Talk of the town: Two Argonne scientists speak at TEDxNaperville

By Eleanor TaylorApril 1, 2010

ARGONNE, Ill.  – What do sustainable food production, privacy, climate change and the scientific process have in common?  These and several other seemingly unrelated topics were recently showcased at the inaugural TEDxNaperville conference.  The conference, which was held last month at North Central College, hosted over 200 attendees and featured two researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory among its eight speakers.

The regional TEDxNaperville event, as with the international-scale “TED,” conferences, brings together leaders from three broad fields: Technology, Entertainment and Design – hence TED.  The nonprofit organization, founded in 1984, bills itself as “devoted to ideas worth spreading.”  Speakers at the national and international gatherings have included former Vice President Al Gore, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Like TED, Argonne looks at the intersections of different disciplines and applies a unique mix of world-class user facilities and leading scientific and engineering staff to solve challenges in energy, environment and national security.  Collaboration is a critical dimension of Argonne’s research because it creates synergies and efficiencies in developing new ideas that advance innovation and discovery.

“Through TEDx, the TED organization has created a viral movement that allows great ideas to be spread – starting at a local level,” said Arthur Zards, founder and curator of  “We are fortunate to have Argonne so closely located and access to some of the world’s leading experts to share their ideas and unique vantage points.” 

Argonne's Chief Information Officer, Charlie Catlett, spoke about “Maintaining Your Privacy – Is it Too Late?”  Catlett focused on the impacts related to the increasing convergence of powerful mobile devices (such as smart phones), social networks, and location-based services.

“Smart phones are becoming sophisticated, general purpose sensing and tracking devices that combined with wireless broadband are an ideal platform to support new modes of interaction,” said Catlett.  “But understanding the cascading effects this can have on our privacy is important to think about now.”
Catlett shared many compelling examples and situations where one’s smart phone, or someone else’s, could compromise your privacy in ways that may not have been considered before. 

The other Argonne speaker, Doug Sisterson, operations manager of the DOE's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility, presented "The Scientific Process and How Scientists Get the Right Answer."

“I wanted to discuss the scientific process and how it applies to some of the big questions being raised in the current climate debate,” said Sisterson. “There is a lot of misinformation out there.” “It is especially confusing to the public when the media provides individual expert witness on issues like climate change that do not reflect scientific consensus,” he added.

Sisterson shared some entertaining examples (including the use of a whip!) of how scientists do what they do to get the right answer.     

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For more information about TEDxNaperville, visit