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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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Global warming, racism and music ecosystems: TEDxCSU adds to the marketplace of ideas

“I am a racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic, heterosexual and ableist person,” said psychologist Dr. Mark Benn at the Lory Student Center Theatre Saturday. “And with all due respect, so are you.”

Benn’s point, about the sometimes unrecognized prejudices inside us all, was made as part of his speech at TEDxCSU, an event which brought together the community’s brightest and most inspirational thinkers. Standing for and originally focused on the subjects technology, entertainment and design, TED now welcomes voices representing all subject matter to contribute to what it calls the clearinghouse of free knowledge.


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On Saturday the lineup of CSU faculty, students and graduates contributed their voices on subjects ranging from the treatment of inmates in prison to identifying natural gas leaks with Google Street View cars.

Besides the blocks of presentations in the theatre, attendees could also tour booths showcasing local ingenuity at Innovation Alley in the Grand Ballroom. Between intermissions, emcee Panama Soweto and guest artists Detour303 and DJ Cavem provided engaging music and entertainment.

The first speaker to claim the stage was Professor of Biology Dr. Joe Von Fischer.

“My work is with my personal favorite gas, and I think we all have a favorite gas,” Fischer proposed. “Mine is methane.”

Fischer spent time recording methane emissions from the earth in the arctic, working with a state-of-the-art laser detector. Soon he was using this equipment to measure emissions in Fort Collins.

Collaborating with Google, Fischer installed methane detectors on Street View cars, collecting massive amounts of data as the vehicles traversed Fort Collins’ streets. What materialized from the data was a greenhouse heat map of the city with suspicious hot spots encircling a specific building in Old Town.

“They had elevated methane concentrations associated with their business,” Fischer said. “And so we called them up and said hey, did you know you have a lot of methane?”

As a result of this call, a long term methane leak was finally discovered and sealed. For Fischer, to actually make progress in the fight against climate change instead of just talking about it was a transformational experience.


Fischer recalled the feeling, thinking, “wow, this is like crack.”

Also speaking within the vein of scientific advancement was professor of psychology Dr. Anne Cleary.

Cleary’s team had been studying the mysterious phenomenon known as déjà vu, once considered unpractical to study. With the help of video game technology, Cleary presented test subjects with an interactive 3D world hidden with similar scenes and situations, provoking feelings of familiarity and false recollection.

Another prominent focus among the speakers at TEDxCSU was prejudice.

Graduate student Jaelyn Coates experienced it in the form of hidden structures of power and control which serve to stifle equal conversations. Benn compared prejudice to an imaginary file of negative impressions which people automatically refer to when confronted with those considered as “others.”

“Until you can look at your own prejudice and start to examine it like an alcoholic or an addict does, you have to realize you have prejudice,” Benn said. “A bigot is a bigot is a bigot.”

One social issue often overlooked is that of the treatment of prison inmates. Retired lieutenant Rachel Esters is all too familiar with this problem, having spent most of her adult life in jail. Guarding them, not serving time in them, mind you.

The environment Esters observed was one of severe physical and emotional stress in which inmates starved of individual freedom acted out and denied orders to regain some sense of the control they had been stripped of.

“You are separate from your community, from participating in life,” Esters said. “That’s the punishment.”

When Esters began to give her inmates privileges such as TVs, information and socialization. What resulted was an increase in good behavior.

“As corny as it sounds, people really do need people,” Esters said.

The final speaker of the event was Jesse Elliott, director of The Music District in Fort Collins.

Elliott cited the growing movement of music ecosystems, communities of artists coming together to explore and collaborate on the joys of music.

TED talks have been given and recorded in more than 100 languages by people across the world. What happened at CSU was yet another addition to the global soup of innovative and progressive ideas, contributing to a more connected planet.

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