This year’s TEDxFIU speakers will take the audience to an underwater sea laboratory, a remote village of Papua New Guinea and a newly imagined America with world-class public transportation. With “Reimagine Possible” as this year’s theme, the event will feature 11 talks – including two musical performances – that will make you reexamine your thoughts, question your identity and motivate you to do more for others.
With more than 100 applicants vying to speak at this year’s event, the competition to secure a spot was fierce. The selected students, faculty and alumni will challenge and inspire you by exploring topics like biological and chemical weapons, the re-domestication of wild plants and the fusion of classical violin and hip hop.
This year’s speakers are:
Musician/Composer Kev Marcus
Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester ’03 is the violin half of the classicial-hip hop duo Black Violin, along with violist and childhood friend Wilner “Wil B” Baptiste. Sylvester picked up the instrument at age 9, and he recalls it was “love at first sight.” He studied at Dillard Center for the Arts before earning a full scholarship to FIU’s music program. Sylvester and Baptiste combine an array of musical styles to produce a signature sound that is part maestro, part emcee. Black Violin released its first studio album in 2007, and has performed all over the world at such venues as the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem and the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Ball. In addition to their own studio work, they have collaborated with artists including P. Diddy, Kanye West, 50 Center, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin and The Eagles.
Shark Expert Mike Heithaus and Marine Ecologist Deron Burkepile
Mike Heithaus is the director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society at FIU. Known internationally for his research on the ecological role of large sharks both in Australian and Florida waters, Heithaus has been with FIU since 2003. Prior to joining FIU, he was a staff scientist at the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research, where he worked with National Geographic’s Remote Imaging Department conducting studies using their “crittercam.” Marine sciences professor Deron Burkepile is an aquanaut who has completed two research missions at FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base. He studies marine community ecology, trophic interactions and herbivore ecology.
Biowarfare Expert Aileen Marty
Dr. Aileen M. Marty is a professor of infectious diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. She is also an anatomic and clinical pathologist with a certificate in forensic medicine. Marty served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years specializing in tropical medicine, infectious disease pathology, disaster medicine, and in the science, medical response and policy involving weapons of mass destruction. She attended the Navy War College, where she trained in strategic studies, diplomacy, joint military operations and the art of war. The Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) recognized her as an expert on chemical, biological, radiation and high-energy weapons and called on her to develop plans, training and policy for government agencies including the White House and the National Security Administration. Marty is one of only 403 people listed in the international roster as a member of the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
“British Indiana Jones” Tudor Parfitt
Known as the “British Indian Jones”, Tudor Parfitt has traveled to the world’s most remote regions in search of the lost tribes of Israel. Earlier this year, Parfitt joined FIU as a research professor in the School of International and Public Affairs. In March, he led an educational mission to Papua New Guinea with four FIU students. Parfitt was invited to Papua New Guinea by the Gogodala tribe to receive a gift. Parfitt had visited Papua New Guinea on two occasions to do DNA tests on tribe members to test whether they were part of the lost tribe of Israel. The results were inconclusive, but the Gogodala have nonetheless continued to embrace a new identity as Jews. Parfitt has spent his career studying the Sephardi/Mizrahi communities of the Muslim world, Jewish-Muslim relations, Judaising movements, Jewish genetic identity and attitudes toward Jews and Zionism. He has authored or edited 26 books and presented seven documentaries for the BBC, PBS, Channel Four and the History Channel. His latest book is Black Jews in Africa and the Americas.
Social Entrepreneur and EyeTalker Co-Creator Maria Pia Celestino
Maria Pia Celestino ’13 is one of the co-founders of EyeTalker, a project that developed a pair of glasses with a camera that captures printed text and delivers it as audio to the visually impaired. EyeTalker was created in 2012 for a social entrepreneurship business plan competition. The glasses help visually impaired citizens “hear” printed text on books, newspapers, magazines and menus. Earlier this year, EyeTalker won the Miami Herald Business Plan Competition. Celestino started her career as an entrepreneur at age 18 working in the design and marketing fields. She is also the founder of South Florida-based Crea7ive.com, an award-winning digital marketing agency that has garnered national recognition for web design, branding and social media. She has held seminars on social media and marketing and collaborated on Bruce C. Brown’s 2010 book How to Build a Website with Little or No Money.
