Multiplying Dimensions at TEDxCERN
Yesterday was the first ever TEDxCERN event. I was lucky enough to take part as a volunteer in the social media team.  I spent the day live-tweeting and live-blogging about the event, as well as generally running around helping speakers, stage managers and so on. It was a lot of fun, and got me thinking about lots of new ideas.
If you go down to the woods today...
For those of you who don't know, TED is a conference all about "ideas worth spreading". Although not without its critics, TED generally brings great ideas to a wide audience. TEDx conferences are independently organized events, which are lent the power of the main conference's brand in return for following a certain number of guidelines.
For instance, recent advice from TEDx for their community of organizers has highlighted the importance of properly vetting speakers, particularly those claiming to present ideas supported by science. This helps avoid the embarrassment of unjustifiable claims being made, such as those of that unrelenting peddler of spiritualist nonsense Deepak Chopra made during his appearance at the TED-MED conference in 2010 
You're in for a big surprise...
As you might guess, TEDxCERN was hosted at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The talks took place in the stunning Globe of Science and Innovation, with a simultaneous broadcast (via the web) in the less snappily-named Main Auditorium. The online broadcast was also shown in several of CERN's partner institutions around the world.
There was an awe-inspiring line-up of speakers from a range of disciplines beyond particle physics, as well as some very high-profile guests and frankly amazing musical performances. Personally, I also took great interest in the TED-Ed animations being premiered, as I am often asked how best to communicate some of the complicated notions around CERN's particle physics research. Indeed, despite my not actually working in communications (I'm actually in admin), and my not knowing all that much about physics (at least, relatively speaking, considering where I am!), a lot of my friends seem to expect me to be some kind of expert on the subject. At least now I can point them in the direction of these videos. They are all very clear and informative, though I particularly like "The beginning of the Universe, for beginners" by Tom Whyntie.
'cause today's the day...
In my volunteer role, I contributed pictures, quotes and impressions for the event's official Twitter feed and wrote a set of blog posts throughout the day, so that people who were in neither live nor streaming audiences could follow the action online regardless. You can read the official posts I wrote on the TEDxCERN website: there was an introduction and the reviews of sessions One, Two and Three.
In the run-up to and during the event, we  asked people online and in the partner institutions to submit questions to which the answer would be themed around "multiplying dimensions". There were a few obvious mentions of string theory, as well as some more light-hearted contributions about trying to juggle the many tasks a busy modern life demands. Several people asked general questions about the value of large-scale scientific collaboration, bridging the gap between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities, and so forth.These are all valid questions, and interesting interpretations of the "multiplying dimensions" theme.
The TEDdy-bears have their picnic...
For my part, the theme resonated with my personal interest in languages. I would say that "by multiplying dimensions of understanding" is a reasonable answer to the question:
"How does learning languages benefit scientists?"
By learning and using languages, scientists can open themselves up to new worlds of understanding and experience. This is precisely what I hope to illustrate on this blog. Science and languages are both integral parts of culture, and making the most of either depends on a reasonable grasp of the other. This was made all the more salient to me yesterday. Walking around the drinks reception at the end of the day, my mind brimming with the day's new ideas, I overheard half a dozen conversations in five different languages on seven different scientific fields within the space of just one minute. Multiplying dimensions indeed!
 Although I work at CERN and was privileged enough to take part in this TEDx event, I would like to point out that my participation had no relation to my actual job. The views I express here are purely my own and do not necessarily represent those of TED or CERN in any way.
 Here's the video - it starts off OK, give-or-take the shameless plugging of his book and app, but the outrageous claims and banal pseudophilosophical platitudes start at 3:45
Over to you:
- Were you a volunteer at the event? What was your role? What were your impressions?
- Did you watch TEDxCERN? If so, were you in the live audience, following a webcast in a partner institution, or watching online? Which was your favourite talk?
- What do you do in your life which involves "multiplying dimensions"?
- Have you attended other TEDx events? What did you think of those?
- How does learning languages benefit you in your working life?