Colorado State University

TEDx Talks Presented by College of Natural Sciences Faculty

In March, faculty of the College of Natural Sciences sparked conversation and circulated ideas that allowed audiences and innovators to connect at TEDxCSU and TEDxCSM talks. 

Solving the mystery of déjà vu

Up first from the Department of Psychology was Anne Cleary, a professor of cognitive psychology, who gave her TEDxCSU talk, Déjà vu.

Cleary described this sensation as a feeling of having already had an experience, but really it’s a new situation. Her research, explained in her talk, has focused on the explanation of the phenomenon so many people have experienced.

She illuminated the causes of déjà vu as the mix of spontaneous brain activity and the inability to recall a memory. During her research, she discovered that people who travel and watch movies have more sources for an occurrence of déjà vu.

Since déjà vu is rare, it is hard to test it in real life situations, so Cleary created a way to make these situations occur through spatial resemblance. Virtual reality glasses were put on participants, and they were shown a variety of different scenes that had similar layouts. This study showed that there were high rates of participants who reported experiencing déjà vu due to spatial resemblance in the scene. There was an even higher rate of déjà vu when participants were shown an exact scene from earlier in the study – but had forgotten they had seen it.

Cleary concluded that, “The more similar an experience is to one in memory that we’re failing to recall, the more likely it is that we’ll have a déjà vu experience.”

The take-away from Cleary’s talk was that, “Our experiences don’t unfold in front of us in a predetermined way, our actions and our choices can change the course of our futures.”

Stopping methane leaks

Joe von Fischer, associate professor in the Department of Biology spoke about his recent use of scientific tools that are changing society. His TEDxCSU talk, Hunting Down Natural Gas Leaks with Google Street View Cars, gave the audience a deeper look into analyzing, reducing, and fixing leaks of the greenhouse gas methane.

Fischer began using infrared lasers to study samples of methane and the amount of gas that was being produced in different areas in Alaska’s arctic tundra. He took this research back to Fort Collins, Colo. and was able to join a partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund and Google.

Google street cars were outfitted with the methane-detecting sensors and helped to find leaks in underground pipes around the city. This started the initiative to collect data and develop maps to help fix large leaks and reduce costs and emissions in old piping in cities.

Fischer said, “Visualization and management of these types of environmental hazards will help us to be more aware of it as a society.” Alongside Fischer, Computer Science Assistant Professor Sangmi Lee Pallicckara and College of Agricultural Sciences’ Soil and Crop Sciences Professor Jay Ham helped to set up and develop strategies to collect data to affect social change.

Women in STEM

Jess Ellis, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics,  opened up her TEDx talk at the Colorado School of Mines with a personal story of being told she had a stomach flu when she knew that something else was wrong and was being misdiagnosed. She went back to the doctor and ended up learning she had the water borne illness, giardia.

Ellis said, “it let me feel like there was a word for this, there was a diagnosis, and I could move forward to a solution.” This, she said, was a parallel to what she had been in her research of women in STEM – and why there are so few of them. She wants to find a solution and improve the rates of women who start a degree in STEM but then leave the field. Research shows that 50 percent of women drop out of STEM after taking Calculus I.

Her work has inspired her to remind students – and people of all ages – to, “Be curious, ask more questions, and question the answers you’re given.” Just like she did when she was misdiagnosed by her doctor.