RIT professors to present their big ideas at TEDxFlourCity on May 30




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Two Rochester Institute of Technology professors will share their pioneering ideas with the Rochester community, and the world at large, during the next TEDxFlourCity: Branch Out.

RIT sustainability engineer Callie Babbitt will discuss the emergence of industrial ecology and astrophysicist Sukanya Chakrabarti will talk about dark matter and dwarf galaxies as they join an impressive lineup of local innovators at the May 30 event, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eastman School of Music’s Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St., Rochester.

Babbitt, an assistant professor in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, will discuss how nature serves as a paramount model for designing sustainable products and technologies today in context with industrial ecology—a growing field of sustainability.

“We often think that human innovation is the only way to solve global sustainability challenges, but there is so much we can learn from how ecosystems are structured and how organisms interact in nature,” Babbitt said.

These ecosystems, she explained, have evolved over time to efficiently convert and use solar energy, continuously cycle nutrients and wastes, and adapt to natural and man-made disturbances.

“These are the same issues facing our world today,” said Babbitt, a frequent speaker to community and educational organizations. “While nature has had millions of years of trial and error to establish its solutions, we face a much more pressing timeline for responding to climate change, water scarcity, pollution and damages to the ecosystems on which we depend. Instead of re-creating the wheel, we have the opportunity to learn from nature.”

The focus of Babbitt’s nine-minute talk has been an integral part of recent funding she received for three National Science Foundation projects exploring industrial ecology further and discovering new models for sustainability.

During her talk, Chakrabarti will discuss her recent discovery of Cepheid variables, stars used as a beacon, located 300,000 light years from the Galactic center. Their existence confirms her earlier calculation and prediction of a cloaked dwarf galaxy at the same location along the outer edge of the Milky Way.

Chakrabarti’s research could represent a cosmological breakthrough and a proven method for hunting dark-matter dominated dwarf galaxies. Astronomers are currently searching for more data on the Cepheid variables she discovered. The stars’ synchronized movement would be definitive confirmation that they are part of a new dwarf galaxy, she said.

“Understanding dark matter is an outstanding puzzle in modern astronomy,” Chakrabarti said. “Dark matter is believed to make up about 90 percent of the matter in the universe, but we can’t see it directly. I analyze the gravitational effect that dark-matter dominated objects (like dwarf galaxies) exert as they interact with other galaxies. By doing this, I can figure out basic properties about dark matter dominated objects.”

Several years ago, Chakrabarti predicted the new dark-matter dominated dwarf galaxy and its location by analyzing ripples in the gas disk of the Milky Way. Her ideas faced a lot of skepticism, she said.

“Ultimately, I decided to look for it myself,” Chakrabarti said. “Making discoveries in science often involves taking risks and walking a different path from others.”

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global conference series run by the private nonprofit Sapling Foundation, with the tagline, “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TEDxFlourCity, an independent TED event, is a local forum for sharing research, innovation and unusual perspectives, and for making connections with likeminded thinkers.

For more information about TEDxFlourCity, and to apply to attend this event, go to http://tedxflourcity.com/.