First ‘Ed Talk’ Highlights Inspiring Speakers

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Chancellor George Blumenthal and Mayor Hilary Bryant co-hosted the inaugural “Ed Talks” on Oct. 17 in downtown Santa Cruz as a part of the Founders Celebration, a series of events celebrating innovation, creativity and the arts. Inspired by the popular web series “TED Talks,” Ed Talks showcased three UCSC professors, David Haussler, Terrie Williams and Alan Christy, and their respective areas of expertise.

The event, which invited communities from both the campus and the city to attend the inception of the talks, sold out in less than 24 hours.

“They were three great speakers, and they were really diverse,” said Santa Cruz resident Jack Cheney. “It was also a well-informed audience, everyone applauded for the same things.”

The event also marked the unveiling of a collaborative publication between the campus and the city. The first issue, “Santa Cruz: A Vibrant Hub of Tech Innovation,” chronicles the many reasons why Santa Cruz is full of potential.

“The university and the town have come such a long way in collaboration,” Bryant said. “Santa Cruz is working on strengthening its tech community, and we can’t do it without the university.”

Chancellor Blumenthal expressed a similar sentiment.

“We now run a ticket booth for campus events in the city, and there are talks of merging fire departments,” Chancellor Blumenthal said. “Sharing institutions will even help the students. We’ll have more money to give back to you. I see it as a win-win-win.”

The first of the three speakers was UCSC biomolecular engineering professor and bioinformatician David Haussler. Haussler began his speech with a staggering fact.

“In the one minute it took me to get to this stage one person died of cancer,” Haussler said.

Haussler proposed a new way to approach cancer research, suggesting that we treat it with the intricacy it deserves.

“The complexity is staggering, every tumor is different,” Haussler said.

In order to make sense of the overwhelming amount of data, Haussler and his team have created a database that stores massive amounts of information.  The project, named Cancer Genome Hub, receives three million hits per week.

His goal is to familiarize the database to researchers and medical centers around the world, because the more entries of cancer data there are, the higher the likelihood of drawing statistical patterns. This is proving to be a challenge, as many individual centers do not release information to the public.

“We need to stand up and demand the data,” Haussler said.

The second speaker, Terrie Williams, is a UCSC professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the principal investigator at the mammalian physiology lab at the Long Marine Lab.

She had an arsenal of statistics about declining wildlife, including the fact that 25 percent of mammals are classified as endangered species, and 50 percent of mammal species are declining. After accepting an offer to take in an orphaned Hawaiian monk seal, Williams and her team began to study the characteristics pertaining to the species’ decline, and thus learned more about the problems facing endangered species.

“But this is only half the story,” Williams said. “We also work with people. If people don’t care about endangered species, we have no hope.”

Williams works with children, students and adults, encouraging them to combine science with compassion in order to benefit the plight of these animals.

The final speaker was UCSC professor of Japanese history Alan Christy.

“David is tackling cancer, Terrie is saving species, how’s the historian going to step up?” Christy said.

Behind him were projected images taken in Okinawa, Japan amid U.S. occupation, which happened during and shortly after World War II. The photos were taken by a Santa Cruz resident and capture a vibrant culture — one that was significantly altered after the land was bulldozed to build a U.S. military base.

These photos inspired the Gale Project, an interactive photo gallery developed by students in Christy’s senior seminar class, which will run at the Sesnon Gallery on campus and in Okinawa. The gallery features testimonies of both American troops and Okinawan citizens present when the photos were taken. The exhibit aims to shed light on a complex history.

“Instead of giving students a textbook or lecturing at them about Okinawan history,” Christy said. “I am inviting them to generate their own understanding of history out of primary sources.”

After all of the speakers finished their talks, there was a distinct buzz of excitement among the guests as the event winded down.

“So what do you think, should we do this again?” Chancellor Blumenthal said to the crowd.

The audience replied with unanimous applause.