Meet the Speakers

Romain
Laura
Massimiliano
Lisa
Jeremy
Paola
Michael
David
Marlene
Arlene
Rush
Rebecca
Danielle
Lennart
Jennifer
Santiago
Vivienne

Romain Lacombe
Transparency Engineer
Fulbright Scholar from France to the US
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Romain sees inside things, especially governments. He led his native France into the next century by convincing the bureaucrats that transparency is essential to building an open and thriving society. “I’m trying to change the world, 1kB at a time.” He just might.
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Title: Democracy in the Age of Data
Teaser: We have entered an Age of Data. As smartphones and connected devices rewire the world, our economies are undergoing a third industrial revolution, centered around data sciences, and the consequences of which reach very far beyond the web and digital media. Data, what it means and what it tells us is the new currency of our era. Entire sectors of human activity and ingenuity are now disrupted by data sciences. Education reform will be driven tomorrow by what we learn as we carefully measure how online students interact with MOOCs. Healthcare is undergoing a revolution as consumer genomics and quantified-self make it more personal. Transportation, smart cities and sustainable development all rely on large-scale networks of sensors collecting staggering amounts of data. Industry now depends on connected devices and intelligent services to generate the margins that keep employment and investment ashore. Government itself has tried to adapt to a world in which data strengthens the link between political power and civil society. Democracy should be thriving, in this brave new world where citizens are empowered to solve problems on their own, are served by more accountable governments and can trust more transparent public officials thanks to open government data. But democracies are facing unprecedented challenges. In the age of participation, voters are disengaging en masse. At a time of information obesity, public debate is increasingly polarized. In an era of collaboration, the trust and confidence we place in our leaders and public figures is at an all-time low. The new science of data and its applications can help us collectively strengthen our democracies around five key political principles for the 21st century: Transparency, Empowerment, Freedom, Innovation, and Openness.
Laura Trombley
Academic Trailblazer
Member of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
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The bar was raised in higher education the day Laura stepped into the driver’s seat. An acclaimed Mark Twain scholar, she directs Pitzer College with a combination of sheer ambition and brazen intellect, achieving gold-standard certification in conservancy, promoting new and rising academic fields, and upholding the importance of international experience and appreciation.
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Title: Servus! Lessons Learned in Presidential Leadership the Bavarian Way=Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
Teaser: Germany was a place she thought she knew reasonably well having studied in Heidelberg during college. Through a series of entirely synchronistic events, she wound up teaching at the only private university in Germany, deep in the heart of Bavaria. What she learned there has served her well as a college president.
Massimiliano Versace
Futurist
Fulbright from Italy to the US
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Massimiliano wants robots to learn like living things learn—intuitively. By studying, and one day replicating, the neural networks that make intelligent creatures (like you) respond and adapt, Massimiliano wants to “change the way robots are designed.” Sounds simple enough.
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Title: Neuromorphics: Machines to Life
Teaser: If an alien watched TV before invading Earth, it would think that the world was full of robots. In reality, today’s robots are still too stupid to be let loose. If the programming isn’t right, robots will keep making the same mistakes until their batteries run out. We would be looking over our shoulder because a wandering robot might collide right into us. And, when the sky is full of flying robots, Air Traffic Control won’t be fast enough.
So, what will it take to get robots out of science fiction and into our world? Max Versace, CEO of Neurala and Director of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab, will tell us about the state of the art in robotic bodies, brains and minds. And, he will explain how he is building robot minds by taking inspiration from neuroscience and training them to make them more intelligent, to learn and to get out of our way.
Within just a few years, he says, great leaps in robotic intelligence will make it possible to tell robots what to do and not how to do it.
Lisa Dyson
Energy Entrepreneur
Fulbright Scholar from the US to England
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Lisa likes challenges. Big ones. She develops alternative fuels and bio-products that reduce our reliance on oil, lower CO2 emissions, and realistically meet rising energy needs. Her creations do all that without impacting food production or posing a threat to natural habitats. Let’s give her a hand!
