x = independently organized TED event

Theme: Tides of Change

This event occurred on
November 5, 2016
Newport, Rhode Island
United States


In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our event is called TEDxNewport, where x = independently organized TED event. At our TEDxNewport event, TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including ours, are self-organized.


Newport has always received plenty of attention for its storied history, its lively guests, its unrivaled sunsets and its natural beauty. However, it’s also a place of great innovation, spirited entrepreneurship, and ceaseless creativity. We want to highlight the brilliant ideas of our friends and neighbors, encourage conversation and debate, and share our distinctive identity with the world.


Our theme this year is “Tides of Change”; For centuries, tidal phenomena have inspired art and design concepts, led to scientific revelations, and provided opportunity for technological advancement. They are predictable, yet subject to fluctuations over time based on many other forces. Gravity, lunar altitude, underwater depth, celestial positioning, and some inexplicable (and perhaps undiscovered) outliers all contribute to tidal patterns. In turn, the tides affect other biological rhythms and give life to an intertidal ecosystem, an environment that exists between the high and low water lines, where organisms have adapted to life under constant change.

Like the gravitational pull of the moon, there’s a certain magnetism about Newport that draws many people here and pulls us back even after we’ve left. We have what one could call our own intertidal ecosystem; the flood of summer tourism rushes over us, and recedes away in the fall. We experience two extreme versions of our own city, and we've grown accustomed to the change. Yet contrary to the belief that we’re simply existing in between these two extremes, we’re actually thriving. A highly creative, intuitive, hopeful community lives here, constantly adapting, growing, experimenting, and exploring. This year, we want to explore changes and patterns that are present in Newport, how they’ve shifted over time, and what might lie ahead for our City by the Sea.

Jane Pickens Theater
49 Touro St
Newport, Rhode Island, 02840
United States
Event type:
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Speakers may not be confirmed. Check event website for more information.

Chris Reeves

Marine Scientist, Educator & Writer
Chris is a trained marine ecologist, writer, and educator who was born and raised in Southern California. He has spent the last 15 years interpreting marine science research and developing interactive teaching programs that have enlightened a wide range of audiences, from elementary students to senior citizens. He has a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz and he’s currently earning a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in science-writing. For over 5 years, he was the Visitor Programs Manager for the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory. In 2014 he moved to Newport with his wife, as her marine science career brought her closer to the Atlantic. Chris also works on Schooner Madeleine and is a scientific SCUBA diver who previously created courses on reef biology and ecology for use in Dive Master training.

Dave McLaughlin

Citizen Science expert & Environmentalist
Dave McLaughlin is a mission-driven leader in environmental sustainability. He has a BS/MS from Florida Institute of Technology in Applied Mathematics with a concentration in atmospheric science & physical oceanography. He spent many years working in enterprise systems and information technology, and was previously the principal forecaster for New England Surf for over 6 years. Dave is currently the co-founder and Executive Director of Clean Ocean Access, the Vice Chair for the Cliff Walk Commission, and the Vice Chair of the City of Newport’s Committee for Wastewater & Stormwater Improvements. He’s been recognized for his conservation efforts through many awards and distinctions, including the RI Attorney General’s 2014 Justice Award for Environmental Protection. He’s an avid surfer who rode his first wave in the early 80s and is currently living in Newport.

Jim Egan

Historian & Videographer
Jim Egan is a historian, prolific author, and business owner who has lived in Newport for the last 10 years. He has a B.A. in Business and Art from Franklin & Marshall College and ran a professional photography business in Providence for 30 years. He’s done extensive research into the history of optics and timekeeping and their impact on art and architecture. Jim discovered the mysterious Elizabethan-era origins of the Newport Tower in Touro Park and has written 20 books on the topic. He opened the Newport Tower Museum on Mill Street in 2009, and as curator, he’s shared the story with visitors from every state in the US and every country in Europe. He’s a squash enthusiast and snorkels all around Aquidneck Island.

