For TEDx Berkeley, latest challenge is ‘Finding x’

Problem-solving takes center stage this weekend at Zellerbach Hall, as TEDx Berkeley hosts a daylong series of talks and exhibits on the theme “Finding x.”

TEDx stage, 2015

Last year’s TEDx Berkeley event, as seen from the seats in Zellerbach Hall

Tickets for Saturday’s annual event are sold out, but the talks — by a list of luminaries that includes scientists, journalists, activists, philanthropists, artists and more — will be livestreamed, and should be archived 48 hours later, says Chris Lew, a Berkeley senior who’s worked with TEDx Berkeley since his freshman year and is its 2016 curator.

Staffed entirely by Berkeley students — with an assist from two Bay Area professionals serving as co-curators —TEDx Berkeley is part of a program of local, independently organized events designed to provide “a TED-like experience.”

“We distinguish ourselves from TED in that TED has a central team that plans their annual events, and their reach is really global,” says Lew. “Our event is focused on locality, and defining the voice of the community of which we’re a part, and also having the community model that by organizing the event itself. “

Among this year’s speakers from UC Berkeley are Isha Ray, a water expert and an associate professor with the Energy and Research Group; astrophysicist Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center; biologist Jacob Corn, managing director and scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative ; and Joshua Toch, a Haas School of Business student and anti-bullying advocate.

Speakers from beyond the campus will include human rights expert Amandine Roche; Motivational Institute founder Deborah Johnson; Ellen Leanse, an expert on enlightened innovation; UCSF’s Sriram Shamasunder, a co-founder of HEAL (Health, Equity, Action and Leadership) Initiative; Susan Lim, an expert in laparoscopic and minimally invasive surgery; and Grammy winner Rob Hotchkiss, who won fame as a founding member of the band Train.

Their talks, says Lew, will range “from how design intersects with civic engagement to how basic economic gaps in supply and demand drive innovation in synthetic organ transplantation, and even talks that are about rethinking the Western narrative of heroism in global medicine.”

As for “Finding x,” “We thought it would be fun to play with that theme, linking what our vision was for the event to the ‘x’ in TEDx,” Lew says. “It’s really aimed at having attendees critically evaluate and redefine the systems that we’re all a part of.

“There’s a wide range of what ‘x’ can mean,” he adds. “But our intention was to have attendees lock onto this idea that there are concrete  problems we can see in our world, and ways to go about solving them. And we really wanted to bring that discussion to the table.”

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. For those unable to attend, all talks will be livestreamed at the TEDx Berkeley site, with videos to be archived on the TEDx YouTube channel.