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Swept up in a wave of ideas at TED in Vancouver

Gerald Joe watches a public livestream of the TED talks outside BC Place in Vancouver, March 17, 2014.

Ben Nelms/The Globe & Mail

Here's what $7,500 can buy you – the opportunity to be surrounded by accomplishment. The high-profile TED Conference (theme: The Next Chapter) kicked off in Vancouver Monday. And even before the opening session "Liftoff!" – featuring Chris Hadfield and others – the very high level of curation was evident, along with the bright-eyed greeters and lattes on demand.

Stepping through the door of the Vancouver Convention Centre, attendees are immediately swept up in the hyper organization. Someone in TED-wear approaches with an iPad, you tell them who you are, and by the time you emerge up the colourful "the next chapter begins here" staircase, a completely new TEDster is there with your badge, addressing you by name.

Around the convention centre, there are hydration stations, Google Glass demonstrations, a Delta Airlines experience that matches you with your Twitter soulmate. Huge boards invite you to rate the importance of various issues such as climate change and rising inequality with a post-it note placed under "Yes, this matters!" or "Not so much."

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At lunch, high-level thinkers could choose from food trucks or fancy buffets with low-cholesterol options such as artisanal greens.

But it's what is going on inside the theatres that is really "jaw-dropping" – that's the top option offered to attendees in evaluating speakers, ranging down to "longwinded" and finally "obnoxious."

Every year, TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – selects 40 people to take part in pre-conference workshops and give brief talks ahead of the main, higher-profile sessions (20 at the main conference and 20 at the TED Global conference). Some return as Senior Fellows.

On Monday, they presented forward-thinking research and projects covering a huge range of areas, and living up to TED's motto – ideas worth spreading.

Janet Iwasa premiered the 3D animation she has created to help molecular biologists visualize their hypotheses – far more helpful, she said, than the vast oversimplification of traditional molecular drawings. The beta version was available for download on Monday.

David Sengeh, a biomechatronics engineer at MIT Media Lab, explained how he has used technology – including 3D printers – to design prosthetic limb sockets that are more comfortable and less expensive.

Kathryn Hunt recounted how a passion for archeology and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at 22 led to her study of cancer in ancient societies.

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Another highlight was Palestinian speaker Aziz Abu Sarah. When his brother died after being released from an Israeli prison, where he had been beaten, he was devastated.

"I was bitter, I was angry and all I wanted was revenge," he said. He chose instead to channel his rage into a positive endeavour, and now organizes tours that take Jewish tourists to Palestinian territories, and Muslim tourists into Jewish homes in Israel.

Reforestation expert Shubhendu Sharma creates dense, but tiny forests – as small as the area six cars take up in a typical parking lot – that improve air quality, increase bird visits and yield seasonal fruits, as Mr. Sharma did in his own backyard in India.

Ziyah Gafic explained his quest to document every item recovered from the mass graves of Bosnia-Herzegovina's genocide. His hope for his photos of watches, eyeglasses, toothbrushes and other possessions is to create a database that could help survivors identify the dead, and create a permanent record of the lives lost.

"These items are the last testament to the identity of the victims; the last permanent reminder that these people ever existed."

TED 2014 continues through Friday at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More


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