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Vancouverites ready for TED's world stage

From the darkest depths of the ocean to the furthest reaches of space, Vancouver has a lot to say to the world.

With the TED conference setting up shop in Vancouver starting 2014, Metro readers stepped up and suggested some exceptional people working in the city that deserve their 18-minutes of fame on the global stage.

We tracked down some of their colleagues to see why these great minds would make for engaging and influential TED speakers.

Gary Hinshaw


University of British Columbia Experimental Cosmology Lab

How old is the universe? How big is it? How fast is it expanding?

NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotrophy Probe team, whose publications were submitted in December, are credited with taking the universe’s vital signs and finally answering some of those eternal questions.

One of the key members of the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize winning team was UBC’s Gary Hinshaw.

“What he’s really helped do is convert ideas we had of how the universe may have begun to a precise, tested model,” said UBC physics professor Mark Halpern, who is also on the WMAP team.

Halpern says Hinshaw has a gift for taking the dense material and relating it to groups ranging from children to world-renowned experts.

“Cosmology is one part of science that the public cares about,” said Halpern. “Basic questions like why is the universe so big are questions people have been asking since the beginning. Now we have a quantitative understanding and Gary can explain it in a very engaging way.”

Dr. Julio Montaner

Clinical director

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

Montaner’s made-in-B.C. triple-drug therapy and “treatment as prevention” model (Science Magazine’s 2011 breakthrough of the year) attacking the spread of HIV/AIDS has already made significant inroads in British Columbia and earned him international recognition.

Irene Day, director of operations at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says Montaner has an important message fit for the TED stage.

“He really understands HIV and has significant insight in the elimination [of the virus],” she said. “The U.S. talks about an ‘AIDS-free generation’ and we’re so far ahead of that.”

Montaner’s charisma, knowledge and passion already shines through when he addresses the scientific community and Day says it’s time for the general public to take notice.

“He’d tell people that this can be done, we can eliminate HIV,” she says. “We’re already doing it in British Columbia.”

Dr. Paul Zehr

Neuroscience professor at University of Victoria

Researcher at ICORD centre for spinal cord research and treatment

Zehr already has a presentation that’s tailor made for TED, according to Vancouver-based ICORD principal investigator Peter Cription.

The author of “Inventing Iron Man” takes the blockbuster, comic-book based movie and uses it to introduce people to real-world advances in biomechanics and technology that’s pushing human capability beyond the natural limit and even helping people with spinal injuries recover and, hopefully, one day walk again.

“I’ve seen him speak and he’s always profound and really interesting,” said Cripton, who co-wrote a similar “Being Batman” blog for Scientific American with Zehr. “You want learning to be fun. He emphasizes it in a way that’s accessible to the public. That’s who we serve, we don’t want to do work that’s not relevant to the real world.”

At ICORD, physicians already use robotic exoskeletal “pants” to help spinal cord injury victims regain walking patterns during rehabilitation.

A real-life Iron Man, Zehr says, is possible within the next 30 years.

Phil Nuytten

Deep-sea explorer, inventor and engineer


When Hollywood director James Cameron became the first person to ever to do a solo dive to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench last year, he did it in one of Nuytten’s submersibles.

The Vancouver explorer and inventor has been a pioneer in deep-sea diving since the 1960s and remains at the top of his game.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Nuytco’s operations supervisor Jeff Heaton says Nuytten envisions a future where human habitation under the seas is a reality.

“What he would speak about is not his accolades and accomplishments, but where we’re going,” says Heaton. “Cameron’s dive was a big deal. It really opens up for things we’ve been discussing like under sea habitats and having a manned presence on the ocean floor.”

Heaton gives Nuytten bonus points for personality.

“He’s quite funny and gets people laughing,” Heaton said, matter-of-factly. “I don’t think most engineers are able to do that.”

Rebeka Breder

Animal rights lawyer

Broughton Law

She’s man’s best friend’s best friend.

Broughton Law lawyer Luca Citton says his fellow associate, Rebeka Breder, has become a go-to expert in the new realm of animal law.

“She’s managed to develop a legal practice in an area of law that didn’t really exist before,” Citton said of Breder.

Similar to the evolution of environmental law, animal law is a byproduct of a milestone shift in culture – one that’s more compassionate and in tune with the welfare and rights of all living things.

And Breder has been on the front lines, fighting in the courtroom and teaching in lecture halls all over.

Breder founded and still chairs the Canadian Bar Association’s animal law section and also sits on the board of directors of the Vancouver Human Society.

She’s been a tireless advocate, according to Citton.

“It’s rare you meet someone that loves what they do that much,” he said.

Already in the TED spotlight:

Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang

Magee secondary school graduates

Two young and bright minds from Vancouver don’t have to wait until TED comes to Vancouver in 2014.

Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao will be speaking at this year’s conference – joining the likes of U2’s Bono – in California.

The duo, with the help of UBC’s Dr. Lindsay Eltis and his chemistry students, discovered a way to break down phthalates, environmentally unfriendly compounds found in many plastics and linked to several health problems.

Not bad for a couple of 18-year-olds.

Magee chemistry teacher Mary Lee Taylor says the young women are ready for TED’s world stage.

“They are very polished speakers and have such a passion when they communicate their work to people,” said Lee Taylor. “I’m very happy for them.”

Wang and Yao represent the talent and potential that’s gestating in British Columbia schools.

“In every school, there are so many talented, interesting and engaging people here that want to make a difference in the world,” said Lee Taylor.

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