Student Self-help Leader Alexa Chavarry
Alexa Rae Chavarry, 19, is the creator of butterfly-project.tumblr.com, an anonymous blog that has helped thousands, including herself, recover from self-injury, eating disorders, addiction and suicide. On her blog, Chavarry asks her readers who are thinking of hurting themselves to instead draw a butterfly on themselves and name it after someone they care about. The goal is to focus on the butterfly, in the hopes that even after it fades, the individual is strong enough to continue on the road to recovery. Chavarry came across the idea in high school after she searched the Internet for different coping mechanisms for self-harm. In 2011, she launched the blog to share her recovery method with the world. Today, the blog has more than 14,000 followers who have submitted their stories of struggle, hope and recovery.
Taiko Drummer Aneysi Fernandez
Percussion runs through Aneysi Fernandez’s ’12 blood. Her father, Pedro Fernandez, was a trained musician and percussionist who influenced her love of music. Fernandez remembers receiving her first set of drums at age 7, and recalls playing music with her father from childhood to her college years. Today, the 24-year-old plays in a Taiko drumming group that she discovered while visiting the Museum of Discovery in Ft. Lauderdale. When not performing or practicing with the Taiko drumming group, Fernandez divides her time between working in the pet hospitality industry and at a local science museum. She is also pursuing a degree in aviation at Broward College. Fernandez graduated from FIU with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.
Physicist Pete Markowitz and FIU Artist-in-Residence Xavier Cortada
Pete E.C. Markowitz is a physicist with expertise in the electromagnetic production of quarks (especially strange quarks), exotic forms of matter and physics at the limits of the standard model. As a researcher, he’s involved in Jefferson Lab and the CERN accelerator in Switzerland. There, Markowitz leads FIU’s team in one of the largest scientific experiments in the world. Earlier this year, the world was captivated when scientists at CERN confirmed the existence of the elusive Higgs boson particle, the subatomic speck often referred to as the “God particle.” As a result, Markowitz collaborated with FIU artist Xavier Cortada on an art installation that will forever mark the historic occasion: five banners at Point Five at the Large Hadron Collider. Cortada has created art installations around the world, including at the Earth’s poles. In 2007, he used the moving ice sheet beneath the South Pole as an instrument to mark time; the art piece will be completed in 150,000 years. He has also been commissioned to create art for theWhite House, the World Bank, the Florida Supreme Court, General Mills, Nike, and Hershey’s. His work has been featured on National Geographic TV and the Discovery Channel.
Explosives Researcher Kelley Peters
Kelley Peters is a doctoral student in chemistry at FIU, where she is developing new methods for on-site detection of explosives utilizing simple, rapid and inexpensive technology. Her research focuses on designing presumptive and confirmatory methods for the rapid analysis of multiple explosive compounds. The end goal is to prevent terrorist attacks by revolutionizing on-site forensic detection of explosives. She seeks to show the simplicity of these new devices that can be easily taken into the field and provide faster analysis. Peters has presented her research on the analysis and detection of multiple explosives at conferences nationally and abroad.
Biologist and Crop Pioneer Eric Bishop-von Wettberg
Biology professor Eric Bishop-von Wettberg studies how reductions in population size and loss of genetic diversity affect tolerance of stressful soils in crops and endangered plants. He aims to use that knowledge to breed crops that are more tolerant to climate change and to protect declining plant populations. Bishop-von Wettberg’s current research focuses on chickpeas, pigeonpeas, mangos and rare cacti. He and his students use a mixture of genomic, quantitative genetic, greenhouse, and field approaches to study genetic diversity and stress tolerance of wild relatives of crops and rare species. His work has been published in over 20 journals and recognized with a Fulbright fellowship.