TEDx NTU 2018: Greater than the Sum of its parts


Greater than the Sum of its Parts

From a teeming mass of hot gas to the Blue Planet of Life, every second, our Earth ages, we let complexity pervade our lives a bit more, either by an act of nature or that of man. With the rapid progress of mankind, the term, ‘complex’ has come to occupy an ever-expanding meaning in the dictionary of every-day life.

If we were to explain ‘complexity’, we would probably talk about various aspects such as inter-dependence, connectivity, synergy and such.

As the ecologist Nigel Franks puts it, “The solitary army ant is behaviorally one of the least sophisticated animals imaginable…If 100 army ants are placed on a flat surface, they will walk around and around in never decreasing circles until they die of exhaustion.” Yet put half a million of them together and the group as a whole emulates a hard-to-predict “superorganism” with sophisticated, and sometimes frightening, “collective intelligence.” More is indeed different! To put it another way, we can say that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

This thrilling concept leads us to a pertinent question, amongst others:

How much do we know about the interdependence around us, as oneself or as a community?

With TEDx NTU 2018, we hope to inspire our community by giving them a peek at the world through the eyes of our synergists, embracers of complexity, innovators, scientists, philosophers, designers, economists, social workers, and artists. We bring together speakers from various spheres to share their take on the beautifully complex world we reside in.




Subra Suresh

Educator, Engineer and Entrepreneur

An eminent American scientist, engineer and entrepreneur, Subra Suresh is the President of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and its inaugural Distinguished University Professor. Nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010, and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate, he served as Director of the US National Science Foundation before being appointed President of Carnegie Mellon University. Earlier in his career, he was Dean of the School of Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has won numerous honours for his innovations and accomplishments and is the only university president elected to all three US national academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Working across disciplinary boundaries, his research in materials science and engineering, mechanics and biomedicine has helped to shape disciplines and technologies at the intersections of engineering, science and medicine.


Gül İnanç

Academic without borders

Gül İnanç, a lecturer at School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore has been teaching art history since 2013. She is an expert in modern diplomatic history of West Asia, intercultural education for peace, contemporary religious art and architecture. She has been awarded Koh Boon Hwee Scholar in 2016 and is the founder of OUR-Opening Universities for Refugees, an UK-registered charity to build knowledge networks and to offer higher education to communities in need, particularly in South-East Asia. She currently working with the UNESCO on writing teachers’ source books for ASEAN countries.


Daniel Tay

Food Rescuer

Daniel Tay founded Lumina Planners and is a co-founder of SG Food Rescue; a social group that aims to create awareness and reduce food wastage in Singapore. He is also an advocate of freegan living and supports the movement quite zealously. By adapting the freegan lifestyle, he discovered a great deal about food wastage that came from various vendors and through SG Food Rescue, he has initiated programs to reduce food waste by educating the public and redistributing perfectly-edible food that are considered ‘not sellable’ by the vendors to charitable organizations. He believes in the joy of having less money and giving back to those who are in need.


Jingmei Li

Cancer Detective

Jingmei Li is a Senior Research Scientist at the Genome Institute of Singapore. Her work aims to improve women’s health, particularly in the domain of breast cancer research. After the X-ray scan, she studies mammograms to predict cancer by looking at the proportion of white cells in the breast tissue. She aims to raise awareness about breast cancer so that it can be cured at an early stage. In addition to receiving the Young Scientist Award in 2017, she has also been the recipient of the Ake Wiberg’s Foundation Award and the Oilie & Elof Ericsson’s Foundation Award. In tribute to the molecule of life, the DNA, she wears helix earrings.


Laavanya Kathiravelu


Laavanya Kathiravelu is an Assistant Professor at the Division of Sociology, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Before joining NTU, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity and a Fung Global Fellow at Princeton University. She also serves on board of HOME, a non-profit organization, which deals with welfare of low wage migrant workers. While growing up in Singapore, she had normalized the hierarchies and divisions that we see around us and taken it for granted. Her graduate education overseas acted as a catalyst for her to question her assumptions and started understanding the lives of low wage migrant in Singapore. This resulted in her first book ‘Migrant Dubai: low wage workers and the construction of a Global City’ (Palgrave Macmillian 2016). She hopes her work with the issues of migration, ethnicity and cities will be able to humanize the anonymous bodies of migrants who live and contribute to the greater inclusion of them within Singapore society.


Violet Lim

Relationship Changemaker

Violet Lim is the co-founder of Lunch Actually, E-Sync and Lunch Click, rendering dating and relationship platforms for singletons. A certified pioneer in the matchmaking industry, she set up Lunch Actually Academy to provide date coaching service. She also co-founded Violet.AI, to leverage on blockchain technology and artificial intelligence, as means to enhance its capabilities and services. Violet has served as a Chapter President of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Singapore, is a board-member of the Matchmaking Institute (New York City), and the Executive Director and the Principal Trainer for Matchmaking Institute of South-East Asia. In 2017, she was presented with the Women Entrepreneur Award 2017 in Singapore for her achievement in demonstrating outstanding entrepreneurial qualities. She believes that Viola.AI will transform the global dating and relationship landscape by helping billions of people create better lifetime relationships.


Ben Shedd

Film Maker & Producer

Ben Shedd is an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker and a professor of Digital Filmmaking at School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Ben has produced and directed 33 films and videos, including three OMNIMAX giant screen dome films.  Prof Ben’s first independent science documentary, ‘The Flight of The Gossamer Condor’ about history’s first successful human-powered airplane, received the 1978 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. Along with his production work, Ben has taught film/video production and business courses at six universities including his alma mater, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and Princeton University. He continues developing and using a new cinematic language for immersive media space he calls ‘Exploding the Frame’, describing giant screen dome media and 360° VR as “first person cinema experiences” flipping the rules of filmmaking on their head.


Daniel Teh

Unconventional Social Entrepreneur

Daniel Teh is the Founder and Executive Director of PopeJai Pte Ltd., a social enterprise in the food and beverage industry. Once a gang member now turned social entrepreneur, he is making headway to redefine the conventional norms of employment by ensuring all are given equal opportunities for employment and skills training. PopeJai Pte. Ltd. employs eight groups of beneficiaries such as person with intellectual and physical disabilities, mental health issues, hard of hearing/deaf, visually impaired, youths-at-risk, disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Employees from across these eight beneficiaries make up 90 % of PopeJai’s workforce, making it the first company in Singapore to ever do so. PopeJai  was awarded the President’s Challenge Youth Social Enterprise in 2017. Daniel has also recently been awarded the People’s Association Youth Movement Meritorious Youth Award in 2018.