TED Fellows

“How we come from?” At the TED Fellows Talks, Session 2

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Lars Jan, transmedia director: Lars creates multimedia performances that questions the boundaries between truth and fiction. Collaborating with “Paul,” a character that operates in the real world, Lars examines whether we can create networks and meaning out of our own semi-fictional selves. His subjects have included Laika the Soviet space dog, a suicide bomber, land art, TEDTalks, a downed fighter pilot, and the impossibility of outsiders ever knowing the relationship that two people have together.

Bilge Demirkoz, particle physicist + educator: As a child, Bilge thought she could swing to the stars –- and wondered about the darkness that separates them. Now we know that what rips dark matter apart: dark energy. What is dark energy? “It’s passing through you, as we speak. Yet it’s invisible.” Bilge is working at CERN with the Large Hadron Collidor to unravel the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy – and considers what will happen when we find out.

Candy Chang, designer and urban planner: TED Senior Fellow Candy Chang recently created a public art project in Fairbanks, Alaska, transforming the tallest building in the city, abandoned for over a decade, into a repository for memory and vision. “How can we learn the story behind abandoned buildings and create a new relationship with them?” she asks. The project, “Looking for Love Again,” invites people to come in and explore the abandoned rooms within, and then leave messages of their memories of the building, impressions, and hopes and dreams for it.

Femi Akinde, mobile commerce innovator: Lack of communications infrastructure in Nigeria fueled Femi’s passion for telecommunciations. Femi is creating a platform called Slimtrader, where consumer and financial transactions can take place on cell phones, using mobile money, saving time and energy. It could save lives, too: the next step is applying the platform to health care.

Monika Bulaj, photo documentarian: Polish-born Monika travels the world, documenting the people living on the fringes of society. Her Central Asia Project, focuses on Afghanistan, showing us the real people the rest of the world is “pretending to protect”. “My aim is to give a voice to the silent people, to show the hidden lights ignored by media in the global conflicts,” she says.

Awab Alvi, dentist + political activist: TED Senior Fellow Awab Alvi was a dentist who accidentally became an activist. He tells his story of becoming a blogger, then a free speech activist, a political activist, and finally a relief worker for war refugees and flood victims. Now, he is tackling corruption in Pakistan by harnessing the collective energy of its citizens to report bribes paid to their public servants.

Somi, singer: After kicking off session 1, Somi takes to the stage again to tell the story of her journey. She asks, “What might an African girl in America might be?” Teased for her foreign accent when her family emigrated to the USA, Somi went silent. For 14 years, Somi couldn’t sing or speak in public. Working in East Africa allowed her to reconcile culture and geography and reclaim her voice. Now she carves out space for other contemporary African artists, through her organization New Africa Live.

Manu Prakash, physicist + inventor: In a video, TED Senior Fellow Manu Prakash tells how he studies fluids at minuscule scales. Fascinated by insects -– amazing technologies packed into tiny spaces –- he looks closely at the intricate and energy-intensive systems they use to feed. He plans to use what he finds to build machines “that are as good as life is.”

Serge Mouangue, cross-cultural designer: What are the similarities between Japan and Africa? When Serge isn’t designing concept cars for Nissan in Tokyo, the Cameroon-born innovator tackles the question through the most traditional and structured of Japanese garments: the kimono. He combines the color, vibration, and “beat” to the kimono, combining vibrant African fabrics with the kimono’s tailoring. He is now also merging the tea ceremony and African traditional music, as well as African sculpture and Japanese lacquer –- creating startlingly beautiful fusions of culture and art. He asked the question in our headline — that the important thing to focus on is not where we come from but “How we come from?”

Jose Gomez Marquez, medical device designer: Jose creates medical health technologies for those who most need them. Noting that medical donations from developed to developing nations don’t work out of context, Jose works at MIT, creating solutions such as Aerovax Drug Delivery System, a device for mass delivery of inhalable drugs and vaccines, and “Lego” kits that allow medics on the field to put together mobile labs.

Jae Rhim Lee, scientific artist: Artist Jae Rhim Lee finds unique ways for her body to be in and interact with the world. She tells about the search for the perfect bed – contraptions of wood that would allow her to feel weightless. Another inquiry: how, as a female, to urinate in public. Peeing on grass led Jae Rhim to design a diet that would, thoughtfully, make her urine more ideal nutritionally for plants. A hydroponic system followed: Jae Rhim used urine to grow cabbage, with which she made kim chee, served to the public.

Jessica Green, engineer + biodiversity scientist: This TED Senior Fellow examines microbes in the atmosphere, how they interact with architecture, and how spending so much time in controlled environments impacts human health and well-being. She has found that mechanically ventilated air is not a subset of outdoor air; in fact, it is closely associated with humans and exposes us to more harmful pathogens. So the model of ventilation in hospitals and other buildings -– to keep outdoor air out -– may not be the healthiest option. Jessica says it’s time to promote greater microbial diversity indoors.

Robert Gupta, violinist: Robert Gupta ends the session with a complex and haunting solo performance. This TED Senior Fellow is launching a nonprofit to continue bringing musical outreach concerts to homeless and mentally ill in LA -– and has just recorded his solo debut album. His playing exudes passion and joy -– a perfect and lovely way to end this amazing session with the TED Global and Senior Fellows.