My TED Talk Addiction Top Ten List.

Lately, I have noticed that many of my conversations with friends, family or co-workers includes me mentioning at some point “…I watched this really interesting TED Talk recently that….”.

Since I am afraid that I am beginning to sound annoying and repetitive, I decided that maybe a blog post of some of my favourite TED Talks may help me get my ‘fix’ of sharing these exciting and inspiring videos. That only led me to a problem…How do I pick my favourites, there are so many great talks on such diverse subjects? As I began to compile this list I realized that ranking these videos is impossible and picking only 10 favourites is equally as challenging. Therefore, here are 10 equally awesome yet completely different TED Talks I think are ideas worth spreading.

1. Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

– I am still trying to get my head around this classic TED talk. But wow, what an interesting outlook on life.

1. David Gallo: Underwater astonishments

– Because I love cephalopods!

1. & 1. Dan Barber: A foie gras parable, and Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

-Two all time favourites by Chef Dan Barber.

1. Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

-Something to note for my next interview.

1. Meg Jay: Why 30 is not the new 20

-I hate to admit that this lady is right… ugh!

1. Brian Skerry: The ocean’s glory — and horror

-Beautiful and depressing photos from a talented photographer.

1. Kees Moeliker: How a dead duck changed my life

-A bit of random, strange and just plain interesting.

1. Taylor Wilson: My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors

-One inspiring teenager! Makes me feel both insignificant in comparison to this young man, but also gives me an overwhelming sense of hope for both our young generation and the ones still to come.

1. Richard Preston: The mysterious lives of giant trees

-This video makes me want to go climb a tree…actually, anyone else have a new trip to plan after watching this tedtalk?

1. Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

-What, Stress is good?! Who knew… quite the opposite to what I have always been told. But hey, why not try and make it my friend.

There really are so many other great TED talks. Here is a great summary blog post of “100 incredible things I learned watching 70 hours of TED talks last week”  by Chris Bailey.


Simple Photosynthesis Productivity Test for Seaweed

Great for a high school project, if you have access to an oxygen probe to measure oxygen concentration in water and Winkler bottles.

This is how we did it:

  • For each productivity test, four 500ml Winkler bottles are needed, two light safe Winkler bottles (dark experimental treatment) and two transparent Winkler bottle (light experimental treatment). To make the Winkler bottle light safe, we covered in aluminium foil.
  • Take two pieces of equal size and weight from each blade of seaweed.
  • Place one piece of seaweed in a light safe Winkler bottles and one in a transparent Winkler bottle. The remaining two Winkler bottles acted as controls for both light and dark treatments.
  • Fill all bottles with filtered seawater. Ensure there are NO Bubbles in the bottles.
  • Measure initial dissolved oxygen concentrations of seawater in each Winkler bottle with oxygen probe.
  • Leave all four bottles for the same determined amount of time, we left ours for three hours but that is up to you. Ensure all bottles are kept in the same environment, including temperature and distance from light source. We kept ours in a cold incubation room with all bottles the same distance from full spectrum light source, but you could also place the bottles outside in the sunlight (just ensure none are in the shade).
  • After determined time period measure oxygen concentrations again in each Winkler bottle.
  • Calculate oxygen production and respiration of each algae piece, as well as any microbial activity of the filtered seawater in the controls. Dark treatments measured respiration and light treatments measured net production of oxygen, which can then be converted to mg of carbon fixed per litre via calculations:

ppm O2 = mg O2/L

mg O2/L x 0.698 = mL O2/L

mL O2/L x 0.536 = mg carbon fixed/L (Reece et al., 2011).

 Productivity test

Reece, J. B. et al. 2011. Campbell biology 9th edition. 55.2 Energy and other limiting factors control primary production in ecosystems. Benjamin Cummings / Pearson, Boston, pp 1224-1228.

Update on the seaweed project: Final results

In the end the project worked out great. We got very significant results all indicating that the seaweed Agarum fimbriatum grew significantly more than Saccharina latissima.


You may be wondering ‘who cares?!’…

I believe that there are at least three important reasons this study was a success:

First that the seaweed species A. fimbriatum is almost a completely unstudied species, with very little known about it.

Secondly, the results of this study indicate that A. fimbriatum may be alternative species for use in aquaculture than the already utilised S. latissima, and should be considered for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture system.

Finally, and more personally, my partner Lee and I were able to prove our competency of designing and successfully completing an experimental research project. We gained extremely valuable experience in experimental set up, technical writing, statistical analysis, team work, lots of trouble shooting and problem solving. Also, great public speaking experience presenting our project at two different student conferences.

Completing a directed studies project was such a great experience I ended up completing another one this past summer, although that’s another blog post.

I would HIGHLY recommend all undergraduate students to do an independent directed studies project!   

