A PSU chemist and a land-use planner walk into a TEDx talk
Author: Stefanie Knowlton
Posted: December 19, 2019
 Two Portland State University professors, one a chemist and another a land-use planner, will share their research on the TEDx stage Jan. 4 in Salem. 

Marisa Zapata, director of PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative and associate professor of land-use planning, will talk about rethinking homelessness and who has a right to housing. Theresa McCormick, assistant professor of chemistry, will share this message: tomorrow’s fuel may be under your kitchen sink. 

Their topics are wildly different, but both researchers are excited to share their work. TEDxSalem draws about 800 attendees, and the resulting videos reach hundreds of thousands.

“It has been a gift to have a team of TEDx volunteers workshop my ideas in this way. I’m looking forward to changing the narrative on homelessness through this talk,” Zapata said. 

“I am very excited for my TEDx talk in Salem,” McCormick said. “It’s a great opportunity to share my research on sustainable fuel with the general public and reveal what might be the fuel of the future.” 

Here is a sneak peek of their talks. To get the full experience, head to Salem Jan. 4.

 Theresa McCormick: Tomorrow’s fuel may be under your kitchen sink

Everyone knows the problem: We must meet the world's growing energy needs. At the same time, it’s imperative that we minimize the catastrophic effects of climate change by limiting average global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. To achieve these tasks, we need reliable sources of clean, renewable energy, like that which comes from the sun. 

But what if Theresa McCormick told you that the answer may be under your kitchen sink? With support from the National Science Foundation, McCormick develops methods for using sunlight to make hydrogen peroxide, an ordinary household product that has the extraordinary potential to store the sun’s energy. At TEDx Salem, McCormick discusses solar fuels and the role they could play in meeting the world’s growing energy needs.

 Marisa Zapata: Rethinking homelessness

Everyone thinks they understand the problem of addressing homelessness, which is actually part of the problem. As many as 38,000 people experienced homelessness in the Portland tri-county area in 2017, according to a report that Zapata released this year with PSU’s Northwest Economic Research Center. 

But the problem is that people continue to argue about the causes and solutions even though research has already shown that housing is the key. The problem is not drug addiction, mental illness or a lack of personal motivation, it’s the lack of housing. So what’s stopping us? It’s expensive to be sure, but so are other public works. At TEDxSalem, Zapata will encourage the audience to consider housing as a fundamental right. How does that change the conversation?


TEDxSalem VII is an all-day event featuring talks, performances, refreshments, lunch and swag. It takes place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Salem Convention Center. Click here for tickets.  Find them on Facebook for the most up-to-date news, or check out the website. You can reach them at