Exploring, Dreaming and Discovering at TEDxChristchurch

Exploring, Dreaming and Discovering at TEDxChristchurch

TEDxChristchurch began with the enthusiastic punters steadily filling the courtyard at Burnside High School.

Being one of New Zealand’s larger TED conferences, the 700-seat Aurora Centre was soon full, a sea of animated and excited faces. The buzz in the room was electric, with roughly half the audience members being new to a TEDx event - virgins, as MC Petra Baghurst so affectionately labelled them.

The theme for this year’s event was Explore, Dream and Discover, and the range of speakers certainly reflected these questioning qualities.


A highlight of the day was Julia Rucklidge’s talk on her discoveries in the use of micronutrients to treat mental illnesses [Update: As of June 2015, this talk has received over 50,000 views]. A clinical psychologist from the University of Canterbury, Julia’s trials have proven the use of high doses of micronutrients to be highly effective in treating ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with the Christchurch earthquakes.

In a bold challenge to the pharmaceutical industry, Julia’s research is based around a very simple fundamental idea: a well-nourished body is better able to handle mental stress and depression.

Julia opened her talk with the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who was ridiculed by the medical community in 1947 for suggesting that hand-washing by doctors could be used as a means of reducing infection rates. A timely illustration that crazy ideas are only crazy, until they are proven to be true.

In keeping with the theme of healthcare discoveries, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles shared her fascination with bioluminescence, the chemicals by which some oceanic creatures and bacteria glow. As Head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland, she studies the use of glowing bacteria to understand infectious diseases, describing the application of her study in the following way:

Bioluminescence is our weapon in an arms race with an enemy who is evolving way faster than we are
— Siouxsie Wiles, Microbiologist


TEDx speakers are often the kind of folk who dream big, and then make those dreams a reality. A common thread running through the speakers at TEDxChristchurch were their dreams for a better world.

At an early age, Tariq Habibyar recognised that education was key to achieving peace and equality in Afghanistan. At just 15, he took on the extremely risky business of teaching young girls English and literacy in secret, while living under the rule of the Taliban. 15 years later, he is still a passionate advocate for education in his home country, with a dream to provide access to books to 5 million Afghani children by 2020.

Bridget McKendry took a different approach towards providing a means of education for women and girls in developing nations, where females are not typically educated. Combining her love of crafts and electronics, she developed eTextile circuits using conductive thread, using sewing as a guise for teaching women about technology.

The prize of the most forward-thinking talk goes to 14 year-old ‘Future Problem Solver’ Hannah Hudson, who issued the adults in the audience with a challenge based in empowering young people:

Teach us to solve problems, and we will tackle them ferociously.
— Hannah Hudson, Champion Future Problem Solver


Being one of only five global launching pads to Antarctica, Christchurch has always been a magnet for polar researchers and explorers. Peter Beggs, CEO of Antarctica New Zealand, emphasised the outsized impact that New Zealand can have in Antarctica. He held the geo-political governance structure of Antarctica up as a model, of global communities successfully coming together to provide collective governance over a continent fully held in the commons.

New Zealand is highly regarded by many of the other signatory countries of the Antarctic Treaty, and we are often looked to for leadership. Peter noted that while New Zealand only emits 0.2% of the world’s greenhouse gases, we have a unique opportunity to capitalise on our strong reputation on Antarctic matters, and lead the way in raising awareness on how climate change policies are affecting the southern continent.

In an exploration much more accessible to the majority of us, astrophotographer Mark Gee left many of the audience teary-eyed with his beautifully moving 4-minute short film “Full Moon Silhouettes”, showing the full moon rising over Mount Victoria in Wellington in January, 2013.

Sometimes exploring is as simple as the act of looking up.

A big shout out also goes to the unstoppable Kaila Colbin and her team for pulling it all together, and the other speakers who graced the stage, with their own amazing insights and ideas:

Leadership expert Rob Hoult
Gypsy jazz duo La Petite Manouche
Digital facial technologist Mark Sagar
Clown doctor Thomas Petschner
Maverick urban planner Nick Williamson
Hilarious psychologist Nigel Latta
Hiphop troupe Swarm
Astroparticlephysicist Jenni Adams
Silhouette Adagio Performing Arts
Education revolutionary Kay Giles
Conspiracy theory expert Matthew Dentith

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