Honors program hosts night of professors presentations

By Patrick McGoldrick
On April 23, 2013

The UNH honors program held "20/20 Night" in the MUB Entertainment Center last Thursday, April 18, in which six faculty members presented their areas of research through the format of 20 PowerPoint slides; each slide only allowing 20 seconds of speaking time before the next slide automatically updated.
The event aimed to showcase the different kinds of research faculty members are conducting at UNH in a quick and catchy presentation style, one that Katherine Gaudet, assistant director of the UNH honors program, hopes to make an annual event.
The unique concept was borrowed from "Pecha Kucha Night," which was first invented by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of 'Klein Dytham Architecture' in 2003 as a means of presenting creative projects while confining the inherent talkativeness of creative persons to twenty seconds a slide.
According to pechakucha.org, the format was invented simply because "architects talk too much!"  
"I've been to a lot of academic conferences and it is hard to stay interested," Gaudet wrote in an email expressing the motives behind adopting the 20/20 format. "People who are experts tend to have trouble reining it in when talking about the subjects they know so much about. ...The 20/20 format has automated slides, so the speaker has to keep moving to keep up with them."
Most faculty members fumbled hastily with the format at first; slides would rudely progress in mid-sentence, forcing the presenter to make the snap decision of finishing the sentence or just moving on.
But by slide five, everyone seemed to get it and presentations rolled off with the almost-too-fast clip of a good magic show.
The presentations ranged from "Why Hockey is the Coolest Game - To Study," presented by Stephen Hardy, which attempted to trace the origins of the sport and its permutations through history, to "Our Environment, Our Health," which outlined a study conducted by UNH professor Gale Carey concerning flame retardants found in our environment and its detriments.
The event offered attendees widely disparate topics to sink their teeth into.
"21st Century Abolition: Imagining a World Without Prisons" was presented by Courtney Marshall, assistant professor of English and women's studies, and drew many questions from the audience concerning her affirmation that the prison system in the United States is broken.
One particularly revealing slide showed the façade of several social institutions (schools, government offices, homes, etc.) with chained-shut doors, save one prison door that was wide open.
This slide was emblematic of  Marshall's thesis that our nation filters children into prison by offering them no alternatives.
"Today we can imagine a world without slavery," Marshall said of how civil issues always seem so obvious and cruel given hindsight, and then extended the analysis with the question: "Can we imagine a world without prisons?"
The 20/20 format engendered a judicious presentation of the most essential and interesting material in each faculty members' field of research, making it difficult to lose interest as the fast pace demanded the audience's attention.
"It forces a high ratio of images to concepts," Gaudet said of the successes of the format.
Jessica Bolker, associate director of Shoals Marine Laboratory and associate professor of zoology, presented "Bridging Philosophy and Biology."
Giving an enthusiastic and informative presentation, Bolker did, however, abandoned the 20/20 format as she found it incongruous with her presentation material.
"I have great admiration for my colleagues' willingness to do the 20/20 thing, but I'm a chicken," Bolker said before her presentation.
Bolkner continued to outline what she observed as a proverbial gap between philosophy and biology caused by a failure of "translation" in the sense that scientists struggle to find application with their research.
If biologists could foster tighter communications with the philosopher, then perhaps 90 percent of all new drug candidates would not fail between basic research and clinical research or, what Bolkner calls this gap, "the valley of death."
"My current project is how to invite biologists and philosophers to cross the bridge and meet," Bolkner said.
Ending the 20/20 event with this aspiration was apt, in that, the primary purpose of the event was to get students acquainted with faculty members, start a dialogue and move forward on these issues raised, together.

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