TEDx comes to the U of O

the Fulcrum
Published: Oct 17


Photo illustration by Mico Mazza

ON SATURDAY, OCT. 13, just over 100 idea-seekers gathered in the Alumni Auditorium to participate in TEDxUOttawa, a conference of ideas. Hosted by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and licensed through the popular TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conferences, the sold-out event brought students, teachers, and alumni together to participate in a day that promotes the dissemination of—as TED’s slogan states—“Ideas worth spreading.”

Check out the highlights of TEDxUOttawa

Though the event was limited to only 100 people, ticket-hopefuls waited at the door nearly an hour before the start time of 10 a.m. to claim any available seats.

“People get really excited about TEDTalks,” said SFUO president and event coordinator Ethan Plato. “We had a lot of people calling, asking, ‘Where’s the TEDTalk?’ … [TED] has that ‘wow factor’ that gets people out.”

With over 3,000 community events organized worldwide and over half a billion views of TEDTalks available free online, it’s not difficult to see why the U of O community was excited to enjoy a local TED experience.

TEDxUOttawa featured presentations by professors, students and recent alumni of the U of O on the theme of “Innovation & Creativity.” Without exception, the speakers rose to the occasion and despite the broad theme, the talks fit well together. The event was live-streamed by Zoom Productions, the SFUO’s video production company.

“We don’t usually do live-streaming,” said Imani Wilmot, editor at Zoom. “This is the first time that Zoom is ever doing live-streaming of any kind of event … It’s awesome that we can even provide this kind of service.”

Through the TEDx license, any of the TEDxTalks could be chosen by the central TED organization to be posted at TED.com. The TEDx license is an independently organized TED event. As Matthew Staroste, TEDxUOttawa’s live blogger, explained, the videos will be available to everyone.

“It’s about promoting greater ideas in general, so the SFUO will be posting the rest of these videos on the TEDxUOttawa.ca website so that folks who either couldn’t tune in to the live-stream today or couldn’t be here in person can still be part of a TEDx experience,” said Staroste.

It was universally acknowledged that the U of O’s first TEDx experience came about largely thanks to one person.

“This is Jozef Spiteri’s brain-child,” chuckled Staroste.

Spiteri is the vp social of the SFUO and has harboured a dream of hosting a TEDx conference at the university for nearly as long as he’s been a student here. Spiteri even held the license for TEDxUOttawa for two years prior to becoming an executive member of the SFUO. He said he didn’t have to convince the rest of the SFUO executives that hosting a TEDx event was worth the time and effort.

“Everyone seemed interested,” said Spiteri. “Everyone was motivated. So when I got elected, I kept working on it and kept in contact with the people at TED.

“One thing that we need on campus—especially coming from the SFUO—is a more academic twist,” said Spiteri immediately after the TEDx event. “It gives an idea of what this community is and what it has to offer.”

TED conferences are part of an international set of conferences founded in 1984 by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation. The talks were originally planned as a one-off, but they expanded as their popularity grew.

Best of TEDx

THE TEDxTALK AT the U of O was a big success and showcased the best and brightest our university has to offer. Here are some of our favourite speakers of the day.

Mark Salter, professor of political science

“What is the point of education if the information is available to all?”

While teaching one day, Salter realized that lecturing was an outdated method of education. No longer seeing himself as a “gatekeeper” to knowledge, he now crowd-sources his syllabuses, giving students the power to decide what they study.

Andrew Pelling, assistant professor of physics

“You know, it used to be that in these type of talks, I could be a bit more creative and wild, but I’ve noticed that I’m just doing this everywhere now.”

Pelling wowed the crowd with his laboratory’s ability to hack biological systems the old-fashioned way—rather than altering cells’ genetic codes, Pelling can create surprising biological systems by altering their surroundings. Growing mice cells in the cellular scaffolding of an apple core was a clear crowd favourite.

Robert McLeman, associate professor of geography

“I learned a ton this morning… I mean, I didn’t know that you could grow mouse cells inside an apple core. It kind of frightens me that you can, but it’s interesting to see that people on campus are doing that.”

McLeman warned that the coming climate change will have a major impact on human migration patterns but also advised against being afraid of waves of environmental refugees, reminding the audience that Canada is a country of immigrants that could benefit from those seeking a fresh start.

Lee Jones, founder and editor of Art & Science Journal

“How do we encourage moments of awe and wonder in everyday life? … Artwork with themes of science, nature, and technology can be catalysts for eureka moments.”

Jones is a U of O student but also the founder and editor of the Art & Science Journal. Through her journal, Jones uses the collision of art and science to foster a sense of wonder.

Alyse Schacter, U of O health sciences student

“It was amazing. I think everybody learned from everyone who was there. We all had very different topics.”

Schacter, a 21-year-old advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental illness, spoke candidly about her experiences with severe treatment-resistant obsessive-compulsive disorder and advocated that openness can reduce suffering.