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Title: Turning CO2 Into Oil
Teaser: Imagine a world without landfills, a world where waste carbon is recycled to create oils that serve as building blocks for everyday products – from fuels and plastics, to fabrics and detergents. Dr. Lisa Dyson, CEO of Kiverdi, seeks to create such a world. Using the power of biotechnology, Kiverdi is developing microbes that are able to convert waste carbon into oil. The process is similar to the process of making beer, but instead of brewing beer, Kiverdi is using microbes to brew oil. And, instead of using sugar as an input, these microbes use waste carbon. The oils created have the potential of meeting the large and growing need for low cost, sustainable alternatives to petroleum and plant-based oils that do not lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions or deforestation.
Jeremy Xido
Performance Maverick
Fulbright from the US to Spain, 2000-2001
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Jeremy colors outside the lines and draws inspiration from “the border between reality and fiction.” An artistic director, filmmaker, and performance artist, he creates at the intersection of a person’s sense of self and its dynamic social context. So be ready to respond if he asks, “Are you using this moment to sharpen your blade? To be here, to be alive?”
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Title: Detroit, Angola and the Mulberry Tree : a Middle Passage
Teaser: Xido will present an excerpt from the live performance documentary THE ANGOLA PROJECT. Reflecting on the theme for the evening, “Dare to Think” the piece asks the seemingly simple and innocuous questions “How did I get here?” and “Who do I actually think I am?” The answers, in a world of 21st century polycultural mash-ups, present a playful, dizzying and unexpected set of possibilities.
Paola Santana
Disruptive Thinker
Fulbright from the Dominican Republic to the US, 2010-2011
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Major companies might be getting all the attention in the nascent commercial drone industry, but they’ll likely depend on Paola’s vision for public highways in the sky on which to drive their UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs).
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Title: Creating an Internet of Atoms
Teaser: At Matternet, we are creating an internet of atoms. Matternet is a next-generation transportation system that uses a network of unmanned aerial vehicles to fulfill need for anyone, anywhere. But this almost didn’t happen: two years ago, it was a shameful idea. So we decided to challenge that, and here’s where we are today. We are building a system that is the lowest cost, lowest energy, lowest ecological footprint, most easy to set up, most easy to reconfigure, requiring the least upfront infrastructure investment possible. It is designed to work in any environment, across extreme landscapes and in most weather. It is based on the principles of the internet – decentralized, peer to peer, bottom up – and just like the internet connected the world by moving bits of information, we want to do the same, but for matter. I will highlight the major challenges we faced to create this system and when proposing a drone delivery network that wants to create positive social change where it’s needed most. I will outline the criteria that formed the interconnected decisions for vehicle choice, hardware augmentation, implementation of physical landing stations as well as the underlying routing software capable of connecting flying machines to social and physical space.
Michael Forster Rothbart
Disaster Chronicler
Fulbright from the US to Ukraine, 2007-2008
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After a nuclear disaster, most people flee. Michael asks for special access to the impact zone. Focusing his lens on the “human impacts of environmental contamination,” he decamped to Chernobyl and Fukushima to tell the story of those who remained. All the while daring us to answer the underlying question: “Would you stay?”
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Title: Boxing Outside the Think: creativity, photography, and seeing the world anew
Teaser: In her book The Sense of Wonder, environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote, “For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind.” How can we learn to see without filters, she asks, like a child? Like a visionary? In my TEDxFulbright talk, I’ll answer her question, speaking from my personal experiences as a photojournalist. Two themes I often speak and write about: creativity, and photography as social witness. I’ll weave these two threads together in an illustrated lecture, using photographs from my Fulbright to explore larger questions rather than focusing much on Chernobyl. My commitment to my Fulbright project began when I discovered how most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. This sensationalist approach obscures the more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive. In contrast, I dared to think for myself, creating full portraits of these communities. I saw suffering, but also joy and beauty. Endurance and hope. Living directly in the villages where I photographed gave me access to events and people with an insider’s perspective impossible from afar. This experience challenged me to think more critically about the objectivity of journalism. Eventually I realized that my work is not authoritative: witnessing is a deeply personal act. My goal became, simply, to listen carefully and observe deeply, and to record these experiences. Like many Fulbrighters, I think, my witnessing is not about change but reflection: I’m holding up a mirror. This is what I want to share.
