Ramirez Liu TEDxBoston 2014

One of the breakthrough talks from the 2013 installment of TEDxBoston was Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu’s report of their work using laser beams to manipulate memories in mice. Their talk, which more than 830,000 people had viewed online last time we checked, was one of our favorite talks last year. I served as a coach; our Evan Wondolowski worked on their outstanding slides, which did a great job of explaining their advanced neuroscientific concepts in ways that those of us who do not have Ph.Ds can understand. (Such a great job, in fact, that many publications used them to help their readers make sense of Steve and Xu’s findings.)

One of the ideas behind this year’s TEDxBoston was to bring back some of our favorite speakers and performers from recent years and learn what they’ve been up to. (Roughly half the program was devoted to veterans of TEDxBoston.) Since less than 16 months separated this year’s show from last year’s, we didn’t have many people who were onstage in 2013 come back. Not enough had happened to justify a new talk. But brain science is moving so quickly that Steve and Xu returned to tell the flip side of the story they told the first time. Last year, their talk focused on creating false negative memories in mice; this year, their talk centered on activating positive memories. Once again, they brought the house down. 


  Also once again, Evan Wondolowski created their slides. We talked to Evan about his work with Steve and Xu.

How was Steve and Xu’s talk, and your work supporting the talk different this year from last year?

The story this year was easier to understand, even if you hadn’t seen the first talk. Those people who had seen the previous talk already had some context. There was not as big of a content gap to fill with the slides. And this year’s talk was more of a personal story. The new talk does start with the reaction they got to their original TEDx talk. For me, the work was easier, because the trust was already there from last year.
How did that reaction affect this year’s talk?
Some people thought that the first talk was a little dystopian, like they were evil scientists manipulate fear memories in mice. A year later, they came back and talked about creating positive memories. The whole thing had a more positive spin. It was almost as if the reaction impacted their past year’s work. That played out in how we designed their slides. Last time the slides were darker, with a black background and a sine wave to represent thoughts and ideas. This time we used similar elements but the tone was much more lighthearted.
You can see Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu’s 2014 talk here.