Scientific Exploring… Also Known As My Directed Studies Project

My Directed Studies Project

At the beginning of this semester I became very curious about sustainable aquaculture. After visiting a kelp farm I asked “what are the negative environmental impacts of seaweed aquaculture?”  My very knowledgeable professor answered me very seriously with: “Well…There was a kelp farm in Washington that was forced to shut down…Because the residence nearby didn’t like how the buoys looked”.

A sustainable industry that appears to have very little negative impact, besides upsetting beachfront property views (found thus far anyways). This has the potential to actually improve other forms of aquaculture, when used in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (Chopin et al., 1999), by removing nitrogenous wastes from the water and reducing artificial feed needed, while providing a product itself.

This led me to my next question: “Why isn’t everyone doing this already?”

Which eventually led to: “What other local species of seaweeds could be used for this purpose?”

Which finally lead to my Directed Studies project question:

“Would Agarum fimbriatum and Saccharina latissima be better suited for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture?”

Saccharina latissima is already widely grown in kelp farms but there appears to be little researched on the species and not used for aquaculture purposes (yet that is, plus I think it might taste pretty good wrapped around some fresh sushi).

My project partner and I decided to focus on growth and nitrogen uptake, since the best suited seaweed would have fast growth rates as well as up taking the largest amount of ammonium and nitrate from the water.

Excess nitrogen waste from aquaculture systems in to the surrounding environment is one of the problems and controversies surrounding the aquaculture industry.  Also, the seaweed with the greatest growth rates could potentially equate to the greatest profit of the resulting kelp product.

So far we have built a light-safe structure consisting of tarps, garbage bags and a whole lot of duct tape around 4 sea tables. The sea tables have full spectrum lights above and a constant flow of seawater pumped directly from the Bamfield inlet. Divers collected approx. 30 of each of the sub-tidal kelps for us. We cut each of the seaweed blades into a standard size of 10X15cm (using the part of blade connected to the stipe, to ensure that the meristem is included).

Light safe seatablesAgarum fimbriatum Saccharina latissima

Over the last month we have been documenting their growth, both surface area and wet weight.

We attempted to do an extensive nitrogen uptake test of both ammonium and nitrate for each specimen. This included testing ammonium and nitrate concentrations of the filtered sea water without the seaweeds and then again after a 3 hour period. We hoped this would indicate how much nitrogen the seaweed can take up from the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unfortunately, it included a terrible day extending past 4am in the lab with 108 tests (each takes about 20 minutes), a lot of broken test tubes and one unfortunate battle between a broken test tube and my lab partner. The test tube won, but she survived… And finally inconclusive, and all around messed up data which looks like this:

ImageDS cat

Two famous quotes came to mind after that night of nitrogen tests:

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing” – Wernher von Braun


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

We have now started looking into productivity tests, which compares the amount of oxygen produced by the seaweed which can be calculated (by using photosynthesis equation) into amount of carbon dioxide taken up and growth amounts. So far the preliminary data seems promising.

Productivity tests

And our kelps seem to be growing!

DS blog post pic

This directed studies project has been also inspired by the published journal article “Ammonium and nitrate uptake by Laminaria saccharina and Nereocystis luetkeana originating from a salmon sea cage farm” (Ahn et al., 1998). Who compared ammonium and nitrate uptake rates of Saccharina and another kelp Nereocystis luetkeana which were found growing near a salmon farm.


Chopin, T., Yarish, C., Wilkes, R., Belyea, E., Shan Lu and Mathieson, A. 1999. Developing Porphyra/salmon integrated aquaculture for bioremediation and diversification of the aquaculture industry. J Appl Phycol. 11(5), 463-472. DOI:10.1023/A:1008114112852

Ahn, O., Petrell, R. J., Harrison, P. J. 1998. Ammonium and nitrate uptake by Laminaria saccharina and Nereocystis luetkeana originating from a salmon sea cage farm. Journal of Applied Phycology 10: 333–340


How I fell in love with Ecology… A response to “Dan Barber, How I fell in love with a fish”

(First, watch video previously posted TED Talks: Dan Barber, How I fell in love with a fish)

While researching further into sustainable aquaculture, kelp farming and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture [IMTA, the use of multiple species from different trophic levels used together in an aquaculture system to reduce the amount of waste, by a process of bio-remediation (Chopin et al., 1999)]. I came across an inspiring TED talks, “Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish” ( This video intrigued me, a chef not a scientist, who has so elegantly and simply described what being an ecologist means to me; being an expert in relationships.

He describes a unique fish farm in Veta la palma, Spain. This fish farm measures success in the health of its predators, because it is not only a fish farm but a bird sanctuary. In a Time Magazine article the biologist of the fish farm, Miguel Medialdea is interviewed and states that the birds “take 20% of our annual yield… But that just shows the whole system is working” (,9171,1902751,00.html). In the TED talks video Dan Barber claims that this fish farm is a ‘recipe for a radically new conception of agriculture’. He suggests that current aquaculture and agriculture business models are a business of liquidation, which is high on capital, chemistry and machines, also based off a question that “If you’re feeding more people more cheaply how terrible can it be?”. Dan Barber concludes that we should be looking to the ecological model instead and asks “how can we create conditions to enable every community to feed its self?”.

