OSU profs inspire sold-out crowd
By Doug Haddix
During the fast-paced TEDxColumbus event Oct. 7 at COSI, more than 20 speakers and performers rallied around the theme: “Out There” — The Provocative. The Progressive. The Personal.
“What goes on in Columbus needs to get out there,” TEDxColumbus co-organizer Ruth Milligan told the sold-out crowd of more than 700 participants. Videos from the event will be posted online at tedxcolumbus.com.
Here’s a flavor of the inspiration from the five participating Ohio State professors:
Civil rights lawyer and advocate
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
Moritz College of Law
Despite skepticism early in her career, Alexander now firmly believes that criminal justice in America has become a racial caste system.
The United States has a “system of mass incarceration unprecedented in world history.” More than 2 million people are behind bars, up from about 300,000 in the 1970s, even though crime rates have fluctuated only modestly.
Tough drug laws account for much of the surge. Studies show that whites and minorities violate drug laws at similar rates, “but this drug war has been waged almost exclusively in black and brown communities.”
Making matters worse, when felons are released from prison, federal and state laws often strip them of basic rights: to vote (in some states) and be free from discrimination in housing and employment. In many large urban areas, more than half of African-American men have criminal records, making them permanent second-class citizens.
Nothing short of a full-blown human rights movement, Alexander said, can awaken society from “the colorblind slumber we’ve been in.”
Professor, Atmospheric Sciences Program, Department of Geography
director, Polar Meteorology Group at the Byrd Polar Research Center
The giant screen behind Bromwich showed a photo of remarkable beauty and potential doom: The massive Greenland ice sheet, with a river of water running through it.
The most dramatic changes in Earth’s climate are happening now in the cold regions of the planet — the places where Bromwich and researchers around the world have found evidence of alarming increases in surface temperature and sea levels.
With charts and animations, Bromwich showed how climate change skeptics and believers view the same data. Skeptics often point to fairly short time intervals — for instance, a 15-year leveling of surface temperatures — while believers examine decades or centuries of patterns for long-term trends.
Despite short-term fluctuations, Bromwich said an “Arctic death spiral” means that by 2050 — or sooner — there likely will be little ice in the Arctic in summertime. That has profound consequences for rising sea levels, with impacts around the globe.
Associate professor, Department of Astronomy
Close your eyes, Gaudi instructed the audience. Imagine your dinner being interrupted by a TV news bulletin, with the president announcing that life had been found on a distant planet. It’s a familiar Hollywood scene that could move “from science fiction to science fact” in coming decades, based on the work of Gaudi and other astronomers searching for Earth-like planets.
Their work is designed to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions: Are we alone in the universe?
Technology has accelerated the pace of discovery. It was only 18 years ago, in 1995, that the first planet orbiting a star was found outside our solar system. Since then, more than 1,000 planets have been identified. By the end of this decade, Gaudi expects that astronomers will be able to answer this pivotal question: What is the frequency of rocky planets with thin atmospheres that are the right distance from their star to support formation of water?
Regularly, Gaudi is amazed at discoveries in space that stretch human understanding. “Mother Nature is far more imaginative than we are.”
Professor and director of research,
Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
Leader of the Speech Development Laboratory
The 1962 movie The Miracle Worker changed Nittrouer’s life. “When I saw that movie, I knew I wanted that power” — the power that tutor Anne Sullivan had to transform the life of Helen Keller, who had been left blind and deaf from an illness at 19 months old.
Specifically, Nittrouer wanted to focus on helping deaf children understand spoken language.
Cochlear implants have been overwhelmingly successful in helping many deaf children develop spoken language. Still, there’s a wide variation in success rates, so other factors are at play. Nittrouer’s work focuses on perceptual organization: how children acquire the ability to recognize the phonetic-level structure of their native language.
“Only when we have a better understanding of what the human perceiver is doing can we make more progress,” she said.
Professor of neurological surgery and neuroscience
Vice chair of clinical research, Department of Neurological Surgery
Director, Functional Neurosurgery Program
Director, Center for Neuromodulation
As the most complex organ in the body, the brain controls or affects every other system of the human body.
Rezai’s research and work involving neurological pacemakers aims to improve the lives of people who have had strokes or suffer from epilepsy, Parkinson’s Syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other disorders that fail to respond to other medication and treatment.
Worldwide, more than 100,000 people have received deep-brain stimulation. Devices typically are implanted in less than three hours, with a hospital stay of just two or three days.
Rezai played a dramatic video of a Parkinson’s patient who could barely walk before getting a brain pacemaker. With the device, he now walks smoothly.