13 “Excellent Brains” Converge on IDEAS Boston 2012 Conference

October 25, 2012

Office of Communications


There is much that could be said about the IDEAS Boston 2012 conference, held Wednesday at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The vibrant exchange of ideas on everything from flying cars to financial crises, from swing voters to supply chains. The large, enthusiastic audience that packed the Campus Center ballroom and buzzed about the speakers on social media.

But this year’s IDEAS Boston may be best described in seven short words.

“So many excellent brains in one place,” tweeted Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris, one of 13 innovators who spoke at Wednesday’s conference.

WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, the host of NPR’s On Point, was moderator for IDEAS Boston, the annual event started by The Boston Globe in 2004 and moved to UMass Boston in 2011. With a broadcaster’s deftness, Ashbrook engaged the 300-person audience, kept the jam-packed schedule running smoothly, and peppered the speakers with questions on their areas of expertise.

UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley said Wednesday’s conference proved why the university is so proud to host IDEAS Boston each October.

“The inquisitive, searching minds of our campus community value this conference as an opportunity for intellectual renewal and inspiration,” Chancellor Motley said. “This year, we are especially proud to have been part of Boston’s Innovation Week – and that our own associate professor of American Studies Lynnell Thomas was among the roster of speakers, representing our city’s best and brightest thinkers.”

Morris, one of only four film critics to win a Pulitzer Prize, charmed the IDEAS crowd with a discursive talk on the ties that bind “Fast and the Furious,” Flannery O’Connor, and the nerd-chic style of NBA superstars.

But Morris was just one of the “excellent brains” whose brilliance was on full display Wednesday. The 13 speakers shared their expertise in a broad spectrum of topics, including:

Politics: Washington journalist Linda Killian talked about the independent voters who will decide the Nov. 6 election, breaking them down into categories like “Starbucks moms” and “NPR Republicans.” (For that unusual constituency, an audience member tweeted a question: “Where do they stand on Big Bird?”) Political organizer Judy Neufeld, whose organization Emerge Massachusetts trains Democratic women to run for political office, shared sobering statistics on the Bay State’s male-dominated delegation.

Science: Carl Dietrich, co-founder of Terrafugia, discussed his work on developing a flying car for personal use – and threw a little cold water on moderator Tom Ashbrook’s dream of taking off from the HOV lane on Interstate 93. Social psychologist David DeSteno talked about his experiments designed to test the limits of human compassion, which often involved large quantities of hot sauce.

The Web: Leonardo Bonanni discussed Sourcemap, his online supply-chain directory that helps consumers and manufacturers understand where their products come from. He reminded the crowd that event the most ubiquitous product is made of pieces from all over the world. “Your iPhone has led a more interesting life than you,” he joked. David Cancel, the tech startup impresario, boldly came to a conference called IDEAS with a presentation claiming “Ideas are Useless.”

IDEAS Boston was one of eight conferences held in the city this week as part of Innovation Week 2012. Gregory Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, spoke to the crowd on behalf of Massachusetts and Governor Deval Patrick.

If you missed this year’s event, mark your calendars for the next IDEAS Boston, which will take place at UMass Boston on October 30, 2013.

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s nine colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit www.umb.edu.