Jim Mullowney

Cytotoxic Chemical Regulatory Expert
Jim Mullowney is the Chief Executive Officer of Pharma-Cycle, a Middletown-based company he founded in 2009 to examine the chemicals used in chemotherapy treatments, and their impact on public health and the environment. He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and over two decades of experience in the hazardous waste industry. He previously operated one of five licensed hazardous waste transfer facilities in New England and has witnessed major transformations in risk awareness, occupational safety standards, and federal regulations. He lives in Newport, RI, with his wife and daughter, and For the last 10 years he’s worked with international experts in medicine, pharmacology, and epidemiology to raise awareness on the risks of cytotoxic chemicals.

Kate & Amanda Leese

Emergency & Change Management Experts
Kate and Amanda Leese are sisters, entrepreneurs, and business professionals currently living in Newport, RI and running their national consulting firm, Kinetics Consulting LLC. Kate was previously the Emergency Management Coordinator for the 4th largest combination gas and electric utility in the US, and is frequently invited to speak on emergency operations, change management, and business resilience topics throughout the country. She holds an MBA & MPH focused On Emergency Management, and a B.S. in Biotechnology. Amanda has directed international maritime programs in over 40 countries, accumulating over a 100,000 sea miles as the youngest U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Captain. After transitioning to dry land, Amanda focused on improving business strategy and growth in the security and risk management industries, most recently with a Fortune 10 company in Washington D.C. She holds a MBA, a B.S. in Biology & Psychology, and a 200 Ton Maritime and Coast Guard Agency Captain License.

Kelly Kittel

Half Fish, Half Author
Kelly is a Middletown High School alum with a Marine Affairs degree from URI. She served in the US Peace Corps as an environmental educator in rural Jamaica before beginning her career as a fish biologist. She spent time studying a variety of species and managing renewable energy projects from the Bering Sea to the Columbia River Basin and became a prolific writer on the subject. After a series of heartbreaking family tragedies, she took to writing as a form of healing; her novel Breathe won IPNE Awards for Best Book & Best Narrative Nonfiction and was received with praise and gratitude by so many struggling with grief of their own. Kelly is a mom of 5, currently living with her husband (who happens to be from Newport, Oregon) and their youngest two children on Aquidneck Island.

Kersey Sturdivant

Marine Scientist & Author
Kersey has been studying the effects of human disturbance on aquatic ecosystems for the past decade, and obtained his PhD from the College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He changed the way scientists view the seafloor with the development of Wormcam, and started Oceanography for Everyone ( - an open-source effort to make ocean science accessible to everyone. Kersey came to Newport from coastal North Carolina in order to help establish the consulting firm INSPIRE Environmental, where he is a Principal Scientist. He’s also currently an Adj. Assistant Professor at Duke University and recently published a comprehensive guide on how to get into graduate school in the sciences. He’s a science blogger who plays the piano, skis, surfs, scuba dives, and hangs out with his dog Chewbacca.

Onne van der Wal

Photographer & Film Producer
Onne Van Der Wal as born in Holland and emigrated to South Africa with his parents at a young age, where he developed a passion for sailing. He studied machine design and manufacturing at the Metal Box School of Engineering and sailed professionally for over 15 years, including a win in the 1981-82 Whitbred Around the World Race aboard the Flyer II. Over the last 30 years, Onne has gained international notoriety for his photography and videography in the sailing and boating industries; he’s done commercial work for some of the biggest names in the industry and is a member of Canon’s Explorers of Light alongside some of the world’s most influential photographers and cinematographers. He and his wife have owned and operated a gallery showcasing his work in Bowen’s Wharf since 2001.

Rupert Nesbitt

Artist, Painter, Animator
Rupert Nesbitt is an artist and painter currently splitting time between Newport and New York City. He’s a Rogers High School alum, and holds a BFA from The Cooper Union and an MFA from Vermont College. His lifelong interest in drawing has manifested itself in travel drawing, archaeological illustration, toy robotics and computer animation. In 2003, as part of an archaeological team, he meticulously assembled hundreds of fragments that had been discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb in Thebes, recreating a colorful piece of history that belonged to a 2,300 year old mummy. These days, Rupert’s painting skills frequently take him around the world for commissions. His work can be found at several galleries in Newport, and he served as co-chair of the 23rd Wet Paint at Newport Art Museum in 2016. Rupert comes from a family of artists; his brother Sandy owns Blink Gallery, and his parents opened the historic Third & Elm Press in 1965.