David Baker
Teacher Student
Fulbright from the US to Germany, 2003-2004
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David is a teacher who likes to study how we learn. But he thinks of us in the grandest of ways—we with a capital W. He sees education as essentially “a robust social institution” that can “transform global society.” And he has circled the globe looking at exactly how that’s achieved.
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Title: The Education Revolution and Our Global Future
Teaser: Let’s dare to imagine a world in which we accurately understand and effectively harness the coming of a worldwide Schooled Society for sustainable global human development. Never before in human society have so many individuals dedicated so much time, energy, and resources to becoming educated. The global “education revolution“ or the unprecedented growth in the number of people going to schools, universities, and various types of adult education throughout the world is a remarkable anthropological trends. Children and youth now routinely spend thirteen to seventeen-plus years doing schooling, a remarkable change in just 150 years. It is obvious that the world is becoming more educated; what is not so obvious is how much this revolutionizes human society, since too often world leaders and intellectuals underappreciate the education revolution amid complaints about the quality of education and supposed over-education. Taking the opposite approach, David Baker leads an international interdisciplinary team of scientists discovering the unexpected ways that a schooled society transforms our capabilities, minds, and the world. The education revolution is irrepressible: but can we understand its dynamics and rise to the challenge of making it a potential major force for positive global change?
Marlene Stearns
Conscientious Foodie
Fulbright from the US to Senegal, 2002-2003
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Marlene loves food. She loves the process of making delicious, healthy, and sustainable food. And she loves the small independent farmers in developing countries who grow that food. She is supporting the farmers and local food processors to develop their small businesses in a socially responsible way so that they develop their own communities. And it’s working!
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Title: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurial Leaders in Agriculture
Teaser: No longer is the woman farmer in Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean a voiceless peasant. She is determined, knowledgeable, and confidently changing her country’s food landscape. An endless champion of women in agriculture, I’ll share the stories of ten inspirational women who have conquered challenges to emerge as successful entrepreneurs and leaders in their country’s agricultural industry, ensuring a supply of safe, nutritional foods farmed in a sustainable way that benefits growers’ communities’ food security, health, water, and land. I’ll also share nine key strategies each has used to start and grow profitable and sustainable companies. The faces of these women are the new faces of agriculture in the world’s lesser developed economies. They are the cream of the crop and more women are following their lead every day.
Arlene Birt
Visual Storyteller
Fulbright from the US to The Netherlands 2004-2005
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Arlene visually narrates the stories behind the products we choose—with an ecological twist. Her brilliant graphics emotionally connect us to the specific social and ecological impact of our choices as consumers. Beyond asking us to recycle, Arlene’s work allows us to visualize sustainability through impactful design.
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Title: Sustainability: Visualized
Teaser: I am fascinated the ways we are endlessly tied to the world through the things we consume. Objects and experiences populate our lives, and yet the intricate life stories of these objects are hidden from the eyes of their present user. As a ‘visual storyteller’, information designer and public artist, I work to make ‘background-stories’ visible in order to help individuals connect emotionally to the specific social and ecological-sustainability impacts of our everyday actions. Though my work, I seek to bring the attention of the viewer to the detailed, factual and even fantastical background narratives of objects and ideas. My intent is to inspire people to understand how their everyday actions impact global environment and society. Sustainability is a complex and daunting topic to communicate. Helping audiences understand the deluge of data, and adjusting their behavior toward more sustainable patterns is a challenge. Fortunately, visual narrative offers opportunities to showcase social and environmental issues within the context of the world around us: In a way that can help establish an emotional connection between individuals and information. This talk highlights the benefits of ‘visual storytelling’ through a visually-rich overview of research and real-life examples.