This video was interesting, and to a young aspiring ecologist it is inspiring to see a destroyed wet land turned into a sustainable and thriving aquaculture system. That also provided more ecosystem services then it harms, all while being one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Western Europe. Dan Barbers suggestions for change in the food industry would be considered radical by many, but the idea to look at ecological models for the future of aquaculture is an important one.

The word “sustainable” is used so often, but rarely truly seen and described in context of industry. The Veta la palma fish farm may just be one of these rare examples.

I wanted to break this idea down even further and simplify, I asked myself “What is sustainability? And what does this look like when considering the future of aquaculture?”

I found a journal article that gave me the best answer I could find. It stated that…

“Sustainability refers to the ability of a society, ecosystem, or any such on-going system to continue functioning into the indefinite future without being forced into decline through exhaustion or overloading of key resources on which that system depends” (Frankic and Hershner, 2003).

As well as,

“Many of the difficulties that aquaculture activities face today with regard to impact on wildlife, can be avoided through a proactive stance. This includes opening communication channels with anti-aquaculture activists; continuing research into rectifying the negative impacts of aquaculture on other wildlife; building environmental awareness addressing positive value of sustainable aquaculture and the numerous ways in which it can benefit social communities as well as natural wildlife.” (Frankic and Hershner, 2003).


Chopin, T., Yarish, C., Wilkes, R., Belyea, E., Shan Lu and Mathieson, A. 1999. Developing Porphyra/salmon integrated aquaculture for bioremediation and diversification of the aquaculture industry. J Appl Phycol. 11(5), 463-472. DOI:10.1023/A:1008114112852

Frankic, A., Hershner, C. 2003. Sustainable aquaculture: developing the promise of aquaculture. Aquaculture International. 11(6), 517-530. DOI: 10.1023/B:AQUI.0000013264.38692.91

TED talks, “Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish”: (

Time Magazine article, Susainable Aquaculture: Net Profits. By By Lisa Abend / ISLA MAYOR Monday, June 15, 2009:,9171,1902751,00.html


Guilt free farmed fish… Or the inspiring directed study ideas that come from indecisive shopping trips

I often find myself in an internal conflict, between my student budget and my environmental conscience. Do I buy the farmed salmon that comes with a side of guilt or spend the extra few dollars from my bus fare on the wild salmon and walk home from the grocery store? This conflict often ends with a purchase of ichiban noodles or Kraft dinner, but is never fully resolved.

The debate of farmed or wild salmon is a complicated one that I do not have enough background knowledge or experience to comment on. Over fishing wild stocks of salmon is also an issue at the moment and with the growing human population already over 7 billion people, eventually we will have to consider where we will obtain the protein to feed all these people? Could there be a better way to obtain a substantial food source from aquaculture that is both environmentally friendly and economically sustainable?

This continuous debate at the grocery store has indirectly led me to the inspiration for my directed studies project; integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA). This is the use of multiple species from different trophic levels used together in an aquaculture system to reduce the amount of waste, by a process of bioremediation (Chopin et al., 1999). This direction for my directed studies was also inspired by a class field trip during my fall program course “Ecological adaptations of Seaweeds”, where we visited a local kelp farm and discovered the many uses and consumer products produced from seaweeds. When Googling Vancouver Island kelp products I found this poem which I found to pleasantly capture seaweed nutritional value as a food source:

“Let me your salt and pepper be,

For I’m richin minerals from the sea!

Iodine and calcium,

Manganese, zinc and potassium,

Iron and magnesium

And others will lead you to a life



Along with finding new seaweed products (everything from swivel sticks to snack chips), I also came across an interesting journal article which quantifies the possible economic gain as well as positive environmental and sociological impacts of integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. “Ecological–economic assessment of aquaculture options: Comparison between abalone monoculture and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture of abalone and seaweeds” by Nobre et al. found reduced nitrogen loading in surrounding ecosystems, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing food security and employment opportunities, all while increasing farm profits by 1.4 to 5% (Nobre et al., 2010). This all sounds pretty good to me, hopefully not too good to be true, and so the paper research continues…


Chopin, T., Yarish, C., Wilkes, R., Belyea, E., Shan Lu and Mathieson, A. 1999. Developing Porphyra/salmon integrated aquaculture for bioremediation and diversification of the aquaculture industry. J Appl Phycol. 11(5), 463-472. DOI:10.1023/A:1008114112852

Nobre, A. M., Robertson-Andersson, D., Neori, A., Sankar, K. 2010. Ecological–economic  assessment of aquaculture options: Comparison between abalone monoculture and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture of abalone and seaweeds. Aquaculture. 306, 116–126. DOI:10.1016/j.aquaculture.2010.06.002