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#TAMUatSXSW Live Blog

March 12, 2017

Dr. Toniesha Taylor, Prairie View A&M communications professor, discusses the role big data plays in her research on social justice movements.

Day 5: Texas A&M House Wraps Up With Discussion On Big Data

By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

Texas A&M concluded its time in Austin Tuesday in a flurry of light and sound and a deep dive into how big data can change how people see the world.

While Texas A&M will continue to have a presence at the SXSW Trade Show through Wednesday, the final day of Texas A&M House activations began in the morning with “Uncovering Trends: Interacting With Big Data,” a panel discussion on how people can harness the power of big data to understand the past, present and future.

The panel headed by Dr. Laura Mandell, director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities and Liberal Arts at Texas A&M, featured a wide-ranging discussion on how massive quantities of data have led to new insights on art, astronomy and culture. Mandell was joined on stage by Texas A&M astronomer and professor Dr. Casey Papovich and Prairie View A&M communications professor Dr. Toniesha Taylor.

Dr. Laura Mandell uses big data to speed up humanities research.
Dr. Laura Mandell uses big data to speed up humanities research.

Mandell demonstrated the use of big data through the lens of humanities research and being able to, for example, compare medieval manuscripts in museums on opposite sides of the United States simultaneously.

“What we’ve seen here is big data reducing space and time for us,” Mandell said. “The point of visualization is to amplify cognition, and by reducing research tune by decades and reducing space significantly we are actually able to think more than we would be able to otherwise think. We wanted to demonstrate to you today how Texas A&M is riding this new wave of research with big data.”

Taylor said big data has allowed her to more closely study how people around the world react to news and social movements by following social media reaction.

“Instead of just doing an analysis of President Obama’s eulogy [for the victims of the victims of the Charleston Massacre] and the news coverage, we can actually look now at what is the real-time understanding of the audience and the public – of multiple publics. We can figure out a lot more about human nature and human understanding.”

Dr. James Pennington explains the science behind the billowing gas on stage.
Dr. James Pennington explains the science behind the billowing gas on stage.

Going Out With A Bang

Texas A&M chemistry professor Dr. James Pennington and his trademark tie-dyed lab coat put an exclamation point on Texas A&M’s time at SXSW by bringing the renowned Chemistry Road Show to the Hotel Van Zandt.

The road show has been a staple of Texas A&M education outreach efforts across Texas since 1987, but was introduced to an international audience at Texas A&M House.

Smoke billowed and cannons fired as Pennington explained everyday science that people don’t always recognize is taking place. For Pennington, the mission of the Road Show’s outreach for getting children interested in science is the same for an adult audience at SXSW: discovery.

“One of the best ways to learn anything is to get hands-on involved,” Pennington said.

SXSW crowds spill in off the streets to take in programming at Texas A&M House.
SXSW crowds spill in off the streets to take in programming at Texas A&M House.

Day 4: Aggies Share The Power Of Interdisciplinary Research With Austin

By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

Texas A&M students and researchers proved to SXSW audiences Monday at Texas A&M House that the human mind’s ability to explore, adapt and create is limitless when a “cross-pollination of ideas” takes place.

The fourth day began with an interdisciplinary panel of researchers who took audiences on a journey through the subconscious mind and ended with the debut of a student-developed formula-style racer.

General Motors Chief Information Officer Ahmed Mahmoud addresses the crowd outside of the Hotel Van Zandt ahead of the Formula SAE reveal.

Texas A&M Racing Ready To Take On Global Competition

An academic year’s worth of work from more than 20 mechanical engineering students was put on display for crowds in front of Texas A&M House in the form of a formula-style single seat racer, which will take on 500 student teams during Formula SAE’s international competition this summer.

The students operated under the Texas A&M Racing banner to design, build, market and race the vehicle as part of a senior class in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Of all the teams that will take part in the international competition, the Texas A&M unit boasts one of the most impressive track records over its 15-year history with five international championships to its name.

The fanfare surrounding the debut of the 2017 model at SXSW included General Motors Chief Information Officer Ahmed Mahmoud, a 1987 Texas A&M graduate. He said GM’s continued sponsorship of Texas A&M Racing is a testament to its ability to produce quality graduates.

“This was one of the things general motors looks for,” Mahmoud said. “We’re looking for institutions that are in to transformational learning, institutions that have global reach. The fact they design the car from scratch every year gives them a competitive advantage over any of the hires.”

Michelle Segovia, a graduate research assistant in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, interacts with an audience member following her discussion.