Rush Doshi
Forecaster
Fulbright from the US to China, 2011-2012
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Rush uses the distant past to think about the future. He’s so convinced that China and India will play pivotal roles in tomorrow’s world that he learned Mandarin and Hindi. He’s traveled the eastern Himalayas, the China-Burma border, and the mountain passes between China and Pakistan. His talk will tell you what he learned there.
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Title: “Old Geographies, New Orders: China, India, and the Future of Asia”
Teaser: Why are China and India so populous? How did they account for half of global GDP for centuries? Why did they fall from wealth and power? What does their reemergence mean for the future? In this talk, I will explore these questions by showing how the roots of tomorrow are buried deep in an ancient past. What connects past and present is the enduring relevance of geography. Technology has made geography invisible. We fly over tall mountains, text over wide seas, and drive through punishing deserts. But geography is not irrelevant, especially to world politics. Dictators die, governments fall, and yet mountains, seas, and deserts remain, continuing to shape tomorrow’s world in reliable ways. While conducting my Fulbright research, I talked with historians and policymakers from China and India who are aware of geography’s long shadow in Asia in a way Western scholars often are not. I then walked into that shadow, traveling the eastern end of the Himalayas, the border with Burma, and the Silk Road to Pakistan. Ted Talks are often about the future, and while this talk will explore the future, it will do so by way of the past.
Rebecca Davis
Freedom Dancer
Fulbright from the US to Russia, 2004-2005
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Rebecca’s dance card is always full with eager tiny dancers. She uses dance—its discipline, beauty, and creativity—to educate and empower children in war-torn countries. Beyond dancing to their own beat, children acquire life skills to move through turbulent times.
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Title: Discovering YOU Matter: Dancing From The Street to School
Teaser:Would you believe it if you found a Russian-trained ballet dancer running an education program for street children in Guinea? What if you received an email from a homeless child in Rwanda who has never gone to school? What about meeting Bosniaks and Croats from the divided city of Mostar who wait for the chance to dance together each year? These are stories of children who discovered they “matter” through RDDC programs; they are fighting against the obstacles of their circumstances because they believe they can change their lives.
Rebecca Davis is the founder of RDDC, a NGO that creates dance and educational programs for street children and underserved youth in post-conflict and developing countries. Rebecca grew up planning a career as a dancer in Canada until she discovered her love of dance could break the poverty cycle for children in Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guinea. Rebecca will tell the stories of two children – Christian and Manishimwe – who found a way to end their lives on the street by doing what they love in life: hip hop and science! Using short video clips and photos, she shows how these children taught her that everything is possible when you “dare to think.”
Danielle Cho
Nomad Cellist
Fulbright Scholar from the US to Spain
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Danielle likes a good jam session, and she’s willing to rack up frequent flyer miles in pursuit of a righteous vibe. Though her performances span the globe like a good travel blog, this advocate and teacher is equally at home among her students and vivacious community of collaborative DJs and orchestras alike.
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Title: Carrying on a Spanish Cello Legacy
Teaser: Cellist Danielle Cho performs Prelude – Fantasia and Intermezzo e Danza Finale by Gaspar Cassadó, a virtuosic piece filled with Spanish melodies and flamboyance.
Born in Barcelona, the cellist/composer Gaspar Cassadó was a pupil of Pablo Casals, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest cellists of all times. Casals’s legacy has influenced generations of cellists since, including his own godson, Lluis Claret. Inspired to participate in this unique Spanish lineage, Danielle Cho traveled to Barcelona in 2006 on a Fulbright Scholarship to study under Claret.
Lennart Joos
Modeling Scents
Fulbright from Belgium to the US, 2012-2014
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Lennart likes smelly gases. Specifically, he likes CO2, but he does not like what it’s doing to further climate change. So he’s put his thinking cap and lab coat on to investigate ways to remove it from exhaust gases using modeling techniques. Our noses and atmosphere will thank him.
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Title: Can Carbon Capture Curb Climate Change?
