige Ozaroski)
  • Zdilla spoke on the uncertain path to renewable fuels. (Betsy Manning)
  • Professor Tonia Hsieh, assistant professor of biology, spoke on the value of uncertainty in the scientific process. (Paige Ozaroski)
  • Kim Reuter, a graduate student in the College of Science and Technology, served as TEDxTempleU emcee. (Paige Ozaroski)

Have you seen a man gargle with liquid nitrogen? Have you heard a drummer play the evolutionary history of a gene? Have you experienced the ultimate Temple Made story: A high school dropout who finishes his physics degree in three years and is now on his way to Harvard?

Those were just three of the compelling talks featured at TEDxTempleU, hosted by the College of Science and Technology and part of Temple University’s Alumni Weekend 2013. The Saturday event featured six CST faculty members and two CST students.

It was Michael Zdilla, assistant professor of chemistry, who demonstrated the Leidenfrost Effect by putting liquid nitrogen in his mouth during his talk on the uncertain path to renewable fuels. He’s OK; the vast difference in temperature between liquid nitrogen and Professor Zdilla’s tongue creates a momentary cushion of protective steam.

Other talks during the morning session included Tonia Hsieh, assistant professor of biology, on the value of uncertainty in the scientific process and Laura Toran, Weeks Chair in Environmental Geology, on the hydrologic cycle and the comparative dangers of salt and uranium in the system. Jae Hyeon Lee, the physics student headed to Harvard for a Ph.D., spoke passionately about his own journey and how to improve science education.

“It was such an honor to be a part of this great event,” said Kim Reuter, emcee for the event and a graduate student in biology whose research aims to highlight the effect of habitat degradation on two endangered species of lemur.

After a break that included science demonstrations by several student groups and the opportunity for presenters and audience members to mingle, the second session kicked off with Erik Cordes, assistant professor of biology, who took the audience into an Alvin submersible to explore the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

Computer science student Emily LeBlanc’s talk, titled “Why I want to be a researcher,” covered her work in swarm robotics. After graduation this May, LeBlanc will pursue a Ph.D. in computer science with a focus on multi-robot systems at Drexel University. Math professor John Allen Paulos spoke on the complicated relationship between language and mathematics in “Stories vs. statistics.”

The afternoon ended with Rob Kulathinal, assistant professor of biology, and several musicians playing the evolutionary signal of the BRCA1 gene, the mutation of which has been linked to hereditary breast cancer. It was a surprisingly danceable journey through 300 millions years of evolution as interpreted by 35 distinct vertebrate species.

“There are so many great scientists in the college,” said Victoria Vicente, CST’s development associate and one of the event’s organizers, “and so many that are excited about bringing science to new audiences.”

TEDxTempleU was sponsored by the Temple University Alumni Association; College of Science and Technology Alumni Board; SPAce. Inc.; and Stanley Lefkowitz, CST’ 65, and Debbie Lefkowitz.

— Greg Fornia