Hacking The Human Subconscious

The interdisciplinary Texas A&M researcher panel dubbed “The Human Lab: Revealing the Emotional Brain” posed wide-ranging societal questions in their TED-style discussion in front of a packed Lady Bird Ballroom at the Hotel Van Zandt.

Mays Business School associate professor Allen Chen pondered if it is possible to monetize creativity. Michelle Segovia, a graduate research assistant in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences asked how to best practice self-control. Neurobiological Lab for Learning & Development Director Steven Woltering challenged audiences to think of new tools for improving literacy. Dr. Marco Palma questioned how severely emotions cloud judgment.

Their questions all led back to one answer: biometrics. In an age where the tools humans use in their subconscious to make decisions can be tracked and quantified, the panel underscored how new technologies such as eye tracking devices, expression analysis and galvanic skin response can help form a better society.

“Every day people strive to make optimal decisions, and most of these decisions require an exertion of self-control,” Segovia said. “Routine actions we make every day have a profound impact over the course of our lifetimes.”

Woltering provided an example of where decision-making can be improved by biometrics when describing how young students progress in their reading ability. He said if readers were equipped with eye tracking technology, teachers could see how they progress through sentences by mapping on what letters, sounds and phrases they stall on.

While he said this “wealth of information is not being used in the field of education,” biometric technologies can be ubiquitous, especially in a lab setting through the “cross-pollination of ideas.”

British singer-songwriter Jacob Banks takes center stage at the ’47 x FADER Sessions at Texas A&M House.

Day 3: The ’47 x FADER Sessions Boost Texas A&M House’s Signal

By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

All eyes and ears were on Texas A&M House Sunday as “Texas A&M Presents the ’47 x FADER Sessions” injected energy into day three of SXSW and provided the soundtrack for Interactive Week.

Recording artists Jacob Banks, Bayonne and Little Simz headlined the first of three days of intimate sessions, live from the Lady Bird Ballroom, curated by style and culture global media brand FADER and outfitted by sports and lifestyle brand ’47.

“Combined with FADER’s eye for up-and-coming talent and ’47’s ability to capture a brand’s authenticity, Texas A&M was able to bring together musical talents in an innovative space that typifies the spirit of creativity every Aggie embodies,” said Shane Hinckley, Texas A&M vice president of brand development. “Texas A&M House will continue to be the musical and innovative pulse of Interactive Week as we share more headlining talent each day.”

Two more days of showcases on Monday and Tuesday, which are open to the public, include Jamie Isaac, Tasha The Amazon, How To Dress Well, Tapaz Jones, GOON and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.

College of Engineering Vice Chancellor and Dean Dr. M. Katherine Banks presents a $5,000 check to DeHydraTect. Left to right: Joey Whippold, Banks, Magy Avedissian, Nga Tang and Kurt Parizek.

Texas A&M Invents Declares A Winner

The ’47 x FADER sessions began immediately after DeHydraTect was crowned the champion of the “Texas A&M Invents for an Intelligent Future” competition by a panel of former student judges and presented a $5,000 check by College of Engineering Vice Chancellor and Dean Dr. M. Katherine Banks.

Team DeHydraTect, composed of Magy Avedissian, Nga Tang, Kurt Parizek, Joey Whippold, developed a pacifier that can detect dehydration in infants and beat runner-up team Tobor, who received a $3,500 award, and Pulse Labs.

The team of Texas A&M alumni judges, led by former NASA rocket scientist and comedian Shayla Rivera, included Stephen P. Rodriguez, founder of One Defense; Charles Schroeder, vice president of Product Marketing for RF and Wireless Communications for National Instruments; and Gregory Chamitoff, Texas A&M professor of engineering practice and director of the AeroSpace Technology, Research & Operations (ASTRO) Center.

Rivera said the competition is a testament to how Texas A&M continues to evolve while continuing to produce high-caliber talent.

“I can see how the school is not just growing. There’s an evolution going on because it’s incorporating not just the STEM and student aspects with education, but the human aspect that balances things out,” Rivera said.

After interacting with alumni who visited Texas A&M House throughout the week, Rivera added she was impressed with their humble demeanors despite their great achievements.

“There is a modesty to their incredible creativity and their achievements and the things they have been able to do with their lives,” Rivera said. “I travel all over the world and I can say there is something different about Texas A&M.”

Exhibitors at the SXSW Trade Show take a virtual tour of Texas A&M's global impact.
Exhibitors at the SXSW Trade Show take a virtual tour of Texas A&M’s global impact.