Teaser: Carbon Capture is a process that removes CO2 from the exhaust gasses of coal or gas fired power plants, to store it in depleted gas or oil reservoirs deep under the ground. This would mitigate CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, without having an impact on our current energy consumption.
Several technologies are apt to tackle this challenge on an industrial scale, but many engineering challenges and scientific questions remain. In my research, I’m looking for materials that can efficiently remove CO2 from the exhaust stream and release it again for subsurface storage.
Can carbon capture curb climate change? No. Not alone. But this technology can contribute in combatting CO2 levels in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. It can be implemented in existing power plants with only a minimum of extra infrastructure. Carbon Capture is costly, but the figure is not even close to the price we’ll have to pay if our climate keeps changing at the current rate.
There is no doubt that climate change will happen. The real question is: how much change can we still control? And when will we start changing policies, to protect our fragile environment?
Jennifer Welch
China Analyst
Fulbright from the US to China, 2011-2012
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The digital revolution may have reached even the most remote areas of the world, but those armed with an internet connection can still struggle to overcome problems like malnutrition. From rural China to suburban America, Jennifer explores why knowledge sometimes doesn’t translate into power.
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Title: The Limits of Knowledge in a World of Limitless Knowledge: A Look at Rural China
Teaser: Thanks to the digital revolution, we live in age where the largest amount of public information ever – the internet – is at our fingertips. Information leads to knowledge, and knowledge is power; it enables us to solve puzzles, overcome challenges, and avoid problems. And yet, communities around the world struggle with issues that could be resolved through existing knowledge. Rural Chinese have access to the internet and to affordable food, but child malnutrition remains an extensive and expensive problem. Parents of anemic children don’t know about anemia or iron, even though this information is a click away; children eat primarily white noodles and rice at most meals, although a quick internet search would reveal the lack of nutrition in these food items; and most people have never been introduced to the Chinese food pyramid, even though the government has published it online since 2006. What prevents information from becoming knowledge and knowledge from becoming power? How can we overcome the limits to knowledge and empower communities to overcome challenges like malnutrition?

 

Santiago Garcia
Plural Citizen
Fulbright from Paraguay to the US, 2013-2014
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Imagine voting for a proposed law before Congress and minutes later having your Senator vote like you voted. If Santiago has his way, that’s exactly what will happen in his native Paraguay. He plans to take the “One Person, One Vote” mantra and reinvent politics as usual using the Internet. Will you log on?
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Title: Updating Democracy
Teaser: In 1989, at the same time democracy returned to Paraguay, the World Wide Web was born in Europe. Today, 25 years later, a new generation strives toward a stronger democracy in Paraguay by taking advantage of the benefits that the Internet provides us. Society, Educations, Commerce, Culture, Entertainment, Information and many other human areas have been totally transformed for the Internet and the new technologies. It is time to dare to think and innovate also in politics. Our governments system needs to be adapted and updated to this new digital era. Citizens demand more participation and transparency that could be achieved easily using the new available tools. Our current political system was designed in a time when citizens could not participate in the decision due to distances and lacked access to the information necessary to take the decision. Distance and the access to information has changed with the Internet and for that reason, it is time to star exploring new possibilities of representation and decision.
Vivienne Aerts
Jazz Deconstructionist
Fulbright from the Netherlands to the US, 2011-2012
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Memorize her name so you can gleefully say, “Yeah, I saw her TEDx performance before she hit it really big.” That’s how assuredly Vivienne will ascend the Jazz stratosphere. Want proof? She’s among only 30 gifted jazz musicians chosen by the Global Jazz Institute. “I sing about water and soap, about roof gardens and musicians that met on a certain moment and time,” she says. Admit it, you’re intrigued.
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Title: Circles in Life and Jazz
Teaser: Vivienne will present her compositions just by using her voice and a loop station. “I sing about water and soap, about roofgardens and musicians that met on a certain moment and time … As pure as it gets, a background in jazz, now trying to find the borders of the style. To find and experience total freedom.”