Sam Birger

Linguistics Expert, Consultant, and Entrepreneur
Sam was born in Haifa, Israel and found his way to Newport in 1974 after years of traveling the world; a love of sailing has kept him here permanently since 2000. He was granted a Masters degree in Indo-European comparative historical linguistics from Harvard University, and continued with doctoral studies there. Sam has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News, and more, sharing his expertise in product positioning and communications. Through his firm Nomenon, he consulted on product naming and branding strategy for startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors, IBM, and Microsoft. He’s even provided expert witness testimony in court for cases involving trademark law. His favorite word is “sesquipedalianism” and his record for the New York Times crossword puzzle is 8 minutes 12 seconds. In addition to sailing and surfing, he frequents the beach in the northwest corner of Storer Park in the point for inspiration.

Sean O'Callaghan

Professor, Theologist, and Transhumanism Explorer
Sean O’Callaghan was born and raised in Ireland. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from University of Liverpool, and spent many years teaching in the UK at Lancaster University and a private affiliate of University of Manchester. He’s now an assistant professor and faculty fellow with the Religious and Theological Studies department at Salve Regina University. He moved to Newport in 2012 with his wife and daughter, a Salve student, and he’s also the Dean for the Class of 2019. He can often be found exploring the city on foot or by bicycle, reveling in the history of the island. Sean has done extensive research on the evolution of world religions, particularly Islam, and the growing online presence of many new movements and forms of spirituality. More recently, he’s been focused on transhumanism and the questions raised by technological forms of warfare, both on the ground and in cyberspace.

Steve Heath

Journalist, Education Expert & Community Activist
Steve Heath has lived in the Newport area, on and off, since 1963. He’s the founder and executive director of FabNewport, a fabrication lab that focuses on developing creative learning experiences and opportunities for local students through classes and workshops. He has a B.A. from Colgate University and more than 20 years working with students in school systems across Boston, Chicago, and Rhode Island. He’s a journalist, community activist, avid biker and adventurer who currently lives in Jamestown.

Steve Sabo

Scientist & Data Visualization Innovator
Steve Sabo is the primary creative professional and a project scientist at INSPIRE Environmental in Middletown, RI, a consulting firm that specializes in the ecological assessment of the seafloor. He studied digital media at Kendall College of Art and Design and has a B.S. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. For the last 6 years, he’s been exploring innovations in data visualization and graphic design for science applications, and previously worked as a geoarchaeological field tech for sites throughout the Midwest. He came to Newport in 2014 when his wife joined Island Moving Company. Last year, he created the the graphic design for the “Newport Waves” campaign that were seen on posters, banners and T-shirts around town.

Valerie Larkin

Scientist & Writer
Valerie Larkin was born in New Jersey, and first came to Newport in 1980 as an officer in the U.S. Navy. She’s lived here historic hill. lives and works in Newport, RI. She first came to Newport as an officer in the U.S. Navy and settled here permanently 2 years ago. Valerie holds a BA from The University of Pennsylvania and an MS in Applied Mathematics & Engineering from Brown University. She’s done research in pattern recognition, image processing, neural networks, and environmental and ocean modeling. She’s been a civilian employee at a Naval laboratory for the last 20 years, fostering collaborative research between industry and academia and commercializing new technologies. She is an avid writer, musician, and bicycle advocate who has two daughters in college. In 2014, Valerie underwent a gender transition, finally resolving her presentation to the world with her innate identity. Personally and professionally, she’s now able to live with the freedom of knowing her truth.

Organizing team


Newport, RI, United States
  • Alex Bouthillier
  • Brian Booth
    Team member
  • Ed Booth
    Team member
  • John Daley
  • Meg Heriot