Texas A&M Stands Out On SXSW Trade Show Floor

Texas A&M wasn’t able to bring SXSW to the Aggie Network, so it brought the Aggie Network to SXSW in the form of a 13-foot-tall exhibit that stood head and shoulders above other exhibits from around the world at the Austin Convention Center.

The exhibit dubbed “24-Hours Of Global Impact” took crowds at the trade show on a virtual reality adventure to not only Texas A&M’s campus, but on global research endeavors to the coral reefs of the island nation of Palau and the JOIDES Resolution research vessel, to the Panama Canal and more.

Texas A&M student Brendan D’Souza instructed trade show-goers how to use the virtual reality headsets and was able to witness their reactions after they experienced Texas A&M for the first time.

“We have an amazing campus, but to be able to show that off to the world is a really great experience,” D’Souza said. “A lot of them don’t know what Texas A&M is doing around the world, and now they’re impressed with the things they’re doing when they see it. Some people have never been able to go to these places, so it’s a pretty novel experience.”

A Texas A&M student solders a device during “Texas A&M Invents for an Intelligent Future Part I” at Texas A&M House.

Day 2: Aggie Ingenuity Dominates Texas A&M House

By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

After President Michael K. Young and an all-star panel of entrepreneurial experts set the tone at Texas A&M House on day one of Texas A&M at SXSW, students and researchers carried the momentum into day two and put the full breadth of Aggie innovation and discovery on display.

Every room of Hotel Van Zandt in the heart of Downtown Austin was buzzing with activity, from student teams competing to earn funding for their life-changing inventions, researchers allowing SXSW crowds the unique opportunity to take a look inside their own minds in real time and a meshing of science and art.

Visitors to Texas A&M House had the chance to drive a remote controlled vehicle through an obstacle course using a virtual reality headset and “the internet of things.”

Engineers Take Over Texas A&M House Innovation Space

Three student teams taking part in the “Aggies Invent for an Intelligent Future Part I” competition began a live build of their devices, which are aimed at implementing a smarter, interconnected world. DeHydraTect team member Kurt Parizek said being on a world stage like SXSW made him realize his team is in a position to reach people with their device, which is a pacifier that can detect dehydration in infants.

“It’s great to know the things we do at Texas A&M in College Station can be applied to the real world because I feel like sometimes there’s a disconnect in the world of academia, and now we’re able to use our skills to help the world,” Parizek said.

Part two of the competition will take place Sunday, where a panel of Texas A&M former student judges, who have emerged as leaders in aerospace and national defense, will pick a winner.

“It’s great to see an Aggie helping out another Aggie,” DeHydraTect teammate Magy Avedissian said. “And it just shows how far beyond College Station Texas A&M has gone.”

While teams were at work, the College of Engineering occupied a Hotel Van Zandt ballroom with virtual reality installations that allowed users to navigate an obstacle course with a remote control vehicle using “the internet of things,” and simulations of walking on the surface of Mars and conducting surgery.

A visitor to the Human Lab reacts to emotional readings on screen.
A visitor to the Human Lab reacts to emotional readings on screen.

Tracking Emotion In The Human Lab

For Marco Palma, director of the Human Behavior Lab, day two at Texas A&M House presented an opportunity to show the world how Texas A&M is staying true to its Land Grant mission by not only educating a generation of people, but conducting research and sharing it with the world.

“When you take research out of the lab you’re changing lives, that’s important, and that’s what we’re here for,” Palma said. “If everyone isn’t benefitting from this, it’s like we didn’t do it.”

Those who visited the Human Lab enhancer were attached to eye tracking devices and other neurophysiological response technologies to track their emotions.

“This technology allows us to get a behavioral picture of human decision making,” Palma said. “We’re really excited about trying to discover the secrets of the human mind and understand how to make a difference in their lives.”

Associate Professor Luis Ribera said the Human Lab is a blank slate for innovators from around the world who walk in and out of Hotel Van Zandt during SXSW to apply to their areas of interest, from marketing to video game development and everywhere in between.

“We want to show this is a funnel for whatever you’re doing and we can help you enhance that information and help you make better decisions,” Ribera said. “It’s like a blank piece of paper and we give them the ink. They can draw a beautiful picture, they can do equations, they can do whatever they want.”

LIVE Lab lead programmer Laura Adams showcases an educational video game during the VizLab's Texas A&M House installation.
LIVE Lab lead programmer Laura Adams showcases an educational video game during the VizLab’s Texas A&M House installation.

Art And Science Collide

Laura Adams, lead programmer for the Learning Interactive Visualization Experience Lab (LIVE), put conventional video game technology in unconventional ways to teach subjects like history and calculus in the Texas A&M Viz Lab’s “Collision of Art and Technology” installation at Texas A&M House. She called the opportunity to promote the LIVE Lab at SXSW is “unreal.”

