TEDx Like Event at Biopolis Review



September 11, 2010

With its pure intent to have a TEDx event at Biopolis, the A*STAR Post Doctoral Society got together and organised a fairly good event. The crowd that turned up showed the buzz it created during its lead up. However, the lineup of speakers was less than expected of the quality of the TED speakers we see on the videos. Here, we highlight some of the talks and ideas shared during TEDxBiopolis

Mini-Video of the TEDxBiopolis speakers in action

Before the speakers took stage, the introduction talk challenged the attendees to either agree or advocate with the talks presented during the session. This set the stage for some interesting and some less comprehendible sharings by the speakers.

1. Professor Kishore Mahbubani
As a diplomat, Prof Kishore’s understanding and presentation of the macro-economics of things was clearly evident. He began his talk by asking a question, "Is humanity becoming more intelligent or stupid?". And to help answer his question, he continued by stating a few points like; The world is now more peaceful as there are less interstate wars, Global poverty is diminishing – The only MDG that will be met is halving poverty by 2015 and this is all thanks to the growth of asia, The world is shrinking making us a global village or community. But even though we are a global community, we fail to think as one, or as I would rephrase it as not able to think collectively. Kishore claims that the global village councils are being robbed by the richest, smartest and most powerful states in the world, with the West making 3 geo-politiical errors. Failure to acknowledge the western domination is over. Continued trampling on the interest of the Islamic world by the west. Weakening the 1945 rule space order. His talk did end with some thought provoking questions like; are the Asian states ready to take more responsibility in world management?  is the west ready to share power?

Civil society must try to convince the world that we live in a small interdependent world.

2. Oliver Dressen
Oliver shared about his post-doctoral work on African sleeping sickness and the role of their chromosomes. As we all know, African Sleeping Sickness is caused by a parasite, Trypanosoma and is transmitted by the Tsetse fly. The ability of the parasite to switch it antigenic surface coatings allows it to elude the human system. As the body’s immune system tries to keep up with this switching, it tires the human body and results in a sleepy state. He went on to described the role which telomeres played in this antigenic switching. Other than the scientific interest, Oliver failed to empahsise the point of how his research changes the way we think or do things differently.

3. Jack Sim
As the founder of the World Toilet Organisation, it was a very natural platform for Jack to share about his work and passion in providing sanitation solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. He shared about his journey in starting the World Toilet Organisation and in order to break pre-conceived mindsets of people, he used a lot of humor in his sharings, talks and agenda. Through his journey, he learnt that partnering with the right people helped him gain traction for his organisation. He even described how he leverage the media to help spread the message of sanitation. Jack highlighted how many people also saw sanitation as a waste of effort but it can be seen as a business opportunity (And that is the basis of most social entrepreneurships) with the potential consumers lying at the base of the pyramid. Jack’s talk certainly resounded well with the crowd, even though some of them have already heard him talk in other events.

4.Isabelle Desjeux
Failomics and how to use failures to predict the future, that was what Isabelle shared. At the back of my mind, was the the fact that failure results in no future (typical Singaporean mentality). Whilst in the beginning of the talk, her ideas and concepts were a bit hard to grasp. She started showing how she classified failures, the blindness of culture towards failure and the forgotten scientist. I think she was on to something when she showed the fractals of failure, but it was not easy to follow her train of thought. With the idea behind her sharing, a refinement would really help propel her idea into the limelight and help us Singaporeans to be more open to failures.

5. Tay Kheng Soon
To re-balance the way we live, Prof Tay addressed this issue from the urban planning and architectural point of view. Sharing his concept of rubanisation involving a mix of the natural and man-made, he showed us the places which his concepts have been tested, like in Indonesia. The concept of mixing man-made with natural belts seem very familiar to what Singapore has built, but in a smaller scale. His talk led me to think about self-sustaining communities which will help us understand how we can live in more desolate places like Mars. In fact, he turns the idea that slums are a failure of the city into slums are actually symptoms of a failing countryside. Through rubanisation, technologies can be implemented to help in building these communities and another factor to help rubanisation is the way education is done in such communities. Kids are empowered for their learning. Redesigning their town in ways which adults can’t imagine. So why marginalize the poor as being stupid?? Solving problems of the world from ground up is the way to go!

6. Federic Bard
DNA is meant to be read, not by humns, but by molecular machinery. So how is it possible for us to make sense of the billions of codes in our DNA? Fedreric proposed an idea for a rosetta stone for reading our DNA. This would help open up personalised medicine which tackles cellular based diseases. Beyond this, I was unable again to capture his point and thrust of his idea, even with my scientific training. Again, I felt that Federic was on to something, yet unable to articulate in a TED-style talk

7. Dale Purves
As a neuroscientist, Dave shared the neurology of how we see things. Dave showed several great visual tricks which certainly fooled me. The work which Dave does helped me to think about the way we perceive things and view things from our perspective. Even as a neuroscientist, he admits that not everything adds up in brain science. His talks on visual percepts reminded me of some points made by JOhn Medina in his book, "The Brain Rules".

8. Michael Tay
And we thought Singapore was such a nice place to live in. Michael Tay shared what forensic science really is, it is where science and justice meets. Thanks to CSI, it has muddled up real science and technology befind forensics and exaggerates of the speed of information (They do their PCR in minutes!). Michael also covered some myths of forensic science which cleared up the air. I kinda wished he stopped here because he started sharing real life cases and the pictures don’t lie. There was cases of murder, suicide and mangoes. It was not a good note to end your TEDx event.

Overall, the event organisation made up for the speakers. If the postdocs were to maintain this level of organisation, we hope to see a better TEDxBiopolis in the future. As for the speakers, I believe we can move up the ladder by improving the way we communicate, story tell and make presentation aids. Don’t fret postdocs, even the TED people get it wrong sometimes.


2 responses to “TEDx Like Event at Biopolis Review

  1. Hi Erwin, you can now go and catch a revised version of the talk on Failomics at LASALLE College of the Arts. As the presenter never mentioned, this talk was part of my Masters in Arts, Fine Arts work. Please come down to ICAS gallery located at 1, McNally Street. The laboratory of ‘Pataphysics will puts the talk in context – and since all failures have to be acknowledged, your honest critique of the event abovementioned take pride of place.

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