60-Second Slam Lets Students and Faculty Show Their Work (Video)

During Alumni Weekend 2017, presenters provided quick, expert takes on topics ranging from 3-D models of galaxies to the history of animal nutrition science.

Monday, May 22, 2017

By Lauren R. Thacker

Lauren Sallan, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, and Nicole Welk-Joerger, Ph.D. candidate in History and Sociology of Science, were winners of the 2017 60-Second Slam.

On Saturday, May 13, Penn Arts and Sciences faculty, students, alumni, and friends gathered in Fisher-Bennett Hall for a 60-Second Slam, a competitive and high-energy iteration of the long-running 60-Second Lecture series. Eleven undergraduates, graduate students, and professors delivered talks that distilled their research into a rich, engaging 60 seconds. Jean-Marie Kneeley, Vice-Dean for Advancement, moderated the event, and judges included Dejania Cotton-Samuel, C’20; Kevin Adu, C’19; and doctoral candidate Mary Zaborskis, the Humanities winner of the Grad Ben Talks.

“We started the 60-second lectures as a fun, outdoor event during summer sessions,” says Kneeley. “We quickly realized that it was something our entire campus community would enjoy. The Alumni Weekend Slam adds an element of competition and allows us to share our diverse, inventive faculty and students with alumni and friends.”

Participants in the slam represented the range of expertise that typifies Arts and Sciences. James Aguirre, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, delivered a lecture on building 3-D models of galaxies based on measurements of light and his work with NASA to develop a telescope that can detect the light obscured by haze and dust, which will allow scientists to study the 4-D history of galaxies. Jessie Lu, C’17, reported on the intersection of non-profits and governments in the Ugandan welfare state, based on research she conducted during a three-month internship in Uganda. Doctoral candidate Jehnna Lewis, who is interested in the intersection of German Romanticism and sound studies, presented on textual representations of acoustic phenomena.

After the eleven lectures, judges and audience members were invited to select the most successful presentations, judging on content, delivery, and brevity. The audience choice winner was Lauren Sallan, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science and 2017 TED Fellow, and the judge’s choice winner was Nicole Welk-Joerger, a doctoral candidate in History and Sociology of Science.

Sallan’s presentation, “Bringing Dead Fishes Back to Life,” was a shortened version of her April 2017 TED Talk. She told audience members how she uses big data to study fossils and, in turn, quantify evolutionary survival and reveal details about a mass extinction 360 million years ago.

Reflecting on the challenging of covering such a big topic in a small amount of time, Sallan says “The TED Fellows team taught me essential skills in science communication, about how to get big ideas across in a few words without losing precision. This forces you to focus in on the real message. The Slam put my new skills to the test—one minute is a lot shorter than five!”

Welk-Joerger studies history of animal nutrition science, the feed industry, and connections between food production and social issues. Her talk, "Eating 'Natural': Food Labels Versus Feeding Realities,” demonstrated that applying labels like “natural” to food elides the complexities of our food systems. With stories and photos from her fieldwork, Welk-Joerger showed audience members that practices consumers may consider natural—such as cows grazing on a field—may not actually lead to the best or most humane treatment of animals, while so-called unnatural practices—such a robot feeder— can lead to well-nourished animals. She hopes her talk gave audience members something to think about.

“When writing a talk like this, you have to be satisfied with giving your audience one take away that is not necessarily profound, but may lead the audience to ask new questions about a given subject,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about each talk at the Slam. I think that is a wonderful aspect of this challenge: snippets bolster curiosity across the disciplines and for the greater public.”

Click here to watch the entire 60-Second Slam presented by Penn Arts and Sciences.

See below for a selection of presentations mentioned here.

Nicole Welk-Joerger, Ph.D. candidate in History and Sociology of Science, won the 60-Second Slam for her lecture, "Eating 'Natural': Food Labels Versus Feeding Realities." 

Lauren Sallan, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science. Her lecture, "Bringing Dead Fishes Back to Life," was the audience-choice winner of the 2017 60-Second Slam.

Jessie Lu, C’17, an anthropology major, presented "Who Provides Health for the 'Forgotten District?': Rethinking State Welfare in Uganda."

James Aguirre, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, presented "Seeing the Invisible Universe in 4-D."

Jehnna Lewis, Ph.D. candidate in Germanic Languages and Literatures, presented "Fictional Acoustics and Fantastic Instruments."