“I always wanted to make games, but I never knew I would be able to make video games that could help people and it’s so neat that I get to show that to the world,” Adams said.

In addition to video game demonstrations, the exhibit also featured student and faculty art and a digital art installation that interacted with passers by.

  • Check this page tomorrow for a live stream of Part II of “Texas A&M Invents for an Intelligent Future,” recaps of Sunday’s Texas A&M House Activations, and a behind the scenes look of the SXSW Trade Show and the Texas A&M street team.

Texas A&M President Michael K. Young leads a discussion on academic incubators.
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young leads a panel discussion on academic incubators in the Lady Bird Ballroom at the Hotel Van Zandt.

Day 1: Texas A&M’s SXSW Takeover Underway With Academic Incubator Panel

By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

President Michael K. Young kicked off Texas A&M’s weeklong stay at SXSW by bringing together an all-star panel of entrepreneurs for “The Rise of Academic Incubators” Friday at Texas A&M House in the Hotel Van Zandt.

Harvard Innovation Labs Managing Director Jodi Goldstein, Siemans USA CEO Judy Marks and RedSeal, Inc. Chairman and CEO Ray Rothrock discussed the beginnings of academic incubators, the challenges and opportunities they face today at universities around the country, and the important role they could play in daily academic life in the near future.

“As we think about the world both in terms of the kinds of students who are coming to our great university as well as the way in which business is developing the need for even deeper enhancement and engagement with universities, the private sector and businesses with resources on the innovation front, here I think we have three of the world’s great experts in that,” Young said.

President Michael K. Young leads the "Rise of Academic Incubators" discussion.
President Michael K. Young.

Before arriving at Texas A&M, Young served as president of University of Washington and the University of Utah and had a hand in developing and overseeing academic incubators, where university research is commercialized through strategic partnerships. Texas A&M has its own business incubator in Startup Aggieland. Housed by the Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship since 2013, Startup Aggieland operates under the mantra “Think Globally. Act Locally.” and is available to students, faculty, staff and former students.

During his three stops at Utah, Washington and Texas A&M, Young identified research, entrepreneurship, business development and management as the key tenants of successful academic incubation, and the panelists weighed in.

For Goldstein, proper commercialization of student and academic research requires attention to culture and environment.

“If the goal is to create the next generation of innovators, we want to give them the connectivity and the community to be able to do this,” Goldstein said. She added later in the discussion that the benchmark for success in academic incubators shouldn’t revolve around earning good grades, but rather encouraging trial and error. “I think cultivating that culture within that is not used to doing that is very important. The governance and culture [of universities] has to be very entrepreneurial.”

Rothrock added that research and development are crucial, but there needs to be more time honing the business skills of researchers and students so they can sell their products and ideas.

Left to right: RedSeal, Inc. Chairman and CEO Ray Rothrock, Siemans USA CEO Judy Marks, Harvard Innovation Labs Managing Director Jodi Goldstein and Texas A&M President Michael K. Young.
Left to right: RedSeal, Inc. Chairman and CEO Ray Rothrock, Siemans USA CEO Judy Marks, Harvard Innovation Labs Managing Director Jodi Goldstein and Texas A&M President Michael K. Young.

“Some of the failings that go on is you don’t teach people how to sell,” Rothrock said. “How do you sell investors on an idea if you don’t have a resume to back it up? How do you hire employee number one? How do you sell to the customer? It’s amazing to me how people don’t get those basic skills.”

Former students who have succeeded as entrepreneurs could play crucial roles in honing those skills.

“Somewhere in the alumni base are people who have done it,” Rothrock said. “Hold them up as a champion for the youth. You’ve got to have winners.”

Marks suggested that access and collaborative opportunities for the private sector are increasingly important, and businesses are hungry for ideas and talent.

“There isn’t a company who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to be on campus, to get that ability and access to work with the best and the brightest, and the best and brightest are faculty, students and administration,” Marks said. “We know we need to constantly innovate and we want those innovators in our building.”

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Introducing The #TAMUatSXSW Live Blog

Texas A&M is proud to join SXSW for the first time to promote the innovative work happening at our tier-one research institution. From President Young’s discussion with renowned thought-leaders, to the ingenuity of designing for an intelligent future, the Texas A&M House is our opportunity to show the world the impact of Texas A&M University.

Can’t be in Austin? Tune-in for the live stream, follow along on the schedule and check this page regularly for live updates and recaps from Texas A&M House at the Hotel Van Zandt.

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