2013 TTH Annual Conference, Part 1

On February 15-17, members of The Triple Helix met at Harvard University for the organization’s 2013 Annual Conference. In this two-part blog post, we reflect on our experiences and lessons from the event.

Day 1: by Michael Yamakawa


Sujata Bhatia discusses wound closure on Day 2 of the conference.

The conference began on Friday night, with close to thirty students gathered together at the Student Center at Harvard University after a rough battle with the cold and snowy weather in Boston. Some students, myself included, arrived late, due mostly to the weather and the large labyrinth that is the Harvard campus. Nevertheless, I walked into a presentation by Harvard Economics professor Dr. David Laibson about the bridge between incentive and economy, and whether either derived the other. Thinking I had walked into a room full of finance students, I was lucky to finally see a sign posted at the entrance of the room reading “The Triple Helix.”

Once the talk had ended, students introduced themselves to one another, and I quickly recognized the enormous diversity that the organization had managed to bring to the conference. Harvard, Brown, Carnegie Mellon were just a few of the schools represented, of which majors ranged from biology to international relations to art history. As a junior biophysics major from Johns Hopkins, I enjoyed the reactions of the others to meeting a student with such a rare major. Nevertheless, I was equally impressed with the intelligence and passion that students brought from all corners of the country.

That night, our group split up into two; one that was willing to persevere through a sleepless, albeit adventurous, experience at Harvard Square and another that was ready to head back to the hotel to rejuvenate for the next day. I joined the latter, although I later began to regret the decision. After all, this was my first time in Boston, one of the academic and cultural hubs of the world, and I spent the night sleeping.

Day 2: by David Wang

The second day of the conference started off with a flurry of snow blotting out the sky. Having decided to spend the night at a friend’s place in “the square” instead of at the conference hotel, my day began with an icy twenty-minute journey with Apple Maps as my sole companion. The Texan in me was not prepared — it had been 13 years since I’d seen more than half-a-foot of snow — therefore, when I spotted a fellow conference attendee 20 feet ahead of me, deftly maneuvering the drifts, I decided to forgo Apple Maps and blindly follow my new companion.

I had made the right decision. Not only was I the first to arrive at the conference, but it turned out that my navigator was not a conference attendee but Dr. Sujata Bhatia, a physician, engineer, assistant dean, and — most importantly — a presenter at the conference.

After a quick blizzard-related snafu and a late entrance from other attendees, the first event of the day was up and running. The first speaker was Margaret Livingstone, a professor of neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School. Livingstone, whose talk was on “what art can tell us about the brain”, woke the crowd up from their morning daze with optical tricks. The presentation was a perfect combination of neurobiology, ophthalmic science, and visual fun. Using the Mona Lisa as an example, Livingstone made a compelling case of how artists produced visually appealing images and the science behind why the pieces were so artistic. With her rich explanations and details, Livingstone left the crowd in awe.

The next speaker was Bhatia, my navigator, who gave a talk about wound closure with natural polymers. Wound complications are a wide spread problem after surgeries, often leading to death of the patient, even after a successful operation. Biopolymers from naturally occurring materials such as corn and algae have the potential to drastically prevent the complication. Bhatia discussed the benefits to not only surgery patients but developing countries that have a huge agricultural market and vast supply of these biomaterials. Bhatia’s presentation was an array of engineering, biomedical, public health, policy, and economic science, appealing to all types of students.

The last speaker was Melissa Franklin, the first female to gain tenure track at Harvard’s department of physics. Franklin was slated to give a scientific talk on the discovery of the Higgs Boson, but instead decided to fuse more science policy in her presentation. She emphasized how much funding was needed for further study of the Higgs Boson. Funding for basic science was being cut in a crucial time where only a few experimental physicists knew the complex details of creating experiments in determining how the universe began. Franklin gave a compelling argument that was a mixture of basic science, policy implications, and philosophical considerations.


Zain Pasha discusses the role of electronic publications in The Triple Helix.

After the talks, Franklin and Bhatia had stayed behind to field questions and lines were formed in front of each professor. Unfortunately, my stomach took priority over my brain and I headed out for lunch. When I came back, 30 minutes later, Bhatia was still fielding questions. The choice of lecturers was splendid; there was a speaker that appealed to each member of the audience. Mike’s experience at a presentation on Saturday is only a testament to that.

Day 2: continued by Michael Yamakawa

If you want to hear someone give a convincing and engaging talk on the rapid integration of technology into our lives, Zain Pasha is the man to go to. As an analyst at a major consulting firm, Zain gave an excellent explanation to the active use of technologies. His talk, ironically, was presented without the use of PowerPoint, computer, or iPad, but was given using solely his voice, which was indubitably what kept our attention on a leash.

As the co-founder of our online forum, The Triple Helix Online, Zain lectured on the use of electronic publications as a vital force for future Triple Helix efforts. As the ePub director of the Hopkins branch, I couldn’t have agreed more or articulated my thoughts as well as he did. Zain mentioned that students have a stronger proclivity for writing for The Science in Society Review, the literary component of The Triple Helix, as it is considered more prestigious and widely read. Many e-publishing sites at The Triple Helix seem to be struggling to combat this notion. On the contrary, with mobile apps and easy web designing platforms increasingly available, ePub is expecting to see a rise in online readership — and we can, in fact, monitor the number of visitors to each article! Currently, articles on the Hopkins ePub have been read hundreds of times, all through very little advertising on Facebook and Twitter (we hope to share more — stay tuned for the next day’s updates!).

Michael Yamakawa and David Wang are students at Johns Hopkins University and editors for The Triple Helix Online. Read about Part 2 of the 2013 TTH Annual Conference, and follow us on Facebook.